Updates: UK Census, Romanian Witch Tax, James Arthur Ray, Colin Batley, and Father Gary Thomas

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 9, 2011 — 24 Comments

I have updates on several previously reported stories for you today.

No One Likes a Jedi at Census Time: Last week I reported on the “PaganDash” campaign, which is looking to encourage Pagans in the UK to stand up and be counted in the census, and use a uniform write-in for the census form. However, Pagans aren’t the only group looking to improve their numbers in the 2011 British census. British humanists and atheists have launched a campaign to increase the number of respondents that check “no religion”, taking aim at the Jedi census phenomenon from 2001’s census.

If your religion is of low enough importance to you to that you are willing to put in a religion from 3 good sci-fi films from years ago, and 3 more recent rubbish ones,please consider ticking “No Religion” instead. The data gathered is used to inform government policy, and was used by the last government to justify funding of religious community bodies over secular ones. For example, 2001 census data has been used repeatedly to justify an increase in the number of state maintained faith schools and the increasing level of government money spent on faith organisations. By ticking ‘No Religion’, you will ensure that the Government receives an unambiguous message about the number of non-religious people in the UK. Any other response may be manipulated into a response in favour of religion and publically funded religious organisations.”

The argument seems to have convinced  author and Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow, who says “I’m convinced; we’re atheists and we will list ourselves as such.” There’s other campaigns going on as well, but I wanted to specifically mention the Jedi phenomenon, because I don’t think it just skewed atheist/agnostic numbers. I’ve long thought that those 400,000 “Jedi” also comprised a fair number of modern Pagans as well. In any case, this may be our last chance to get this right, because the UK is seriously considering removing the religion question entirely, with a spokesperson lumping Pagans in with the Jedi as “prank” responses.

Romanian Witches Win Tax Battle: It looks like all those spells and hexes worked. A controversial bill that would require psychics, fortune tellers, and practitioners of witchcraft in Romania be licensed, and tax their largely under-the-table income, has failed.

“I am very disappointed, the bill was meant to prevent people from being deceived by so-called witches,” Liberal-Democrat MP Alin Popoviciu, who initiated the bill, told AFP. Under the text, fortune-tellers and clairvoyants were to be licensed, pay taxes and set up professional associations. “The bill angered many witches who threatened to cast a spell in order to make it fail. It seems they have succeeded,” Mr Popoviciu added.

It seems many feared that instead of protected people from witches, it would instead legitimize the industry, a view shared by some Romanian witches. Popoviciu has vowed to try again, but for now that status quo remains in place.

James Arthur Ray Trial Continues: The trial of New Age self-help guru James Arthur Ray, who’s charged with manslaughter after three people died during a sweat lodge ceremony led by Ray in late 2009 continues. These initial days are seeing the prosecution’s witnesses, including a participant who says Ray “dismissed her alert about the failing condition of a fellow participant,” and an ill-trained sweat lodge volunteer, who says she was not prepared to deal with individuals who were “burned, delirious and unresponsive.” Prosecutors also played an audio recording of Kirby Brown, one of three people who died.

“When we started the (Samurai) game, I was like you,” Brown said on the recording, which was made just before she and the other attendees entered the sweat lodge. It is a segment from recordings made during four days of Ray’s October 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat. “I was gonna be the hero, and I died right there before it even began.” Brown, 38, went on to recount the efforts she made to try to save her teammates in the game from sharing her fate, saying that she swallowed her own vomit in an attempt to lie perfectly still. Had she moved, Ray, playing the role of God, would have sentenced another of her team to death. “As I laid there dying and everyone was working, I kept sending my energy to them,” she said.

Defense strenuously objected to the tape being played, that is was “overwhelmingly prejudicial.” You can see why they don’t want that tape played, because it paints a portrait of a man who has utter control over his subjects. Meanwhile, if the comments section of my previous James Ray post are any indication, Ray’s defenders are spinning conspiracy theories and making excuses for their guru across the Internet. After all, once you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on his “teachings,” I can’ imagine you’d want to believe he’s a negligent egomaniac. It will be interesting to see who the defense calls in this trial, and if they have more than signed waivers and conspiracies to keep their client from prison.

Sex Cult Leader Convicted: Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, was convicted of “11 separate rapes, three indecent assaults, causing prostitution for personal gain, causing a child to have sex and inciting a child to have sex.” Batley and his alleged followers were said to wear red robes and read from the Thelemic sacred text The Book of the Law (he had laminated pages from the book at his home), penned by influential occultist Aleister Crowley at ceremonies. Other sources said that all the women in the group sported matching tattoos. As I mentioned in my previous post, Batley claims to have “given up” reading Crowley and was now a Mormon.

“A man has been found guilty of leading a “satanic” sex cult from his home in a small Welsh town. Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, presided over a group that preyed on young children and held occult rites. He was found guilty at Swansea crown court of rape and carrying out perverted sexual acts on children and adults. Batley was the self-styled high priest of the group, which operated from a series of homes in a cul-de-sac in the seaside town.”

Four other members of the alleged group were also found guilty. There seems to have been enough testimony from both victims and “customers” to prove some sort of underage sex-ring was happening, what hasn’t been established is how sincere the “occult” elements were, or if they were just trappings of control used on their “recruits”. Nor, at this point, will we ever likely know the full story.

The Further Adventures of Father Gary Thomas: CNN has decided to do profile of Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist, and inspiration for the Hollywood film “The Rite”. As I pointed out in January, Pagan media critic Peg Aloi got Father Thomas on the record about some of his many retrograde views regarding Pagan religions and “Satanic” underground cults. Despite, or perhaps because of, these views being out in the open Thomas continues to tar other religious systems as pathways to demonic possession.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …”

Father Thomas also mentions an ongoing exorcism case where the client is “suffering from a very unique psychological disorder,” but also, it seems, “been exposed to satanic cults.” He truly seems to think that both are true, and the question is which method to use in treating the client. What I find disappointing is that this is a man labeling an entire religion, Wicca, as a pathway to Satanic possession. Had he done so with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Mormonism the reporter would have no doubt called him on his statement. Yet, reporter Tom Foreman’s response is “a vision of politician Christine O’Donnell fills my head.” Proof once again that the press just doesn’t “get religion,” it can’t even properly grapple with the topic of modern Pagan religions in a mature and level-headed manner.

That’s all I have time for today, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • The Bony Man

    As a Thelemite, it bugs me when the masses lump Crowley with Satanism, and it gets totally misused this way, besides the fact that Satanists are often fairly nice people…

    • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

      As a Thelamite, how do you reply to people when they ask you "What is Thelema?," or "What does it mean, 'do what thou wilt be the whole of the law?" I've heard a few responses to the latter question, but the respondents didn't say it very eloquently – something about the difference between mortal and divine will? Just curious… Thx!

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      "besides the fact that Satanists are often fairly nice people"

      Also, Satanism is a perfectly reasonable response to Christianity.

      • Jack Tyler

        "Also, Satanism is a perfectly reasonable response to Christianity." If I wasn't an Apuleius fanboy before this has sealed the deal.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "the press just doesn’t “get religion,” it can’t even properly grapple with the topic of modern Pagan religions in a mature and level-headed manner."

    Not as long as people like Gary Thomas and Don Rimer keep throwing them red meat. Absent that factor they don't do so badly, eg, they handled the Catskill affair fairly well.

  • cigfran

    I know some people who take Jedi pretty seriously as a sort of workable modern paganism, and as someone who normally sides with humanists against Big Religion bullying, I'm really disappointed by their cavalier attitudes in this regard.

    The heck with Doctorow. Though I suppose if was being frivolous about it, it's just as well that he dropped the shtick.

    • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

      I've never taken the time to investigate the Jedi movement, partly because the videos and news reports of Jedi I've seen characterize it as a joke religion. I've never, uh… "met a Jedi," but I suppose there's no reason to ridicule those who take it seriously: every path begins somewhere, right?

      • Thriceraven

        Maybe you have met them, but they just put a mind trick on you.

        "These are not the Jedi practitioners you're looking for." (waves hand)

        • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

          L O L

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    Why am I getting whiffs of "Send them a message by not voting?"

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    Golly, I am glad that here in America, our tax dollars are not used to fund religious programs. And I sure do wanna keep it that way.

    • chuck_cosimano

      At least they aren't supposed to be! And certainly the notion of dividing them up by religious affiliation is noxious in the extreme.

    • Khryseis_Astra

      Actually that's not exactly true anymore… "Faith-based initiatives" and all that…

  • fyreflye

    @highway hermit
    In case The Bony Man doesn’t reply, you can always find an answer in the Thelemapedia http://www.thelemapedia.org/index.php/Thelema

    • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

      Ah, nice resource; I don't get around much in the witchy / sorcerous circles so it's nice to get some help in the research.

  • jewel

    I really wish there was a better distinction between 'atheism" & "no religion" because most of the atheists i know are just as insanely fundamental as the worst of the dogmatic religions. and there are so many folks who just havnt thought about/dont care which is a COMPLETELY different thing.
    Im definately up for standing up and being counted & usualy state my religion as 'pantheist' in the census. what is this movement suggesting we use? pagan? seems to be a good blanket term…

    • harmonyfb

      so many folks who just havnt thought about/dont care which is a COMPLETELY different thing.

      My brother is like that. We call him an 'apatheist', since his belief system seems to be "Don't know, don't care".

  • fyreflye

    @jewel

    Your religion would be Pagan – Pantheism. Be sure to capitalize Pagan. We’re a religion, not a dictionary entry.

    • Paul White

      "Be sure to capitalize Pagan. We're a religion, not a dictionary entry." – Well said, fyreflye. I do this every time I use the word Pagan.

  • JJ

    I was reading this whole satanic sex-cult thing at the Daily Mail (yeah, yeah) and they also managed to mention Jimmy Page. This stuff is just going to fuel the fire that is already burning and conspiracy theorists are going to use this as proof that all of this is happening in a larger scale in the USA and the Satanic Panic of the 80’s was true. If this continues, pagans and occultists are going to be having some serious issues.

    What irked me the most about the article at DM was that they said; “nearby were tanks full of snakes and Satanic symbols.” Yeah, are we still clumping snakes and Satan together? Not everyone who uses snakes in rituals or whatever else are Christian satan-worshippers. Geez.

    Also, about Aleister Crowley and his teachings, DM wrote:
    “He and his wife had been dabbling with the occult ever since they were married 30 years ago and were obsessed with Aleister Crowley, the most notorious Satanist of the 20th century, the self-styled ‘Great Beast’. One of Crowley’s publications, the Book of the Law, includes the passage: ‘Let all chaste women be despised. Sex with anyone is not just permissible but to be encouraged.’ And this: ‘Some of the most passionate and permanent attachments have begun with rape. Rome was founded thereon.’”

    Here’s the article, if anyone is interested:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1364583/Evil-paedophile-guilty-running-cul-sac-sex-cult-seaside-home.html#ixzz1GBi6KQ1j

    Ps: The fact that he is now a mormon was NOT mentioned. Isn’t that odd???

    • Crystal7431

      Very odd. I can draw my own conclusions on that.

    • http://www.thehighwayhermit.com highway_hermit

      It's difficult to fight the sensationalism media outlets like to create around fringe and minority religions, but there are steps we can take as a community to be heard. For example, the Pagan Community Statement on Sexual Abuse released in March 2010 was the first initiative I'm aware of to unite the Pagan / occult community behind a common statement of ethics. The last I read was that the goal was to create a listing service for covens, groups, and teachers who choose to adhere to the statement so that law enforcement, media outlets, and other government agencies have a resource to go to for help understanding a very nuanced issue (but also to give confidence to students and seekers that they won't be in danger of exploitation when attending new rituals and meetings.) Jason really spear-headed the initiative for this statement, but it took a lot of people to put it together; you can read more about it here: http://paganvalues.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/pagan

      I'm not sure what the present status of the project is; the website (http://www.pagansagainstsexualabuse.com/) hasn't been updated for nearly a year. I use the statement as part of my ministry and would love to add my signature to the list of adherents, but it's hard to do since it doesn't seem to be active. Anybody else know what's happening?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Hermit, an Earth Religion Anti-Abuse statement was circulated around 1988 or 1989, ie, in the context of the Satanic Panic. Its genesis was a bit of a mess: Individual traditions registered objections to this or that part of it (eg, no Unitarian Universalist authority can declare that UU Pagans are not Satanists even though they likely are not) and were told that the statement draft was immutable, but when substantial trads objected the text was changed by the sponsors without consulting previous signatories. As far as I'm aware nothing much came of it; it was more of a feel-good measure than anything else.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    No, in that case it is much better to become a Pentecostalist, who specialize in working very closely with genuine demons.

    Christianity is the opposite, in every way, of what human religions are supposed to be. Therefore a simple inversion of Christianity is the negative of a negative. This makes a good starting point for someone who is genuinely interested in moving in the opposite direction of Christianity.