Updates: Georgia School Harassment Case, Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading, Peruvian Shaman Slayings, and Dan Halloran

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 13, 2011 — 15 Comments

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. […] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. “What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • kenneth

    The word I’m getting is that the Georgia school and various pagan groups have come to some resolution on the matter. I just got this in my inbox from Circle Sanctuary:

    “For Immediate Release:
    December 13, 2011

    Statement from Bowdon Elementary School, Carroll County School District, and members of the Turner Family Support Task Force as represented by Lady Liberty League, North Georgia Solitaries, Covenant of the Goddess, Dogwood Local Council, and Circle Sanctuary:
    The Turner Family, Task Force, and School District wants Bowdon School to be a positive, supportive environment which fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students.

    With education, cooperation, and open dialogue, all things are possible.

    At times, a lack of life experience and/or other circumstances can make it difficult to perceive how words and actions might cause offense or upset. The parties involved acknowledge that words and deeds can be hurtful even without the intent of making them so.

    In an effort to reach a positive and collaborative resolution to recent events, an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass which will set the stage for future education for school staff, students, and parents on the topic of equality and respect for all students and families in the Carroll County School System.

    First, a sincere apology for recent events and misunderstandings has been given by School Administration and accepted by the family.

    Second, the Bowdon Elementary School guidance Counselor will educate staff and students about honoring and accepting the differences that make us individuals.

    Third, procedures have been put in place to ensure classroom activities don’t alienate students. As part of this, the administration and teachers will have yearly training about the District’s Code of Ethics and the responsibilities of each staff member to preserve the integrity of every students’ rights.

    We appreciate the hard work and open dialogue of all the parties involved to create this positive resolution. The Turner children will return to school. The Carroll County School District will continue to strive to be a place that fosters the emotional and educational growth of all students regardless of religion, race, national origin, gender or disability.”

    • Charles Cosimano

      In other words, all the gobbledygook removed, the school district, after having been read the riot act by its lawyers and informed of the level of damages they may be facing, caved in completely with a level of craven supplication that only educators are capable of.

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like a good outcome. But there sure is a lot of passive voice in that release. See, e.g., an alliance of the parties involved has come to pass

      • Having been a bureaucrat for a number of years, I think that I can see where this usage comes from. It allows the school authorities effectively to acknowledge that someone fouled up without directly saying so (and hence acknowledging possible liability). It’s effectively an abdication of agency, and it can raise more questions than it addresses (“Procedures have been put in place.” By whom, and with what consequences for deviating from them?). Nevertheless, baby steps. If it brings about an amicable resolution to the situation, it may be appropriate to take “yes” for an answer.

        On a related issue, I do hope that the Turner family does not incur any blowback as a consequence of this matter having gone public. We’ve seen this happen in other instances, unhappily.

  • Mia

    I love how you say “have a great day” after listing depressing news.

    • Crystal Kendrick

      I suppose it beats “FTW”, lol.

  • Anonymous

    I imagine that my politics are as far away from Mr. Halloran’s politics as is possible. But I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he’s made his religion an issue in his political career (unlike a large number of evangelicals and dominionists I could mention). In which case, the reporter was out of line. And wouldn’t have written such a story or used such an illustration for a member of Opus dei, a member of the Bahai religion, or a Mason.

    • Lonespark

      Occasionally they would. I don’t think they should, though, at least not in that way. And it’s kind of sad and pitiful that there’s so little religions reporting at all these days, and most of it is so bad and divisive and superficial.

      • Nick Ritter

        “And it’s kind of sad and pitiful that there’s so little religions reporting at all these days, and most of it is so bad and divisive and superficial.”

        This is due in large part to the fact that most people don’t seem to be interested in religion at all, and that satire is fun to write and gets attention faster than an in-depth, sensitive study of what most people consider yawn-worthy.

        So, I suppose that my position would be that articles like Thrasher’s come from not only the privilege of some religions and disdain toward others, but also a general cultural distraction by ephemera.

  • Is there a more matter-of-fact write-up of the bullying Christopher Turner was subjected to? I would like to link to the story but the Atlanta IMC article is [oh hell, I can’t come up with a diplomatic way of saying it] and I’m not finding the basic facts on Circle Sanctuary’s FB, nor on the Turner family’s.

  • Nick Ritter

    “and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment.”

    Well, that’s a new one: likening our religion to a hobby, and expecting us to be flattered. If Mr. Thrasher honestly thought that we’d take that as a compliment (something I rather doubt), then it reveals an underlying prejudice, a lack of comprehension that perfectly normal people can practice religions like ours in all seriousness and sincerity.

    • Lonespark

      Ugh, yes. I have run into this in my family recently, and I turned the quesiton around and asked if Christianity was a hobby, and then there was confused fuming for a bit.

      Although I get the feeling that to some non-religious people, it might really be a compliment, along the lines of “you’re a dedicated geek, not a scary zealot!”

      • Nick Ritter

        I sympathize with the difficulties of intra-family inter-faith conversations. There are parts of my family I haven’t told out of a desire not to alienate them. That sort of thing can present a difficult problem for people whose religions, like mine, treat the bonds of family as very important: what do you do when your religion says that loyalty to family is sacred, but the practice of your religion distances you from your family? There are no easy answers, I find.

        ‘Although I get the feeling that to some non-religious people, it might really be a compliment, along the lines of “you’re a dedicated geek, not a scary zealot!”‘

        I suppose, with a lot of non-religious people, those are your only two options: you’re either wasting time with something meaningless but potentially amusing, or you’re a dangerous zealot (whose beliefs are meaningless). How does one find a middle ground with people (like one atheist I used to work with), for whom religion is either a silly diversion or a dangerous threat?

        On the one hand, I can see the point of this kind of self-deprecation; it sets people at ease. On the other hand, if the eventual goal is that we, as religions, will be taken seriously, self-deprecation of our religious sincerity doesn’t help.

  • The story from Peru highlights the fact that in any traditional society there are always going to be provisions for punishing practitioners of malefic magic as criminals (this came up in the recent discussion on the post Casting Spells on Your Boss Could Get You Fired).

    This is important for modern Pagans to understand for two reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that there is nothing “modern” about the Wiccan Rede: magical societies have always abhorred and sanctioned (often quite severely) the use of magic to cause harm.

    Second of all, it helps to expose the difference between how Pagans and Christians view malefic magic. Pagans define malefic magic functionally: only when actual harm, in a conventional sense, is done is magic considered malefic by Pagans. Christians, however, define malefic magic to be anything that is not authorized by their Church and their Bible. Christians explicitly include such things as healing, soothsaying, and even protection from curses as malefic, if these magical acts are not done by their priests or saints or prophets or whatever.

  • Phyllis Curott

    I’m sorry to share sad news, but Fawza died in early 2010. She choked to death on a morsel of food she was eating, and first aid arrived too late. Her health had been deteriorating and she was wheelchair bound. I always hoped that Fawza was aware of the the tremendous outpouring of international support expressed by the many thousands of signatures on the petition seeking to free Fawza – and of our other many efforts to help her — but the long delays in securing an appeal combined with her poor health were, finally, fatal. Other cases continue to come to the public’s attention, some with better results than that of Fawza, others similarly appalling, as are the too many instances of violence elsewhere in the world, including Africa and India. These situations are one of the many important reasons for ongoing interfaith, human rights and religious liberties work by Wiccans and Pagans and the continued attention of Wild Hunt and the community is important and appreciated.