Charles Jaynes Demonstrates Why We Need Pagan Prison Chaplaincy

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 21, 2012 — 14 Comments

Yesterday Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge in a Brockton, Massachusetts District Court to petition for a name change. The man who would be named “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” seeks to abandon his “old human name” as it is “religiously offensive” to his claimed Wiccan faith. He further elaborated that this name came from “God” after his conversion experience.

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

“I can’t hide from my crime,” Jaynes said. “I wake up in prison, I see my crime every day. I don’t seek to minimize my crime. I’m growing spiritually.”

Robert Curley, the father of Jeffrey Curley, opposes the change, pointing out that Jaynes used multiple aliases to commit crimes while he was free, and that the change could muddy the waters down the line when Jaynes is eligible for parole. Curley was joined in his protest by a local couple and Curley’s lawyer, Michael Chinman. Meanwhile, the Covenant of the Goddess, one of the oldest and largest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations, sent out a press release restating that Wicca does not demand changing one’s name, and that Jayne’s actions do not represent their religion.

As we stated in August 2012, “The Covenant of the Goddess, a public not-for-profit 501c3 organization representing Witches and Wiccans for 37 years, in no way views the actions  of Charles Jaynes, as being even remotely related to the religion that we recognize as Wicca. Nor  do we, as a religion, have any tenet that mandates a legal change of name for any reason. Though it is a common Wiccan practice to take a second name in accordance with spiritual  beliefs, it would be considered very unusual to do so legally; as these names are very personal to the individual and unlikely to be shared outside of a select few.”

Witnessing this controversy, I am immediately pulled back to my experience at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting where I watched a special forum on the Pew Forum’s Religion in Prisons survey. As I mentioned before, this survey noted the overwhelmingly Protestant (and theologically conservative) Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, and how lacking in resources Pagan inmates (and other religious minorities) are. Further, because of the overwhelmingly Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, most Pagan inmates are self-made and often undirected in their spirituality. This is not so troublesome a phenomenon in the outside world, where solitary practitioners can freely interact with like-minded individuals and teachers, but it can spawn variations of “Wicca” or “Paganism” that have little relation to how the our faiths are actually practiced by the majority of adherents.

Had there been a Pagan or Wiccan chaplain for Jaynes to consult, or at least a chaplain well-versed in serving minority religions within a prison populations, he or she might have told him that legal name changes aren’t a requirement of the Wiccan faith, or that most forms of Wicca are either duotheistic (worshipping/acknowledging a God and Goddess) or polytheistic (worshipping many gods) as opposed to his rather Judeo-Christian conception of what Wicca is (referring to his Charles Jaynes as his “heathen” name, and referring to God as his “father”). Further, such a chaplain could have been called to testify in regards to this matter, and give accurate information about the religion Jaynes claims to have converted to.

I’m not here to judge the sincerity of Jaynes religious beliefs, only pointing out that they seem to differ wildly from my extensive experience interacting with, and being a part of, modern religious Witchcraft. The judge said she would make a decision in the next 30 days, and I have no doubt that it will be based on constitutional merits and existing precedents, but I can only think this entire matter would have been clearer had there been a better, more effective, chaplaincy for prisoners outside the Christian paradigm. Our correctional system needs to support minority faith chaplaincy, not only to give prisoners spiritual support while incarcerated, but to make sure our traditions aren’t distorted in the void created by a solely Protestant chaplaincy body. Perhaps some of this trauma for Jaynes victims could have been avoided had there been more robust spiritual instruction for would-be Pagan prisoners.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Ursyl

    You make a very good point, Jason. Not only would guidance for such prisoners be worthwhile, a chaplain with more than a faint hint of a clue would also be able to help authorities to distinguish between sincerity and knowledgable conversion, and someone trying to scam on the authorities’ ignorance to get privileges, or name changes, that are not required or have nothing to do with our various faith practices.

    The benefits of a diverse and well-informed chaplaincy would work in both directions.

  • Jason, you are quite right, however, the lack of chaplains is not solely due to the prison system. There are also plenty of places — my area of Western North Carolina included — where what is needed is not cooperation from the authorities, but Pagans who are willing to do the work. The paid chaplain who is in charge at the prison where I volunteer is looking for a Wiccan volunteer for another prison, but, despite a fairly large Pagan community here, there is only one other person (Byron Ballard) besides myself willing to do this work, and she’s busy at another correctional institution. So we have an unserved Pagan prison population, not because of the system, but because we don’t have Pagans willing to step up to the plate.

  • As a volunteer Wiccan Chaplain for the Colorado Department of Corrections, and as a prison volunteer for 15 years, I can offer some insight here.

    Most incarcerated persons who are declared some form of pagan, did not discover their faith until after committing their crime and being incarcerated. Because of the lack of resources, there are misconceptions about paganism among inmates, that knowledgeable volunteers could address. Incarcerated Wiccans and pagans need resources and help.

    That help will not be forthcoming if our community is not willing to step up and offer it. There are Wiccans and pagans in every prison and jail in the country, and most of them do not have volunteers willing to be a resource for the inmates. Most of the corrections administrators do not have knowledgeable people to answer questions or offer guidance about what inmates need to practice their faith. Most courts do not have experts who can give opinions about faith requirements. If we want to be seen as being a part of society, and be taken seriously as a faith, we need to step up, and do those things that faiths, and members of society, do, to be taken seriously.

    • Brian Scott

      One thing I’m curious about is how such prisoners come upon faith like this in the first place. The common conversion processes to Christianity are set upon a foundation of “repent your previous life and give yourself to Yaweh” by proselytizing media or people. Wicca tends to be outside that paradigm, though, so I find it difficult to imagine is how they got the push to do convert or even find out it exists, barring spontaneous revelation.

      • Many inmates really do want to change their lives. The standard religions and spiritual paths are not offering what they need, as far as finding a connection to a higher power. They often pick up a book in the library, or just come across one floating through “population”, and it strikes a chord with them. They can feel a great deal of sincerity even with not much training or information.

  • Sheila

    So there were four Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose before him?

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I be being very dim, but what is the big deal about changing his name?

    • Most states, perhaps all states, have laws prohibiting a name change while incarcerated or on parole or probation. It prevents people from trying to hide connections with a criminal past.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Ah, fair.

  • stedgar

    A book could tell him that changing his name is not required. And I’m sure there are plenty of books available to him. Ergo: he’s using the argument of “Religion” as a ruse to get what he wants.

  • Alexandra Prinssen

    I do not believe this person is sincere – he is obviously sociopathic and narcistic. This is a way for him to get attention, and the more attention the better. I am rather sceptic about all form of conversion to religion in prison – it is very obvious these people want to change their lives (hey, they are incarcerated!) and it is obvious one of the very scarse ways to do so is to start being religious, since it give you the possibility to be out or your cell a little more often. And it is, in lack of tv, rather a nice soap to read…. I am sceptic about religious revivals after incarceration, at large.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      I knew a guy who became a Black Muslim in prison. His conversion provided him with a new focus to his life. He’s a man with a lot of anger, and his conversion gave him a way to be angry at injustice, not merely at the unjust. He’s still not the easiest guy to get along with, and of course is poles apart from me theologically, but he’s escaped the criminal life.

  • I suspect that all of the elements mentioned in the comments are at play in varying degrees in Jaynes’ motivations in seeking a name change. Yes, there is probably some effort to play the system and get control. Yes, there is ignorance and probably someone trying to exploit ignorance, real and perceived, of his adopted faith tradition on the part of prison authorities. There is also the possibility that Jaynes himself erroneously believes that a name change is necessary or desirable for Wiccan practice; many Pagans do take magical names or use pseudonyms for published writings. And I agree completely that the man is a dangerous sociopath. It is my belief that he is exactly where he needs to be. I further think that since he has a known history of resorting to aliases in the process of committing crimes, he should not be able to change his name.

    However, I do believe that there is at least a grain of sincerity in Jaynes and that spiritual guidance could benefit him. The phrase “I can’t hide from my crime” is nothing I’ve reported before. He needs to stay in jail, but a bit of support to help him along an authentic path could enable him to use the time better and possibly even be a force for good where he is. I have had a great deal to do with those who have run afoul of the law — court reporter here — and to a person, they make excuses. Taking any sort of responsibility for criminal behavior or that of a minor dependent is strikingly unusual. In one misdemeanor-level court I worked in frequently, for an office party, the clerks actually papered an entire wall with the excuses we all heard every day. And working in downtown Washington, D.C., I have run across the same thing, just at a different socioeconomic level. Instead of, “My car broke down,” it’s, “My secretary forgot to enter it into my electronic calendar.” If he’s admitting his wrongdoing, it’s a rare and possibly hopeful sign. The desire for a new name may in itself be an indication that he wants to move forward into a changed life. Having undergone a legal name change myself for vastly different reasons than Jaynes, I can say that the act does have a striking psychological effect in terms of severing one from the past and taking control with the effects of harm that was done. It was immensely empowering for me, and he may be seeking the same effect out of a genuine desire for change. Again, I do not believe he should be able to do this, but it may not be a bad sign that he wants to.

    I hope he finds the guidance that will enable him to move along a constructive path even as he serves his full sentence. I hope the greater Pagan community will be able to determine what is required for successful prison ministry and make it happen. I further hope that we will soon have as much expressed concern and interest in the healing and need for spiritual services on the part of those who have been victims of crime as we do for prison chaplaincy.

    Cathryn Meer Bauer

  • cernowain greenman

    While I am all for Wiccan chaplains, I do not necessarily agree with Jason’s reasoning here. All the court needs is an expert on the Wiccan faith, such as someone from the Covenant of the Goddess to testify on the prisoner’s claim.

    There are precedents– Jaime Witch comes to mind– of people who legally changed their names because of the Wiccan beliefs. However, it is not the norm for Wiccans to claim that “God” told her or him to legally change her or his name. Also, Jaynes, by using non-Wiccan religious language, pretty much undermines his request since he claims he is doing to because he is a Wiccan.

    What the court needs here is a prosecuting lawyer who is familiar enough with Wicca in order to present a good case against this name change request.

    In this case, I personally do not think a Wiccan prison chaplain would help Jaynes understand Wicca since Jaynes’ goal is to change his name– and anything a genuine Wiccan chaplain would say would not help him in this goal.

    However, *if* there were a Wiccan prison chaplain helping prisoners in general better understand Wicca, then Jaynes might not have chosen “Wicca” to begin with. Jaynes is apparently using peoples’ unfamiliarity with “Wicca” to help get his name changed and if people already knew about Wicca, they’d automatically know his reasons for his name change are without any merit.