Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 15, 2012 — 18 Comments

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

  • The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, is still encountering difficulties in getting their new building in Salem, New Hampshire the proper zoning so that they can build a parking lot and make improvements. Neighbors say it isn’t about the Witchcraft, just traffic, but at least one neighbor disagrees with the notion of them identifying as a “church” even though no Christian denomination would receive such a challenge. Meanwhile, a new Hindu temple in the same area has been approved, while the Temple of Witchcraft is still having their essential “church”-ness questioned. Make no mistake, the Temple is in the legal right here, and I hope this is resolved before lawyers have to file litigation, costing Salem quite a bit of money.
  • Remember my analysis of last week’s elections here in the United States? I noted that religious demographics were shifting, and this may have been the first post-Christian election. To add more data to my assertions, Discover Magazine notes that Asian Americans, who voted heavily Democratic this cycle, have also become far less Christian, influencing how they vote. Quote: “Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?” In short, the more some Republicans want to become “God’s Own Party,” the more a growing number of votes will simply evade them.
  • Over at HuffPost Religion Deepak Sarma addresses the question of white Hindu converts, and whether this growing group, sincere or not, are engaging in a unintentional mockery of that which they profess to honor.  Quote: “So, no matter their sincerity, or self-proclaimed authenticity, their mimicry seems more like mockery. And, unlike the forced mimicry of the Diaspora Hindu, which may have subversive undertones and may destabilize the dominant ideology, reverse mimicry, ironically, merely reinforces existing hierarchies and paradigms. In fact, some claim to be more “authentic” than Diaspora Hindus and, in so doing, deny the voice of those they mimic/ mock.” Sarma goes on to posit that perhaps white converts can never understand the experience of the Hindu diaspora and wonders if welcoming Western Hindu temples and homes suffer from “post-traumatic, post-colonial, servile disorder” by accepting these converts. It should be interesting to see the debate and discussion this post incites.
Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

  • Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has passed another important hurdle on their road to becoming an established, recognized, seminary. After awarding its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, graduate, Sandra Lee Harris has had her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This frees her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain. Quote: “David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, congratulated her on her achievement, “This is indeed a milestone, both for your professional aspirations and for Cherry Hill Seminary.”  Oringderff noted the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.” We’ll have more on this story, and its implications, in the near future.
  • Check out this interview with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols, conducted by Henry Rollins, who talks to Echols about “his life before and after his trial, including his spiritual and intellectual journey in prison as well as his wife, Lorri Davis, whom he met and married while on death row.”
  • Back in 2010 I announced that long-running web magazine Heathen Harvest, which covered post-Industrial and neofolk music, was closing down. Now, the site has returned at a new address, with new owners, and with the blessing of the original founder. Quote: “Heathen Harvest’s second major incarnation came into being on 4th July 2011, learning from the past by chiefly reviewing digitial promos and concentrating only on the most stimulating music received. The new site has been respectfully named The Heathen Harvest Periodical to distinguish it from the old website, which still remains archived at www.heathenharvest.com. We continue to cover all material from the darker musical underground and to serve the needs and works of musicians, artists, authors and journalists alike all across the post-industrial spectrum.” The new site can be found at: www.heathenharvest.org.
  • In other Pagan-friendly music news,  UK Pagan band The Dolmen have just released a new album entitled “Wytchlord,” while fellow UK Pagan artist Damh the Bard (a most excellent human being) is coming out with a new album, “Antlered Crown and Standing Stone,” on November 17th.
  • At the New Yorker, Michelle Dean wonders if the folkloric witch has been tamed to its own detriment. Quote: “But the witch is no longer terribly wild to us; she’s domesticated, normal, prone perhaps to a spell of madness but one from which she’ll emerge sunny and whole. She no longer signals a liberating spirit. Culturally, we have replicated witch-figures like Samantha of “Bewitched,” whose powers aid her in serving her husband. Our emblematic witch is Hermione Granger, who performs all the magic and takes none of the credit from Harry Potter. She is self-effacing and noble and never in any real danger of contamination by the dark. There are bad witches in Harry Potter, indeed, bad witches in many stories. But their cartoonish one-dimensionality cancels out any real portent. The internal conflicts go to Snape, while Bellatrix is irretrievable.” Dean feels we need the uncontrollable and unpredictable witch in order to do battle with those who seek to control women.
  • The Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that a prison does not have to provide an outdoor worship space for Asatru in prison, noting that there’s no authority requiring it. Quote: “A federal trial judge concluded that Krieger failed to show how the practice of his religion, which is called Asatru, was harmed by the lack of a worship circle outdoors. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision.
  • In a final note, tomorrow I’ll be heading to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. and I’m hoping to post updates during my time there, and bring back some interviews as well. You’ll also have regular updates from Wild Hunt columnists and reporters to read while I’m away. I’d like to thank everyone who funded this coverage trip back in April, and will do my best to transmit what’s happening in Pagan Studies and Pagan scholarship to you.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Whatever Deepak Sarma may infer, western Hindu converts are an old story. Hinduism has been speaking to the West since the 19th century. I recall an English-language book by a Hindu author on the shelf in my Methodist aunt & grandmother’s summer cottage in the Fifties, and it had the look of an old book then.

    • Absolutely. And the influence has gone both ways. Gandhi was deeply influenced by Theosophy and also by the writings of Leo Tolstory (and he very explicitly acknowledged these influences in his writings).

      • AGuest

        Blavatsky’s visions of the beings of different colours, should someone be taking them as serious leads to their lives, perhaps weren’t of current ethnicity or even all human race.
        I think this would be easily observed by many if more people read source instead of secondary material.

  • Gareth

    One of the commenters on Deepak Sarma’s article had a rather good response: “I have a wild theory about white converts to Hinduism–They read the sacred scriptures and studied the philosophies and fell in love with its wisdom and message of liberation from suffering and Union with God”.

    • AGuest

      *Expresses shock!* Nice. =^-^=

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Is Deepak Sarma any less racist than those who claim that only ‘White’ people can follow the Northern gods?

    I would say not. The colour of the skin matters not a jot compared to the song of the soul.

  • Zan Fraser

    I’m sorry: Western Hindu converts? Can anyone say, Christopher Isherwood?

  • Kevinswaney

    I personally have two close friends who are of Anglo descent and they are both Hindu and Pagan. My friend Radha was raised Hindu by her stepfather. She later went to India when she was in her twenties and lived and stayed at the Divine Life Society Ashram in South India. While there she had powerful experiences with Lord Murugan. When she returned to the states she became interested in the Craft and she met her husband who was a High Priest in a Craft tradition. They married and they have functioned as a culturally Hindu family ever since. They are one of the founding families of the DFW Hindu Temple in Dallas and her husband teaches the Dharma classes at the temple for the youth there. They are a prime example of Anglos who instead of coming to HInduism from Paganism they actually came to Paganism from Hinduism. I personally have been very fortunate that in the time I have known them they have helped to educate me on the Hindu faith and through them I met my own Sat Guru Ammachi.

  • Just because the Temple of Witchcraft is “in the right” doesn’t mean that they are going to have an easy time getting it. The Maetreum was in the right too, and they lost their years-long fight, despite the odds seemingly in their favor. It depends on what the personal bias of the judges are in the end, I suppose. I’ll echo you here, Jason, hoping that the town of Salem gets over itself and prevents a vast accumulation of legal fees.

  • BryonMorrigan

    “Based on the information provided by [Valgard] Murray, the NCDOC established a policy permitting incarcerated individuals access to certain items used in the most common Asatru ceremony, known as a “Blot.” These permitted items include an altar, an altar cloth, altar candles, a small evergreen twig, a sacrificial bowl, mead made from honey or a fruit juice substitute, a cardboard staff, a large picture of a “Thor Hammer,” pictures of other Gods and Goddesses of the Asatru faith, a cardboard sword, runes, and folk music. The NCDOC also permits Asatru practitioners to possess several items for use in certain private worship practices, including the “study of runes.” The permitted items relating to private worship include a cloth bag, a maximum of 25 small plastic or bone runes, a religious medallion, and several sources of reading material.” (From the unpublished – meaning “non-binding” – opinion of the court)

    • Aguest

      I got so many scars off cardboard-carrying berserkers.
      I’m just kidding. good for you

      • BryonMorrigan

        I want to know more of these cardboard swords. Are they mass-produced somewhere? Or is there some Dept. of Corrections employee cutting up a cardboard box into a sword shape every time a Heathen goes to prison? These are important questions, and I believe TWH needs to do an in-depth examination of this issue! 😀

  • AGuest

    The Hindu Kali Temple (and yeah, it’s genuine) nearby me in the US warmly welcomes people of all ethnicities. If you’re Hindu, go to ones like that, not ones run by people who don’t like Anglos.
    If a Temple/Church/Group of any kind treats a person like an outsider or interloper based on their skin tone or ethnicity, leave them alone. For example, if someone isn’t of a Native American tribe, many times it’s dishonest to pretend and appropriate association, since ethnicity/tribe/blood/association is hugely important to their culture. Where not invited, don’t seek to invade such spaces, or go in person to treat them as science projects for your religious studies papers or to treat them as curios. Follow Wheaton’s Law – “Don’t be a d1ck”
    ( And if someone’s going to act like they’ve been asked something offensive and weird if asked to take off their shoes, they don’t make a good guest in a lot of places, including private homes. )

  • Sundari

    Jason, you know which story I’m commenting about… being a post-colonialist AND a convert to Hinduism myself, I can see where he’s coming from. To call him a racist wouldn’t really be correct – according to the technical definition, to be “a racist,” one must not only espouse and practice racial discrimination, but also be a part of the dominant or dominating group (which in the U.S., where he’s writing from and writing about, generally means white people, historically the colonizers and oppressors of non-white groups, and those of us white folks who try to work against racism and so forth still benefit from the cultural remnants of colonialism – this premise in his piece I agree with); ethnocentric might be a better word for his position in this instance. And certainly his views would seem to be discriminatory and based on race, but he is a non-white person living in a predominantly white culture, where the color of his skin does not create privilege for him (white privilege is often invisible, and I’m sure there are many people reading this now who will say “I’m white and i’m not privileged! *huff*!” If that’s your reaction, start by reading some Peggy McIntosh).

    Anyway, the main problem is not the argument that colonialism and its legacy is bad/problematic/needs attention. That much is true. White people who convert to Hinduism have to face the legacy of colonialism just as white people in America need to face the legacy of slavery, and the privilege built into our culture for those of European ancestry. If converts are going to practice Hinduism, we have to eventually face the problem of insider/outsider, accept rejection from orthodox communities, and understand that there are cultural experiences we will never have, spaces we can never enter, and things we can never understand. But fortunately, faith does not have to be limited by politics, and Hinduism has a long history of accepting converts.

    What I mean is, all of this is not to say that we cannot experience God/dess or practice Hinduism sincerely, that we cannot adopt a humble attitude and learn, etc. As a Hindu, I’m devoted to Mahadevi, the Great Goddess. I perform pujas and live my life according to the non-dual philosophies I have studied and which reflect my understanding of the world. And there are cultural observances in the community to which I belong that don’t make sense for me to follow, because I am not part of that culture – but then the same could be said for my own culturally-based festivals. In any case, in many ways, converts are always going to be like children, discovering new things. I’ve been a practicing Hindu for many years, and am still just finding out about more festivals and pujas, etc. And I am still rejected by those who are more orthodox in their views, as I will always be. I accept that.

    But Sarma is nevertheless presenting a reductivist argument with a false dichotomy, creating a sort of monolithic “Hinduism” and an ethnocentric view of “White Hindu Converts” that he himself as a scholar must know doesn’t actually exist. He says that pluralists are “Pollyannas,” but in fact the legacy of Hinduism is pluralism. It is endemic to the religion. In some areas of India, there are seemingly paradoxical traditions that both embrace Brahminical heirarchy and orthodoxy, and simultaneously embrace subaltern ritual practices and beliefs that reject that orthodoxy. Furthermore, Hinduism has transformed and changed everywhere it’s been carried by its adherents. Even within India, the Hinduism of Kerala vs. Tamil Nadu vs. Assam vs. Rajasthan vs. West Bengal, etc., and even from place to place within those states themselves, will be different depending on the cultural practices of the people who live in those areas. Then the Hinduisms of Nepal, Bali, Trinidad are all wildly different from each other, as well as from India. These were often the result of conquest by various kings who enforced particular worship, as well as colonialist influences. That Hinduism in America would slowly take on its own shapes according to American culture is an inevitable part of the evolution of religion, as is the expansion of adherents to include local people.

    Ultimately, Sarma is making a political argument, which is also in line with an extremely orthodox one. The orthodox view, of course, is an increasingly political one that enforces not only racial boundaries (and sometimes even boundaries based on birth – i.e., those of Indian descent not born in India cannot be Hindus), but also caste and gender boundaries. After all, what are Sarma’s views about caste and gender discrimination within Hinduism? He is obviously a Brahmin, so how does he take responsibility for benefitting from the oppression that his own caste, his own ancestors, have enforced on others, especially Dalits, for several thousand years? While there’s certainly an argument to be made that colonialism may have served to more broadly codify oppression of lower castes and adivasis in India, nevertheless, caste oppression was being enforced long before colonialism, as was gender discrimination. There are plenty of Indian philosophers and activists within India addressing these problems today, and many of them reject Hinduism entirely because of it. Yet, Hinduism is extremely flexible, and there is scriptural and historical basis – depending on where you look – for eradication of caste and gender heirarchy. Hindus are not by any means required to accept all scriptures, even the Vedas (some of the Tantras reject the Vedas outright), even though orthodox types would object.

    Sarma is certainly entitled to his views, but I would hope that at least he would hold himself to the same scrutiny as he holds others, being privileged as he is within his own ancestral culture, even as he faces the realities of racism in America. And if I’m being completely honest, I’d say Sarma wrote this more as a bombshell to create a name for himself through controversy, being as blunt and bludgeoning as possible to get as many people talking as possible.

  • Pitch313

    I get frustrated by culture bearers who want to wall off their culture from bearers of other cultures who develop an abiding involvement in the culture being walled off. Human cultures just do not function as limited territories that actually can be walled off. Human cultures leak and flow and drip and fill and overspill and immerse–culture bearers. Human cultures fill us up with ways to be human.

    So folks not raised in Hindu culture can and do take up Hinduism. Not to subvert or insult the culture bearers who happened to be born and raised there, but because human cultures speak to culture bearers of human cultures in a manner that both defines and transforms bearing human culture. What I mean is–it’s what humans are and do.

    Let me add that Kali and aspects of Hindu culture have played–and continue to play–a central part in my life and my Pagan practice. Sometimes the practitioner or adherent has no choice in the Deities, Powers, Energies, Magic, and source culture that she or he encounters.

  • Pitch313

    I get frustrated by culture bearers who want to wall off their culture from bearers of other cultures who develop an abiding involvement in the culture being walled off. Human cultures just do not function as limited territories that actually can be walled off. Human cultures leak and flow and drip and fill and overspill and immerse–culture bearers. Human cultures fill us up with ways to be human.

    So folks not raised in Hindu culture can and do take up Hinduism. Not to subvert or insult the culture bearers who happened to be born and raised there, but because human cultures speak to culture bearers of human cultures in a manner that both defines and transforms bearing human culture. What I mean is–it’s what humans are and do.

    Let me add that Kali and aspects of Hindu culture have played–and continue to play–a central part in my life and my Pagan practice. Sometimes the practitioner or adherent has no choice in the Deities, Powers, Energies, Magic, and source culture that she or he encounters.

    From yet another angle–Using Sarma’s argument, Ali Akbar Khan was culturally mocking the indigenous musical experience of San Francisco Bay Area rockers when he opened his school of Indian music in San Rafael, CA.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I actually like a segregation of cultures and cultural assimilation. However, I do not think that being born into a culture automatically means a person is of that culture.

      As I said previously, ethnicity has nothing to do with culture. Anyone that says otherwise is, in my rather arrogant opinion, incredibly deluded.

      • Pitch313

        Ethnic links with human cultures are tricksy. Often, most bearers of a culture do share ethnicity. But it appears to be the nature of human beings to undergo enculturation. So culture is more a human thing than a mark of some ethnicity.

        Otherwise, America would have no Indian restaurants,,,