Unleash the Hounds! (Link Roundup)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 8, 2014 — 28 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.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

  • Does the presence of goddesses within a faith mean better treatment for women within a culture? A Guardian article complicates the notion. Quote: “Goddesses are worshipped merely as a ritual but in reality, women are generally never seen as their earthly representations,” [Usha Vishwakarma] says. “It is not inspiration or motivation that we look for. Sheer frustration from being ill-treated by men and unsympathetic responses from family drive us to rebel and make conditions better for ourselves.”
  • Scholar Wendy Doniger says India banning her book “The Hindus: An Alternative History” had her “in high spirits.” Quote: “But I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book ‘filthy and dirty.’ Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. ‘The Hindus’ isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.”
  • At HuffPo, Parth Parihar discusses “Hinduism and the eco-activist vacuum.” Quote: “What could be more adharmic than incentivizing the creation of fossil fuel infrastructure that only makes oil a more economically viable means of energy production, thereby impeding progress on combating global climate change?”
  • The head of the British Veterinary Association is advocating that animals slaughtered in Kosher and Halal butchering be stunned first, spurring charges of misinformation and limiting religious rights. Quote: “But Mr Arkush, who is the vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the Jewish slaughtering practice was a ‘humane act designed to bring about the animals’ end very quickly’. He said that Mr Blackwell’s remarks were ‘completely misleading’ and criticised him for ‘speaking in a way that inflamed prejudice’.”
  • The Straight Dope covers the topic of penis-stealing sorcerers. Quote: “The result of this delusional drama can be pretty ugly. About 20 witches accused of penis theft were lynched in Nigeria in 2001, and 12 in Ghana in 2002. One survey counted 56 separate cases between 1997 and 2003, with at least 36 suspected thieves murdered. In a 2008 outbreak in Congo, urgent messages went out by radio to avoid strangers wearing gold rings in taxis, leading police to put 13 suspected sorcerers into protective custody to prevent lynchings.”
  • Tablet Magazine explores the forbidden books of Jewish magic. Quote: “If most historical Judaisms have taken a transcendental approach to the magic taboo, the transgression-consummation dyad accounts for the simultaneous attraction and repulsion to magic one finds in so many Jewish sources. The highly charged polarity is responsible for producing myriad expressions of anxiety, the tracing of which may shed light on familiar facets of Jewish culture. The binary status of magic gave rise to contested formulations of its cultural position among rabbinic authorities. Was magic the most profound degradation of the spirit, or the highest actualization of human potential?”
  • Police in Siberia managed to stop an attempted witch-burning before it was too late. Quote: “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition, a couple in eastern Siberia decided their acquaintance was a witch and attempted to burn her alive, though police stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe. The rescue came not a moment too soon, as the couple were at that moment forcing the alleged witch headfirst into a burning stove in an abandoned building, Zabaikalsky Region police said Thursday.”
  • From the “what could possibly go wrong” files, Oklahoma House passes “Merry Christmas” bill that would protect using religious expressions in public schools. Quote: “There is a war on Christians and Christmas, and anyone who would deny that is not paying close enough attention,” Cleveland said in a December 2013 press release. “This bill will create a layer of protection for our public school teachers and staff to freely discuss and celebrate Christmas without worrying about offending someone.” Don’t worry though, the proposed law calls for Christianity to share the stage with at least ONE other faith and/or secular expression. Diversity!
  • A new book from a 20-year devotee alleges widespread corruption, nepotism, and abuse in the empire of “Hugging Saint” Mata “Amma” Amrithanandamayi. Quote: “An Australian woman, who served Mata Amrithanandamayi for two decades, has exposed in her memoir the “hugging saint’s” ashram as a murky world of physical, sexual and mental torture, promiscuity power-madness and intolerance.” The organization’s response? She’s crazy and depressed (no, really, that’s their response).
  • Slate.com mentions Santeria and Vodou elements in the hit HBO show “True Detective.” Quote: “Voodoo and Santeria have long inspired the authors who dabbled in cosmic horror. Louisiana Voodoo (otherwise known as “Hoodoo”), which draws upon African and European folk traditions alike, derives much of its occult resonance from such practices as vengeance by proxy (voodoo dolls), suspended animation (zombification), and gris-gris (talismans, not unlike the knocked-together fetish sculptures that Hart and Cohle discover at the scene of Dora Lange’s murder). The particular appeal of Louisiana Voodoo to cosmic-horror writers like Lovecraft and those who have followed in his footsteps comes not only from its supernaturalism, but from its cultural otherness as well.”

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Soli

    There is a wonderful and heartbreaking documentary about the treatment of women in India available on Youtube. Having Goddesses as part of a culture’s religious paradigm doesn’t mean the women are going to be respected, which we have seen in many parts of world once upon a time. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxHBqVMnv1w

  • gary p golden jr

    “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition…stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe.”

    An auto-da-fe? What’s an auto-da-fe?


    • Boris

      Auto da fé, litterally act of faith, is an execution by burning.

      • Faoladh

        I see that you’ve never watched History of the World Part One, the Mel Brooks film. However, there is a YouTube video of the relevant segment linked in the comment to which you are responding. You could have watched that first.

    • Faoladh

      First thing I thought of, too. Oh, that Mel Brooks. Ruining us all. 😉

  • Obsidia

    Thanks to your article, I just ordered “The Hindus: An Alternative History.” From the author’s article that you linked to, I found this relevant quote: ”

    “The Victorian Protestant British scorned Hinduism’s polytheism, erotic sculptures, spirited mockery of its own gods and earthy mythology as filthy paganism. They also preferred the texts created and perpetuated by a small, upper-caste male elite, and regarded as beneath contempt the vast oral and vernacular literatures enriched and animated by the voices of women and lower castes. It is this latter, “alternative” Hinduism that my book celebrates throughout Indian history.

    Many of the Hindu elite who worked closely with the British caught the prejudices of their masters. In the 19th century, those Hindus lifted up other aspects of Hinduism — its philosophy, its tradition of meditation — that were more palatable to European tastes and made them into a new, sanitized brand of Hinduism, often referred to as Sanatana Dharma, “the Eternal Law.””
    I always seem to find more relevance within the “voices of women and lower castes.” And I’m glad someone (Wendy Doniger) has brought them to the fore. I pray for the day where the voices of all people and all classes will be celebrated instead of banned! YAY for “filthy paganism”!!!

  • Rob Henderson

    “Does the presence of goddesses within a faith mean better treatment for
    women within a culture?”

    Ancient Athenian culture would suggest not.

  • “Does the presence of Goddesses within a faith mean better treatment of women in a culture?”

    In a word, the only possible answer must be “yes”. Obviously the only alternative to “the presence of Goddesses” is the active suppression of Goddess worship, because without such suppression, Goddess worship is a universal feature of all human societies.

    Therefore, another way of framing this question is “Does the active suppression of Goddess worship spell trouble for women?”


    I am relatively certain that no one has ever claimed that Indian society (or ancient Athenian society, etc), are free of all sexism, and that this is so simply because of “the presence of Goddesses”.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      ” because without such suppression, Goddess worship is a universal feature of all human societies.”

      That’s a heck of an assumption there. Goddess worship is NOT a universal concept. I’ll grant you that it’s a common practice, but there are plenty of cultures (past and present) where it was not the norm.

      • It would be quite easy to disprove my assertion. Name a human society at any time in human history where there was no Goddess worship.

        • Alyxander M Folmer

          Ok. If you want any society at any point in human history, that’s easy. Modern Sunni Islam. Done. (that branch of Islam hasn’t had any sanctioned “goddess worship” in about a thousand years. Possibly more, but there it gets fuzzier.)

          If you want historical examples, then off the top of my head there’s:

          1- Lao Tzu’s Taoism (Which basically said that whether or not any gods exist is pretty much irrelevant.)

          2- Early Buddhism (as taught by Siddhartha Gautama) which believed that deities existed, but didn’t worship any of them.

          3- Zoroastrianism (Which is a monolatrist faith where the single deity is alternately assumed to be both genders or none at all)

          4- Temple Era Judaism (This society USED to have sanctioned Goddess worship, but by 332 BCE the faith had become firmly Monotheistic and this was no longer practiced.)

          There is no “Human Default” religion, and there is no universal trait. There will ALWAYS be an exception to the rule, we humans are unpredictable like that.
          Now as I said, I won’t argue that it is/was a COMMON practice, but it’s NOT universal.

          • Both Judaism and Islam are examples of religions that have actively suppressed Goddess worship. My original claim was that Goddess worship is universal, and, therefore, it is found everywhere except for where it has been actively suppressed. Actually this should be made more specific: Goddess worship is found everywhere except for places where it has been violently suppressed by one of the three monotheistic religions.

            The other three examples you cite, on the other hand, are all examples of religions that very much include Goddess worship.

            Taoists worship, among other Goddesses, Xi Wangmu and Bixia Yuanjin.

            Buddhists worship a huge variety of Goddesses, the most famous of which are Kuan Yin and Tara. Others include Prajna Paramita, Cundi, Prithivi, and Ushnisha Vijaya. Many of these Goddesses are discussed at length in Miranda Shaw’s book Buddhist Goddesses of India.

            As for Zoroastrians, they also worship Goddesses, the prominent of whom is Anahita.

          • Alyxander M Folmer

            “Taoists worship, among other Goddesses, Xi Wangmu and Bixia Yuanjin. ”

            Read closely, I was very specific. I specified Lao Tzu’s Taoism (as in the original teachings of the Tao Te Ching), which contains no deity worship whatsoever.

            I also VERY SPECIFICALLY pointed out the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, which ALSO contain no deity worship.

            On the point of Zoroastrianism, the goddess figures (like Anahita) were relatively late additions, which were influenced by Babylonian beliefs. So there I will grant that I was not specific enough.

            You’re also failing to account for the early “religious” practices of the Middle Paleolithic, many of which venerated animals or landmarks rather than humanoid deities (which didn’t really show up until later in the Upper Paleolithic)

            Perhaps I should explain why this point is so important.

            Christian’s often make arguments based on the assumption that Monotheism is the pinnacle of religious social evolution, and/or that polytheism inevitably leads to monotheism. This is demonstrably wrong, and based in a lot of privileged assumptions.
            When you say “Goddess worship is universal”, you’re doing the same thing. You’re operating under the “My religion is obviously the universal norm” assumption. It’s not. There are thousands of different models of theology in the world, and not all of them contain goddesses. Simple as that.

          • Nick Ritter

            “On the point of Zoroastrianism, the goddess figures (like Anahita) were relatively late additions, which were influenced by Babylonian beliefs.”

            In the case of Anahita, surely not. She may have been influenced by Babylonian goddesses, but a comparison with the Indic goddess Sarasvati shows them to be cognate figures in the mythology. If anything, worship of Anahita (although possibly under a different name), predates the reforms of Zoroaster.

          • Alyxander M Folmer

            Really? My (admittedly limited) education on the subject indicated that Anahita didn’t become prominent until after 600 BCE. My last class on the topic was years ago, though, so I may be out of date. Do you have a current source I could reference?

          • Nick Ritter

            I don’t know about “current” as current doesn’t necessarily mean correct, but:

            Mary Boyce: “A History of Zoroastrianism: Vol. 1” (1975)

            Mary Boyce: “Aban” in the Encyclopedia Iranica (1983)

            Herman Lommel: “Anahita-Sarasvati” in Johannes Schubert’s and Ulrich Schneider’s “Asiatica: Festschrift Friedrich Weller zum 65. Geburtstag” (1954)

            Georges Dumezil: “The Destiny of the Warrior” (Alf Hiltebeitel trans. 1970)

            Georges Dumezil: “Archaic Roman Religion” (1966)

            That Anahita was conflated with Ishtar is not a matter of dispute. She does not originate with Ishtar, however, but goes back (at least) to proto-Indo-Iranian, and possibly a good deal further.

          • Mary Boyce is an extremely important source for anyone interested in Zoroastrianism.

          • Taoism doesn’t work like that. There is no such thing as some fundamentalist “sola sciptura” sect of Taoism that automatically rejects and excludes anything not found in the Tao Te Ching.

            As for Buddhism, there is a great deal of evidence that even the earliest Buddhists worshipped Goddesses. Images of the Goddess Lakshmi in particular are frequently found in the earliest known Buddhist sites (stupas and temples going back to the 3rd century BC). The idea that Buddhists do not worship Gods and Goddesses is a purely modern fantasy and has absolutely nothing to do with Buddhism as it is actually practiced today, and as it has been practiced for the last 2500 years.

          • Of course, the problem is that inevitably Westerners want to pluck Buddhism and Taoism out of their native Asian contexts–in which they are, of course, inextricably bound with native, polytheistic/animist religions–and say, “Aha! I’ve found a religion without deities”, when no such atheistic version of the religion ever existed. And, as you allude to, there is such a tendency among Westerners used to Christianity to focus only on written texts in a scriptural sense. You could read the Tao Te Ching backwards and forwards all day long and still have no idea what Taoism is like in practice.

        • Deborah Bender

          The indigenous religions of hunter-gatherer societies usually contain neither gods nor goddesses. Their myths and folktales are about the doings of archetypical animals.

          What I believe to be a true cultural universal is that humans imagine the social organization of the spirit world to be similar to the way their own society is organized, or used to be organized.

          It may be that there are aspects to the social organization of the spirit world that are different from human experience, but if so, human beings have a hard time taking that in.

          If the leaders of a tribal society lead by example and persuasion, but do not have the power to compel obedience, the people in that society have no reason to conceive of a spirit world which contains anthropomorphic beings who are extraordinarily powerful, beautiful or wise. They will interact with spirit beings the way they interact with human elders and leaders, with respect but not with adoration.

          With respect to prehistoric cultures that have left objects and images but no writing, we can only make educated guesses about their religious beliefs, by analogy to cultures we know more about.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Hansel and Gretel were Siberian?

  • PhaedraHPS

    I started reading the The Hindus last night and am quite impressed. I regret that it’s a library book, so I can’t mark passages.

    Her first-chapter discussion of trying to define Hinduism is itself worth the read for any contemporary Pagan who has experienced the “Who is Pagan?” debate. In evidence:

    “In what seems to me to be something like desperation, a number of people have defined Hinduism as the religion of people who cannot or will not define their religion.”

    “What’s in a name?…Hinduism by any other name would be just as impossible to categorize, and it is still useful to employ /some/ word for it…”Hinduism” is, in any case, the only poker game in town right now; it is by far the most immediately recognizable word, or even phrase, currently used to describe the Zen [sic] diagram of, for want of a better word, Hinduism. In any case, whether or not there really is a Hinduism, there certainly are Hindus.”

    Sound familiar?

    • Deborah Bender

      Good grief, Zen diagram for Venn diagram? Never an editor around when you need one.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Some Venn diagrams can be very Zen…

      • PhaedraHPS

        It is “Zen diagram” deliberately. The text earlier in the chapter discusses it. I used “[sic]” so you know I didn’t make a typo myself.

        One thing that I am enjoying about her writing style is her subtle humor and wordplay, of which Zen diagram is an example.

  • Ashley Yakeley

    I recommend Jakob de Roover’s article Untangling The Knot for where some of the opposition to Doniger’s book is coming from.

  • real world survivor

    You folks are quibbling about Goddess worship when (apparently) there are penis stealing sorcerers about!

    • Wolfsbane

      What’s wrong with that? I know a lot of dickheads that need disappearing. Wonder if someone could possibly put me in touch with some of these sorcerers. 😉