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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — In a move that has raised eyebrows — and some ire — in the online Catholic community, Loyola University of Chicago recognized a student group that promotes Paganism. The club was approved by the university’s student government, a step which is necessary in many colleges to become eligible for funding and for the use of school buildings, not the school’s administration. When the administration became aware of its existence, the club was told to remove “Pagan” from its name. Administrators were apparently unaware of the new club until the story was picked up by the national news site The College Fix.

loyolaThat’s the story as told by club founder and president Jill Kreider:

I started the club in the hopes of letting people know that there are Pagan students on campus. My friend and VP is a Celtic pagan and he and I both wanted this club to at least acknowledge our existence, even if we didn’t make it past the initial interview stage.The upper administration had little to do with the original process and only came into the picture after the [College] Fix article alerted them of our existence.

Kreider, who also serves as an interfaith advocate on campus, didn’t share much with The Wild Hunt, citing a desire to “tread lightly” and a heavy school workload. In an email to The College Fix about the club, she shared some of her vision:

Loyola’s mission states that, ‘seeking God in all things’ is one of the main [tenets] of the university. While the mission primarily focuses on the Abrahamic God, there is no reason a Pagan student (or a Hindu, Baha’i or Sikh student) cannot seek using his or her own faith, regardless of which god they are doing it for.

Loyola University Chicago is one of 175 run by the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, of which Pope Francis is a member. The school is named for the Jesuits’ founder, Ignatius Loyola. Kreider’s remarks resulted in a firestorm of comments, articles and posts online, especially attached to that original story.

While some equated Pagan religions to Satanism or defended those faiths, a larger number of the posts speak to the internal conflicts within Christianity itself. Based on the comment threads, Roman Catholicism is deemed suspect by many other Christians, in part because of the veneration of saints and the Virgin Mary, which critics equate with Pagan idolatry. Defenders of Paganism, using well-worn arguments about the Pagan symbolism underlying many Christian festivals, have been met with agreement from those who wish to denounce Catholicism as a tool of the Devil. Here’s a typical anti-Catholic diatribe from another Christian in the thread:

The Catholic cult is the largest organization of homosexuals, pedophiles and anti-christs on this earth. Their doctrine is pagan and the Word of God identifies them with over 20 points of identification that THEY ARE INDEED THE BEAST OF REVELATION AND DANIEL. –Jennifer Chronister

University officials appear to be treading lightly themselves in this case. In response to inquiries by The Wild Hunt, spokesperson Steven Christensen provided the same statement given to The College Fix. Here is that response in its entirety:

I can confirm that the Pagan Student Alliance was granted recognition by the Department of Student Activities and Greek Affairs (SAGA), which is a unit within the Division of Student Development, on October 9, 2014. Requests to form new student organizations are accepted at the beginning of each semester, and a number of factors are considered before recognition is granted to an organization. Those factors do not require a potential organization to identify with the religious views of the University.

Following the SAGA approval, other leaders within Student Development expressed concerns related to the organization’s name, and the breadth and lack of definition of its constitution. During the week of October 13, the president and vice president of the Pagan Student Alliance met with Student Development leadership regarding these concerns and the group agreed to modify the name of the organization to the Indigenous Faith Traditions Alliance. As with all student organizations, a clear sense of purpose is required, and the group has been asked to further define their purpose on campus. The group has agreed to this request.

Related to this, and all student groups, at Loyola we welcome and foster an open exchange of ideas and encourage debate and sharing differing views and opinions to advance education. We believe that discussion around complex topics results in deeper critical thinking skills and well-rounded citizens.

According to the university website, “The search for truth is carried out in an atmosphere of Academic Freedom and open inquiry based on two fundamental assumptions of the Catholic faith. First, that the truth will set us free. Second, that faith and reason ultimately bear harmonious witness to the unity of all truth.”  Welcoming a Pagan, or rather an “Indigenous Faith Traditions,” club appears consistent for a university that already has Muslim and Hindu clubs on campus.

In editorial on Christian blog site Aleteia.org, Susan E. Wills prodded at the new name of the club, saying, “. . . one can’t help but picture a group meeting of Buddhists, Taoists, Santeras . . . Wiccans, and pagans all arguing over whether Wiccans should even be allowed in the club. It is not an ‘indigenous’ religion at all. It was basically created in the 1950s by the self-proclaimed Druid Gerald Gardner, an Englishman.” Wills goes on to question how Wiccan theology fits into a Catholic worldview, saying:

“Wicca is a religion only in the loosest sense of the word, having been cobbled together from various sources in the 1950s, having no defined doctrine (as each practitioner is free to believe what he or she wants) and largely practiced alone … While individual Wiccans may be ‘good people’ and ‘good citizens’, it is difficult to see any nuggets of truth or goodness in Wicca itself.”

While the original College Fix article points out that Wicca is one of the better-known Pagan religions, it’s the only reference to the Wiccan faith in connection with the club. It’s not clear why Wills chose to fixate on Wicca in her remarks. Kreider identifies herself as Hellenistic Pagan and her vice-president as a Celtic Pagan. The group’s original mission as posted on Facebook was, “to unify Pagans, the spiritual but not religious, those seeking faith or religion, minority faith students (including but not limited to: Buddhists, Taoists, Shinto practitioners, Santeras, etc…) pluralists and those students interested in New Age religions on Loyola’s campus. If you don’t have a faith group on campus, we’re here to fill that gap!”

In an article published in the Oct. 17 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Beth McMurtrie discusses the new problems facing Catholic colleges today as the religious climate of the United States changes. According to the article, in 1973 82% of full-time freshmen at Catholic colleges identified as Catholic. In 2013, that number was only 50%. Loyola’s acceptance of the new Pagan club appears to be one example of a Jesuit university being forced to wrestle with its own identity in modern society and, as such, making an effort to adjust to an evolving student population.

Many modern Pagans and Heathens shy away from — or are downright horrified by — the idea of animal sacrifice. Arguments against the practice generally come from a place of concern for the animals involved, or a fear that it would result in an “othering” by mainstream society. On the other hand, the sacrificial priests say that the practice is rooted in compassion and community, and that criticisms of their work reveal a fundamental disconnect with the food system, and perhaps a smoldering of racism as well.

In recent weeks, a debate has heated up around this topic. It is clear that the very idea of killing animals in a sacred ritual evokes strong emotions among proponents and opponents alike, which can obscure the arguments and factual details as well as the religious reasons for carrying it out. Today we take a closer look at this difficult topic.

Technical details of sacrifice

Anomalous Thracian

Anomalous Thracian

. . . under optimum (e.g. correct, humane) circumstances of animal sacrifice, the animal has been raised in small farming set-ups (rather than industrial meat factories), handled by people it is familiar with interpersonally who regard them with respect and dignity from the start, and in the time leading up to the ritual, treated as living kings. A distressed animal, which is the standard state of industrial slaughter, is literally unfit for most sacrificial rites: the calmness and comfort of the animals is the primary logistical concern. — Anomalous Thracian

Trained as a sacrificial priest, Thracian argues that modern standards of sacrifice demand specialists who understand how to end life without suffering. As in the Kosher method of animal slaughter, the throat must be cut with a single stoke that slices through the arteries, veins, esophagus and trachea, but leaves the spinal cord intact. The reason for this precision was explained by another sacrificial priest, Tēlemakhos Night. He said:

A single cut is made at the neck, severing all vitals instantly, without compromising the central-nervous-system (the spine and neck bones). By leaving the CNS intact, the animal’s natural and biologically programmed response kicks in, which settles the animal into a state of euphoria and death, rather than agitation or panic. (Severing the CNS prevents necessary full-body signals, including hormonal release signals, from being delivered.)

Such exactness in the act was also stressed by Galina Krasskova, a Heathen priestess trained in sacrifice, who said:

Galina Krasskova

 . . . the animal is carefully chosen. It is cared for, pampered, fed well, and on the day of the sacrifice decorated, soothed, and kept calm. When the sacrifice is made, it is done with a scalpel-sharp blade and a clean, quick cut. Compassion is not what I look for in a sacrificial priest. I look for training and skill. Having the proper skill guarantees that the animal will not suffer, whereas if one approaches the act of sacrifice awash in strong emotion there’s actually a greater likelihood that a mistake will be made, the priest will hesitate, and as a result the animal will have pain.

The idea that an animal that has suffered physically or psychically is unsuitable for sacrifice may be a modern convention. Did the ancient practice of drowning horses as a sacrifice to Poseidon take into consideration the feelings of the animal? Did those people have the same 21st-century understanding of anatomy?

While a portion of the animal itself is often part of the offering, usually the bulk of the meat is consumed, a tradition which is described by Australian Hellenic polytheist Markos Gage:

In Greece when these sacrifices happened people would had been used to life and death. As a community they raised the beasts themselves, they saw them born, they fed them, treated them when ill, they killed them, they ate them. There was an intimacy that only livestock farmers know today. We live in a time of decadence where our guilt for killing an animal is non-existent because the creatures are slaughtered somewhere else and we see their meat as nothing but a product.

Many who support sacrifice see the disconnect from where our meat comes as being the driving force in the pushback against the practice this rite. Conor O’Bryan Warren, in a column on Polytheist.com, speaks of growing up in an agricultural family, and how his view of the killing of animals differed greatly from many of his college classmates:

Most of the people in the class are inculturated with a Western Protestant worldview which sees the exploitation and torture of animals for profit (and thus a cog in the machine of Corporate Capitalism) as being completely acceptable but which views their sacrifice for religious purposes as being terribly barbaric and backwards.

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

The Druid organization Ár nDríaocht Féin does not permit any form of blood sacrifice in public rituals. Archdruid Kirk Thomas said that it’s fraught with problems for the inexperienced practitioner and from a public relations standpoint.

The reasons are many. One is it would be bad public relations — most people are more than happy to eat meat slaughtered in abattoirs in inhumane ways as long as it’s cheap and they don’t have to witness the killings. But to kill an animal in front of them would bring the horror of violent death far too close for comfort. Also, none of us are trained in the art of killing an animal in a painless and humane way. In the end we’d probably end up with a bloody mess.

However, we don’t regulate non-public rites. We actively discourage animal sacrifice but should some member own a farm and be trained in the slaughter of his or her own herds, then who are we to stop them from praying over their animals before dispatching them? Personally, I’d rather the poor creatures be commended to the Gods before their deaths than not, with forgiveness asked and, hopefully, given.

While it was often a public event in antiquity, modern sacrifice is largely a private affair, noted Night in his explanation of the mechanics of sacrifice.

Ritual context

The traditions which include sacrifice vary widely, crossing racial, ethnic, and religious lines. While there are sacrificial practices in all of the three major branches of Abrahamic religion, discussing them could distract from understanding the Pagan context. That includes sacrifice as it is understood in polytheist and African traditional religions, both of which categories have some participants who identify as Pagan. Confining the discussion in this way still results in a huge diversity of sacred practices, but clear similarities emerge.

Consent seems to be universal among these religions, and it must be obtained from the participants, the deities, and the animals involved. No one should participate in animal sacrifice if it makes them uncomfortable or violates taboos. This act is also not performed simply to do it; divination is generally used to confirm that a particular deity wants such an offering in the first place. Divination is also one of the ways that the consent of the animal is established. Although, an experienced priest may also observe the animal’s body language and ascertain the emotional state of the creature.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

While sacrificed animals are often offered in part (or, in some cases, entirely) to the god or gods in question, that is not the only reason these rites are performed. This is a detail touched on by Lilith Dorsey, author of the blog Voodoo Universe, when she spoke to us for this story:

I understand that this is a very difficult topic for many, and is obviously one that I could speak about for volumes. Let me start by saying I am an anthropologist, filmmaker and author in addition to being an initiated practitioner of Haitian Vodou and La Regla Lucumi (more mistakenly known as Santeria), both of which include animal sacrifice as part of their rites.

Sacrifice is performed for annual feasts and also to heal individual issues.The way I explain it to people is that if you went to a medical doctor and was told that in order to save the life of a loved one you needed to give them medicine that came from a chicken gizzard, would you do it? If you would offer up the human life refusing on moral grounds, then my hat is off to you.There are several African Traditional Religious houses you can join that do not practice sacrifice of animals. Most people would choose their daughter, their father, or their true love over a chicken, and then the issue really comes to light, which is one of faith.This is a spiritual prescription, you can choose to take it or not. People put much more faith in modern medicine than they do in “scary” (meaning unknown and stereotyped) magicks that may, in reality, be much more effective.This is just one reason we perform these sacrifices, to heal. Another reason is for feasts where the ritual animals are very often eaten, which seems to quell a lot of peoples’ fears. For practitioners, myself included, the animals for ceremony are just what the Orisha or Loa (divine forces) eat. The same way lions are fed steak, the energies call for this type of offering.This is substantiated by time, tradition, divination, and success rate. People who perform these sacrifices are also highly trained, both in the spiritual art and practical design of carrying out these sacred rites.The implementation in most cases is much more humane than your friendly neighborhood slaughterhouse.

While the ADF does not advocate for the practice, Archdruid Thomas is familiar with its place in religious observance:

If we look at the ancients, we see that the sacrifice was seen in a variety of ways, such as the shared meal and as a form of reciprocity. In the shared meal we are sharing our food with the Gods, and this brings about the sense of community. And for animal sacrifices then, it was the chance for a great barbecue. According to Walter Burkert, in ancient Greece the only animal protein available for most people was from the meat of the sacrifice. Even today we often refer to our holidays as ‘feasts’. This is where that comes from.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

But even as some find the practice of sacrifice life-affirming, it’s a clear violation of what other Pagans feel is expected of them by their gods. That’s where Jason Mankey is on the issue.

As a Wiccan I do not practice animal sacrifice, nor would I ever consider such a thing. In the Charge of the Goddess, it’s all spelled out pretty clearly: ‘Nor do I demand sacrifice, for behold I am the Mother of All Living, and my love is poured out upon the earth.’ If the Lady demanded sacrifice She would have said so, instead she said it was not required. If it was good enough for Gerald and Doreen then it’s good enough for me.

In addition to my Wiccan practice, I also participate in Hellenic Ritual from time to time.The Ancient Greeks sacrificed animals, like most ancient pagans, and they did so with reverence towards the gods and with a sense of practicality. People often sacrificed to the Greek gods in order to get a good meat dinner, and it was also rare (the practice, not how they cooked the meat). People were far more likely to leave the god Pan honey cakes and wine than they were to sacrifice a goat in his honor.

Should people be free to practice animal sacrifice in 2014? Of course. Eating and hunting are both legal practices, and there is a long tradition of animal sacrifice within many different pagan traditions. As long as the animals in question are being slaughtered humanely and their meat is being eaten, I don’t personally have a problem with it. In addition, if people are sacrificing animals, I hope it’s from a real place of devotion and not simply to ‘prove a point.’ If everyone’s intentions are honorable, I don’t think it’s my place to tell people what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ To some degree we’ve all got to figure that out for ourselves.

Legal and cultural context

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that animal sacrifice is legal in the landmark decision of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah, in which decision Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”

That said, many Pagans, such as David Salisbury, object to the practice on moral grounds, or because it may lead to connecting these religions with “Satanic panic”-style hysteria associated with the abduction and unwilling sacrifice of house pets. Others maintain that all life is sacred, and that taking any life is never acceptable. In his recent blog post, Salisbury concluded:

Animal sacrifice boils down to ego. Our human egos want us to think that taking a life in our own hands will impress our gods and show them that we’re willing to do big things to appease them. But we must get over ourselves. Animal sacrifice serves only to tell our minds that we’re more important than the majority of other living beings who we share this planet with.

Sannion

Sannion

Sannion is a Hellenic polytheist who, while is does not perform these rites himself, is an outspoken champion of the practice. He questions the notion that animal sacrifice is less ethical than consuming supermarket meat, or even a vegan lifestyle:

Unless you get all of your meat from local-sourced, free-range, organic farms who practice ethical slaughter you’ve got no room to object. Animals are tortured, raised in filth and never permitted to move about, pumped full of dangerous chemicals and antibiotics, shipped ridiculously long distances so that their meat can end up at your neighborhood supermarket or fast food chain. How is that preferable to what we’re doing? And if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you do realize that you’re still responsible for the taking of life, right? Life that science is increasingly coming to recognize as sentient and capable of suffering. All you’re doing is prioritizing one form of life over another — a form of life, by the way, that unlike all other forms of life derives its nutrients from sun, soil and water, and therefore causes no harm to other living creatures. If you’re strictly approaching this from an ethical position, plants are the most innocent things on this planet and so should be spared from predation.

Anomalous Thracian was willing to tackle the question of perception in the overculture:

Whether a person supports or is uncomfortable with animal sacrifice, none of us wants to see the evangelical right come with pitchforks. I guarantee that in the list of ways to strategical prevent this, coming after our own with pitchforks is not a suitable answer.

If anyone on any side of this issue is serious about wanting to see peaceful, progressive, enlightened resolution take place, the issue needs to be framed as it is: a topic of prejudice against certain lawful and protected practices, which is definable as religious intolerance and discrimination. It is never acceptable to attempt to pathologize people whose cultures or religions call for the ethical slaughter and sanctification of animals. Instead we should as a movement be examining the pathology of intolerance, prejudice, and panic.

Thracian also raises the thorny question of racism as it has manifested in dialogue around animal sacrifice, a subject which River Devora addressed in her own piece on Polytheist.com about the practice:

I have heard the argument made that reconstructionist Polytheists who engage in ritual animal sacrifice are problematic, while those who are part of African Diasporic or Derived Traditions and African Traditional Religions get a ‘pass,’ as though somehow letting us ‘off the hook’ for our practice of animal sacrifice makes the speaker ‘enlightened’ or more ‘understanding’ of traditional religions.These kinds of arguments are racist and offensive. It is as though you are saying to us,’European traditions, and the (mostly) white people who practice them, should know better –- Europeans are supposed to be more enlightened.Traditions primarily being practiced by African, African American, and Latino folks can get a pass because we already know those folks are unenlightened savages.’ This is far more offensive than if you simply condemned the practice of animal sacrifice across the board.This may not be what you mean, but this is what we hear when you say it.

While animal sacrifice is legal and, in modern America, generally more humane than industrial slaughter, it evokes strong reactions in many Pagans and Heathens. We may never agree on whether or not animal sacrifice has a place in religious practice. However, the dialogue is opening up, as individuals carefully examine their own feelings toward sacrifice within their own belief structures and within their relationships with the gods.

Blessed Samhain

Heather Greene —  October 31, 2014 — 4 Comments

Tonight and tomorrow is when most modern Pagans celebrate Samhain. Samhain is the start of winter and the new year according to the old Celtic calendar. This is a time when the ancestors are honored, divinations are performed, and festivals are held in honor of the gods. It is a time of the final harvest before the long winter ahead. It is perhaps the best-known and most widely celebrated of all the modern Pagan holidays.

Ancestor Altar

Ancestor Altar

During this season, other celebrations and festivals are also being held such as Velu Laiks (“the time of spirits”) by Baltic Pagans, Álfablót or the Scandanavian Sacrifice to the ElvesWinter Nights by Asatru, Foundation Night in Ekklesía AntínoouFete Gede by Vodou practitioners, Día de los Muertos for followers of Santeria and several indigenous religions in Mexico and Latin America, Diwali for Hindus (October 23 this year) and the astrological Samhain on November 6th for some Witches and Druids. Finally, in the Southern Hemisphere, many Pagans are currently celebrating Beltane.

We pray to those whose names are gratefully remembered. This includes people we were directly related to by blood, and also anyone we cared for who has passed on. These prayers remind us of the sacredness and impermanence of life. It reminds us of the strengths these people had, the challenges they faced, and the courage they roused up. They urge us to have these things too as we face the new day. – Lilith Dorsey, Voodoo Universe

The Crone is the guardian of the crossroads, and this is Her time. As we journey through our lives we come to many crossroads; we have so many choices, so many roads not taken. How do we choose? How do we know we’ve made the right choice? – Nicole Kapise-Perkins, Walking the Ancient Paths of Witches & Pagans

There’s something spooky and marvelous about Samhain-time, something that was expressed by the Celts and by more modern peoples afterwards … There’s an irrepressible spirit in the air this time of year. It lived with our pagan forbearers and lives within us. – Jason Mankey, Raise the Horns

Samhain is also a time when some communities acknowledge the Mighty Dead.

The Mighty Dead are said to be those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil. They have pledged to watch, to help and to teach. It is those Mighty Dead who stand behind us, or with us, in circle so frequently. - M. Macha Nightmare

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

[Photo Credit: Kabir Bakie via Wikimedia Commons]

Many who have been dear to our communities have crossed the veil this past year, joining the ranks of the Mighty Dead, including Margot Adler, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenhart, Jeff Rosenbaum, Lady Loreon Vigne, Sparky T. Rabbit, Apolinario Chile Pixtun, Peter Paddon, Brian Dragon, Donald Michael Kraig, Judy Harrow, Stanley Modrzyk, Colin Wilson, Jonas Trinkūnas, Eduardo Manuel Gutierrez (Hyperion), Randy David Jeffers (Randy Sapp), Chris Keith, Olivia Robertson and many others who have not been not named here, but who have equally touched our personal lives and our communities.

And, finally, in the spirit of Alley Valkyrie’s latest article, we also take a moment to remember the forgotten dead.

On the whole … the ancient feast of Winter’s Eve has regained its ancient character, as a dual time of fun and festivity, and of confrontation of the fears and discomforts inherent in life, and embodied especially in northern latitudes by the season of cold and dark. - Ronald Hutton, The Guardian

So as we approach Samhain we honor the cycle of death, rebirth, and new life; and we honor the memory of those who have passed through the veil. We honor too the gift of life, that most precious of gifts, and we seek to drink of the cup of the wine of life to the full so that no precious drop is ever wasted. – Vivianne Crowley, Greening the Spirit 

May you all have a blessed Samhain. May peace fall upon you and your beloved dead during this season. Let this be a new cycle of quiet joy and renewed blessings for all of you.

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

Holt-v.-Hobbs-Infograph1

  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Casey Rae

Casey Rae

[The following is a guest book review from Casey Rae. Casey Rae is a musician, public policy wonk and the editor/publisher of The Contrarian Media. An in-demand speaker, he gives frequent talks at conferences and campuses on issues at the intersection of creativity, technology, policy and law, and is a go-to source for major media outlets from NPR to the New York Times. Casey works alongside leaders in the music, arts and performance sectors to bolster understanding of and engagement in key policy and technology issues, and has written dozens of articles on the impact of technology on the creative community. Casey is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and VP for Policy and Education at the Future of Music Coalition. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Media & Democracy Coalition and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.]

I’ve told the story more times than I can count. Five or six years old, hanging out with my high school-age uncles in a town just a couple of clicks from Stephen King‘s place and a few hurried steps through a creepy wooded path to the university where he once taught English (in the same department where my grandmother worked). Actually, “hanging out” with my uncles is probably an overstatement. More like “invading the personal space of.” The adult me is grateful either way.

81FurFykFBL._SL1417_Already a monster movie fanatic on the prowl for anything scary, I would pore through my uncles’ LP collection looking for cool covers. this was the late 1970s; a golden age for outré album sleeves. On this particular afternoon, I recall pulling out a pair of records—Alive II by KISS, and Some Enchanted Evening, a concert from Blue Öyster Cult. My parents had decent taste in music, so this wasn’t so much a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany as it was an opportunity to make choices based on my own interests—in this case, horror stuff. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that curious about the music, but my uncle said we could listen.

First up was KISS. I was definitely impressed with band members’ demonic kabuki gear and sensational makeup. The music, not so much. Even as a rock ‘n’ roll tadpole, I recognized what a shitty band KISS are. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion.

Blue Öyster Cult was next. Frankly, the cover was a little too scary, depicting a black-robed skeleton astride a satanic steed, bony fingers gripping a scythe. Beast and beastie canvassed an angry Martian landscape beneath a cruel midnight sky. I had no idea what any of this was meant to symbolize, but I grokked its heaviness.

From the first needle drop I was in love. “Godzilla” was my favorite, but I was also taken by “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which even in its live embodiment possessed a haunted quality that I couldn’t put my tiny fingers on. Still can’t.

My uncle and I subsequently had a conversation about what a “reaper” is (“he collects vegetables at harvest time”); later I went back to my own burg to ruminate over the connections between these uncanny sounds and images.

And I’ve never stopped.

I’m not alone. I can name several books by legitimate occult scholars that make some attempt to trace these ley-lines; music scribes often hint at the witchier aspects of the rock Renaissance (roughly 1964-1982). But given that each camp has limited sightlines into the other, there is an opportunity for someone to bring focus to a topic that is too often tawdry or incomplete.

9780399167669_medium_Season_of_the_WitchPeter Bebergal‘s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll [Tarcher/Penguin 2014], is an admirable attempt at uniting the tribes. First, we need a common vernacular. To Bebergal’s definition, “the occult” is less a fixed system and more of a worldview that encompasses many spiritual traditions operating outside of mainstream religious practices. Bebergal’s interest in the subject appears to be fairly similar to my own—we both became enamored of rock music as a form of escapism at a time when other entertainment options were scarce or unbearably straight-laced. Rock, with its otherworldly visual language, coded lyrics, symbolic imagery and strident musicality, provided a perfect vessel for the projections of pre-adolescents and teenagers—largely male, definitely “gifted,” and lacking an outlet for our own creative impulses. We constructed elaborate mythologies around rock, populated by a pantheon of musical heroes and villains, wizards and warriors. Record albums became a kind of palimpsest, an (un)holy writ that only the initiated could hope to discern.

And some of us never grew out of it. Which is why it’s great to encounter a fellow traveler like Bebergal, who brings a scholar’s discipline to this esoteric quest. Bebergal is a lively writer who nonetheless resists hyperbole—quite a feat given the breathlessness this topic tends to elicit. Perhaps more impressive is the book’s comprehensiveness—from Delta blues to beatnik bluster to acid evangelists to metal overlords, Season of the Witch puts the hellfire in highbrow.

Season of the Witch is strongest in its examination of the history of African Americans as they endured the cruelties of slavery only to experience the anguish of segregation. Yet even under these injustices, black Americans preserved elements of their original musical and spiritual traditions, some of which were channeled through Christianity. It is difficult and often ill-advised for those outside a specific cultural group to construct a narrative around the real struggles of a people. Especially when the topic of investigation has been used by the socioeconomic and political elite to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. To his credit, Bebergal avoids many common pitfalls. His comparative analysis of early rock ‘n’ roll and its cultural and spiritual foundries compels examination of the African-American experience. To sidestep these histories is to ignore America’s own troubled past and potential for a better future. Key to the latter is for today’s generations to become more familiar with America’s musical and cultural legacy, including its abuses.

Those who enjoy cultural anthropology and religious studies will find plenty to appreciate in Bebergal’s account of how West African trickster god and “guardian of pathways” Eshu connects to Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world in Hatian (and later Louisianan) Voudon. When confronted with the all-pervasive Christian dichotomy of good/evil, these spirits took on a more sinister shape, one that to Bebergal’s reckoning informs the devilish stereotypes found in Delta blues, and later, rock.

But this is hardly a singular ethnomusicology. For his next trick, Bebergal pegs Greco and European mythologies (DionysusPan) to the pagan urges present in 1960s American and European counterculture. This flowering—which ultimately inspired the civil rights agenda along with the LSD-soaked technolibertarians of Silicon Valley—paved the way for a fuller exploration of the occult by progressive rockers of the 1970s, some of whom made a serious study of such metaphysical thinkers as Paramahansa Yogananda and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others. Acting as an accelerant was The Beatles, whose fraternization with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi served as a cosmic permission slip for legions of seekers.

It’s clear that Bebergal has done real investigation; the ideas of such occult luminaries as Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are given more serious consideration than is common to your average rock tome. For example, Bebergal does not refer to Crowley as a “satanist”— an inaccuracy common to pretty much every book on Led Zeppelin I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). And even occult scholars make mistakes; a recent book on Crowley noted that the Zeppelin LP on which “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed was IV, not III. This may not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but if I can’t trust you to get a detail like that right, can I trust you to illuminate how Rosicrucianism came to Europe?

While it is clear that Bebergal has done his homework, he hasn’t fully soaked in the hermetic traditions of the West (aka magick and its many offshoots). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are other writers, such as Erik Davis, who hit that groove. Bebergal is forthright about how he has less of an interest in the occult as a standalone topic than exploring how the symbols and associations found in rock got there to begin with. To me, this makes his occult research that much more impressive. I’ll take Bebergal’s even-keeled examinations over dilettantism or pedantry any day.

My only real complaint with Season of the Witch—besides jealousy over having not written it—is that its informational organization is a bit awkward. Not much of a gripe, given the difficulties in synthesizing and systemizing such a broad range of concepts and histories. Bebergal’s presentation is like a particularly awesome grad school lecture—it occasionally meanders, it’s not entirely concise, but is rich in context and conviction. (Apparently, we also share a lecture style.)

Some may grouse about what the book leaves out, but let’s give Bebergal a break—it would be fundamentally impossible to catalog every tributary that connects such massive bodies of water. That said, it would be interesting to teach a class in rock and the occult in a manner that could capture even more correspondences. If I were to design such a course, I’d readily assign Season of the Witch as the introductory text.

Kudos to Bebergal for taming the wily spirits of rock long enough to capture their essence in this fascinating book.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

September 23nd, 02:29 UT, will mark the Autumnal Equinox (the evening of the 22nd in North America) which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

“In the U.S. this equinox comes on September 22 at 10:29 p.m. EDT, 9:29 p.m. CDT, 8:29 p.m. MDT or 7:29 p.m. PDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“Autumn is my favorite season. As the Autumnal Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed approaches, I’m thinking of how this season has always carried a sense of magic and spirit… of descent into the sacred secrets of time… a place of reckoning, with a wise power that can see you as you go, while all the foliate cover falls away… a place where truth can’t hide. Truth is powerful and healing and terrible and cleansing and undeniable, and this is the cathartic season where you feast on it, and it feasts on you. Then you journey deep into winter to rest and wrestle and plan, and in spring rebirth comes and you assemble yourself anew, incorporating your truth, with summer being the field to practice it on and cultivate its fruits. It’s a powerful cycle. It’s a part of life for us humans, whether we’re aware of the process or not. It’s nature, and we come from the Earth and her seasons – our psyches formed by our environment… our home… our mother.” –  Lia Hunter, PaganSquare/Sage Woman

“Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon’s novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring one quarter of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents midautumn, autumn’s height. It is also the autumnal equinox, one of the quarter days of the year.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“On the equinox, everyone helps to make the feast, often with veggies harvested from the garden.  Little ones are given simple tasks like mashing the potatoes, and my oldest daughter loves to help roll out the pie crust for the apricots and apples collected at Grandma’s house.  Like most days, we like to talk about where our food comes from – the cycle of life that provides for us all.  But on this day, things are a little quieter.  There’s important questions to contemplate. Once the bounty is on the table, beginning to cool off, we begin.  First, I take down the special Harvest glass from the cupboard – a simple goblet engraved with fall leaves and wheat stalks.  It’s filled full of grape juice, a reminder of all the fruits and vegetables we harvest in this season.  We pass it carefully around the table, hand to hand, each family member toasting the things for which they are thankful.  In a way, it resembles a Heathen sumbel rather strongly; but instead of separate rounds, the Gods, ancestors, and spirits are hailed haphazardly along with love, family, and many of the other things we appreciate in our lives.” – Molly Khan, Patheos.com

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“The English holiday Harvest Home was a very real holiday for centuries. There was no set date for Harvest Home but the things that were celebrated on the holiday are what most of us would expect in early Fall. There were games, ritual celebrations of the harvest, corn dollies, feasting, and parades. Many of these may or may not be “ancient pagan” in origin but they certainly all feel pagan, and are at the very least pagan in the sense that they revolve agricultural cycles.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

Canadians in Print

Dodie Graham McKay —  September 20, 2014 — 7 Comments

For many pagans, books are the gateway to knowledge. They are our first teachers of magic and offer a new world of esoteric lore and knowledge. If you enter the home of just about any modern pagan you will no doubt find a bookshelf (or many bookshelves!) piled high with books written by English authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or the Farrars. There will no doubt be more than a few by high profile American writers, names like Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and Scott Cunningham or maybe the more contemporary Orion Foxwood or Christopher Penczack. Both Britain and the United States both have successful and high profile publishers of pagan books, Minnesota based Llewellyn Worldwide LTD. being easily one of the most prominent. But north of the border, up in Canada, a growing number of writers are finding their way into print and injecting a Canadian influence into the pagan publishing world. But does being from Canada influence pagan writing?

Kerr Cuhulain, Grand Master and founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins and author of several books including “Pagan Religions, a Diversity Training Guide “and “Full Contact Magick” had this to say about being Canadian:

Kerr Cuhulain

Kerr Cuhulain 

“I think that it’s given me the opportunity to stand outside of the US and UK Pagan communities and observe what they do. I’ve always been more interested in doing what works than doing what is traditional.”

Lady Sable Aradia, author of the newly published “The Witches Eight Paths to Power: A Complete Course in Magick & Witchcraft adds:

“I’m very proudly Canadian. We are products of our culture and environment, and I think that our particular style of understatement and ability to laugh at ourselves is one of my strengths as a writer. Being Canadian also puts me outside of a lot of the politics of North American Paganism, which allows me the luxury to comment on them from the position of an observer in many ways.”

But are Canadians really different from our American neighbours? Aside from spelling some words differently (yes, we spell it neighbours.) and pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as zed, not zee, Canadians are culturally different as well.

Brendan Myers, a prolific pagan Canadian writer, with more books under his belt than many people read in a year, had this to say about cultural differences between Canada and the US:

Dr. Brendan Myers

Dr. Brendan Myers

“… Canada is really a fringe country. We may be a rich, developed, industrialized nation, with the world’s second-biggest playground, but we’re not very populous, nor especially influential in world affairs. Standing in the shadow of our larger neighbour to the south, we are easily overlooked, or assumed to be culturally the same as that larger neighbour. Our history is not that of a conquering empire-builder, except perhaps by proxy of two of our founding nations, England and France. What is more, Canada arguably has no national mythology. One can easily point to other countries with big stories like “The American Dream”, or “The French Revolution”; these stories might be objectionable, they might have dark sides, and they may even be illusions, but they are definitely glamorous. We Canadians have no equivalent. A transcontinental railroad, a national public health care service, “peace, order, and good government”, and other “Canadian dreams” we’ve had over the centuries, don’t really deliver the same glamour. Ours is a wholesome but boring national brand. (Mind you, that might be okay.)

In that respect, as a Canadian writer, I find myself pulled in two directions. In one way, I want to write something that shows I come from a truly independent and unique nation, a distinct society (know what I mean?), and that we’re not just Americans with funny woolen hats. But in the other way, I want to write something that non-Canadians might still find interesting, and I worry that painting my stuff in red Maple leaves will turn people off.”

One of the biggest challenges for Canadian writers trying to get published is the lack of a big name publisher of pagan books in our own country. So how do these books make it to bookstore shelves? Response to this was varied between these three authors and all answers revolve around our close proximity of our neighbours to the south. Carving out our own distinct Canadian paganism is a tough one when so much of our culture, both pagan and mainstream, is overshadowed by the United States. So, is it hard to get published?

Sable:

“I would have to say not in my experience, actually. At least, not as long as you’re willing to deal with American publishers. The truth is that with such a big market just south of us, it’s very difficult for an independent Canadian arts scene to develop, and I would say that the Pagan market is more difficult still since it’s so small.”

Brendan:

“There are very few Canadian publishers who will carry a book about paganism in their catalogue. All the publishers I’ve ever worked with have been based in England or the USA. Publishers outside Canada often assume that no one outside of Canada will be interested in a Canadian perspective. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that writers in countries with larger populations, richer economies, and empires in their history, don’t need to worry about that. They benefit from a macro-economic and geo-political privilege, and a glamorous national mythology, which allows them to reach an international audience with a lot less effort.”

Kerr:

“I do not find it to be a problem at all. I’ve a large audience in the US, so it is pretty easy to find publishers for my works.”

As a former police officer/dispatcher and former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians), Kerr’s books reflect a Warrior spirit so often perceived from the outside of United States paganism through the work of groups like Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League or Order of the Pentacle.

Brendan’s books come from his academic background. Dr. Brendan Meyers earned his Ph.D in philosophy at the National University of Ireland, and now serves as professor of philosophy at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. His philosophy background informs his pagan writing. This theme of academia is also reflected by other Canadian writer/academics such as Shelley Rabinovich Ph.D (The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (with James Lewis, and ‘An Ye Harm None': Magical Ethics and Modern Morality (with Meredith Macdonald), and Sian Reid Ph.D (Between the Worlds: Readings in Contemporary Paganism)

What resources exist to promote sales and expose writers to new readers? Canada is a huge country; 9,984,670 square kilometers (3,855,101 square miles) stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, yet the population is just over 35 million, less than the state of California. Our pagan population is thinly and widely scattered. In this dispersion is a sense of camaraderie and support that is essential for our combined success:

Brendan:

“I get excellent support from the Canadian public, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve attended pagan events to promote my work in seven out of ten provinces now. The administration of the college where I work has supported my publishing efforts: even the Director General, my most senior manager, read Loneliness and Revelation.” 

Kerr:

“Most of the members of my Order of Paladins are Canadian. I just got back from teaching at PanFest in Edmonton. The support is there, I’m happy to say.”

Sable:

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“Well, my local community has certainly been supportive! And the shop owners I’ve contacted through Western Canada have generally welcomed me with open arms. There’s a strong East/West divide so I don’t think many people have heard of me on the other side of the country yet, but I think there’s a general “us Canucks gotta stick together” sentiment, and I know that the friends I made at the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal in 2010 have been making a great effort to spread the word. So, I would have to say that I feel very supported!”

Taking advantage of this support, Sable Aradia is about to embark on a book tour of western Canada. The tour will span four provinces, no small feat as it can take six to twelve hours to get from one city to another. Packed in her van will also be musical equipment as Sable is an accomplished singer and musician. She will also be doing house concerts to help supplement her travels. Her adventures started off close to home so far and she had this to say about how it is going:

“It’s off to a good start! I started in my hometown of Vernon, BC for the book launch and I sold out. The following weekend I went to Nelson, Castlegar, Enderby and Kelowna for World Goddess Day. This weekend I was at a Kelowna bookstore and a metaphysical store in Penticton (all towns in the province of British Columbia). Then at the end of the month I’m heading eastward.”

T. Scarlet Jory

T. Scarlet Jory

For books with very distinct regional flare, T.Scarlet Jory has released “Magical Blend: Book of Secrets (BOS)” and “Magical Blend: Book of Spells & Rituals (BOS) (Volume 2)”. These books celebrate landmark Le Melange Magique/The Magical Blend, a pagan shop in Montreal Quebec. This shop, which sadly has closed its doors, served customers in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It was known for its selection of in-house made teas, bath salts, incense and more.

Scarlet reminisces: “When the store’s physical location closed and the reference books of shadows developed by all the staff suddenly were no longer available to the public, I felt it was important to compile them and print them. That way everyone can access them again. The knowledge is a collection of gems from dozens of experienced staff members who helped the community.”

One curious book, written in 1989 by Kevin Marron, a reporter from The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, “Witches, Pagans & Magic in the New Age” was the story of the people he met while investigating allegations of Satanic ritual abuse (remember the Satanic Panic folks? It happened in Canada as well!). While not a pagan himself, Marron provides a rare and sympathetic peek at the Canadian Pagan scene in the late 1980’s.

Many other voices have contributed to recording the story of Canadian Paganism. Some of the books may be harder to find, and unlikely to show up in foreign book or occult shops, but have value and interest to Pagans everywhere. The rise of e-readers and online shopping may put a Canadian book in your own collection soon.

Amid a flurry of controversy and confusion, the Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City will be become the setting for a public Black Mass this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event, which is being billed as “enlightening and educational,” is reportedly now sold out. The purpose of the public staging, as written in the Civic Center’s blurb, is to bring a feared ritual “into the light.”

Just as problems arose when a Harvard University Extension club attempted to sponsor a Black Mass, the Oklahoma event has inspired local protests that began immediately after the Civic Center listed the Black Mass on its schedule. However, in this story, the ensuing controversy took a few unexpected twists and turns that go well-beyond typical outrage from the city’s Catholic community.

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC – Wikimedia]

Oklahoma’s Archbishop Paul Coakley was the first to react publicly. On July 1, he issued a news release that read, “We are astonished and grieved by this proposed sacrilegious event.” He called on the Civic Center to cancel the event and on Oklahoma Catholics to pray.

A month later, after getting no response from the Civic Center, the Archbishop published an open letter asking all Christians to pray for protection, saying, “I am certainly concerned about the misuse of a publicly supported facility for an event which has no other purpose than mocking the Catholic faith.”

Despite public pressure, the Civic Center maintained a position of neutrality. Recently, general manager Jim Brown explained to a Christian news network, Aleteia:

Since we’re a City of Oklahoma facility we’re required to abide by all First Amendment rights to the Constitution, which don’t allow us to turn away any productions … As a public facility, we’re required to rent to organizations and individuals as long as they abide by our policies and procedures.

None of this public pressure is new to the Civic Center.  In 2010, a Satanic church called Four King Princes, originally The Church of IV Majesties, held a exorcism in the same space. At that time, the Center made clear that it upholds the city’s policy of non-discrimination. And that policy still stands today.

Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin [Courtesy of the State of Oklahoma]

While the Civic Center itself has remained neutral, Oklahoma’s state officials have not. On Aug. 13 Governor Mary Fallin released a statement in which she said, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.”

Unfortunately, in making that public statement, Fallin not only demonstrated religious bias but also managed to muddle an already volatile situation. She assumed that The Satanic Temple was responsible for the upcoming Black Mass.

This may seem like an easy mistake. The Satanic Temple is a very active, vocal and public organization that works aggressively in defense of religious freedom. The organization is behind the quest to place a Baphomet statue in the Oklahoma courthouse and assisted the Harvard Club with its Black Mass in May. Just this week, The Satanic Temple announced that it would begin distributing religious materials to students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. The news release reads:

In response to a recent School Board decision in Orange County, Florida that allows for the dissemination of religious materials in public schools, The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

However, The Satanic Temple is not behind the upcoming Oklahoma Black Mass. Representative, Lucien Greaves told The Wild Hunt that it has “nothing to do with the event” and said:

There was some confusion about this when Gov. Fallin specifically, erroneously, denounced The Satanic Temple in relation to this Black Mass prompting us to disseminate a press release making clear that we are not involved, and asking an apology from the governor’s office. The governor never replied.

Sunday’s Black Mass was organized by a local Oklahoma Satanic church called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. When asked about the church’s intentions, co-Founder Adam Daniels told ABC News that “One of the dictates of the church is not only to educate the members but to educate the public … and to debunk the Hollywood-projected image of our beliefs.”

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Despite this and other attempts at explanation, Daniels was unable to mollify the community. Confusion and frustrations only mounted. Then, Aug 20, the saga took a twist when Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit against Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. He did this after learning that Daniels planned to use a consecrated host in ritual. Archbishop Coakley said:

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The local organizers of this satanic inversion intend to use a stolen consecrated Host obtained illicitly from a Catholic Church to desecrate it as a sacrifice to Satan. Through this lawsuit, I hope to avoid the desecration of the Host.

According to reports, Daniels claims that he didn’t steal the wafers and that they were mailed to him by a Turkish priest. He then accused the Church of attempting to defame his character and planned a countersuit. However, after days of negotiations, Daniels agreed to return the host to the Church and, in return, the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit.

While that portion of the conflict ended, other protests continued. The conservative Christian TFP Student Action organization launched an online petition asking both the Civic Center and Governor “to stop the sacrilege.” The petition now has over 85,000 signatures.

To complicate matters, this summer’s national publicity has also dredged up problems from Daniels’ past, providing more sensational fodder for protesters for local media. Daniels is on Oklahoma’s sex offender registry. Although he has publicly addressed the offense in 2010, he has reportedly developed a reputation that has led to several group conflicts and mistrust within his own religious community.

It was this reputation and associated conflicts that triggered, in part, the The Satanic Temple’s quick response to Governor Fallin’s error. Greaves explains that there are certainly many different interpretations of Satanism. He is unfamiliar with Daniels’ particular beliefs so he could not “condone nor condemn” his work.  However, he said:

We do know … that Mr Daniels has developed a very poor reputation in his community, one that further encouraged us to make clear his lack of affiliation with us. We have built a great deal of goodwill among Oklahomans who understand the importance of our attempts to preserve an environment of religious liberty/pluralism in their home state. We certainly don’t want activities beyond our control to compromise that in any way.

Despite the flurry of concerns, both personal and religious, the Black Mass will be staged as planned. After the lawsuit was finally dropped, the only remaining issue was to ensure that the ritual itself would uphold all state laws. As noted on the site, Daniels assures the public:

The Black Mass being performed at the [Oklahoma] Civic Center has been toned downed as to allow it  to be performed in a public government building. The authenticity and purpose of the Black Mass will remain in tact [sic] while allowing for slight changes so that a public viewing can occur without breaking Oklahoma’s laws based on nudity, public urination and other sex acts.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Daniels for further comment. However, if “preserving religious equality” or educating the public are indeed Daniels’ goal, the extraneous complications, stories of theft, and a dubious past may have muddied his mission. It can be very difficult to spot religious freedom activism through lawsuits and accusations of impropriety. Regardless of any these issues, the event will go on and the city-run Civic Center will uphold Daniels’ constitutional right to free expression of his religion. In that way, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has ultimately managed to test the boundaries and soundness of religious tolerance and freedom in Oklahoma City.

Almost from the beginning comic books have lent themselves to repurposing mythology in order to tell stories. Usually this process was indirect, with new characters like Superman and Batman acquiring mythic resonances over time. However, the riches of ancient cultural myths and stories were far too tempting to simply borrow elements from, and soon you had figures like Thor and Hercules fighting alongside more down-to-earth heroes. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s this dive into ancient myth and religion took a more serious turn as writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison grappled with increasingly complex notions regarding the narrative reality of fantasies they were producing. Comic books, many started to argue, were the conveyers of the new mythologies.

“Promethea is, from the very first issue, described as a fictional character. Now there’s a strange loop of self-reference going on there, because you’re reading about this fictional character who is perfectly aware that she is a fictional character and indeed that is the source of her occult power. So it’s kind of more or less saying that, yes, this emblem of Promethea that you are looking at—this is the actual goddess Promethea. That this is an actual embodiment of the imagination. In fact for one panel I thought that we pretty much manifested the god Hermes. How would a god of language and communication manifest in a physical universe? And of course, just as a goddess of dreams would manifest through dreams, then a god of language and images and communications, and, if you like, comic strips, would probably manifest through a comic strip.” – Alan Moore

For those embrace a polytheistic belief system in the modern world, who take seriously the “old” gods and goddesses, these philosophical twists and turns within the comic medium (not to mention the quality story-telling) started attracting a lot of attention. Soon, works like Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” were being used as inspiration for real-life occult and religious practice with Morrison himself taking gleeful part. The role of religion in comic books and how it has influenced the people reading them was now something being seriously studied and written about. Now, a new generation of books are continuing this process, most notably “The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. 

wicked-divine

“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”

What’s interesting about “The Wicked + The Divine” is that it portrays a world where gods seemingly walk among us, but in a manner that leaves plenty of ambiguity as to what’s really going on (all wrapped up in a murder mystery). The divine beings take seat in ordinary mortals, instantly changing them into celebrities, at least until they die. A reporter, who happens to have studied mythology in college, gives voice to the natural skepticism towards such a phenomenon, critiquing the strange appropriations and contortions of these “gods.” This is mythology in a post-modern world, as pantheons and cultures are jumbled. Where The Morrigan and Baphomet do underground performance art to a select group of followers, and Lucifer is locked in jail claiming to be framed. As seemingly miraculous things continue to pile up, the series looks at the thin line between fame and faith.

“I’ve always thought that if comics are a part of pop culture [then] they should reflect pop culture, but a lot of the time comics, superhero comics especially, just feed on themselves. For me, comics should take from every bit of pop culture that they can; they’ve got the same DNA as music and film and TV and fashion and all of these things.”Kieron Gillen

This series isn’t the first time that Gillen and McKelvie have traveled mythic territory. The series Phonogram dealt directly with the idea of music as magic, complete with aspects of gods who oversaw different musical epochs (the goddess Britannia, for example, oversees British guitar pop). Both series, by fusing pop-culture and fame with myth and magic, allow for the creation of a new tapestry of ideas. Making us see how the revels we read about in ancient texts might truly manifest in our modern world.

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“Phonogram was explicitly about our world. It’s a fantasy which is happening around us all, unnoticed except for those who’ve fallen into its world. In a real way, it’s real. Conversely, W+D is much more overt. The appearance of the gods changes the world, and has changed the world going back. There’s the strong implication that certain figures in our world simply didn’t exist in The Wicked And The Divine‘s world, because they were replaced by a god.”Kieron Gillen

“The Wicked + The Divine” like Moore’s “Promethea” and Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” gives us another context through which we can think about the numinous world; About gods, magic, and how we interact with both of those concepts. While the depictions may seem irreverent to some of the devout, an interesting and vital exploration is taking place, and I think it’s a journey worth taking. Issue #4 of the series is out today, available digitally and in most comic book stores. Digital back-issues can be purchased at Comixology and other digital comic outlets.

Whether it’s spelled Voodoo, Vodou, or Voudoun, this frequently-misunderstood religion of the African diaspora is starting to get a makeover in the American consciousness. A traditionally secretive religion, Vodou has long been represented in movies and television shows as being focused on sticking pins in dolls and making people into zombie slaves. That image is starting to change, however, in ways that could make members of the Pagan community sit up and take notice.

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

In contrast to the Hollywood vision of Vodou, an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago seeks to present an accurate picture of Haitian Vodou through its artifacts. According to a press release about the exhibition, “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti looks beyond myths and manufactured Hollywood images – exhibition visitors will see no dolls with pins stuck into them. Instead, the exhibition explores the underground history and true nature of a living religion and reveals Vodou as a vital spiritual and social force which remains an important part of daily life in Haiti.” Text and video of members of the religion are used to explain the symbolism behind, and uses of, the more than 300 objects, many of which are on loan from the Marianne Lehmann Collection in Pétionville, Haiti.

Patrons of the Field Museum will come away with some understanding of Haitian Vodou, one of the major branches practiced in the United States today. The other is Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, a tradition which evolved in that southern city thanks in part to the fact that slave families were more likely to be kept together than they were in the East. Followers of the two paths kept mostly to themselves in the city, according to a profile of the religion in Newsweek, although initiation into both wasn’t entirely unknown. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina changed all that; many Vodou practitioners lived in the Ninth Ward, which bore the brunt of the damage when the levies broke:

“After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

“The new scene has also encouraged members of the ancient religion to create a web presence —- forums such as “Vodou, Voodou, Vodoun, Vodun” on Facebook and “A Real Voodoo Club” on Yahoo Groups are popular —- as well as welcoming outsiders to their events for the first time. “Before, you really would have had to know who a mambo or a houngan was to participate in a public or private ceremony. You would have to be in the inner circle. Now it’s accessible with a few keystrokes,” says Parmelee. “Plus, people who left are returning. The community is definitely coming back.””

New Orleans Healing Center

New Orleans Healing Center

The most impressive demonstration of this new face of Vodou is surely the New Orleans Healing Center, a 55,000-square-foot complex which has become a focal point for the religion since it opened in 2011. The center hosts public ceremonies, a bustling shop, and has gone a long way towards normalizing perceptions of this religion in New Orleans. It cost a reported $13 million to build, including both public and private funds, and represents the type of infrastructure many Pagans yearn for, and others shun.

There are many reasons why such an massive project was possible in the Vodou community, while similar ideas remain dreams for Pagans. For one, while there are different schools of thought, Vodou is not an “umbrella” of often unrelated faiths, as Paganism is. For another, Paganism is wrestling with questions of money that Vodou has mostly put to rest.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“Gardner said not to charge for spiritual services,” explained Lilith Dorsey, who writes the blog Voodoo Universe, but “Marie Laveau was the first to charge for services.” She was referring to Gerald Gardner, whose contributions to Wicca in the 1950s set the tone for many conversations in the Pagan community today, and 19th-century Vodou priestess Laveau, whose impact on New Orleans Voodoo was equally seminal. “Some people may have no other way of making a living,” she said, “they might be uneducated, or crazy, or this is just the only skill they have.” Instead of having a cultural bias against accepting money, in Vodou it’s expected.

One of the interesting details about this mainstreaming of Vodou is the monotheistic bent it’s taking. The Newsweek article is quite clear on that point, saying that both New Orleans and Haitian Vodou “are monotheistic (the highest god is Bondyè, the “good lord”), are mostly oral- instead of text-based and celebrate thousands of cosmic and natural spirits (akin to Catholicism’s saints).” Since Dorsey writes about Vodou for a Pagan site, The Wild Hunt asked her if Vodou is a monotheistic religion.

“That’s a sticky question,” Dorsey replied. “It’s more acceptable to be monotheistic in this culture. I approach it anthropologically: if you offer to it, it’s a god or goddess. I consider lwa and oreshas to be gods. In the Catholic Church they call them saints, but they function like gods.” However they function, though, in her experience, “People don’t want to have a lot of gods.”

Dorsey, who maintains connections to the Vodou communities in New Orleans and New York City, also said that not everyone is happy with the public face of Vodou that is emerging. “Will it be good? I can’t say. On one hand, the more neighbors you have who practice Voodoo the more okay it seems. I have neighbors who are okay with Voodoo but not with ‘evil Santeria.’ On the other hand, public ceremonies mean cameras, and there are things one should not be taking pictures of. “That’s hard for the average person to determine. I do a class on ritual blessings for camera, and once you start talking about photography, that’s another whole level.”

Art museums and shiny new healing centers are signs that the face of Vodou is changing fast. Dorsey said that, like water, it will find its own level. When it does, it could be possible to draw some conclusions about how Pagan religions may change as they become more normalized, for good or ill.