Archives For African Traditional Religions

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.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Ronald Hutton (center) with Pagan scholars and Cherry Hill Seminary staff.

  • The Economist reviews Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain,” and finds that it presents “more questions than answers.” Quote: “Mr Hutton leads readers to question not only the ways in which Britain’s ancient past is analysed, but also how all history is presented. He is also a lovely writer with a keen sense of the spiritual potency of Britain’s ancient landscapes. Though he offers many interpretations of each archaeological finding, such variety serves to expand the reader’s imagination rather than constrain it. Towards the end of this engrossing book, Mr Hutton laments the way the open-ended questions of ancient history and archaeology appear unsuited to television, a medium that prefers definitive answers.” The book is out now in the UK, and will be released in the United States in February (though it seems you can purchase the Kindle edition now).
  • Courts in the UK have, for the first time, awarded a Wiccan monetary damages over claims that she was fired for her religious beliefs. Quote: “Karen Holland, 45, was awarded more than  £15,000 by the courts in what is believed to be the first payout of its kind in  Britain. Her Sikh bosses insisted they fired her after  they caught her stealing. But she accused them of turning on her when  they found out she was a Wicca-practising pagan and took them to an employment  tribunal, which ruled in her favour.” As the article states, her employers were Sikh, not Christians, as some might suspect. Her employers say they will appeal the decision. More on this story here.
  • The killing of women accused of witchcraft and sorcery in Papua New Guinea continues to be a hard problem to solve, with tough news laws facing the issue of proper enforcement. Quote: “Nancy Robinson from the United Nations Human Rights Commission says toughening up the laws is no solution if they’re not implemented. ‘Implementation is the big obstacle,’ she said. ‘You may have a law but then if you don’t have the police capacity to enforce it, or if the police themselves view the situation of sorcery related killings with indifference then we still have a big issue of how to address impunity. Those who perpetrate this violence know full well they’ll get off scot free – this has to change.'” You can see all of my coverage of this issue, here.
  • The Quietus revisits Enya’s “Watermark” on its 25th anniversary. Quote: “Essentially, Watermark is a deeply weird album in the context of its bright and garish era, and as well as that a strongly and confidently female album. It also stands out as a record inspired by spiritual music in a mainstream pop world that has in recent years chosen to end the centuries-old musical dialogue between the secular and religious, the sacred and profane.” As the author points out, Enya’s influence has never been stronger, with critically acclaimed artists like Julianna Barwick employing elements of her sound.
  • There’s going to be an epic fantasy movie starring Egyptian gods? Apparently so. Quote: “Up-and-coming Australian actress Courtney Eaton has nabbed the female lead in Summit’s epic fantasy Gods of Egypt. Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites and Geoffrey Rush are the male leads in the story, which is set in motion when a ruling god named Set (Butler) kills another, Osiris. When Osiris’ son Horus (Coster-Waldau) fails in his attempt at revenge and has his eyed plucked out, it’s up to a young human thief (Thwaites) to defeat the mad god Set. Eaton will play a slave girl whom the thief falls for.” Currently scheduled for a 2015 release.
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • This week a new visitor center will open at the world-famous Stonehenge in England. Its goal? To give visitors who may never walk among the (restricted access) stones, and sense of that experience, in addition to giving an overview of the many scholarly theories about Stonehenge’s purpose. Quote: “With tourists and day-trippers barred since the late Seventies from entering the circle in order to protect the stones from damage, there has been a fierce and long-running debate on how the site should best be displayed. But on Wednesday a new £27 million centre will open at Stonehenge with a 360 degree cinema at its heart where visitors can ‘experience’ standing in the ancient circle.” Currently, Pagans are allowed access at the solstices and equinoxes, but many want greater access. Concept art for the center can be found here.
  • The Christian cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California, which some had the audacity to claim was “secular,” has been ordered removed by a federal court. Quote: “A federal court has ordered the removal of the controversial Mt. Soledad cross near San Diego. The towering symbol of Christianity, built in 1954 on the peak of Mt. Soledad, is a 43 foot high Latin cross – and it sits on government-owned land. By ruling that the cross violated the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has tried to put an end to a 24-year-old legal battle over the constitutionality of the display. Critics have long argued that the cross, built in 1954 and dedicated on Easter Sunday as a “gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” clearly violates the First Amendment.” It isn’t known if an appeal will be made.
  • Protestant Christian notions of “religion” are being destabilized. Quote: “Religion is nothing if not practiced, nothing if not communally created by and for people who find meaning, yes, but also find ways to put our bodies into relation with other bodies. Religions are sensually established and engaged through sights and smells and sounds, as human bodies sway and sing, pray and play. Rituals are carried out, ancient stories are told anew, the candles are burned, and the flowers garlanded. Religion is embodied practice, done with others, extending far beyond ‘belief in god.'”
  • Religion Clause points out that the Defense Authorization Bill, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, contains religious freedom language for military personnel. Here’s the language: “Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expressions of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” So talk about polytheism all you want, Pagans!
  • Either you have to include everyone, including Satanists, or you have to remove sectarian expressions of religion from federal property. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
  • Here’s an article discussing the traditional African beliefs and practices employed in the funeral and burial rites for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Quote: “‘We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn’t get angry,’ said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.”
  • Remember that story about Hopi relics being sold in France against their objections? Well, it looks like the Annenberg Foundation purchased the items, and will be donating the items back to the two tribes who were leading the protest. Quote: “Hopi cultural leader Sam Tenakhongva said in the same statement that the tribe hopes the Annenberg decision to intervene “sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility.” “They simply cannot be put up for sale,” he said.”

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.

On August 19th, Lee Thompson Young, a television actor who starred in the police procedural Rizzoli & Isles, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Lee Thompson Young

Lee Thompson Young

“We are beyond heartbroken at the loss of this sweet, gentle, good-hearted, intelligent man. He was truly a member of our family. Lee will be cherished and remembered by all who knew and loved him, both on- and offscreen, for his positive energy, infectious smile and soulful grace. We send our deepest condolences and thoughts to his family, to his friends and, most especially, to his beloved mother.”Official statement from the TNT cable channel.

When a young person with a promising career kills themselves, a natural instinct is to ask why this has happened. Sadly, E! News decided to make wrong-headed and ignorant speculation based on Young’s religious practices.

“Those close to Young noticed things ‘really changed’ a few years ago when he began practicing Yorùbá, an Africa-based religion which has a saying, “iku ya j’esin”, meaning  ‘death is preferable to ignominy.’ Some have questioned whether this means that suicide is an acceptable way to preserve personal or family honor in the face of public shame.  However, Yorùbá culture icon and Chief Priest of Osogbo, Araba Ifayemi Osundagbonu Elebuibon, told the National Mirror earlier this year that the religion ‘[does] not support suicide. Their belief is that if somebody commits suicide, they will be punished in the hereafter.’ The Famous Jett Jackson star ‘took [his religion] to the next level and started wearing white all of the time,’ says a source, adding, ‘This religion was everything to him.’  Although he reportedly took a break from practicing Yorùbá, he recently returned to the religion. Just before his death, he visited a small village in Africa for something reportedly related to the religion.”

E! News, being a gossip tabloid, obviously went for the “weird religion” angle, complete with anonymous sources. Amazingly, they went with it even though they partially debunk their own theory. This prompted pop-culture/celebrity/fashion blogger Luvvie to blast E! for the irresponsible and ignorant assertions made.

“Yoruba is not a religion. Let’s get that straight out of the gate. Yoruba is the name of a people; Yoruba is a language; Yoruba is culture. Yoruba people are MY people and that’s MY tongue and that’s MY culture. Yoruba is NOT a religion! [...] Ifá is the traditional religion that you probably meant, but assuming that a majority of Yoruba people practice it is incredibly pinhole-minded. Just like we speak different dialects of the language, our beliefs are diverse. Us Yorubas are a religious people and most of us practice Christianity or Islam. Even if Lee was practicing Ifa, he would not be encouraged to take his own life. So let me shut this line of reasoning down now. I’m so upset that it even comes up!”

Clutch Magazine picked up on the story and added that “when covering a topic as sensitive as a man’s death, there is no place for cultural insensitivity and ignorance.” Both Clutch and Luvvie noted that a subsequent clarifying update to the story was not sufficient, and the E! News writer apologized and says she wants to dialog with Luvvie about the issue. That dialog must have been successful, because a followup report on Young’s funeral service was far more accurate and sensitive to the subject.

“Young’s practice of the West African religion Ifa was also highlighted throughout. Dancers dressed all in white performed to the beat of live drum music and the actor’s former karate teacher entered the room ahead of Young’s mother, writer Velma Love, blessing the ground in front of her as she walked in. Some of the mourners were dressed all in white, too, as a nod to Young’s Ifa practice.”

The ray of light in all of this is that some education was able to happen, and the story of Young’s death was not further tarnished by lurid speculation into religions the reporters don’t understand. Unfortunately, a lot of mainstream news sources still treat indigenous and traditional religious practices from the African continent, and the faiths that they helped spawn, as suspect or primitive. I hold out hope that some promising signs of increasing interest will yield more understanding and respect.  As for Lee Thompson Young, my deepest condolences go out to his friends and family. What is remembered, lives.

During his recent visit to Brazil, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, did something unprecedented. The Pontiff met with a representative of the Candomblé faith, the first time a Catholic Pope has ever done so.

Babalawo Ivanir dos Santos and Pope Francis.

Babalawo Ivanir dos Santos and Pope Francis.

“At odds since colonial times, Catholicism and Afro-Brazilian religions have embarked on a process of mutual acceptance. Pope Francis added words and gestures to this reconciliation of two groups that share a common interest: confronting the growth of evangelical and neo-Pentecostal churches. The photo of Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian, went around the world. Ivanir dos Santos, a “babalawo” or priest of the Afro-Brazilian candomblé religion, was also received by the pope in the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro as part of the rapprochement between the Catholic Church and other creeds and cultures during his Jul. 22-28 visit to Brazil. ‘For the first time, a representative of candomblé was received by a pope. This is unprecedented,’ dos Santos, a member of Brazil’s Committee Against Religious Intolerance (CCIR), told IPS.”

Pope Francis went even farther, he embraced the secular state as a vehicle for religious tolerance.

“Peaceful coexistence between different religions is favoured by the laicity of the state, which, without assuming any one confessional stance, respects and values the presence of the religious factor in society.”

This is a major tonal shift from the papacy of Benedict XVI, who avoided meeting with “non-institutional” (ie Santeria/Lukumi) faiths in Cuba, wouldn’t deign to a meeting with Vodun leaders in its birthplace, and was openly critical of Franciscan interfaith efforts when they included African traditional faiths, buying into Catholic hardliner anti-interfaith propaganda. Further, he had a combative relationship with what he called “aggressive” secularism. So these moves, even if largely cosmetic, resonate strongly to non-Christians watching to see how Francis sets the tone for his church.

Pope Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian.

Pope Francis wearing a “cocar” headdress given to him by Ubiraí, a Pataxó Indian.

“Between selfish indifference and violent protest there is always another possible option, and the key to developing a just and fair society as a leader is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue”Pope Francis

For non-Christians, it also has the effect of humanizing the religious “other.” If the Pope embraces reconciliation with Candomblé, with real, human, interface between leaders, why shouldn’t Catholics also embrace practitioners of Vodou? Or indigenous African religions? Or modern Paganism, for that matter? Indeed, the Pope’s new attitude is needed more now than ever before. We live in a world where human beings, fueled by religious beliefs, are persecuting and killing one another in increasingly disturbing incidents. What better time for a Pope to emphatically embrace an interfaith mission? A mission that had been blunted during the Papacy of Benedict, but now, hopefully, will bear new fruit.

 

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.

Godsmack

Godsmack

The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' After Henry Fuseli (1741-1825); mezzotint by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’
After Henry Fuseli (1741-1825); mezzotint by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

  • Witches & Wicked Bodies, an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, has just opened. Quote: “Witches and Wicked Bodies will be an investigation of extremes, exploring the highly exaggerated ways in which witches have been represented, from hideous hags to beautiful seductresses.” Highlights of the show can be found, here. Wish I could go! 
  • A warrant for the arrest of Satanist who did a graveside ritual to turn Fred Phelp’s mother gay in the afterlife has been issued. Quote: “Greaves said nine satanic church members from New York and other states descended on Mississippi for the ceremony.  He insists that no physical damage was done. ‘Desecration, by all the legal definitions I’ve read, usually involves digging up the grave,’ he said. ‘But we left it as we found it.’ The charges have sparked a huge amount of interest in the Satanic Temple. ‘The news of the gravesite ceremony was very slow to get out at first,’ he said. ‘But now it’s really gaining momentum. They’re threatening to arrest me. What it has done is rally support behind us. It keeps snowballing.'”
  • There should be Humanist chaplains because Wiccans! Quote: “Fleming’s rationale was that ‘there is no way that an atheist chaplain or atheist whatever can minister to the spiritual needs of a Christian or a Muslim, or a Jew, for that matter.’ I’d like to ask Fleming whether an atheist chaplain would be less preferable than a Wiccan (i.e. pagan) chaplain, inasmuch as Wicca is recognized as a religion by the military. In fact, Wicca has to be so recognized, under the Free Exercise Clause of the of the Constitution. It’s because Americans are guaranteed the right to practice their faith — and serving in the military makes that more difficult — that the hiring of military chaplains does not represent a violation of the Establishment Clause.” It’s always weird when your faith is used as prop in someone else’s argument, don’t you think? 
  • Stop trying to curse the IRS, I’m sure they’ve got whole teams of magicians working around the clock to counter-act the constant spiritual bombardment aimed at them. Plus, you no doubt risk getting audited. Quote: “Internal Revenue Service agents found an unwelcome surprise — and a possible witchcraft curse — on Friday when unknown individuals left a trio of charred, headless chickens outside the agency’s McAllen offices.” 
  • A Catholic rants against flameless candles, and no doubt echoes the sympathies of many Pagans. Quote: “But in the holy place, the flameless candle preaches a gospel of irrelevance. The simple flipping of the switch extinguishes the profound semiotic value of the votive candle. The flameless candle says that there is nothing significant in a flame’s dance of ascent, or in wax itself produced by the labor of bees and utterly exhausted by the peaceful but consuming flame.”

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.

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.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current "pagan" sexy times going on.

Dr. Patrick F. Fagan wants you to know about the current “pagan” sexy times going on.

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.

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.

Selena Fox's healing altar for the victims of the Boston attack.

Selena Fox’s healing altar for the victims of the Boston attack.

I’d like to begin by sending out my thoughts to all those who were affected by yesterday’s bombing at the Boston Marathon. There have been many Pagan responses to this still-unresolved tragedy, but I think Ár nDraíocht Féin Archdruid Rev. Kirk Thomas’ statement may be the best:

“We in ADF participate in a public religion. The gatherings of the folk are important for our communal worship of the Kindreds. Terrorists, such as those who bombed the Boston Marathon today, are counting on the fear of the people to disrupt our sense of community, that we may be isolated from each other, and thus lose our way. I believe that it is our duty as civilized people to resist this impulse, to find our courage, and so defy these enemies of Good, that our relationships with the Kindreds and with each other will continue to thrive.”

May the perpetrators be caught, may justice be done, may the wounded find care, and may the grieved find comfort.

Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010–2011 Charles Fréger, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Babugeri, Bansko, Bulgaria, 2010–2011
Charles Fréger, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

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.

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.

An invocation is offered by Indra Neelameggham of Utah's Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple at the beginning of the Jan. 7 inauguration ceremonies for Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell inside the rotunda of the Utah Capitol. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

An invocation is offered by Indra Neelameggham of Utah’s Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple at the beginning of the Jan. 7 inauguration ceremonies for Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell inside the rotunda of the Utah Capitol. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

  • Deseret News reports on Indra Neelameggham, the first Hindu (and first woman) to ever give an opening invocation at a Utah governor’s inauguration. Quote:  “It is a prayer for peace, happiness, harmony and contentment, Sen. (Orrin) Hatch and (former) Gov. (Jon M.) Huntsman both told me after the ceremony that they thought my prayer was inspiring, so I guess it went pretty well [...]  So many people believe that in Utah we are just a Mormon community,” she said. “Certainly that is the predominant religion, but we are so much more than just that. And I think they wanted someone to represent that diversity.” Neelameggham is a member of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, and a pivotal figure in Utah’s Hindu community.
  • So remember last week when I reported on a theistic Satanic group in Florida (The Satanic Temple) that’s planning to hold a rally on January 25th in solidarity with Gov. Rick Scott’s support of a school “inspirational messages” law? At the time I said that “I have no idea if this is serious, or if someone is engaging in some next-level trolling.”Well, it turns out it was the latter:  “[Lucien] Greaves is listed as the casting director of a feature film called …wait for it…The Satanic Temple. [...] The casting call said the movie was a mockumentary about the “nicest Satanic Cult in the world.” It was seeking actors for eight speaking roles “to play minions” and 10 featured extras.” So there you go.  It’s a would-be mockumentary.
  • The U.S. Forest Service has found a relationship between the loss of trees and a downturn in human health and life expectancy.  Quote: “The “relationship between trees and human health,” as they put it, is convincingly strong. They controlled for as many other demographic factors as possible. And yet, they are unable to satisfactorily explain why this might be so [...] there is something fascinatingly mysterious about the entanglement of our health with that of nature. The suspicion that this may be so, of course, is seen well outside of the scientific literature on the topic [...] Henry David Thoreau, writing in The Atlantic in June 1862, said, ‘I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.'”
  • John Beckett, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and Vice President of CUUPS National, has joined the Patheos Pagan Portal as a blogger. Quote: “This blog is part of my spiritual journey. Sometimes I write about what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I write about what’s in the news or what’s abuzz on the Pagan internet. There are some recurring themes: the nature of the Universe, the origins of religion, developing relationships with the spirits of nature, with our ancestors, and with our gods and goddesses. Spiritual growth. Magic. Building vibrant religious communities. And perhaps most importantly, how to combine all that into a spiritual practice that builds a better world here and now.” Congratulations to John, Patheos is lucky to have you.
  • Radio Netherlands profiles 18-year-old Adrien Adandé of Benin, a High School student by day, and a Vodun priest by night. Quote:  “As soon as he gets home from school, 18-year-old Adrien Adandé slips out of his high school uniform and into his voodoo priest robes. A large crowd is already queuing outside for consultations. Adandé took over the practice from his father, who initiated him into the Voodoo rites before his death. ‘As a child, I was my father’s only son who was interested in what he was doing at the convent,’ the teenager recalls. ‘Along the way, he taught me things and showed me the secrets.'” It’s an interesting piece, featuring several perspectives on Vodun in Benin.
  • The Telegraph in India check in with  Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s most famous Wiccan. Quote: “Draped in a black cloak, Chakraverti put 70-odd students of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, under a spell on January 9 as she spoke about ghosts and planchettes and decoded Wiccan symbols. “Black is a witch’s favourite colour. It stands for enigma and dignity in Wicca. The broom signifies a woman being liberated from household activities and flying away in search of identity. The conical hat is a symbol of concentration and free-flowing thought,” she explained.”
  • Think Africa Press notes that blaming traditional African belief systems for witchcraft-related crimes and persecutions ignores that most of these harmful and violent manifestations are modern inventions, and that Pentecostal and evangelical churches have had a large influence in their development. Quote: “Today’s witchcraft beliefs and practices are as much products of modern dynamics as they are informed by long-standing tradition. Witchcraft beliefs are not remnants of ‘pre-modern’ cultures but contemporary phenomena embedded in, and partly constituted by, specific and current cultural and socio-economic contexts.”
Seen on Wednesday is all that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Photo: San Benito News)

The remains of a controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Photo: San Benito News)

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.

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.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

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.

For several years I’ve been asking the question of what do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” in Africa or the Middle East, and are instead at our doorsteps.

“If this trend isn’t seriously addressed soon, we may find this madness turning its eye towards “safe” occultists and Pagans in places like America, the UK, Australia, Brazil, and Canada.”

Now, with the UK still reeling over the murder of Kristy Bamu, who died while being tortured under the auspices of an “exorcism” at his sister’s home, and British police being trained to spot cases of sorcery among immigrant communities, some Christian writers have seized on a largely constructed controversy over religious education in Cornwall to cynically launch attacks on modern Paganism. First out of the gate was  Catholic Telegraph columnist Christina Odone, whose anti-Pagan screed I recently highlighted on this blog.

“God, Gaia, whatever: school children are already as familiar with the solstice as with the sacraments. In pockets of Cornwall, children will point out a nun in her habit: “Look, a Druid!” Their parents will merely shrug — one set of belief is as good as another. How long before the end of term is marked by a Black Mass, with only Health and Safety preventing a human sacrifice?

To Odone’s credit, she doesn’t explicitly conflate the recent sorcery and exorcism-related deaths and attacks with modern Paganism, though she does bemoan liberals “who spy covert imperialism or racism in every moral judgment.” It took Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby’s insulting and sloppy article to do that. Interweaving Odone’s opinion piece with recent stories on witch-hunting and killings in the developing world, Kerby joins the imaginary dots.

“In 2005, Sita Kisanga was found guilty of torturing an eight-year-old in London, believing the girl to have kindoki. She told the court that, “Kindoki is something you have to be scared of because in our culture kindoki can kill and destroy your life completely.” But officials in Cornwall, England, say there’s nothing to fear. [...] It seems that the politically correct Cornwall Council regards Christianity as no better than any other superstition.”

Beliefnet’s sole Pagan blogger, Gus diZerega, has posted his own response to Kerby’s piece, hinting that his time at the religion portal may be coming to an end soon if nothing is done. But even if Kerby does ultimately walk back his statements, the connection has been made, and Catholic columnist Christopher Howse has decided to use it to hammer on Cornwall’s curriculum.

Christopher Howse at Glastonbury.

Christopher Howse at Glastonbury.

“So it seems there are now two kinds of witchcraft: the bad kind that black people believe in, and the kind that should be celebrated because it is believed in by Cornish people.”

Howse seems to suggest that there should be no distinction, that all witchcraft is bad. However, he undermines this somewhat by shifting to a “Paganism and Wicca aren’t truly ancient so they shouldn’t be taken seriously” argument.

“What we do know is that there is no continuity between pre-Christian religions in Britain and the various branches of modern paganism. [...] It [Wicca] was no more an ancient religion than Jedi.”

You can’t have it both ways, really. Either all forms of witchcraft and sorcery are indistinguishable, or they aren’t. If you acknowledge that Wicca is something other than the  phenomenon that led to Kristy Bamu’s death, you create cracks in the cynical false dilemma you’ve created to ratchet up the fear and misinformation. This misinformation not only harms modern Pagan religions, but African Traditional Religions as well, and obscures what may be the true culprit. According to groups like AFRUCA, the spread of anti-witchcraft and sorcery violence in the UK is centered in Pentecostal Churches, not indigenous, revived, or reconstructed pre-Christian belief systems.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi's flat.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi's flat.

“We were concerned about this before this trial of Kristy Bamu,” said Debbie Ariyo, executive director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), who added that a boom in pentecostal churches was leading to more children being accused of witchcraft. “This is not a problem with all pastors or all churches, but the branding of children as witches is not abating. It is a growing problem. There are so many children suffering in silence.”

You see, what these concerned Catholics don’t want you to know is that this wave of violence is partially the fault of missionaries who inserted Christian triumphalism and a spiritual warfare dynamic into traditional beliefs about malefic magic. This created deadly consequences the missionaries could not (or would not) understand.

Missionaries have commonly responded [to witchcraft accusations] in two ways, said [Robert] Priest [professor of missions and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School]. The power of witches to harm others is dismissed as superstition, but this seldom persuades local Christians to abandon the concept; or the reality of witchcraft is endorsed by missionaries not wanting to be “post-Enlightenment rationalists” with a non-biblical skepticism of spiritual warfare.

The result is that traditional witch ideas are fused with Christian theology, which obscures the social consequences: Accused witches are often destitute or outcast, and thus socially defenseless. Instead of seeing old women or children as scapegoats, said Priest, Christian leaders suggest that witchcraft participates in genuine spiritual evil and that the accusations are reasonable. “The church is providing the cognitive underpinnings for the past system in the contemporary world.”

Nothing seems to be the fault of Christianity, of course. Even though there are several high-profile Christian witch-hunters who make a name for themselves by casting out demons, and receive support from Western churches. Spiritual warfare is waged, perverting indigenous beliefs in the process, but the response isn’t to crack down on Christian churches, the response is to further demonize non-Christian traditions.

Writers like Kerby and Howse aren’t stupid, they know their assertions will have reverberations beyond the page or computer screen. But will they be willing to take responsibility if their words spark a new moral panic? One that engulfs anyone who is suspected of practicing “witchcraft?” Somehow I don’t think they’ll have the courage or stomach for it, and will instead find someone (or something) to scapegoat. Anyone but themselves.

The moment when “witch-hunts” over there come home to roost on our doorsteps is now. How Pagans react will be very important in how this issue plays out. We must resist at all costs the urge to fall into Howse’s trap and create a “two kinds of witchcraft” split on ethnic lines, and instead build a response that holds fear-mongering churches and writers responsible while creating new coalitions between Pagans and practitioners of African diasporic and traditional faiths. We must not let moral panics break out against adherents of Santeria, Palo, Vodou, or smaller groups, while we try to pretend there’s no connections or overlap between these traditions and modern Pagan faiths. The response to fear and growing hysteria is not to bury our heads, or isolate ourselves, but to show that we won’t sit quietly in the corner while our spiritual cousins are demonized, hoping they won’t turn their attention to us.

Among Pagans, the rallying cry used to be “Never Again the Burning Times,” calling to a distant, sometimes romanticized, past. Perhaps instead we should say “Never Again the Panics,” and use our very real experiences with the Satanic Panics of the 1980s and 90s as an instructional on how to fight these new attempts to “other” belief systems and groups most people don’t understand. The answer to exorcism-related violence and death isn’t to find a single scapegoat, but to instead ensure that education and enforcement are allowed to spread.

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.

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.