Archives For Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

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.

Top Story: Richard Batholomew points us to an investigative news program on Channel 4 in the UK that exposes an underground of naming and exorcising child “witches” in African evangelical churches. Reporter Juliana Oladipo, who went undercover as a “troubled teen” for the story, shares her frightening experiences amongst Britain’s witch-hunters.

“Throughout the undercover filming process, I was confused and physically harassed by large male pastors. I was screamed at and accused of being possessed by an evil demon. As far as these pastors were concerned, I was 15 years old and had been locking my bedroom door at night … The people that these unholy African priests are targeting are on the whole ostracised by society. As well as having immigration problems, they are often unemployed, uneducated and lost in the system. Is it a surprise then that children like ‘Buki’ (my character in the film) are so angry and disconnected from society? She and others like her are being blamed by pastors for being the cause of family grief because they are ‘witches’.”

The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has already issued a statement to The Guardian concerning witch-children and exorcisms in the UK.

“…viewers of the programme need to understand that, shocking as these instances undoubtedly are, huge progress have been made over the past few years in developing and implementing effective child protection policies in African churches in the UK. One example is The Safeguarding Children’s Rights initiative. Established in 2007 by Trust for London, this brings together key organisations and agencies tackling faith-based abuse in African communities in London. In addition to CCPAS, it includes AFRUCA, Africa Policy Research Network, the UK Congolese Safeguarding Action Group and the Victoria Climbié Foundation. All these organisations and agencies unreservedly condemn all instances of child abuse, in particular any church that brands children as witches or as in any way demon-possessed.”

The Evangelical Alliance in the UK officially condemned accusations of witchcraft in 2007, after a government report was issued in 2006 that found 38 specific cases since 2000. However, police and activists insist that the reported cases are only the “tip of the iceberg”, and that there are “at least” dozens of cases per year according to Debbie Ariyo, founder of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca). Some in the UK fear a repeat of the Victoria Climbie tragedy, where a child is abused to death right under the noses of social services. What is clear is that the problem of “child witches” and the unscrupulous pastors who “exorcise” them for money and power isn’t some localized phenomenon “over there”, but one that is increasingly “over here” as well. How long before a similar situation is uncovered in the United States, where witch-hunters are feted and funded by an array of churches.

The ‘Pagan Priestess’ Who Seriously Injured a Police Officer: The Australian press is eating up the story of a woman who dragged a police officer over 600 feet after being pulled over. The officer’s arm was stuck in the window after she rolled it up while trying to prevent him from taking the keys. It’s making headlines because the woman pulled over claimed that “your laws and penalties don’t apply”, and that she’s a Pagan priestess and healer.

Eilish De Avalon, 40, has pleaded guilty in the Geelong Magistrates Court to charges including recklessly causing injury and driving while suspended over the February 23 incident. De Avalon said she is tired of being labelled a witch because of its negative connotations, and would rather be known as a healer and an activist. “I don’t wear the label of witch comfortably,” she told ninemsn. “A lot of witches prefer the title of pagan, or in my case pagan priestess. We are healers. We are psychics.”

I’m somewhat at a loss as to describe how clueless this woman appears. She’s a “healer” who seriously injured a cop after being pulled over on a suspended license for talking on a cell phone while driving? She’s tired of “negative connotations” while turning her faith into a massive joke by her actions and statements? Ms. De Avalon is being sentenced on August 6th, and I can only hope she refrains from issuing further statements and accepts her punishment with some dignity. I truly sympathize with my Australian brothers and sisters who now have to account for the media storm she’s created.

A Report from the PLSC: David Salisbury at Capital Witch has filed his first report from the 4-day Pagan Leadership Skills Conference in Richmond Virginia, featuring Selena Fox, Drema Baker, and Christine Woodman.

“Sunday night I got in from the 4-day NPLSC in Richmond, VA. I can’t even begin to write about it in a way that will do justice to the experience. I can honestly say I’ve never learned so many useful skills for leadership and life within a short amount of time. The speakers were incredible, the rituals were transforming, and the bonds formed will remain strong.

We opened with a dedication ritual honoring the apple and orchard Goddess Pomona, the matron diety of the conference. With Pomona, we reached within ourselves to plant the seeds of leadership and community. Mead created from apples blessed from the previous years conference sealed our libation and set the way for an enriching four days.”

There’s more to come in part 2 of his report, so keep an eye on the Capital Witch blog. My thanks to David for sharing his experiences with us, and I look forward to more DC-centric Pagan reporting.

Tears and Anger For Hypatia: T. Thorn Coyle and Star Foster from have recently seen Alejandro Amenábar’s “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, and both seem to have found the film deeply affecting.

“It was an interesting slide into emotion during the watching of Agora. One part of me was stating, “This is one way that humans are. This is about the loss of our humanity to mob rule.” Part of me was responding to this and nodding yes, another part was crushed at the fragile human response to easy violence, and yet another part was mourning our Pagan past. Connecting to all of these, I saw that I could choose to not experience the full force of an emotional response, I could follow the energy of my God Soul and watch humanity playing out this well worn story. I chose, instead, to say to my macrocosmic soul, “Yes, the patterns of humanity upon each other and the earth are varied, and yes, the rise of ignorance is a story as old as our DNA, but right now, I want to simply feel this!” Awash in emotion, I wept. I wept for the burning of the scrolls. I wept for the taking of the scientist and philosopher. I wept for her death. I wept for never having seen the great city of Alexandria at its height, before the Pagans fell into excess and the Christians took false power. I wept for all of those who failed to turn the tide of ignorance, political greed, and mob rule. I wept because tyranny had once again triumphed over freedom.”

Star’s review calls “Agora” one of the most important films the Pagan community has ever received. Another Pagan reviewer, Zan Fraser at The Juggler, agrees, saying that it’s “something that any Neo-Pagan should see”. I predict this will become one of those “must see” films that will be watched and shared within our community. Now if only I could see the dang thing! I can’t believe the art theater in my town hasn’t gotten it.

The Manchester Mona Lisa: In a final note, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester has picked its own local “Mona Lisa” to be featured in a new Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition. The winner is goth Witch Carol Hodge.

“Carol Hodge beat a 20-strong shortlist of men, women, dogs and photoshop curiosities to triumph in the online poll, posing against a smouldering backdrop with her faced caked in thick white make-up and black eyeliner, topped with a spiralling black hat.”

You can view the winning portrait, here. You can see some of the other entries, here. The show runs until September 12th. Congratulations to Ms. Hodge on being picked.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Top Story: I’m very pleased to present, as part of my coverage of the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, an interview with Pagan scholar Michael York. Michael York is Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University College, UK, an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, and author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion”. We discussed the evolving place of modern Paganism at the Parliament, the importance of the Pagan voice in interfaith interactions, and how polytheism promotes democracy.

If you are a Pagan podcaster, or host a Pagan-friendly radio show, you are welcome to download this file to play on your program. Be sure to credit the Pagan Newswire Collective as the audio source. For more Parliament-related audio, check out my discussion with Ed Hubbard, a PNC correspondent, as well as host of MagickTV and Pagans Tonight. There are more scheduled Parliament interviews, so stay tuned to the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest news.

In Other News: William Booth at the Washington Post looks at the oft-misunderstood cult of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. An anthropologist interviewed for the piece makes the argument that this growing, and controversial, faith is a true reflection of contemporary Mexico.

“The authorities have condemned Santa Muerte as a “narco-saint,” worshipped by drug traffickers, cartel assassins and dope slingers. But the worship is more a reflection of contemporary Mexico, says the anthropologist J. Katia Perdigón Castañeda, the author of “La Santa Muerte: Protector of Mankind.” The cult is an urban pop amalgam, New Age meets heavy metal meets Virgin of Guadalupe. It is no accident that it is also cross-cultural — that the centers of worship are the poor, proud heart of Mexico City and the violent frontier lands of Laredo, Juarez and Tijuana. The cult borrows equally from Hollywood and the Aztec underworld. Altars, necklaces and tattoos honoring Santa Muerte also make appearances in Mexican American neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Boston. “The believers may be drug dealers, doctors, carpenters, housewives. The cult accepts all. No matter the social status or age or sexual preference. Even transsexuals. Even criminals. That’s very important, that the cult of Santa Muerte accepts everyone,” Perdigón told me, “because death takes one and all.” Where mainstream Mexican Catholicism promises a better life in the hereafter, “central to the devotion of Santa Muerte is the fact that the believers want a miracle, a favor, in the present, in this life, not when they are dead,” Perdigón said.”

I find it very interesting that while many modern Pagan religions are quite self-conscious of mixing pop-culture with our Paganism, or of modernizing ancient sacred imagery, the followers of Santa Muerte seem to do it instinctively. Focusing more on necessities than proprieties. I wish I could read J. Katia Perdigon Castaneda’s book, but it appears to be only available in Spanish, a language I have not mastered.

I have an update on the case of Ali Sibat, a former Lebanese television presenter who was arrested and sentenced to death for sorcery in Saudi Arabia by the Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia, but I’m afraid it isn’t good news.

“He was condemned to death last month, and the religious court may confirm the sentence as soon as Thursday. The family’s lawyer, May Khansa, has tried desperately to persuade Lebanese politicians to intervene to save Mr Sbatt’s life – the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, and President Michel Sleiman are aware of his case and so is the Sunni Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan – but so far without success. Sheikh Qabalan did, however, say that what Mr Sbatt did on television was merely psychological help for people who have lost hope and did not involve black magic. The family wisely appealed to Sunni prelates for help rather than dignitaries from their own Shia background. Their local member of parliament has been asked to assist – uselessly, it appears – and Ibrahim Najjar, the Minister for Justice, has said he has done “the necessary”, whatever that is.”

Saudi lawyers have asked for a million dollars to make a legal appeal, and it seems only the intervention of King Abdullah could save his life at this point. I’ll have more on this case as it develops, but it looks like another innocent person will soon be killed by a government for alleged supernatural crimes.

Why do white supremacists feel the need to subvert Pagan, Heathen, and Christian faiths? Because their own sad attempts at building a “religion” are so transparently political that federal district court judges have no problem denying them equal treatment in court cases.

“In Conner v. Tilton, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111892 (ND CA, Dec. 2, 2009), in a decision unusually detailed in its analysis for a case brought by a prisoner pro se, a California federal district court held that the White supremacist Creativity Movement is not a “religion” for purposes of the First Amendment or RLUIPA. In the case, an inmate sought the right to practice various aspects of his purported religion in Pelican Bay State Prison. In deciding the case, the court relied on the definition of “religion” articulated by the 3rd Circuit in Africa v. Pennsylvania.”

In short,”what’s good for white people is good” just isn’t a comprehensive world-view that addresses “fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters”. There may be (and are) racist Heathens, Pagans, Muslims, and Christians, but they at least have the fig-leaf of an actual faith-tradition when considering legal matters. This sadly means that racists will continue to distort our faiths for their own ends, but at least the misguided may have some chance of interacting with genuine non-racist permutations of those faiths as they move through life.

In a final note, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, who has been covering the plight of child witches in Nigeria, brings us the news that notorious (and popular) witch-hunting mega-pastor Helen Ukpabio is suing a local activist and witch children charity. Why is she suing them? For making Ukpabio look bad when her followers raided a conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights.

“Helen applied to the Federal High Court in Calabar for the enforcement of her fundamental rights. She claimed, among other things,that the conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights, held on July 29 in Calabar – which her members disrupted- and the arrest of her church members on the said date constituted an infringement on their rights to practice their christian religious belief relating to witchcraft. She asked the court to issue perpetual injunctions restraining me and others – From interfering with their practice of christianity and their deliverance of people with witchcraft spirit … From holding seminars or workshops denouncing the christian religious belief in witchcraft … From arresting her and her church members etc.”

The activist, Leo Igwe, has sent out a press release regarding the lawsuit. Due to oppressive British libel laws, Bartholomew wasn’t able to reprint the entire thing, so I’m making it available here. I’ll try to keep you posted as new developments in this case arise, but I strongly suggest you also read Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion for the latest updates as well.

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne,  and have a great day!