Archives For black metal

Top Story: The BBC leads with a story about ritual child-killings in Uganda, saying that the problem may be more widespread than previously thought. At the center of this investigation is former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela, who claims that he himself sacrificed children, including his own son.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10. “I deceived my wife and made sure that everyone else had gone away and I was with my child alone. Once he was placed down on the ground, I used a big knife and brought it down like a guillotine.”

That sounds truly horrific, and the BBC rightly asks him if he’s willing to be prosecuted for the 70 people he claims to have killed in his former witch-doctoring life. The answer may (or may not) surprise you.

Asked if he was afraid he might now be prosecuted as a result of confessing to killing 70 people, he said: “I have been to all the churches… and they know me as a warrior in the drive to end witchcraft that involves human sacrifice, so I think that alone should indemnify me and have me exonerated.”

After that quote, I started questioning the validity of the entire article. It isn’t that I don’t believe children aren’t being abducted, abused, and killed in several African nations. There’s of plenty of evidence for that. I also acknowledge that some witch-doctors are indeed killing and mutilating certain children for various reasons. But the following portrait painted by the BBC, with help from Mr. Angela, raises many of my old “Satanic Panic” red flags. How often did we see former “Satanists” who claimed to have participated in murders and kidnappings, yet never bothered turning themselves into the police for one reason or another. There are other flags, a “nationwide network” of witch-doctors, with a “boss” who takes a cut of all the money, for example. To reiterate, I do think children are being harmed, and I think some of those harming children may in fact be witch doctors, but I’m deeply skeptical of some of the claims being raised here. They sound a little too perfect and well-organized to be fully true.

In Other News: New York city councilman, and practicing Theodsman, Dan Halloran, has been enjoying his recent electoral victory at a series of swearing-ins, functions, and parties. Connor Adams Sheets at YourNabe.com brings us an account of Halloran’s January 3rd swearing-in at the Fort Totten Officer’s Club in Bayside.

“The fete was a joyous end to a bitter campaign during which Halloran’s pagan faith was used against him; accusations of racism were cast by the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Kevin Kim; and both camps’ political rhetoric often degenerated into mudslinging. Beginning with the national anthem sung by Bayside cantor Margaret Abel and a rousing performance by a police bagpipe group, the ceremony was filled with humor, back-slapping and enthusiasm about the work Halloran will do for his native district over the next four years. Halloran pledged to uphold during his term the conservative principles he campaigned on by working to reduce taxes and help small business owners and middle-class families.”

Several local Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), showed up to the event, perhaps signaling an openness to bipartisan cooperation from both sides. We will, of course, be watching his political career with interest in the coming four years.

Want another perspective on “Avatar”? I hope that answer is “yes”, because here is author and techgnostic Erik Davis weighing in, saying that perhaps the film is more “ayahuasca lite” than “noble savage mysticism”.

“OK, maybe I am the one smoking something. But if there is an aya-Avatar connection, it would explain one crucial way in which the film differs from conventional “noble savage” mysticism. Rather than ground the Na’vi’s grooviness in their folklore or spiritual purity, the film instead presents the vision of a direct and material communications link with the plant mind. Which means that Eyra does not have to be believed—she can be experienced. After the temporary fusion with the Tree of Souls that fails to prevent her death, Weaver’s chain-smoking left-brain doctor happily confirms Ewya’s existence. Like the Vine of Souls now wending its way through the developed world, the Tree of Souls becomes a kind of bio-mystical media, a visionary communications matrix that uplinks the souls of the dead and the network mind of the ecosphere itself.”

So perhaps “Avatar” isn’t so much about pagan pantheism, but instead about communicating with the “plant mind”?  Then again, perhaps the film is whatever people want it to be. Different meanings for different minds. Wouldn’t that mean it’s great art? Perhaps the clunky dialog and trite plot are merely there as a prop for a mystical experience?

For those of you awaiting the “Lords of Chaos” movie adaptation, starring teen heartthrob Jackson Rathbone as Varg Vikernes, it looks like plans have changed. Rathbone is out due to “scheduling conflicts”, the production time-table has been shifted, and the plot of the film may be getting an overhaul. That last tidbit of news coming from Vikernes himself.

“Now, they are apparently basing the story of this movie not on my story, but on the ‘Lords Of Chaos’ story. Unfortunately the ‘Lords Of Chaos’ story is not only nonsense; incoherent and utterly contradictive, but it is also very lacking in information regarding the lives and traits of the individuals to be included as characters in the movie. One could easily think that this would make it impossible for anybody to make a movie based on this book, but of course if you simply fill in the holes yourself…”

With the movie seemingly in chaos, will they proceed? Will they pull a “Velvet Goldmine” and fictionalize the story to avoid more problems with the living-breathing subjects they want to tell a story about? Will the film get stuck in development hell? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

In a final note, the Indian Express reports on a relatively new development, girls publicly performing Vedic prayer-chants, something that has been considered taboo for many Indians.

“Eight all-girl teams lined up on a foggy Delhi morning, raised their faces towards the sun and chanted Vedic suktas (prayers). In four minutes each, they breached with ease barriers that most Indian women are still not allowed to approach. The Vedic chanting event was part of the three-day Inter-School Value Festival held at the Sri Satya Sai Vidya Vihar Girls’ Public School, Kalkaji. Eight of 11 Sri Satya Sai Schools in North India are taking part in the event that began on Tuesday. “Vedic chanting by women was a social taboo in India, but things have started improving. In many parts of the country, women chanting suktas are still frowned upon,” said one of the judges at the competition, requesting anonymity.”

Let’s hear it for the breaking down of outmoded barriers, and for the freedom of women to publicly praise the goddesses, gods, and elements, of their homeland.

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 6, 2010 — 3 Comments

Just a few quick items I wanted to share with you today, starting with a post from my favorite Christian blog, Slacktivist, who tackles the sad case of Ali Sibat’s death sentence in Saudi Arabia, and the sensationalist “500 dead animals” Santeria story from Philadelphia in one fell swoop.

“The Supreme Court of the U.S. did not rule that the free exercise of Santeria is “permitted.” It ruled, unambiguously (9-0), that the free exercise of Santeria is protected. This is not a minor distinction. People like Sally Kern — or like Chuck Colson and Robert George and everybody they got to endorse their “Manhattan Declaration” — like to think that their particular religion is protected by the First Amendment while other, less widely held religions are merely “permitted,” merely tolerated out of a benign condescension. But the First Amendment does not make or allow for any such distinction. If it did, then America would require a Saudi-style “religious police” to enforce laws dependent on the content of religious beliefs. A legal category of “heretical, but permitted” could not long exist without realizing the implied additional legal category of “heretical and prohibited,” and neither category is compatible with religious freedom. It is not possible to make legal judgments regarding the content of religious belief without enforcing laws against heresy. And it is not possible to enact and enforce laws against heresy without religious tyranny.”

For those curious about what that “Manhattan Declaration” is that he mentioned, you can find the text of it, here. You can read Slacktivist’s opinion of that declaration, here. While I’m not too surprised to see a Christian blog report on the Sibat case, I’m pleasantly surprised to see one address the Santeria story. Kudos to Fred Clark for addressing the fact that religious freedom means freedom for all religions, not just the ones that are “Judeo-Christian”.

The Smoky Mountain News in North Carolina takes an exhaustive look at the various viewpoints on the matter of public religious invocations before government meetings. Interviewing Christians, atheists, politicians, lawyers, and even Pagans, in the process.

“Lianna Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said prayers that specifically reference Jesus Christ in Haywood, Swain and Macon counties persist simply because the practice has never been challenged. In her opinion, holding any one group above another promotes an atmosphere of intolerance. In Constantino’s view, it will take a long time for major change, somewhat due to the makeup of WNC society. “There hasn’t been a lot of diversity like there has been in other parts of the country,” said Constantino. “As a simple fact, this is a pretty homogenous Christian-entrenched society in the South.” … Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said endorsing Christian prayers before meetings blatantly violates a precious partition between religion and state. “I think it is rude, arrogant and presumptuous to impose any singular religious tradition on a religiously diverse society,” said Constantino.”

The article was prompted by recent successful legal challenges in Forsyth County that ended sectarian prayer before governmental meetings. Now a group of North Carolina counties (Haywood, Macon and Swain) wonder when they’ll be called to court for excluding religious minorities, or making public sectarian invocations. The answer is most likely “eventually”, as religious minorities (and atheists) grow and decide they’ve had enough of a governmental endorsement of Christianity masquerading as “religious freedom”.

In a final note, the Guardian music blog spotlights “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, a film I’ve mentioned here before.

“The result is a new film, Pagan Metal: A Documentary, that features interviews with some of the scene’s big players, including Finnish bands, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, as well as Norway’s Leaves Eyes and Ireland’s Primordial. Their dedication to ancient traditions doesn’t quite go as far as carving guitars out of birch and stringing them with the entrails of wild boar, but alongside your typical metal set-up, traditional instruments, such as violins, flutes and Celtic bagpipes, are rife. Lyrics, meanwhile, are steeped in traditional, pre-Christian themes: Finntroll, for instance, draw inspiration from from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala.”

The post chronicles how film producer Bill Zebub was initially quite skeptical of the genre, but was won over by the “vibe” which called out to “the European” within him. They also tackle how some bands veer into racism and nationalism, though they do add that there is less extremism and sensationalism on the whole than within the more-popular Black Metal genre (a genre that also has a documentary about it coming out).

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

Top Story: We are still in the midst of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, but that event seems to be increasingly haunted by the upcoming/overlapping UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen. This reality was noted by Reclaiming Witch and community organizer Zay Speer at the Pagans at the Parliament blog.

“The Parliament may be taking place on the other side of the world from Copenhagen, but Copenhagen is not very far from peoples’ minds. There are at least eight talks here with “climate change” in the title, more in the descriptions, and it is appearing as a persistent subtheme throughout the conference, from all traditions. Despite not having a voice on any of the Ecology panels, we Pagans are working it in too. The Community Night Pagan ritual hosted by Melbourne Reclaiming ended with an activist-style raising of energy for the healing of Mother Earth, ‘all the way through to Copenhagen!'”

Can religious groups influence the debate over a new global climate pact? U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon seems to think so, saying that religious leaders “can have the largest, widest and deepest reach”, and hundreds of religious folks are coming, some directly from the Parliament, to make their voice heard.

“[Sister Joan Brown] will be among numerous preachers, rabbis, ministers and other faith-based figures who are bringing a spiritual presence — and, often, a strong point of view on the political issues — to Copenhagen. At a time when political leaders are struggling to pass environmental legislation in the USA and elsewhere … as many as 100 religiously affiliated representatives from the USA plan to attend the summit, estimates Tyler Edgar, assistant director for the environmental arm of the NCC. Worldwide, she says that number will likely run ‘in the hundreds.'”

What will these mainstream religious voices for a tougher climate change pact at this “Woodstock of the environmental movement” say? According to reports from the Parliament, they may sound amazing like Pagans, even if the Pagans weren’t invited to most of the panels on climate change and the environment (with one exception). Don’t believe me? Check out the blog of a Franciscan Nun heading to Copenhagen for a beautiful evocation of sacred Earth. We may not be there, but the nature-reverent ethic many of us hold does indeed seem to be traveling “all the way through to Copenhagen”.

In Other News: We turn once again to the international epidemic of witch-hunting. Some think I’m trying to equate Western Paganism with innocent folks accused of sorcery and witchcraft in Africa and the Middle East, but my reporting isn’t about questions of identity, but about a simmering religious and cultural phenomenon that won’t be contained much longer in the mostly-ignored developing nations. This isn’t merely about controversial blessings, or even American-funded witch-hunting churches, but of this madness spreading right to our doorstep.

“An evangelist church leader who tortured his 10-year-old daughter and kept her prisoner for four days with no food because he was convinced she was a witch was jailed for eight-and-a-half years today. The twisted 39-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, dripped boiling hot plastic over his terrified daughter’s feet and beat her senseless after she became ‘possessed by evil spirits’. The girl was held prisoner and force-fed olive oil and milk for four days after the man became convinced she had powers to make people fall asleep, Coventry Crown Court heard.”

Even when it does happens “here”, some may be tempted to write this off as an “immigrant” problem, but that ignores how easily we “rational” and “civilized” folks in affluent first-world nations drift into the same madness when certain triggers are pushed. We need to address this problem, not because the accused “witches” are Pagan, but because hysteria is an easily exportable commodity, and some very prominent people here at home seem to be very tempted to see if it can make them a prophet profit.

Turning to my ongoing coverage of the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, I present an audio interview with Reclaiming Witch and community organizer Zay Speer. Speer works with the Onondaga Nation, part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, on environmental and interfaith issues. We talk about how she came to be a part of the Onondaga delegation, what the Onondaga hope to accomplish at the Melbourne Parliament, working to end the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, and her own experiences as a Pagan at the Parliament.

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, and my interview with Pagan Scholar Michael York. For more great Parliament coverage, stay tuned to the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest news.

Salon.com gives some more coverage to the upcoming documentary about Norway’s black-metal scene “Until the Light Takes Us”, which I’ve mentioned here before. Movie critic Andrew O’Hehir wonders if the documentary-makers went too far towards making controversial figures like Varg Vikernes seem like “misunderstood Robin Hoods” instead of  “Satanic church-burning maniacs”.

“Do Aites and Ewell owe the viewership a clearer explication of Vikernes’ ties to white nationalist groups, his long record of troubling racial, sexual and religious rhetoric and his public flirtation with Nazi ideology? You won’t learn this in the film, for instance, but Vikernes is viewed as the philosophical father of the musical-political subgenre called “National Socialist black metal,” or NSBM. Or is it fairer to this disturbing and complicated figure to present him on his own terms, without recourse to prejudicial buzzwords? (For the record, Vikernes has not called himself a Nazi since the late ’90s, preferring the invented term “Odalism,” said to signify “paganism, traditional nationalism, racialism and environmentalism,” along with an opposition to modern civilization in all its forms.)”

I haven’t seen the film, so I can’t comment, but it does seem like a calmer, even friendlier, tone may be welcome after the waves of sensationalist reporting and media on the topic. I certainly couldn’t see the film-makers gaining the trust of the local black-metal scene had they gone in looking to portray “Satanic church-burning maniacs”. Again, whatever its flaws, I still think this will be a welcome asset for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

In a final note, according to Cumbrian Witch Marcus Katz, Wicca is no stranger than pigeon racing.

“We offer a very open, authentic and down-to-earth approach. We don’t consider it any stranger than people joining a pigeon-racing club, which is something I find bizarre!”

So there you go. Wicca is equal-to or less-strange than the sport of pigeon racing. Please take note.

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!

Top Story: Outed Pagan political candidate Alice Richmond has closed down her local-issues blog, Page County Watch, and is seemingly retiring from the public eye.

“Last week the voice of the Page County Watch Blog went silent as Alice Richmond, the resident who started the blog, decided to move on. “I’m moving on to other things,” said Richmond. “I don’t want anyone to Google my name anymore.” The site gained attention most recently in September when on a local radio show, Richmond was questioned about her religion and the author known as “Lady Raya.” Richmond later admitted she was using the name Lady Raya as a pseudonym to write books on Wiccan practices.”

Richmond’s race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors seemed to get hostile from the start, with the staged ambush-outing of her “Lady Raya” pen-name by political opponents on a local talk show shrouding her candidacy with sensationalism. After a losing the election by a wide margin, a palpably disappointed Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, noting that the vote wasn’t close. Considering the emotional wringer she’s been through, I don’t blame her for wanting to withdraw from public, though I do mourn the loss of a Pagan willing to enter into the political fray.  I fear that her campaign, and Dan Halloran’s, proves that out (or outed) Pagan candidates will have to deal with ugly smears from opponents (even if the tactic backfires) unafraid to exploit religious fears.

In Other News: Kathy Nance at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings us a local angle to the “Pagans at the Parliament” story by focusing on the ceremonial rattles created by local artist Julee Higginbotham for the interfaith event.

“On this first full day of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Pagans met to give blessings to four rattles created by St. Louis artist Julee Higginbotham. The rattles, called “Bridge to the Meeting Place,” were created to symbolize the coming together of religions and people from around our planet. Julee has blended Aboriginal and Neo-Pagan symbols into a clay prayer for understanding. They will be given to Pagans from North America and Australia, and to two PWR delegates. She got the idea from Pagan delegate and PWR board member Angie Buchanan.”

You can read more about these rattles at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, where you can see daily updates about the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Are you a Pagan metal-head? If so, this is your lucky day, because two documentaries that touch on Pagan/Heathen religion within different metal subcultures are being released. “Pagan Metal:  A Documentary”, and “Until the Light Takes Us”, which focuses on the controversial Norwegian black metal scene.

“In addition to exploring the origins and ideology of black metal, Aites and Ewell examine black metal as what Norwegian visual artist Bjarne Melgaard calls “Norway’s only culturally relevant phenomenon.” Melgaard, who recontextualizes black metal aesthetics in his art, explores the striking parallel between the emotional extremes of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the album cover of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.” “Until the Light Takes Us” succeeds because it neither idolizes nor patronizes the artists involved.”

Considering the fact that a movie is being made about one of black metal’s most controversial figures, a less sensationalist documentary, academic in tone, certainly seems welcome at this point. As for “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, it’s more informal, and had a reviewer comment that “you will feel like you have made new friends”. Both seem welcome assets for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

The Good Blog gives props to Archdruid (and blogger) John Michael Greer for a piece he wrote on adopting a new model of “energy productivity” instead of the per-worker-hour standard.

“This isn’t the first time our common economic metrics have been challenged. GDP gets criticized all the time (and for good reason). But Greer makes a great point about the need for resource efficiency—especially energy efficiency—to be incorporated into the statistics we use to measure our country’s economic success. After all, we live in a world of limited resources. Acknowledging that in our numbers isn’t just about giving environmentally-friendly countries a pat on the back. It’s a real indication of how well-prepared a country is to deal with costly constraints. Apparently these days it takes a druid and Tarot grandmaster to point that out to all the Ivy League B-school grads on Wall Street. Strange times.”

Indeed it does sometimes take a different view-point to actually think “outside the box”, and who better than a (wise) Druid to address issues of resource efficiency and economics as we approach the end our the industrial age? For more on Greer’s religious activities, check out the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) web site.

In a final note, I think the University of Iowa may have the coolest name ever for their Pagan student organization.

“The mention of the term “pagan” often connotes thoughts of the dark arts, ritual sacrifices, and any number of Goth stereotypes. But for UI senior Kirk Cheyney, it’s not about any such thing. It’s more about nature and a deep personal spirituality that he can share with his family. Cheyney serves as the president of the Society of Pagans Invested in Reviving Ancient Lifestyles, which bills itself as the UI’s pagan student union.”

I think we could use more creative acronyms in modern Paganism, especially for college students! Congrats to S.P.I.R.A.L. for making it happen (all you other campus groups better step up).

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. We have a new post now up from Selena Fox, and Thorn Coyle has just sent in another dispatch as well. You can also stay on top of things with the Pagans at the Parliament Twitter feed and Facebook page. Have a great day!

If you were going to make a major motion picture that casts the modern Pagan impulse in the worst possible light, you couldn’t do much better than picking Varg Vikernes as the subject. Vikernes, founder of the infamous Norwegian black metal band Burzum, was convicted of the arson of a string of Christian churches (which he described as “revenge” for the desecration of heathen graves), and the murder of guitarist Oystein Aarseth. Vikernes also subscribes to racialist form of Heathenry, and has claimed in the past to be a Nazi. So we’re talking about a figure who personally fulfilled all the hysterical extremist Christian stereotypes about what modern Pagans are. Naturally, this means his story is being made into a movie that will be starring one of the teen heartthrobs from the movie “Twilight”.


Jackson Rathbone and Varg Vikernes

“Jackson Rathbone, the teen heartthrob from “Twilight”, has reportedly agreed to play Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. Count Grishnackh) — the former BURZUM mastermind who is currently serving a Norwegian prison term for the August 1993 murder of MAYHEM guitarist Oystein Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous) and setting fire to three churches — in the upcoming movie “Lords Of Chaos”. Based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s book of the same name, the film depicts true events and revolves around the black metal sub-culture that spawned a wave of murders and church arsons across Norway in the early 1990s. Making his English-language debut with “Lords Of Chaos” will be hot Japanese director Sion Sono.”

The weird confluence of a hot teen-film star, a hugely popular avant-garde Japanese film-maker, and a notoriously influential member of the black metal underground almost guarantee “Lords of Chaos” instant cult status. The open question now is will the film be a critical examinaiton of the black metal scene and Vikernes’ life and mistakes, or will it turn him into a romantic anti-hero? Producer Stuart Pollock of Saltire Entertainment called the yet-to-be-shot film “a fun portrayal of Norway”, which doesn’t exactly reassure me that this will be some sort of arty morality play. As for Varg Vikernes, he’s just been released from prison after 16 years, so he’ll be able to see the film, and if he and the film’s producers are desperate enough for publicicty maybe help promote it as well. “Lords of Chaos” is set for a 2010 release, consider it the anti-“Agora” in terms of depicting paganism in a positive light. Oh, and if you’re looking for some more information on black metal, you might want to check out the book “Lords of Chaos” by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind. Vikernes calls the book “a pool of mud”, so you can’t get a better endorsement than that.