Archives For blasphemy

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.

Witchy fashion? Spring 2013 Saint Laurent collection. (Photo: NYT)

Witchy fashion? Spring 2013 Saint Laurent collection. (Photo: NYT)

  • Witches: Always fashionable. Quote: “Witchcraft and its moody expressions — long weedy hair, peaked hats and pointy boots — have attained a strange cachet of late. No longer the hideous wart-covered crone of folklore and fairy tale, the witch of current films, like “Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” and recent youth-oriented novels like “Released Souls” and “A Discovery of Witches,” has swept aside the vampire as a symbol of power, glamour and style.”
  • Glub, glub! We’re submerged in the occult says “ex-Satanists” Jeff Harshbarger! Quote: “Our society is submerged in the occult; Harry Potter has filled the minds of our children for a decade and vampirism meets our teens with the illusions of grandeur. Witchcraft went mainstream decades ago, and Wicca is its offspring.” Sinister!  Maybe all these “former occultists” should spend more time being better Christians instead of trying to sell books. 
  • Zimbabwe seems intent on starting up a moral panic around Satanism with, quote,  “some people going as far as blaming the Witchcraft Suppression Act for “protecting” suspects and witchcraft practitioners.” It has all the hallmarks of America’s Satanic Panic, but with the added danger of people (suspected Satanists) being killed by angry/fearful mobs. This can’t be going anywhere good. 
  • In an addendum to the Salem (Missouri) Public Library occult filtering case I reported on earlier this week, the Riverfront Times publishes the official, quite defensive, statement from the library on the case’s resolution. Quote: “Under the judgment, the library will continue to use the same internet screening provider it has used for many years. This is the same internet screening service provider as ninety percent of public libraries in Missouri. Months prior to the time the lawsuit was filed, the provider used by the library made changes in its minimal screening categories which the Salem Public Library and many other libraries in the state adopted. By agreeing to the consent judgment, the Salem Public Library does nothing more than agree to continue to use the new updated categories recommended by its service provider and adopted by the library before the suit was filed.” Shorter version: we will never admit we did anything wrong. 
T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

  • T. Thorn Coyle writes for The Huffington Post about John Brennan, Sekhmet and the Fires of War. Quote: “We are damaging ourselves, our souls, and the earth. We are dealing out death at a distance, and slowly dying inside. Freedom is hard to bear. But so is war. So is our enslavement and inner blindness. How shall we waken to the light that dawns over the desert so beautifully? If life and death are sacred, what is our role in these wars being fought via real-time video? We try to distance ourselves from the cycles of the earth, but in the long run, this simply is not possible.”
  • The Havasupai Tribe and environmental groups are suing the U.S. Forest Service for failing to adequately protect land sacred to the tribe and moving forward on a controversial uranium mine. Quote: “The complaint (full text) in Grand Canyon Trust v. Williams, (D AZ, filed 3/7/2013) claims that the Forest Service failed to comply with environmental, mining, public land, and historic preservation laws. It alleges, among other things, that while the Forest Service has designated the area as Traditional Cultural Property and has recognized that it is a sacred site to the Havasupai Tribe and has begun consultations with the Tribe, it refuses to carry out a complete “Section 106 process” under the National Historic Preservation Act, which would include developing a memorandum of agreement with the tribe and state historic preservation office before restarting mining operations.”
  • Got caught being a scam artist? Convert to Christianity! It’s a fabulous PR move. Quote: “Chan converted to Christianity and renounced his former practice ofgeomancy just weeks before appearing in court for forging the will of one of Hong Kong’s richest women, billionaire Nina Wang, whom Chan also claimed to be his girlfriend.”
  • The site Pagan Dharma has returned from Internet limbo, Some of the rationale for why it’s back can be found, here
  • Heiner Bielefeld, in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, says that blasphemy laws should be ended, and that they endanger religious minorities. Quote: “Speaking on the fringes of the rights council on Wednesday, Bielefeld said criminalizing concepts like blasphemy was dangerous for free speech because there could be no common definition of what it was.”
  • Slate.com says the goddess Columbia is cool. Quote: “As a personification of the United States, Columbia is far less sinister and far more charismatic than her coattailed counterpart: She’s the goddess-like figure who inspired all the women in breastplates from the women’s suffrage marches of 1913.”
  • A reality television Witch. Move along, nothing to see here.

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.

Ronald Hutton

  • The Somerset Guardian reports on a Clutton History Society meeting, featuring a talk from historian Ronald Hutton, author of “The Triumph of the Moon:A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft.” Quote: “After the summer break Clutton History Society resumed its monthly programme of talks in September with a visit from Professor Ronald Hutton, of Bristol University’s History Department, who gave a talk entitled Village Witchcraft. Appropriately the audience were spell bound with the professor’s informative and very interesting talk. Professor Hutton is a notable authority on early modern history, folklore and pre-Christian history.” For more on Hutton, here’s the scholar explaining how Puritans ruined our fun. We’re still awaiting the broadcast of “Britain’s Wicca Man,” a documentary about Gerald Gardner hosted by Hutton.
  • At Forbes, conservative Christian commentator Bill Flax admits that the United States isn’t a Christian nation (albeit with a number of caveats). Quote: “America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation and many of our beloved Forefathers sadly were not, yet America was largely comprised of Believers. Liberty allows us to worship freely or not at all per conscience. America was never meant to be theocratic or homogenous religiously, but Christianity has always been indelible to our social fabric.”
  • AlterNet interviews  Nancy L. Cohen, author of “Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America,” about why “sexual fundamentalists” still hold such much political power, despite shrinking as a demographic (in essence they’ve slowly entrenched themselves into the Republican base and presidential nominating process). Quote: “The secret to understanding American politics right now is to understand how these extremists are less popular yet more powerful than we imagine. The GOP platform is a good object lesson about how sexual fundamentalists operate within the Republican Party. The delegates that ended up at the convention are the most extreme of the Republican base. The people who were elected to be on the platform committee are the most extreme of the extremists. That’s how you end up with a platform that says not only no abortion with no exceptions, even for rape, but also includes a lot of junk science that says it’s proven women become depressed from abortion or that there is fetal pain.”
  • For those of you who’ve enjoyed the recent back-and-forth in our community concerning belief and religion, historian Kelly J. Baker, author of “Gospel According to the Klan: The KKK’s Appeal to Protestant America, 1915-1930,” centers on the perennial question of ‘They don’t really believe that, do they?’ Quote: “If I, the person who studies “weird” or “exotic” religion, will assure them that these people don’t believe, then maybe they can rest easy. I cannot assure them. And, if I am being truly honest, I really don’t want to. Instead, I emphasize that this “belief” is materialized in every prophetic utterance, billboard proclaiming the date of the end, online discussion of reptoid encounters, and each weapon purchased for the possibility of race war.” 
  • Boycotts are awesome when we do them, and terrible when other people do them.
  • Ke$ha’s new album is about magic! The first single is called “Supernatural”! She had sex with a ghost! Quote: “It’s about experiences with the supernatural, but in a sexy way. I had a couple of experiences with the supernatural. I don’t know his name! He was a ghost! I’m very open to it.” So, yeah, that happened.
  • A Republican polling firm has found that 69% of hunters and anglers support reducing carbon emissions to combat global warming. Perhaps proof that climate change isn’t a partisan issue, and that denialists are increasingly out of step with the people they say they represent?
  • Naomi Wolf defends her new book “Vagina” at Slate.com. Quote: To Wolf, criticism of her choice to couch that information in hippie-dippy terms like “The Goddess Array” has also been used to suppress discussion of female sexuality. The concept of “transcendence,” she says, is based in a long literary tradition, and though it “can be seen as a mystical term, it’s also a clinical term.” She is not actually “making a claim for some dimension of reality that exists outside of the brain.” Instead, she’s calling on the gods in a literary attempt to push back against 5,000 years of human history, in which the vagina has been “demeaned, debated, debased, and stigmatized,” she says. “I chose the phrase ‘The Goddess Array’ flippantly, I suppose, because it’s like, ‘fuck you.’ Seriously!” The coinage was an attempt to “carve out a space for women where they feel a radical sense of self-respect,” she says. “Is that coinage working for everybody? Obviously not. But if you have a better word for radical female self-respect, please tell me, because it does not exist.”
  • BBC on the Druids.
  • Killing your religious disciple is not OK.
  • US Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe rejects calls for anti-blasphemy laws, saying that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are inseparable. Quote: “The inseparable freedoms of expression and religion are important not for abstract reasons [...] when these freedoms are restricted, we see violence, poverty, stagnation and feelings of frustration and even humiliation.”
Star Foster

Star Foster

  • In a final note, farewell to Star Foster, our Pagan Portal Manager, who’s leaving Patheos to concentrate on her new life in Paganistan. Quote:  “So this is my last post for this blog. My fond farewell. I need to focus on something other than Paganism for awhile, or at least Paganism at large. My personal practice has suffered, and needs some tender loving care. I won’t completely disappear. I might do a story or two for the PNC. One day, I might even blog again. But I’m going to be silent for a long while. I need that desperately.” Thank you for all your work Star, and I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of you!

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.

A purposely inflammatory film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests across the Muslim world recently. In the chaos an affiliate of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda is believed to have launched the attack in Libya that killed an American diplomat and three other embassy staffers (it should be noted that many Libyans apologized for the attack and rejected the violence done in their name). As for the film, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the actors were duped into performing for it, and that the anti-Islam material was dubbed in after the fact. It has also become a football for politicians who want to make a sweeping statement about the Muslim world, and a point of debate over free expression in the United States. Now, a Catholic advocacy group is using the turmoil and debate over this film to demand the federal government also condemn the 1987 photo “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano.

“Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano.

“[Bill] Donohue [president of the Catholic League] and many others have condemned the piece as unnecessarily offensive to Christians, and some say it has helped uncover hypocrisy in the White House. Those outraged by the photograph suggest President Barack Obama’s administration has shown bias by condemning “Innocence of Muslims,” the anti-Muslim film that mocks the Islamic prophet Muhammad and sparked Muslim protests worldwide, but not “Piss Christ.”

Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman from New York, bashed the president and his administration in a statement late last week for their “utter lack of respect for the religious beliefs of Americans.” “As a Catholic, I find ‘Piss Christ’ to be vulgar and offensive, just as many in the Islamic world found ‘Innocence of Muslims’ to be highly offensive. Like most Americans, I condemn both yet remain tolerant as the First Amendment demands. Unfortunately, this administration has yet to echo these views in regards to the religiously offensive ‘art’ here at home,” said Grimm.”

It seems bizarre that a photograph from more than twenty years ago, one that was extensively debated in our culture at the time, should now be given equal billing to this current incident. All it took was a retrospective at a private New York gallery that features the piece for it to once again become a symbol of liberal decadence and hypocrisy. Yet the hypocrisy of Christians who claim Muslims get “special treatment” while the artist and those who show “Piss Christ” receive multiple death threats, and the work itself is attacked by Christian vandals seems to never get mentioned by groups like the Catholic League. Indeed, while there are no Catholic mobs attacking embassies, Church officials have used their political and cultural power to ensure the work is kept away from the public. Often these public battles are followed by acts of vandalism, just a quieter sort than what we see on the “Arab street.”

So with everyone talking about “Innocence of Muslims” and “Piss Christ” I guess the question has to be asked: should we allow the gods (and prophets) of our religions to be mocked? When an artist creates an inflammatory work, should religious communities go on the offensive?  I should also point out that this isn’t simply a problem among monotheists, as some artists have received death threats from Hindus over artwork that certain groups found offensive or blasphemous. Even the Pagan-friendly company Sacred Source here in the US received death threats from angry Hindus over erotic statues depicting their gods. So this is a phenomenon that I believe affects any religion that accumulates enough power and influence. They all reach a point where they think mockery or blasphemy should not be tolerated, and work to discourage, or even violently control, images that unbalance their position or perceived status.

I fear the day when modern Pagan religions reach that point, and I hope that it never comes. I don’t think I could stomach knowing that a co-religionist was sending death threats to an artist or trying to vandalize their work, or working to intimidate galleries and museums from ever showing a piece that mocked our faith or gods. If you want to boycott the New Yorker because you didn’t like their Witch cartoon, fine, go ahead. If you want to write an editorial because something offended you, please do. But I feel that boycotts, petitions, and a  healthy public debate should be the end-point not the beginning of tactics when a piece of art offends. Overreacting to ugly or offensive art betrays a vulnerability that is telling, it says that our gods are so weak, and our faith so small, that a painting or picture or movie is enough to harm both. The day when Paganism rises up against art is the day I part company with our movement. However, that’s just my perspective, I can’t claim to be a moral arbiter for modern Pagans, and no doubt there are those who envy the Catholics, Muslims, and Hindus their power and influence in these matters.

So what do you think? When a piece of art offends should we go on the offensive? What are the acceptable limits to voice our displeasure? Is it enough to simply give our opinion a voice, or should we apply social and political pressure to silence voices we don’t like? Should a Pagan “Piss Christ” be hounded for all time by angry adherents, or do we simply acknowledge that we can’t control the world and those who might offend us?

Please keep discussion on this post on the topic of how we should respond to art that offends, derailing comments that merely bash one religion or another will be deleted.

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.