Archives For Buddhism

Two Pagans are part of an interfaith group raising funds to rebuild a temple dedicated to a female Buddha in Tibet. The temple is dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, a Buddha considered to be the mother of the Tibetan people and the embodiment of the “Enlightened Feminine.” The Wild Hunt spoke with one of the Pagans involved in the fundraising efforts about the temple and how her trip to Tibet has deepened her spirituality.

Yeshe Tsogyal, whose name means Victorious Ocean of Wisdom, was a disciple and consort of the Indian master Padmasambhava during the 8th century in central Tibet. This was during a time when it was thought that women’s bodies themselves were a hindrance to enlightenment. Padmasambhava, however thought the opposite:  women’s bodies were superior to men’s in the ability to attain enlightenment. She was said to have lived over 200 years and wrote an autobiography titled Mother of Knowledge. The book is written as a guide to the path of spiritual awakening through the practices of Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhism. Yeshe Tsogyal was, and is, widely considered a Buddha – a person who has achieved full enlightenment.

The original temple was built in the 9th century on what was thought to be the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal and named Tsogyal Latso. At the site are two springs, said to be the breast milk of Yeshe Tsogyal and to have healing powers. There is also a lake which induces visions and a sacred tree. All three were said to come into being at her birth.

Sacred lake at Tsogyal Latso [photo, courtesy of Yeshe Rabbit]

Sacred lake at Tsogyal Latso [Courtesy of Yeshe Rabbit]

During the Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s, most of Tibet’s temples were destroyed, and Buddhist practices forbidden. Tsogyal Latso was destroyed; the lake was filled in and the springs were capped. By the 1990’s, China slightly relaxed their prohibitions and, in 1994, Ani Samten, along with three Buddhist nuns dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal, arrived at the ruins. They began the slow work of building living spaces, cleaning out the lake, uncapping the springs, and caring for the sacred tree. By 2004, the nunnery was rebuilt and there were 8 nuns living there dedicated to Yeshe Tsogyal’s teachings.

In 2015, the number of nuns had grown to 16 and they started construction on a new temple. The greater Buddhist community, especially Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo out of Hawaii, created Jnanasukha, a nonprofit interfaith group that helps care for the sacred site and nuns of Tsogyal Latso in Tibet. While most of the exterior work is finished, it is expected it will be several more years until the interior is finished.

Temple under construction, May, 2015 [courtesy photo]

Temple under construction, May, 2015 [Courtesy Photo]

Yeshe Rabbit, is a High Priestess of CAYA Coven and one of the two Pagan members of the fundraising committee of Jnanasukha. Yeshe Rabbit feels a special connection to Yeshe Tsogyal and Tibet. She was able to travel there on pilgrimage in 2014 and is returning to Tibet in September. The Wild Hunt spoke with Yeshe Rabbit about the temple, how studying in Tibet deepened her spiritual practice, and about her upcoming trip back to Tibet.

The Wild Hunt: People wouldn’t typically think of this temple as a “Pagan” (or Neo-Pagan) temple – why should Pagans in the USA care about this temple effort?

Yeshe Rabbit: First of all, this Temple is about religious freedom. Pagans and Polytheists uniquely understand what it means to experience religious and other forms of persecution, and overall we tend to be passionate about those subjects. In 1959, there were over 2700 temples in Tibet. But 1978, only 7 remained. This is one of the only temples that has been allowed significant construction, and this alone is a testimonial of success in overcoming the legacy of religious persecution.

Secondly, many Pagans and Polytheists are devoted to the Goddess or specific goddesses from specific cultures, yet this is still not the global operating paradigm. The global operating paradigm is still largely male-God oriented. The fact is, ANY temple to the Divine Feminine, The Goddess, or any goddess at all deserves our community’s celebration and support, as these are rare and precious, and we want them to be much more commonplace. Further, these 16 women are building a Temple, with obscenely limited resources, in one of the most highly politicized regions in the world. They are the kind of women that many of us aspire to be, because their strength and dedication is manifesting something many people thought we would never see in this lifetime.

TWH: How did you get involved with the fundraiser? Who started it?

YR: This project is a long time coming. Tsogyal Latso or “Tsogyal’s Lake” is the birthplace of Yeshe Tsogyal, who was the first female Buddha of Tibet and sacred consort to Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet from India. The lake was renowned since the 8th century as an oracular site, a healing site, and a site of spiritual nourishment, much like Brigid’s Well at Kildare or the Chalice Well in Glastonbury.This is because, at the time of Yeshe Tsogyal’s birth, a holy lake formed outside her home as fresh water gushed from the Earth. It is located in a magical valley overlooked by “Mount Lady Turquoise” and other sacred mountains dedicated to the Enlightened Feminine.

For centuries, Tibetan people would go there for dream incubation, traditional meditation practice, and to make petitions for their own well-being or the well-being of others. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s and 70’s in Tibet, the site was severely desecrated.  All relics were thrown into the lake and the lake was clogged and blocked, with parts sealed over. In the 1990’s, as restrictions on the practice of Buddhism were alleviated somewhat, several Tibetan practitioners began the work to restore the sacred site, and brought the message of this sacred place and its magic to their western students. Among the principal supporters of this site since then have been the late teachers His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche and Lama Tharchin Rinpoche, as well as the still-living Sang-ngag Rinpoche. The work is now being carried forward by a western woman practitioner and translator, Lama Dechen Yeshe Wangmo, who is one of my teachers.

About 8 years ago, I read an account online by Nagasiva Yronwode of Lucky Mojo Curio Company about an experience he had at a ceremony for Yeshe Tsogyal in the 90s, and I felt tremendously drawn to her energy. I read several versions of her autobiography, received initiation to her practices, and my personal connection grew from there. I appended her name to mine as a symbol that she is an exemplar in whose footsteps I follow. Then, I found out about Lama Wangmo and Jnanasukha, and my relationship with Yeshe Tsogyal and this sacred site has grown stronger and stronger since that time.

TWH: Is this why you became involved in the effort to rebuild the temple?

YR: I am involved with the restoration and ongoing care of this site because, simply, it is my karma to be involved. I cannot explain the magical circumstances that led me to Yeshe Tsogyal’s practices, and inexorably drew me to this site physically, in any other way. From the moment I read that, “a miraculous lake rushed forth at the time of Tsogyal’s birth,” I knew, KNEW, that I HAD to see this place. I sent donations of support to Jnanasukha, waited, saved up, dreamed, and prayed for 7 years, and finally took the steps to bring that visit to fruition in 2014. I had no idea when I visited last year that this would become such a big part of my life going forward, though in reflection, I should have known based on my prior attraction to this place, and Tibet in general.

Although I have no familial or blood connections in Tibet, I have nonetheless been drawn to Tibetan culture and the dharma since I was 13 years old. For the past decade of my more formal study, I have sat with many, many different teachers of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan cultural arts, yet nothing has moved me as much as the profound desire to be near this specific place and to steep in Yeshe Tsogyal’s mysteries. At a heart-and-soul level, this place is sacred to me beyond what words can describe.

Yeshe Rabbit, and her husband Albert, meditating.

Yeshe Rabbit, and her husband Albert, meditating.

TWH: You did a previous fundraiser to help you with your spiritual education – how did that experience and education change your life – spiritually and in mundane ways?

YR: Last year my husband Albert and I were able to raise the funds, through the generous donations of many people, to go on a 6-week pilgrimage where we did a little bit of teaching and a whole lot more studying. We attended the Sacred Harvest Festival in Minnesota and I offered some rituals and presentations there, which was really fun and we cemented some great, continued friendships from that visit. Then we went on to Tara Mandala in Colorado, where we performed the 9-day White Dakini Drubchen, a Great Accomplishment ceremony. This is a ceremony that runs continuously for 9 days, with a highly-structured series of activities, daily teachings, and a rigorous schedule of mantra recitation. I brought a lot of what I learned there about ritual structure, the evident power of continuous magical activity over a period of time, and certain methods of personal discipline, back with me. For instance, I can now sit a bit longer in meditation, chant for longer periods of time without needing a break, and have learned better techniques of moving energy through my body with sound. I also learned, at that retreat, a certain passion that had not arisen in me before during dharma practice. An ecstasy beyond the previous ecstasy. Last Samhain, CAYA Coven did our first ever- 24-hour Ancestor chanting marathon, and it was very powerful. I am hoping we will do something like that again this year.

Following that, Albert and I went to Tibet. And to be honest, it was very, very difficult in so many ways. The most challenging place I have ever been…very provocative on so many levels. The altitude quite literally takes your breath away. The ardor of spiritual practice there is unequaled. Spirituality is built into every.single.aspect of daily life, from simple transactions to elaborate ceremonies, and spiritual practice there is quite demanding. The terrain is still really rugged in many places, though that is changing rapidly, and there is construction on an enormous superhighway through Central Tibet which will bring its own set of difficulties. But there is also a holy beauty there. A somewhat terrifying beauty. The landscape is craggy, sharp, wild and harsh, yet so peaceful, all at the same time.

I walked away from the experience with an inner sense of my identity disturbed. Truly, my mind and spirit have changed since then, and not always in comfortable ways. I have come to see where people here take so much for granted, thinking how difficult we have it. I am aware of how much we can learn from the indomitably peaceful and tenacious commitment to skillfulness that is inherent in Tibetan spirituality and culture, and I admire how generously and caringly they share their practices. In Tibet I learned fortitude, and how to push past walls of aversion, and that it’s OK to need help and to ask for it. I learned how to give up hope, in a way. How to give up wishing things would be different, in favor of just taking care of what is right in front of me as best I can. I learned a new level of honesty with myself and others, how to let go of my story about what’s happening, and just be with what’s real– this is not always pretty, or media-friendly, or happy, and once seen, cannot be unseen. I learned that pride is useless in a crisis, and that the world will never not be in crisis in some way. I learned to just do the best I can with what I have.  And this visit set me on a path. I do not know where that path is leading, but right now it is leading me to care for this Temple, and it is leading me to commit to going through that challenge again.

TWH: You’re visiting Tibet again this year, correct? When is your trip and what are you looking to accomplish?

YR:  I will be in Tibet for most of September this year. In addition to bringing support to the nuns for the new Temple at Tsogyal Latso, I will be on pilgrimage throughout Central Tibet to visit different sites associated with my lineage, as well as several other oracular lakes. Personally, I hope to accomplish the main goal of any pilgrimage: to deepen my connection to my spiritual practice, and that my journey will in some way be of benefit. But on a socially-conscious level, I will be bringing some practical support to this Temple and the 16 nuns who live there.

TWH:   Anything you’d like to add that you think is important?

YR:  In addition to financial support for the Temple and the nuns, which we are gratefully accepting at the Tsogyal Rising web site, we have also been invited to perform mantras and prayers to ensure that this venture continues to go smoothly, that it receives the support it needs, to clear all obstacles, and that it become a profound blessing to the community of practitioners. I host an online group nearly every Saturday morning at 10 am via Zoom for the new temple at Tsogyal Latso. If folks would like to join me, they are welcome. It is one hour in length. You can find the practice text and the link to the video conference on the Sky Dancer Sangha website here.

Here are some updates on stories previously mentioned or reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Hollicrop-589x1024At Patheos, Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, writes about her meeting with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, as part of an interfaith proclamation that was issued for the month of January. Quote: “I don’t support Haley politically. But that is not the point; politics is not what brought us together on this occasion. Once elected, Haley became my governor, and I am deeply grateful for her support of interfaith work. To our knowledge, South Carolina is the only state in the U.S. to acknowledge the importance of religious plurality and issue a formal proclamation. Haley may understand, better than any other governor in the nation, that nurturing diversity will strengthen us, not just spiritually, but also economically and in the public sector.” Last month, Wild Hunt staff writer Heather Greene wrote about Gov. Haley’s proclamation, and the role Emore (as a Pagan) has played in South Carolina’s interfaith community.

marianne-williamson-smilingBack in December I noted the Congressional candidacy of New Age superstar Marianne Williamson, author of the immensely popular self-help book “A Return to Love.” Now, the Religion News Service has a piece up about her “prayerful” bid for political office. Quote: “With about four months before primary elections, Williamson is seeking to tap into widespread discontent and disillusionment and apply her own brand of well-packaged, transformational wisdom to stoke ‘a people’s movement. It’s the people who have to intervene, because the political status quo is part of what has taken us to where we are,’ Williamson said in an interview this week, highlighting corporate money as a primary cause for the present state of affairs. ‘It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment.’ Williamson launched her campaign in October. She wants to end the status quo of capitulation to corporate money in politics and encourage an engaged, loving electorate.” With the recent retirement announcement of Democrat Henry Waxman, who currently holds the contested California seat, what was once a long-shot now seems somewhat more likely.

religion-50-year-change-Figure2We talk a lot about the “nones” here at The Wild Hunt, those folks who refuse to be pinned with a religious label, and who have experienced rapid growth in recent years. The ongoing question is: what will their ascent mean for our society and how we conceive religion’s role in it? Americans United points to some new data from Baylor University researchers, which shows the United States becoming more religiously diverse, including the rise of “nones” and “others.” Quote: “The proportion of Americans who identify with “Other” religious traditions has doubled, an increase that is closely tied to the increased immigration of Asian populations who brought non-western religions (e.g. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam) with them. While still a small proportion of the overall population, they contribute greatly to the increased religious diversity of the American religious landscape. In 20 states, scattered in the Midwest and South, Islam is the largest non-Christian religion. Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states, mostly in the Northeast, and Buddhism is the largest religion in 13 western states. In Delaware and Arizona, Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion, while in South Carolina it is the Baha’i.”

blog-jesusinschool-500x280_1At the end of January, I profiled how a Buddhist student was harassed by the Christian majority at a public school district in Louisiana, prompting litigation from the ACLU. Since then, the story has exploded across the Internet. Now, prominent culture blog Boing Boing points to an ACLU-penned petition to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking for a federal investigation. Quote: “No child should be subjected to the type of humiliation that our son has endured. The Department of Justice has the power to end this unlawful religious discrimination at schools in Sabine Parish and set an example for the rest of Louisiana— but we have to make sure they take the case. Please join us in calling on the Department of Justice to launch an immediate investigation into this unlawful religious discrimination so that no other child has to go through the harassment that our son has endured.” We will keep you updated as this story develops.

President Obama at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast.This past Thursday was the National Prayer Breakfast, for those who missed it (that would include me). You can read President Obama’s full remarks, here. Quote: “Now, here, as Americans, we affirm the freedoms endowed by our Creator, among them freedom of religion.  And, yes, this freedom safeguards religion, allowing us to flourish as one of the most religious countries on Earth, but it works the other way, too — because religion strengthens America.  Brave men and women of faith have challenged our conscience and brought us closer to our founding ideals, from the abolition of slavery to civil rights, workers’ rights.” As I’ve pointed out in the past, despite the bipartisan good-naturedness and calls for religious freedom, the National Prayer Breakfast has deeply problematic elements for anyone who isn’t a Christian. Activist groups have called on politicians, to seemingly no avail, to boycott this event. At least the existence of gays and non-believers was invoked this year. Maybe we’ll actually get to a point where it’s robustly interfaith too.

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

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.

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

  • Is the Religious Right finished? Damon Linker argues the case that it is. Quote: “Its decline since 2005 can be traced to numerous causes: The right’s widespread disappointment with the legacy of the Bush years across a range of areas, including fiscal, foreign, and social policy; the shift of the national GOP toward economic libertarianism in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the election of Barack Obama, the rise of the Tea Party, and the passage of health care reform; and finally, a dramatic and rapid shift in the culture, especially among the young, away from politicized religion and toward the acceptance of gay marriage.” Meanwhile, Forbes says “not so fast” on the end of the Religious Right stuff.
  • Religion News Service reports on the rise of green burials, and how the move makes different religious believers feel more in tune with their faith. “The Green Burial Council has certified nearly 400 providers in 46 states. Some of them have religious orientations. And even some that are not certified consider themselves already green because their faiths have for millennia taken an ecologically friendly approach to death.” It should be noted that there are several Pagans involved in the green burial movement, including Circle Sanctuary’s Circle Cemetery.
  • A mask an American Indian curandero prescribed to a client was seized at the Arizona border due to it being marked with chicken blood and feathers. Quote: “Officers say the mask was deemed suspicious and seized because of the blood and feathers. They say the mask contained materials of a prohibitive nature that have the potential to transmit avian diseases. The mask was turned over to officials in Customs and Border Protection’s agriculture division. It ultimately was incinerated.” The statue looks pretty familiar, don’t you think?
  • The bad news is you might not be psychic, the good news is that your brain might be smarter than you think. Here’s a link to the study the video references.
  • The Guardian is up to bat reviewing Ronald Hutton’s “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “One of the austere pleasures of Pagan Britain lies in its frequent reminders that every age invents its own past, and that ‘it is impossible to determine with any precision the nature of the religious beliefs and rites of the prehistoric British’.” The reviewer, sadly, takes some petty rhetorical swipes at Pagan religions, something Hutton himself would never do.

  • PRI’s The World spotlights Haitian artist Erol Josué, who works to preserve his Vodou faith. Quote: “Last year, he took a government job as head of Haiti’s National Ethnology Office. He’s on a mission to get Haitians to realize that they need to embrace their vodou heritage — whether they agree or not. […] ‘Vodou has never been a religion of conquest,” he says. “We don’t raise awareness to convert people to vodou, but to educate them about the importance of the national identity, the importance of respecting the sites, of respecting the patrimony.'”
  • There were/are plenty of pious pagans, and Christians can learn a lot from them. Quote: “Paganism tends to have a bad name, and surely there is reason for this. At the same time, there is a tradition, especially among Christians, of honoring and imitating the greatness of pagans. For one thing, many pagans were profoundly religious, even pious people. We seriously misjudge at least some of our ancient forebears if we do not see the extent to which their life centered on the divine.”
  • In the UK, sometimes your neighbors will call emergency services if you’re too noisy about the Witchcraft. Quote: “A second call came from Holsworthy in July 2012 from a woman who was ‘convinced that her neighbours are in a witches coven type set up as she sees them night and day running around outside screaming in tongues.’ A third Holsworthy caller rang police in August 2012 accusing a man in Southampton of using witchcraft.” So be cool on the screaming folks, it scares people.
  • Civil rights activist Eliyahu Federman calls the resurgence of exorcisms in the Catholic Church “alarming.” Quote: “The Catholic Church attributes the rise in demonic cases to people dabbling in paganism, Ouija boards and black magic, but my sneaking suspicion is that mental health issues, along with the rise of fiction horror movie fantasies, are a more likely cause. […] Legitimizing exorcisms makes a mockery of religion and poses a threat to society.”
  • OnFaith, once part of The Washington Post, has left the paper, and is now part of FaithStreet. Quote: “We will continue to publish some daily news and opinion pieces from top writers and other folks whose perspectives need to be heard. But we have lots of other ideas, and we hope to get to do all of them in time. Our first new initiative is to publish Weekly Issues—to have one topic per week and publish a mixture of stories, essays, videos, illustrations and more on that topic.” Another competitor in the religion portal world? Will there be Pagans?
  • An international group of Dharma teachers have issued a statement on climate change. Quote: “When we come together to celebrate our love for the natural world and all of the beings that inhabit it, and when we take a stand to counter the forces of craving, aversion, and delusion, we reclaim our own inner stability and strength and live closer to the truth, closer to the Dharma. Together, we can seek to ensure that our descendants and fellow species inherit a livable planet. Individually and collectively, we will be honoring the great legacy of the Dharma and fulfill our heart’s deepest wish to serve and protect all life.”
  • How do you get the “nones” to vote for you? Quote: “The other side of religious nonaffiliation, and what politicians often neglect, is that for spiritual voters the sacred strongly persists. Reading them narrowly as atheists or secularists misses out on the political rewards that come from constituents feeling seen and understood. This sacred is various, but it coheres for many in its resistance to religious enclosure and its support of certain progressive values. Politicians fire up religious blocs through careful attunement to religious values. Better attunement to spiritual values will help inspire spiritual voters.”

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 culturally conservative Christians in the United States a familiar topic of discussion is how the Supreme Court “took God out of school” and the subsequent moral/intellectual decline landmark decisions like Engel v. Vitale had engendered in American society. For decades, activists have been trying to erode legal barriers in government-funded learning institutions, hoping for a return to Protestant Christian moral hegemony in the classroom. These efforts are almost always couched in terms of “freedom,” but time and again when conservative Christians do gain unchallenged control over a school district the result isn’t freedom, but harassment and bullying of any who don’t toe their line. Such is the case at Sabine Parish School Board in Louisiana.

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“When my stepson, who has been raised a Buddhist, enrolled in the sixth grade at our local school, Negreet High, it became personal, and I could no longer turn a blind eye to the very real harms that occur when school officials violate the separation of church and state. My stepson started at Negreet in the same class as one of my children. By the end of the first week of school, he was having serious stomach issues and anxiety. We couldn’t figure out why. In the mornings, my wife would pull over on the side of the road as they approached school so he could throw up. At first, we thought he was sick and we let him stay home. Soon it became apparent that this was not a cold, but something much worse. Our children informed us that their teacher had been chastising and bullying my stepson for his Buddhist beliefs.”

Yes, as a new federal lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleges, the stepson of Scott Lane was singled out by teachers, and bullied for the crime of not being Christian in a Christian dominated area.

download“The lawsuit said Roark has ‘repeatedly taught students that the earth was created by God 6,000 years ago, that evolution is ‘impossible’ and that the Bible is ‘100 percent true.’ She also regularly features religious questions on her tests such as “Isn’t it amazing what the ______ has made!!!!’ When the Lanes’ son ‘did not write in Roark’s expected answer (LORD), she belittled him in front of the rest of the class.’ While studying other religions, she also has told students that Buddhism is ‘stupid,’ the lawsuit said.”

You see, religious freedom, for many of these Christian activists, means freedom to be Christian. In an editorial for the ACLU, Lane lists some of the ways the Christian-dominated staff threw their weight around, including distributing anti-Pagan/occult propaganda.

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“When we went to the school to meet with the principal, we saw a large picture of Jesus over the school’s main doors, a Bible verse on the school’s electronic marquee, and numerous religious posters and pictures on the walls. Religious images and messages are displayed throughout the school, in fact. – We learned from our children that official prayers, typically led by the principal or teachers, are routinely incorporated into class and school events like assemblies, and sporting events. The school even requires students to attend “See You at the Pole” each year, where they must take part in prayer and worship. – We discovered that school officials were distributing religious literature to students. For example, one of our other son’s teachers passed out copies of a book from the “Truth For Youth” program, a revivalist ministry. The book included the entire New Testament of the Bible as well as cartoons that denounce evolution and trumpet the evils of birth control, premarital sex, rock music, alcohol, pornography, homosexuality, sorcery, and witchcraft.”

The complaint, which can be seen here, came only after speaking to the Superintendent, being told that maybe another school with “more asians” would suit them, and finding that even that school regularly promoted Christianity.

“My wife and I were floored. I tried to point out that the “Bible Belt” was not a separate country and that we were still entitled to religious liberty as guaranteed by the Constitution. She would have none of it, however. She asked whether my stepson had to be raised as a Buddhist and even suggested that he “change” his faith to better fit in. To add insult to injury, the next day, the Superintendent sent a letter to Negreet’s principal, which he read to students over the intercom. The letter thanked Negreet’s teachers and principal for maintaining their religious values and influence in the school.”

Some of my evangelical Christian friends decry the idea of a “naked” public square devoid of faith, endorsing instead an inclusive model that would allow all faiths to share their beliefs in an open and safe manner. To that, I can only answer that such a policy would never work so long as demographic dominance allows “quiet” power to stifle all dissent and diversity. These Christian believers, left to their own devices, do not grow a pluralistic, multi-faith, shared utopia. Instead, non-Christians are routinely silenced, harassed, and forced into closets (or worse, forced into lying about their own belief systems). When non-Christians dare to assert rights they are supposed to have in these settings, the result is often shock, outrage, and attack. Meanwhile, Christian activists claim the mantle of oppression for any limitations put on them in the public square, ignoring their treatment of non-Christians where they dominate.

The saddest thing is that this case does not exist in isolation. Conservative Christian dominated areas are continually pushing for a “freedom” that means coercive proselytization and harassment of outsiders.  They don’t seem to understand that making public government-funded school events happen at sectarian churches is alienating. They truly don’t get it, or if they do, don’t care. If this case does anything, I hope it can smash open the hypocrisy and silence over what Christians call religious freedom, and what that would actually look like if minorities weren’t forced to file lawsuits in order to get a harassment-free education.

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.

Nina Davuluri

Nina Davuluri

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  • Sometimes the tourist-attraction witch business is so good you decide to go solo, at least that seems to be the case with the latest Wookey Hole witch, Sunny Van der Pas, who wants to launch her own clothing line. Quote: “Actress Sunny Van der Pas is leaving her role after two years to launch her own clothing line based upon her costumes. But now directors at the popular tourist attraction need a little magic of their own to find a replacement witch in time for Halloween. […] The attraction employs a witch pro rata, largely over the summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas, They are expected to live in the site’s caves during busy periods and to teach witchcraft and magic. The role normally attracts thousands of applicants, who then compete in for the post X Factor style auditions.” For the uninitiated, the Wookey Hole cave system in the UK (about 20 miles from Bath) has become something like the British version of Salem here (except even more tourist-y).
  • NPR highlights Candomblé in Brazil, spurred by a recent survey that saw an uptick in adherents. Quote: “Sitting among the faithful here is Marcilio Costa, who is the commercial officer at a foreign consulate in Sao Paulo. He became an initiate a year and a half ago, and he says he’s open about it. ‘Among Brazilians, yes. People understand better now. … All my friends know my religion, every single one of them,’ Costa says. ‘I don’t hide from no one.'”
  • The Paris Review interviews poet Gregory Orr, who opines on the nature of myths. Quote: “The beautiful thing about myths is that you’re never telling a myth, you’re retelling it. People already know the story. You don’t have to create a narrative structure, and you don’t have to figure out where it ends. As a lyric poet, you can take the moments of greatest intensity in the myth, or the moments that interest you most, or the ways of looking at the story that you think would be most fun to rethink—you don’t have to do the whole story. You want to know what human mystery can be revealed by retelling it. D. H. Lawrence said that myths are symbols of inexhaustible human mysteries. You can tell them a hundred, a thousand times, and you’ll never exhaust the mystery that’s coded into that story. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I believe it.” 
  • The Secular Student Alliance has launched the “Secular Safe Zones” program at high schools and colleges. Quote: “The program enlists ‘allies’ like Schmidt among faculty, administrators, counselors and others on college and high school campuses who are trained in the needs of nonreligious — or ‘secular’ — students. So far, there are Secular Safe Zone allies at 26 college and high school campuses in 14 states, including California, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Florida and New York.” This is based off of similar LGBTQ efforts, and you have to wonder how long it will be before various religious groups launch their own “safe zone” programs.
  • Blah, blah, blah, Christian persecution in the United States, blah, blah, blah, Obama is a pagan, blah blah blah. Quote: “As Barber explained, the Obama administration is the “modern-day equivalent” of ancient Rome, demanding that citizens must worship Caesar in the form of progressiveism.”

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 May 8th data from Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey was released, including data on religion. The big headline from this data is that people claiming no specific religion, often called “nones,” now make up around 24% of the Canadian population.

“Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991. The Canadian trend seems to mirror but even exceed levels of non-affiliation in the United States. A 2012 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life pegged the ratio of religiously unaffiliated Americans at just under 20 percent.”

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada.

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Vancouver Pagan Pride)

The National Household Survey recently replaced the compulsory census, so the results will be statistically less reliable, but this is the best new data on religion in Canada we can access. This includes information on modern Paganism. According to the new data, there are around 25,495 Pagans, of which 10,225 are Wiccans, making them the largest sub-grouping.  This is a slight bump up from 2001, where the combined number of Pagans was estimated at 21,085. So it seems the Pagan population is growing slowly, or even remaining largely static (which mirrors results in Australia). Related belief system numbers include 1,000 Pantheists, 2,230 New Age practitioners, and 15,125 Unitarians. There were also a whopping 40,195 “others” who didn’t fit any of the religious categories given, so we have no idea how many of them might be nominally Pagan in identity.

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

In addition to these numbers, a number of non-Christian faiths experienced growth over the past decade in Canada. There were 64,940 practitioners of a traditional Aboriginal spirituality in 2011, way up from 29,820 in 2001 (more on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples here). Hindus grew from around 300,000 in 2001 to around 500,00 in 2011, and Buddhists gained around 70 thousand adherents in the past decade, approaching 400,000. For more numbers, see the Statistics Canada website. On the whole, Canada is becoming less Christian, more diverse, and more individual in its religious choices. The Province of British Columbia could be a bellwether for the country’s future, a pluralistic society where its people are “travelling in several religious directions at once.”

“New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is travelling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality. […] Only 41 per cent of Metro residents are Christian, compared to a national average of 67 per cent. B.C. has the fewest Christians on average of any province or territory.”

So, taken as a whole, these are very encouraging trends. But are there really only 25,495 Pagans in Canada? There’s plenty of room to argue that there are more. First, the National Household Survey is “subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the census long form,” so Pagans could be undercounted. Secondly, we don’t know how many individuals who claimed “no religion” or “other religion” may well be “one of us.” It’s conceivable that thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individual Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists are “hiding” in other categories. Still, it’s good to have some new data on Paganism from our neighbors to the north, and to know that our numbers continue to climb.

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.

Coilhouse Issue #6

Coilhouse Issue #6

  • Excellent alternative culture magazine and blog Coilhouse is shutting down, though the creators are promising that this is a mere hiatus and that Coilhouse will return in some form in the future. Quote: “We can’t tell you what exactly is coming next, or when; we just know we have no intention of quitting. Potential directions that Coilhouse may move in somewhere down the line: books, apps, limited edition print/art objects, video, fashion collaborations. Smaller, more manageable one-shot projects that don’t break our backs. But first, we will have to re-strategize our business and production plans. Nothing is set in stone at the moment because, simply put, we need a break. We need to rest.” For now, they’ve made the six print issues of Coilhouse magazine available as free PDF downloads, a token of affection to fans and supporters. I highly recommend checking them out. 
  • Is the famous Celtic warrior-queen Boudicca buried beneath a McDonalds restaurant? It is rumored to be so. Quote: “Dr Mike Heyworth, the director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), said that experts are on the hunt for her burial place, at one point rumoured to be near what is now a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was unearthed in the next few years. There are contradictory but persistent tales (with “no element of truth”, according to the Museum of London) that she lies beneath either platform eight, nine or 10 at King’s Cross Station.” The big question is: what happens to her resting place once the bones are found? 
  • No, Easter was not originally the celebration of Ishtar. Let’s all be more critical of Facebook image memes, OK? 
  • At the Huffington Post Grove Harris discusses composting as a Springtime spiritual exercise. Quote: “Composting is in many ways one of the most spiritual of practices. It is the process that will feed the next cycle of life, which will take endings and serve new beginnings. It is powerfully renewing on many levels, and offers deep metaphoric guidance.”
  • Enforced celibacy doesn’t really work all that often, no matter what the religion/ideology is. The country of Bhutan is distributing condoms to Buddhist monasteries to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Quote: “Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.” So remember, use protection, make it available, no matter what the official rules are. 
The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

This week the 113th Congress of the United States of America convened, and while this is a routine part of our government’s normal functioning, both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate saw some historic firsts that should appeal to those hoping for a more religiously diverse representative body. Perhaps the most high-profile is Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress, and the first person to swear their oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

“I chose to take the oath of office with my personal copy of the Bhagavad-Gita because its teachings have inspired me to strive to be a servant-leader, dedicating my life in the service of others and to my country.” – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

In addition to Gabbard, Sen. Mazie Hirono, also of Hawaii, became the first Buddhist elected to the U.S. Senate (she had already served in the House), and the first Asian-American female senator.

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii

“I don’t have a book […] But I certainly believe in the precepts of Buddhism and that of tolerance of other religions and integrity and honesty […] It’s about time that we have people of other backgrounds and faiths in Congress…”Sen. Mazie Hirono (in 2007)

A third first comes from Arizona where Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, also happens to be the first explicitly religious “none” elected to Congress.

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Rep. Kyrsten Sinema

Democratic Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, who was raised a Mormon, is religiously unaffiliated but does not describe herself as an atheist. Her campaign was unavailable for comment to Whispers due to the swearing in, but spokesman Justin Unga told the Religion News Service in November that Sinema favors a “secular approach.” He told the New York Times the same month that Sinema “believes the terms ‘nontheist,’ ‘atheist’ or ‘nonbeliever’ are not befitting of her life’s work or personal character.”

There are other interesting religious facts about the 113th Congress, but I think these three women are representative of the shifts happening in the United States right now. Specifically the rise of “nones” who aren’t necessarily atheists, but also don’t claim a religious identity,  and the ongoing growth of non-Christian minority religions. We are fast approaching the day where hot-button moral issues in this country can no longer be discussed solely within a Judeo-Christian context, and we are already seeing the end of the “white Christian strategy” in national politics. It’s a new dawn, one that started with the November elections, and is now enacted with this new Congress.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.'” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

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.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

  • Is the Chico Goddess Temple doomed? According to the Chico News and Review, noise complaints for an illegal festival held four years ago has led to a much larger struggle to survive and gain the permits needed to stay open. Owner Robert Seals thinks that hostility to Goddess religion might underlay the resistance he’s encountered in obtaining the permits he needs. Quote: “This is nothing new, worship of the Goddess, but it goes up against a lot of fundamental religions.” You can learn more about this struggle, and the upcoming appeal hearing, here.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday the 13th! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.