Archives For Canada

In Canada’s Quebec Province, there has been an on-going debate over the teaching of a government mandated Ethics and Religious Culture Program (Programme Éthique et culture religieuse.) The ERC school curriculum was created and implemented in 2008 by former premier Jean Charest. Since that point it has caused multiple controversies and court cases which have now taken the debate to the steps of Canada’s highest court.

Canadian Supreme Court (Photo Credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson, cc lic. Wikimedia)

Canadian Supreme Court (Photo Credit: D. Gordon E. Robertson, cc lic. Wikimedia)

According to this mandate all Quebec schools, private and public, must teach a prescribed Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum or an equivalent. The province’s website explains:

For the purposes of this program, instruction in ethics is aimed at developing an understanding of ethical questions that allows students to make judicious choices based on knowledge of the values and references present in society. The objective is not to propose or impose moral rules, nor to study philosophical doctrines and systems in an exhaustive manner.

Instruction in religious culture, for its part, is aimed at fostering an understanding of several religious traditions whose influence has been felt and is still felt in our society today. In this regard, emphasis will be placed on Québecs religious heritage. The historical and cultural importance of Catholicism and Protestantism will be given particular prominence. The goal is neither to accompany students in a spiritual quest, nor to present the history of doctrines and religions, nor to promote some new common religious doctrine aimed at replacing specific beliefs.

To summarize, the program’s goal is twofold:  to expose children to aspects of Quebec’s own culture and to engage in a type of diversity training. Religions included are Christianity (Catholicism and Protestantism), Judaism, Native spirituality, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and “other religions.”  The aim is not at all spiritual instruction. Author Brendan Myers, a Druidic Humanist and Philosophy professor explains:

Quebec was, up until around 50 years ago, a Catholic theocracy in all but name. Several Christian institutions, most prominently the Catholic Church, were the main taxpayer-funded service providers in education, health care, low-income housing and the like … The Quiet Revolution changed that and now most Quebecers want a vigorously humanist state. [The]  “Ethics and Religious Culture” course is in some ways a continuation of Quiet Revolution values. Its purpose is to expose students to a lot of different ethical world views from a lot of different religions, and thus continue to move the culture further away from the Catholic lock-step of life before the Quiet Revolution. 

In other words, the ERC is aimed at building a better secular state by educating its youth on the religious diversity found within its borders.

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

This government educational requirement is applicable even to the province’s private institutions. As Myers explains, Quebec regulates private schools with a “light tough.” For example, it might offer partial tuition subsides for “students attending schools meeting certain regulatory criteria.” However the ERC mandate has been handled differently. Myers says, “A private school which doesn’t offer this course won’t get its tuition subsidies for its students and might have its charter revoked.”

Since implementation in 2008 the program has come under considerable fire from both secular and religious communities. Should the government be allowed to force private religious schools to teach ethics that are contrary to their own belief structure? Should parents have the right to exempt their children from the program if its teachings are contrary to family belief? Should the teaching of religion and ethics instruction be allowed in secular schools at all?

The most recent battle began when a Montreal-based Catholic high school, Loyola, challenged the l mandate by asking the government for an exemption. The school does not want to include what it considers to be a “neutral” teaching of Christianity.  In its place the school would teach the ERC material but from “its own Jesuit style” that would be “respectful to [its] Catholic faith and morals.”

In 2008 the Quebec government refused the school’s request for exemption which sent the case to court. In 2010 a provincial Judge upheld the request saying, “The province’s order places Loyola in an untenable position: either it teaches the ERC program required by the Minister and thus violates its religious precepts, or it teaches the ERC course with its own program and thus violates the Act.”

In 2012 the province won an appeal which eventually led to the current Supreme Court case:  Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec. According to reports, the debate is now centered on a new issue – one that is particular to the reading of Quebec law. In its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms religious rights are granted to “every person” and to “human beings.” The Charter never refers to institutions. Are the same religious freedoms, protections and rights granted to organizations such as Loyola?

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Flickr's Liz cc-lic Wikimedia]

In support of Loyola, various organizations have recently come forward. The World Sikh Organization of Canada said,

Freedom for collective religious activity is important to Sikhs in Canada as it is impossible to be a Sikh by oneself but only as a part of a larger community of believers. A broad interpretation of freedom of religion is critical for the protection of minority religious groups which are more vulnerable to government interference in their internal functioning.

Other groups acting as interveners at the March 24 Supreme Court hearing were The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada, Home School Legal Defence Association of Canada and a variety of Christian-based organizations. The CCLA wrote:

This appeal is of particular importance to the CCLA as it could determine and clarify – for the first time – whether and when a body corporate can invoke freedom of religion against the State. This is an increasingly pressing issue at the national and international levels

Should the school, as a “corporate body,” be granted the same religious freedom as an individual?  Should it realize that freedom by way of exemption from teaching a mandated ethics curriculum that is in direct conflict with its own belief structure but aimed at the betterment of society?  Can the celebration of religious pluralism within a multicultural environment overstep its bounds?  These are the issues now facing the Canadian Supreme Court. The debate will continue as the province and country now await on the Court’s ruling.

(Webcast of hearing available.  French only)

 

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.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • At Time Magazine, Megan Gibson praises the re-ascension of the Witch in pop culture. Quote: “Now, witches are getting another crack at dominance. And I think that’s a good thing — particularly for the young girls and women who are the primary audience for these shows. Unlike the female leads in most vampire stories, women in witchcraft stories are typically depicted as strong, capable characters. They might not always be noble, but they’re certainly not weak or passive characters who sit on the sidelines while the men take charge. Fictional witches are well-rounded characters with rich interior lives, while the females in vampire stories are the supernatural equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Gibson also notes the amoral universe some contemporary fictional witches operate in these days, but thinks that “young girls and women don’t need role models from television, they need options.”
  • Could teaching about nutrition in India help deter accusations of witchcraft? Quote: “The Jharkhand State Women’s Commission is planning to approach the state government to hold nutrition programmes simultaneously with the awareness campaigns against withcraft to combat the superstition effectively. [...] Superstitions were attached to illness caused by malnutrition among children and innocent women were often made responsible for this by branding them as witches. This could be curbed through joint campaigns by health mission and literacy programmes.”
  • Canada’s National Post reports on the World Mission Society Church of God, also known as the Church of God. Specifically, it notes that this Christian denomination worship a goddess. Quote: “Most Christian churches believe in one God, commonly described in male terms as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the Church of God believes the Bible testifies that two Gods exist: God the Father and God the Mother. [...] The church teaches that since the Bible testifies that men and women were both created in God’s own image, God actually has two images: male and female. In other words, there are two Gods – Heavenly Parents – who together created human beings in Their likeness.” There’s nearly 2 million members of this church, FYI.
  • After the controversy in 2012 over Canada eliminating all paid part-time chaplain services (starting with the Wiccans), effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair, the government has quietly tasked a private company with providing chaplaincy services. Quote: “Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc., a company started by a handful of current and former federal prison chaplains in direct response to the request for proposals issued in May, won the bid. Since October, about 30 full and part-time chaplains of all denominations, including Wicca and including many who worked in the federal prison system perviously, have been serving prisoners across the country, according to company president John Tonks.” Proponents of the new system says it promotes “equity” among prison chaplains.
  • In a shocking twist, a Christian columnist finds that he thinks Christianity is better than Paganism. Quote: “Absolute truth exists. And truth is not determined by the majority, but by the Truth-Giver. Most important, truth matters and consequences exist. We must be willing to discuss this so we can distinguish between good and bad ideas; or risk the consequence of being held back as individuals and/ora nation; or worse. If we don’t want to accept this, pray the pagans are right so that in the end it doesn’t matter.” He also has some feelings about gay marriage, again, shocking, I know.
Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

  • Slate.com profiles photographer Anthony Karen, who has spent time documenting Haitian Vodou. Quote: “The Vodou faith teaches us to bless nature and support cosmic harmony for the purposes of mastering divine magnetism. Vodou accepts the existence of the visible and the invisible, in a sense that it is believed that one does not see all that exists, and Vodou is in full compliance with the laws of nature.” Be warned, some of the photos are of animal sacrifice and quite graphic. Meanwhile, Slate.com has also posted a photographic look at a Vodun fetish market in the nation of Togo.
  • So, it seems Charismatic Christians are using the phrase “religious witchcraft” for people who “shame” or “threaten” Christians into bowing “to their ungodly will.” Quote: “So when you discern religious witchcraft—which often manifests as intimidation, manipulation and maligning—don’t try to defend yourself. Let the Lord vindicate you. Don’t stop doing what God told you to do. Keep pressing into your kingdom assignment with confidence that He has your back—because He does.” I can only imagine the havoc this is going to cause Google-ing Charismatics. Good luck with all those Pagan search results!
  • Infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is trying to re-start her anti-witchcraft themed ministry. Quote: “Ukpabio has literally re-launched her witch hunting ministry which is blamed for the menace of child witchcraft allegations and human rights abuses in the region. For some time now her ministry has been criticized locally and international because of its role in fueling witchcraft accusation and related abuses in Nigeria and beyond. But she appears unrepentant, and unfazed by the criticisms. Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch with a divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft.” As I’ve pointed out before, Ukpabio has received support and money from American churches, and is a public face of the larger problem of Western missions directly or indirectly funding witch-hunting.
  • A Pagan priest in the UK is calling on goddesses to help find a lottery ticket winner, because, well, why not? I guess? Quote: “David Spofforth, priest of Avalon, has called on the help of ancient Goddesses to reveal the holder of an unclaimed EuroMillions lottery ticket. [...] The self-styled Priest of Avalon priest conducted a 20-minute ceremony at St Ann’s Well in Hove, which is said to be the starting point of ley lines running across the South Downs.”
  • Satanic Panic, it really was a thing folks. Seriously.
  • 6% of libertarians belong to a non-Christian religion, while 27% claim to be religiously unaffiliated. This places them at odds with the rest of modern-day conservative-leaning groups. Quote: “By contrast, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are white evangelical Protestants, while roughly equal numbers identify as Catholic (22 percent) or white mainline Protestant (19 percent), and fewer than 1-in-10 (9 percent) are religiously unaffiliated.”

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.

On September 17 a Mcgill University student released a video taken of a man and woman engaged in a heated argument on a crowded public bus. According to a Huffington Post report, the argument began when the woman who was wearing a hijab boarded the bus.  Almost immediately the man began to harass her, demanding that she “remove her headscarf or return to her country.”  The unpleasantries continued for almost ten minutes. The man accused her of being associated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and “criticiz[ed] the lack of Muslim integration into society.” In his “rant,” he said that Quebec’s Premier, Pauline Marois, would make her remove that “hat.”

The altercation on the bus is not an isolated incident. CTV, local Canadian television, reports that “more victims are coming forward” and the victims are not always individuals. On September 2 the Mosque in Saguenay was attacked and allegedly sprayed with pigs blood. The Muslim Council of Montreal said that it was distressed “to repeatedly see such attacks.”

What is fueling the increase in attacks? Many blame the usual suspects: Islamaphobia, xenophobia, bigotry and even racism.  However, the picture is more complicated than a single identifiable hatred of a particular religious or cultural group.  As implied by the man’s rant, the answer lies in the politics of Pauline Marois and le Parti Quebecois (PQ).

On September 10, Marois and Bernard Drainville, minister of Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, revealed PQ’s plans to institute a Charter of Values (la chartre de valeur.)  According to the Minister’s web site, the Charter would do the following five things:

  1. Amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
  2. Establish a duty of neutrality and reserve for all state personnel
  3. Limit the wearing of all conspicuous religious symbols
  4. Make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service
  5. Establish an implementation policy for State organizations.

The first statement seeks to “entrench the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of public institutions within the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”  The second statement establishes, by law, “religious neutrality and reserve for all state personnel in carrying out their duties.” The fifth allows for the implementation of programs supporting the other points.  Taken alone, these statements appear to support Canada’s national policy of multi-culturalism.

The problem lays in points three and four. The proposed Values Charter would require all civil servants at any level including teachers and “personnel in ministries,” to remove their “conspicuous and overt religious symbols.”  This includes the hijabs, burqas, kippas (yarlmulke), turbans, large religious pendants and the like. If this proposal is passed, Marois and her party will have indeed forced some citizens to remove their “hats.”

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Minister Drainville explains:

le gouvernement propose d’exprimer de manière officielle cette réalité : celle de la séparation de l’État et des religions. Sa démarche est guidée par les valeurs fondamentales qui animent la société québécoise : la laïcité des institutions de l’État, l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et la primauté du français. Parmi ces valeurs, seule la laïcité de l’État n’a pas encore été consacrée dans un texte législatif.

Loosely translated, the Quebec Government wants to legally establish the current and fundamental Quebec ideological and political reality of “the Separation of Church and State.” The work is guided by fundamental values that drive Quebec society: secularism of institutions, equality between men and women and the primacy of the French language. Among these values, only secularism hasn’t been legislated.

In tying the Values Charter to the successful legal protection of the French language, Parti Quebecquois is demonstrating a powerful interest in preserving Quebec’s unique culture.  While the reasoning may be “fierce nationalism,” one question remains – at what or whose expense? How far will the identity-politics go to preserve tradition?

A growing number of opponents call the Values Charter a basic attack on religious freedom. On September 14 people of many religions filled the streets of Montreal to protest the proposed legislation.  The event was organized by le Collectif Quebecois contre l’islamophobie. In attendance was, Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal who told the Montreal Gazette that he was “Delighted” at the turnout.

Jonathan Kay, an op-ed columnist for  Canada’s National Post  called Marois and PQ’s politics a “brand of militant secularism” accusing the party of “embracing a fallback position of prioritizing secular homogeneity over the demands of newly emergent minority religious communities.” Amanda Strong, a long-time Pagan Montreal resident, former editor of WynterGreene and WitchyWays blogger, agrees that the politics are a complicated chess match with a strong historical component.  She explains,

Before the 1960s, Catholicism permeated everything in Quebec from education to healthcare to policy making.  It was a horrible time in Quebec history and was especially oppressive to the French Quebecers. Then, French Quebecers rebelled…Quebec overtly moved towards a secular society. So Separation of church and state in this province is *very* emotionally charged.  

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

In response to claims of “militant secularism,” Minister Drainville counters by saying, “If this was a good idea for Catholics in the ’60s, why is it not a good idea for all religions fifty years later?”  Making a similar point, Brendan Myers, a Quebec Druidic Humanist and Philosophy Professor writes on his own blog, “Premier Pauline Marois’ Charter of Quebec Values doesn’t do much that hasn’t already been done.”

Since that cultural rebellion termed “the Quiet Revolution” accommodations have been made to in various situations. Over time the number and type of accommodations were called into question by Quebecers. In 2007, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was formed to investigate the situation and make recommendations for “reasonable accommodations.”   Considering this background, the new Values Charter appears to be yet another step in a long drawn-out process of firmly establishing a secular Quebec society.

Natache Laland

Natache Laland

However, is mandated secularism really a step towards religious freedom? Natacha Lalande, a Wiccan practitioner from Magog Quebec, does’t believe it is. She says,

I am against some accommodations they have been doing like the story where a group asked others to leave the building so they could pray. It was disrespectful as their religion did not require they pray right before eating. But wearing a big pentagram necklace or a Jewish cap for example is not harmful to anybody. It is their right to wear them as they wish and should remove it only by their own decision and not be forced.

Amanda Strong agrees adding that, if passed, the Charter would not significantly affect most Pagans in Quebec. However, “the charter does affect … freedom of religious expression and, like any religion; we should be concerned about that. It also creates a culture of exclusion, which I feel is in direct contrast to most Pagan values of inclusion and acceptance.”

Additionally, Brendan Myers, who strongly supports the value of secularism, makes a very important observation. He says,

For a charter that supposedly is about secularism, there’s rather a lot of exceptions for “traditional Quebec values”. And most of those exceptions, suspiciously, involve Roman Catholic symbols, including the huge Catholic crucifix which hangs in the Quebec national assembly chamber, and the giant illuminated cross that stands at the summit of the mountain in Montreal. This strikes me as a little bit hypocritical.

A recent Time Magazine article made that very same point.  In response, Minister Drainville said, “Quebec is not a blank page…Building our future shouldn’t come at the expense of our past, our heritage.”

Are the Parti Quebecquois’ identity-politics solidifying “nationalism” by creating tension within its population? Is it capitalizing on an underlying Islamaphobia or xenophobia to promote its own agenda of separatism?

While those two questions are specific to Quebec, there are broader questions lurking beneath the surface. Where do we draw the lines for religious accommodations? Is it fair for Alberta to require Hutterites to have photos on their licenses? Should Canada have allowed Sikh Mounties to wear turbans?  When has the State gone too far?  When has religious expression placed a burden on society?  As we move further into this post-Christian era, these questions become more poignant. How do we support a healthy religious pluralism while retaining a connection to our cultural heritage without crippling our governing bodies to the point of being completely ineffective in maintaining our society?

 

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.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

  • Back in April, the sale of sacred Hopi objects in France went ahead despite protests from the Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona, Survival International, and the actor Robert Redford, who called the sale “a sacrilege, a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions.”  Now, Survival International reports that at least one sacred katsina was returned by a buyer who participated in the auction to retrieve it for the Hopi. Quote: “M. Servan-Schreiber then bought one katsina at the auction to return it to the Hopi. He said, ‘It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war. I am convinced that in the future, those who believe that not everything should be up for sale will prevail. In the meantime, the Hopi will not have lost everything since two of these sacred objects have been saved from being sold.’” A second katsina acquired at the auction by another buyer will be returned to the Hopi later this year.
  • Are prisoners in the UK claiming to be Pagan to get extra benefits? Possibly! Though, this is a tabloid so no real data is given other than that self-described Pagans behind bars has nearly doubled to 602 since 2009. Quote: “The surge in paganism behind bars has sparked fears some may be converting for an easier life.” A Prison Service spokesperson noted that Pagan prisoners receive 4 days off per year, and no more.
  • The New York Times profiles the Living Interfaith Church in Washington, a religion that embraces all religions, even Pagans. Quote: “Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.” One wonders if the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation wasn’t theologically inclusive enough? Religion scholar Stephen Prothero notes that “one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.”
  • Is 2013 the year of the Witch? Pam Grossman at the Huffington Post seems to think so. Quote: “As the year progresses I predict we will all more fully channel the spirit of the witch. Honoring the earth and our bodies; shifting away from mass-market medicines and agri-business toward natural healing and whole foods; sharing our resources rather than focusing on mere accumulation of goods; collaborating and communicating more openly; helping to elevate women and girls to equality all over the world: these are all grand workings of feminine magic that we are manifesting together.” Pardon me while I pick up every stitch.
  • Lisa Derrick at La Figa isn’t fond of Rick Perry voodoo dolls, saying “they perpetuate dangerous, off-base stereotypes and do nothing to help either pro-choice factions or non-Christians.”

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

Last year, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair. This came after he retracted a paid part-time position for a Wiccan prison chaplain. The result, as you may have guessed, was litigation.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“The suit was triggered by Ottawa’s announcement last October that it was canceling the contracts of all part-time prison chaplains to save an estimated $1.3 million. The non-Christian chaplains ministered to Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Buddhist inmates, and those who follow aboriginal spirituality. The legal action, brought against Attorney General Rob Nicholson and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, charges that Christian prisoners continue to have access to Christian religious services, Bible study sessions and other faith-based activities.”

Then, one week ago, the federal government announced that it was restoring some of the minority-faith part-time chaplaincy positions, while stressing that this wasn’t a change in course regarding policy.

“CBC News has learned at least four of the part-time chaplains are being offered a chance to return to work. All four provided service to non-Christian inmates.  Buddhist chaplain Charmaine Mak says she’s eager to resume working with prisoners. ”They’ve been cut off from spiritual development and education, so I think that’s a really good step for them,” Mak said.”

Patrick McCollum, an advocate for Pagan prisoners in the United States who famously testified before the US Commission on Civil Rights regarding prisoners’ religious rights, has now revealed to The Wild Hunt that he was going to be involved in the litigation against the Canadian government and implies that it was this pending litigation that created movement on this issue.

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

“The Prisoners’ Legal Services just confirmed that the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has agreed to reinstate chaplaincy services to minority faith prisoners!

‘We are very pleased that, once faced with court action, the government has acquiesced and has voluntarily reinstated services by tendering contracts to all five minority faith chaplains in British Columbia. As this is precisely the remedy we were seeking by way of injunction, we have consented to withdraw our application for injunction as it is no longer necessary.’

The letter goes on to say that this restoration of contracts is an interim service model meant to ensure that the immediate spiritual needs of the prisoners are met while CSC develops a new service delivery model for federal prisons in BC and across Canada. Prisoners’ Legal Services will monitor and evaluate this new model as it develops and is implemented to ensure it meets appropriate and professional standards.”

In addition, I was privately shown the letter from Prisoners’ Legal Services, confirming what Patrick attests (you can read the entirety of Patrick’s letter to me here). So at least one lawsuit has been avoided, but this is, as a government spokesperson termed it, an “interim measure,” so what of the future? It appears that the government is looking for a private company to shift all chaplaincy services to.

“Going forward, CSC will consolidate this contractual process under one national contractor,” Sara Parkes wrote in an e-mailed response to questions. “In conjunction with CSC, the national contractor will ensure the provision of chaplains who are qualified, official representatives of their faith traditions and capable of ministry in the correctional environment.”

So far, most commenters seems to be staying on the fence regarding this move, with some expressing some cautious optimism. I suspect that the company the federal government contracts with will have a lot of bearing on how advocates of minority faiths in Canada react. Until then, it seems like a resolution of sorts has been reached, albeit not one that will fully address the problem of serving the spiritual needs of all prisoners. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted on further developments in this story.

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.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. [...] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. [...] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

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.

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

Captions from Young Avengers #2.

  • Last week, the comic book Young Avengers #2 had the conversation that many Pagan comic-book fans were awaiting: What’s up with Wiccan calling himself “Wiccan”? Here’s hoping it leads to a new code-name that isn’t also the name for a, well, Wiccan. The issue was written by Kieron Gillen with art by Jamie Mckelvie, the same team who did the criminally under-appreciated Phonogram miniseries (which should be required reading for anyone who loves the intersection of music and magic).
  • Some Charismatic Christians are worried that the practice of prophetic ministry might be crossing the line into “witchcraft” for some.  Quote: “When he released the words over me, it came with a spiritual force that made me feel as if I had been covered with goo. My eyes began burning. I felt like I was in a daze. It was spiritual witchcraft.” What’s interesting is that this piece gets close to admitting that a lot of charismatic practice is like magical energy work, and that it’s too easy to blur the boundaries. Now, if they’ll address spiritual warfare…
  • Are rooster heads found at a North Carolina cemetery ”Voodoo”? No one knows for certain, but let’s wildly speculate anyway. Quote: “Brandy Nunn told Fox Charlotte, ‘God only knows what they’re really doing with cutting heads off. What are they really messing with over there?’” I’m sure that no one will jump to conclusions over this.
  • Bleeding Cool covers a new witchcraft-themed comic book, “The Westwood Witches,” complete with human sacrifice and appearance by Baphomet. It’s a “horror” book, so take that as you will. Quote: “It’s not just about witchcraft but about beliefs, too. What seems real to us sounds like nonsense to others, and that’s the power of literature… and quackery. But overall, The Westwood Witches is a tale about neighborhood and neighbors. In this book, they’re beautiful, they’re kind, and they’re demon worshippers. You could say it’s like Desperate Housewives with macabre murderings”.
  • Indie art-rockers Yeah Yeah Yeahs have a new album coming out in April, and their lead single “Sacrilege” is influenced by “the New Orleans vibe. Just the juju in the air.”
  • It’s the collapse of mainline Protestent political power, and I feel fine. 
  • Religion in American Historyponders the reactions to Hinduism by U.S. President John Adams. Quote: “Adams consistently compares Hindu religion to Roman Catholicism in the margins, writing ‘Oh Priestcraft!’ and labeling Hindu practices as ‘ridiculous observances.’ When Priestley writes, “But the Hindoos go far beyond the rest of mankind in voluntary restrictions and mortifications,” Adams asks ‘Far beyond the Romish Christians?’ in the margin.”

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.

I’d like to start off this Friday with some news items from Native and indigenous communities that may be of interest to readers of The Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt has always urged respectful solidarity with Native and indigenous causes, seeing many of their struggles and interests as overlapping with our own. I’m hoping that Indigenous Updates can become a semi-regular round-up feature here, much as Pagan Community Notes and Unleash the Hounds has.

Pagans and Solidarity with Idle No More: The Wild Hunt has reported before on Pagan involvement in the Idle No More movement, which largely centers on issues of treaty rights and sustainable development for First Nations peoples in Canada, but has also broadened into other areas and issues as well. Claire “Chuck” Bohman, a seminarian and Reclaiming Witch who has spent time and practiced solidarity with the Idle No More movement, has written a helpful guide for Pagans interested in participating with Idle No More.

idle-no-more

“We must learn to follow the leadership of first nations people. This is a movement led by First Nations people. Those who are most directly impacted by decisions made by people in power must be leading this movement. Part of how colonization and white supremacy works is by instilling in white people the belief that their opinions and voices are more important than others. Too often, I have seen white people get involved with justice struggles led by people of color and quickly begin speaking loudly and often in meetings and decision making processes. Part of being an ally is learning how to be a follower. This is not our movement to lead, this is a movement in which we are to follow. This is not to say that our voices are not important or that we should be silent. Just check yourself as you get involved and keep checking yourself. We must be humble, connect with the earth, and listen to our brothers and sisters.” 

I recommend reading the whole thing. There’s also a more general version written by Bohman at Tikkun Daily. Updates on Idle No More can be found at their official site.

The Ongoing Fight To Protect Sacred Sites: This site has chronicled several fights over the preservation of sacred sites, an ongoing issue in Indian country, where encroachments and construction on sacred lands are often done in the arbitrary name of economic development, or sometimes just for simple convenience (to non-Native folks of course). As such it can be a highly-charged political issue, with the latest flashpoint being protests from American Indian activists and tribal leaders over President Barack Obama’s nomination of Lynne Sebastian to serve on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). Sebastian has worked with mining companies to give paid testimony that would allow them to mine on contested lands, something that understandably makes activists nervous about her placement on a government preservation council.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona.

Suzan Shown Harjo, president of The Morning Star Institute, has paid attention to Sebastian’s Quechan and Pechanga dealings, telling Indian Country Today Media Network that tribal consultation was sorely lacking in this nomination process. “If anyone in ACHP or the White House had consulted even a tiny bit, they would have learned of Native experiences with Lynne Sebastian,” she said. “Now they will have to assure her recusal from all deliberations and decisions on Native issues and we will have to monitor microscopically future ACHP vacancies and consultation on them.”

 Meanwhile, Native activists are trying to stop mining development in the Oak Flat recreational area in Arizona, saying that “the destruction and desecration of Apache lands” needs to stop.  The National Congress of American Indians passed a resolution opposing the land transfer for mining. All part of the ongoing, often unseen, struggles to protect the last pieces of sacred Native lands, often controlled by our government rather than tribal nations. 

40th Anniversary of Wounded Knee: February 27th of this year saw the beginning of the 40th anniversary of the Wounded Knee occupation on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. A 73-day standoff that pushed AIM (American Indian Movement) and Native issues to the forefront, part of a larger movement advocating greater sovereignty for American Indian tribes, an end to government-backed corruption in tribal governments, and demands that existing treaty agreements be respected.  National newswires like the Associated Press paint a mixed picture for how far things have progressed for the Pine Ridge Reservation and American Indian rights in general in the last 40 years.

[Faith] White Dress and others gathered Wednesday to remember the fatal 71-day standoff. During gunfire to mark the anniversary of the start of the occupation, she said the Oglala Sioux Tribe is still struggling. ”Unemployment is so high and the oppression is still so bad,” she said. “I don’t think it’s going to take violence. It’s going to take a gathering to determine how to bring jobs here. We need libraries. We need more of our children to have a better future.”

For those who want to learn more about the Wounded Knee stand-off the PBS documentary “We Shall Remain” has a good run-down of the events. For Native perspectives 40 years later, see this round-up at Indianz, this post from Last Real Indians, this video of the anniversary, photos from Censored News, and more. As seen by Idle No More, and ongoing activism, the struggle continues.

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