Archives For China

[As climate change and extreme weather are at the forefront of people’s minds, many are asking how and where religion fits into the conversation. Today, we welcome guest writer Heathen Chinese. He is the son of Chinese immigrants and is a diasporic Chinese polytheist living in the San Francisco Bay Area (stolen Ohlone land). He practices ancestor veneration and worships (among others) the warrior god Guan Di, who has had a presence in California since the mid-1800s. He writes at Gods and Radicals and at heathenchinese.wordpress.com.]

California has been in a State of Emergency due to drought since January 2014. As the map below shows, the U.S. Drought Monitor calculates that as of June 9th, 98.71% of the state is in a condition of “severe drought,” 71.08% is in a condition of “extreme drought,” and 46.73% is in a condition of “exceptional drought.”

[Public Domain]

From U.S. Drought Monitor [Public Domain]

When it comes to definitions of drought, the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) notes that “research in the early 1980s uncovered more than 150 published definitions of drought.” The NDMC draws upon the work of researchers Wilhite and Glantz to categorize “the definitions in terms of four basic approaches to measuring drought: meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic.”

Though supply-and-demand or “socioeconomic” aspects of drought can be analyzed through economic and political lenses, droughts that are triggered by a lack of precipitation have historically been interpreted through the framework of another powerful and widespread social force: religion. In History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, historian Paul Cohen writes that in China during the late 1800s and early 1900s, “where it had been widely believed for centuries that there was a link between human behavior and the actions of Heaven, as expressed through nature, it was not at all uncommon to blame droughts and other natural calamities on official misconduct and to seek to alleviate the crisis by changing either the conduct or the official.”

Cohen provides several examples of drought being attributed to the upsetting of cosmic balance by governmental actions:

‘I have heard,’ one censor commented in response to the drought of 1876-1879, ‘that if one woman suffers an injustice, for three years there will be no rain.’ Another censor, citing the precedent of a three-year drought during the Han dynasty following the unjust execution of a filial wife, connected the 1870s drought to the disruption of heavenly harmony caused by excessive judicial torture.”

As these examples show, drought could be linked to widespread policies such as torture, but also to singular harmful acts against individuals like the execution of an innocent. They also show that two different individuals, even if they both share the basic belief that human actions can lead to drought as a divine repercussion, can reach different conclusions as to which particular action is responsible for the current drought.

Cohen rejects the idea that religious interpretations of drought are “supracultural or intrinsically human,” noting that in the modern era many people speak of drought purely in secular terms. He concedes, however, that “supernatural agency is […] a very widely encountered cultural construction.”

Responses
Cohen observes that there are two major categories of attempts to mitigate drought through religious behavior: the “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” and “prayer and other rain-inducing ceremonial practices.” These two approaches can, of course, be utilized either in conjunction or independently of one another. A prayer or ceremony for rain does not necessarily imply a belief in human causation of the state of drought, though it certainly could also be perceived as the right course of action to offset whatever offenses may have been committed. No specific narrative regarding the cause of drought, for example, was included in the description (36) for the “Bring on the Rain! Mojo for Parched CA” ritual that was held at Pantheacon 2014 in San Jose, California.

Cohen suggests that prayer or ritual is common as an initial response to lack of rain, but that if results are not forthcoming, the other category of response may become more prominent: “The first recourse for people faced with drought is, as we have seen, to offer up prayers and perform a range of rain-inducing rituals. But when such conventional means fail to produce relief, and the anxiety occasioned by the drought deepens, people often resort to more heroic measures. The generic element here is scapegoatism, the identification of a human agency deemed responsible for the crisis and the punishment of that agency.”

During the severe drought in Northern China in 1899-1900, participants in the Boxer Rebellion circulated notices explicitly blaming Christian missionaries and converts for angering the gods and thereby causing the drought. One notice, for example, contained the doggerel lines:

They proselytize their sect,/And believe in only one God,/The spirits and their own ancestors/Are not even given a nod/ […] No rain comes from Heaven./The earth is parched and dry./And all because the churches/Have bottled up the sky./The god[s] are very angry./The spirits seek revenge./En masse they come from Heaven/To teach the Way to men. – (translation by Joseph Esherick)

One Boxer placard directly addressed Chinese converts to Christianity, saying that they had abandoned the gods and their ancestors, angering the gods to the point that they withheld rain.

China was not the only traditional society to blame Christianization for drought. Nineteenth-century Botswana blamed a prolonged drought on Christianity, especially when a well-known rainmaker was baptized and summarily abandoned his previous practices. When the local missionary left after several years of disaster, the rain did indeed come back.

Cohen argues that the growing presence of foreigners in 1899-1900 was not a common experience to most Chinese living in the North China plain in the same way that drought was. A villager who had never seen a missionary could be convinced to join the Boxer movement in the hopes of propitiating the gods and bringing back the rain. The drought, of course, also caused widespread unemployment among peasants, giving them both the time and additional motivation—either hunger or fear of hunger—to join the Boxers. Cohen concludes that “it was this factor, more than any other, in my judgment, that accounted for the explosive growth both of the Boxer movement and of popular support for it in the spring and summer months of 1900.”

Scapegoating, of course, is a dangerous phenomenon, especially when one is a member of a minority religion. However, it can be secular as well as religious. California has already seen television commercials by a group that believes that “California’s drought could have been prevented” with anti-immigrant policies. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, points out that blaming the drought on immigrants is illogical. It isn’t caused by immigrants drinking too much water or showering too often, he says, but rather it is due to meager snowpack and poor planning.

Though most people are not so quick to attribute causation of the drought itself to any demographic, the drought has highlighted awareness and criticism of individuals and institutions perceived to be using more than their fair share of water. One group that has been criticized is almond farmers, who grow a popular perennial cash crop that requires watering every year and cannot be left fallow. Another group that has been criticized is Southern California residents, who astoundingly “used more water than ever this February,” according to Amy Westervelt of The Guardian.

Public outrage has also been directed at companies bottling water in California to sell elsewhere, such as Walmart and Nestlé. Nestlé’s CEO recently stated that Nestlé would “absolutely not” stop bottling its water in California and added that “if I could increase [the amount being bottled], I would.” An online trend known as “drought-shaming” has also targeted members of the upper class who still maintain their lawns and swimming pools.

Percentage-wise, agriculture accounts for “roughly 80% of all human water use” in California. Bottled water companies and urban residents have been quick to point out this fact, disclaiming the overall significance of their own water usage. Even among farmers, though, “water scarcity and buckling land have neighboring farmers eyeing one another warily,” writes Matt Richtel  in the New York Times. “Buckling land” is a consequence the practice of groundwater pumping, which drains aquifers and can cause the ground to sink, an effect known as subsidence. In areas “where subsidence is the worst, the land can sink as much as a foot each year.”

The heightened awareness around water usage and its consequences has led to an increase in water’s value as a commodity. However, this has not necessarily led to an increased respect for the sacred—certainly not at the level of public policy. The drought has also drawn attention to California’s system of water rights seniority, in which claims “staked more than a century ago” are the last to be subjected to mandatory cuts in water usage. However, this policy ignores the fact that indigenous people have the greatest seniority when it comes to a relationship to the land and watersheds, and instead privileges the heirs of the first colonizers.

One proposed “solution” to water scarcity is a raising of the Shasta Dam. However, this proposal is a reiterated existential threat to the Winnemem Wintu, an indigenous tribe inhabiting “ancestral territory from Mt. Shasta down the McCloud River watershed.” The Winnemem Wintu website states:

The Winnemem not only lost our villages on the McCloud River when the Shasta Dam was erected during World War II, we also lost many of our sacred places beneath Shasta Lake. These are places to which we hold an emotional and religious connection, and their loss remains a void in our lives as Winnemem.

The proposed raising of the dam would have additional disastrous effects. The Winnemem Wintu explain, “A dam raise of about 18-feet, the most likely scenario, would permanently or seasonally flood an estimated 39 sacred sites along the McCloud River, including Puberty Rock, and would essentially end our ability to practice our culture and religion.” The website poses the question as an issue of religious freedom: “If there were only a few hundred people left who practiced Islam or Judaism, would the country support knocking down the last mosque or the last temple? That is what a dam raise would do to the Winnemem.”

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

Construction of the Shasta Dam. [Public Domain]

The initial construction of the Shasta Dam also “blocked the salmon runs,” and the Winnemem “advocate for all aspects of clean water and the restoration of salmon to their natural spawning grounds.” The Winnemem Wintu website promotes salmon restoration as “a far more sensible, cost-effective economic stimulus that will provide long-term rather than short term benefits,” and points out that the proposed dam raise would ultimately “yield a relatively small amount of very expensive water.”

The Winnemem Wintu clearly know what they are fighting for. What stance will other minority religious traditions, especially those that see water as sacred or honor spirits related to water, take on the drought and issues surrounding water usage?

Paul Cohen states the obvious when he writes that “while the basic premise that natural disasters are to be accounted for by some supernatural agency acting in response to human wrongdoing appears with great frequency, the particularities of a society’s response to such disasters…will be shaped by the special cultural forms and historical experience of that society.” In other words, given religious diversity, such as one finds across the spectrums of Neo-paganism or polytheism, one can only expect a diverse array of religious interpretations of and responses to drought. The previously cited example of government officials attempting to ascertain the cause of drought during the Late Qing Dynasty shows that divergence of interpretation can reach even the individual level. Nonetheless, some general ideas about the relationship between religion and drought in the modern day can be considered and discussed.

The idea of “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony” does not inherently require the targeting of a specific demographic for punishment. At its core, this idea relies upon the religious concept that there is such a thing as “cosmic harmony” in the first place. Second, a quick look at current events is likely to lead many to reach the conclusion that if such a thing as “cosmic harmony” exists, it has been disrupted, and that drought is a symptom of that disruption. Finally, though definitions of what constitutes “human misconduct” may vary widely, the essential principle behind the idea is that human actions matter; they have unseen consequences.

Based upon these three principles, a great number of religious interpretations and responses are possible. The “correction of human misconduct” could entail changing one’s own behavior, seeking to convince or coerce others to change theirs, direct action to stop specific acts of “misconduct,” or a combination of any of the above. The Boxer placard addressed to Chinese Christian converts advocated both change of personal behavior and joining the larger social movement: “It is a matter of great urgency that you quickly join the Boxers and sincerely mend your ways.”

One recent interpretation of the California drought can be found in P. Sufenas Virius Lupus’s short story “Robigalia 2015,” which marked the annual sacrifice to the ancient Roman deity Robigo or Robigus. Robigo was once propitiated to avert blights on grain. Lupus notes that grain blight is less of a concern in the modern day than it was in antiquity, but proceeds to explore the possibility that “the water shortages of California–an event as much due to human causes as to the waning portion in the cycles of nature–became the outlet via which Robigo was able to come to the fore again.” In a comment below the story, Lupus writes, “I don’t think by any means this is ‘the answer’ or anything of the sort; but, I think given the state of the world, if we thought more in these terms as polytheists, people might want to do something about these matters (insofar as they can) more than they do otherwise.”

In his essay “Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward,” Brennos writes about the ancient Irish concept of divinely-granted sovereignty:

The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship. In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

The quotes by Qing government officials are related to similar ideas in China about the link between political legitimacy and cosmic harmony. Even more explicitly, in Transcendence & Divine Passion: The Queen Mother of the West in Medieval China, Suzanne Cahill writes that drought and rebellions and heterodox religious movements were all seen equally as signs “of the imminent fall of the Han rulers.” Or in other words, these events were seen as symptoms of the ruling dynasty’s loss of the Mandate of Heaven.

What does any of this have to do with people who don’t live in California? As Brennos writes, “At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.” This interconnectedness is both natural and divine. It has a social aspect as well.

Everything is Connected

In Late Victorian Holocausts, Mike Davis links the worldwide droughts of 1876-79, 1888-91 and 1896-1902 to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) weather pattern, the rise of the global capitalist economy, and the expansionist land-grabs of the New Imperialism.

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

El Nino 2015 [Public Domain]

According to the NDMC, El Niño is a phenomenon involving increased water temperatures off the western coast of South America, while the Southern Oscillation is a “seesaw of atmospheric pressure between the eastern equatorial Pacific and Indo–Australian areas.” The acronym ENSO is used to describe the two phenomena in conjunction. “Atmospheric interactions between widely separated regions,” such as those seen during ENSO events, are termed “teleconnections.” Though not all variations in weather patterns during ENSO years are attributable to ENSO, the NDMC reports that “researchers have found the strongest connections between ENSO and intense drought in Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, parts of east and south Africa, the western Pacific basin islands (including Hawaii), Central America, and various parts of the United States.”

Davis notes that all of these areas, plus China, were severely affected by worldwide droughts during the late Victorian era, though “the instrumental record before 1957 is generally too poor to support” attaching the El Niño label to specific years. He further observes that colonial policy and capitalist economics contributed to many of the resulting famines. During the 1877-78 drought and famine in British-ruled India, for example, “grain merchants […] preferred to export a record 6.4 million cwt. of wheat to Europe in 1877-78 rather than relieve starvation in India.” The British Viceroy, Lytton, further imposed an increase in taxation on salt and on “petty traders (professionals were exempt),” which he claimed would serve the purpose of “insuring this Empire against the worst calamities of a future famine.”

In fact, however, “the whole accumulated fund was used either to reduce cotton goods tariff or for the Afghan war.” Lytton’s increase in taxation demonstrated not merely a policy of laissez-faire, but of deliberate imperial expansion at the direct expense of the starving poor. Thus, Davis concludes, the deaths attributed to the “natural” causes of disease and El Niño-exacerbated drought cannot actually be separated from economics and politics. Davis’s analysis of the Indian famine of the 1877-78 can be applied to the present day as well.

2015 is an El Niño year. American scientists initially described this year’s El Niño as “weak” in March, but Australian scientists disputed this forecast in May. “‘This is a proper El Niño effect, it’s not a weak one,’ David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology, told reporters.” El Niño has been linked to increased rain in California in the past, but Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, pointed out in March that “this El Niño is likely too late and too weak to provide much relief for drought-stricken California, as California’s rainy season is winding down.” However, as always, El Niño is predicted “to increase prices of staple foods such as rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa” around the world.

Mike Davis calls famines “wars over the right to existence.” He notes that the Late Victorian era saw explicitly religious revolts in conjunction with droughts in China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Brazil. And, as the export of wheat from India in the 1870s and Nestlé’s bottling of California’s spring water both demonstrate, famine and drought are inextricably linked with economics as well as with military campaigns and politics. Any religious interpretation of current events, therefore, must necessarily take a global perspective as well; ENSO’s “teleconnections” are not merely meteorological. From a religious point of view, unseen “teleconnections” can be said to underlie the very fabric of reality. As the drought in California continues to intensify, both Californians and non-Californians will be affected by more and more drastic changes. The need for more prayers and rituals—or a perhaps even a fundamental “correction of human misconduct in order to reestablish cosmic harmony”—will intensify as well.

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.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ’em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. […] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days […] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

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

Top Stories:

San Francisco Peaks Update: I have written at some length concerning the battle over a ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona creating snow from treated wastewater, what a coalition of local indigenous groups and Tribal Nations see as a desecration that would be like putting death on the mountain.” It seemed to me like Arizona politicians didn’t believe there could be sacred land in their state. Now Indian Country follows up on this story with the latest insult to the beliefs of Native Americans living in Arizona.

“The Forest Service has scheduled a meeting to hear Hopi Tribe objections to wastewater-enabled snowmaking for a ski resort on Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks at the same time it has approved the start of construction on the snowmaking’s infrastructure. A former Hopi Tribal chairman and the grassroots group of which he is a part of hope an upcoming meeting on the San Francisco Peaks (Nuvatuqui) will provide a voice for tribal members who oppose the use of wastewater for the snowmaking at a resort on mountains sacred to a number of area tribes. But at about the same time the Forest Service planned the May 31 “listening session” with Hopi tribal members it also authorized construction to begin on a pipeline to convey the wastewater used to make the artificial snow.”

An emergency injunction appeal to construction was denied, despite there being an active appeal on environmental grounds underway. The “listening session” with the Hopi Tribe will be the only forum at this point that includes Native voices, it looks like Coconino National Forest supervisor M. Earl Stewart won’t be much different from former supervisor Nora B. Rasure, who doesn’t see any issue with desecrating a sacred mountain for the purpose of a prolonged skiing season. As indigenous leaders tell the United Nations that respecting their beliefs will help preserve the environment, the Forest Service in Coconino has seemingly decided that money and politics trump everything else.

Pagans on Wikipedia: Over at PNC-Minnesota (and reprinted at Patheos.com) Cara Schulz writes an editorial concerning a snowballing trend of Wikipedia deleting Pagan-oriented articles. She cites the a policy of goal-post shifting regarding what sources are deemed acceptable. For instance, the Pagan Newswire Collective doesn’t meet guidelines, nor do the published writings of Pagan academics.

“PNC has staff with formal journalism degrees, experience working as a reporters, producers, and editors in mainstream media, and PNC-Minnesota follows an editorial process similar to most any other newsroom in the country.   Yet PNC-Minnesota is dismissed as  “a self-published group blog which isn’t going to meet guidelines for reliable sources.” Discounting sources is a common theme in the Paganistan deletion discussion.  A paper by Dr. Murphy Pizza, an anthropologist who spent five years studying the Paganistan community, is also considered not a reliable source because she is a Pagan. I’m assuming this same standard would then apply to The Pomegranate:  The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Chas Clifton’s book “Her Hidden Children:  The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America,” and is probably the reason Ronald Hutton will not publicly say he is a Pagan.”

Schulz wonders if there’s a double-standard going on where papers and articles published by Christian academics are accepted as reliable sources on Christian articles or if the work of environmentalist-minded scholars pass muster on climate-related articles. I personally think that much of this problem can be solved by having a more engaged team of Pagan-friendly editors at Wikipedia who are willing to go to bat for these articles, and work to constantly improve them, not just when items are flagged for deletion. The rest of the problem will only be solved once we take our media seriously, and move collectively forward in building institutions and reputations that pass muster.

In Other News:

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

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

In President Obama’s meetings with Chinese President Hu Jintao this week, should discussion of human rights and religious freedom be on par with economic and environmental issues, or should human rights and religious freedom be secondary matters?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

I am concerned about the future of religious freedom in China. Not only because I think Tibet was done a great injustice, one that should be corrected, but because I care deeply about the millions of polytheists and pantheists who call that land home. Taoists, followers of various indigenous and imported folk religions, and syncretic mixes of all of the above lay claim to the hearts and minds of tens, possibly hundreds, of millions. Currently, China’s government sees the social value of encouraging (well-regulated) official manifestations of these faiths, but a new regressive turn isn’t impossible. Should Taoism, or various folk practices, be seen as an impediment to social and political order, their future could be imperiled. We can’t gloss that over with a down-played “concern,” quickly moving on to something else, human rights and religious freedom should be at the top of the diplomatic agenda for a country that says it values those freedoms above all else.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

The New York Times has an excellent look at the rise of Taoism in modern China, and how that indigenous polytheistic faith is returning in the nation’s countryside.

“Now, with three decades of prosperity under their belt — the first significant period of relative stability in more than a century — the Chinese are in the midst of a great awakening of religious belief. In cities, yuppies are turning to Christianity. Buddhism attracts the middle class, while Taoism has rebounded in small towns and the countryside. Islam is also on the rise, not only in troubled minority areas but also among tens of millions elsewhere in China.”

The article focuses on two important people in China’s Taoism boom, Abbess Yin Xinhui, who is a favorite of the people, and travels the country playing music and raising money to rebuild temples, and wealthy businessman Zhu Tieyu, “the king of building materials.”

Until recently, Zhu mostly ignored the contradiction [between Communism and Taoism], but he has become more cautious, emphasizing how he loved Taoist philosophy and playing down the religion. Still, Zhu continues to support conventional Taoism. His staff takes courses in a Taoist form of meditation called neigong, and he has sent staff members to document religious sites, like the supposed birthplace of Laotzu, who is worshiped as a god in Taoism. He also has close relations with folk-religious figures and plans to establish a “Taoist base” in the countryside to propagate Taoism. “The ancients were amazing,” Zhu says. “Taoism can save the world.”

The whole thing is worth a leisurely Sunday read, and really does a nice job of showing that Taoism never really went away, just went underground during the height of Communist repression.

“The speeches were barely over when Abbess Yin picked up again. As the ceremony reached its climax, more and more people began to appear, seemingly out of nowhere, on the barren mountain face. Four policemen tried to keep order, linking arms to barricade the door so the nuns would have space for the ceremony. “Back, back, give the nuns room,” one officer said as the crowd pressed forward. People peered through windows or waited outside, holding cameras up high to snap pictures. “The Jade Emperor,” an old woman said, laying down a basket of apples as an offering. “Our temple is back.” Abbess Yin moved in front of the statue, praying, singing and kowtowing. This is the essence of the ritual — to create a holy space and summon the gods to the here and now, to this place at this moment.”

What the growth of these different faiths within China will mean for the country’s future remains to be seen. For now the government sees religion as a way to keep their regime in power, but that can change as the various religious leaders start having their own ideas. If China’s Communist leadership ever crumbles, what will it mean for the millions of polytheists living there?

Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, finally saw a limited release in art-house theaters at the beginning of the Summer season. The film, despite doing very well in Europe, and getting generally positive reviews from American critics, has failed to draw a big audience or expand beyond its very limited release schedule. In These Times wonders why a film rife with conflicts that should resonate with American audiences has instead fallen flat.

“[Rachel Weisz’s] star turn as Hypatia, a scholar and astronomer of pagan background who preaches tolerance and brotherhood in late fourth-century Alexandria while scientifically probing the secrets of the solar system, is apparently not the stuff that draws Americans to the box office … highly prized internationally and Spain’s highest grossing film in 2009; yet it struggled for distribution in the United States before its release here on May 28. With a female intellectual as its hero and Christian fanatics as its villains, Agora’s limited American appeal is perhaps understandable.

Is it as simple as that? Christian villains and an intellectual hero? If so, Dan Brown’s thrillers (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons) wouldn’t have drawn hundreds of millions at the box-office. I think the answer is more complex than that. It is partially the fault of a timid distribution market, afraid of courting controversy (or at least the wrong kind of controversy), which allowed the film to wait in limbo for months. I also think the nature of the “Christian villains” is significant. It isn’t a few elites pulling strings and hatching evil plans, “Agora” certainly has those but it also shows Christian mobs killing pagans and Jews. It holds up a piece of history that many would like to forget, when the persecuted minority, now risen to power, started inflicting its own evils on the wider world.

The article ends with a note that “Agora” is “a warning of what happens when a single religious authority seizes total state power”, so it’s little wonder it’s not drawing crowds from the demographics who think we are indeed a “Christian nation”, and yearn for the primacy of Christian morality. So I fear I’ll have to wait for the DVD to see this film with the message a bit too prickly for mass public consumption.

A Biography of Sybil Leek: The Orlando Sentinel’s religion blog reports that a biography of Sybil Leek, one of the world’s most famous Witches, is being published. Leek was the prototype “media” Witch, appearing on Johnny Carson and in hundreds of other television programs and newspaper articles.

“Christine Jones, 73, of Satellite Beach,  says she wrote Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows as a tribute to the woman she says was a teacher and a warm and gentle friend. “She was like Mother Earth,” Jones said. Leek was one of the most famous practitioners of Wicca, a pagan faith sometimes known as Witchcraft or Craft. She made hundreds of television appearances in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s and wrote dozens of books, including Diary of a Witch. She even reportedly was an astrologer for former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Leek died in 1982 in Melbourne Beach. Jones said she met Leek in the 1970s, after an out-of-body experience led her to contact Leek for help understanding what had happened to her. After moving to Florida in 1977, Jones, then a nurse, studied one-on-one with Leek — the last such student, Jones said. The biography, which Jones said took her several years to write, is a personal look at a woman who was simultaneously larger than life and “so normal.”

You can pre-order the book at Pendraig Publishing. I suspect you’ll also be able to order it through Amazon soon enough as well. Biographies are a rare thing within our communities, so I’ll always welcome one more.

Equal Reactions to An Atheist Prime Minister? Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars looks at religious reactions to the ascension of a female atheist, Julia Gillard, to Australia’s highest office. In his mind the rantings of Christian fire-breather Danny Nalliah (who I’ve mentioned here before) are equal to a rather more peaceful reaction by local Wiccans.

Pastor Danny Nalliah of the Catch the Fire Ministries. He claims that a godless Gillard is out to ”destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage,” outlaw worship altogether and turn Australia into another ”Communist China” … Melbourne witch and high priestess Lizzy Rose and her coven will invite Ms Gillard’s energy into their magic circle to speak about ”her intentions of where she is taking the country”. Ms Rose says her divinations ”will prove to us whether Julia is going to govern through ego or through her heart space”. If Ms Gillard, an avowed atheist, passes the ”heart-space” test, Ms Rose says she’ll get the endorsement of her Order of Wisdom, Learning and Light. ”We’re not trying to recruit her against her will,” she says. ”We see her as a high priestess anyway, regardless of her atheism.”

Now, I can see that an atheist might think both are equally loony. But Brayton goes on to call the Wiccans “creepy” and “every bit as bad as the egregious stupidity being offered by the fundamentalist Christians”. Really? Every bit as bad? One thinks Gillard is a devil who wants to impose Communist rule, and the other wants to speak to her energy body in a circle and honors her as a priestess, and those reactions are equatable? I mean, I get that he thinks all religion is crazy, but these reactions are not coming from the same place, or have the same intentions. In all honesty I think Lizzy Rose might have chosen to keep that ritual to herself, but she is harming no-one and is certainly not the provocateur that Nalliah is. To equate them is silly at best, and at worst drives wedges between atheists and other religious minorities that might find common cause.

Restoring Native Lands: The latest issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating feature on how several Native American Tribes are reversing years of environmental abuse on their ancestral homes, restoring the lands that were once taken from them.

“In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana became the first in the nation to set aside tribal land—92,000 acres of the Flathead Reservation’s mountains and meadows—as wilderness. Since then, the Nez Perce have acquired 16,286 acres of ancestral lands in northeast Oregon that they will manage solely to benefit fish and wildlife. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in northeastern Montana are working to bring back bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. In Minnesota the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, have restored a ravaged walleye population at Red Lake. And on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona the threatened Apache trout is finding a new home, and the forest is now managed with ecology, not just lumber, in mind.”

There has been much talk lately on how Pagans can be leaders and agents of change regarding our current environmental problems, perhaps the quiet good stewardship of these tribal nations can become a model for our own modest lands. An ethic of responsibility and interconnectedness.

Revival of Folk Religion in China? NPR has been running a series on religion in China, and today’s segment on All Things Considered is supposed to cover the revival of folk religions in that country. Here’s a small bit about that subject in the introductory segment from July 18th.

Across China, religious belief has blossomed and flourished — far outpacing the government’s framework to control it — with a profusion of charismatic movements and a revival in traditional Chinese religions. Two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious in the 2006 survey said they were Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of folk gods such as the Dragon King or the God of Fortune. Another popular goddess is Mazu, who is believed to protect sailors. Although she is included in the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons, she — and many other indigenous popular gods — falls outside China’s five official religions. However, the worship of Mazu recently has been reclassified as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice, making it acceptable even for Communist Party members. Academics say that model is being used elsewhere in China for other indigenous folk religions. There are also government attempts to support traditional Chinese practices such as ancestor worship, by changing the public holidays. In 2009, the government declared the Qingming Festival — the traditional day for sweeping graves — a public holiday for the first time, allowing much larger numbers of people to sweep their ancestral graves. “Now the government supports us,” says Shao Longshan, his cheeks still tear-stained after bowing deeply in front of the grave of his late wife, Zhu Jiefen, at a cemetery on the outskirts of Shanghai during the Qingming Festival in early April. “Not only does this let the people who are alive remember those who have gone, but [it allows us to] keep the Chinese traditions and culture.”

So be sure to tune in to your local NPR station and give a listen. The transcript will most likely be up tomorrow, here. What will a revival of indigenous religion in China mean for the future? A simple counter-balance, along with Buddhism and Taoism, to the growing influence of Christianity? Or will their be a new political consciousness among those who adhere to these deities? Will these believers form new ties outside of China with Pagan, Hindu, or indigenous groups?

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

Planning a trip to China? Want to see mythological sites associated with the Monkey King, Taoist trickster god Nezha, or Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy? Then you better do your homework ahead of time. It seems the lucrative tourist trade in China has spurred many communities into claiming to be the “hometown” of various legendary and mythological figures in order to profit, and the Chinese government isn’t too happy about this turn of events.

“The Ministry of Culture (MOC) and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) have called time on the controversial, and sometimes vulgar, competition of some local authorities claiming to be the hometowns of mythological and historical heroes, and even sometimes villains. The measure came after a host of news reports highlighting the disputes over the birthplaces of almost every renowned name in the country. According to a circular jointly released by the MOC and the SACH, local tourism and cultural heritage authorities are urged to restrain their appetite for exploiting the fame of well-known figures. What’s more, the commercial development of evildoers, no matter whether they are real, fictional or mythological, will be banned. The circular also criticized some local governments for competing to name their places as the hometowns of an eminent person in an effort to profit from tourism.”

However, the lure of tourist revenue seems to be trumping government admonitions against exploitation, and a total ban on utilizing “evildoers”. Two regions are currently competing to be the “home” of notorious folkloric adulterer Ximen Qing, one complete with an adultery-themed site.

“Both of them have proclaimed themselves the hometown of Ximen and each announced an ambitious investment plan to build sites celebrating his exploits. “It is improper for local authorities to use real or fictional figures to attract attention,” said Li Xiaocong, a history professor with Peking University.”

Of course, trying to stop towns and communities from laying claim to famous historical and legendary figures is like trying to grasp water. Just examine any tourist route in almost any country, and you’ll see a proliferation of “hometowns” and sites of heroic (or vile) deeds allegedly perpetrated on that very spot. I fear that a government that prides itself on control may find this task of regulating folklore a bit too big to handle.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

To start off, happy birthday to Rome, which was founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC. On that day a pagan festival ensues that some call the “Christmas of Rome”, and hundreds dress in traditional Roman military garb.

The ‘Natale di Roma’ includes parades, fireworks, banquets, and gladiator shows. For more information check out this Italian web site devoted to the holiday.

The Wall Street Journal shows that gods and goddesses can indeed change over time. Representatives and mediums of anticommunist ancestor deities residing in Taiwan are softening their stance towards China as political relations thaw between the two nations.

“…after being anti-China for decades, some of the gods around here are having a change of heart. At least that’s what their representatives say. The keeper of the temple of Lee Kuang-chi’en, a colonel in the Nationalist army who died fighting the Chinese in the 1940s, says Mr. Lee now wants to return to his homeland in peace. Su Ai-chih, a 67-year-old retiree and spiritual medium, says a woman who was drowned by Chinese soldiers and turned into a goddess has even asked believers for help in reconnecting with her family on the mainland. ‘The goddess possessed me and told me that she wanted to go home,’ she adds.”

This is a perfect illustration of polytheistic theology in action. Gods can change, practice can change, and those who do not change risk losing worship. There is no singular text or law holding these faiths in a static position.

“Fortunately, Chinese folk religion — a widely practiced mix of indigenous beliefs and elements of other religions — is remarkably forgiving. Not only does it often co-exist alongside other beliefs, its worshippers can create, discard or modify gods. That’s particularly true of gods who aren’t considered to be ling — effective or powerful. As ties between China and Taiwan improved, Kinmen’s anticommunist gods started to lose their ling. ‘Chinese folk religion doesn’t have a scripture, so everyone has his way of interpreting a god,’ says Chi Chang-hui, an anthropologist on Kinmen who has studied anticommunist cults. ‘And nowadays, that is less hostile to the mainland.'”

The gods and worshipers remain, but to survive in different eras, they adapt and adjust (or they fade away). A common event throughout the history of polytheism, one that can seem alien to those growing up in a culture dominated by a “religion of the book”.

If you think the myth of “The Burning Times” is overblown and harmful, wait till you start to explore the Christian persecution complex. A “discursive entity”, according to Professor Elizabeth A. Castelli, “impervious to critique, self-generating and self-sustaining.”

“This trend mobilizes the language of religious persecution to shut down political debate and critique by characterizing any position not in alignment with this politicized version of Christianity as an example of antireligious bigotry and persecution. Moreover, it routinely deploys the archetypal figure of the martyr as a source of unquestioned religious and political authority.”

The article is wide-ranging and covers a growing spiritual militarism within Christianity that is fueled by a deep-seated (though often illusory) sense of persecution. The Reveler web site offers only an excerpt, for the entire article head over to the Differences journal page, where you can download the entire piece, along with several related works.

Speaking of “The Burning Times”, Christian blogger John Morehead interviews Christopher S. Mackay about his brand new translation of the infamous “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Hammer of Witches”). A tome that is blamed for enabling the execution of thousands of innocent men and women for the crime of “witchcraft”.

“I’d say that the Malleus was responsible for the acceptance of a new “paradigm” (in the sense advocated by Thomas Kuhn) about witchcraft. That is, the dissemination and widespread acceptance of the point of view (or world view) that underlay and instigated the so-called “craze” of witch hunting in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries can be attributed (ultimately) to the Malleus.”

The new version, which is apparently far more coherent and readable than previous translations, gives us a means of understanding how this establishment of “diabolism” (Satanic witchcraft) still lingers in our world today, and helped inform such tragedies as the “Satanic panics” of the 80s and early 90s. An important text to have, though I think I’ll wait for the soft-cover edition, since the two-volume hardcover runs for several hundred dollars.

Over at “Blog o’ Gnosis”, Anne Hill criticizes efforts by Reclaiming to reach out to racial minorities in order to make the group more “diverse”. Hill questions why the organization should be on a diversity recruitment drive when they don’t even have their own “house” in order.

“…the obsession with proselytizing, I mean bringing in new blood – no, I mean reaching out to others who could be helped by people like us. As several people at my table mentioned, other religions are not diverse, and they seem to have no problem with it. Wasn’t the point of a spiritual community to give aid to its members? Why were we even discussing strategies for bringing different kinds of people in, when we were gathered for a rare opportunity to meet each other face to face? It was at this point that I had to point out the essential backwardness of our discussion topic. Reclaiming is insular. Painfully so, embarrassingly so. We really needed to be asking the opposite question: why don’t we get out more? Why aren’t more of us involved in interfaith activities? There’s plenty of diversity there, but that would involve going to meet others rather than reeling them in to us. Why don’t more folks even make the trek to San Jose for Pantheacon each year? Isn’t there anything we can learn from other Pagans?”

The issue of expanding racial diversity (and similar issues) is, according to Hill, a “red herring” that prevents Reclaiming from working through deep divisions that already exist within the community. A state of affairs that has distanced several Reclaiming veterans from the tradition they helped create.

In a quick final note, a Llewellyn Journal article tells you what you really need to do.

“The only thing that we as new magi
ckians really need to do is rely on a made-by-reputation company like Llewellyn Publications, because nothing is as easy as it seems.”

Indeed, nothing is as easy as it seems.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

“As I have always said, unity and stability under brute force is at best a temporary solution. It is unrealistic to expect unity and stability under such a rule and would therefore not be conducive to finding a peaceful and lasting solution.”His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

Since March 10th (Tibetan Uprising Day) peaceful protests, and later riots, have broken out in Tibet. The Chinese government, which has controlled Tibet since their 1951 invasion, confirms between 7-10 dead though internal sources say the death toll is much higher. Meanwhile Tibetans and their supporters around the world have engaged in protests and actions in solidarity with those marching in Tibet.


Picture of protesters in Tibet.

“Hundreds of Tibetan exiles pressed ahead Tuesday with a march from northern India to their Himalayan homeland, defying a police ban on the demonstration against Beijing’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics … It was one of several events launched around the world Monday by Tibetans commemorating their 1959 uprising against China. … Walking single file, waving Tibetan flags and holding aloft pictures of the Dalai Lama and Indian pacifist icon Mohandas K. Gandhi, some 350 exiles followed the road down from the mountains toward the plains of northern India.”

The US ambassador to China and the EU have urged China to show “restraint” in dealing with the Tibetan protesters, while China has blamed the “sabotage” on a small “Dalai clique”. Tibet’s chief administrator Champa Phunstok claims that the protests are “really nothing” and that “everything is really great.”

“Asked about the march, Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, “Some ignorant monks in Lhasa abetted by a small handful of people did some illegal things that can challenge the social stability.” He said monks were dealt with “according to the law,” but gave no details.”

Yes, we wouldn’t want to give details, not when the upcoming Beijing Olympics are so close. After all, the Olympic torch is passing through Tibet, and we wouldn’t want that marred with talk of human rights abuses. Even the current administration in America seems ready to look the other way, as the State Department drops China from their list of the top ten human rights violators.

“Perhaps it’s because President George W. Bush really wants to go to the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer that China has been dropped from Washington’s list of the top 10 countries violating human rights. There’s nothing in the 63 pages in the annual State Department report on human rights in 190 countries to suggest China has been dropped from the top 10 on merit.”

Anyone familiar with China’s human-rights record knows that China has been brutally suppressing religious freedom for generations. This includes the indigenous faith traditions of China, various Christian denominations, Falun Dafa, and Buddhism. While some (State-controlled) religious freedom has been allowed in recent years, any faith seen as a political threat (that being any faith not controlled and overseen by China) is targeted as an enemy of the government. This is especially true of Tibetan Buddhism which China has been trying to subvert and control in a variety of ways in order to quell all remaining dissent in their occupation of Tibet.

I urge Pagans concerned about the religious freedom and human rights violations happening in Tibet* to consider participating in acts of solidarity on behalf of the Tibetan people. You can send a letter to Olympics organizers asking them to urge China to respect the values of the Olympic Truce. You can send a letter to the UN urging them to take action on behalf of the imprisoned Panchen Lama. You can urge your government officials to back a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, or give your support to Team Tibet.

* For ongoing updates on the Tibetan uprising and connected protests, I would suggest checking out the Phayul.com web site.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 8, 2008 — 2 Comments

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Yesterday was the Chinese New Year (the year of the Rat), and April Rabkin of Slate.com details how China’s Communist government has worked over the years to eliminate Taoist and indigenous religious traditions associated with the holiday.

“Perhaps the most significant blow to Chinese New Year was the government’s decision to forbid the annual burning of the Kitchen God, whose paper effigy hung above the stove … for more than 50 years, the Kitchen God’s effigy has been censored material. While low-ranking gods like the Lords of the Door, who guard courtyard gates and inner doorways, were more tolerated, the Kitchen God was not. In the more traditional countryside, peasants evaded censors by printing the Kitchen God at home on crude wooden blocks. But many young Beijingers I recently asked had never heard of the Kitchen God. Others laughed sheepishly, as if he were a national embarrassment – the equivalent of still believing in Santa Claus as an adult.”

Some Chinese are hopeful that Hu Jintao’s recent announcement concerning an easing towards Marxist attitudes on religion might translate into allowing a return to more traditional forms of New Year’s celebrations. However, it remains to be seen if the Chinese government, long an enemy of religious freedom, will truly change course on this matter or if it is simply a public-relations gesture.

Turning from China to Venezuela, the Associate Press reports that an influx of Cubans into the country has helped spur a rising interest in Santeria.

“[Santeria] rituals have become an attractive option for Venezuelans seeking a unique spiritual path, including healing ceremonies aimed at curing everything from illness to heartache. Some even believe certain gods will offer protection from Venezuela’s rampant violent crime. The surge in Santeria, which is practiced by many in Cuba, can partly be explained by the arrival of thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has been providing Cuba with subsidized oil in exchange for thousands of physicians who come to the South American country to treat poor people … The Santeria movement nowadays cuts across racial groups and class lines and includes lawyers and other professionals as well as the unemployed among its adherents. In spite of rapid economic growth propelled by Venezuela’s key oil industry, people here face problems from crime and inflation.”

The article also mentions the local folk religion surrounding the Indian goddess Maria Lionza (a subject this blog has covered before), which has also been flourishing under the reign of President Hugo Chavez. For more on Venzuela, check out Slate.com’s recent travelogue of the country.

On the political front, American’s United has issued a statement calling on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to reject a federal court nominee partially because of his hostile stance towards minority religions.

“On Feb. 12, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider the nomination of Richard H. Honaker to the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. The Rock Springs, Wyo., attorney promotes the idea that the U.S. Constitution creates a Christian nation and that government need not remain neutral on religion … [AU executive director Rev. Barry W. Lynn] argued that Honaker has also shown a striking callousness to minority faiths. The Wyoming lawyer has suggested that democracy and freedom prosper only because of Christianity and that other faiths pose a danger to such freedom. ‘A judge with such an opinion of minority faiths is unlikely to be able to fairly and objectively adjudicate issues affecting their freedoms and rights,’ wrote Lynn.”

I doubt anyone is surprised that George W. Bush has nominated a judge who has an “abrasive” view of non-Christian faiths. Honaker’s appointment to the federal bench would be completely detrimental to the health and safety of minority (non-Christian) religions in the United States. Let us hope that the Democrat-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee (chaired by Patrick J. Leahy) shows some backbone concerning this appointment.

The satirical site Avant News has spoofed John McCain’s recent troubles with Republican-party conservatives by claiming he burned a Witch in order to get into their good graces.

“Republican presidential candidate John McCain burned a witch yesterday outside his campaign headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, in a gesture some political analysts believe was intended to dispel accusations by rivals that the political veteran may possess dangerously moderate tendencies.”

The “quote” from Rush Limbaugh about the Witch-burning was a real treat.

The Cedar Creek Pilot interviews Chad Owens, author of the recently published “Working For Death”. Owens, who wrote the book while recuperating from a car accident, talks about his religious journey from conservative Christianity to Paganism.

“In high school, I preached under the conservative Church of Christ,” Owens said. “But I didn’t know the person in the mirror. So I walked for a month – Dallas, Mississippi, Tennessee, San Antonio, Austin. Then I did a series of articles against the church on online boards and posts under an assumed name, Adrian Gray. I?have pagan beliefs now. There are many different beliefs out there, but the point is, we all have beliefs and argue about them, but we’re all here on Earth in the same boat, living and trying to find our place.”

The profile doesn’t delve further into what Owens’ “pagan” beliefs are, but apparently his book details a war in the “realm of the gods”. Which seems to hint at a predilection towards polytheism.

The Revealer looks at the beginning of a backlash against the spiritually self-centered book phenomena that is “Eat, Pray. Love”.

“They’re the victims of Gilbert’s spiritual snake oil as surely as fans of The Secret or Joel Osteen’s prosperity gospel who’re encouraged to respond to economic woes with magical thinking. No health insurance? Forced to work double shifts? Can’t afford enough heat? The problem, dear reader, is spiritual, not material. Join a union? Forget it. Work with a church group to demand legislative change? Stop worrying so much. All you need is love, and 15 bucks for a paperback to read on the train.”

Oh, Oprah Winfrey, so much to answer for.

In a final note, the Feri community has produced a CD of poetry to help Feri co-founder Cora Anderson with her medical and care costs.

“Here is a sneak peek at the CD of Victor Anderson’s poetry that I am using as a “Thank You” gift for donors to the Corafund (like PBS pledge gifts). I will have a limited number of the CDs at Pantheacon at Anaar’s booth in the dealer’s room. For Pantheacon, the CDs will be a gift for donors to the fund who donate at least $10. After Pantheacon I will be sending out CDs to people who currently subscribe to recurring monthly donations and to those who have donated $20 or more in the last 2 months. However, the idea going forward is to use the CD to encourage new donors to subscribe to the recurring donations. More details later.”

Among those reading Victor Anderson’s poetry for the CD are T. Thorn Coyle, Sharon Knight, and Storm Faerywolf. It looks like an amazing collector’s item that also benefits a very worthy cause.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!