Archives For Colorado

On Jan. 1 Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize the open sale of recreational marijuana and the first state to regulate the plant from seed to sale. In November 2012 residents voted to legalize cannabis and the state’s legislature added Amendment 64 to its constitution. Over a year later, the stage was set for 36 retail outlets to open for business with 160 more waiting in the wings.

Photo courtesy of Flickr's Coleen Danger

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Coleen Danger

Today we take a look at Colorado’s landmark decision. Did Colorado make the right choice? Have there been any unforeseen consequences? Will other states follow? With differing voices from around the country and from different minority faiths, we’ll consider the standing issues facing Colorado and the nation.

PGPT_TThornCoyle_bio

T. Thorn Coyle

According to a 2011 FBI Report, “The trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs in the United States create an enormous drain on the economic, physical, and social health of American society. In 2007 alone, the estimated cost of illicit drug use to society was $193 billion.” Of all drug-arrests, 50% are for the possession or sale marijuana alone. The media calls the war on drugs “a trillion dollar failure.”

Pagan author and teacher, T. Thorn Coyle, remarked:

I was raised by an alcoholic and saw firsthand the scourge of out of control drug use. Yet prohibition is not the answer. Treatment is the answer. I see my local communities ripped apart by the prison industrial complex and the increased militarization of police. I see more money poured into incarceration than education. This is not the society I wish to uphold…Decriminalizing or legalizing drugs will go a long way toward solving many of our social ills. 

Tata Christopher Bradford

Tata Christopher Bradford

Agreeing, Tata Christopher Bradford said, “For too long these sort of drug laws have been used to press and terrorize minority populations. Any law that takes away one of those tools is fine by me.”

Colorado native, Peter Dybing adds, “In my work at a local Detox unit we no longer accept admissions based on THC intoxication. This policy is a direct reflection of the fact that marijuana use in itself poses no significant safety risks.”

While those arguments alone maybe compelling, the pros of legalization extend well-beyond recreational usage – most notably, its medicinal benefits. Twenty states and the District of Columbia currently allow the use of medicinal marijuana. Denver Asatru resident Kristen Sherman began using medical marijuana after surgery when traditional medications weren’t possible. She says, “The green medicine has helped me a great deal. It’s not perfect, but I do have increased mobility and am able to sleep better at night as I am not in as much pain.”

chas

Chas Clifton

There is also a lesser-known ecological benefit to cannabis legalization. Colorado Native Chas Clifton explains marijuana’s low-THC cousin, Hemp, is “a low-pesticide, lower-water-use crop with many uses.” In March, Colorado will begin registering Hemp producers as part of the new laws. Last October a Colorado farmer became the first to harvest Hemp in the United States in 57 years.

Despite all these positives, implementation has not quite been as simple as waving a magic wand. The reversal of such long-standing legislation, rife with cultural baggage and bias, comes with many hurdles. Chas stated it best when he wrote on his blog, “There is a lot to sort out here.”

The biggest obstacle stems from the fact that marijuana is still illegal at the federal level. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently called Colorado laws “reckless and irresponsible.” Due to this legal discrepancy, many banks refuse to work with the retail shops for fear of federal prosecution. These legally registered Colorado retail stores are currently forced to operate as cash-only businesses with all the associated stigmas and dangers. To assist, the state allows store and dispensary owners to store firearms in their facilities.

Kristen Sherman, owner of Denver's Belle Memorie

Kristen Sherman

Another major concern is the underground market which is not projected to go away anytime soon. A dealer told the Pueblo Chieftan, “When the novelty wears off, people will be tired of having to go to the stores and paying much higher prices for the same weed. Street dealers will charge less, and we deliver, just like (pizza joints).”

Another byproduct of Colorado’s changing legislation has been the discovery of large-scale illegal marijuana cultivation operations in its national forests. The Forestry Service has been fighting this particular battle since 2009. Chas Clifton explains, “Illegal growers on public lands…pollute streams with fertilizer and pesticide, leave a mess, and threaten other users of that land with physical violence, sometimes resulting in death.” The illegally grown product is reportedly being shipped east and sold in states where use is still criminalized.

Finally Wild Hunt Columnist Crystal Blanton, who is professional social worker and registered addiction specialist in California, remarks, “Professionals in the field are very concerned about the impact of legalization on addiction. There are a lot of new studies addressing the [effects] of marijuana on the body and correlations with addictive patterns.”  She points out that all cannabis cannot be treated equally.  There are differences.

These are only a few of the obstacles that need addressing. Is all of this worth it? Kristen Sherman believes it is. She said, “[Legalization] has a bit of a struggle from the anti-drug lobby, and has quite a way to go before acceptance is the norm… Those who use marijuana are often vilified or portrayed as lazy stoners who sit on their couches all day munching on Doritos… We have over 60 years of prohibition and misinformation to chip away at.”

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

Tata Christopher Bradford agrees saying, “The potential marijuana has as a medicine makes it very important that we legalize it throughout the country. Let’s hope this move is just the beginning.”

After recently moving back to his home state, Peter Dybing was “surprised to see open cultivation and usage among friends.” He adds, “These new laws reflect what professionals in the field have been saying for years. The former THC laws waist money, time, legal and mental health resources and represent a poor prioritization of community efforts.

T. Thorn Coyle adds, “Prohibitionists cling to Calvinist morality, which leads us to a deeper question: why is our pluralist society being run by Puritan morals? I ask that as a person who sees direct evidence of the harm the War on Drugs has done. I ask that as a Pagan.” She adds, “I am very heartened by the ruling in Colorado. I hope it spreads.”

Link

Link

Link, a Witch living in Miami Beach, Florida, said:

We tend to look at changes in laws … as isolated events. But those [events] work together to become … parts of a larger story.This story tells of a society waking up and sorting through all the outdated laws it has inherited from past generations, some dating back to biblical times. Civil rights, women’s rights, legal divorce, immigration reform, legal abortion, birth control, religious freedoms, reformed marriage laws and – most recently – the legalization of marijuana all recognize that personal freedoms outweighs the archaic repression of the past.  Hopefully this trend will continue, and we will examine what other laws criminalize very normal parts of life.

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker

Suretha Thacker, solitary Wiccan from Georgia, believes the growing interest in full legalization will continue. She says, “I do feel that other states will adapt similar laws after seeing how Colorado and Washington handle any issues that arise. Especially if the high taxes raised from the purchase of marijuana products contribute equitably to the state.”

Where does your state stand?  Here are just a few state policy changes being made or considered since Jan. 1 2014.

  • For more information on Colorado’s new laws, see NORML’s list of Doobie-Dos.
  • In Washington, recreational pot is legal and retail stores are set to open later this year.
  • Alaska residents submitted a petition to put “recreational marijuana” on this year’s ballot.
  • Michigan is moving slowly toward legalization and protecting the hemp industry.
  • In Florida, signatures are being gathered to put a “medicinal marijuana” referendum on the ballot this year. The legislature may introduce a bill sooner.
  • The District of Columbia will be considering a measure to decriminalize recreational marijuana.
  • Pennsylvania Senate introduced a medicinal marijuana bill last week.
  • New Hampshire’s House “passes recreational marijuana” legislation.
  • Missouri’s governor approved the “legalization initiatives for signature-gathering.”
  • Maryland legislators will simultaneously face a bill to legalize marijuana and a bill to decriminalize it.
  • West Virginia and Georgia law makers have reportedly begun investigating the possibility of introducing medicinal marijuana.
  • New York Governor Cuomo has allowed limited medical marijuana in designated hospitals.

On March 19th, 2013, a man who officials believe to be Evan Ebel went to the home of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and assassinated him in his doorway. The alleged killer, shot dead during a high-speed chase, was a member of a white supremacist prison gang, and officials are still trying to determine whether this was an ordered “hit” on behalf of a client, or if it stemmed from some personal motivation. The nature of the murder shocked many, and garnered national attention due to a recent rash of law enforcement assassinations. Now, as the Colorado Department of Corrections releases more documents relating to Ebel, we now discover that he considered himself a Heathen, and made a complaint relating to acquiring religious literature.

Evan Ebel

Evan Ebel

“New documents released by the Colorado Department of Corrections show the man believed to have killed Colorado Prison Chief Tom Clements practiced a controversial form of religion behind bars. While behind bars before he became a murder suspect, Evan Ebel adopted a religion that is popular among white supremacists. In documents filed with the Department of Corrections he complains about religious literature that was taken from his cell. That literature was related to what’s called Asatru; Ebel called it his official religion.”

That was from a CBS Denver affiliate, who also interviewed Valgard Murray of the Asatru Alliance.

“You cannot practice the religion of Asatru and be a hateful, bigoted person. It’s just not part of our value system.”

The only other news outlet that has noticed Ebel’s religion (so far) is The Colorado Independent, which mention it in the context of a number of grievances he had made while incarcerated in solitary confinement.

“The subjects of his grievances included problems sending and receiving mail and DOC’s decision not to let a woman visit him on grounds that her driver’s license wasn’t valid. Ebel complained about what he called inadequate medical treatment for a knee problem, tremors and spasms, intestinal issues, a colostomy bag and a persistent eye infection. He grieved that the prison censored his “Resistance” magazines, a publication popular among white supremacists. And he decried the confiscation of his literature about Asatru, a faith based on Northern European white lineage that Ebel listed as his religion. He complained about the cost of canteen items, and the lack of food products with protein for sale to prisoners. He grieved about his laundry going missing.”

While Ebel was certainly a troubled and violent individual who had earned his time in prison, some are now questioning whether the treatment Ebel was given pushed him over the edge. Unbalanced to a point where he was completely unready for freedom, once given, and filled with a rage he could not control.

“Anderson’s long history of mental illness and the 16 years he has spent in so-called administrative segregation were the subject of a federal lawsuit against the Department of Corrections, which he won in September. Anderson sued the state for depriving him of sunlight, fresh air and mental health treatment, including medications that would help him earn his way out of isolation. The prison’s refusal to provide outdoor exercise to prisoners at the facility amounted to what U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson ruled was cruel and unusual punishment.”

Ebel himself requested help in transitioning to the outside world, requests that were denied on procedural grounds.

“Do you have an obligation to the public to reacclimate me, the dangerous inmate, to being around other human beings prior to being released and, if not, why?”

No doubt some will use the revelations of Ebel’s religion as further proof of a racist and violent ideology, but I see it as a tragic and lost opportunity. What if Ebel had access to regular chaplaincy services from an reputable Asatru organization dedicated to helping him reintegrate?  Could the alleged murders he committed, and his own death, have been avoided given proper medical treatment and counseling from leaders in his chosen faith? Perhaps Ebel was too twisted by his gang affiliations, and his own instability, to have been helped, but would it have hurt to allow him supervised religious fellowship? Individuals who loved that same gods, but rejected the violent and racist path he had traveled?

This is not a “bleeding heart” argument, but a pragmatic one. If prison merely makes murders, rapists, and other criminals more hardened, more entwined with criminal organizations, then how can we ever expect to make society better by sending hundreds of thousands of men and women there each year? It is common sense to want prisoners to be rehabilitated, and one method is to allow more robust access to minority religion chaplains. To give them a lifeline that is not tied to gangs or extremist ideology.

According to available data, there could be as many as 40,000 modern Pagans currently incarcerated in the United States and more than a third of prisons say their Pagan populations are growing. Yet the vast majority of prison chaplains are Christian, and of that number an impressive 44% are Evangelical Christians. If we are to reach these troubled Pagans and Heathens behind bars we must advocate for better access, equal treatment behind bars, and build better chaplaincy-building infrastructures within our own communities. If we don’t we will simply revisit the accusations that Pagan faiths in prison are tied to extremism, and lurid details to flesh out tabloid reporting, each time a crime is committed by a former inmate.

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.

Journalist Barbara Dreaver

Journalist Barbara Dreaver

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.

To start off my first column for the newly independent The Wild Hunt, I’d like to thank Jason Pitzl-Waters for letting me be a part of this valuable, community-supported news source. I believe in the work being done here, and it’s an honor to be blogging beside so many talented, thoughtful writers. I look forward to bringing the spirit of dialogue present on my blog, Bishop In The Grove, to my columns here at TWH.

_________________

When I wrote “I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride,” I had no idea it would elicit the response that it did. With over 100 comments, several thousand page views, and shares galore on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, this subjective account of my experience at Denver’s 2012 Pagan Pride Day event made waves through the community.

The dialogue generated around this post offered me new perspectives on the meaning of casting circle, the challenges of public ritual, and the possibility of a mythology of victimhood within the Pagan community. But there was one perspective missing: that of the person leading the PPD ritual, Joy Burton.

joyburton

Joy Burton, eclectic Wiccan priestess and founder and president of Living Earth, a Neo-Pagan open circle and church in the south Denver area.

I interviewed Joy via email with the intent to allow her the chance to voice her perspective without revision. Below is the full interview, unedited.

_________________

Thank you for your willingness to speak with me, Joy. Could you tell us a little about yourself, and about the Living Earth Center?

I’ve been an eclectic Wiccan priestess for about 20 years, with strong Reclaiming influences. I helped start Pagan Picnic in St. Louis, and have been advocating for and active in the Pagan community ever since.  I’m part of an open circle in the south metro area of Denver called Living Earth. We started in 2006 and now we have about 700 members of varying Pagan traditions. We offer a national-scale Pagan festival and musicfest called Beltania every May, hold regular Sabbats and Esbats, and this winter we’ll be celebrating our one-year anniversary at Living Earth Center.

The Center is our small but much-loved church facility and community center at Holly and Evans in Denver, hosting about 20 rituals, classes, workshops, drum circles, and other events per month. Other groups and individuals are welcomed at Living Earth Center to hold their own events and rituals too.

Community service has always been important to us, and since we’ve had our own facility, our outreach activities (called the Hand2Hand Project) have expanded to include more charitable giving, a food bank, and helping our elders and those with disabilities. We have a winter clothing drive going on now. We even have our own church bowling league raising funds for the food bank.

How would you describe Denver’s Pagan community?

Living Earth

The people I have met through Living Earth have been some of the kindest, most generous and caring people I have ever met. These are people with some really big hearts, great ideas, and are movers and shakers who have accomplished so much. They don’t just talk about creating community, they do it. There’s a willingness I see now to try new things, and connect outside their comfort zones in meaningful ways. I think Denver has reached a “critical mass” of people who want not only to be Pagan but also to create connections, develop infrastructure, and offer their gifts, time, and talents to the community.

The Denver Pagan community is growing exponentially, with more families and children now being raised Pagan than ever before. The Denver community has a high number of veterans, I’ve noticed. It’s also an aging community, with a greater need for community services and support for our elders. I worry about the disconnect in parts of our community between the older generations and newcomers.

We have a lot more people willing to be open now about being Pagan, and more mainstream acceptance of Paganism than ever before. You’re just as likely to see a khakis-wearing math teacher as a silver jewelry-bedecked hippie type in a cloak. So in that sense we are more diverse than ever. I’m seeing more people wanting to lend a hand and help their neighbors.

And like any other faith community, the Denver Pagan community is full of very human people. We are striving, like any other group, to more fully manifest our ideals of compassion, wisdom, honor, love, and so much more.

“I Felt Ashamed At Pagan Pride,” received a huge response. My post was a one-sided account, and completely subjective. Could you offer your account of what the Pagan Pride Day ritual was like?

Well at this point I think there’s been enough subjective accounting of the ritual. I just don’t see the benefit to it. I have no interest in negating anyone’s experience. If there were any less-than-ideal circumstances at that time, I would not use this forum to criticize the Pagan Pride Day organizers who so graciously invited us to lead the ritual.

I honor your experience and your right to share that experience in the forum of your choosing. I honor the homeless person who could not contain their verbal remarks which came across as heckling, and the several other homeless folks we were blessed to meet and also offer some food and water that day too. I honor the people walking through and skateboarding in the park, the man who wanted a cigarette, and their right to be there. I honor the Pagans who boldly stepped into the center that day to choose to participate in a ritual for all to see, and also those who chose not to participate.  I honor the learning experience so many of us are having as a result of Pagan Pride and the conversations afterward.

I can’t remember any ritual, public or private, where there was a consensus in critiquing it. Where one person is turned off, another is deeply moved. Where one person is uncomfortable with casting a circle, another would think it necessary and important. That’s why we are so blessed to have such a diversity of faith traditions, groups, and practices here in Denver throughout the year and at Pagan Pride Day’s multitude of workshops, booths, and rituals.

On occasion, as I move through our community, I find myself in a ritual that isn’t comfortable for me or I sense something isn’t quite going as planned.  In any case, I consider it my responsibility as a priestess and guest to prepare myself with centering and grounding, create my own connection to Spirit, and hold myself in a state of grace as an example for others. I also make a point of send positive energies to assist in a productive fashion. All of this can be done without saying a word. When we purposefully act in support of each other, it becomes not just the leaders’ ritual but everyone’s ritual, and our community is strengthened.

I really appreciate your emphasis on being a positive force within the community. How would you encourage people to serve in that capacity in their individual cities? How does one begin? 

Diana's GroveI would encourage anyone wanting a more positive community to read Diana’s Grove Cornerstones of Community by Cynthea Jones.  I didn’t discover the Cornerstones of Community until recent years, but they so accurately capture what I had to learn the hard way and what I’ve observed in those who make a difference in this world.

The five cornerstones include Choice, Thinking Well of the Group, Thinking Well of Yourself, Stewardship of the Self, and The Sacred Wound. We can make the choice to be the change we want to see in the world…or not.  Our very presence in this community is a choice. Thinking Well of the Group invites us to choose a new default attitude and behavior towards people that honors and respects them rather than assuming the worst and demonizing them when things aren’t as we expect or desire.  And if we don’t think well of ourselves, it’s difficult to think well of others and be a positive influence in the community. When we are stewards over our lives, we have a responsibility and obligation to fully manifest what we are called to do.  And lastly, we need to make our wounds sacred.  There isn’t a single one of us who isn’t wounded from our past experiences.  We can allow our wounds to be our teachers and agents of growth instead of allowing them to paralyze us.

A positive, healthy, open, giving community starts inside of each person.

_________________

Many thanks to Joy for this interview. She’s been nothing but kind to me.

I ask you, TWH readers:

If you were a part of that first conversation on BITG, does knowing Joy’s perspective change the way you read that post? Did her answers leave you with new questions?

What do you think about the ”Cornerstones of Community?”

Just some quick updates on stories previously discussed here on The Wild Hunt.

More Discussion on Exorcism and Demonic Influences: Last week I took issue with Patheos Catholic columnist Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who made the argument that Aurora, Colorado killer James Holmes may have been demonically possessed. Now, Religion News Service has picked up the story, bringing this controversial view to a much wider audience.

“Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes — a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.”

Meanwhile, other Catholics, like  About.com’s Scott P. Richert, are doubling down on the demonic “infestation” scenario, referencing Ouija board use in the 1973 film “The Exorcist” as an accurate portrayal of how possession begins.

Troubling Expansion of the Ministerial Exception? At the beginning of this year I wrote about the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The ruling established that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist. Now, Religion Clause reports on two linked ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that says the exception applies even when faculty at a seminary aren’t even of the same religion.

“Because Kant’s primary duties involved teaching religious-themed courses at a seminary, his position was one that prepared students for Christian ministry…. Given his position as a faculty member teaching at a seminary, Kant’s personal views are not determinative of the function he served. Rather, we review the function of his position: teaching future Christian ministers primarily on Judeo-Christian subjects and culture. Kant’s personal faith and beliefs do not clash with the actuality that the classes he taught at LTS were for the purpose of preparing future church leaders of the Christian faith.”

So a Jew can be considered a “minister” of a Christian seminary, so long as his role supports the institution’s goals. One wonders how this interpretation could be abused by organizations who want to evade litigation over a firing. More on this particular story, here.

The Olympics and Religion (and those dualistic Greeks): I recently linked to two articles that looked at the ancient (pagan) history of the Olympic games, now underway in London. Now, USA Today spotlights an editorial by Pastor Henry Brinton that also looks at religion and the games, specifically the Christians history of the modern games, and how “muscular Christianity” saved us from the dualism of the ancient Greeks.

“Ancient Greeks are partially to blame. While they provided the inspiration for the modern Games, they also created a dualistic philosophy that included antagonism between the physical and spiritual. Christians embraced this approach for many years, until muscular Christianity came along and people began to reclaim the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. [...] As for the Olympics, perhaps the opening ceremonies should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations. Most of the world’s great faiths honor both body and spirit, and encourage health and vitality. This would correct the error made by the ancient Greeks, and would pay tribute to the religious leaders who made the modern Olympics possible. It could even inspire a few religious people to get off the couch and into the gym.”

I wish I could stamp a giant “citation needed” on these claims, because it sounds like revisionist triumphalism to me. Ancient Greeks may have believed in a physical world and a world of spirit, but that didn’t create an antagonism between the two realities. It sounds to me like Christians blaming Greek philosophy for their own shortcomings in how they adopted and adapted pagan thought. I’ll leave it to my philosophy and ancient Greece buffs to let me know if my suspicions are correct, or if Greek dualism really did create this antagonism Brinton claims.

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

Over in the Catholic section of Patheos, Fr. Dwight Longenecker explores the idea that James Holmes, responsible for 12 deaths in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting that happened last week, may have been demonically possessed. According to Longenecker, “demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction” that “maybe” afflicted Holmes.

James Holmes in court.

James Holmes in court.

“What makes a mild mannered, promising young scientist decide to arm himself to the teeth, walk into a suburban movie theater and start killing innocent people at random?”

What a tempting idea, that an external evil took control of Holmes and instigated his actions. That it was an embodiment of Evil itself that guided the hand of the shooter, gunning down innocent people. However, this idea is pernicious, particularly within a Christian context, and only serves to prop up a system of abuse that targets anyone who steps out of line with a narrow idea of Christian morality and behavior.

The idea of spirit possession is not unique to Catholicism, or Christianity in general, most religious cultures have a version of it, and many also have rituals of exorcism or appeasement when a possession happens. In some religious cultures, like Haitian Vodou, possession is part of a larger religious structure (and generally seen as a positive force). Yet, the Christian conception of demonic possession is unique in how exorcism is used as a form of boundary maintenance, a social-political tool to hammer those who stray from  proper behavior. This is hinted at in Longenecker’s essay.

“The second level of demonic influence is obsession. At this level, there is still no sign of anything paranormal happening. The person starts to give in to the temptation. He may become reclusive and secretive as he becomes obsessed with the evil that he is entertaining. This evil may be in the form of occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity, or obsession with power and violence.

In other words, if someone you love is gay, into kinky sex, likes to play video games, or is Pagan, they might already be influenced by demons (and, by inference, that can lead to terrible tragedies). This isn’t simply my interpretation, it’s an assertion that has been flatly stated by Catholic exorcists.

“Father Euteneuer does not speak as a theorist. Since 2003 he’s had extensive experience ministering to those possessed by demons … Father Euteneuer told mepossession is almost always a result of someone getting involved in some sort of occult practices, such as witchcraft, Wicca, tarot cards, and Ouiji boards. ”Harry Potter and these Twilight vampires glamorize the power of evil,” Father Eutenener explained, “and this has lead to many, many cases of possession among young people.” It may begin with a child or teenager simply “playing around” with the occult, but that seemingly harmless act is “opening a window” to possession.”

Of course, Father Euteneuer is embroiled in sex scandal, so the demons must have gotten to him, so lets turn to another source.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …”

That’s Catholic exorcist Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins). So he’s probably the most famous Catholic exorcist currently making the rounds. Thomas is also believer in Ritual Satanic Abuse, despite the fact that the moral panic that held sway during the 1980s and 90s produced no credible proof of a underground network of Satanic abusers. This is because exorcisms are tied to upheaval and crisis within a religious body, not to any definable war in the spiritual realm.

“Portable manuals detailing ever more elaborate and standardized rituals of exorcism proliferated during the papal schism of the 15th century, when two men claimed to be the rightful pope. The manuals surfaced again during the Protestant Reformation. “In general, exorcisms are associated with these turning-point moments when the church [feels] challenged in some way and tries to centralize power and clarify the delegation of authority from God down through the hierarchy,” [historian Nancy Caciola] says. The challenges now confronting the Catholic Church in the United States are legion: the sex abuse scandal, a secularizing society, and a restive flock that, studies show, loses one out of three adult Catholics, to name just a few.”

The reality is that when these exercises in centralizing power, and casting out heretics, is imported to other cultures the results can be catastrophic. When missionaries inserted Christian triumphalism and a spiritual warfare dynamics into traditional African beliefs about malefic magic, they created deadly consequences the missionaries could not (or would not) understand.

Missionaries have commonly responded [to witchcraft accusations] in two ways, said [Robert] Priest [professor of missions and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School]. The power of witches to harm others is dismissed as superstition, but this seldom persuades local Christians to abandon the concept; or the reality of witchcraft is endorsed by missionaries not wanting to be “post-Enlightenment rationalists” with a non-biblical skepticism of spiritual warfare.

The result is that traditional witch ideas are fused with Christian theology, which obscures the social consequences: Accused witches are often destitute or outcast, and thus socially defenseless. Instead of seeing old women or children as scapegoats, said Priest, Christian leaders suggest that witchcraft participates in genuine spiritual evil and that the accusations are reasonable. “The church is providing the cognitive underpinnings for the past system in the contemporary world.”

Again and again, we are shown that Christian exorcism and spiritual warfare, when applied to pluralistic or non-Christian cultures, spread a madness that can result in false imprisonments and death. If Catholics want to exorcise other willing Catholics, fine. Likewise, every religious tradition is free to negotiate with the numinous in whatever fashion works best for them, but when you start using these technologies as an external weapon, a dangerous line is crossed. No matter how reassuring it might be to think that a minion of Satan used a mortal form to slaughter those movie-goers, that this is why Holmes snapped suddenly and without warning, it does nothing but muddy the waters and push us further from what may have actually been going on in this man’s mind leading up to that fateful day.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker‘s essay is irresponsible and does more harm than good in an already tragic circumstance. He peddles the beliefs that fuel ex-witch narratives, passing it off as a possible explanation for those asking how this could have happened. The truth has always been that humanity needs no external spiritual help to do gross and inhumane things to one another, for reasons that can seem as opaque as this current case. We should collective reject any attempt to place a demonic possession narrative, especially a Catholic possession narrative, on these killings and instead focus on practical prevention and using our faith(s) to comfort those affected. Anything else is cynical, self-serving, and unneeded.

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.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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.

Top Story: On Saturday, I wrote about the impending enaction of a bill in Tennessee that could require schools to “teach the controversy” of evolution and global warming. Opposed by the ACLU, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute of Biological Sciences, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, it nonetheless was allowed to become law without the governor’s signature on Tuesday.

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

http://controversy.wearscience.com/

“Republican Gov. Bill Haslam allowed the controversial measure to become law without his signature and, in a statement, expressed misgivings about it. Nevertheless, he ignored pleas from educators, parents and civil libertarians to veto the bill. The law does not require the teaching of alternatives to scientific theories of evolution, climate change and “the chemical origins of life.” Instead, it aims to prevent school administrators from reining in teachers who expound on alternative hypotheses to those topics. The measure’s primary sponsor, Republican state Sen. Bo Watson, said it was meant to give teachers the clarity and security to discuss alternative ideas to evolution and climate change that students may have picked up at home and want to explore in class.”

Doesn’t require teaching alternatives? Lets go to the actual language.

“The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to create an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that encourages students to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills, and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues.” [...] The state board of education, public elementary and secondary school governing authorities, directors of schools, school system administrators, and public elementary and secondary school principals and administrators shall endeavor to assist teachers to find effective ways to present the science curriculum as it addresses scientific controversies.  Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught.

I guess a lot hinges on the scope of “shall endeavor to,” and what qualifies as a “scientific controversy.” David Fowler, President of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, believes it will allow the teaching of Intelligent Design in science classes. Wesley H. Roberts, a high school biology teacher in Tennessee, says it will harm students going to college and taking Advanced Placement exams. How this “teach the controversy” law will actually affect curriculum decisions in Tennessee schools is a very open question, and will no doubt depend on how each school district interprets the language of the law. At best, it provides cover to rogue science teachers who want to insert non-scientific ideas into science classes, at worst, it will force teachers to add “controversial” theories to their curriculum.

As I said when I initially wrote about this proposed law, it’s doubly bad for followers of Pagan, indigenous, and earth-centered religions. It could very well insert explicitly Christian notions of creation and the origins of life into science classes, exposing non-Christian children to misinformation on the government’s dime, in addition to undermining basic knowledge of increasingly dire issues like global warming. I can only imagine that legal challenges are being prepared as we speak, I’ll keep you updated on this story as it progresses.

In Other News:

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

Ever since the Air Force Academy in Colorado unveiled the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle, an outdoor space dedicated primarily for use by cadets and staff who follow Pagan, Native American, and Earth-based religious traditions, its been dogged by controversy. The circle, which was created in response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, was vandalized shortly after it first received press attention in 2010. Then, after its official dedication in May of last year, a wave of criticism and ignorant opinion pieces could be found from the usual corners. Things seemed to die down after that, but comment and controversy were stirred up once again after the LA Times wrote about Falcon Circle in November, noting its $80,000 dollar price tag.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“Still, the academy this year dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of “Earth-based.” Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths.”

That spurred a new wave of commentary about government waste and political correctness gone amuck, which prompted the Air Force Academy to defend the cost, and their commitment to religious plurality.

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

“The LA Times got the $80,000 figure from the Academy’s Cadet Chapel fact sheet. But the numbers on the fact sheet at the time were too high because they mistakenly included $26,500 that was spent to control erosion on the east side of the hill on which Falcon Circle is now situated. [...]  The scope of work in the $51,484 Falcon Circle contract included removing screws and nails from the inside of the circle and installing 1,225 square feet of flagstone. The boulders were moved in 2009 from the east side of the hill, where erosion threatened to send them crashing into the Visitors Center, where more than 500,000 people per year learn about the national treasure that is the Academy. By way of comparison, the Cadet Chapel that now houses Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist worship areas cost $3.5 million to build — in 1959. That would be more than $25 million in today’s dollars, or enough to build 500 Falcon Circles.”

That commentary by Don Branum, published on December 27th, movingly recounts the struggles of Pagans in the military, and declares that building Falcon Circle was “the right thing to do.” Branum’s defense trickled into the mainstream media yesterday via The Denver Post, who did note that the circle is available to all cadets, not just Pagans, and that the initially reported cost estimates are deceptively high. Whether these clarifications reach the critics who were quick to condemn Falcon Circle, or manage to change the minds of those who believe the Air Force Academy is being overrun by unholy forces is an open question.  Whatever the outcome from the latest round of publicity, this defense of Falcon Circle by the AFA is a welcome sign, and part of an ongoing initiative to create a culture of religious respect.

“You don’t have to be scared about sharing your religion or think you need to stay in the broom closet about it,” Cadet Johnson says. “People are very understanding. We have officers in charge of us who are very understanding, the Chaplains are very understanding so it’s very easy to be a Pagan at the Air Force Academy.”

Here’s hoping that it continues to be “very easy to be a Pagan at the Air Force Academy, “ and that Pagan cadets can get back to focusing on their lessons instead of being put under a microscope by those looking to prove some ideological point.

Yesterday the Air Force Academy in Colorado held a dedication ceremony for an outdoor stone circle erected last year as a place for Pagan and earth-centered faiths to congregate and worship.

Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“The academy is home to about 10 cadets who regularly attend “earth centered” worship groups. Earth-centered is a catch-all phrase for groups including New Age religion, paganism, Wicca, Druids and ancient Norse beliefs. “This is very important for us, we didn’t have a place to call our own, to be outside in nature,” said cadet Nicole Johnson, a member of the earth-centered group. Johnson and others used to meet in an engineering classroom to worship before construction of Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle, on a 7,200-foot hill top that overlooks the main cadet chapel.”

While the circle was created in response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, it has also been something of an PR tool for an institution that has long been accused of being a focal point for evangelical Christian takeover of the military, and is still struggling to create an environment friendly to all faiths. This struggle was underlined when the Pagan site was vandalized shortly after it received press attention, an event the academy is trying to ensure never happens again.

“It’s clear that the academy is worried about security at the site. The circle of stones is surrounded by metal poles containing video cameras and signs on the trail that leads to the site warn that the area is under electronic surveillance.”

Despite the controversy and setbacks this has been a step forward for the equal treatment of Pagan religions within the military. The Air Force Academy still has a lot of work to do in the area of equal treatment and safety for all religious personnel, but for now we can congratulate the Pagan cadets and their superiors for making this happen. You can read all my coverage of this issue, here.