Archives For conversions

Yesterday Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge in a Brockton, Massachusetts District Court to petition for a name change. The man who would be named “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” seeks to abandon his “old human name” as it is “religiously offensive” to his claimed Wiccan faith. He further elaborated that this name came from “God” after his conversion experience.

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

“I can’t hide from my crime,” Jaynes said. “I wake up in prison, I see my crime every day. I don’t seek to minimize my crime. I’m growing spiritually.”

Robert Curley, the father of Jeffrey Curley, opposes the change, pointing out that Jaynes used multiple aliases to commit crimes while he was free, and that the change could muddy the waters down the line when Jaynes is eligible for parole. Curley was joined in his protest by a local couple and Curley’s lawyer, Michael Chinman. Meanwhile, the Covenant of the Goddess, one of the oldest and largest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations, sent out a press release restating that Wicca does not demand changing one’s name, and that Jayne’s actions do not represent their religion.

As we stated in August 2012, “The Covenant of the Goddess, a public not-for-profit 501c3 organization representing Witches and Wiccans for 37 years, in no way views the actions  of Charles Jaynes, as being even remotely related to the religion that we recognize as Wicca. Nor  do we, as a religion, have any tenet that mandates a legal change of name for any reason. Though it is a common Wiccan practice to take a second name in accordance with spiritual  beliefs, it would be considered very unusual to do so legally; as these names are very personal to the individual and unlikely to be shared outside of a select few.”

Witnessing this controversy, I am immediately pulled back to my experience at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting where I watched a special forum on the Pew Forum’s Religion in Prisons survey. As I mentioned before, this survey noted the overwhelmingly Protestant (and theologically conservative) Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, and how lacking in resources Pagan inmates (and other religious minorities) are. Further, because of the overwhelmingly Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, most Pagan inmates are self-made and often undirected in their spirituality. This is not so troublesome a phenomenon in the outside world, where solitary practitioners can freely interact with like-minded individuals and teachers, but it can spawn variations of “Wicca” or “Paganism” that have little relation to how the our faiths are actually practiced by the majority of adherents.

Had there been a Pagan or Wiccan chaplain for Jaynes to consult, or at least a chaplain well-versed in serving minority religions within a prison populations, he or she might have told him that legal name changes aren’t a requirement of the Wiccan faith, or that most forms of Wicca are either duotheistic (worshipping/acknowledging a God and Goddess) or polytheistic (worshipping many gods) as opposed to his rather Judeo-Christian conception of what Wicca is (referring to his Charles Jaynes as his “heathen” name, and referring to God as his “father”). Further, such a chaplain could have been called to testify in regards to this matter, and give accurate information about the religion Jaynes claims to have converted to.

I’m not here to judge the sincerity of Jaynes religious beliefs, only pointing out that they seem to differ wildly from my extensive experience interacting with, and being a part of, modern religious Witchcraft. The judge said she would make a decision in the next 30 days, and I have no doubt that it will be based on constitutional merits and existing precedents, but I can only think this entire matter would have been clearer had there been a better, more effective, chaplaincy for prisoners outside the Christian paradigm. Our correctional system needs to support minority faith chaplaincy, not only to give prisoners spiritual support while incarcerated, but to make sure our traditions aren’t distorted in the void created by a solely Protestant chaplaincy body. Perhaps some of this trauma for Jaynes victims could have been avoided had there been more robust spiritual instruction for would-be Pagan prisoners.

What’s it like to be a religious minority in a Christian-dominated culture? Jews on First has published a must-read in-depth exploration of what it’s like for Jewish students going to public schools in the South, consistently exposed to peer pressure and conversion attempts by their Christian classmates, behavior often (directly and indirectly) supported by faculty.

Hint: The "Fifth Quarter" is about Jesus.

Hint: The “Fifth Quarter” is about Jesus.

“It can be the little stuff, like my classmates wishing me to have a ‘blessed day’. I know that really means that Jesus blesses you,” says Jane. “I have a friend who introduces me as her ‘Jewish friend, Jane’. It’s always in your face. Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded that I’m a Jew.” [..] One parent relates how his son would eat breakfast in the school cafeteria when a group of athletes would come in and “perform” for the students. “They would basically lift weights for about 30 minutes,” then go to the microphone and “announce that Christ helped them become athletes. After five or 10 minutes of sermon, they would pray and leave,” but meanwhile the students eating breakfast were not allowed to leave the cafeteria and were obviously a captive audience with no option to “not hear.”

Because court rulings have largely forbade faculty and staff from directly proselytizing, local churches use various tricks like the aforementioned “performance” to introduce stealth missionary work into the student body. One Rabbi in Atlanta notes that Christian students are urged by their churches to work towards the conversion of non-Christian students.

“…according to Rabbi Greene, one of the largest evangelical churches in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, the Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, even provides literature to its young members about “how to approach your Jewish friends.” He calls the effort “love bombing.” Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Congregation Etz Chaim, which isn’t far from Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, agrees that ‘they are very aggressive in their proselytizing and will teach Christianity to anyone who will listen. One of my former Hebrew School students came to me recently and said he accepted Christ; he’s confused.'”

In public school systems that are religiously and culturally diverse, the issue of student conversions is almost non-existent, evangelical Christian students are simply one voice among several; but when your school is in a region dominated by mission-minded Christians, the tone and tenor of student interactions suddenly changes. Instead of one voice, Christianity becomes the only voice, the dominant voice, among the student body. Those who don’t fit into that template find themselves consistently battered by the expectation that they too will fall in line. Christian leaders in these areas are well aware of this power, which is why they fight for state constitutional amendments that open “the door for coercive prayer and proselytizing” and “religious freedom” laws that they know will benefit the majority at the expense of minorities.

Join us. Jooooooiiiiin ussssssss.

Join us. Jooooooiiiiin ussssssss.

Public schools are supposed to be secular by design, they have to serve the needs of all students, not simply those who are in the majority. These initiatives by local churches and missionary groups are trying to “game” the system by turning the student body into a peer pressure engine against non-Christian students. These are not natural conversion experiences that arise after deep contemplation or introspection, this is the equivalent of religious bullying, turning all those who resist into social outsiders. The experience of these Jewish students and parents is shared by other religious minorities in deeply Christian areas of the country, including modern Pagans. Sadly, these students often have to turn to outside help, or even litigation, to make sure their own religious autonomy is respected, as the faculty and staff are often sympathetic to these conversion efforts.

Christians, if they truly want to see earnest conversions among non-Christian populations, need to understand that these tactics do nothing but create ill will and adversarial feelings among parents and non-Christian religious leaders. It makes them the enemy, and they turn the message of Christ into a sort of bludgeon in which to control behavior they don’t like.

Some people love watching the sport of tennis, but I am not one of them. This should in no way reflect on that no-doubt fine sport, the talented people who play it, and the fans of said talented athletes. I’m sure it’s a deficiency on my part, nobody’s perfect, right? Similarly, I just can’t get too worked up over the ongoing theist-atheist tennis match, the way some read so much meaning into every “point” scored by each side, how “heroes” and “villains” are created, how “experts” in the commentary box try to explain how one point was more devastating than another point, or how one player’s career is on the decline. Worst of all is when a prominent player on one “team” decides to switch teams, then things really start to heat up!

Such was the case when fellow Patheos blogger Leah Libresco, formerly on the atheist channel here, decided to convert to Catholicism. Faster than you could say “Bristol Palin” traffic to her blog went insane, and CNN dubbed her a “prominent atheist blogger,” much to the chagrin of  prominent atheist bloggers (it’s a Catch-22, if CNN is reporting on your conversion, you must be prominent, because CNN is reporting on your conversion). Now, everybody has an opinion about Ms. Libresco, with many giving interpretations as to this conversion’s importance, or lack of importance. One Catholic blogger even opined that “heaven is roaring with joy” over this conversion (which makes one wonder what sounds heaven makes when a Catholic becomes an atheist, but I digress).

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

"Democracy Now!" host Amy Goodman poses with Leah Libresco.

For my part, I was just going to ignore the whole thing. As a Pagan I have no real emotional investment in atheists and Catholics debating over conversion, or the significance of Libresco’s turn towards Rome. It’s like, well, like watching tennis. I can intellectually understand why some people get worked up about it, but it isn’t my game. Indeed, Pagans, in general, don’t much care about conversions. Patheos columnist Carl McColman, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Paganism,”still has plenty of Pagan friends, despite becoming a Catholic (the same is true of Pagans who’ve become atheists). We believe that a person’s relationship to the gods is their own affair, and it only becomes an issue for us when those converted decide to turn against us. To use their conversion as a means to sell books about our defaults, or to demonize us. Sadly that is an all-too-common phenomenon.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

Carl McColman at the Hill of Tara.

For many Pagans, when we hear that one of us has converted to Christianity, we wonder when the book is coming out. You think people love atheist-turned-believer stories? Well, there’s a certain segment of Christians that just can’t get enough ex-Pagan/ex-Witch narratives. Books with titles like “Taken From the Night,” or “Generation Hex,” or “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers.” Some of these narratives have elements of truth in them, but most are exaggerated or fabricated to make for a more dramatic telling. The simple truth, you see, is far too mundane. The truth is that thousands of people, perhaps even millions, shift in and out of different religious identities every day. It’s as common as crabgrass, and it really means little to the larger trends that are driving religion.

Those trends show that the biggest growth isn’t in atheists, but in people who refuse to label their religious beliefs. The “nones,” who now comprise around 16% of the population in the United States, and a possibly influential majority in certain states. Atheists only account for around 1.6% of that 16.1%. Only slightly bigger than the modern Pagan movement here. Meanwhile, Christianity in the West is in crisis, especially in America, where it’s becoming increasingly politically polarized. In the anxiety that is created by this situation, the still-dominant but increasingly worried religious majority starts to look for signs of “winning” the ideological/theological struggle. It starts to worry that maybe their impressive numbers are inflated, that there are far more heretics in their ranks than they ever suspected. It starts to see a minor atheist blogger converting as quite a big deal.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

As to this current ruckus, let me quote Stephen F. Roberts who famously opined that “I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do.” Early pagans called Christians atheists because they didn’t merely prefer their god over other gods (henotheism), they said those other gods were demonic figments of their god’s dualistic evil counterpart. Once they grasped real power, Christians went on a campaign of eliminating those other gods, actions that would make the most militant atheists of today blanch (censorship, destruction of religious property, social pressure, and when those didn’t work, killing). Those gods that couldn’t be completely destroyed were either (literally) demonized or sanctified. That some are now trying to finish off that “last” god no doubt creates a unique tension for monotheists.

Into that tension steps an atheist who converts, who says, let us add one god. Who swings the door in the other direction, towards theism. The problem with that is that it creates its own tension. Christianity is still very much in the game of eliminating all the other gods, of stressing that there is only one god. But once you say, there is at least one god, one power in this universe that is beyond humanity, you open the door to the questions that any reasonable person would then ask. Is there more than one power? What came before Christianity? Why God and not Goddess? Is the Christian conception of God the correct one? What if the moral universe Catholics like to claim was actually acquired from other religions? Why would an inquisitive person stop at mere Christianity? The answer is that reasonable people ask these questions all the time, and certain Christian institutions spend a lot of time and money to stop people from finding the answers.

I wish Leah Libresco well, and I wish her happiness. While I profoundly disagree with Catholicism, thinking it a flawed and troubled faith, I hold no ill will towards its adherents, so long as they are committed to coexisting in a pluralistic secular society with us Pagans. I hope that her faith can develop away from the tennis match that this has all become, complete with cheering sections on each side. If you ever decide that maybe your world needs more than one god, feel free to drop me a line.

There must be something uniquely unsettling to certain factions of Christianity about the existence of modern Pagan religions, something that makes them over-react. It can’t be our sheer numbers, despite consistent growth Pagans account for only 0.4% of the population (around a million people) in the United States. No matter what the odd conspiracy theory might say, Pagans don’t pull the strings of any powerful politicians, and there is no Pagan lobbying organization in Washington DC. Despite these reassurances of Christian dominance, a good number of Christians are preoccupied with us to the point of distraction. How has this strange state of affairs come about?

My personal theory is two-fold: First the Satanic Panics of the 1980s ramped up fears of an (imaginary) murderous occult underground network, one that the media was all too happy to feed, giving the impression that “we” were everywhere and were possibly dangerous. Secondly, I think the re-emergence of Paganism feeds into an atavistic primal fear in the Christian mind. Pagans were the original and long-vanquished enemies of Christian dominance in the West, our defeat enmeshed in the very core of their understanding of the world. Christ came and defeated the old gods, “the great god Pan is dead,” that’s how it was supposed to work. It was a version of this view that enabled the Doctrine of Discovery and the horrors that followed it, and continues to influence how many Christians encounter other faiths. So to see the vanquished rise again must be uniquely disquieting, a symbolic blow that undermines two thousand years of propaganda.

The conservative (largely evangelical) Christian obsession with the “occult,” modern Pagan religions, and especially Witchcraft, is best exemplified by the “ex-witch.” The saved Witch, the former sinner who turns from the old gods (who are all controlled by Satan, obviously) and embraces the light of Jesus Christ. Almost every modern book written by Christians that deals with Wicca or modern Paganism drags one out (or is written by one). “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers,” “Generation Hex”“Wicca’s Charm”, “Dewitched”, and the granddad of them all: Bill Schnoebelen’s “Wicca: Satan’s Little White Lie” (Schnobelen’s work was expertly demolished by former student and coven-mate Frater Barrabbas). Each pledge to give you the “true” story of Wicca/Witchcraft/the occult, often with horrifying revelations once you get “deep” enough. The books have gotten more nuanced in the post-panic era (no more human sacrifices), but they all still try to evoke enough drama and lurid occult phenomena to rake in concerned Christian dollars at Christian book stores.

The latest entry into the “ex-witch” genre is by S.A. (Seleah Ally) Tower, author of “Taken From the Night,” which  documents her journey from Christian, to “initiated” Wiccan of ten years, to born-again Christian.

Her 10-year experience in witchcraft that began in 1989 came to an end through divine intervention, she said. “It came to a point where it felt like God had intervened and literally came down and took me back.” In addition to the book, her testimony and insightful revelations in the spiritual realm have been told on several Christian radio programs. Tower said she shied away from writing a typical book on the subject of witchcraft that might paint a stereotypical picture of gory sacrifices and “what the Bible says about it.” “To someone who is wavering or looking into Christianity a little bit, not yet 100 percent sure, those types of books can be very frustrating,” she said. She explained that when she was moving away from witchcraft she was looking for stories about someone who had just left the cult. “I just wanted to hear the facts of what happened,” she said.

Here are her not-at-all sensationalized and overly dramatic promo videos for the book.

and

Nothing about what I see here, or at her web site, say that these are books written to reach Wiccans. “Taken From the Night” is just another book written by a Christian for other Christians, marketed on Christian radio programs so everyone can feel good about themselves. Tower may gently criticize those other ex-witches who “stir the church with false witness and fear,” but she’s just the kinder, gentler, version of Bill Schnoebelen.

“During my Wiccan years, I remember them… I call them the E’s (exaggerators and embellishers). Mind you, those that put on the face of a witch may actually have dabbled in some form of witchcraft and have an honest heart for those involved. However, their exaggerated tales need self-examination. While it’s nice to rally the crowd, we have a greater calling. Jesus gave us a commission to reach the world with His love, not stir the church with false witness and fear. God has placed on my heart a desire for His love and light to be revealed to those that don’t know him, not widen the gap. Believe me, the real witches can see the face behind the mask… so take it off and show the true nature of God. Be content with His story in your life, whatever that may entail.”

Let me reiterate again, these books do absolutely nothing to engender understanding and communication between Pagans and Christians, no matter how they like to dress it up. They are books that must end with a victory for Christ, and must, no matter how diplomatically, portray Wicca as at least somewhat demonic. We may have evolved from murdering Satanists to deluded troubled souls looking for self-empowerment, but the underlying script remains unchanged. They are a far, far, cry from recently published books that actually work to end misconceptions like “Connecting Christ”“Jesus Through Pagan Eyes”, and “Beyond the Burning Times”. Whatever the criticisms and flaws of those books, they at least treat Wicca and modern Pagan faiths as religions that must be engaged with like any other religion.

If Christian-Pagan dialog is to move forward, if there is to be real understanding and communication, then the “ex-witch” meme must be done away with. They aren’t “ex-witches”, they are Christians, hoping to make a buck and score some notoriety from their past dalliances with our faiths and traditions. Ms. Tower may have been “one of us” for a decade, but she obviously learned nothing about how actions have repercussions. She has chosen to make herself a part of a publishing legacy that has done nothing but lie and defame us, no matter how reformed the genre claims to be now. They dare pity us, and call us damaged or lost. They are nothing but non-fiction dramas for bored Christians looking for a bit of frission, and to dress it up as anything else is an insult to the real interfaith and dialog work being done by Christians and Pagans.

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.

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

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.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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

A coalition that claims to represent around 90% of the world’s Christians, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), have released joint recommendations for the conduct of Christian missionaries. This document is the result of five years of consultations among the three bodies, and is being touted as “a major achievement” in building consensus on the issue among Christians.

“In the past five years we have been building a new bridge,” said Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, chief executive officer and secretary general of the WEA. “The document is a major achievement,” he explained, in that it represents formal agreement on “the essence of Christian mission” while also demonstrating that diverse Christian bodies “are able to work together and to speak together.” In this sense, the release of the text “is a historic moment” in the quest for Christian unity.

In talking about the rationale for this initiative, Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA, in what could be fairly described as understatement, admitted that “in some places dynamic public witness to Jesus Christ has been accompanied by misunderstanding and tension.” Reuters religion reporter Robert Evans put it somewhat more bluntly.

“Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches. Tensions have also risen in recent decades as evangelical Protestants have stepped up efforts to convert Muslims, which is a capital offence in some Islamic countries. This also prompts retaliation against local Christians who do not seek converts.”

So what  does this new document solve? What is it meant to do, and what does this mean for the world’s non-Christians? First, while this document may be a historic moment of consensus and agreement, it is toothless in regards to enforcement. As I reported back in 2007, no church or missionary group will be forced to accede to this new code of conduct. The document takes pains to stress that these are “recommendations,” that will “encourage” churches to “reflect” on their “current practices.” It certainly “does not intend to be a theological statement on mission.” In short, these are more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. That said, for those Christian missionaries who do plan to take this new historical document seriously, and base their conduct on it, what will it change? The core shift in thinking seems to be in fighting “arrogance, condescension and disparagement” among Christian missionaries toward non-Christian faiths and building a new ethos of mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.

“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. […]  Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. […]  Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.

In addition, the document endorses providing “sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation” in regards to conversions.  Frowning on quickie conversions and urging Christians to “refrain from offering all forms of allurements.” All of which is encouraging on its face, though the document also has a political purpose, to help missionaries lobby against anti-conversion laws in places like India.

“WEA Secretary General Geoff Tunnicliffe said the code, entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World,” would be “a great resource” for Christians lobbying against anti-conversion laws passed in countries such as India.”

How a document that is merely a recommendation, not enforced policy or doctrine, will actually sway supporters of anti-conversion laws remains an open question. Is it simply a propaganda tool, or will there be actual “moral and peer pressure” as hinted by the coalition previously? With the revelations of coercive conversion tactics in Haiti, and serious accusations that missionaries have stirred up anti-Vodou violence, not to mention an emerging theory within evangelical circles that Christian missions may have helped trigger the witch-hunts in Africa, it may take far more than encouragements of better behavior to allay the fears of those scarred by this sort of abusive behavior.

With Catholic plans in the works to “re-evangelize” Europe and the United States, one has to wonder if this document will be respected when it comes to interactions with adherents of Pagan, indigenous, and syncretic faiths. If “Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions,” will anti-Pagan tracts and books be changed or will that escape the scope of this new initiative? While I applaud some of the sentiments encased in this document, I fear it raises too many questions to set the minds of those targeted by missions at rest.

Earlier this month I noted the publication of a new book on Witchcraft that was used by a British columnist to toss rhetorical brickbats at modern Pagans. That book, “Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers”, subsequently got mentioned in various mainstream outlets and around the blogosphere. Yesterday, The Catholic Herald published an essay from the author, Elizabeth “Liz” Dodd, concerning her “Teen Witch” years and subsequent return to the Catholic fold. While Dodd says she was “hoping to diffuse” the “the persecution complex among Wiccans” and inform Catholics about the non-Satanic “realities of Wicca”, her narrative so closely follows the modern Pagan-to-Christian conversion story that it could have been written by a missional-minded committee.

“As a teenager, with only a limited amount of say in what I’d have for dinner, for example, the idea of unmitigated supernatural power, coupled with such a self-governed morality, was very appealing […] Finally, inevitably, about three years into my study of witchcraft – like any teenager who has ever played with a Ouija board – I became convinced I had communicated with a “spirit”?whom I had failed to banish. The accompanying sense of dread lasted for weeks. A Catholic schoolfriend wrote out the Hail Mary for me – I’d never heard it before – and suggested I say it when I felt spiritually threatened. I stopped practising witchcraft soon afterwards.”

Unlike old-school conversion narratives, where the Satanic heart of all non-Christian faiths are eventually revealed, often with lurid tales of sacrifices or massive spiritual battles, the new form of narrative portrays Wicca and other Pagan religions as largely benevolent yet flawed and lacking depth. They crumble like dust in the face of “true” Catholicism or Christianity. This newer narrative is found in recent works like “Generation Ex-Christian”, “UnChristian”“Generation Hex”“Wicca’s Charm”, and many, many, more. It is the new mask of understanding and concern that Western Christians have adopted once they realized that demonization was merely isolating them, and that modern Paganism was expanding and entering the mainstream despite their best efforts. Naturally, the tactics of demonization and conversion under various forms of duress persist outside the harsh glare of mainstream Western media attention.

Like all conversion stories of this type, as “nice” as they are to non-Christian faiths they ultimately are forced to construct a straw-man in order to fully discredit their previous choices. For Dodd, that means conveying outright falsehoods, though one can hardly tell if it is through bad source material or triumphalist malice.

“An innate respect for history, if not tradition, led to an uncomfortable awareness that the religion as I knew it had existed for little over 20 years […] the occult witchcraft I was studying was at core misogynistic. Crowley wrote some unpleasant things about women; in the works of Anton LaVey, the self-appointed Satanist and a friend of Crowley’s, I encountered rants about women’s intellectual inferiority.”

Even the most conservative anti-direct-lineage partisan would admit that the origins of Wicca stretched back to at least the late 1930s. As Ronald Hutton, Owen Davies, and other scholars have noted, modern Paganism’s beginnings aren’t  some cut-and-dried “Gardner made it up” or “Gardner stole it from Crowley” anecdote. That instead there were unique events, folk survivals, and cultural shifts that made the emergence (or reemergence) of modern Paganism possible. But such a complex narrative wouldn’t work well when trying to convince your readers of Catholicism’s superiority. As for Anton LaVey (interesting that she felt the need to insert a Satanist into her narrative), he was never “friends” with Aleister Crowley, who died in 1947 before LaVey ever read his works.

Dodd wants it both ways, she wants to be seen as the “real deal” when she talks about her time as a Witch, but her own biography is that of a seeker, a dabbler, who simply rebelled for a time against her childhood faith (later in the article she talks of a post-Pagan period where she was a “vegan Buddhist”). She tries to sound authoritative about Wicca, but has obviously not read deeply, or kept up to date on recent scholarship before penning her Catholic pamphlet. Her emphasis on spiritual danger is also typical of modern anti-Pagan narratives, one that I addressed several years ago when reviewing Catherine Edwards Sanders’ book “Wicca’s Charm”.

“Finally I feel I must address the “dangers” of the spirit world that Sanders brings up again and again in her book. She takes great pains to point out that every Wiccan she has talked to speaks of the dangers of working with the world of spirit if you are untrained or unprepared. She hammers home how our circle-castings and quarter-calls are done to “protect” us from a dangerous world beyond this plane. She doesn’t mention that many of these beliefs are part of the Christian heritage she feels we would cast away if we were “true” Pagans. Many of the ritualistic “protections” we have incorporated were written by Christian men with a Christian sense of fear of the world of spirit. The problems the inexperienced adept encounters when working with magick is the same problem that fervent Christian converts have when they ask a loving God to grant them the destruction of enemies or great material wealth. They experience an ego death when they realize these wishes will never be granted. You can call this the “three-fold law” or “God’s grace,” but the results are quite similar. Either the convert or the adept will grow up, or they will remain delusional and jump to the next spiritual path they feel will grant them their wishes.”

Dodd is wearing the mask of concern, but the fact that she felt the need to write this pamphlet shows her own spiritual immaturity. She notes that she continues to “struggle” with her faith, and seemingly clings to the idea that her faith is more “ecological, feminist, pacifist” than Wicca, for to believe otherwise might irreparably crack her insistence on Catholicism’s superiority. The “best” faiths, if we insist on talking in imaginary hierarchies of belief and tradition, feel no need to write pamphlets calling other faiths into question. Their excellence would shine through without the need of half-truths and omissions that cast opponents in a less favorable light. Having just spent a long weekend surrounded with some of the best individuals and groups my family of faiths have to offer, I can tell you that her failure to find depth or breadth was a personal one.

In the end, her work does us a favor I no longer wish to beg from the dominant monotheisms, the kindness of not calling us Satanic. As I said in my commentary on “Generation Hex”, refraining from calling us Satanic baby-killers is no longer enough. Realizing that the extremist slanders are false is a small first step, not the journey’s end. No doubt some, and perhaps Dodd herself, will consider this work a great leap forward, but I would rather all the masks fell away and we can truly estimate each other on the merits and deficits we truly possess.

This week has been a rare instance of where I’m spoiled for choice as to what I’ll write about. As the week ends, I find that there are lots of stories, editorials, and essays that I’ve neglected. So to play catch-up, I’m instituting The Wild Hunt’s first-ever semi-regular (as-needed) links roundup: Unleash the Hounds!

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.

James Arthur Ray is Free (for now): Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday, starting with the news that New Age motivational speaker James Arthur Ray, charged with manslaughter in the deaths of three people at a sweat lodge ceremony he led, has been released on bail.

“James Arthur Ray walked out of a Camp Verde jail at 11:10 a.m. [2/26], according to Yavapai County Jail Sgt. Dee Huntley. Ray gained his freedom after Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Warren Darrow lowered Ray’s bond Thursday from $5 million to $525,000. Ray has pleaded not guilty to three counts of manslaughter stemming from a sweat lodge ceremony he led near Sedona in October.”

Ray’s bond was lowered after his lawyers argued that he’s broke, and couldn’t afford to pay $5 million dollars. While he’s free until his trial, Ray had to surrender his passport, and is barred from performing any ceremonies that could potentially harm someone. For a pretty thorough round-up of recent Ray-related news, check out Indianz.com.

Summum Heads Back to Court: Almost exactly a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled against the New Age/UFO religion Summum, who wanted the right to place a monument of their Seven Principles in the same park as a Ten Commandments display in Pleasant Grove, UT. But while Summum lost (on a free speech challenge), Supreme Court justices and analysts both opined that the case could very well be re-heard on Establishment Clause grounds, and that’s exactly what Summum is now doing.

“Geoffrey Surtees, a lawyer for Pleasant Grove, argued that the Ten Commandments display in the city’s Pioneer Park conveys a secular historical message, which the U.S. Supreme Court has said is permissible. But Summun’s attorney, Brian Barnard, contended that the monument advances religion and that Pleasant Grove must give other religious messages equal consideration. “They are a mandate from God, the Judeo-Christian God,” Barnard said of the Ten Commandments.”

A SCOTUS win for Summum here could spark considerable changes concerning religiously-oriented monuments on public lands. If Pleasant Grove wants to avoid another loss, they should take the advice of Justice David Souter and either erect more monuments to give the current one a more secular context, or remove all monuments and make the case moot. If they don’t? Well, get ready to commission all those Pagan monuments you’d like to see.

Conversions for Food? While the recent evangelical Christian attack on Vodou practitioners in Haiti was shocking enough, in its wake Pastor Frank Amedia of Touch Heaven Ministries implied that food aid was ultimately  tied to an expected conversion.

“We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I’m not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn’t want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

Contrary to the stance of some extremists, this sort of food-for-converts method is usually frowned on in mainstream evangelical culture. The controversy has prompted evangelical news outlet Christianity Today to do a follow-up, and see if Amedia was quoted out of context. The answer is “sorta-kinda”.

She then expanded her question to ask “Would I continue to help them knowing they were still practicing Voodoo?” I responded that I would show them our love by helping them and that I would hope to become their friend, and then as their friend, that our compassion and love might be the difference to lead them to Christ. She then asked “How long would we continue to supply them?” To that I answered that “I am not sure we could continue to support them in the long term because we would not want to perpetuate that process. We equate [voodoo] with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

So there’s still a cut-off point for charity if you aren’t sporting a Bible, just not an immediate cut-off. The implication that Christian charity is finite for non-Christians has sparked criticism from CT readers, but we’ll have to wait and see if a more organized rebuke of the expectation that your food will buy converts emerges from the evangelical Christian community.

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