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.