Archives For cross

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.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Ronald Hutton (center) with Pagan scholars and Cherry Hill Seminary staff.

  • The Economist reviews Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain,” and finds that it presents “more questions than answers.” Quote: “Mr Hutton leads readers to question not only the ways in which Britain’s ancient past is analysed, but also how all history is presented. He is also a lovely writer with a keen sense of the spiritual potency of Britain’s ancient landscapes. Though he offers many interpretations of each archaeological finding, such variety serves to expand the reader’s imagination rather than constrain it. Towards the end of this engrossing book, Mr Hutton laments the way the open-ended questions of ancient history and archaeology appear unsuited to television, a medium that prefers definitive answers.” The book is out now in the UK, and will be released in the United States in February (though it seems you can purchase the Kindle edition now).
  • Courts in the UK have, for the first time, awarded a Wiccan monetary damages over claims that she was fired for her religious beliefs. Quote: “Karen Holland, 45, was awarded more than  £15,000 by the courts in what is believed to be the first payout of its kind in  Britain. Her Sikh bosses insisted they fired her after  they caught her stealing. But she accused them of turning on her when  they found out she was a Wicca-practising pagan and took them to an employment  tribunal, which ruled in her favour.” As the article states, her employers were Sikh, not Christians, as some might suspect. Her employers say they will appeal the decision. More on this story here.
  • The killing of women accused of witchcraft and sorcery in Papua New Guinea continues to be a hard problem to solve, with tough news laws facing the issue of proper enforcement. Quote: “Nancy Robinson from the United Nations Human Rights Commission says toughening up the laws is no solution if they’re not implemented. ‘Implementation is the big obstacle,’ she said. ‘You may have a law but then if you don’t have the police capacity to enforce it, or if the police themselves view the situation of sorcery related killings with indifference then we still have a big issue of how to address impunity. Those who perpetrate this violence know full well they’ll get off scot free – this has to change.’” You can see all of my coverage of this issue, here.
  • The Quietus revisits Enya’s “Watermark” on its 25th anniversary. Quote: “Essentially, Watermark is a deeply weird album in the context of its bright and garish era, and as well as that a strongly and confidently female album. It also stands out as a record inspired by spiritual music in a mainstream pop world that has in recent years chosen to end the centuries-old musical dialogue between the secular and religious, the sacred and profane.” As the author points out, Enya’s influence has never been stronger, with critically acclaimed artists like Julianna Barwick employing elements of her sound.
  • There’s going to be an epic fantasy movie starring Egyptian gods? Apparently so. Quote: “Up-and-coming Australian actress Courtney Eaton has nabbed the female lead in Summit’s epic fantasy Gods of Egypt. Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites and Geoffrey Rush are the male leads in the story, which is set in motion when a ruling god named Set (Butler) kills another, Osiris. When Osiris’ son Horus (Coster-Waldau) fails in his attempt at revenge and has his eyed plucked out, it’s up to a young human thief (Thwaites) to defeat the mad god Set. Eaton will play a slave girl whom the thief falls for.” Currently scheduled for a 2015 release.
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • This week a new visitor center will open at the world-famous Stonehenge in England. Its goal? To give visitors who may never walk among the (restricted access) stones, and sense of that experience, in addition to giving an overview of the many scholarly theories about Stonehenge’s purpose. Quote: “With tourists and day-trippers barred since the late Seventies from entering the circle in order to protect the stones from damage, there has been a fierce and long-running debate on how the site should best be displayed. But on Wednesday a new £27 million centre will open at Stonehenge with a 360 degree cinema at its heart where visitors can ‘experience’ standing in the ancient circle.” Currently, Pagans are allowed access at the solstices and equinoxes, but many want greater access. Concept art for the center can be found here.
  • The Christian cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California, which some had the audacity to claim was “secular,” has been ordered removed by a federal court. Quote: “A federal court has ordered the removal of the controversial Mt. Soledad cross near San Diego. The towering symbol of Christianity, built in 1954 on the peak of Mt. Soledad, is a 43 foot high Latin cross – and it sits on government-owned land. By ruling that the cross violated the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has tried to put an end to a 24-year-old legal battle over the constitutionality of the display. Critics have long argued that the cross, built in 1954 and dedicated on Easter Sunday as a “gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” clearly violates the First Amendment.” It isn’t known if an appeal will be made.
  • Protestant Christian notions of “religion” are being destabilized. Quote: “Religion is nothing if not practiced, nothing if not communally created by and for people who find meaning, yes, but also find ways to put our bodies into relation with other bodies. Religions are sensually established and engaged through sights and smells and sounds, as human bodies sway and sing, pray and play. Rituals are carried out, ancient stories are told anew, the candles are burned, and the flowers garlanded. Religion is embodied practice, done with others, extending far beyond ‘belief in god.’”
  • Religion Clause points out that the Defense Authorization Bill, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, contains religious freedom language for military personnel. Here’s the language: “Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expressions of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” So talk about polytheism all you want, Pagans!
  • Either you have to include everyone, including Satanists, or you have to remove sectarian expressions of religion from federal property. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
  • Here’s an article discussing the traditional African beliefs and practices employed in the funeral and burial rites for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Quote: “‘We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn’t get angry,’ said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.”
  • Remember that story about Hopi relics being sold in France against their objections? Well, it looks like the Annenberg Foundation purchased the items, and will be donating the items back to the two tribes who were leading the protest. Quote: “Hopi cultural leader Sam Tenakhongva said in the same statement that the tribe hopes the Annenberg decision to intervene “sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility.” “They simply cannot be put up for sale,” he said.”

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

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

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.’” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

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.

The imposing cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California was dedicated to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in 1954. For decades it was known as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” and was the site of Christian services (and may even have been a reminder of Christian triumphalism to area Jews). After initial litigation was filed in the late 1980s against the cross standing on public lands, it was dubbed a veteran’s memorial, and expensive “improvements” were made to stress this new role. Why was a Christian cross, obviously erected for religious purposes, suddenly named a war memorial? In hopes of magically transforming it from a religious icon into a secular memorial symbol. A tactic that initially worked.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

Litigation over the 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad cross has been under way for nearly 20 years. Several federal courts have ruled against its display on city property. In an effort to save the cross, the federal government acquired the land underneath the cross in 2006. Legal action proceeded against the federal government’s ownership of the towering religious symbol. In July of 2008, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the cross “communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice” and can remain on public property.

How can a Christian cross communicate a non-religious message of military service, death, and sacrifice to non-Christian soldiers? The answer is it can’t, it’s a purely political ploy to exploit American patriotism in order to “secularize” a religious symbol so that it can remain standing despite complaints from atheists, agnostics, religious minorities, and church-state separation activists. Here’s Supreme Court Justice Scalia showcasing how the argument typically goes.

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.” Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.” “What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?” Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom. Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

 

You see, there are a lot of Christian crosses on the graves of dead soldiers, because there are a lot of Christians, ergo, it must be a common symbol of “the resting place of the dead” (repeat sentence until your rhetorical opponent grows tired). In 2010 the Supreme Court took a step towards secularizing the cross with its decision in Salazar v. Buono, which challenged the constitutionality of a eight-foot Christian cross war memorial situated on public lands in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Justice Kennedy acknowledged that the cross is “a Christian symbol,” but this particular cross didn’t mean to send “a Christian message” (how, I’m not entirely sure, but this was a mess of a decision, with six separate opinions filed), and thus was constitutional. Only Justice John Paul Stevens, a wartime veteran, had the courage to call a Christian cross a Christian cross.

“The nation should memorialize the service of those who fought and died in World War I … But it cannot do so lawfully by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message.”

However, while there was some secularizing wiggle room in Salazar v. Buono, that wasn’t the case with the Soledad cross. In the beginning of 2011 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the memorial was unconstitutional, citing its long history of being a sectarian religious symbol.

“Much lore surrounds the Cross and its history. But the record is our guide and, indeed, except for how they characterize the evidence, the parties essentially agree about the history. A cross was first erected on Mount Soledad in 1913. That cross was replaced in the 1920s and then blew down in1952. The present Cross was dedicated in 1954 “as a reminder of God’s promise to man of everlasting life and of those persons who gave their lives for our freedom . . . .” The primary objective in erecting a Cross on the site was to construct “a permanent handsome cast concrete cross,” but also “to create a park worthy of this magnificent view, and worthy to be a setting for the symbol of Christianity.” For most of its history, the Cross served as a site for annual Easter services. Only after the legal controversy began in the late 1980s was a plaque added designating the site as a war memorial, along with substantial physical revisions honoring veterans. It was not until the late 1990s that veterans’ organizations began holding regular memorial services at the site.

That ruling was appealed, and on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, leaving the 9th Circuit’s decision in place. Which means one of two things has to happen. Either the cross has to be taken down, or the memorial has to be modified so as to pass constitutional muster. A process that will necessitate even more litigation. Supporters of the cross are already calling for the Department of Justice to raise the issue, as allowed in the 9th Circuit’s decision.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), in urging the Department of Justice to continue the legal fight, said the government should preserve “such a historic memorial that pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans.”

Notice that cross supporters now completely ignore the history of this monument, invoking veterans to cloud the issue, despite the fact that it this challenge was brought by the Jewish War Veterans, who obviously don’t feel a large Christian cross pays tribute to their sacrifice. In addition, I somehow doubt these cross secularizers are going to stand in our corner when someone tries to erect a “secular” Wiccan or Asatru war dead memorial. Nor would anyone try to argue for a “secular” Jewish star of David, or “secular” Muslim crescent (particularly not the latter in our current climate). They would argue that these symbols are sectarian, and could not represent them. It’s all part of the hypocrisy that comes with the privilege of being the overwhelming majority.

To many Christians their immense privilege seems invisible. They don’t understand how much of our society panders to their unspoken power. The churches on every corner, the holidays and celebrations structured around Christian dates, the pandering of politicians, the ceremonial deism that acts as a placeholder for state-sponsored religion. Even our vernacular is colored by Christianity: “God bless you,” “we’ll pray for you,” “I’m in heaven,” or even “go to hell.”  Yet despite this, many Christians, particularly conservative Christians, have a major investment in seeing themselves as part of a persecuted minority. This was reinforced for me in the comments section of a recent post at the journalism commentary site Get Religion. There, I was informed that Michele Bachmann was part of a religious minority, and that due to mainstream media criticism “one has to speculate that perhaps Christians are a small minority in the United States.”

Eventually, like the memorial crosses erected in Utah, this Soledad cross will have to be removed. We can no longer claim to be a secular, pluralistic nation while winking at those who crave a “Christian Nation.” The time of pretending the cross isn’t the cross, or that monuments to the 10 commandments are religiously neutral, are quickly coming to an end. Public spaces will either have to accommodate all the other faiths that inhabit this country, or leave such expressions to the private sphere. While Christians may not think twice about a “secular” cross, it’s not a luxury many non-Christians have.

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.

I continue to be amazed at the argument that the Christian cross, the primary symbol of Christianity across the globe, can also be a “secular” symbol that “honors” dead people who aren’t Christian. It seems so clear-cut an issue to anyone who isn’t Christian. Yet, seemingly learned Supreme Court judges have made hair-splitting arguments to this effect, discussing context and “message” of various monuments erected for the dead. Recently, another high-profile cross monument, the now-infamous Mt. Soledad cross, was unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“In no way is this decision meant to undermine the importance of honoring our veterans,” the three judges said in their ruling. “Indeed, there are countless ways that we can and should honor them, but without the imprimatur of state-endorsed religion.”

Turns out the context, history, and message of this particular cross wasn’t so secular.

Michael Aguirre, a former San Diego city attorney who has followed the case closely, said cross supporters will have to counter the court’s analysis that the cross was used historically to promote Christianity. The ruling recounts that the cross was dedicated on Easter Sunday and used for religious gatherings for nearly three decades before it became a war memorial. It said La Jolla has a “well-documented history” of anti-Semitism from the 1920s to around 1970. “This cross marks La Jolla as a Christian community, that’s basically what (the judges are) saying,” said Aguirre, who is now in private practice. “It was a cross for decades in a community with a history of anti-Semitism.”

You’d think that this would be the end of the story, but it isn’t. The case will no doubt be appealed to the Supreme Court, and the court has left wriggle-room for the “modification” of the monument, meaning the cross stays up. Religion reporter Joshunda Sanders notes that it isn’t the only unconstitutional cross that is still standing. The Utah “secular symbols of death,” erected in memorial to fallen highway patrol officers, and ruled unconstitutional this past Summer, are still standing.

“A Denver appeals court has stayed an order that would remove 14 memorial crosses from Utah’s highways intended to honor fallen officers and encourage safe driving. The ruling gives the Utah attorneys general’s office 90 days to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the 12-foot-high memorials are unconstitutional.”

So now the fate of these unconstitutional crosses will most likely lay in the hands of the Supreme Court, and after the Mojave Desert cross ruling last year, which opened the door to the “secular cross” argument, many are worried the lines of separation concerning government-endorsed religion will be further blurred.

“…for Christians to celebrate this decision requires a will to allow the government to reject the distinct religious value the cross has traditionally held in Christianity.”

These events will not doubt embolden Christian groups to erect further “secular” crosses in hopes of sparking more legal decisions to establish a “secular cross” legal precedent. But the more Christian groups try to bend the law in their favor, in an attempt to return to a mythical pre-secular era of Christian dominance,  the more they make it possible for other faiths to eventually benefit from their labors. I somehow doubt these cross secularizers are going to stand in our corner when someone tries to erect a Wiccan or Asatru war dead memorial. Nor would anyone try to argue for a “secular” Jewish star of David, or “secular” Muslim crescent (particularly not the latter in our current climate). We’ll all have to wait and see what SCOTUS does, and how it will shape the religious landscape of this country.

Is the Christian Cross a “secular symbol of death”? That was the assertion of U.S. District Judge David Sam back in 2007 regarding a series of metal crosses along the Utah highway to honor state highway patrol officers who died in the line of duty. This ruling was appealed in 2008, with support from Americans United, the Hindu American Foundation, The Interfaith Alliance, the Union for Reform Judaism, and others. Officials contended that since the cross is secular, not religious, it would being used regardless of the personal religious persuasion of the fallen officer. So atheist, Mormon, Pagan, Jewish or Hindu cops would all get the giant “non-religious” cross as a memorial. However, yesterday, a three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that these crosses were not “secular” and were in fact, as they have always been, symbols of the Christian faith.

“We hold that these memorials have the impermissible effect of conveying to the reasonable observer the message that the state prefers or otherwise endorses a certain religion,” concluded the Denver, Colorado-based court. The state of Utah and a private trooper association have the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Not a secular symbol of death.

Not a secular symbol of death.

This ruling is the latest salvo in the ongoing battles over whether a Christian cross on public lands can ever be secular in orientation. The Supreme Court of the United States recently decided that in certain instances, specifically a eight-foot Christian cross WWI memorial situated on public lands in California’s Mojave National Preserve, it could.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, spoke in broad terms. Although the cross is “a Christian symbol,” said Kennedy, it was not placed on sunrise rock in the Mojave Desert to send “a Christian message.” Nor was it placed there to put a government “imprimatur on a particular creed.”

I’ve long argued that neither tradition, popularity, or ubiquity fully erases a religious symbol’s sectarian nature.

“The idea that the cross is “secular” ties into the larger notion that Christian religious expression and tradition, due to its size and ubiquity, is “normal” and ultimately beneficial. The corollary is that non-Christian religious expressions or traditions are “abnormal” and considered suspect. But popularity and tradition doesn’t remove religious context from a religious symbol, instead it subtly reinforces that faith’s dominance and “right” to utter ubiquity. If the cross was truly secular, we wouldn’t have over 40 different emblems of belief for military markers and headstones, nor would minority religions fight to have their own symbols added to that list.

There is no “secular symbol of death”, any more than there is a “secular symbol of life”, because a truly secular culture allows groups and individuals to choose and adapt their own symbols and instill them with meaning. When governments and judges start telling us which religious symbols are “secular”, we enter into a hierarchy of signs, where the faith(s) with the strongest cultural hold gains official sanction in all but name. Undermining the idea that government should make no law“respecting an establishment of religion”.”

More simply, you do not honor a Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, or Pagan by erecting a Christian cross in their name, any more than erecting a giant pentacle would honor a fallen Christian.

“The mere fact that the cross is a common symbol used in roadside memorials does not mean it is a secular symbol,” said the panel. “The massive size of the crosses displayed on Utah’s rights-of-way and public property unmistakably conveys a message of endorsement, proselytization, and aggrandizement of religion that is far different from the more humble spirit of small roadside crosses.”

The state of Utah and the Utah Highway Patrol Association are expected to appeal, so we may see how far SCOTUS is willing to go regarding the issue of “secular” crosses on public lands. Considering the fact that Justice Scalia thinks it’s “outrageous” to think that a Christian cross only honors Christian dead, we may see further advancements in efforts to secularize this religious symbol (no matter what the long-term ramifications of that may be).

Top Story: The British tabloids, hungry for some controversy, decided to ask the Ministry of Defense for the religious breakdown of active military personnel. They discovered that 100 voluntarily list themselves as Pagan, and another 30 list themselves to be Witches.

“As fighters they are capable of crushing an enemy with terrifying might. But when some members of Britain’s Armed Forces take off their uniforms, they like nothing more than casting spells and taking part in midnight rituals. Around 100 UK service personnel – some taking part in the war on terror – class themselves as pagans. Another 30 are witches, according to figures. The intriguing details about the beliefs of soldiers, sailors and airmen were obtained from the Ministry of Defence using the Freedom of Information Act.”

The problem with there only being 130 “out” Pagans in the British Armed Forces is that it isn’t a very salacious headline. That’s hardly Pagans taking over, especially when they are forced to admit that the “overwhelming majority of servicemen and women record themselves as being Christian”. To try to salvage something they get a local Pagan to speculate that there may be far more Pagans in the military who are in the “broom closet”.

“Phil Ryder, chair of the British Druid Network, said there were in fact far more pagans than the figures suggested. He said: “They tend not to publicise their beliefs for fear of discrimination. In some areas it’s seen as odd. Although the Army doesn’t like people to join secret groups there’s no reason why being a druid or a witch should affect someone’s ability to perform on the front line. “Druidry, in particular, is quite open.” A spokesman for the MoD said that members of the armed forces were free to worship whoever they like, provided it did not interfere with their work.”

Still, it’s not exactly the “ring the alarm” sort of headline these culturally conservative rags were hoping for. This was obviously intended to build on the recent media hype over the Pagan Police Association gaining official recognition as aDiversity Staff Support Association, but it looks like the Freedom of Information Act request didn’t come through for them. Still, they did provide some interesting data, and Phil Ryder is most likely correct that there are more than 130 British Armed Forces personnel, maybe some serious British news organizations will decide to explore the issue now that it’s been brought up by the tabloids.

Speaking of Pagans and British Tabloids: If Pagans in the military won’t titillate or enrage their readership, maybe English footballer Ashley Cole dating an ex-lapdancer and “white witch” will.

“The woman linked to Ashley Cole over the weekend is a former ex-lapdancer who claims to be ‘part white witch’. Mother-of-one Sarah Purnell, 23, says she can cast spells to tame her men and even claims to have reunited a friend with her ex-boyfriend simply by taking a lock of his hair … As of yet it is unclear whether she has told Ashley of her secret life as a white witch, a female who casts good spells, or whether she used her ‘powers’ to snare the footballer.”

Now we’re talking! This one has lit up the gossip pages and tabloids. It’s got it all, sex, witchcraft, (ex) strippers, and football (a topic far more likely to inflame British passions than Druids in the military). They can only hope the fling lasts, or at least lasts long enough to sell a lot of papers.

The Return of the Hippy Witch: The Irish Times puts the spotlight on Alison O’Donnell, singer of the cult folk-rock band Mellow Candle, and how her work has influenced a new generation of singers and songwriters.

“Fast forward 30-plus years and O’Donnell is still around, still making music. Since returning to Ireland some years ago from the UK and raising a daughter, and a period of time spent in Flanders, she has slowly re-emerged as a leading, if somewhat heretofore unheralded, light of the psych-folk movement. She can (and does) thank Mellow Candle for the recognition factor. Over the past few decades, the band has grown in cult status. The likes of psych-folk leaders Devendra Banhart and Espers have cottoned on to the scant Mellow Candle back catalogue, while O’Donnell herself has (and will be) collaborating with the likes of Espers’ Greg Weeks, low-key UK psych-folk act, The Owl Service, Celtic folk/metal act, Moonroot, Winnipeg-based psych-folk band, Mr Pine, and Ireland’s experimental unit, United Bible Studies.”

O’Donnell has released a new solo album entitled “Hey Hey Hippy Witch” that should be a treat for lovers of classic folk-rock in the vein of Fairport, Trees, or Mellow Candle. You may also want to check out The Owl Service, Moonroot, and Espers as well.

Why Are We Saving Christian Crosses But Not Buddhist Stupas? Buddhists are protesting the planned destruction of a Tibetan Buddhist Stupa in New Mexico after the National Park Service seized the (formerly private) land using the power of eminent domain.

“The question has to be raised, is there an attempt to establish a de facto ‘official’ religion in the United States, as demonstrated by the actions of several govermental agencies the over the past 5 years? Ken Salazar, the Secretary for the Department of the Interior, which runs the National Park Service, has been eerily quiet about these actions, as has the Obama administration. Unquestionably, the volunteer caretakers of the Stupa have been more than willing to work with the NPS to preserve the Buddhist symbol within the confines of its amphitheater plans, however, any attempts to open dialogue have been met with no success. One of the ongoing advertising campaigns of the NPS has been “Get Involved!”; I suppose they only wish those to get involved if they are indeed Christian.”

Considering the eerie similarities between this case and the WWI Christian cross memorial that was ruled “secular” by the Supreme Court, will it too be spared? Or will the defenders the “secular” cross now fall silent? For more Pagan exploration of this issue, see this recent post at Pagan+Politics. I’ll be reporting more on this issue in the future, so stay tuned.

Is Dan Halloran Abusing His Power? The NY Politics Examiner has accused conservative New York City Councilman, and out TheodsmanDan Halloran of abusing the power of his office by using a City Council parking permit and license plate to ignore parking laws.

“In the neighborhood known to be impossible to find a legal parking space on the street, Halloran’s white Jaguar with a city parking permit on the dashboard and “NYC COUNCIL 19″ on his license plate is parked right next to a sign that clearly reads “NO STANDING HOTEL LOADING ZONE” in front of the entrance to the Sheraton New York Towers.  The placard and plate do not make it legal for Halloran to park there, but most police officers and traffic agents will leave such a car alone.  As of publication Halloran’s car had not been ticketed and towed … Halloran could not immediately be located for comment, but examiner.com will keep trying and update with whatever answer he gives us as to why while everyone is else is spending an arm and a leg on the hotel parking lot, he saw fit to violate the very laws he helps write.”

What do you think? Serious ethical breach, or tempest in a tea (party)-pot?

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

Just a few quick notes for you this Friday to start off your weekend.

Halloran Won’t Be Running For Congress: Conservative New York City Councilman, and out Theodsman, Dan Halloran has decided he won’t be challenging Democratic Rep. Gary Ackerman in November. According to Halloran, it all came down to money.

“After seriously weighing a congressional run against Rep. Gary Ackerman, Republican City Council Member Dan Halloran has decided to take a pass on the race—at least until 2012. Halloran said he had been in talks with the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) about how much money they could provide for the race, a key factor given that it is already mid-May and he has not begun fundraising for a Congressional campaign. According to Halloran, the NRCC last week offered him “hundreds of thousands of dollars” but “less than a million”—not enough for Halloran to run against Ackerman and his $1.1 million war chest, he said. Halloran declined to name the exact amount the NRCC had offered him. Still, Halloran said the fact that the NRCC offered him any money was an indication of his potential viability running against a 14-term incumbent.”

The NRCC denies offering Halloran any concrete amount of money for the race, and says that their contact with the potential candidate was “brief”, and “months ago”. This final decision came after months of “will he or won’t he” starting in March when rumors of a Tea Party-fueled candidacy first arose. He at first said he was “content” being a city council member, but then changed his answer to a “maybe” in April, citing anger over health care reform. But now he’s definitely out, and the NRCC are backing a candidate that isn’t Halloran, so it seems that the matter is settled. At least until 2012, as Halloran says he’s “definitely not precluding running in two years”.

Druids Reduce Highway Deaths: Austria’s Motorway Authority have apparently been hiring Druids to cleanse “blackspots”, places on the highway where accidents are concentrated.

“Motoroway bosses in Austria secretly hired a full-time team of druids to drain ‘negative energy’ from accident blackspots. The team is said to have reduced fatal accidents at one notorious crash site to zero after restoring its “terrestrial radiation”. Chief engineer Harald Dirnbacher from Austria’s motorway authority ASFINAG explained: “We were really sceptical at first and certainly didn’t want people to know what we were doing, so we kept it secret.” But now the trial results are so impressive officials are spreading the scheme nationwide.”

I would love to know which Druids these are. Part of a larger organization? A small local group? I also wish I could see the data verifying their results. How many years did they measure the effects of this “negative energy” drain? Was this effort coupled with more secular engineering solutions? Inquiring minds want to know!

The Return of the Revenge of the Secular Cross: So first the Supreme Court said that a WWI Christian cross memorial on public lands could be a secular symbol honoring soldiers of all religions, then someone stole the cross, prompting outrage. Then the vandal released an anonymous statement on the matter, and now someone has anonymously put up an replica even bigger cross.

“There is a twist in the case of the missing cross. Mysteriously (or miraculously?) a cross has arisen at the spot in the Mojave Desert where a large one at the center of a dispute over church and state disappeared this month. The new cross, about six inches taller than the seven-foot one stolen from the rock it sat on since the mid-1990s, was discovered Thursday by National Park Service workers.”

However, one illegal act doesn’t cancel out another illegal act, so that cross will be taken down. In fact, it’s an open question if the cross can be replaced at all until the legal appeals regarding the land-transition deal are heard. No doubt there will be a lot more in the case of the secular cross in the weeks and months to come.

That’s all I have for now, but before you go, be sure and check out an interview with yours truly over at Patheos.com.

Have a great day!

Top Story: A coalition of Ukrainian political parties have introduced a sweeping bill into parliament (full text) that would outlaw virtually any activity that involves any kind of predestination in exchange for a fee.  This isn’t just an ordinance to limit palm-readers and psychics, it’s almost obsessive in its thoroughness.

“…future (fortune) predicting services – is the activity of fortune-tellers, chiromancers, astrologers, seers, sorcerers, clairvoyants , soothsayers, prophets and other persons who, with the use of fortune- telling, palmistry, numerology and magic ceremonies and techniques try to guess the future (fortune) or unknown facts about persons, objects or other phenomena (weather, harvest, etc.), as well as allegedly correct the future (fortune) of a person and his/her problems, kill the hoodoo with the use of magic techniques and ceremonies.”

In addition to banning the practice of these services for money, they are also banned from appearing on television, placing advertising, or being written about in a positive light by the local press. Needless to say this has been controversial for those who engage in some of those practices. Ukrainian astrologers are protesting the measure, but as an outsider it’s hard to tell how successful they will be, or what the prospects of this bill are in the Ukrainian parliament. The bill’s author, MP Pavel Unguryan, had this to say about it.

“The Government and the people’s deputies of Ukraine have long been receiving numerous complaints from citizens, Christian faiths, religious and community organizations concerned about the harmful effects of Ukrainian citizens work of psychics, healers, fortune tellers, palmists and dominance in the media and television variety of commercial software, which offers paid services of questionable content on the so-called healers, fortune-tellers and psychics”

One wonders if this is fall-out from the fact that certain prominent politicians in the Ukraine are (in)famous for engaging the services of psychics and fortune-tellers. Indeed, psychic services are generally quite popular in that country. So passage of this bill may not be a sure thing. Due to the language barrier it will be hard for me to keep track of this story so I ask anyone who’s following this matter in the Ukraine to please keep me posted if you hear any developments.

In Other News:

Modern Paganism and Islam: Can a religion like Wicca appeal to someone raised in a Muslim household? Enough to have them convert and renounce their former faith? Apparently it can. The Guardian prints an editorial from “Goldie Kuresh” about her journey from Islam to Paganism.

“I gravitated toward paganism, specifically witchcraft. I liked that these were not “people of the book” and their only “book” was one that the follower created him or herself. I liked that there was a whole pantheon of gods and goddesses to engage with; it wasn’t worship in the old sense of the word, it was co-creation. The only thing that troubled me about my new tribe was its propensity to want to organise into groups that then try to get mainstream recognition. I quite liked the lack of organisation and/or dogma that paganism represents.

The lack of any structure, hierarchy (as a solitary person I never joined a coven with a priest or priestess), or rules meant that I was free to do as I pleased. I followed the guidance I received in dreams. I accepted and adopted that which felt true to me and rejected that which didn’t. I celebrated the solstices and lived by the moon. It was a time of expansion and magic.”

It seems that for some, modern Paganism’s lack of hierarchy, and decentralized structure, is a selling point. One wonders if Goldie’s experience is unique, or if other young Muslims are looking to Paganism as an alternative.

More on the Stolen Secular Cross: An anonymous letter that is alleged to be from the thief of the controversial WWI Mojave desert cross memorial has surfaced. The alleged letter explaining the theft was printed in its entirety by the Desert Dispatch, here’s an excerpt.

“The cross in question was not vandalized. It was simply moved. This was done lovingly and with great care. The cross has been carefully preserved. It has not been destroyed as many have assumed. I am a Veteran. … We as a nation need to change the dialogue and stop pretending that this is about a war memorial. If it is a memorial, then we need to stop arguing about the cross and instead place a proper memorial on that site, one that respects Christians and non-Christians alike, and one that is actually recognizable as a war memorial.”

It should be stressed that there is no evidence at this time that the letter is from the thief (or thieves). So its content should be taken with the requisite grain of salt until proven to be genuine.

How Not to Dress at  a Powwow: The Native Appropriation blog examines a recent incident where a group of teenage girls showed up to Stanford powwow, one of the largest powwows on the West Coast, in war-paint, feathers, and fringe.

“These girls are students at Palo Alto High School. Definitely one of the best high schools in the area, if not the state. It is a high school that turns out tops students who go on to top colleges, and enrolls children of professors, stanford employees, and other well educated silicon valley execs. To top it off, the school is literally across the street from Stanford. Across the street from a school that hosts the largest student run powwow in the nation for 39 years running, that is home to nearly 300 Native students, that has one of the strongest college Native communities in California.

I would like to think that the combination of those factors would equate some level of understanding, that a high school of their caliber would incorporate some type of curriculum on Native history, or at least a basic level of cultural sensitivity. Clearly, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

Adrienne goes on to discuss the fine line between engaging with Native culture, and mocking/appropriating it. I also recommend her essay on why that “hipster headdress” is a bad idea.

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

Isaac Bonewits’ Battle With Cancer: There has been some not-so-encouraging news in the saga of Pagan author and theologian Isaac Bonewits’ battle with cancer. It seems the rare form of colon cancer he was diagnosed with has not been responding to the rounds of chemo he’s been undergoing, and the prognosis from doctors has been grim.


Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits

“A very stressful day for both of us. Isaac’s very weak from last week’s chemo, so he is back in the hospital for a few days. A very frank talk with his oncologist was not encouraging. In short, the best they can do is control his disease. He will not get well. If he cannot tolerate chemo at levels that control the tumors, there is nothing else they can do.”

At this point doctors say that nothing short of a miracle would help, so Phaedra Bonewits is calling for everyone to “kick the magic into gear” and make that miracle happen. As someone who has family living with cancer, I can understand the pain and heartbreak involved, and I wish healing and strength to Isaac and Phaedra in this trying time. I’m sure that in addition to your prayers and invocations, a donation towards their climbing medical costs wouldn’t hurt either. For up-to-date news and information, you can follow their Facebook fan-page.

The Case of the Missing (Secular) Cross: It seems that someone, or more likely a group of someones, unhappy with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding a Christian WWI memorial on public lands in the Mojave Desert, took the law into their own hands.

“Less than two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the controversial 7-foot-high Mojave Desert cross could stay put, but on Sunday someone else decided it should go. Investigators who arrived at its former perch Monday found a few bits of rusty metal, 1.6 million acres of desert and a big mystery on their hands. “One day it was there, the next day it wasn’t,” said Linda Slater, spokeswoman for the Mojave National Preserve, where the cross stood for 76 years. “It was bolted directly to the rock, and the bolts were cut. Someone has that cross.” Whoever that someone is could have driven right up to it, knocked it down, loaded it up and been in Las Vegas, Barstow or dozens of other communities in a few hours, officials said.”

The Liberty Institute, who are representing the memorial caretakers, as well as several veteran groups in this case, are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in this act. Currently there is some debate as to if the cross can be replaced before all litigation has been exhausted, since the issue of the congressional land transfer was sent back to the lower courts. Naturally, advocates on both sides of this legal case are condemning this act, but some, like the Alliance Defense Fund and American Thinker, are already framing this act of vandalism as a salvo in a great left-right war for America’s soul.

“Personal.  Sickening.  Disgraceful.  Vets symbolize what is good in America.  The thief who did this represents what is bad.  And there is no middle.  The war in America is an age-old war and must be fought with old tactics.  Truth and facts are weapons of the right.  They must be deployed with vigor against the Left.”

Whoever did this was truly stupid. They didn’t solve the issue, and have instead confirmed the worst suspicions of conservative activists, and tarnished the efforts of those fighting for a clear separation between church and state in this country. There will be another cross, and if the ACLU of Southern California should happen to ultimately win, we’ll no doubt see a truly national uproar and civil disobedience to go along with it. I don’t agree that the Christian cross can be a secular symbol of death, and I think it muddies the waters of religious establishment in this country, but this should not have happened. Anyone who is secretly (or not so secretly) cheering this, doesn’t understand the setbacks this will put into play.

More on the Maetreum of Cybele: The Watershed Post has an in-depth look at the ongoing legal struggles of the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent located in upstate New York. It’s filled with all sorts of wonderful details, like how the Maetreum’s Reverend Mother, Cathryn Platine, has become something of a local anti-tax icon, and how they aren’t the first to run into this sort of local tax trouble in the area.

“Balking at giving tax exemptions to property owned by religious organizations is a local tradition. Desperate for revenue and besieged by the many sprawling, tax-free estates of churches, monasteries, ashrams, and yeshivas, the region’s town assessors tend to turn a jaundiced eye on exemption requests. Catskill Town Assessor Nancy McCoy is no exception.”

Ironically, Catskill recently gave Wal-Mart a big tax break, citing the high court costs of not doing so. History may repeat itself, as court hearings in this case so far haven’t been overly favorable to Catskill, and have allowed the Maetreum to re-serve their suit to include the School Board and the County, blocking any action on collection of taxes until the case is settled.

That’s all I have for now, but before I go, be sure to check out the newly posted two-part interview with author Erynn Rowan Laurie over at Patheos. In it she discusses Celtic Reconstructionism, poetry, and her involvement in the newly-launched Warriors & Kin group-blog project.