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A recent column by Francis Wilkinson in The Week Magazine puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is a front-runner for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. It seems her role in the notorious  Fells Acres Day Care Case is causing some waves among Democrats with a long memory for abuses of power.

“Coakley did not prosecute the case, which was already under way when she joined the office as an assistant district attorney in 1986. But years later, after the day-care abuse hysteria had subsided and she had won the office’s top job, she worked to keep the convicted “ringleader,” Gerald Amirault, behind bars despite widespread doubts that a crime had been committed … the convictions won by the Middlesex DA in the Fells Acres case have not borne up well. By today’s standards, the prosecution of the Amirault family, who owned and operated the day-care center in Malden, Mass., looks like a master class in battling witchcraft.”

It looked like “battling witchcraft” because these “ritual abuse” (aka “Satanic abuse” or “organized abuse”) cases often hinged on rumours and false testimony of an imaginary network of underground Satanic sex and abuse-cults. Children were often prodded and coaxed into false testimony, much of which is recanted when those same children grow up, and many innocent men and women spent years, sometimes decades, of their lives behind bars. In the instance of the Fells Acres case, children were interviewed by nurse and SRA true-believer Susan J. Kelley, who elicited flatly implausible testimony about sex with bladed implements and “clowns” in “magic rooms” from children that a judge later called “improper” and “biased”.

“The evidence in this case is nothing short of overwhelming with improper interviewing techniques. The bias toward the Amiraults by investigators and interviewers from the beginning. Parental and other family influences. All of it leading to these tragic results.”

Despite the mounting evidence that this case was handled improperly, and that it was very likely the Amirault family were innocent of the charges brought against them, Coakley stubbornly refused to revisit the case. As D.A. she opposed parole for the family despite many lawyers thinking this was a “travesty” of justice, and she made strange conditions for the release of Cheryl Amirault LeFave.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

These conditions, and this case, has made some Democrats uneasy about her candidacy, and seems to be causing her supporters to close ranks on the issue. As for Coakley, she defends her decisions regarding the case, saying she feels the Amirault family were indeed guilty.

“Based on my own extensive experience with child abuse investigations and cases, and my thorough review of all the evidence, including that which is often taken out of context and deemed “exculpatory,” I also believe the convictions were sound, and that he received a fair trial. It is for all of the above reasons that I, as Middlesex District Attorney, opposed his commutation, and I stand by that decision to this day.”

One wonders if this is a case of not wanting to admit to a mistake, access to some sort of mysterious insider knowledge that several lawyers, reporters, judges, and parole boards don’t have, or if Coakley is (like the judge that oversaw Gerald Amirault’s trial) an SRA true-believer. I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter, because if we see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail based almost solely on improperly gathered testimony and hysteria.

Now that the Dan Halloran issue seems to be settled (at least until election day), lets turn to the other candidate who was recently outed as a Pagan. On September 18th the conservative talk-show SpeakOut interviewed Alice Richmond, Democratic candidate for District 1 Supervisor in Page County, Virginia. During the program a “Jim Logan” called and asked Richmond if she was “Lady Raya”, author of two books on Wicca. Richmond repeatedly denied the allegation on the air, causing her to backtrack later when a local television channel followed up on the story.

“A bio of Lady Raya on that site is almost identical to Richmond’s resume, including education at Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania. “Lady Raya isn’t anyone. Lady Raya is a fictional character,” says Richmond. “Did I, however, write that book? Yes, I did.” Richmond also writes the Page County Watch blog and has made open government a central issue in her campaign. So, why did she deny questions about her past? “Many people when they are misunderstanding and not knowing what metaphysical books are, can react badly,” says Richmond.”

Now trying to move past the outing and her initial denials, Richmond talks to the local Page News and Courier, explaining why she initially denied being Lady Raya and writing those books on Wicca.

“Richmond explained that at the time of the broadcast, she didn’t want to say “yes” because of what people may think. “I essentially panicked when that guy asked the question,” said Richmond. Richmond later publicly stated she did write the books. Though prepared to express her beliefs as a Wiccan, Richmond said she was not prepared for the books and Lady Raya to be brought up.”

While the initial denials, and subsequent admission, most likely hurt her standing with some in Page County, it has also spurred a big spike in traffic to her web site and gained her new supporters.

“Thanks to the Speakout show for invigorating interest in my campaign and traffic on the blog. The Blog pages were viewed 1,360 times yesterday. And thanks to the anonymous mass emailer, who has been sending the link to PageCountyWatch.org out titled “Page County Watch or Page County Witch”. Traffic is at new highs, and I no longer have to be concerned that my message is not being widely received around the county. In fact, the Blog has been viewed more times in the past week than the Page News and Courier has circulation in the county.”

While her outing as a Wiccan may be damaging to the campaign, it is also very likely that opponents may have over-stepped in their out-the-Witch campaign, bringing her more free publicity and new supporters than she may have otherwise gotten. Meanwhile, a commenter on Richmond’s blog points out that accusations of a set-up by the hosts of SpeakOut were all but confirmed on the program’s next episode.

[bliptv AYGi2HEC]

Interesting that the talk show hosts were too cowardly to bring up the matter themselves and instead set up an ambush. If this is the way politics are done in Page County, Virginia, maybe they really do need a change in government. As for Alice Richmond, she may just yet become living proof that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

After last weeks reports/rumors from City Hall News and the Village Voice that Theodish political candidate Dan Halloran was going to be replaced by his party with a conservative Democrat in the race for a seat on New York’s City Council, it seemed only a matter of time before he “voluntarily” stepped down. But a flurry of reports since Monday seem to assert that attempts to replace Halloran were either untrue or inviable, and the New York Republicans will be standing by their man.

“Queens Republicans are vehemently denying published reports that they are going to replace Dan Halloran as their candidate for the District 19 City Council seat …“The Queens County Republican Party has not for even a moment entertained a substitution of our candidate,” said Vince Tabone, Queens executive vice chairman and spokesperson for the Halloran campaign. “What we have done is stand firmly with Dan Halloran and called on Congressman [Gary] Ackerman and his staffer Kevin Kim to renounce the vile, repugnant attacks on Dan Halloran’s faith and heritage,” he continued.”

Lisa Derrick at La Figa corrals several of the reports refuting claims that Halloran is stepping down, and interviews another Pagan lawyer from New York, author Phyllis Curott.

“Attitudes have certainly changed–the Republican Party apparently already knew he was Pagan! They’re defending his religious freedom, advocating religious tolerance and condemning a religious test for office as repugnant. Marvelous. Quite a change from Jesse Helm’s introducing legislation to take away the tax-exempt status of Wiccan religious institutions.”

Meanwhile, Chris Bragg at City Hall News, who had a hand in reporting the rumors that the GOP was looking to replace Halloran, now claims that behind-the-scenes efforts to replace Halloran with conservative Democrat Paul Vallone have failed.

“Ending conversations and speculation about whether Paul Vallone would run as a Republican in the race to replace Council Member Tony Avella, Vallone will endorse Democratic candidate Kevin Kim this afternoon, according to Kim’s campaign. The endorsement will take place at 4 p.m. at Kim’s campaign headquarters in Bayside … The endorsement comes after a day of negotiations between leaders of the Queens Democratic Party, the Kim campaign and the Vallone family … Over the past week, Queens Republicans have engaged in talks with Vallone about the replacing embattled Republican candidate Dan Halloran, whose belief in a pre-Christian pagan religion were disclosed in a Sept. 17 article in the Queens Tribune.”

Whether Curott is correct and attitudes within the (New York) GOP have changed, or if the party simply couldn’t replace Halloran in way that didn’t look bad for them, it looks like Halloran will remain the Republican (and Libertarian, Independence, and Conservative) candidate for District 19 city council. Now, onto the race! I can’t wait to see the polling for this one.

This doesn’t seem to be a good month for politicians who want to keep their Pagan faith to themselves. Just last week Republican candidate for New York’s City Council Dan Halloran was outed as a Pagan by a partisan newspaper, and now the Democratic candidate running for District 1 Supervisor in Page County, Virginia has been outed as a Pagan on a local conservative call-in talk show.

“A local political candidate faces questions about a controversial book she may or may not have written. Alice Richmond is running to represent District 1 on the Page County Board of Supervisors. She recently denied writing a book about Wiccan history and rituals called “Thirteen Lessons for Pleasing the Divine: A Witch’s Primer.” In denying she wrote it, is she being honest about her past? It all started Friday with a radio interview. On the call-in show SpeakOut, a man identifying himself as Jim Logan had some questions for Richmond about two titles he’d found … Richmond said, “That is not me, Jim.” … Richmond denied she was Lady Raya a couple times more.”

On Alice Richmond’s blog she explains that she denied being “Lady Raya” due to fear of retribution from “ignorant morons”.

“Why is my name not tied to Lady Raya? Well, that is very simple: There are ignorant morons out there who think there are real witches who can put spells on them, and they get scared of it so they think it’s fair game to tamper with their mail, invade their offices, and otherwise threaten them physically. A “nom de plume” is used in authoring a book because otherwise, it would be dangerous to present information.”

As you can imagine, local Republicans are having a field day.

“Richmond’s opponent in this case, Robert Griffith, declined to go on camera, but did say he wanted Richmond to be clear about whether or not she wrote the book.”

While it does seem that Alice Richmond was set-up with a planned outing in order to damage her campaign, her denials and subsequent attempts to portray Lady Raya as a “fictional character” only feed into the accusations that her Pagan past is “controversial” and something to hide. Now we’ll have to see if Richmond’s campaign can move past this incident, and if her Republican opponent (not to mention his supporters) can resist using Wicca and modern Paganism as a political football.

Meanwhile, the Queens Tribune article on Republican candidate Dan Halloran, and alleged efforts by his opponent’s spokesman to spread the story to the press may be sucessful in damaging his campaign. While one local story gave sympathetic coverage of Halloran’s religious journey, and another portrayed the GOP as “having faith” in the candidate for New York City Council, the Village Voice claims that Halloran may be on the verge of being replaced as a candidate.

“Up until the story ran, Halloran was the odds-on favorite to win the November general election against newcomer Kevin Kim who won last week’s Deocratic primary against a crowded field seeking to fill Tony Avella’s vacated seat. Now all bets are off, and City Hall news blog reports today that Republican leaders are negotiating to swap Halloran for Paul Vallone, member of the illustrious Queens Democratic clan who lost to Kim in the primary.”

Are Republicans really going to swap out Halloran for a conservative Democrat? If they do, what about Halloran’s ballot lines for the Libertarian, Independence, and Conservative parties? I very much doubt they’ll all want to switch horses at this point. Rumors that Halloran would be given a judicial nod in exchange for vacating the ballot for Vallone seem to be stalled due to legal obstacles to such a plan. As for Queens County Democratic Party chair Michael Reich, he’s keeping in classy by describing Theodism as a “cult”.

“They should stick with the candidate they picked, even if he happens to be in a cult.”

So one political party is privately embarrassed by Halloran’s faith and wants to kick him off the ballot, and the other political party is calling his faith a “cult” and using it to score points against him. I think the Shakespearean response here would be “a pox on both their houses”.

Both of these stories, not to mention the recent trials of Democratic delegate Rita Moran, all point to a simple fact: In the age of the Internet there is no “broom closet” secure enough to keep your secret. If you’ve ever mentioned your faith in public, be it a message board, e-list, book, magazine article, or mass-e-mail then you can’t expect your secrets to remain secret. The only response is to acknowledge that open adherence to a modern Pagan or Heathen faith will make some voters react negatively, and embrace a new level of transparency your most likely uncomfortable with. Pretending to be generically Judeo-Christian for the sake of politics is only a recipe for disaster. Eventually, and very likely before you’re elected, it will leak. If powerful politicians with far more to lose can’t keep their affairs or sexual preferences secret, what hope is there of hiding that article about Witchcraft your wrote, or that public festival you attended?

Pagan politicians, no matter what party they are with, need to be open about their faith from the start. If the message we keep sending to our interconnected communities is that modern Paganism is something we must keep hidden, if we treat our faiths as a “third rail” in politics, then a Pagan politician will never reach high office. We must win as who we really are, or we will never win. Yes, that will make the journey harder, it will remove the short-cuts of easy endorsements and fat contributions, but we need to make that journey no matter how hard. We must remain open no matter how strong the instinct to keep hidden, and eventually, with time and work, we will win. We will win and that victory will shatter the barriers that have hindered so many who tried to run and were brought low by mudslinging and fear. We will win, but we must come out, come out, wherever we are.

FaithWorld, Religion Clause, and Religion Dispatches all point to a newly-released poll from Public Religion Research and the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics that compares conservative and progressive/liberal religious activists. While it “contains very little that will surprise anyone”, the poll does starkly display the vast differences in diversity between the politically active religious “left” and “right”. To quote the findings:

“Conservative and progressive religious activists are deeply religious, but have strikingly different religious profiles. In terms of religious affiliation, conservative activists are almost exclusively Christian, whereas progressive activists are more diverse.”

Let’s have a look at the graphs.

I think “strikingly different” is a fair assessment. Not even 1% of conservative activists would admit to being non-Christian, while 2% of progressive activists admit to being in the “other” category (the happy land of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Pagans that exists only in the minds of polling organizations) and an impressively significant 12% labeled themselves as Unitarian-Universalist or mixed-faith.

“Progressive activists are markedly more diverse in terms of religious affiliation. No single faith tradition makes up a majority of progressive religious activists. A plurality (44%) of progressive religious activists identify as Mainline Protestants, one?sixth (17%) are Roman Catholics, and one?tenth are Evangelical Protestants. Twelve percent identify with Unitarian?Universalists, interfaith, or mixed faith groups. Six percent of progressive religious activists are Jewish. Interestingly, 8% of these activists have no formal religious affiliation or identify as formerly affiliated. Two percent identify with other religious traditions.”

So what does it all mean? First it confirms that majority-holding conservative evangelicals (54%), in alliance with conservative Catholics (35%), completely dominate religiously-motivated activism on the right, and the likelihood of non-Christian faiths ever having a significant voice in the current state of right-wing politics is slim-to-nil. Meanwhile, no one group holds a majority within the world of religious progressives, allowing for a far more diverse coalition to exist. This reality has some wide-ranging political implications, it means that as minority religions grow they may be far more likely to vote for a liberal/progressive candidate, even if they disagree on some issues, because the opposition is seen as uniquely hostile to them. Around 74% of modern Pagans voted for Obama in the last election, and I bet that Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims had similarly lopsided polling numbers.

“Among progressive activists, 58% say Obama was their first choice in the Democratic primary, and 93% supported him in the general election … Among progressive activists, 1-in-5 say faith was the most important factor, and 41% report that faith was as important as other factors in deciding who to support in the election.”

Further, while minority faiths are vastly smaller in number compared to evangelicals or Catholics, some polling suggests that people who have a “favorable” opinion of minority faiths are more likely to vote in their interests, creating a sphere of influence that far outstrips their actual population. Conservative activists should see these polling results with some dismay, while they have a dependably large bloc of support amongst conservative evangelicals, the candidates that make them happy can often deeply alienate non-Christians who might otherwise be interested in conservative stances on various issues. As for liberal and progressive organizers, they need to recognize that a large portion of their religious coalition doesn’t identify as Christian, and to stop over-privileging “nice” pseudo-moderate Christians like Jim Wallis and Rick “Purpose Driven Life” Warren up as the voice of a “religious left” that will draw more evangelical voters away from the conservatives. This new poll makes it pretty clear that isn’t about to happen no matter who you get to make an invocation.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 26, 2009 — 6 Comments

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

Charles Arthur Roberts, who is serving five years in prison for aggravated assault, is suing the Texas prison system for preventing him from practicing Wicca while incarcerated.

“Roberts alleges in a pro se lawsuit that he made repeated requests practice Wicca to the chaplain and administrators at TDCJ’s Lopez Unit off El Cibolo Road in Edinburg … The 28-year-old Brownsville native claims that prison administrators allow Catholic, Protestant and Moslem services but will not allow him to practice his Wiccan faith. Roberts wrote in his lawsuit that administrators told him they needed a Wiccan volunteer to hold a service for him but that they never attempted to obtain a volunteer. The jailed Wiccan claims he even tried to contact administrators at a state level but never received a reply. “I have been dealing with the defendants for a year to get things for my religion but they have not tried to get anything started, which is a violation of my Constitutional rights,” Roberts wrote in his lawsuit.”

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice won’t comment on the case, but did reveal that three inmates and an outside volunteer are required before they will allow scheduled sessions. If Roberts could not meet the three-inmate threshold, the case could be dismissed if he can’t also prove prison officials blocked attempts to find an outside volunteer or acquire Wiccan religious materials. While many jail-house lawsuits can be frivolous, we shouldn’t forget that according to Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum there is “endemic” discrimination against incarcerated religious minorities.

The Maine Family Policy Council, formerly known as the Christian Civic League of Maine, are back to spreading lies about Rita Moran, Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, who was one of two openly Pagan delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Not content with first outing her as a Pagan and then stalking her, they are now trying to play the victim by misquoting an interview she did with a Pagan podcast back in 2007.

“In a recently discovered podcast, Rita Moran, Chairwoman of the Kennebec County Democrats, claims she cast a spell on the Administrator of the Christian Civic League, Mike Hein, in response to her outing by the League as a practitioner of the occult … In the podcast, Moran presents herself as a practitioner of an “earth-based” religion, but states she does not wear a pentacle, for the sake of ‘plausible deniability.’ If asked, she tells people she is a practitioner of an ‘earth-based’ religion. During the interview, Moran also expresses a desire to form a national “Pagan Caucus” within the Democratic Party, so that the Democrat Party and paganism can come together in a “positive way.” When asked if Mike Hein suffered any backlash from her outing, she replied that she is certain that there was an occult backlash, based on her casting of an “earth spell” on Hein.”

I happened to have listened to the podcast in question (mp3 link), from the now-defunct Lance and Graal show, and it clearly says that she cast a “mirror” spell (not an “earth” spell, whatever that means). In other words, the only malefic thing Mike Hein may have received spiritually is what he was already dishing out against Moran. It is truly sad that some supposedly moral Christians feel the need to lie, break laws, and harass innocent people to feel superior. One has to wonder if Focus on the Family knows what sort of things this “affiliated” group gets up to in the name of Christ.

Warning! Some minor True Blood second-season spoilers follow! Do you watch the HBO vampire series True Blood? If not, you’re apparently missing out on some hot-and-heavy pagan themes in addition to all the vampire-lovin’ that’s already going on. A character introduced in the current (second) season, Maryann, was revealed to be a maenad, and some Pagans are seriously unhappy with the way things are being portrayed.

“…they could have called her a Maenad and been done with it – I wouldn’t have been thrilled with that, but I expected it. They went WAY too far with this, IMO. They have to bring in Lilith, Isis, Gaia, the Horned God AND Dionysus? To abuse the name of Isis, the favorite name of the Goddess, in that way was particularly offensive to me. The Christian devil imagery is so predictable and cliche – you may be right, the writers need to do some research.”

I’ve heard similar rumblings from other Pagans as well, but I’ll reserve personal judgement for after the season closes, and I’ve seen the episodes. However, if you aren’t spoiler-averse and want a taste of the way things are going, check out this recap of episode ten for some of the Dionysian mayhem currently on display.

Reuters covers the festival of Lurol in Tibet, a time that displays the syncretic mix between Tibetan Buddhism and the animist/shamanic Bon faith.

Dressed in special clothes, his long hair carefully cut and braided, Damtsengbon waits for his spirit, Amyesrmachen, the most sacred mountain god in the region. Other villagers call the spirit’s name while Damtsengbon, who like many Tibetans only goes by one name, enters a trance, twitching and jerking. “I am the third generation to channel this god, so it is not just about me. For three generations the god has manifested himself through us, and even living Buddhas recognize this … I think it’s a way for me to serve my people. It keeps us together and protects us, so it’s an honor to serve them.”

I recommend reading the entirety of this fascinating look into Tibetan religion and culture.

In a final note, be sure and check out presentations from friends-of-this-blog John W. Morehead and Chas Clifton at the recently-held 2009 CENSUR conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Chas Clifton’s presentation, “In the Mists of Avalon: How Contemporary Paganism Dodges the ‘Crisis of History’”, is particularly interesting for those wondering why Wicca and modern Paganism didn’t collapse with the advent of better scholarship.

“Contemplating the crisis—or crises—of history as they affect contemporary Paganism, the Wiccan journalist Margot Alder comments,  “Traditionally, religions with indefensible histories and dogmas cling to them tenaciously. The Craft avoided this through the realization, often unconscious, that its real sources lie in the mind, in art, in creative work.”[31] By relying on the fictive power of books and other creative products to provide a sort of sacred story, the contemporary Pagans described thus step out of history while retaining a modern respect for the historian’s scholarship and thus postponing a collision between historical narrative and mythic past.”

For those interested in the study of new religious movements, you should check out all the “cyberproceedings” available online.

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

I don’t know if you heard, but Barack Obama won the race for president of the United States of America last night. Though “won” doesn’t quite express the historic margins of victory on display here. The Obama campaign won commanding majorities of several key demographics.

“Mr. Obama built a coalition that included majorities of women, independent voters, political moderates, Hispanics, African-Americans, people of most income groups and education levels and voters under age 45, according to nationwide surveys of voters leaving the polls on Tuesday and telephone interviews of some people who had voted early.”

So the pollsters, psychics, practitioners of divination, and other “spiritually advanced people” who predicted an Obama win can rest easy in the knowledge that they were correct. Which brings us to the Pagans. How did they vote this election? Thanks to The Witches’ Voice, we have a rough snapshot of who our community supported in 2008.


Witchvox 2008 Presidential Poll

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pagans overall preferred Obama and the Democratic party, with nearly 3/4ths supporting Barack Obama. This is an improvement of almost 2 percentage points over Kerry in 2004. Republican-leaning Pagans on the other hand seemed deeply unhappy with their party’s nominee. While Bush garnered 17.7% of the Pagan vote in 2004, McCain dropped seven percentage points, with most of those voters migrating to the “None of the above” category. In contrast, only 1.5% of Pagans went with “other” in 2004. Could the appointment of Sarah Palin, with her ties to anti-Pagan “spiritual warfare” churches, have been a poison pill for conservative Pagans?

This election cycle also saw progressive Pagans vote for the Green party in larger numbers, 3.2% this year as opposed to 0.8% in 2004. Support for Ralph Nader, who ran as an independent in 2004 and 2008, remained stable with around 2.5% of the vote in both elections. Among the smaller political parties, the Libertarians were hardest hit this election. While 5.6% went for Michael Badnarik in ’04, only 2.3% voted for Bob Barr. I can only imagine that Barr’s anti-Pagan past came back to haunt him.

While Pagan Obama supporters must be very happy right now, it wasn’t all good news for us. Paganistan (aka Minnesota’s Twin Cities) saw the reelection of congresswoman Michele “investigate the liberals” Bachmann, a woman unafraid to dump money on anti-Pagan charities. It also isn’t looking very good for gay marriage in California (anti-gay marriage bans were also passed in Arizona and Florida). Earlier this year I explained how these marriage bans interfere with the religious liberties of Pagan clergy willing to perform ceremonies for gay couples.

Despite these political setbacks, I can say I’m truly happy that the age of George “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion” Bush is finally coming to an end. I’m also pleased to see the emergence of a more politically engaged Pagan movement. I look optimistically to the future of America, and the continuing growth and influence of modern Pagans in our world.

ADDENDUM: Nate Silver at the 538 blog has posted exit-polling data from the election and finds that the Witchvox poll numbers are pretty darn accurate (with 73% of religious “other” voters preferring Obama).

Just to remind my readers keeping track of the Democratic National Convention that our own embedded Pagan reporters over at Blue Pagans at the DNC will be sending in regular updates as everything unfolds. Maine delegate Rita Moran has already posted her impressions of the opening interfaith ceremony.

“The high point for me, where Rev. Daughtry proved how inclusive she had planned the service to be, came when she stated, “We are created in the image of our Creator, whatever we call Him or Her.” Acknowledgment of the feminine divine truly demonstrated how inclusive the Democratic Party is, and made me proud to be a Democrat.”

Be sure to read the entire post. You can keep track of future posts from Blue Pagans at the DNC in a number of ways. Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their feed at LiveJournal, place a widget on your site, subscribe to their syndication feed, or have the posts e-mailed to you. We here at The Wild Hunt will also be checking in with the Blue Pagans team as the convention progresses. I wish Rita, Ed, and other Pagans at the convention good luck, and hope this is just the beginnings of a Pagan presence within American politics.

I would like use this light news day to alert my readers to a new blog/project that I have a hand in coordinating. You may remember my interview with Maine Democratic Party official and out(ed) Pagan Rita Moran back in April. Ms. Moran, though losing her superdelegate status, has been chosen by the Maine Democratic Party to be a part of the delegation for that state. Realizing that this was a unique opportunity, she offered to report back from the Democratic National Convention and deliver a Pagan perspective on the proceedings. So Rita, along with fellow Democratic Party official and credentialed blogger ?Ed Lachowicz, have started a special blog to post their reports.

“We’ve got a great opportunity here, a chance to make our mark on a campaign for change, a chance to be a constant reminder that we expect “Change We Can Believe In” means an America that treats Pagans fairly and equally….from an ensured right to worship for military Pagans (including Pagan chaplains), to true enforcement of the separation of Church (Grove?) and State.”Rita Moran, Change Who Can Believe in?

I believe that this is a unique opportunity to have an embedded Pagan voice at a major political event, and The Wild Hunt will be posting links to their coverage of the convention. In the meantime, Rita and Ed have already started blogging in anticipation of the upcoming event, and there are a variety of subscription services and tools at the site that allow you to follow along and promote their posts. I hope those of you interested in the project will help promote Blue Pagans at the DNC by adding it to your blogrolls, telling your friends, and linking to the convention coverage later this month.

I would also like to take this opportunity to put out a call for openly Pagan Republican delegates or credentialed press who are planning to attend the Republican National Convention in September. If you would like to see a “Red Pagans at the RNC” blog happen, send me an e-mail. While I happen to “trend blue” personally, this site refrains from endorsing any political candidate or party, and remains a “neutral” ground open to Pagans of all political persuasions.

I was going to do an update on the Pagan fence controversy today, but another story I’ve read, the more I think about it, the more it bothers me (I’ll get to the fence thing tomorrow). It involves five people, the local Democratic party, accusations of kidnapping and rape, and Satanism. The more you dig into it, the more it seems like the beginnings of a witch-hunt. At first it seems like a straightforward crime with a hint of Satanism thrown in for spice.

“Prosecutors have charged three people, including two ranking members of the Durham County Democratic Party, as part of an investigation into allegations of rape and kidnapping that prosecutors said involved satanic worship … Authorities have said little about the case outside of the information included in arrest warrants, which allege that [Joseph Scott] Craig beat a man and a woman, raped the woman and that [Joy] Johnson watched as he did so. Durham County Assistant District Attorney Mark McCullough said earlier this week that charges stemmed from some sort of satanic ritual.”


Joseph Scott and Joy Johnson

Now hold on, this is going to get a bit complicated. The three people arrested, Joy Johnson, Joseph Craig, and Diana Palmer are all New Agers. Joy and Joseph run/ran a web site (now down) called “Indigo Dawn”, which provided spiritual healing services, past-life regressions and the like. Joseph Craig, on the site, claims to be a practitioner of magick. Meanwhile, Joy and Diana are both chairwomen of the Durham County Democratic Party. Joy and Joseph are the ones accused of rape and kidnapping, Diana is accused of helping to hide evidence after the fact. All have been accused of participating in a “Satanic ritual”. Diana Palmer claims no involvement or knowledge of any illegal acts or cult activity.

“The warrant for Palmer’s arrest states she put the evidence in her trunk and “drove her vehicle to another location in an effort to conceal those items from detection of the Durham Police Department.” “She denies knowing about any crime, being connected with this crime or having anything at all to do with Satanism or any assault of any nature whatsoever,” Thomas said, describing his client as a New Age Christian.”

Still, this could have been a straightforward case of rape and kidnapping, with Palmer as an innocent dupe, or willing accomplice. However, it looks like the charges of “Satanism”, along with the charges of rape and kidnapping might not be as it appears.

“But the attorney for Joseph Scott Craig, 25, has questioned whether authorities misunderstood what was taking place inside his client’s home. “It sure seems to look like sadomasochism or some kind of consensual activity that maybe went too far,” defense attorney Woody Vann told The News & Observer of Raleigh. “While it may not be normal activity for our everyday population, that doesn’t mean it’s criminal.” … Authorities allege that Craig beat a man and a woman, raped the woman and that Johnson watched as he did so. Court documents filed this week accuse Johnson of “instigating and encouraging” her husband as he handcuffed the man and forced him “into a dog cage, leaving him there for hours, terrorizing him.” The documents said the incidents occurred in December 2007 and in January and May.”

Let’s deconstruct this for a moment. One couple meets another couple, allegedly through “a shared interest in Satan worship”. They then engage in, on three occasions, what sounds very much like cuckold play, a very, very common kink. The basic scenario, in short, is that a man (or woman) is restrained (mentally or physically) and “forced” to watch his (or her) partner sexually gratified by a stranger. While I’m not ruling out mental coercion, or that the final instance may have been done without consent, we may also be dealing with what sex columnist Dan Savage calls “drastic, disgusted, after-the-fact denial” (NSFW language at link).

“I’m familiar with drastic, disgusted, after-the-fact denial … the moment a closet case gets what he came for … his tone changes dramatically. Not only does he stop begging to be ******, he will deny he ever wanted to be ****** in the first place. The truly messed up ones would even deny that they had been ****** at all…”

So far the police have been tight-lipped about details of the case. As I have said before, this could very well be what they say it is. A kidnapping and rape. If so, the accused should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, if this is a case of guilt/shame after the fact, or self-protection from being labeled as perverts, two (or three) innocent people could be facing jail time and a lifetime on the sexual offender lists. Worse, by spinning tales of Satanism, and by the police releasing those details, we face a new wave of “Satanic Panic” in the region.

Will people start looking out for more “cultists” in the New Age or Pagan communities? Will there be more arrests? Will vigilante justice ensue if the accused are cleared of wrongdoing? We can’t be sure, but one thing we do know is that justice has been marred by the Durham police engaging in sensationalism. We can only hope that justice prevails here (whatever that may be), and that this doesn’t spark any further witch-hunts. What do you think? Real crime with a touch of sensationalist Satanism thrown in, or a smear of innocent people who believed they were engaging in a consensual act?