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Just a few quick news notes for you on this Tuesday.

Margot Alder on Witchcraft, Cults, and Space Travel: Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of the seminal 1979 book “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America”, talks to the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado about her life and work in advance of her presentations at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Of special interest to my Pagan readers will be the story of how she landed the book deal that eventually lead to “Drawing Down the Moon.”

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“That happened by a complete fluke, way back in 1974. I had sort of a loser boyfriend. He took me to meet his literary agent in a pub. The woman asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I’ve probably had less than a dozen psychic experiences, but I heard a voice in my head say, ‘You are standing on a nexus point in the universe. What you do now will change your life forever.’ Because of that voice, I said, ‘I’m involved in witchcraft.’ Her eyes got really big. She said, ‘Call me in two weeks.’ She had just left an agency and was looking for clients. She showed me how to write a book proposal. I’d never thought of writing a book. The written word scared me because it’s so eternal.”

She also talks about where she agrees with Newt Gingrich (space travel), the most interesting stories she’s been covering for NPR lately, and “looking at religion from completely outside ourselves.” The Conference on World Affairs is currently underway, and continues through Friday. Her two presentations are “What is a Cult,” and “The Lure of Interstellar Travel,” both being given today.

A Step Forward for Marijuana as a Sacrament: In what could a groundbreaking ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling against the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, allowing an action to prevent enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against them to go forward.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

“Plaintiffs need not allege a threat of future prosecution because the statute has already been enforced against them. When the Government seized Plaintiffs’ marijuana pursuant to the CSA, a definite and concrete dispute regarding the lawfulness of that seizure came into existence.”

The court also ruled that the church does not need to apply to the DEA first for an exemption, though it did rule in the government’s favor by saying the seized marijuana doesn’t have to be returned or compensated for. You can read more about this case, here, and here. So far, there have been only two instances where entheogens used in a religious context have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and  ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). If the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) is able to take this to the Supreme Court and win a religious exemption, and injunction against future prosecution, it could throw open the door to religious groups using marijuana as a sacrament. The Rastafari are an obvious example, but any group that is able to show a sincere use may also be able win exemptions. In my mind, legal entheogens are an inevitable eventuality of these cases, the question is not “if” but “when.”

How Far Does Free Speech and Religious Freedom Stretch in Cases of Alleged Fraud? Speaking of possibly momentous instances of litigation, last year several members of the Roma Gypsy Marks family were charged by the federal government with operating an “advance fee scheme,” allegedly bilking more than a dozen victims out of over 40 million dollars. One of the clients/victims was famous romance author Jude Deveraux, who paid the family $20 million over 17 years, saying she was threatened by the family, and was near suicide before law enforcement stepped in. Now, the Marks’ defense team is saying their actions were/are protected religious practices, and that fortune-telling is protected speech.

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

“Lawyers have argued in court papers that the family members had a constitutionally protected right to practice fortunetelling and spiritual healing because it is a part of their religious belief system and fortunetelling is legally considered to be free speech. […] Attorney Michael Gottlieb, who wrote the 24-page legal document about religious rights, argued that his client, Nancy Marks, 42, of Fort Lauderdale and New York City, did nothing but try to help people, in line with her personal spiritual beliefs. […] “Nancy Marks’ conduct is rooted in her religion and spirituality,” Gottlieb wrote. “Based upon this prosecution, the defendant has lost her livelihood and has been unable to make a living using her historical religious and spiritual gifts.” […] The legal argument spells out some widely-held Romani beliefs but also draws comparisons with legal rulings about the rights of people who are Amish, Wiccans, Krishnas, Mormons, Catholics and Jews.”

Leaving aside the issue of the Marks’ guilt or innocence, the ultimate verdict in this case could have far-sweeping ramifications, especially if judges consider the religion question. Whether or not fortune telling can be a protected religious practice is still very much up in air, judicially speaking. In 2010 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech, and in 2008 a federal judge tossed out a fortune telling ban in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. However, in a 2011 case, a Virginia judge ruled that divination wasn’t the same thing as religious counselling. The case here, involving the federal government, could set nationwide precedent for where the line gets drawn between exploitation and religious freedom. So this is one to keep your eyes on. For more on the extended Marks clan, check out the documentary “American Gypsy.”

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

The Riverfront Times reports that Camp Zoe near Salem, Missouri is facing asset forfeiture (in short, the seizing of the land by the federal government) after a four-year investigation by the DEA, Missouri State Highway Patrol and U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The complaint alleges that [owner Jimmy Tebeau] — who has not been charged with a crime — and other Camp Zoe staff members were “in the immediate area” when the drug deals went down and “took no immediate action to prevent the activity.” … the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that Camp Zoe was “knowingly opened, rented, leased, used, or maintained for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing or using controlled substances.”

The formal complaint, filed on November 8th, paints a picture of a drug-taking-and-dealing wonderland.

“Pursuant to information revealed through law enforcement surveillance, undercover operations, source information, bank records, and interviews, law enforcement agents have learned of the extensive use of and sale of numberous drugs and controlled substances at Camp Zoe by attendees of the festivals held at Camp Zoe. Over the past several years, law enforcement agents have specifically observed the open sales of cocaine, marijuana, LSA (acid), ecstacy, psilocybin mushrooms, opium, and marijuana-laced food products by individuals attending the music festival and have made multiple undercover purchases of illegal drugs. Undercover purchases have been made on the defendant property as recently as September, 2010. Many of the illegal drug transactions were conducted while Camp Zoe staff members, including the owner Tebeau, were in the immediate area and took no action to prevent the activity.”

Camp Zoe, while predominantly a home for music festivals (most notably Schwagstock), started hosting Circle Sanctuary’s Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2009 after that event decided to part ways with Wisteria in Ohio. I, along with representatives from the Pagan Newswire CollectivePatheos.com and the Pagan Centered Podcast, covered PSG’s 30th Anniversary this past June. One of the largest and oldest ongoing Pagan festivals in North America, PSG presented some of very best of festival culture and Pagan community.

“For the first time the idea and experience of immersion into an intentional, albeit temporary, Pagan community fully clicked within me. This being the festival’s 30th anniversary, I was doubly blessed to be witness to many remembrances, stories, and events that showed just how much America’s Pagan festival culture has shaped modern Paganism.”

With the future of Camp Zoe increasingly uncertain, and operating under a cloud of allegations, PSG is breaking ties with Camp Zoe and is currently in the process of trying to find a new home for their festival.

“Since learning on November 9th about legal difficulties now connected with the Camp Zoe site in Missouri that we have rented for the past two years, the Pagan Spirit Gathering Executive Committee has begun a search for a new site for PSG 2011. The dates for PSG 2011 remain June 19-26.”

After speaking with several other attendees of the 2010 Pagan Spirit Gathering, and drawing from my own personal experiences at the Camp Zoe-hosted event, there have been no accounts of flagrant drug use or evidence that drugs were being sold on the property during PSG. It’s sad that a wonderful event, held on beautiful land, and hosted, by all accounts I’ve encountered, nice and generous people, is being forced to shift gears in an economy that leaves little breathing room for upheavals of this nature. I’ll keep you posted as Circle’s search for a new home for PSG progresses. As for Camp Zoe, there has been no official statement made about the complaint, though they have hired legal representation, and will no doubt try to fight the seizing of their land.

I have a few quick story updates to share with you today.

Polyamory Court Case in Canada: As I mentioned last week, a major case involving the rights of polyamorous families in Canada is headed for the B.C. Supreme Court. In the comments of my entry, John Bashinski of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association offered some clarification as to what exactly is being fought for in this instance.

“You’re right that this will raise polyamory’s profile in general, and that it may bring out the Pagan connection. However, this case isn’t going to result in a “semblance of legal recognition” for poly families… unless not being thrown in jail counts as recognition. What’s being challenged is an 1890 stature providing for five years in prison for being in “any kind of conjugal union” with more than one person (and, significantly for Pagans, for even attending a ceremony celebrating such a union). If we win, the result of this case will be more like what GLB(*) people got in 1969 than like what they got in 2005.”

So to be clear, this is about decriminalization, not legalization, I apologize for misconstruing the nature of case in my original post. However, many of my initial points about a potential culture-war blow-up and modern Paganism’s role within modern polyamory remain pertinent.  This is, and will be, a Pagan issue. Among the affidavits filed in this case was one by Surrey-based Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who argued for the religious right to practice legal polygamy. In addition, The Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia (CWABC) has issued a statement in support of performing multiple-marriage ceremonies, while trying to stay within the bounds of Canadian law.

“…any form of love or sexuality that is non-abusive, and non-coercive, between consenting adults, is acceptable and even desirable. This includes, but is not limited to, relationships that are heterosexual or homosexual, relationships that are monogamous or polyamorous, and relationships that are alternative or conventional … the law currently forbids legally recognized clergy from presiding over any ceremony that bears any sort of resemblance to a wedding between more than two partners. For this reason, and only this reason, our religious representatives, as recognized by the Province of British Columbia, cannot perform polyamorous handfastings, or even handfastings between two people when one of the parties involved is still legally married to someone else. If we are approached to perform such a ceremony, we will refer the interested parties to clergy within our Church, or to qualified individuals within the Pagan community, who do not have legal marrying credentials from the Province of British Columbia.”

I’ll be watching this case as it develops. Whether the debate, or the issue, will spill over into US politics remains to be seen. Some are wondering if the next big push by activists after winning gay marriage won’t be polygamy, but prostitution. In any event, this issue is leaving the fringes, and we’ll need to be ready to address it.

The Eric Christensen Murder Trial and Conviction: Ten days ago Everett, Washington resident Eric Christensen was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend Sherry Harlan. Both Christensen and Harlan were involved in the local Pagan community, and the prosecution made a religious “blood oath” between the two a central element of their argument for premeditation. Christensen’s sentencing will be this Friday, and since his conviction, there’s been quite a bit of commentary on the Internet. Notably, someone claiming to be a juror in the trial made a comment on this blog concerning the argument for premeditation.

“I was a juror on the Christensen case and I can tell you that there was not a shred of evidence or testimony supporting the argument of premeditation. None. Only Mr. Matheson’s and Mr. Bridges’ conjecture.”

The defense was arguing for second-degree murder, saying there was no proof Christensen planned to kill Harlan before the act. It seems likely that some sort of appeal will be filed, though there is no doubt that Christensen is indeed guilty of murder and should be punished for it. Understandably, Harlan’s mother is calling for the death penalty, though that’s not on the table because it wasn’t tried as an aggravated murder. Since the conviction, Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson emphasized that this murder was not a“Wiccan killing”. What the long-term reverberations of this case will be for Pagans in Washington remains to be seen.

The War on Some Herbs: Way back in April I reported on Louisiana House Bill 173, which would ban the sale, use, and possession of herbal “synthetic marijuana” blends that are legally sold in head-shops in several states. I noted that the bill would go much further than simply banning chemically treated “spice” herb blends, as it prohibits a whole host of herbs from being blended and smoked.

“HB173 would prohibit a number of plants from being blended and smoked or inhaled. The plants in question include mugwort, honeyweed, sacred lotus and dwarf skullcap.  Many of these plants are listed as ingredients in herbal incense products.”

Now word has come that the bill has passed both the Louisiana House and Senate and is headed to governor Bobby Jindal’s desk where it will no doubt be signed (alternate link).

“House Bill 173 was approve unanimously. State senators voted 32-0 to approve the bill, which bans the production, use, manufacture or possession of the synthetic substance, and provides penalties similar to those for marijuana. Louisiana is one of just a number of states that have passed bans as of late. Earlier this year, Georgia, Texas and Missouri have passed bans. While a number of states will likely consider legalizing marijuana, support for K2, thus far, has been little to none. Most states have passed bans with little or no opposition as it has proved to be a relatively safe political bet in an election year.”

This is bad news, and could have legal effects on those who grow and sell various herbs. One wonders where the natural health community is on this issue, or if they are laying low because it’s targeting head shops instead of Whole Foods. If we allow local governments to slowly ban more and more herb and herb-blends because it might get some kids high, we may find our gardens outlawed and our tinctures confiscated.

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

Top Story: The BBC reports that Athanassios Lerounis, a Greek national who was kidnapped by the Taliban  in Pakistan several months ago, has been freed. Lerounis’ kidnapping was thought to be a consequence of the Taliban increasingly targeting the Kalash in Pakistan, Indo-European pagans believed by some to be descended from a commingling of Alexander the Great’s army and local peoples, who have survived in predominantly Muslim areas thanks to living in remote valleys.

“His captors demanded the release of militants held by Pakistan in exchange for his freedom but officials say no militant exchange was made. “He has been released by the successful efforts of Pakistani security agencies,” Rahmatullah Wazir, the top administrative official in Chitral, told the BBC. The curator was living in the Kalash valley to pursue his interest in an ancient “lost tribe” when he was kidnapped by armed men on 7 September 2009.”

While Chitral officials claim that no ransom was paid, this assertion has been challenged by other media sources. Lerounis is much beloved by the Kalash people, whom he helped build a local heritage museum and medical facilities, while encouraging education opportunities. Inhabitants of the Kalasha valleys undertook rare mass demonstrations to secure his release. This international incident forced the government of Pakistan to pay more attention to the Kalash people, who are normally ignored, their relatively peaceful lifestyle increasing threatened by Taliban-Pakistan clashes in the nearby Swat valley.

The War on Herbs: While Americans are increasingly shifting their opinions concerning marijuana, especially for medical purposes, that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers in the Louisiana House of Representatives from attempting to regulate any plant that might get a kid (briefly) high. House Bill 173 will outlaw a number of herbs from being blended, smoked, or inhaled.

“HB173 would prohibit a number of plants from being blended and smoked or inhaled. The plants in question include mugwort, honeyweed, sacred lotus and dwarf skullcap.  Many of these plants are listed as ingredients in herbal incense products.”

Lawmakers will no doubt seek to prohibit spinning around really, really fast, masturbating, or any other activity that might alter a young person’s consciousness. One wonders if the St. John’s Wort-popping natural health community will rush to oppose the passage of this new law, or if they’ll lay low because it’s targeting head shops instead of Whole Foods. Not to engage in too much slippery-slope prognostication, but if we allow the government to ban the mixing and selling of some herbs, what’s to stop them from expanding further?

Handfasting on (Reality) Television: After the somewhat bizarre media uproar about two Pagan teenagers getting handfasted (with parental consent) in Australia last month, the couple, and the girl’s mother, have agreed to an exclusive deal with a local television station for coverage of the nuptials.

“A teenage couple set to wed this weekend in an ancient pagan ceremony have signed a deal with Channel 9’s A Current Affair program … Under the contract signed by Alex Stewart-Pole, 19, and Jenni Birch, 16, A Current Affair have exclusive rights to cover the handfasting ceremony.  Mum Sue Birch, a pagan high priestess, will perform the ceremony, and said on Tuesday that any media coverage of the wedding would have to be discussed with A Current Affair. She said the family would not receive payment under the contract. However, Mr Stewart-Pole said Nine had promised to give the couple ‘a wedding present’.”

A Current Affair tackles hard-hitting issues like diet pizza, bargain shopping, and kids who stab dogs, so this deal could really go either way for the couple. I’m hoping for sweet and innocuous, but you never know what will happen when mainstream media decides to cover Pagans. It’s part of the reason why I counsel against Pagans appearing on reality television, exploitative talk-shows, and man-bites-dog sensationalist “news magazines”. Always remember to read the fine print on any contract, and study the show you’re going on before hand.

Chuck Colson Continues to Hate on Pagans: I know this isn’t really going to  be”news” to anyone who’s familiar with the Watergate-criminal-turned-Christian crusader Chuck Colson, but he’s bad-mouthing Hinduism and modern Paganism in a recent editorial that making the rounds of various Christian publications. Using the isolated and tragic case of a Hindu priest in India sacrificing his family and himself as proof of a larger deficit in pagan belief systems.

“I want to emphasize that Hindus are among the most peace-loving people in the world. The actions of these people are by no means representative. What is representative, however, is their belief that worship largely consists in appeasing the deity. In order to obtain favor, the worshipper must offer the proper sacrifice. Get it wrong and your prayers aren’t answered. Or worse. This worldview is very similar to that of the ancient world into which Jesus became incarnate. The pagan gods were a fickle and demanding lot who demanded blood and abasement from their worshipers-and even then “answered” prayers only on a whim. This is why so many classical philosophers, like many of their Indian counterparts throughout history, were put off by popular religious practices. So they substituted an “unknown” god and an unknowable god … How ironic that we in the post-Christian West are exchanging belief in the “personal, benevolent God” of Christianity for a sanitized paganism. Whether it’s “new age” mumbo jumbo or Wicca for Dummies, we have forgotten the dread these beliefs caused our ancestors and the awful things it made them do.”

I’ll leave it to my ever-astute readers to bother with dismantling his anti-pagan arguments. Though no longer in favor at The White House now that Bush is out of office, Colson’s been busy in his ongoing hate-a-palooza by supporting anti-same-sex marriage initiatives and signing on to the Manhattan Declaration.

Goddess of the North Construction Starting: In a final note, work is beginning on the massive land sculpture entitled “Northumberlandia”, dubbed “The Goddess of the North” by the media.

“Work is to start on a giant sculpture of a naked woman which is to be carved into the Northumberland landscape. The “Goddess of the North” will be made from 1.5 million tonnes of earth from the Shotton mine, near Cramlington. It will stand 34 metres – 10 metres higher than the Angel of the North – and will be 400 metres long … designed by artist Charles Jencks, who is best known in the North East for his sculpture outside the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Mark Dowdall, environment and communities director of The Banks Group, said it was hoped the sculpture would attract an additional 200,000 visitors a year to Northumberland.”

Though I don’t like to repeat myself, I wonder if this new addition to Britain’s landscape will, in a few hundred years, be considered an “ancient” pre-Christian survival by the locals. It will also be interesting to see if the site will become a pilgrimage place for modern Pagans and Goddess-worshipers.

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

McCollum Discusses His Case: We begin our Monday with a few quick notes, starting with the news that Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, currently embroiled in his challenge to California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, was interviewed by the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, head of The Interfaith Alliance, on his radio show State of Belief.

“…a Wiccan clergyman fights discrimination in California’s prisons. Reverend Patrick McCollum joins host Welton Gaddy to discuss his challenge to California’s “Five Faiths” policy.  It says only Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Native-American chaplains will be hired to minister to inmates.”

Here’s hoping this interviews continues to push this story into the mainstream, and keeps up the pressure on California officials hoping this will all disappear. You can subscribe to the podcast, listen on-line, or download the entire show, here. I also urge you to check out Patrick’s other recent radio/podcast interviews with Anne Hill and Ravencast. The important thing at this stage is to keep our community aware of this case as it goes forward, write to California officials, and spread the word when new information arises. This is a big story, and if we persevere, it will eventually get noticed by the mainstream media.

Spirits Enter the Drug War: As violence intensifies in Mexico’s drug war, police officers in Tijuana are increasingly turning to otherworldly aid as they face better-armed gangs of drug traffickers.

In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California. Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets. “Sometimes a man needs another type of faith,” said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. “I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn’t die.”

This isn’t just a war of bullets, it’s now a war of spirits, pitting the three-horned Bosou Koblamin against Jesus Malverde or Santa Muerte. It’s a practice quietly endorsed by police superiors, who know that the under-paid and out-gunned officers need any psychological reassurance they can get. I have the sinking feeling that the end of this struggle is in the hands of American lawmakers, that the decriminalization of marijuana could now save countless lives, as illegal trafficking is too profitable to ever want for replacements.

The Poetry of the Esoteric: Scarlet Imprint is releasing a new limited-edition collection of sacred poetry entitled “Datura”, that features work from T. Thorn Coyle, Erynn Rowan Laurie, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and several others. At the Scarlet Imprint site they interview editor (and fellow Pagan blogger) Ruby Sara about the project.

“…for me there truly is no difference on a metaphysical level between poetry and magick – they are the same movement, and you cannot have true magick without poetry (or true poetry without magick). poetry is the language of magick, it is magick given voice and form. on a practical level, the human voice is a critical instrument in various manner of spellcraft, as is language…history bears this out thoroughly i think…and in my experience, spellcraft is hugely enhanced by applying to it the music and rhythm and articulate beauty of invocative, resonant poetry.”

The book is scheduled to be released on April 16th, and is being printed in a hand-bound limited run of 500 copies, so get your order in today if you want to ensure you get a copy of what sounds like a truly momentous collection. Here is where our modern liturgy and inspiration are flowing freely, so don’t miss out!

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

Asatru Fight Misconceptions: Just a few quick notes for you today, starting with a look at depictions of Asatru in the media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a spotlight on the racist criminal organization European Kindred, mentions the religious split between Asatru and Christian Identity within its ranks.

One of the law enforcement officers in the audience asked [EK founder David] Kennedy about a rumored split between EK members along religious lines. Kennedy replied that as far as he knew, the rumors were false. “Most of the guys in EK are into Asatrú [a neo-pagan faith that is not fundamentally racist, but is practiced by some racists], but then we also have guys who are into Christian Identity [an anti-Semitic theology based on a bizarre reading of the Bible], so it varies,” Kennedy said. “Overall it’s about brotherhood. It’s about blood, not religion.” The ex-gang leader paused for a moment before correcting himself. “Well, actually, the dope comes first. The meth. Then the brotherhood. That’s the reality.”

See that nice little qualifier there about Asatru not being “fundamentally racist”? It wasn’t always like that. The descriptor initially said “a racist neo-pagan faith”, but was changed after several Asatruar, including David Carron of Ravencast, and a few African American adherents, wrote in to protest the SPLC’s definition. Too bad it most likely wasn’t changed in the print version of The Intelligence Report, a publication that is “offered free to law enforcement, journalists, scholars and community activists”. One wonders what the SPLC will do to enlighten the police officers, journalists, and activists that only read the print version that Asatru isn’t “fundamentally racist”. What should the South Dakota man trying to educate people about his new-found faith in Asatru say when someone tells him the SPLC think he’s a racist?

Funeral for an Irish Thelemite, Metal Musician, and Drug Dealer: The Belfast Telegraph keeps it classy in their report on the funeral for Jason Barriskill, an influential metal musician in Ireland who was also an active Thelemite, and apparently, a drug dealer as well.

“A pagan rocker died at his drug-den farmhouse after a witchcraft ritual went nightmarishly wrong. Junkie Jason Barriskill — who worked in the Tayto Castle food lab — was found slumped at his isolated home in Tandragee, Co Armagh, a fortnight ago.”

After a ritual went “nightmarishly wrong”? Really? All the other press says it was a heart attack. Is the Belfast Telegraph a tabloid? Even if he was a drug-dealer, is it normal to dub a dead man “Junkie Jason”? What is certain is that he was indeed a Thelemite, and an “occult funeral”, as the Belfast Telegraph would put it, was indeed held.

“It was also great that one of the Priestesses from the Ard Macha Grove of EGC (which Jason founded many years ago) helped to officiate at the formal service. The Grove celebrated his ‘Greater Feast’ that night, with many friends and colleagues. It was a beautiful ceremony and was nice to give him a full send off in the traditions of Thelema-of which he was a dedicated magician for many years. One of the most moving aspects of the ceremony was a time for everyone to share their stories of the man. Much like what has happened on here.”

I really wish I had access to the rest of the article so I could see if the paper has any basis for its claim that he was killed by a ritual that went “nightmarishly wrong”. If any of my Irish readers have seen the full article, please clue me in. As it stands, even if he was a criminal, or simply harboring criminals, this is sensationalism at its worst.

The Vodou Blame-Game: It seems the religious blame-game in earthquake-ravaged Haiti is still going strong, with various Christian sects accusing Vodou as incurring God’s wrath.

“Their cult, a form of west African polytheism that came to Haiti with the slave trade, is being blamed by some followers of the rapidly growing Christian denominations – evangelicals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists – as the cause of God’s anger in smiting their country. “They say we’re the ones who caused the earthquake. But we know ourselves that we didn’t cause the quake, because it was a natural catastrophe,” said Willer Jassaint, one of the priests, or houngans, leading the Voodoo ceremony.”

The piece goes one to reference the Cite Soleil incident, though no other major religious skirmishes have broken out since then, and local Houngans and Mambos are planning more public rituals for the dead, despite these new tensions.

“Back in the Voodoo shed, as the chanting and dancing and rum-fuelled flames faded, the houngans somberly laid out their plans for bigger, more public ceremonies in the days to come. They owe the spirits of the dead that release, they say – and they owe themselves that show of defiance. “We have to maintain our religion now… Because our religion is our soul, it’s part of us,” Jassaint said.”

I suppose we’ll soon find out if Cite Soleil was a truly isolated incident, or if we’ll see more Christian-spurred violence in the near future. Hopefully, as the rebuilding continues, and the government stabilizes, the tensions we see now will subside to pre-earthquake levels.

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

Many religions through the ages have used certain substances to acquire altered states of awareness/consciousness. When used responsibly and under certain controlled circumstances, various entheogenic substances are purported to allow communion with divine beings, travel to different planes of awareness, and the removal of certain ego traits that hinder the building of a tribal group-mind experience. While many tribal/indigenous groups around the world still engage is such practices, the use of such substances for religious purposes long fell out of favor in European-descended nations for a variety of religious, economic, and social reasons. Flash forward to the 1960s, and thanks to “psychedelic” pioneers like Timothy Leary the recreational use of entheogens and related hallucinogenics experienced a huge boom, prompting strict government control over their usage. These controls did contain exemptions for “magical and religious rites”, but only for pre-approved “small” and “clearly determined” groups.

With America’s war on (some) drugs still raging (not to mention a long history of villianizing drug-use), religious groups that want to obtain an exemption for the use of certain entheogens during rituals have faced an uphill battle. In 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal could legally import the herbs and plants needed to create the entheogenic brew ayahuasca for their rites. Now the syncretic practitioners of Santo Daime, who prepare a similar ayahuasca blend (what they call “Daime tea”) have won a court challenge in Oregon’s federal distric court to allow the importation of ingrediants necessary to make the brew. As commenter and expert witness Mark Kleiman points out, under the seemingly more tolerant Obama administration, this could lead to lower hurdles for religious groups to seek legal exemptions to use controlled substances during their rites.

“Now the new leadership at DoJ faces a question. The government can appeal the Oregon ruling and continue to fight the New Mexico case, and do the same with every religious body that comes forward to ask permission to used a controlled-substance sacrament. As a practical matter, that would mean that only well-financed churches had any chance of winning recognition; these are expensive cases, albeit the churches can recover their attorneys’ fees at the end of they win. Or the Attorney General could tell the DEA Administrator to draft, and publish in the Federal Register, a set of procedures and criteria to deal with such cases in the future. (The Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that RFRA provides ample statutory authority for issuing such regulations.) It’s an interesting test of Eric Holder’s skill, and I’ll be interested to see how he handles it.”

Kleiman seem particularly hopeful because Holder recently ordered the DEA to stop unwarranted raids on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries. Making many wonder if the slow decriminalization process for medical and recreational marijuana now under way in individual states will soon have approval (or at least non-interference) from the executive branch.

What does this all mean for modern Pagans? It means that we may soon see a time where individual Pagan faiths and traditions, if they so chose, could apply for an exemption to use a controlled substance (most likely an entheogen) during religious or magical rites. This will no doubt cause some amount of controversy if/when it emerges. While many Pagans have used controlled substances both recreationally and in a ritual context, many Pagan spokespersons since the early days have strived to present modern Pagans as law-abiding folk who absolutely reject illegal means to achieve altered states of consciousness. So expect this to be a big issue within our larger movement as laws become more permissive towards the religious use of controlled substances.