Archives For Eric James Christensen

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.

Washington resident Eric Christensen has been convicted of first-degree murder in the death of former girlfriend Sherry Harlan. Both Christensen and Harlan were involved in the local Everett, Washington Pagan community, and prosecution argued that a “Wiccan” blood-oath between the two pointed towards premeditation,  which necessitated  a first-degree, rather than second-degree, murder conviction.

Eric Christensen

“A man accused of killing his girlfriend and dismembering her body after she broke what he called a “blood oath” was found guilty this afternoon of first-degree murder. Eric Christensen, 40, cackled as he was led out of the courtroom in shackles. He continued to laugh as jail guards began transporting him back to jail. Christensen faces more than 45 years in prison for the death of Sherry Harlan. Jurors deliberated for about three hours after a two-week trial that included graphic photographs and grisly details. Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne told attorneys that he planned to tell jurors that counseling will be available if they feel that they have been traumatized by what they saw and heard in court. As lawyers gave their closing arguments today it was clear that only the degree of Christensen’s guilt was in question.”

Sentencing for Christensen will happen on June 18th, where he could face more than 45 years in prison.

While I’m certainly glad this monster is going to jail for a long, long, time, I’m concerned with the way the prosecution argued for premeditation. By making the oath, and Christensen’s religious beliefs, a framework for premeditation in this case, you potentially open a Pandora’s box of legal questions. Questions that could jeopardize the initial conviction on appeal, and paint modern Paganism as spur for Christensen’s behavior. One local media outlet has already intimated that prosecutors believe modern Witchcraft “drove” Christensen towards the murder, while another calls it “witchcraft-fueled”. Further, from looking at the coverage of the case, there is no indication that any input or testimony from experts or clergy within modern Paganism were used by either side to explore whether Christensen’s beliefs were consistent with modern religious Witchcraft.

Let’s hope Sherry Harlan’s spirit will be at peace now that some semblance of justice has been served, that her family can find some closure, and that Christensen’s barbaric, brutal, and inhuman act will not come to haunt the Pagans in Everett dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy in their community.

UPDATE: Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson says that this murder was not a “Wiccan killing”.

“Matheson emphasized that Christensen’s actions were not in keeping with the Wiccan faith. He surmised that those who belong to the Index church where Christensen attended services were just as horrified by what Christensen did as jurors were. “This is not a Wiccan killing,” Matheson said.”

Will the media and public listen?

A few quick notes for you today.

Update in the Sherry Harlan Murder Trial: Local coverage of the ongoing trial that will decide if Eric Christensen premeditated the killing of his ex-girlfriend Sherry Harlan continues. On Wednesday, the jury in Snohomish County, Washington heard an hour-long taped interview with Christensen; where he discussed the now-infamous blood oath that prosecutors claim set the stage for his murderous rampage.

“Christensen told the cops he had tried to make things work with Harlan, but she had broken a promise. He wouldn’t tolerate her communicating with another man, not after she took a “blood oath.” “I’m not a Christian. I’m a Wiccan and that would be like asking me to become (a Christian). I’m 100 percent totally for Chevys. It would be like asking me to love Fords,” Christensen told the detectives. Christensen described the oath that he and Harlan took at her apartment in mid-December. He laughed at detectives as they tried to understand the different elements of the ceremony. Christensen said Harlan vowed to stop seeing and taking gifts from the man. He explained that he wanted to salvage the relationship and the oath meant Harlan did too, he said. Christensen recounted the morning he found out that Harlan continued to communicate with the other man. He told detectives he discovered the text messages on Harlan’s phone while she was in the shower.  He said he was “biting-nails mad, but I know how to control my anger. I know if it goes a little too far. I know exactly what my potentials are without even doing it.” He told police he and Harlan had sex and then he confronted her about the messages. They got into a shoving match. He called her names and then left. “So what are your feelings toward her now?” detectives asked Christensen. “I hope Karma gives her what she deserves,” Christensen said. “What do you mean by that?” sheriff’s detective Ted Betts asked. “Well, she broke an oath,” Christensen said.”

Just reading this excerpt is chilling, knowing that Christensen had indeed just murdered his ex-girlfriend, mutilated her corpse, and scattered the remains throughout town. Now that it’s clear that Christensen is identifying himself as Wiccan, and is putting the “blood oath” into the context of his Wiccan practice, local and national leaders need to address this situation and make clear that his actions are not representative of this faith. If the prosecution is really hinging premeditation on his Wiccan beliefs, specifically the blood oath, I can’t imagine they’ll call a local leader to debunk his views, or that the defense will do so, since they want to prove Christensen acted without premeditation in order to win a shorter sentence. I’ll keep you posted as this trial continues.

The Pagans of Long Island: I normally don’t cover “meet the Pagans” type news articles much anymore, since they usually don’t have much new to say, and often follow a pretty predictable script (seriously, I could make a drinking game out of it). However, Jaclyn Gallucci’s article about the Pagan/Wiccan community in Long Island is refreshingly in-depth and interviews several practitioners and shop-owners in the area.

“Shortly after becoming initiated himself as a Wiccan in England, Raymond Buckland moved to Brentwood, bringing Wicca to the United States, along with a direct lineage to British traditional witchcraft that has spread clear across the country; he later became a professor at Hofstra University, and created the First Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Bay Shore, which has since closed. It was the first of its kind on Long Island—and in the United States. Buckland today is widely considered the Father of American Wicca. “Long Island has a very, very strong witch and Wiccan presence because of Buckland,” says Rev. Mark Lyons, a high priest of “eclectic” witchcraft, a path that doesn’t strictly adhere to a Wiccan tradition as defined by Gardner or his contemporaries.”

Now granted, the article does peddle in many “meet the Pagans” article stereotypes (Harry Potter, Photoshopped “Pagan” stock photo, fastest growing religion in America, etc) but those venial sins are to be forgiven considering the obvious amount of effort and care that went into showcasing the voice and history of Pagans in Long Island. I can imagine someone actually coming away from this article learning something about modern Paganism.

Update on Isaac Bonewits’ Health: Pagan author and theologian Isaac Bonewits is back in the hospital after bleeding from an undetermined source was discovered. Bonewits has been battling a rare form of colon cancer since October of last year, and the recent prognosis after rounds of chemo and radiation hasn’t been good.

“Isaac is back in the hospital and is not doing well. He has bleeding from an undetermined source that may not be repairable. We are anxiously awaiting both test results and ritual results. From his hospital bed, Isaac can see the full moon through his window. Our thoughts will be will everyone during tomorrow night’s rites.”

Such bleeds can be a very serious matter, and potentially life-threatening if not stopped. A massive coordinated working is being scheduled for 9pm tonight throughout the various time-zones.

May 27 is the full moon. That should give us enough time to circulate this message and make preparations. You may wish to print a picture of Isaac and Phaedra from his website or Facebook, to be your focus. Beginning at 9:00 p.m. in your time zone, start the thunder rolling! Cast a circle, light a candle, do whatever works for you. Then chant repeatedly: “Isaac’s tumors fade away. Thirty more years with Phae.”

For those of you outside America who may have already missed the May 27th at 9pm call for workings, I’m sure your individual and group efforts would also be appreciated. 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.

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

The murder trial in the death of Sherry Harlin is beginning, and prosecutors are going to be making killer Eric Christensen’s religion “exhibit A” in proving that it was premeditated. Both Christensen and Harlin were involved in the Everett, Washington-area Pagan community, which included attending gatherings organized by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church.

“Prosecutors believe modern witchcraft drove a Gold Bar man to kill his girlfriend, dismember her body and scatter her remains around Snohomish County … Christensen met Harlan through the Internet, and the two later moved in together. “And we know this is a significant relationship, because Eric introduced her to his friends. He introduced her to his church,” said defense attorney Kathleen Kyle. Christensen told detectives the woman took a “blood oath” to break-off a relationship with another man. But when Christensen found text messages from an ex-boyfriend, he admits he flew into a jealous rage. “In ancient times, people who broke blood oaths were sometimes killed,” Christensen told investigators.”KOMO 4, Seattle

“Sherry Harlan’s sin was breaking a promise. Her punishment was death, mutilation and dismemberment. That’s the theory prosecutors began laying out in front of jurors on Tuesday in the first day of testimony in the trial of a Gold Bar man accused of planning and carrying out the brutal murder of his girlfriend.  Eric James Christensen is charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors allege that Christensen, 40, became enraged after learning that Harlan broke what he called a “blood oath” and continued communicating with another man … Jurors are expected to hear from the man who allegedly helped Christensen hide Harlan’s remains. That same man, who Christensen met while attending a Wiccan church in Index, is expected to testify that he witnessed the blood oath between Harlan and Christensen.”The Daily Herald, Everett, Washington

It is not known if the prosecution or defense will call local Pagan leaders to testify. ATC Archpriest Pete Pathfinder Davis has already told prosecutors that Christensen’s death-invoking “blood oath” wasn’t a part of his church’s teachings, or of Wicca in general.

“As the Archpriest of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Wicca tradition, I supplied the prosecutor with many references about the Wiccan belief system, and the absence of any such “blood oath” tradition or violence of any kind. It was refreshing to see that the Ms. Polly Keary, editor of the Monroe Monitor, a local small-town newspaper, pointed out that violence to another was against Wiccan beliefs and not part of the religion.” – Pete “Pathfinder” Davis, in a letter to The Wild Hunt

In addition both Davis, and other locals who knew him from Pagan events, have expressed shock at Christensen’s sudden outburst of violence. They were not initially aware of his violent past, or conviction for first-degree sexual abuse.

“Christensen initially was arrested and booked Jan. 7 into the Snohomish County Jail for failure to register as a sex offender. He has a 1990 conviction in Oregon for first-degree sexual abuse and is classified as a Level 1 sex offender. He was later charged with second-degree murder, which was upgraded to first-degree murder.”

Whether the jury finds the murder premeditated or not, Christensen is going to prison for a very long time, most likely for the rest of his life. I will be keeping an eye on this trial, how the prosecution team invokes modern Paganism in order to prove premeditation, and what this might mean for local Pagans in the Everett, Washington area, and beyond.

Top Story: Newspapers in Washington have been giving a lot of coverage to the death of Sherry Harlan, stabbed to death and then dismembered by her jealous ex-boyfriend Eric James Christensen. While serious crimes often get coverage in local papers, this one is getting special attention for its savagery, and the reason Christensen has given for murdering Harlan.

“Christensen told detectives that he’d found similar messages on Harlan’s phone weeks earlier and that she’d promised to cease contact with the man. To seal the deal, Christensen said he and Harlan had gone through a “blood oath” ceremony. “He said that in ‘ancient times’ people that broke similar vows were sometimes killed,” a sheriff’s detective wrote of the conversation. Christensen said that on Jan. 2, when he confronted Harlan about the messages, the argument became physical and they traded blows. He told detectives that because she’d broken the oath, Harlan “in Scottish … would be what’s known as a warlock, which is evil, a traitor, an enemy,” court papers said.”

The Daily Herald piece quoted above is to be praised, as they avoided the sensationalist and dubious term “Wiccan blood oath” repeated by several papers and news outlets in the initial wake of the story breaking.

“Prosecutors said Christensen told police that Harlan had broken a “Wiccan blood oath” she had made to break off a relationship with another man.”

Only local NBC affiliate King5 actually sought out a member of the Everett Pagan community for comment on the story, Jeri Schaible, who had once dated the abusive Christensen. Schaible confirms that both were studying Wicca, but points out that Christensen should not be considered a Wiccan as he doesn’t adhere to the Wiccan Rede. No paper, television outlet, or site has interviewed any local Pagan leaders or organizers for background, or to comment on the “blood oath”. This, despite the fact that the Seattle area is full of Pagans (and there’s a regular Pagan meetup in Everett), as is the Pacific Northwest in general.

There is little doubt that Christensen will be going to prison for life, as the man who helped him hide the body parts is testifying against him in exchange for immunity. With his capture and conviction ensured, now is the time to gain context for the sensationalist religious statements made by Christensen. Will the press step up here? I can’t imagine a killer invoking a “Christian blood oath” without local Christian clergy being consulted. As for Sherry Harlan, may her spirit find rest, may her killer be punished, and may her friends and family find closure.

In Other News:

Clash of Faiths in Haiti: Religious tensions are mounting in Haiti between Christian aid groups and Vodou practitioners. First, Vodou leader Max Beauvoir claims that evangelical Christians are monopolizing aid, and showing favoritism towards their own instead of fairly distributing food and water.

“Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s “supreme master” of voodoo, alleged his faith’s opponents had deliberately prevented much-needed help from reaching followers of the religion, which blends the traditional beliefs of West African slaves with Roman Catholicism. “The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves,” he claimed. “They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that’s a shame.”

He alleges these groups are using food to “buy souls”, taking advantage of the chaos in order to win converts. Meanwhile, the case of 10 Baptists from two different congregations in America, who are accused of trafficking Haitian children for the purposes of adoption, is only fueling accusations that protestant Christian groups have one primary objective, convert, convert, convert.

“Some critics say the race to remove Haiti’s children is culturally insensitive, if not downright illegal. Others are offended by the prospect of children from a Catholic culture being airlifted into evangelical institutions or families — losing their faith along with their families.”

You can be sure that the uneasy situation created by the increasing growth of evangelical and pentecostal denominations in the predominately Catholic-Vodou continuum of Haiti will only increase now that mission-minded groups see the earthquake as an “opportunity” for growth and conversion. It could not only radicalize Vodou practitioners in Haiti, but it could also create massive rifts between protestant and Catholic groups. And the longer that Haiti’s government is hobbled, the worse the problem may become.

Air Force Academy Gets A Circle: Last Thursday I reported on the Air Force Academy installing an outdoor worship area for Pagan and Wiccan cadets, a move that has been generally praised within the Pagan community. Since then the story has been picked up by national media outlets (I’m sure NewsBusters is pleased), and is now being used by some right-wing pundits as a stick to hit President Obama with.

“U.S. President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, wants to make the Air force Academy more inclusive for people practicing occult pagan witchcraft. Hence, he’s willing to increase the federal government’s record-breaking debt to fund a chapel that will add a circle to be utilized as a worship area for so-called “Earth-centered religions, during a dedication ceremony” that is tentatively scheduled for March 10.”

Well, first off, Obama had nothing to do with the Air Force Academy building a stone circle (military bureaucracy just doesn’t move that fast), but even if he had, that’s a pretty weak “Obama the Democrat is spending too much” argument. Thankfully, not all conservative pundits see equal treatment for religions within the military as a bad thing.

“Our Constitution affords us the right to practice any religion we would like, I think that should be especially true for anyone in the military who is willing to serve and sacrifice for us. Do I agree with pagan religions like Wicca? No. But those who have chosen to serve their country, and have joined the Air Force Academy deserve a proper worship area just like any other religious faith.”

You don’t have to like Wicca or Paganism, but to deny we should have equal treatment goes against everything America stands for, no matter what groups like WallBuilders may claim.

The New Age Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: Self-help author Jonathan Ellerby, who seems better educated and more respectful of Native practices than most in his line of work, answers some key questions about sweat lodges that have arisen since three people died in a sweat ceremony led by New Age huckster James Arthur Ray.

“I personally do not think or feel that non-Native people should run Native lodges. Too many Native traditions have been borrowed and stolen from Native Peoples only to be misused, sold or poorly conducted. These are very powerful and culturally sacred practices and it’s a deep act of disrespect just to “copy” the practices of another tradition. You wouldn’t see a group of Native people pretending to be able to read Hebrew or making up fake Hebrew sounding songs in a building they called a synagogue. It’s absurd. Worse, Native people have been the victims of cultural appropriation and attack for 500 years. To take without permission, training or blessing is just an insult. However, yes, I do think that ceremonial steam baths have something to offer all people and if done well, a non-Native “sweat lodge” for non-Native people can be a very important, healing and beautiful thing.”

It is distinctly refreshing to see someone from the self-help/New Age/spirituality community come out in defense of the integrity of Native religion and spirituality. As Ellerby points out, if you want a sweat/steam ceremony, there are ways of designing one without simply aping American Indian traditions and slapping a different label on them. As for James Arthur Ray, he gave his first-ever interview since the incident last week. In it, he claims no responsibility for the deaths, but says that his ego has been adjusted by the experience”. You know what else adjusts the ego? A court trial and punishment for negligent homicide.

Meanwhile, the Angel Valley Retreat Center is doing a little damage-control and CYA of its own, insisting that the sweat-lodge’s construction was not to blame (Ray has been insinuating that’s where the blame lies). We still await word on criminal charges in this case.

Art & the Tarot: In a final note, Erik Davis writes about tarot for HiLobrow, praising and analyzing the work of Rider-Waite artist Pamela Colman Smith.

“Since its appearance, the so-called Rider-Waite deck has sold gazillions of copies, inspiring brooding hermeticists and teenage Goths alike, and stamping its enigmatic images onto such key 20th century artifacts as T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the classic noir Nightmare Alley, and the inner gatefold of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. The Rider-Waite deck earns a so-called because the name — which has been trade-marked by US Games, the current (and controversial) copyright holder — ignores the artistic contribution of Pamela Colman Smith, an American illustrator and occult initiate whose nickname, Pixie, seems preternaturally on target in light of the most widely-reproduced photograph of the woman.”

I’ve often bemoaned the lack of emphasis and credit to female artists like Smith, or Lady Frieda Harris, without whom the tarot theories of famous (male) occultists like A.E. Waite or Aleister Crowley would have remained in books, and largely unexamined by a popular audience. Today, tarot artists are more widely feted and acknowledged as equal partners in the design and creation of new decks, instead of being treated as silent partners, or hired help, by tarot theorists and designers.

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