Archives For Erin Lale

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On September 29, the US Coast Guard gave WWII Vet, Andrew Haines, a ‘Viking-style’ burial at sea. The USCG placed Haines’ ashes on a wooden replica of a viking boat, brought it out to open water, and set it on fire.

A handmade wooden boat containing Haines' ashes burns during a burial at sea Sept. 29. [Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / USCG]

A handmade wooden boat containing Haines’ ashes burns during a burial at sea Sept. 29. [Petty Officer 2nd Class Cynthia Oldham / USCG]

 From the Navy Times:

[Andy]Haines said his father [Andrew Haines], a World War II veteran who finished his tour at Atlantic City, had been planning his funeral for years. Andrew Haines emigrated from Norway as a child in 1927 and had stayed connected to his Scandinavian heritage throughout his life.

About 10 years ago, Andy said, Haines’ cousin in Norway sent him blueprints for a 100-foot wooden ship, which he scaled down as small as two feet, as a small construction project.

“When I came over to the house one day with the wife and one grandson, we were in the basement, and he’s got the whole bottom shell done with the deck, getting ready to put the rest of the stuff on,” Andy recalled.

Then Andy had an idea. He asked his father if he still wanted to be cremated, and he said he did.

“So I said, ‘How about if we try to make a Viking funeral out of this for you?’ ” he recalled.

Haines built five versions of the ship, his son said, settling on a 54-inch version for the ceremony.

More remarkable, Haines built the boats one-handed. He lost an arm in a 1975 boating accident, which ended his career as a commercial fisherman for Atlantic City Fisheries, the family business.

USCG Burials at sea are free for any US Veteran. Haines, despite the manner of his funeral, doesn’t appear to have been a Heathen. The funeral itself, with the burning ship, may be more a product of Hollywood than known historical practice. Yet this raises the possibility for U.S. Heathens, who are also military veterans, to have a similar funeral. But is this something that would appeal to modern U.S. Heathens?

Nicholas Ritter, Theodish Heathen

Burning-ship burials aren’t well attested, except mythologically, for the god Baldr, but internment in ships or ship-shaped graves does show up in the archaeological record. In my experience, what is done with one’s remains is a matter of importance for Heathens generally, and a lot of thought is given to different combinations of burial and cremation, with grave goods and without, and the funerary symbolism of ships, as well as horses. We’re lucky enough to have good information on pre-Christian Germanic burial practices and beliefs, and I have found that Heathens generally want to have funerary arrangements that fit with how they lived their lives. I would think that most Heathens would be in favor of this kind of burning-ship burial as one option among many.

Laura Anderson, Heathen

This is really neat, and I’m glad he was able to do it. But I’m not interested in a Viking funeral for myself. I’ve always been big on observing natural cycles, and death and decay is a part of that cycle. My ideal funeral would be one where I’m put directly in the ground and allowed to decompose to nourish the spot where I’m buried. I see it in gardening all the time – we create compost piles to spread on our gardens; I allow the autumn leaves to rot where they fall throughout the winter because it’s healthy for the plant life. Continuing the cycle is important to me, and I want my body to contribute. So while a Viking funeral at sea is really cool, and I’m glad that there’s a precedent set for others who want to do it, it’s not for me.

"Sutton Hoo ship-burial model" [By Steven J. Plunkett] Lic. CC Wikimedia.

“Sutton Hoo ship-burial model” [By Steven J. Plunkett] Lic. CC Wikimedia.

David Carron, Redesman of the Troth and modern Ásatrú reconstructionist

I fully support folks doing things like this. To do otherwise would refute his ten years of labor to create his final vessel. The Vikings of old did these kinds of burials for the same reason that we find them fascinating; it’s epic, memorable and requires the involvement of a dedicated community. While I doubt I would ask my family to do something like this for me, due to costs and efforts, I can appreciate it.

Clearly, Mr. Hains was well-inspired and driven to make this happen. The fact that he spent his twilight years of his life, doing this by hand and one-handed, just makes it that much more praiseworthy of a story. I suspect that the ship-board ceremony had more in common with our memory Blots then not. Hail Andrew Haines! Luck to his family.

Bryon Wilton, Heathen

You know I think it’s awesome. I like that a man had enough courage when it came to facing death that he bucked the tide and entered the next realm as he so chose. There is also a county in Colorado that allows for funeral pyres. But you have to get rid of the five 5 gallon bucket of ash and it’s only available to residents of that county. As a veteran I have been content to know I’ll have a mjolnir on my headstone in a national cemetery. But, yes, if I had the money, I would love to have the option of a funeral pyre and I think a lot of people would love to have a Heathen ceremony by boat. I think it’s a good thing that Heathens of all stripes be allowed to celebrate the road to Hel as they choose.

K. C. Hulsman, Heathen, Gythia of Urdabrunnr Kindred

Thanks to film and TV, the thought of a Viking burial on a boat being burnt at sea has caught the imaginations of people the world over, which has led to a common misconception in modern times that this was a commonplace occurrence. In actuality the association of an actual ship with a burial or funeral pyre was something reserved for very special persons, usually those of greater social status, by wealth or power. For most people they were far more simply buried or cremated, and the customs around it varied by region.

One of the few accounts we have of a ship being burned, wasn’t at sea. In the account of the Arab traveler and chronicler Ibn Fadlan, he relays the funerary practices for a chieftain among the Viking Rus. The deceased had been placed in a temporary grave while preparations for the funeral were made. After several days, a ship was pulled to the shore and his body was then laid out upon a bed on the ship. From this point the account can get to be a bit gruesome as it involves the human sacrifice … The boat is set to burn in a pyre-like conflagration, and what’s left is then all buried, right there. So this is a fiery Viking ship funeral, not at sea, but rather on land. So as visually romanticized as this concept is in pop culture, thanks even recently to “Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World,” it just doesn’t appear to have been very common.

Interestingly enough we see people entombed in a boat then buried as in the Oseberg Longship archaeological find. In Lindholm Høje in Denmark, we see graves are outlined by a series of stone markers giving the impression of a ship’s shape. We also have found graves where people were buried in wagons. Scholars and believers alike speculate if there may have been some sort of tradition needed to convey symbolically travel to the afterlife.

While I have no desire to be sent off to the halls of my Gods and ancestors en flambé at sea, even before considering possible safety issues, sanitation concerns or ecological factors for the world at large, I have to give kudos to the Coast Guard for honoring a World War II veteran in fulfilling his final wishes and in the support they provided to the grieving family in making it a reality.

Erin Lale, gythia of Ásatrú and the author of Ásatrú For Beginners

It’s heart-warming that the U.S. Coast Guard would give Haines a Viking funeral that had both personal and cultural meaning for him. Perhaps Heathen veterans will be able to have such a sendoff in the future, too. Asatru, one of the modern sects of Heathenry, recently had its symbol, the Thorshammer, approved by several branches of the U.S. military for use on headstones. Heathens in pre-Christian times practiced several different funeral customs, including cremation in a ship, burial in a mound, burial in a ship, burial in a ship-shaped grave, and cremation followed by burial of the ashes in a mound or ship-shaped grave. Symbolically the ship carries the soul to the afterlife.

Burial Mound "Tumulus Dissignac2" [Credit: Aeleftherios at fr.wikipedia Lic CC]

Burial Mound “Tumulus Dissignac2″ [Credit: Aeleftherios at fr.wikipedia Lic CC]

Lisa Morgenstern, member KAP Hrafn Skjoldr Kindred, The Troth

Actually I just performed a funeral for a dear friend of our kindred. Extended family. I performed his sister’s wedding, and as it happens my husband works with his father. He had asked for a Viking funeral. We had a ceremony at the mortuary followed by a wake, and his family hopes to arrange something similar to this for him. Sadly, he did not serve.

I think that scattering remains in this manner is a great way to honor the traditions of burial at sea for those who honor the Norse traditions.

Anthony Arndt, Ásatrú

Would I be interested in something like the Coast Guard’s “Viking funeral”? Absolutely!

Though in my case, as someone who is Ásatrú, an educator, a serious living-history re-enactor, and a family man, I would aim for something a bit more “authentic” while still not necessarily 100% historically accurate.

The reason that I would not want it 100% historically accurate is two-fold. First, this is the 21st century, not the 11th, time has moved on and we should adapt to it just as our ancestors adapted to the changes in their eras. I am an English teacher, and while I may be somewhat mercenary in outlook, I am not literally a pirate.

Second, I may make my living as an English teacher now but my academic background is in early medieval Nordic archaeology, history, and literature and cremation burials are the bane of the archaeologist. Graves are timecapsules and I find that inhumation graves are far more informative of the physical culture of a time than cremation graves.

Now on to what my own ideal burial would look like.

A memorial service is much more for the people who gather to witness it than it is for the deceased. So first I would want them taken care of. I would want plenty of mead, beer, and food for all the family and friends who came. And a good bonfire and live music long into the night.

As far as the body is concerned, if possible, I would be perfectly happy if it was all done quickly and it was my body on the boat. Barring that, my ashes in some sort of body-shaped shrouded straw-man (like the Karls made for some holidays), taking the place of my body would be an acceptable compromise… 

The most controversial part, would be the feast. To provide the meat for the feast. I would want it provided by a proper blót to Óðinn as Vegtam ,”way-tamer”. Though historic sources consistently mention that horses were most closely associated with blót to Óðinn, the type of animal is less important to me. A single, well-cared for animal that would be large enough to provide meat for the feast would be ideal…

As for the boat and fire itself, first, I would want the boat on land not in the water. A high spot on family land, preferably overlooking water. I would want the keel oriented North/South with the bow pointing North. Then the boat would be loaded with the grave goods and kindling … The best and most personal [grave goods] would either be with me when I was cremated or in the boat, the second-best copy in a “treasure horde”, that is to say a proper time capsule …

After the cremation was finished and the time capsule placed, I would want a cairn of stones raised over the ashes, then a small mound of earth covered in raw clay, then a larger mound raised over that and edged with stones. I would want the final mount at least two meters tall at the peak and probably a reasonably flat four by six meter top to it for mound sitting. Then I would want the mount seeded with something … Maybe something like a mix of clover, St. John’s Wort, mugwort, heather, and berries, preferably lingon berries, I would also want some rosemary somewhere for Kira (my wife, she loves the smell of Rosemary). At the peak I would want some type of tree planted, an ash or yew tree that grows well in that area. Then a runestone raised in the style and manner of the old picture stones found in the Nordic lands. Finally, in the area around the land, if possible, I would like to have edible perennial plants which would be appropriate for the kin of the beast that fed my final guests to feed themselves.

A bit more about the “treasure horde.” As a time capsule, I would want a certain amount of important things placed within. Copies of texts that are important to me, like the Elder and Younger Eddas in English and in Old Norse. A book about modern Asatru and its history. A scholarly book about runes … Perhaps some fiction, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Gaiman’s American Gods, and a selection of Pratchet’s Discworld series come to mind. A photo album of some of the more important events in my life with dates. My passport and current driver’s license/identification card. One set of my historical reenactment garb … My reenactment armour and weapons … a drinking horn … A well-sealed bottle of mead, probably with natural cork and coated in a thick covering of wax.

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

Over at the PNC blog Pagan+Politics Cara Schulz has posted the first interview in a series of interviews with Pagan politicians. The first installment is with Nevada State Assemble District 29 candidate Erin Lale. Lale is running on the Libertarian Party ticket and recently got the backing of a local Tea Party group.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Yes, the deck is stacked against third party and independent candidates, in several ways: district boundary lines are drawn to protect incumbents; campaign finance laws favor incumbents (the winner of the election gets to keep unused campaign funds for next time and keep building up their war chest between elections, but losers by law in Nevada must close their campaign bank account and give away any unused campaign funds to charity or to other campaigns); corporate and union donors usually only give to Democrats and Republicans (my individual donations are running about even with what the incumbent did in the last election, but I only have individual donations, while she also gets corporate and union donations, so while I raise about $500 she raised $150,000 in the last election; we’ll have to wait til the election is over to see how much she raised this time. And that doesn’t even count the advertising bought for her by her party and by corporate, union, and special interest groups) so I can’t afford to do a big ad campaign; the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

Be sure to head over to Pagan+Politics and read the whole thing. Next week’s installment will feature a rare interview with New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, his first with the Pagan community since winning office in 2009.

[The following is a guest-post from Cara Schulz. Cara is a member of the Pagan Newswire Collective’s political commentary blog Pagan+Politics and one of the coordinators of the PNC’s Minnesota bureau. As a politically conservative Pagan she has spent several months reporting on the modern Pagan experience from within the Tea Party movement.]

Nevada State Assembly candidate Erin Lale, known in the Pagan community as a cinematographer and author, has picked up several prominent endorsements including a nod from the Tea Party.

From the Press Release:

“May 31, 2010 – Erin Lale, candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 29, was endorsed by local Tea Party organization Anger is Brewing*. Lale has also been endorsed by the LPN Vote Caucus, Liberty-Candidates.org, Gun Owners of Nevada, and the Fraternal Order of Police.

Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back to the taxpayers. Her plan to balance the state budget without a general tax increase is to end marijuana prohibition so the state can tax marijuana, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in the local economy.

Lale is running against incumbent April Mastroluca, a Democrat. There is no primary in the District 29 race; no names will appear on the ballot for District 29 until the general election in November.”

So far, it appears that Lale’s religion has not been an issue in her race for State Assembly.  This has not been the case with other Pagan candidates such as Alice Richmond and Dan Halloran.

New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, also endorsed by the Tea Party, faced intense scrutiny about his religious practices.  When Halloran ran for office last year the local media conducted a smear campaign, orchestrated by his Democratic Party opponent,  focusing on Halloran’s faith.

We warned you it was going to get interesting in Queens.  But now it’s getting downright weird. The Queens Tribune wrote a story about Republican City Council candidate Dan Halloran’s unusual religious beliefs.  Reporters around the city received an e-mail with a pdf of the article attached — from Democratic rival Kevin Kim’s new spokesman. According to the article, written by Executive Editor Brian Rafferty:  “Halloran is the ‘First Atheling’ or King, of Normandy, a branch of the Theod faith of pre-Christian Heathen religions assembled in the Greater New York Area.”

Although the campaign got rough and there was speculation Halloran would be asked to bow out, the Libertarian, Conservative, Independence, and Republican Parties stood by him – and so did the Tea Party.  Halloran went on to win his seat by a margin of 1300 votes.

Do these two endorsements by the Tea Party suggest that (fiscally conservative) Pagan candidates can expect a fair shake from a group many Pagans consider filled with “racists, birthers, and religious ideologues?” Could the political Right be more accepting of Pagan candidates than the political Left?  We may find some clues in the recent flap over Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s admission to “dabbling” in witchcraft.

“Yes, some religious conservatives are pulling out their “devil” card for this occasion, but it’s the added mockery from the left that is really setting us back. The implication that dabbling in any faith outside the mainstream is toxic to winning elected office in America.”

What was the Tea Party reaction to O’Donnell’s admission?  As of yet they are standing by her.  Pagan+politics featured an interview with two Delaware Tea Party Pagans (C and D) for a first hand account of Tea Party attitudes.

From C: I don’t like how she calls it “dabbling.” That’s my religion you are talking about. What I have enjoyed even less is the Left going after her for this. Should being a witch or “dabbling” in witchcraft make you unelectable? Is it a sign that you are mentally unstable? A joke? Progressive friends and co-workers, not knowing that I’m a witch, have had the most appalling things to say about O’Donnell and witches. It’s very hurtful to hear. The GOP Party leaders are also attacking her over this. Within the Tea Party, the response is what I should be seeing from the Left. Some are questioning her fitness, but the consensus response is now, “Religious attacks are not allowed here and her religious beliefs are none of our business. Take it outside.”

From D: I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.

Does this mean that the Tea Party, across the USA, can be said to be Pagan-friendly?  I don’t think any uniform statement can be made about the Tea Party as it is a coalition of non-hierarchical, grass-roots, autonomous local groups focused on economic issues.  Alison Shaffer pointed out that local and national Tea Party groups can be very different:

“I see a very obvious disconnect between local tea party politics, such as the kind you often cite Cara, and the broader political force of the tea party on a national level, which can hardly be denied is very overtly right-wing Christian. Ignoring this rather important disconnect is likely to cause problems in the future.”

The waters are further muddied by groups like the Tea Party Express, which isn’t a Tea Party group at all, but PAC that is a front for the GOP in their repeated attempts to control and direct this populist movement.

“The political action committee behind the Tea Party Express (TPE) — which already has been slammed as inauthentic and corporate-controlled by rival factions in the Tea Party movement — directed almost two thirds of its spending during a recent reporting period back to the Republican consulting firm that created the PAC in the first place.”

From personal experience here’s a general rule of thumb – if a group says they represent the Tea Party nationally, they don’t.

As of now, we can’t make a definitive statement about which political parties are more or less Pagan-friendly.  Nor can we make a blanket statement about the Tea Party groups.  We haven’t yet had enough candidates run.  I find it heartening that we now have two Pagans currently holding elected office (Dan Halloran and Jessica Orsini, re-elected Alderwoman in Centralia, Missouri in 2008) and Ms. Lale, running for office in Nevada.

Good luck to Ms. Lale in her race and I look forward to seeing the results come November.

*  The group’s name is “Action is Brewing”.

Hello! It’s good to be back home at The Wild Hunt, and I hope all of you enjoyed the week of thought-provoking and insightful guest-posts. I would like to thank Lee Gilmore, Kulasundari Devi, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Jordan Stratford, Matthew Ellenwood, and Christian Day for their contributions, and I hope you’ll continue to follow their work in the future. I’d especially like to thank Cosette Paneque for stepping up and running the site while I was away, as well as writing news updates; her efforts are greatly valued, and I’m glad to call her a friend and colleague.

Pagan Spirit Gathering was an immense experience, an intense immersion into a fully Pagan world that leaves you changed in the process. The Pagan Newswire Collective (in partnership with the Proud Pagan Podcasters and Patheos.com) gathered hours of audio interviews from that trip, and as we sort through it, I’ll be sharing some of it with you here, as well as writing about my experiences. You can also experience some of PSG on an upcoming episode of T. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings podcast, and my own A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary, and all the Pagan Spirit Gathering organizers for inviting me to the event, and for taking such good care of me once I was there.

It may take me a couple days to get fully on top of things again, but here are a few news items I wanted to share with you today.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s Legal Battle: The Daily Mail has an update on the upcoming court battle in upstate New York between the Maetreum of Cybele, a Pagan temple and convent, and the Town of Catskill over tax exemptions.

“They declared war on us and we’re bringing it to them,” Platine said. “If we file a federal suit we will be looking for punitive damages. We want to send a message loud and clear that you don’t do this to a minority religion,” she said. “They woke up a sleeping giant.” Platine said she has had great support from the pagan community nationwide and was receiving donations to pay the Maetreum’s legal fees. “We just want them to give us back our exemption,” she said, “and leave us alone.”

I’ve been covering this legal saga here at The Wild Hunt, and the outcome could have profound effects on how minority religions approach tax exemption issues, especially if the case goes to the federal level. In the meantime, while Catskill seems to dislike giving property tax exemptions to isolated Goddess temples, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. As a result, the Maetreum’s Reverend Mother, Cathryn Platine, has become something of a local anti-tax icon. I encourage you to read the entire Daily Mail piece, which has lots of interesting details, and I’ll be keeping you posted concerning the court case once I have more information.

Why Are Australian Political Parties Speaking at Christian-Only Events? Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action notes that representatives of Australia’s two dominant political parties recently participated in an event that was closed to non-Christians and broadcasted only to Christian churches.

“Last Monday, the leaders of Australia’s two biggest political parties addressed the right-wing Australian Christian Lobby in an event that excluded non-Christians and was broadcast solely to Christian churches across Australia. As the event website asked, “What values will define the nation after the election ?” Among the issues discussed was government funding of religious schools, which both party leaders support. Banned from the event, the Australian general public couldn’t formulate opinions about positions that Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, both devout Christians, espoused. Now, only a few days later, Rudd has been ousted from his position as Prime Minister in a Labor Party revolt that has installed Julia Gillard as Australia’s new Prime Minister. It’s unlikely she’ll be a favorite of the Australian Christian Lobby – Gillard is unmarried and rumored to be an atheist. News coverage of Rudd’s ouster has mentioned many reason for his ouster, but Monday’s “Christians only” event does not seem to be on the list.”

The event seems like a slap in the face of all minority faiths, all but making that country’s Christian political power-brokers the de facto king-makers. It is especially troubling when you consider that Australia just recently hosted the world’s largest interfaith gathering. One would hope that such an event couldn’t happen here in the US, though Wilson does remind us that both Obama and McCain willingly participated in a discussion about faith at a conservative evangelical mega-church during the campaign. Reminding all Americans that “religious issues” in this country, at least for the time being, largely means “Christian issues”.

The Religious Litmus Test: To further underline my previous news item, Aseem Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), discusses how the political rise of Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley (both raised in Dharma religions) has gone hand-in-hand with repeated assertions of their Christian identity and rejections of their minority religion roots.

“As any observer knows by now, say what you will about Haley and Jindal, but don’t say that they are not Christian. Ask about the Dharma religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism) of their childhood and their parents–Hinduism for Jindal and Sikhism for Haley–and be referred to Haley’s website where she writes of “living for Christ” or Jindal’s own striking testimonial on his conversion to Catholicism.

This year, eight Indian Americans, most of whom are Hindu, are running for national or statewide office–a record number–and the questions of faith become increasingly urgent. The media storyline–“Haley and Jindal triumph despite questions about their faith”– leaves millions of America’s adherents of Dharma faiths stone cold: What is so miserably wrong and unelectable in being a Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jain?”

Shukla notes that while Haley and Jindal’s successes are a positive step for racial plurality in America, it still leaves religious minorities with the message that the US isn’t ready for our full inclusion in the political process. I should also note that Shukla, as he did in a previous post for On Faith, once again includes Pagans when speaking about religious minorities in the United States.

Another Pagan Candidate: In a final note I’m happy to announce that our community has another openly Pagan candidate to root for! Erin Lale, a Gythia of Asatru, is running for a seat on Nevada’s State Assembly on the Libertarian ticket.

“Lale believes in getting government’s eyeball out of your window and its hand out of your pocket. In the last session, the Nevada State Assembly couldn’t agree to balance the state budget by either cutting programs or raising taxes, so instead they raided the budgets of local agencies: cities, counties, water districts, and school districts. They raided the Clark County School District’s capital improvement fund, which was money raised from Clark County homeowners intended for renovating aging school buildings and replacing portables with permanent buildings, and they put it in the general fund to spend who knows where on who knows what. They raided the Clean Water Coalition of $62 million from hookup fees in Clark County intended for wastewater treatment, resulting in a lawsuit. Lale plans to introduce legislation to define fees in Nevada law so fees collected for a specific purpose must be used for that purpose or given back. Her plan to balance the budget is to end marijuana prohibition so we can tax that, spend $500 million less per year on prisons, free up police resources so we put more cops on the street without spending more money, bring parents back to the community which will help kids do better in school and break the cycle of poverty, have less gang violence, less border violence, and more tourist money in our economy.”

You can find out more about candidate Lale at her MySpace profile, which includes a cat-centric campaign ad. If there are any Nevada Pagans of the Libertarian persuasion reading this, I’m sure she could use some local support. I’ll be following Erin Lale’s candidacy in future posts at The Wild Hunt.

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