Archives For Ernesto Pichardo

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

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

This week has been a rare instance of where I’m spoiled for choice as to what I’ll write about. As the week ends, I find that there are lots of stories, editorials, and essays that I’ve neglected. So to play catch-up, I’m instituting The Wild Hunt’s first-ever semi-regular (as-needed) links roundup: Unleash the Hounds!

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

I like to think I’m a rather tolerant guy when it comes to religious freedom. I have no trouble with religions that practice humane animal sacrifice, I could care less what consenting adults want to get up to in the privacy of their own homes, and I tend to range from permissive to supportive on the issue of entheogens. All that said, this sicked me out more than a little.

“Authorities are investigating a Hialeah man who allegedly smuggled illegal Giant African Snails into Florida and convinced his followers to drink their juices as part of a religious healing ritual. State and federal authorities in January raided the home of Charles L. Stewart after learning he had a large box full of the snails — which grow to be up to 10 inches long — according to a search warrant filed recently in Miami-Dade Circuit Court … One witness told investigators that during the ritual, Stewart grabs a snail from the cage, then would “hold it over the devotee, then cuts the [snail] and pours the raw fluid directly from the still live [snail] into the mouth of the devotee.” Several followers became violently ill, losing weight and developing strange lumps in their bellies…”


Giant African Snails. Photo from the IL Dept. of Public Health.

I’ll give you all a moment to collect yourselves. OK. So, why (oh dear gods why) am I writing about this? Because the man claims that this snail-drinking ritual is part of his Yoruban faith.

Stewart, 48, who court documents describe as “El Africano” or “Oloye Ifatoku,” said he practices the traditional African religion of Ifa Orisha [aka Yoruba religion], which is often confused with the Cuban Santería, a blend of Yoruba and Catholic practices. “I did not invent this. It’s something that is part of our religion,” he told The Miami Herald. “It’s not something meant to hurt anybody.” He declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, Santería spokesman and advocate Ernesto Pichardo is quick to distance his religion from this practice, saying he has never come across such a ritual, and that it isn’t a part of Santería. As for Yoruba, there is plenty of textual/cultural evidence for the possible inclusion of snails in Yoruba ritual, but I couldn’t find anything specific about the drinking of “snail water” for the purposes of healing. I suppose it’s possible, and if the snails were legal, he might have a great religious freedom case for the court system. The problem though is that they are illegal, Stewart and an accomplice knowingly smuggled them in, and these snails are a hugely invasive species that could wreak havoc with our ecosystem.

“…these snails can do extensive damage to the environment if released outdoors. They are known to eat at least 500 different types of plants.”

Oh, and they breed like nobodies business. In addition, the snails, especially if they are smuggled in directly from Africa, can make you seriously ill if you decide to partake in a “healing ritual” involving one.

“Giant African snails can carry a parasite that can cause illness in humans,” Dr. Whitaker said. “I strongly encourage anyone aware of the existence of these snails to call their local health department.” … The parasite can be transmitted to humans when snail mucous comes into contact with human mucous membranes, such as those of the eyes, nose and mouth when touched by an unwashed hand or by ingesting improperly cooked snail meat.

That most likely explains why followers became “violently ill”. Let’s hope they didn’t catch meningitis, one of the possible side-effects of being exposed to the parasite these snails can carry.

In the end, this isn’t really a religion story. Sure, religion plays a role in the motivations, but that isn’t why this man is in trouble. He’s in trouble for  knowingly smuggling in contraband, endangering Florida’s ecosystem, and making his followers violently ill in the process. Claiming religious exemption only works if the needs and demands of your faith are reasonable and don’t endanger those around you. Once Charles L. Stewart has answered for his crimes, he’ll have to stick with native snails for his rituals, maybe explore the culinary wonders of escargot, instead of serving up giant snail “water” to his followers.

In Other News

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 12, 2008 — Leave a comment

While the San Francisco Peaks story gets top billing from The Wild Hunt today, it isn’t the only story of interest to our communities happening right now. Here are some links to other stories of note.

The LA Times profiles Santero and activist Ernesto Pichardo who discusses his life, his 1993 U.S. Supreme Court victory, and his emerging role as a mediator between law enforcement and the Santeria community.

“By some estimates there are 100,000 Santeria worshipers in Florida. Some of them, inevitably, had difficulties, and Pichardo did what he could to come to their aid. He began issuing laminated cards “certifying” Santeria priests to help them avoid run-ins with the law. And he tried not to take himself too seriously. He showed up at one local celebrity baseball game with a rubber chicken tied around his neck. His religion seemed to gain a little more acceptance. Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina now calls Pichardo to help mediate the parking, noise and animal issues that arise from Santeria home services. ‘We’ve all matured,’ Robaina said. ‘We need to respect everyone’s religion.’”

The piece also provides a rather harrowing account of the ongoing Coral Gables saga that is worth reading.

The Salem News does a profile of Laurie Cabot’s reformulated Witches League for Public Awareness, now known as “Project Witches Protection”.

“Project Witches Protection has very little money, relies heavily on volunteers and promotes a message that often falls on deaf ears. But the anti-defamation organization trucks on, stuffing hundreds of envelopes at Laurie Cabot’s witch shop every month to send to authorities across the state. Inside the envelopes is literature designed to inform people about the civil rights of witches.”

In the article, PWP vice president Rick Carvino calls Wicca/Witchcraft “one of the most abused and exploited religions”. A statement that will be sure to start some heated debates as to how abused and exploited Wiccans/Witches really are. A copy of the materials the PWP mails out can be found, here.

Pagan authors Isaac and Phaedra Bonewits just did an interview on the Air America radio show “Clout” to discuss polyamory and the John Edwards affair.

“I got a chance to discuss monotheism and dualism, and to explain how and why mudslinging works in political campaigns. Richard Greene, host of the show, loved the fact that Phae and Joy and Tom and I were “getting together” on his show, along with a poet named Sara from New York City, and challenging the dominant paradigm not only about marriage and relationships, but the very roots of America’s dysfunctional schizophrenia about sexuality.”

I can’t seem to find a link to the podcast in question (and you seem to need a subscription to download podcasts), but perhaps something will be posted soon to the show’s blog.

In a final note, September 8 looks to be a historic day. On that date, a new full evidentiary hearing will take place for the West Memphis 3.

“A full evidentiary hearing on this case is scheduled for September 8, 2008 and is expected to conclude on October 3. This marks the first time that the appeals from all three defendants will be heard together. Each is expected to get around a week to present their case. In an unprecedented move, the entire case will be presented in full, argued, and decided upon. Flaws in the original trials, recent DNA evidence pointing away from the defendants, and other new leads and information which invalidate the evidence used to convict the three are expected to take center stage.”

The initial trial has long come under fire for the sloppy handling of evidence, and the use of “Satanic Panic” to sway the jury towards a guilty verdict. This appears to be the best chance for a fair trial, and a possible reversal of the guilty verdict. No doubt the many members of the Pagan community who have long advocated for a new trial will be watching.

How would you feel if 23 police officers burst into your home, made you, your family, and your house-guests stand outside for hours, only to ascertain that you hadn’t broken any laws? That is what happened to Noriel Batista one year ago in Coral Gables, Florida, after an anonymous phone-call reported suspected animal abuse. Since then, the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye has been requesting documents from the police to find out why such a massive and over-zealous police presence was necessary to respond to an animal abuse call.

“Ernesto Pichardo, president of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, has been trying for almost a year to obtain records relating to the interruption of a Santeria ceremony by police last summer. An attorney he recently hired, David Aelion, has filed a public records request for any documents relating to the incident…”

Despite these requests, the police have only handed over around twenty pages of documents, which Aelion and Pichardo maintain is only the tip of the iceberg for a police action of that size. So a lawsuit has been filed accusing the Coral Gables police of withholding documents.

“The Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye — which took Hialeah’s ban of animal sacrifices to the Supreme Court in 1993, and won — filed suit in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County last week, comparing the City Beautiful to the communist regime in Cuba and urging the court to compel officials to provide public records. Attorney David Aelion, representing the church, said the June 2007 incident could be a direct attack to the religion because of what he called excessive police response. He wants the records — including e-mails about the incident, photographs and audio recordings, and police reports and memorandums — to determine if there were federal rights violations.”

Aelion and Pichardo have speculated the massive response was to make a political statement that Santeria wasn’t welcome in a “nice” city like Coral Gables.

“‘It sounds a lot like `We’re going to make a statement that this isn’t going to happen in our city,’ and that’s where obviously freedom of religion, First Amendment rights were stepped on,” Aelion said, adding that there also may be Fourth Amendment issues. ‘They basically blasted into the house without any warrants and without any probable cause,’”

They may be right. The mayor of Coral Gables has been an outspoken opponent of Santeria in the past, and has claimed to be “investigating” the laws concerning Santeria and animal sacrifice. He has rebuffed calls in the past year for an apology over the incident. But why would he do otherwise? No doubt his power resides with the affluent, predominately white residents who are most likely uneasy about this strange religion moving in. An uneasiness rooted in racism according to Miguel A. De LA Torre, author of “Santeria: The Beliefs And Rituals Of A Growing Religion In America”.

“There is a fear that is rooted in racism … this religion is practiced by Latinos, or people of African descent. It’s an element of ‘Oh, look at these primitive people sacrificing animals’ … For some people, moving up the economic or social ladder means assimilation, putting away the old religion … But then you have a generation that says, ‘I will live in an upscale neighborhood, but I will also have my santos, thank you very much.’”

So it looks like this issue is only just beginning. Assuming they do get their hands on all documents and communications from that day last year, it is very likely that further lawsuits will be filed claiming violations of their First and Fourth Amendment rights, and even possible false imprisonment for holding everyone outside for hours and not allowing them to leave. If city officials were indeed trying to intimidate a religious minority, their efforts appear to be backfiring. Mayor Don Slesnick (a Democrat) is most likely hoping that the existing paper-trail doesn’t lead back to his door.

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

A priest in the Church of England has voluntarily resigned his clergy status after it was discovered he was taking courses in Witchcraft from The College of the Sacred Mists.

“The Rev Chris Horseman agreed to resign his licence to officiate at church services as an Anglican priest following a meeting on Wednesday with the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Rt Rev Peter Price. The decision will mean that Mr Horseman will no longer be able to conduct services in any C of E church”

Horseman, who is also involved in Druidry and Spiritual Humanism, plans to continue his “Rent a Rev” business within the context of his new spiritual home(s).

The Evansville Courier Press talks to local screenwriter Rod Spence about the superstition that served as an inspiration for The Hallmark Channel’s production of “The Good Witch”.

“The shadowy figure some believe haunts Willard Library suggested a legend featured in Evansville resident Rod Spence’s screenplay for “The Good Witch,” a two-hour movie set to screen at 8 p.m. tonight and again at the same time Jan. 25 and Jan. 31 on the Hallmark Channel. “I used the legend of the Grey Lady of Willard Library, only I made her the Grey Lady of Grey House,” Spence said.”

But while Evansville cheers on its native son, television reviewers haven’t been too kind to the film.

“Nightingale’s enemies are as benign and generic as her magical arts. It says something when a movie about witchcraft and its detractors can unfold without a mention of religion or the occult. But the real missing ingredient here is any chemistry between Nightingale and her love interest. Bell’s witch may not ride a broomstick, but she straddles the line between cool understatement and complete disinterest.”

I’d just like to say that I totally called that one. Only Hallmark could produce a movie about a persecuted “witch” without mentioning religion or the occult.

Santeria (and other Afro-Caribbean faiths) continues to interact with the mainstream. First up, a Santero has been dealt a legal setback in Texas as he fights to gain the right to sacrifice goats in his home.

“A Santeria priest who sued Euless for the right to sacrifice goats in his home lost a key round in court Thursday when a judge ruled that one of the laws he sued under doesn’t apply … Mr. Merced argued that the ritual was protected under the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which says governments must show a compelling public interest before enforcing laws that could interfere with religious practices. But U.S. District Judge John McBryde ruled that the city’s slaughtering ban regulated only conduct, not the use of land.”

Without the RLUIPA claims, the case will be much harder to win. A trial is set in March for the remaining claims. Meanwhile, in Florida, the Florida International University is reaching out to Afro-Caribbean faiths at a conference on African culture and religion.

“Scholars, priests and spiritual leaders gathered in South Florida on Friday, seeking an understanding of African culture and religion in the mainstream. The aim is to achieve mainstream acceptance of practices that some might view as extreme … “So many Cuban Santeria here, Haitian Voodoo specialists, we want to use their knowledge and mainstream them into our academic curriculum,” said Dr. Akin Ogundiran, who specializes in African New World Studies for FIU.”

Also at this conference, Ernesto Pichardo, founder of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye and a visiting fellow at FIU’s African-New World Studies program, has donated a very rare book of the Yoruba-Lukumi religion to the school.

“The text, The Book of Diagnosis in Ifa Divination, was drawn from the religion’s oral tradition and first published in the 1940s. The original text and its copies were kept from the public until the present day … The text is a compilation of Yoruba and Afro-Cuban history, culture and philosophy. It was written in Yoruba and Spanish.”

For more of my coverage on the very public and vocal Ernesto Pichardo, click here.

Alabama paper The Dothan Eagle reports on a visit
by crusading Christian apologist Cky J. Carrigan. Carrigan will speak about the “dangers” of the growing New Age movement and modern Paganism.

“Witchcraft is becoming less and less hidden,” he said “Most every larger and medium-size town in America has some pocket of people practicing witchcraft, even in the Bible Belt. The greatest expansion is coming from teens and 20-somethings, but there are significant pockets of 30 to 50-somethings.”

In addition to warning people about Paganism, Carrigan is also vigilant concerning the spiritual dangers of Unitarian-Universalism, Harry Potter, and Pokemon. No doubt he’ll be a big hit at the Southside Baptist Church in Dothan (where Pokemon abuse is reaching critical levels).

The Rabbi’s Tarot? Now I’ve heard of everything.

“Forget the ouija board – the occult has much more to offer. One option might be The Rabbi’s Tarot, an illumination from the kundalini to the pineal to the pituitary, by Daphna Moore. While there are more tarot sets than you can shake a wand at available in every bookstore, The Rabbi’s Tarot is special. According to Ms. Moore, it “reveals how the practical occultist develops the pineal and pituitary glands by energized currents coming through the seven centers or Chakras … When the pineal gland is energized by the transmuted sex force (THE MAGICIAN’s wand), the sex force is then turned into the White Light.” Who knew that the tarot could be so spicy? I can only assume that this book was written with Reform rabbis in mind – energized pineal and pituitary glands can’t possibly be kosher enough for the Orthodox.”

In a final note, a new web site is aiming to unite “geek culture” in Montreal. The site’s co-founder explains who is into what when talking about geeks.

“Megelas hopes the website will unify seemingly disparate elements of Montreal geekdom. “If you’ve got a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, that’s probably someone who’s pretty keen on pagan culture,” he explains. “And your average hacker is going to be a big Star Wars fan.”

There it is folks. If you are into Buffy, you’ll probably love Pagan “culture”, if you aren’t already into it.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Miami Herald has a nice little story looking back at Florida International University’s first-ever course on Santeria.

“Those who came to Oba Ernesto Pichardo’s fall semester course at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus expecting chicken heads, seashells and drum circles probably left disappointed. The controversial, charismatic and enterprising Pichardo, a Yoruba priest and the country’s leading expert on Santeria, spent hours talking about the transatlantic slave trade, paraded in cultural anthropology professors and expected both Powerpoint presentations and 12-page research papers at semester’s end.”

No doubt some would argue with whether Pichardo (head of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye) is truly the “leading expert on Santeria” in America, but the story is very positive and is a nice change of pace from the “decapitated animals it must be Santeria” sensationalism one usually sees. It also hints at the fact that minority religions are slowly making their way into the traditional religion curriculum at Universities.

“Four months ago he concluded FIU’s first three-credit Santeria class, with a grand prediction: “You are making history here today.” “This is not some fringe movement,” Pichardo told his students. “If you can get a Ph.D. in Judaism or Christianity, you should at least be able to take a course in Santeria.” … Pichardo hopes his course will grow into a major.”

Certainly courses touching on modern Paganism have been popping up here and there, but like this Santeria course they aren’t tied into a major, and are usually electives. Considering the growth of religious minorities in America, it isn’t unheard of to someday see a Masters in Pagan Studies, or Doctorate in Afro-Cuban Faiths at some point in the future.

Santeria in the News

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 16, 2007 — 1 Comment

There has been some great coverage involving the religion of Santeria recently, and I thought I would use this post to get everyone up to speed. While Santeria isn’t a modern Pagan/Heathen religion, “the Way of the Saints” has quite a bit in common with us*. Anything that affects the Santerian community in the United States (which is around the same size as the collective Pagan/Heathen groups) should draw our attention, and where appropriate, our support.

Yesterday the Miami Herald did an in-depth story on clashes between Santero/as and the local police. Quite a bit of recent controversy stems from an interrupted initiation ritual in which several animals, including goats and chickens, were being ritually sacrificed.

“Noriel Batista has had little peace since a swarm of Coral Gables police officers burst onto his property, disrupting a Santeria ritual intended to initiate him into a special order of his religion’s priesthood. “It has ruined my life,” said Batista, a Cuban-born pharmacy owner who bought the home on Casilla Street nine years ago. Business at his Coral Way pharmacy has suffered, he says. Neighbors expressed outrage that animal sacrifices — in this case, 11 goats and 44 fowl — were taking place in the City Beautiful. Shortly after the June incident made the news, Batista received a handwritten note, scrawled in the margins of a Miami Herald article: America has become a dumping ground for trash like you. Go back to Cuba and take your animal sacrifices with you. The incident, which brought television cameras and patrol cars to the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in early June, highlights the tension between adherents of a religion most notorious for its practice of animal sacrifice and neighbors in the increasingly affluent suburban areas where the religion is spreading and taking root.”

Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye (which won the famous Supreme Court case allowing for ritual animal sacrifice), says that recent growing tensions concerning Santeria have much to do with the upward mobility of Santerian practitioners into the middle and upper economic classes.

“When we hear about Santeria in Coral Gables, it’s as if Santeria doesn’t have a right to be in Coral Gables … But it’s OK if it’s in Little Havana, or it’s all right if we do it in Hialeah … As long as it is marginalized, and only appears in the lower strata of society, then it’s OK.”

These comments are echoed by Miguel De La Torre, author of “Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America”.

“There is a fear that is rooted in racism … this religion is practiced by Latinos, or people of African descent. It’s an element of ‘Oh, look at these primitive people sacrificing animals’ … For some people, moving up the economic or social ladder means assimilation, putting away the old religion … But then you have a generation that says, ‘I will live in an upscale neighborhood, but I will also have my santos, thank you very much.’”

The Mayor of Coral Gables (an outspoken opponent of Santeria) says he is “investigating” the laws concerning Santerian practices and animal sacrifice and has rebuffed calls for an apology by Ernesto Pichardo and his church. It remains to be seen what the final outcome of this incident will be. The Miami Herald has also included a list of recent conflicts between Santeria and the law in the Miami-Dade area, and a slide-show of relevant pictures.

While the situation involving the law in Florida is troubling, it isn’t all bad news. Ernesto Pichardo (the aforementioned head of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye) was recently granted an honorary fellowship by Florida International University.

“Florida International University appointed well-known Santeria priest Oba Ernesto Pichardo as an honorary Africana Research Fellow for the upcoming academic year in the African-New World Studies program. Pichardo is known for his successful lawsuit against the city of Hialeah to allow animal sacrifices that led to a landmark 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Pichardo will teach ‘Santeria in Transnational Perspectives’ this fall at the Biscayne Bay campus. He also will organize outreach programs, lectures and an art exhibition on the Santeria religion, also known as Lucumi-Yoruba.”

So that upward mobility of Santeria, while causing tensions in some areas is also opening doors and increasing its respectability in others. It may well be that some of the landmark court cases in the future granting modern Pagans expanded freedoms and equality will come from Santerian adherents (or even our two communities working in concert).

* Santeria is a new religious movement (emerging from the slave trade) with ties to ancient pre-Christian faiths (specifically different forms of Nigerian belief systems) that engages in the practice of magic, and believes in a number of individual male and female powers (aka Saints, Orisha, Gods). Santeria also rejects the traditional good/evil dualism of Christian monotheism. Santeria and related faiths (VooDoo) believe that the divine powers are actively engaged in the world.