“A question that pops up from time to time on Masonic forums and in lodge has to do with the requirement of a petitioner to believe in a “supreme being” and whether Wicca qualifies as such a belief. Undoubtedly, part of the trepidation by some Masons to accept Wicca as a religion has to do with seeing inverted pentacles drawn on floors by hooded devil-worshippers in too many old Night Gallery reruns. Curiously, these same brethren generally have no problem with the inverted pentacle of the Order of the Eastern Star.”
“Perhaps frank, yet respectful, letters should be sent to Florida’s Grant Master of Masons, Jorge L. Aladro, pointing out our feelings on this matter. I believe his publically published email address is: email@example.com”
If you are a Pagan, magician, and a Freemason, what do you think of the Florida Grand Lodge’s ruling? If you are a Florida Freemason what are your thoughts, and what actions will you take in an administration that seems dedicated to drumming the Pagans out? We’ll keep you updated on this situation as it develops.
“I hope that my presence Wednesday on the national stage will play a small part in helping Sikhs – and people of all races, faiths and orientations – be seen as part of the great American family. We Sikhs draw strength from the nonpartisan support we have received in response to the terrible tragedy in Oak Creek. [...] After Wednesday, I hope that we will see more engagement and inclusion. I hope our elected officials will stand against hateful speech this election season. I hope that the government tracks hate crimes specifically against Sikhs and that Sikhs will be considered eligible to serve this country, as we have served so many others, in the police and armed forces.”
Janet Mefferd: I’m fine with other faiths voting Republican, I’m just equating them with an invasive gas that’s making us syncretic.
“This adds new spin to my view of what’s going on at the RNC right now because you still hear a little bit of talk God here and there, but it’s different. When Mitt Romney talks about God, he’s not talking about our God and he has yet to give his speech yet. But we now have a party that is allowing people to pray at the Republican National Convention who don’t have the slightest similarity to us, when it comes to our view of God, at all. At all.
It wasn’t that long ago that Pat Buchanan at the 1992 RNC was talking about the great culture war and being a Judeo-Christian nation and how important it was to hold that all together because that was the foundation upon which our country was built. And he was right. He got skewered for it, but he was right.
And look how far we’ve come. Now, 2012 we have somebody from an Eastern religion offering the invocation at the Republican National Convention. I’m not saying people from different religions can’t vote Republican, but what this really is is a syncretism that is kind of seeping under the door like a gas.“
What we are seeing here is a tension that will only grow within the Republican Party. No major party can afford to keep being seen as a Christians-only party as religious demographics continue to shift. It may work for now, but eventually you’re going to see districts start to slip from your grasp as non-Christian and non-religious populations grow. In some states Christianity is already being seriously challenged by “unchurched” and “non-religious” voters. The longer you rely on a base that fears and distrusts non-Christian faiths, the more alienated growing populations of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Muslims, and Pagans will become. Eventually a realignment will have to happen, and the Janet Mefferds will have to be marginalized to allow for a “big tent” conservatism that casts aside Christian prejudices and fears. Otherwise, you’ll eventually be forced into schism with a Christian rump clinging to its ideals of party purity. It will make the Ron Paul unrest of this week seem quaint.
The truth is that non-Christians have been “seeping under the door” for generations, it’s just that we can no longer ignore them, their issues, and their desires. We don’t live in a monoculture where it’s acceptable to ignore voices or views that “don’t fit.” The RNC organizers who invited Ishwar Singh know that, and his invocation may truthfully be a important moment in the Republican Party if they fulfill Sing’s wish that “our children and grandchildren will be permitted to be full and equal members of this great American family.”
“I don’t care what the naysayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. There is only one God. There is only one God, and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words. I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or we can’t no longer pray in public. Listen to me. If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out! [...] We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”
The Rev. Terry clearly articulates a popular view among conservative Christians concerning religious freedom. To these Christians, government-enforced secularism isn’t a neutral ethos, but a method of attacking their faith and limiting their free expression. In the minds of these Christians “religious freedom” means, in this time of demographic dominance, the right to let the majority dictate the religious norms of a society. Any deviance from that, in limiting prayer in schools, or sectarian prayer at government meetings, is a persecution of their church. To combat this “war on religion” (ie religion = Christianity) a variety of laws have been passed at the state level in order to “protect” the religious freedom of the overwhelming majority. A recent example is the new Florida law enabling students to give “inspirational messages” at school events.
“SB 98 states that its purpose “is to provide students with the opportunity for formal or ceremonious observance of an occasion or event.” Although “prayer” is never used in the bill, opponents claim it allows religious messages to be delivered in public schools. They also question allowing students to have an unrestrained venue to air their opinions at a school event.”
“The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was approved by the House Education Committee on a voice vote. The companion bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Holt said he proposed the legislation after talking with a concerned school board member in his district. He said the proposal would allow school districts to develop a so-called “student speaker policy” for school officials to follow.”
Rep. Richard Montgomery, a Sevierville Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said he likes the idea of the bill, but believes it’s going to cause an uproar when a student decides to discuss a not-so-popular religion, such as Wicca. ”You might have 1 percent that actually believe that way, and 99 percent don’t believe that way,” he said. “You’re going to have an uproar out of this world in a lot of communities.”
Protesters in Pensacola support highschool educators on September 17, 2009. The educators are on federal trial following the ACLU charge that they prayed in school. (Photo: Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com)
“Our public schools are for all children regardless of their religion. But this law could require children as young as five to observe prayers to Allah, Buddha, Jesus or other faiths contrary to their religious upbringing at mandatory student assemblies. It is completely contrary to our public schools’ inclusive nature, and the law will only serve to divide students, schools and communities along religious or other lines. In America, the question of one’s religion or faith is extremely personal and private. It is not a question that is put to the discretion of government or other people. To ensure all children’s religious freedom, we urge school districts not to implement this imprudent law.”
“The bill could serve as a tool to proselytize the majority religious view, Christianity, in Texas schools. The United States is a nation made up of people of many faiths. Children are required to attend school and should be permitted to do so without someone else’s religion being imposed on them … A school should be a religion-free zone – leaving religion for homes, places of worship, and individual hearts.”
In truth, the “a Wiccan might be allowed to invoke the Goddess publicly” scenario is more a gambit than a true threat. It can occasionally work to stymie Christian overreach into the public sphere, but in many other cases, those lone non-Christian students who speak out face incredible intimidation and threats. In most cases the tyranny of the majority, once unconstrained by the law, proceeds to do its level best to silence all dissenting voices through threats, intimidation, violence, or simply peer pressure. That said, this new wave of “student expression” laws aren’t, legally speaking, bullet-proof. There’s a new legal precedent being built that looks not just at the openness and neutrality of a law’s language, but how well it maintains a balance of religious and philosophical viewpoints.
Rhode Island teen Jessica Ahlquist, who was bullied and threatened out of her school after successfully challenging a Christian mural.
“…legislative prayer must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible — itshould send a signal of welcome rather than exclusion. Itshould not reject the tenets of other faiths in favor of just one.Infrequent references to specific deities, standing alone, donot suffice to make out a constitutional case. But legislativeprayers that go further — prayers in a particular venue that repeatedly suggest the government has put its weight behinda particular faith — transgress the boundaries of the Establishment Clause. Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal, and the government should not appear to suggestthat some faiths have it wrong and others got it right.”
While that decision looked at legislative prayer, it isn’t so far a stretch to see that precedent being applied to government-funded public schools as well. If a school enacts a policy under a student free expression law, and the vast majority of “inspirational messages” are endorsing one single sectarian message, it could be seen a an official endorsement of religion, even if the teachers and administrators never utter a word. That gives adherents to minority faiths some hope, but as challenges work their way through the courts, we still face the very real situation of schools in several states where Christian expressions of faith are going to receive pride of place, marginalizing Pagan students.
The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our Christian majority have become.
“It’s pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.”
Gingrich also doubled down on earlier statements by saying during the call that “a lot of what surrounds us today is paganism,” drawing parallels to Christianity during ancient Rome. In Gingrich’s mind secularism and paganism seem to be one and the same, a force that joins Islam in a two-pronged “war” against Christianity. You can download and listen to the entire conference call, here.
Newt Gingrich has got your nose. Photo: New York Magazine
My second response has to do with Florida. While it may seem like good politics to construct religious straw men that Christians can alternatively fear and revile, the state is far more diverse than many give it credit for. Florida has thriving Pagan, Hindu, Haitian Vodou, Santeria/Lukumi, and other non-Christian/non-Abrahamic faith communities. What could be beneficial in a primary might come back to harm you in a general election. I doubt that Gingrich much cares about this, but future politicians should. As I said not too long ago at The Washington Post:
America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage. Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”
Declaring yourself in de facto opposition to America’s religious diversity and secular government should automatically disqualify you from running our executive branch. Our president is the duly elected representative of all its citizens, not just its Christian citizens. Assembling campaign faith coalitions that speak to one very narrow idea of religion alienates instead of unifies, and when that coalition claims that electing anyone outside their boundaries will bring about the end of civilization, it sends a dangerous signal. Americans shouldn’t be worrying about “Pagan behaviors.” Instead, they should worry about the “Christian behaviors” of Newt Gingrich and those like him.
“A Voodoo ceremony makes you feel as light as a feather,” explained [Mambo Ingrid] Llera. “That’s where we go for therapy. We don’t go to the doctor, we go to Voodoo.” In ritual ceremonies, which typically last from several hours to several days, Voodoo practitioners pray, sing and dance to the rhythm of drums. “A wonderful combination to get connected with the unknown world, which is the spiritual world,” she added. “That’s where we release it all and find strength.” Since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, more Haitians in South Florida have reconnected with Voodoo, according to local practitioners. “They have no choice, but to go back to their roots. It is registered in their DNA, this is who they are, this is where they feel more comfortable, this is where they can forget things,” said Llera. Llera has also witnessed a interesting phenomenon: a wave of young Haitian-Americans joining the religion of their ancestors.”
“Gone, for most, is the shame that used to be associated with the stigmatized religion. Unlike some of their parents who practiced Vodou in secrecy, the newcomers to the religion invite friends to Vodou ceremonies, have altars in their homes and work to shatter the stereotypes.”
“Based on the people seen in this film, those who practice voodoo seem to be more likeable, more relaxed, happier in their lives and more open-minded toward others and their beliefs, than the people who rail against it.”
Kioni was hired by a woman in her 30s pleading for help. He said someone put roots — or a spell — on her, leaving her welted with skin lesions, swollen legs, jaundice and heart problems. “[the spirit of Jonathan Davis, the grave where the ceremony was performed] is very strong. He’s calling people to his grave. He was a warrior,” Kioni said. “His mother should be proud.” Just before sundown, a time when hoodoo practitioners believe the world transitions between life and death, Kioni presided over the sacrifice. The rooster was washed in scented water, perfumed with oils and prayed over as candles flickered. “We presented it to almighty (God)…but I did not deface a grave. This is my religion,” he said.
“Curiosity and love of God led him to the seminary, he said. He later joined Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination that promoted speaking in tongues, prophesies and spiritual warfare. He became a pastor, but later left organized religion and got into what many Christians consider the forbidden worlds of witchcraft and divination. He has since built what Anderson called a worldwide audience in the hoodoo community.”
For those faith traditions that incorporate magic and spellwork into their practices, Wicca, Santeria, Vodou, and any number of modern Pagan faiths, the urge to invoke supernatural help to solve a problem is sometimes overwhelming. This is especially true when an individual feels limited in what they can do in their day-to-day lives to remove an obstacle or improve their situation. That said, if you’re careless, casting spells on your boss could get you fired.
“Officer Elizabeth Torres, a 24-year department veteran, was terminated by City Manager Lyndon Bonner for conduct unbecoming of a police officer, according to a city news release. [...] Torres and office manager Yvonne Rodriguez had been accused of targeting Bonner with birdseed, which they believed to be part of a Santeria practice. The two had allegedly planned to scatter the seeds in and around Bonner’s city hall office in August. The alleged plan was concocted after Bonner had planned to cut the police budget, but was discovered after Torres and Rodriguez asked a janitor to help sprinkle the seeds, and the janitor turned them in.”
Both parties involved in the spell plot claim nothing malicious was intended, but it wasn’t enough to save their jobs. So, I guess there’s something of an object lesson here. At the very least, it reinforces the need to not incriminate yourself through accomplices or risky physical manifestations of your work. If it can’t be accomplished at home, or at a private temple, it might not be worth it.
However, underneath this cautionary tale is the larger issue of how businesses, law enforcement, and government should approach spells and spellwork. What’s protected expression, and what’s harassment, or improper conduct? As religions and traditions that engage in magic increasingly enter the mainstream, a larger ethos as to what’s acceptable and what crosses the line will increasingly be needed. What if there wasn’t birdseed, what if they were merely caught after hours chanting, praying, or reading from a book? What if, as Tim Elfrink at the Miami New Times posits, they were Christians caught praying? Would that still be improper conduct? I think we’ll continue to see cases like this in the news, and working their way through the court systems. Until then, I would keep the curses at home.
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.
Faced with reports of dead animal parts, a local Tampa, Florida television stations asks that favorite questions of mine: “Is it Santeria?” Luckily, they don’t turn to an “occult expert,” but to Dr. Mozella Mitchell from the religious studies department at the University of South Florida. Mitchell is author of “Crucial Issues in Caribbean Religions” and says the incidents cited by the station “are not associated with Santeria” (but could be some form of freelance “black magic”).
Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!
Open Hearth Foundation Signs Lease on Community Center: On Thursday, PNC-Washington DC reported that the board of the Open Hearth Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1999, signed a lease for a long-planned DC Pagan Community Center. This places the foundation ahead of schedule in its goal of opening a community center by Imbolg 2012 (February 1st).
An interior shot of the new space.
“The property is on the second floor of a stand alone building at 1502 Massachusetts Avenue NE, in the Eastern Market neighborhood of DC. The space has two partitioned rooms that will be reservable, one of which will double as a library, a foyer area, full bathroom, a kitchen, and two refrigerators. Build out is minimal and will include a fitting one room with book shelves, installing an electric stove, as well as installing a wheelchair lift. The two-year lease begins on October 1 and the official date the center is open for business is still to be determined. It likely will not be until November 1st or later.”
JoHanna White, Board President of the Bay Area Pagan Alliance
“The issue of gender inequality in the pagan community addresses a problem, to be sure: a problem of education,understanding, privilege, and biological determinism. But the issue that really showed itself to be the disease of which the gender issue is but one symptom was that of a lack of shared set of guidelines with which we can approach challenging topics together safely, compassionately, and mindfully.” – Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven
“Merlin Stone was an artist, art historian, author, and visionary feminist. She focused attention on Goddess reverence of the ancient past. She gathered together Goddess imagery, symbols, and lore from many peoples and shared with others through her books, radio appearances, and other endeavors. She inspired the emergence of multicultural Goddess spirituality in contemporary times. Her memorial is an wonderful opportunity to celebrate Merlin Stone, her works, her life, and her legacy”
At PNC-Minnesota, Nels Linde interviews Roger Williams of Magus Books & Herbs on the store’s 19th anniversary. The secret to their success? “What you need is to be persistent. You can have all the talent in the world, if you are not persistent, you are not really going to make a difference.”
Writing for Patheos, Gus diZerega tackles the issue of mainstreaming modern Paganism. Quote: “I suspect we will see a deep differentiation within our community. There will be the “shamans,” those who work with little institutional connection and who have developed a reasonably reliable set of skills, be they healing, divination, something else, with which to interact with the spirit world for the benefit of others. I suspect they will do more psychological work than physical healing, but the best can do both. There will hopefully in time be priests tending temples, such as exists today in Japan. That may be a good model for what will develop here. And there will be a rank and file, people focused primarily on other activities, but hoping to live in better harmony with the more-than-human by some involvement in Pagan community activities and a more mindful living of their day to day life.”
This Sunday Raven Radio will be holding a live panel discussion between Folkish, Universalist, Moderate, and Tribal Heathens. Quote: “We have an outstanding panel.David Carron, Randolf Millesson, Camille Klein, Cynthia Norris-Brooks and Mike Smith. As fine of panel of Heathens as one could ask for, This show can and will touch nerves, but I expect all to act with Frith and do not disrespect OUR house.” More information can be found, here.
The Miami New Times reports this week that Santero Carlos Valdes is pushing to have a violent stalking case prosecuted as a hate crime, which, if successful, would make it the first official hate crime charge involving anti-Santeria sentiments.
Prosecutors contend [Kellyd] Rodriguez has terrorized Valdes’s family for four years. It began with anti-Santería rants on the phone, Valdes says, and escalated into death threats, rock-throwing, drive-by shootings, and even heart-stopping phone calls to his young daughters’ schools. [...] The oriate is also pushing prosecutors to charge Rodriguez with the first hate crime connected to Santería. [...] ”I’ve had crucifixes thrown through my windows and a woman try to burn my church down,” says Ernesto Pichardo, the Hialeah santero who took the benchmark case [Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah] to Washington, D.C., in 1993. “So many people in Miami still don’t realize that a santero in his home has the exact same legal rights as a Catholic priest in his church or a Jewish rabbi in his synagogue.”
“In 2006, for instance, three worshippers in West Dade were arrested during a sacrifice; charges were eventually dropped. Months later, a Miami-Dade firefighter was booked when a neighbor called 911 about a goat sacrifice. He too was exonerated. In January 2007, Valdes himself was detained during an animal sacrifice. That’s why he originally went on the radio — to talk about the need to better educate police about the religion. Seven month later, in August, Coral Gables Police swarmed a house on Casilla Street, disrupting a Santería service with their guns drawn. Worshippers were detained until officers realized no crime had been committed, but defiant Gables Mayor Don Slesnick vowed to stop all animal sacrifices in the City Beautiful and refused to apologize.”
If anti-Santeria harassment and violence starts to fall under the rubric of religious “hate crimes” it could create a change in how adherents are treated by law enforcement and the media. Once Santeros and Santeras are seen as human beings, and not villainous caricatures, it changes the dynamic. They are no longer the “other,” but our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Modern Pagans today have been building increasing ties with syncretic African traditions like Santeria and Vodou, with many seeking initiations and training. They are part of our extended family, and we should be concerned with how our “cousins” are being treated. The demonization and harassment of Santeria is but a hair’s breadth from the treatment modern Pagans have received in the past, and in some instances, still receive. Even if Carlos Valdes isn’t successful in his quest to have this case prosecuted as a hate crime, it should still be seen a call towards a new activist spirit regarding how minority religions are treated and portrayed.