Archives For Get Religion

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.

I want to begin this week’s edition of Unleash the Hounds with a quick announcement. Columnist Teo Bishop will be stepping down from his position at The Wild Hunt effective immediately. I sat down to speak with Teo personally on Tuesday, and we both agreed that his spiritual journey had changed his relationship with modern Paganism, and that it would be best if he concentrated his writing at his personal site, and on the Huffington Post. I count Teo as a personal friend, and I truly wish him the best in his journey, wherever it may lead him. I thank him for a year’s worth of thought-provoking and insightful columns.

Now then, on to the links.

Olivia Robertson

Olivia Robertson

  • First off, I have to say I’m hugely disappointed that Get Religion allowed themselves to write an utterly disrespectful post about the recently passed Olivia Robertson of the Fellowship of Isis. I had no idea that critiquing religion journalism included mocking the dead, and involving yourself directly in the story (thanks to a major conflict of interest). They call the Fellowship a cult, use scare quotes, and then try to excuse their behavior as an exercise in promoting better journalism. Get Religion, which once pretended to be interested in fair coverage for all faiths, has now degraded into a conservative Christian organ concerned more with press coverage of gay marriage and abortion than anything else. I will, from now on, treat Get Religion as a hostile outlet when compiling links.
  • Right Wing Watch profiles yet another Christian book that slurs modern Paganism as a pathway to Satanism, sexual hedonism, neo-Nazism, and demonic control. Quote: “I think my further descent into hell started with an occult sex ritual that I engaged in” with “a gay cabal of male witches,” where he had group sex with a man with “the head of a goat or ram.” There’s so much crazy material, they felt it deserved a follow-up post. If you want to see where communication between evangelical Christians and modern Pagans is damaged, look no further than this industry of destructive propaganda.
  • Is the Church of England doomed to extinction in a generation? One commentator argues that if it is, it only has itself to blame. Quote: “Among younger people the picture is different. Indifference diminishes, and is partly replaced by a belief that the church is actively malevolent. Whereas only 12% of the over-40s regard the church as a negative force in society, this proportion nearly doubles – to 21% – among the under-24s. This is almost entirely a result of the policies actively pursued by Lord Carey as archbishop of Canterbury and then passively continued by his successor, Rowan Williams.”
  • Was Thomas Jefferson a Unitarian? James Ford explores the question. Quote: “Jefferson had been raised an Anglican and retained a pew at his local Episcopal church to the end of his life. He, however, rarely attended services at that church. And his writings revealed his spiritual life had journeyed far from the wisdom of Canterbury. Both of the sometimes allies, sometimes enemies and by the end of their lives deepest friends, Adams and Jefferson wrote of their scorn for all things neoPlatonic, for every sort of priest craft, and, instead their admiration for applying reason to all things, including religion, and that religious sentiments were meant to be applied in this life as ethical principles.”
Carlton Gebbia

Carlton Gebbia

  • Carlton Gebbia, resident Wiccan on reality television program “The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills,” is apparently fulfilling her quotient of requisite outrageousness and drama. Expect lots of ink on Gebbia in our witch-crazed pop-culture moment. Oh, and here’s a profile in People. So, expect questions about Wicca from the relatives this Thanksgiving!
  • Salon.com explores the complicated racial politics of American Horror Story: Coven. Quote: “For me, inclusion is paramount — inclusion in the zeitgeist, inclusion in the ongoing dialogue of pop culture, inclusion into whatever specific, fucked-up world is being created for the sake of entertainment. To me, “Coven” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” are similar in that, not only do they both openly and expansively acknowledge black people’s place in American history, they also allow for their black characters to get their hands dirty — even bloody — actively participating in that history at its most sordid.”
  • Author Sally Green is being heralded as the next Stephanie Myer or JK Rowling after she signed a million-dollar deal for a series of witchcraft themed fantasy novels. Quote: “The black and white witches in Half Bad are divided by rivallry but united in their fear of a boy called Nathan, who has ancestry on both sides and is “wanted by no one; hunted by everyone”. Green said she never really believed she could write, but after embarking upon the novel’s draft found herself “staying up until 2am just writing”. Penguin acquired the novel earlier this year and predicts it will have the Twilight effect for witches…”

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

When I first started blogging about religion and Paganism, I was an active follower of sites like Get Religion, The Revealer, and the many personal blogs of “Godbeat” religion journalism pros. I didn’t so much consider myself one of their number, more an essential link between mainstream religion journalism and my increasingly diverse community. An advocacy journalist hoping to see better reporting about modern Paganism.  Back in 2009, when the existential crisis of traditional media upheaval was in full swing, I even wrote about the exodus of longtime religion journalists and what that meant for us.

“What has become ever-clearer to me is that it may be years before the mainstream media reorganizes and stabilizes enough to start spending resources on religion reporting again. In those years the only religion stories that will be getting regular coverage are those that will involve millions of people or dollars (or votes). Religious leaders will have to be powerful (or scandalous) enough to demand attention from reporters on the “hard” news-beats. This will leave minority faiths with an ever-dwindling access to news that could have a direct effect on their lives. Religion coverage could increasingly become an editorial page instead of an investigation [...] if we can’t report on ourselves, we may find no one else willing or able to.”

GetReligion_bioFast forward to 2013, and niche mainstream journalism, especially religion reporters, are finding it tough as the “news hole” shrinks. As ever, Get Religion, now part of the Patheos empire, sounds a somewhat somber tone.

“It will be interesting to see if the Tennessean, a Gannett paper, fills Smietana’s position. USA Today, Gannett’s flagship paper, lost its longtime religion writer Cathy Grossman earlier this year when she took a buyout. If USA Today has hired a new religion writer, I’d love to know about it. I know that The Associated Press had two full-time national religion writers until a few years ago. As far as I know, Rachel Zoll is the only one left. The Dallas Morning News, which once had an award-winning religion section and three or four full-time religion writers, has no Godbeat pros, as far as I know. And after my last post, Kevin Palau informed GetReligion that The Oregonian’s religion and ethics writer Nancy Haught told him in an email that she had been let go.”

The truth is that disruptions caused by the rise of digital “new” media (which isn’t that new anymore) haven’t really abated. We saw former religion-site king Beliefnet slide into feel-good irrelevance, CNN and HuffPo launch religion sections, the rise of Patheos (which even hosted this site for one year), and the rise of the Washington Post’s opinion-centered On Faith section (which has sort of faded a bit in recent years). Meanwhile, the old Godbeat pros keep moving to greener pastures. The shift has very much been in favor of opinion forums over journalism, because everyone loves a soapbox, and paying professional journalists to cover a beat costs money (while many people are willing to give their opinion for free). Sites like Religion News Service seem increasingly like a newsy oasis in a sea of commentary.

Looking at the state of religion reporting today, my words from 2009 seem somewhat prophetic. Few institutions are interested in pouring more money into religion journalism, and the religion journalism we do get is almost exclusively focused on major scandals, whatever the Pope said this week, and whatever conservative Christians want to argue about. Good incisive coverage of modern Paganism, or of religious minorities in general, has been few and far between. The recent victory of getting Asatru and related terms added to the Religion Stylebook only came about because of a mainstream media blunder regarding reporting on the Thor’s Hammer symbol being approved for veteran’s grave markers and headstones.

“[Religion Newswriters Association President] Ann Rogers. After reading about my interactions with Public Radio international over its poorly researched and disrespectful coverage of Ásatrú (“Æsir Faith,” the modern iteration of Old Germanic religion), Ms. Rodgers asked me to pick ten terms important to Ásatrú and write definitions for the online guide. Before my submissions, the guide contained no entries related to Ásatrú.”

Beyond that? We enter the realm of tabloid sensationalism. Bad coverage of a star’s adherence to an African Traditional Religion,  dirt-digging masquerading as interest in better coverage, and bottom-feeding trolls hoping to get somebody offended. If you look closely, you’ll notice a trend: Paganism, when it hits the national wires, usually does so from editorial writers or tabloids, not from the serious “Godbeat” pros that places like Get Religion lionize. We’re simply not on their radar, despite a number of compelling and important stories involving modern Paganism. For instance, a lot of ink has been spilled lately on the upcoming Supreme Court hearing for Town of Greece v. Galloway, but not a single one has noted the important role modern Pagan faiths have played in shaping invocation policy, or the fact that a Wiccan was one of the non-Christian prayer-givers that Greece put forward to inoculate themselves from lawsuits. We have literally been invisible because the “Godbeat” is too busy parsing the Pope (or scanning the classified ads, I suppose).

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

“These cases, and the “model invocation policy” itself, are haunted by the involvement and activism of modern Pagans. It isn’t just that Greece included a Wiccan sectarian prayer among thousands of Christian prayers. The ADF’s policy blueprint was partially constructed around two 4th Circuit cases involving public prayers and modern Pagans: Simpson v. Chesterfield County, the case that helped create the so-called “Wiccan-proof” invocation policy, and the Darla Wynne case, in which a Wiccan from South Carolina won a battle against sectarian government prayer. These two cases helped set the precedents that advocates of sectarian prayer have been navigating through, and their efforts at mob-rule prayer sectarianism will finally be tested by America’s highest court.”

0f5d2972-2c89-4c6e-aaee-9ad8ede31df9I suppose I shouldn’t blame them, resources are tight, and you’ve got to sell papers/draw page-views, but I think the fact that Religion News Service published a story about the “abused goddesses” ad campaign without talking to a single Hindu is telling (note to reporters, I rounded up some responses here for you). The message to religious minorities (intentional or not) is clear: we’re too busy, and too strained, to care about what you’re doing, even if it has larger ramifications outside of your communities. Local media outlets are somewhat better, and you can still find a number of “meet the Pagans” articles every year around Pagan Pride Day season and Halloween, but we’re trapped in a never-ending introduction loop. Always shaking hands, never getting to that serious discussion we wanted to have. So the job of reporting on our interconnected communities will increasingly fall on our own shoulders.

Just as in the early to mid 1990s, we are entering a period of intense mainstream pop-culture interest in the occult, ghost hunting, the paranormal, and above all, Witchcraft. That means eventually the attention will come, but it may not be the kind of attention we might like. We are more diverse than ever before, and the need for Pagan journalism to inform our community, and to in turn influence mainstream narratives, has never been greater. We need to redouble our efforts, and I’ve been happy to see more sites like A Bad Witch’s Blog and Invocatio working to report on their geographical/theological corner of our larger community. This November, at The Wild Hunt’s annual fund drive, I hope to expand what we can do, but we’ll speak on that another time.

Perhaps the Godbeat as we knew it needs to fade away, so a new kind of God(s)beat can emerge. One not so beholding to the all-Christianity, all the time, reporting lens. So In that sense I’m glad the Godbeat is changing, because for us, it truly can’t get any worse.

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.

King Arthur vs. Archeology: British Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) has failed in his attempt to force reburial of human remains found at Stonehenge, claiming the 5000-year-old cremated remains were of a royal “priest caste,” potential founding fathers of Britain.

Stonehenge

“Mr Justice Wyn Williams refused to give King Arthur permission to launch a judicial review action – ruling at a High Court hearing in London that there was insufficient evidence to show that the Ministry of Justice might have acted unreasonably. The judge heard that the cremated remains of more than 40 bodies – thought to be at least 5,000 years old – were removed from a burial site at Stonehenge in 2008 and ministers gave researchers from Sheffield University permission to keep the bones until 2015.”

While King Arthur was calling for a “day of action” to protest this decision, another group, Pagans For Archaeology, were pleased that scientific exploration of the remains will continue uninterrupted.

“The very reason we know what we do about Stonehenge and the people buried there is due to archaeology, without it you would know naff all about it, the people and the relationship between the two.”

At their website, PFA makes their case for why the retention and study of human remains is important. As for King Arthur, he insists that this “is not a Pagan argument, it is not a Druid argument. It is a matter of common decency.” Stonhenge is matter of great emotional, religious, and psychological import for many Britons. With the London 2012 Olympics fast approaching, you can be sure that the treatment, preservation, and study of this site will continue to be a newsmaking issue.

Maetreum of Cybele Sends Out a Call for Help: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, have sent out an urgent plea for funds as what they hope will be the final trial in the matter approaches.

“All along the Town knew they would lose this battle if we could just get it to trial so they have attempted to bury us under legal motions to break us financially and have spent somewhere between 100 to 150 thousand dollars to do so.  I am sad to report that unless we get significant help in this final stages, they might succeed.  Donations so far have helped but we have had to hire a new attorney at about three times the cost as our original attorney.  She is much more experienced and worth the expense but has informed me that the rest of our case will cost us an approximate additional 10 thousand dollars which simply is impossible for us to come up with ourselves at this stage.

Our priestesses have stepped forward to the point of tens of thousands so far but now we are all broke.  Please, this case is important, a milestone for minority religion rights.  If this can be done to us, a legally incorporated religious charitable organization with full IRS 501 c3 recognition, it literally can be done to any minority religious group.  A victory, which is fairly well assured if we can finish the battle, is especially important when political groups are pushing back against non Christians, clean air and water and the basic concept of taking care of each other and our common planet home.”

The law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first, stating that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” A court date is set for November 15th. We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

In Other News:

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

It isn’t making the religion blogs and newswires, and I would have missed it entirely if Get Religion hadn’t mentioned it, but religion mega-site Beliefnet is being put up for sale by News Corp. (owner of Fox News) after acquiring it only three years ago.

It looks like News Corp. Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch has lost faith in Beliefnet. After only three years of ownership, the media giant is seeking a buyer for Beliefnet, a website devoted to religion and spirituality. The decision was first reported by AllThingsD and confirmed by people with knowledge of the situation. News Corp. acquired Beliefnet for an undisclosed sum in 2007, with plans to integrate it with the company’s other faith-based units, including HarperCollin’s Zondervan unit, which publishes bibles and Christian titles such as Rick Warren’s best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life.” Fox Home Entertainment also operates Fox Faith, a label that distributes family films and Christian DVDs to retailers and through churches and ministries … As with other digital assets, News Corp. has decided to jettison Beliefnet as no longer fitting with its strategy.

Back in 2007 I was rather pessimistic about Rupert Murdoch’s company acquiring the site; I didn’t think it would lead to some new synergistic golden age for the fiscally unstable religion hub.

“No doubt promises of independence and a glorious future are forthcoming, but I’m not sure this will be good for the already-marginalized religious minorities who were once strong supporters of Beliefnet. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, over the next few years, Beliefnet grows ever-more Christian and conservative in tone. A “family friendly” site to help promote Fox Faith films and hype new Christian book releases from (coincidentally) Zondervan.”

In defense of the new owners, they did fiscally stabilize the site, and tried their best to adapt to the new blogging and social networking culture that grew up in the years since Beliefnet first launched (blogging was still in its infancy back in 1999). They even installed a Pagan blogger (Gus diZerega) back in 2009, after years of complaints over how the site treated its non-Christian communities. But the question now is, who wants Beliefnet? While they are still the most popular religion site on the Internet, their numbers have been softening of late, shedding nearly 400,000 regular visitors in the three years under News Corp. Some, like former Beliefnet News Producer Ira Rifkin, think the site may have run its course.

“Beliefnet has made itself irrelevant and US magazine down-market by dropping all serious content – even its blogs have lost all their umph. How many bumper-sticker-depth, saccharin lead features consisting of no more than – literally – “inspirational” one-liners, cheery photos of flowery fields or “15 Love Lessons from ‘Sex and the City’” can you run before serious readers looking for consequential spiritual/religious insights to help guide their actions realize how trite it all is, get bored and log off, taking sponsors with them? Beliefnet is worth very little in today’s media market. Empress Oprah might be a good match, except she has no need to spend money on a much inferior version of her own product line. In short, Beliefnet may have run its course. We’ll see.”

For the record, today’s “headline” features are “Movie Mom Looks Ahead At New Family Films”, “Support For Military Families”, “How To Treat Yourself Royally”, and “12 Ways To Be  A Better Listener”. It’s not exactly what you would call gripping, hard-hitting, or even fascinating. Still, 2.4 million readers is nothing to sneeze at, and that might tempt a news or media outlet to acquire the site/brand and do something new with it. But whoever acquires Beliefnet will be dealing with a very changed religious-news and information landscape. Where once the site stood alone, they now have competitors in an expanding God(s)-beat on the Internet. PatheosReligion Dispatches, the Huffington Post’s new religion section, CNN‘s just-launched Belief Blog, and the Newsweek/Washington Post-supported On Faith are just some of the sites it must now contend with, not to mention the ever-thriving religious blogosphere where folks can find original and curated news to fit their particular social and theological niche.

So, to echo Get Religion’s question, who do you think should acquire Beliefnet? What changes should the prospective buyer(s) make if they do pick it up? Should Beliefnet survive at all? Will it go down in history as an early failed experiment in new media attempts to cover religion and spirituality, or will it rise once more and keep its spot at the top?

Turning the Witch-Hunter into a Hero: Summit Entertainment, the company the brought you the “Twilight” movie adaptations, is branching out from vampires into the world of witchcraft. But we won’t be seeing sexy heroic witches, or even gothy bad-girl witches like in “The Craft”, instead the protagonist will be the witch-hunter.

“Summit made a pre-emptive mid-six figures acquisition of The Last Witch Hunter, a Cory Goodman pitch that has franchise potential, and the attachment of Wanted director Timur Bekmambetov. The protagonist is one of the last remaining witch hunters, a breed that keeps the population of witches and warlocks in check. They are about to repopulate in a major way unless he can stop them.”

So let me get this straight, the historical figures who tortured, killed, and accused innocent men and women of being “witches” and “warlocks” are being revamped as broody anti-heroes trying to save humanity from real-live witches? What’s next? A film where heroic cops raid gay bars for the good of America? Films set in the old west where Native Americans are turned into villains again and again? Oh, wait. They already did that one.

That Darn Neopaganism: The newly launched conservative site “Alternative Right” comes out of the gate swinging against modern Paganism.

“The first and most important problem with Neopaganism is that, to put it simply, it is wrong. Whatever may be said about the dangers of egalitarian and universalist Christianity, that the Church was built as a repository of truth with the distinct purpose of spreading that truth and, through that truth, saving men’s souls, is beyond question. Neopaganism is built around an impulse that runs contrary to the truth… and this impulse is recognized by a vast majority of neopagans. Men that concern themselves with philosophy and ascetics in public find themselves slaughtering goats in the name of Thor in private when they know that the practice is utter nonsense. It is all well and good to desire a connection with your barbaric ancestors; it is quite another thing to bring your silly hobby into the realm of philosophy and politics. Which brings me to my second point: nearly every aspect of the western world worth saving is a product of Christianity, not Paganism. Even the distinctly non-Christian things are Christian in origin.”

First off, ten points are deducted from the essay for quoting G.K. Chesterton, the lazy man’s anti-pagan source material (seriously folks, Chesterton is not the alpha and omega of anti-pagan arguments). Another ten points for his ignorance of the pagan origins of things Christians like to take credit for, like democracy, charity, and philosophy. Yet another ten for faulting paganism for things it wasn’t around to do, like fighting Muslim advances into Europe, because the Christians had eliminated it! If this is the “new intellectual right-wing” is smells an awful lot like the old intellectual right-wing.

Get Religion’s Shameless Plug: Remember me mentioning Rod Dreher’s awful column defending his anti-Vodou attitudes? Well, religion journalism criticism site Get Religion just loved it! Singling it out for praise and discussion because, well, it praised Get Religion.

“We didn’t pay him to say that, or even plead for him to do so, but we’re glad that this concept was aired in a place where mainstream readers and journalists have a chance to read about it and, perhaps, even debate it.”

You can bet your boots I debated it. Dreher’s column was a biased self-serving ode to the reprehensible anti-Vodou tirades by himself and a handful of conservative-leaning columnists. The fact that he’s trying to repackage his outlandishly anti-Vodou attitude as a “respectful” journalistic “study” of the faith strains all sense of credulity for anyone who’s actually read his (and similar) work(s). So the plug really is “shameless”, but not in the way I think they mean. Oh, and if you feel the need to join the debate there, be sure to keep your criticism focused on the journalism, lest your comment be spiked.

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

In the day-to-day nature of Internet news, it’s often difficult to keep track of stories as they develop. So here’s a round-up of follow-ups, updates, and recent developments in stories previously reported here at The Wild Hunt.

About that Icelandic Curse: I recently mentioned that the Icelandic Heathen organization Ásatrúarfélagid, led by Chief Godi Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, had made the news for a high-profile (and apparently successful) curse against Iceland’s enemies. Pagan Newswire Collective reporter, and host of the popular Asatru podcast Ravencast, David Carron, spoke with Hilmarsson about the article and brings us the following statement.

“The article in Iceland Review is somewhat slanted, as the TV interview cited was based on the assumption that we had ritually cursed named members of the British and the Dutch governments. The ritual in question was a protective one ( with the subtext that those who would try to harm our nation would be exempt from the protection / sanctuary ) and its intent was to push aggression back to where it belongs. However some people observing the ensuing developments have given us credit for all sorts of things including Gordon Brown’s unstable temper, the freak winter in Britain, and the troubles befalling and in the end collapsing the Dutch government.

I did own up to writing a scathing poem about Gordon Brown in the time honoured tradition of “níðvísa” and I am sure that long after his name is forgotten on the British Isles there will be Icelanders dancing on his grave and and finding inventive and practical ways of pouring / spraying ale upon it.”

So there you are, not so much a “curse” as protection working that is successfully pushing aggression back to its source. Carron is currently arranging an interview with Hilmar Hilmarsson for Ravencast, and I’ll keep you posted as to when that’s available.

The Air Force and Pagans: A lot of news has been made recently regarding the Air Force Academy and its new stone circle dedicated to Pagan services, but this ethos of acceptance and accommodation stretches beyond the academy to the Air Force itself. A memo has been brought to my attention that shows Major General Cecil Richardson, Chief of Chaplains for the USAF, listing Wiccan and Pagan Spring holidays along side other faiths as deserving of accommodation by all commanders.

“Thank you for your continued support of Airmen who request religious accommodation. Airmen who are allowed to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion are generally more spiritually fit and better able to handle the rigors and stressors that come with deployments and a high OPSTEMPO (Operations Tempo) … Wiccans and other followers of Earth-based religions will observe Ostara, the spring equinox, on 21 March followed by Beltane, a celebration of the abundance of the fertile Earth, on 1 May.”

So it looks like the Air Force really is taking the inclusion and accommodation of Pagan airmen to heart. I’d love to know if any of the other US Armed Forces have released similar memos. If they have, please feel free to drop me a line so I can share them with my readers.

The Syracuse Pagan College Chaplain: Student paper The Daily Orange follows up on the appointment of Mary Hudson as Syracuse University’s first Pagan chaplain. While Hudson says that she’s only received positive feedback, reporter Rebecca Kheel finds a more mixed response on the Internet.

“Mixed reactions arose since Hudson was recognized as a chaplain. Hudson herself has only received positive feedback, but there has been an online backlash in comments sections of articles about Hudson’s appointment. Other chaplains said it is too early to make a judgment about whether they agree with Hudson’s appointment … Hudson said she has seen the negative comments in online articles about her appointment, including one that suggested she eats bats. Some others said her appointment will make SU look unattractive to potential students. But that was to be expected, Hudson said.”

Eats bats? Really? As the article points out, it’s still early days, and we have no idea how well Hudson will perform in her role, or if she’ll encounter any real resistance to her chaplaincy. What is important at this stage is that the needs of Pagan students are being acknowledged and respected, and that feedback from that community has been positive.

Covering the Vodou Attack in Haiti: Mollie at Get Religion takes a look at coverage of the recent attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haiti, and its aftermath, and finds it wanting.

“I find it fascinating that the first article begins with a call to war by Beauvoir while the second article has him saying he hopes it doesn’t come to war. I’m not saying that both quotes aren’t accurate but it kind of reminds you how much power a reporter has in shaping a story.”

Mollie kindly quotes me on the subject of Vodou leader Max Beauvoir, and in the comments I elaborate my feelings on his leadership, and the need for journalists to approach decentralized minority faiths differently from the dominant monotheisms they are used to.

“The frustrating thing is that we have no real way of telling exactly how important or influential Beauvoir is among Vodou practitioners in Haiti. There’s a number of reasons for this, an important one being the lack of probing and analysis that followed after Beauvoir was first put forward as the “supreme chief” of Haitian Vodou (and, as Mollie mentioned, was called a “pope”).

However, two things are clear that all journalists covering Vodou in Haiti should know. One is that Vodou is, by its nature, a decentralized faith. It is largely organized around different “families” of initiates. No matter how large Beauvoir’s coalition may be, he simply cannot speak for the entirety of Haitian Vodou. The second is that thanks to the reporting so far, Beauvoir’s title has become prophecy. His willingness to interact with the press, to become the spokesman, has cemented his place as the go-to person for the “Vodou voice”. No doubt many families will rally to him in these uncertain times, and he may very well become, for a time, something close to the central figure the press portrays him as.

The lesson here is that journalistic assumptions about religion can shape religions, especially in times of crisis and trouble. Reporters like having a singular go-to leader when discussing a faith, it makes info-gathering and quote-seeking far easier. But minority faiths are very often different from the Protestant denominations or Catholic churches they are used to covering, and they often lack a clear leadership structure (or they have a clear leadership structure, but not one that applies across the board). The best policy is to always seek out multiple voices when dealing with a decentralized faith, and to always take claims of supremacy within a decentralized faith with a grain of salt.”

We all need to do a better job of covering religion in Haiti. Trying to assemble a clear picture from the assorted claims, incidents, and reports is difficult, and we run the risk of giving an incorrect, or even harmful, analysis of current events. If I error, and I probably will considering the trickle of good information, I hope it’s in favor of preserving and respecting Haiti’s indigenous faith traditions.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 20, 2009 — 4 Comments
  • Reminder: We are in the midst of our first annual Winter Pledge Drive! If you value this blog, its mission, and its content, please consider making a donation to keep The Wild Hunt open, ad-free, and updated daily. Spread the word, and thanks to all who have donated so far!

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

It seems like a given nowadays that if some dead animals turn up, practitioners of Santeria or Vodou will get blamed by a police officer, animal shelter spokesman, or speculative/lazy/bored journalist, even though most of these cases bear little resemblance to the actual religious practices of African diasporic faiths (and it usually ends up being teenagers). Journalistic coverage of these animal killings, and the assumed religious angle, has gotten so bad that press watch-dog blog Get Religion has started asking for some needed clarification.

“Say what? Let’s read that quote again, the one in which it is claimed that the number of ritual animal sacrifices spike at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.”what in the world are these words supposed to mean? Are we to believe that there is a wave of beheaded animal corpses because of (a) the arrival of Advent/Nativity Lent, (b) approaching observances of Hanukkah, (c) Kwanzaa festivities, (d) some alleged connection to Solstice? Is the goal to link this to voodoo or something? But before you go there, please note that the story says absolutely nothing that would point toward Santeria and, even if it did, there is no discussion of whether these sacrifices in any way fit patterns of worship in that tradition. You see, it’s wrong for journalists to say, “Behold, beheaded animals. Those Santeria people are at it again.” That’s too simplistic. So let me ask the obvious question and ask readers to weigh in: Precisely what “high holidays” are we supposed to assume are being discussed here? I honestly do not have a clue. What does this strange sentence mean? Just asking.”

The quote referenced above, from an AP story, and left unexamined, is from another representative of an animal cruelty center, making me wonder what kind of workshops on ritual killings (or horror movies) these people are attending. I’m very glad to see the issue of the horrible reporting concerning mysterious animal deaths and their alleged connection to Santeria or Vodou is being picked up on by more religion-news watchers. Maybe now we can finally inch away from pure sensationalism whenever a dead animal turns up.

Over at the Times, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard visits a famous Clootie well near he village of Munlochy and wonders if the practice of tying rags to branches for healing really is an ancient pagan custom.

“The notice nearby, put up by the Scottish Forestry Commission (for like most shrines it’s a tourist attraction too), claims that this tradition goes back to pre-Christian times, and is a reflection of the power of water in pagan Celtic religion. It is, in other words, an amazing survival across the millennia. I found myself thnking that this was really rather hard to believe. If most other customs are invented in the nineteenth century, then why nt this pagan one too. How far back does it really go, in this form. Does anyone have any real hard evidence?”

I’ll leave it to my Celtic reconstructionist readers to look into the matter and let me (and Mary) know. While we’re on the subject of Ms. Beard’s skeptical nature, she also takes aim at the theory that ancient Greek temples were deliberately built to face the rising Sun. I’ll leave it to my Hellenic Pagan readers to weigh in on that one (I’m quite the delegator today).

Author and techgnostic Erik Davis has posted an essay adapted from the introduction to the new photography collection “Tribal Revival” that deals with the West coast neotribal festival culture.

“Every summer, tens of thousands of participants descend upon dozens of festivals and gatherings, great and small, that occur on the West Coast of North America: Shambhala, Oracle, Moontribe, Lightning in a Bottle. The names of these clans and crews are legion: hippies, ravers, pagans, crusties, free spirits, burners, seekers, travelers, eco-warriors. They gather together to dance, to escape, to hold ritual, and to craft a visionary culture based on community, creative self-expression, and a celebratory earth wisdom. Labels are always dangerous, but an honest name for the scene is neotribal. These are the new tribes, recreating and reinventing patterns of organic culture that are inspired by the premodern past but designed for a high-tech planet hurtling through a period of unprecedented global change.”

Something of a neotribal himself, Davis waxes Utopian about the the “festival [as] foundation of world renewal”, and the “earthy communion” these interweaving groups partake in. Whether this subcultural phenomenon will truly equip us for an uncertain future remains to be seen, but I’m certainly open to there being more festival, “feral joy”, and liminality in our lives.

Turning briefly to pop-culture, the io9 blog has a clip from the upcoming Percy Jackson movie “The Lightning Thief” featuring Uma Thurman as Medusa. I’ve written about the pagan-ness of Percy Jackson previously, which follows the adventures of young Greek demigods. “The Lightning Thief” is due out in February. Meanwhile, the highly literate/geeky indie rock band The Decemberists is putting out a full-length animated film of their recent myth-drenched pagan-y concept album “The Hazards of Love”.

“…next month, Colin Meloy and co. will push The Hazards of Love to full-on The Wall status, releasing the album as a full-length video. Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized premiered at a show in Los Angeles on October 19, and on December 1, it’ll be available exclusively via iTunes. Filmmakers Guilherme Marcondes, Julia Pott, Peter Sluszka and Santa Maria created animations to accompany individual sections of music from the album.”

That trailer looks pretty cool/trippy. If you want to acquaint yourself with the music before considering the movie, you can download it at Amazon.com (they also have it in vinyl for those that want to kick-it old-school).

In a final note, no matter how much I deplore the idea of sparkly vampires, if Vatican spokesmen and evangelical anti-occult book-peddlers don’t knock it off soon, I’ll have to see the darn things just to spite them.

“Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office. This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.’ ”

Man, if sparkly celibate-till-marriage Mormon vampires are a “moral vacuum” I’d hate to hear what he thinks of “True Blood”.

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

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

Let’s start off with some updates on past stories, first off Sarah Pike, author of “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community”, reports on the Dan Halloran story for Religion Dispatches. Pike ultimately sees his candidacy as a positive sign of modern Paganism’s entry into the mainstream.

“It would have been impossible to find a Neopagan like Halloran running for political office twenty years ago, when most Neopagans kept their identities carefully guarded for fear of losing jobs or child custody battles. In neighborhoods all over the country, Neopagan communities have been treated suspiciously and outright persecuted by some Christian neighbors, law enforcement, and government agencies. Since for many Americans, the Republican Party is inseparable from conservative Christianity, Neopagans were surprised that the party stood by Halloran, and took it as a sign that not only is the makeup of the religious left and the religious right shifting, but that the country as a whole is becoming more receptive toward their religion.”

As for Halloran’s campaign, he’s trailing badly in the fundraising department, but has benefited greatly from the city’s matching funds program (which his Democratic challenger opted out of). The two candidates are scheduled to debate on October 24th, I’m sure many of us will be watching to see if religion is brought up.

Now we turn to another ongoing story, the death of two participants (and hospitalization of others) in a sweat-lodge ceremony lead by New Age “Secret” peddler James A. Ray. Commentary on the issue, as you can imagine, has been fast and (mostly) furious. New Agers and Natives in Arizona are undertandably split on the issue of Ray’s sweat-lodge use, historian Al Carroll, one of the founders of New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans (NAFPS), is asking Oprah to apologize for promoting him, and Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle has made an official statement.

“Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic’oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag’a – by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted – to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone’s life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient, they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate. What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life! When you do ceremony – you can not have money on your mind.”

Meanwhile, James Ray reportedly broke down in tears at a scheduled speaking engagement in Los Angeles, saying that he grieved for the families and is “being tested” by these events. Let’s hope his contrition is genuine, because another sweat-lodge victim is in a coma with multiple damaged organs, and two more remain hospitalized. Authorities have also noted that the sweat lodge didn’t have a permit to be constructed, and that there was a past mishap in its use in 2005, also lead by Ray. For even more, check out the Newspaper Rock blog.

Turning to other events, Mollie at Get Religion has totally got my back this week. She looked at coverage of the James Ray sweat-lodge deaths, and debunked one-sided press speculation that roaming goats were Santeria sacrifices.

“But while we get tons of perspective from animal rescue groups, there is literally not one practitioner of Santeria whose views are included. We don’t even hear from a professor or other expert who could speak about Santeria. And finally, I’m unclear how these live, wandering goats are related to animals killed as part of a religious sacrifice. Maybe we could just get some explanation on that front.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m really happy to see Get Religion start to dip its toe in the waters of minority faiths, especially Santeria and its practice of animal sacrifice, becasuse press coverage of those topics is especially bad.

If you’re a Pagan who needs his bladed weapons to meditate, maybe you shouldn’t wave them in the face of a policeman.

“He told police he had travelled the world and needed the weapons to meditate with in a peaceful place. Thornton, 46, of no fixed address, was committed to Bradford Crown Court for sentence by the city’s magistrates for carrying an ornamental dagger and a lock knife in Buttershaw on June 13. On bail, he drew a sword in the city centre five days later and waved the weapon at a Police Community Support Officer.”

The world-traveling homeless magician was sentenced to two years imprisonment (for two seperate offenses). Proving, I suppose, that “religious purposes” isn’t some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card you can wave anytime you do something stupid.

Inside Jersey takes a look at the “real” vampire subculture in New Jersey, with all the usual stopping points about blood-drinking, safety, ethics, interviewing Michelle Belanger, sparkly pop-culture vampires, and such. But what really caught my eye was this little tidbit.

“Their August event featured a pagan rite performed by a guest from outside the court. It was an animal sacrifice; a lizard was dispatched for a good harvest. That was followed by a vampire town hall. There was a debate, an election for magistrate and Q&A session addressing tensions between clans.”

A lizard? For a good harvest? Did lizards suddenly become a livestock animal? Or was that the only animal they thought they could stomach killing? I’m sorry, I try not to judge regarding people’s rituals, but this seems, well, wrong. Not wrong because they sacrificed an animal, but wrong because it sounds like a failed attempt to be “dark” and “shocking”. I’d really like to know what tradition the lizard-killer is from, and what the ritual format for this “harvest sacrifice” was.

In a quick final note, be sure to check out the AP article about Maria Lionza followers in Venezuela, you may remember that I did several stories about the socio-political importance of the goddess Maria Lionza years back on this blog.

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

Yesterday’s post concerning the state of the Pagan press and Pagan periodicals has generated some interesting commentary on the continued survival of print publications and the future of Pagan news. Many seem to have accepted that the Internet is where you go to get up-to-date information concerning the Pagan community. Baruch Dreamstalker admits that he “long ago gave up dead-tree media as a source of “hot” Pagan news”, while Erynn Rowan Laurie opines that “Print can never hope to keep up with developing stories”. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, one of the strongest voices concerning the future (or lack of future) of print media comes from professional journalist Victoria Slind-Flor.

“I guess my question is why Pagan print media should escape the fate of the rest of print media? Bottom line, as I see it, is that we’re three-quarters of the way through a major technological revolution in journalism and print is not a media that will survive … We Pagans are smart savvy users (and, in many cases, creators) of the Web. We know and love the immediacy of Web communication. And I doubt very much we’ll ever embrace any form of print journalism again. Why get our Pagan information at the speed of post-office delivery when we depend on all our other information sources at warp speed?  Over the years I’ve contributed pieces to most of the Pagan print publications. And I have to say they largely share the same faults: they were/are produced on a shoestring, are indifferently edited, come in unattractive formats, and are published on irregular schedules at best. So why would anyone expect them to survive?  I wish them all well, but I am not sanguine about their prospects of survival. On the other hand, I’m immensely impressed with what Pagans are doing in Cyberspace.”

It wasn’t all bad news for Pagan publishing, Michael Night Sky argued that we should “support what printed zines do, serve the greater Pagan Community.” Night Sky also stated that he couldn’t imagine a would “without printed pagan magazines”. Finally, Jordan Stratford praises the PanGaia/newWitch merger, and agrees that “the “Abraxas” lit-mag style is the way to go – semi-annual publications of meatier articles, professionally edited, and landing in the $15 – $20 range”. Have something to add? Why not join the conversation?

Turning our attention outward, let’s look at some recent developments in the Pagan blogosphere and beyond. First, Chas Clifton announces that fellow Pomegranate editor Michael Strmiska has started a new blog entitled The Political Pagan. There is already a facinating post up about Nazism, Paganism, and Christianity, so be sure and add him to your blogrolls and feed-readers. Speaking of Nazis, over at Beliefnet, Pagan blogger Gus diZerega has a two-part essay exploring a Pagan perspective of fascism.

“People who don’t know much history, or are blinded by their ideological preconceptions, have often argued that Pagan religion has a tendency towards devolving into Fascism. I’ve encountered such stuff over the years, and had a debate with Peter Staudenmaier in the journal Pomegranate on this issue with special reference to environmentalism.”

Moving on from fascism and Nazis into the (slightly) less controversial topics of polyamory and Woodstock, we find the Get Religion blog covering both. First E.E. Evans wonders why recent high-profile coverage of polyamorous relationships have left out the religion angle, specifically the religions that are (generally) more welcoming to polyamorous families.

“While this particular triad is not, polys are also engaged in religious communities. Among them are Unitarian Universalists, pagans and those who represent other faiths. There’s no discussion of the religious connections here. But does the existence of approximately half a million polyamorous families mean that “traditionalists better get used to it?” That’s at least debatable. It’s also snarky, distracting readers from taking the piece seriously.”

This blog has tacked the, sometimes tense, issue of polyamory within modern Paganism in the past, and you can expect that conversation to continue as polyamory (and its intersections with modern Paganism) continue to gain mainstream attention. Meanwhile, Terry Mattingly explores the recent journalistic love-fest over Woodstock’s 40th anniversary, and how that pivitol festival changed religion in America.

“Now, on the religion side of the equation, you knew that someone was gonna connect the dots — Joan Baez and “Amazing Grace” right on over to Ravi Shankar — and make the argument that Woodstock is, in many ways, the tipping point that turned religion into spirituality for the Baby Boomer generation and, thus, for America. We’re talking sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and do-it-yourself visions (often a combination of the previous three ingredients).”

The 1960s certainly did see modern Paganism, specifically British Witchcraft and various home-grown faiths, take root. But was Woodstock the “tipping point”, or simply the last gasp of the free-love/anti-war hippie era as it morphed into back-to-the-land movements, identity politics, and more mainstream/populist political endeavors? Woodstock may continue to reverberate through Protestantism, but in my mind the 1970s were far more influential a decade on the development of today’s religious diversity.

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