Archives For Greece

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

Cherry Hill SeminaryLearning institution Cherry Hill Seminary, which provides training to Pagan clergy, has announced that they will be offering three scholarships to their 2014 Summer Intensive this July in Missouri. Quote: “Thanks to the generous contributions of many individuals last year to our new endowment fund, Cherry Hill Seminary is offering three scholarships to this year’s summer intensive, Entering the Sacred Grove, July 10-13, in Butler, Missouri. Scholarships are for the registration fee (which covers lunches at the event) and for tuition in the master’s class component (not required).  Individuals who receive a scholarship are responsible for their own travel and accommodations. Entering the Sacred Grove will be an unusual opportunity to meet academic leadership as attendees will include Academic Dean Wendy Griffin, Dean of Students Candace Kant, and two department chairs, Bob Patrick and David Oringderff. In addition, the retreat will be the occasion of a wonderful event, the graduation of Carol Kirk, who has just earned her Master of Divinity!” For more information on applying, write to: CHS@cherryhillseminary.org

tara_morgana_slide_1June 27th at Treadwell’s in London will see a launch party for poet Paul Holman and photographer Paul Lambert’s new book “Tara Morgana,” published by Scarlet Imprint. Quote: “Tara Morgana is a work of pure magical writing. The title comes from the fusion of the Tibetan devi with Morgan Le Fay who is pursued as a mirage throughout this haunting text. Part magical diary, part dreamscape, part Situationist dérive through the landscape, Tara Morgana is an enigmatic record of ritual practice from the poet, whose work has been described as: indefinable … laconic, occultist, and attached to the line of revolutionary and subversive yearnings. This is not a book about magic, rather, it is a magical book. Contemplation of the work reveals a wealth of hidden treasures, or as Holman says: each dreamed text is a terma in the mind. Paul Holman is a lucid poet whose writing, with its concise yet elusive energy, takes us down into the tunnels, ghosts broken urban spaces where decay is overwritten with the ingress of the wild. He encounters denizens of the underworld, the magical subculture and down and outs. It is a work of echoes and memories whose reflections coalesce in dreams that can be recovered and manifest in the present.” The standard edition of the book will be released on June 2nd, paperback and digital editions are forthcoming.

Patrick McCollum at UNAs previously reported here at The Wild Hunt, Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum recently went to the United Nations to participate in an interfaith meeting centered on ending nuclear proliferation. Here’s a brief excerpt from the report on the event McCollum sent us: “This is the first of a series of meetings to strategize and develop a new treaty to end current nuclear proliferation and I will attend all future meetings going forward. Nuclear disarmament will now be an additional official subsection of the mission of the Patrick McCollum Foundation and I will be partnering with several other NGOs and peace builders on this [...] I made several important high level connections during and after the meeting and received several other important invitations. I take the responsibility of interacting in these venues very seriously and do my best to represent my community with dignity and honor. This is literally where the rubber hits the road on global issues and the future of humanity is often decided here. I am so privileged to have a voice here and to offer us a place at the table.” You can read the statement he gave at the UN, here. More on this, and Rev. McCollum’s report, soon.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • On June 1st Fulgur Esoterica will announce the launch of a multimedia art project taking place over a six month period which will explore the concept of the third mind through prolonged dream recordings, online shares and Icelandic folklore. The project, entitled: “The Dreaming Project: Two Artists, Twenty –six Sigils” features artists Jesse Bransford (NYU) and Max Razdow who will attempt to attune their dreams by meditating separately on Icelandic symbols known as magical staves. You can read the whole press release for this project, here. We will be updating you on this project as it progresses.

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  • The new issue of Witches & Pagans Magazine, featuring Diana Paxson on the cover, shipped physical copies of the magazine on Monday, and is also now available via digital download. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a pair of notable Pagan writers. In ‘A Priestess for All Seasons’ we sit down with loremistress, fantasy author, seeress and Pagan/Heathen community leader Diana L. Paxson. Diana is best-known for her work on the ‘Avalon’ series (launched by Marion Zimmer Bradley) but has more than thirty novels and non-fiction books to her credit. Discover what inspires her amazing imagination in this exclusive interview. Western esoteric author Josephine McCarthy has been a working magician for over three decades; we discuss how magick arises from the power of the land spirits in ‘Visions from the North Gate.’”
  • Last week, we reported the news that Pagan elder and priestess Morning Glory Zell had passed away. Now, her husband Oberon Zell has posted a moving narrative of the funeral service. Quote: “Yesterday we laid Morning Glory’s body into the Earth, to rest in the bosom of Mother Gaea until she may return again in new flesh. I planted an apple tree over her loving heart, that someday her substance may return to us all as sweet nourishing fruit. It was a small private ceremony, attended by immediate family and about 30 of our closest family friends.”
  • Author, academic, feminist, and Goddess-worshipper Carol P. Christ is running for political office in Greece. Quote: “I live in Molivos and I am a candidate for the Regional Council of the North Aegean in Lesbos with the Green Wind because I love nature and the traditional way of life in the islands. I believe that we must appreciate and protect what we have, rather than destroy it.”
  • Aline O’Brien (aka M. Macha NightMare) has posted a report of Pagan participation in the Marin Interfaith Council Annual Prayer Breakfast. Quote: “What’s a Witch to do when her interfaith council’s 15th Annual Interfaith Prayer Breakfast, which occurs on the first Thursday in May, falls on Beltane? Well, she sings up the Sun with the Berkeley Morris Dancers at dawn, then hustles across the bridge to Tiburon with her Wiccan (Gardnerian, to be specific) interfaith colleague, Don Frew, to rendezvous with Matt Whealton, a practitioner of Kemetic religion from the Temple of Ra, at his first foray into interfaith activities.” 

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

The Supreme Court of the United States opened a new term this week, and America’s highest court will be hearing a number of “weighty” cases that could have far-reaching implications.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judges.

“There isn’t one single blockbuster case on the docket, as in recent Supreme Court terms, but the high court will consider a number of weighty issues. The nine justices will hear cases dealing with campaign finance, abortion, prayer in government, presidential power, affirmative action, and housing discrimination.”

One of those cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway, which involves prayers given before government meetings, is one that I’ve been paying very close attention to. One, the stakes for the ruling are very high, and could change the way prayer before government functions are approached.

I think the legal experts at SCOTUSblog put it quite well:

“The Court’s decision in Galloway could conceivably matter in several ways.  First, the custom of legislative prayer itself is widespread in national, state, and local governments.  All of these will be looking to the Supreme Court for guidance on what is constitutional.  Second, the Court’s law on legislative prayer provides the most relevant guidance for a range of religious expressions by government that have not yet been evaluated directly by the Court – customs like opening Supreme Court sessions with the phrase “God save this honorable Court,” inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, adoption of the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” and public prayer by military chaplains.  Third, the case presents the Court with an opportunity to revisit the legacy of Justice O’Connor, who was especially influential in this area.  Her “endorsement test,” which was embraced by the Court during her tenure, prohibits government from sending messages that endorse one or all faiths in a way that disadvantages outsiders and harms their standing as members of the political community.  That test, which informed the circuit court’s analysis in Galloway, is vulnerable and could be weakened or explicitly eradicated now that the composition of the Court has changed.”

Secondly, this case directly involves modern Pagans, specifically Wiccans, in the case and in the legal maneuvers that led to it. Something I’ve been harping on for some time, even to the point of chastising religion reporters for not picking up on it. Well, it seems that angle is finally getting a bit of attention now that arguments are looming. First up, the Wall Street Journal’s law blog zooms in on the one Wiccan sectarian prayer that took place in Greece, noting that it might be enough of a fig leaf for the town to escape accusations of coercion and Christian endorsement.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“It’s not too often that a Wiccan priestess factors into a U.S. Supreme Court case. But that moment will come next month when the high court considers a public prayer case involving a Rochester, N.Y., suburb [...] A key point made by Greece in its defense is that its invocations are inclusive and not discriminatory, as claimed by two of its residents. To back that up, the town is highlighting a board meeting in 2008 that began with a prayer recited by Jennifer Zarpentine, identified as a Wiccan priestess from the Sanctuary of the Crescent Moon. Ms. Zarpentine was invited to deliver the prayer after two residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, began complaining about the prayers and filed their suit.”

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress notes that Greece “includes residents who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, and Baha’i” and that a Wiccan prayer was one of the very few non-Christian invocations.

“For 10 years, Christian clergy have offered virtually every prayer that has opened the town board meetings in Greece. Two-thirds of their 120 recorded prayers contain specific references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son,” or the “Holy Spirit.’” In 10 years of the board meeting once per month, only four non-Christian prayers have been given, including two prayers from a Jewish layman, one prayer from a Wiccan priestess, and another from the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation.”

Other news outlets that have mentioned the Wiccan angle to this case including CNN and The Economist.

“In 1999 the town of Greece, in upstate New York, invited citizens to open its monthly town-board meetings with a prayer. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Baha’i and Wiccans have all had a go. Most prayers have been Christian, but no citizen who wishes to offer an invocation has been turned away. [...] This time, the Court will probably side with Greece. Christians used to burn witches; some see it as progress that the two groups now pray together.”

With Witches being the hot thing in pop-culture right now, and with this being October, expect more outlets to dig into this angle. I’d expect three basic takes among the opinion-shapers.

  1. They included one Wiccan, therefor the Town of Greece is very inclusive (perhaps even too inclusive) and should win this case.
  2. They included a Wiccan, and other religious minorities, as a desperate gambit after it became clear a lawsuit was heading down the pike, and so Greece should lose.
  3. Look! Wiccans! Witches! Halloween! Let’s include a picture from [Harry Potter/Wizard of Oz/Bewitched/American Horror Story/etc] and make jokes about cauldrons and brooms. Do we still have that strobe light and fake spiderweb from a few years back?

Ambitious outlets will no doubt go for the trifecta.

I would advise Pagan and Wiccan/Witchcraft organizations to have responses to this case (whatever they may be) crafted beforehand should the need arise. Journalists may very well come calling for an “official” Wiccan take on the case, and we should have a clear, coherent, and focused take on the case and its ramifications. For those who want a quick recap of my own take, here are a selection of recent posts I’ve written about this issue.

This case will be important, and Wicca’s role in this case should not be underestimated. A lot may hinge on our inclusion in this case, and on the lawsuits of the past that shaped invocation policy. However the ruling goes, we should be prepared to understand how we’ve shaped the result.

Last month, in one of my regular link roundups, I mentioned the extremist Greek political party Golden Dawn, and how Greek Jews were increasingly fearful of their rabid antisemitism. In closing that brief blurb, I made mention of the fact that the party had, when it suited them, appropriated Hellenic and pre-Christian trappings to reinforce their pure Greek identity.

“For those wondering, the party did/does embrace nationalistic pseudo-pagan trappings, but has also realized the populist potential of catering to Greek Orthodoxy. Like most fascists, belief and tradition are simply avenues to power.”

Shortly after that post, I received an email from a supporter of the Golden Dawn, chastising me (as a Pagan) for not being on-board with the controversial political party.

Golden Dawn rally at Thermopylae, congregating around a statue of King Leonidas of Sparta

Golden Dawn rally at Thermopylae, congregating around a statue of King Leonidas of Sparta.

“In an article by Jason Pitzl-Waters, you make mention that Greece’s Golden Dawn is only using tradition and esoteric nostalgia to get into power, and accuse them of also working in [with] Greek Orthodox Christianity. Yet you make no mention of the Greek Orthodox turning against Golden Dawn and accusing them of being ‘Pagans.’ The church asked the party to clarify its position on paganism, including worship of ancient Greek gods. Golden Dawn accused them of kowtowing to the establishment. Why have you not mentioned this? And why have you not spoken about the Golden Dawn’s pilgrimage to the oracle in delphi? Or the recent spiritual honoring of King Leonidas at a statue built in his honor? They have also been accused of making sacrifices to ancient Greek gods. Who knows if that is true, but have you heard of any political parties anywhere in the world this open and friendly to paganism? yet you attack them with your words. Why not be friendly to these people, who only want to save Greece and crush international Zionism and the banking system. Golden Dawn may only be around for a short time maybe only decades who knows, maybe a lifetime, but while they are here, a task has been assigned to them. Golden Dawn are not followers but leaders, and any church that has attacked us can be sure to receive wrath in the future. Any group that we have extend our hand to in kindness that then turns around and attacks us will be handled without mercy. This can be said for any church or religion that has attacked our Golden Dawn and our great leaders, including the Greek Orthodox church. Not to mention those who we never approached in friendship like the jewish, Zionist controllers of Greece today. Today is only a day but tomorrow a great golden dawn will rise, not just in Greece but across all Europe and the world. As our great leader Nikos Michaloliakos has promised ‘When we are strong, we will be merciless!’

I’ve spared you the link to the white nationalist/supremacist site Stormfront that was included in the message, though I think the anti-Semitic rhetoric and with-us-or-against-us language makes it pretty plain where the writer stands. I was going to simply ignore the letter, archiving it my ample “cranks” file, but I felt this issue deserved more attention. Especially now that the Greek government has taken action against Golden Dawn for their role in the murder of an anti-fascist musician and activist.

Extreme-right Golden Dawn party senior lawmaker Christos Pappas is escorted by anti-terrorism police officers to a courthouse in Athens October 3, 2013. Photo: Yorgos Karahalis/REUTERS

Extreme-right Golden Dawn party senior lawmaker Christos Pappas is escorted by anti-terrorism police officers to a courthouse in Athens October 3, 2013. Photo: Yorgos Karahalis/REUTERS

“Some 35 people associated with the political party Golden Dawn, which gained 18 MPs in parliament last spring, were arrested on Saturday in a crackdown sparked by the stabbing murder of an anti-racism rapper last month. ‘This government is determined not to allow the heirs of the Nazis to poison our social life, to commit crimes, to terrorize and to undermine the foundations of the country that gave birth to democracy,’ Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said in a brief televised address after the death of rapper Pavlos Fyssas.”

So how deep are the Golden Dawn’s ties to Hellenic polytheism and modern Paganism in Greece? Do any of them support this party with deep ties to fascist ideals? I turned to Christos ‘Pandion’ Panopoulos, a Hellenic polytheist in Greece, who admitted that the issue of Paganism/polytheism in Greece is “a pretty complicated picture,” but that, for the most part, Hellenic polytheists and Greek Pagans aren’t falling in line with the toxic racism and ultra-nationalism of the Golden Dawn.

Christos 'Pandion' Panopoulos

Christos ‘Pandion’ Panopoulos

“As far as organizations are concerned , at least the few 4-5 visible ones, usually they do not openly support any political party, although looking at leading members opinions within can show tendencies. The only exception to the rule has been as far as I am aware of Panagiotis Marinis the leading figure (and founder) of Elliniki Etairia Arxaiofilon (one of the first and centered around a personality groups, now mostly inactive and most members having moved to YSEE), who has made several open statements in favor of GD, despite its Christian characteristics with  the “logic” that the biggest problem from modern Greece is the immigrants etc. All this of course falls alongside with his known racial – in the strict term of the word-  outlook on many things.  I think his opinions and reasons can sum up for most of the few polytheists who have done the same.

Other than that I can only speak for myself and for my community “Labrys,” but probably expressing the opinions of a major percentage of Hellenic polytheists as well, that having as a defining characteristic a. Religion b. The Hellenic culture, we find almost all modern political  ideologies more or less incompatible with our culture one way or another even more so concerning parties that are openly pro-Christian for religious reasons and even more so parties with fascist ideologies that are not only pro-Christian but totalitarian in the deepest and worst monotheistic example, which of course is the exact opposite of our ancestral culture. As such we see GD as a threat and even if we try to publicly abstain from political debates (in order to keep the religious character as our primary guide without further and for the most part objective distinctions) individually we usually raise our voices against such phenomena.  Personally I have written a few blog entries addressing some of these issues after this effort to mark pagans as GD supporters or GD as a pagan party appeared which you can find here.

To sum up I cannot possibly think of any reason that a Hellenic polytheist would vote for or support GD and I strongly believe that the character of such parties/ideologies etc are deeply monotheistic in their origin having nothing to do with traditional polytheism (not only the Hellenic one but others as well) and they are just using our imaginary, myths, holy symbols etc just to promote their agendas and at the same time causing issues for us.”

Panopoulos points out that some of the confusion stems from “arxaiolatres,” a term used for Greeks fascinated with ancient Greece, but not in an explicitly religious fashion. Several Golden Dawn supporters in recent years, according to Panopoulous, have embraced a romantic view of ancient Greece to justify their beliefs.

“In the last couple of years it seems that there was a rise of Golden Dawn supporters within the larger umbrella group of “arxaiolatres” not to be identified with actual polytheists, mainly involving those that have ‘found’ ancient Greece for the wrong reasons. Atheism and antisemitism, antisemitism becoming anti-Christianism, easily found ‘brilliant’ quotes out of context to support whatever modern twisted ideology etc, pumping up of lost national pride with childish videos about Spartans (of course containing the 300), stupid articles of how the Greeks were always better and fought for freedom and things like that, being targeted to and created by semi-educated middle class people that never learned many things about their history and feel better parroting low quality blog articles etc.”

Scholar Alexandros Kalozoides, who wrote a paper on the history of Greek Paganism and radical politics, echoes Panopoulos, and points out that there is “no central community – no such thing as a ‘Greek Pagan Community’ in the sense that it is found abroad.”

“There are lots of small groups which come together for some festivals, but are usually at each others throats the rest of the time. The official body representing Hellenic Paganism, (Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes) is not anti-semitic, it’s anti-Christian in the sense that Christianity is perceived to have destroyed the old religion. It certainly does not support the Golden Dawn, but their followers may well drink from both cups, and it would not make the slightest difference whether they came out with an official statement or not. However, their response to questions regarding their political values in their FAQ is both unambiguous, and encouraging.
 The other thing is, the Golden Dawn are not openly pagan, they are deliberately vague about religion. The ‘Pilgrimage to Delphi’ was marketed as paying tribute to ‘our ancient ancestors.’ The dynamics of paganism are different here – you get faithful Christians who still partake in the practice of honouring the ancient ancestors without it being a matter of faith – it’s a matter of shared (mythic) history.”

Kalozoides also pointed to an editorial published in a prominent Greek esoteric magazine, penned by editor Georgios Ioannidis, that clarifies and debunks the notion that the Greek Golden Dawn is somehow connected to the magickal order of the same name.

“The syncretic magical system followed by the HOGD has a clearly esoteric character that supports the mage in his attempt to know and contact the subtle planes of the universe, with the aim of spiritual regeneration, which is to say a golden dawn of his transmuted self.  This model of thought and practice is far removed from the “paganism” of the nationalist movements, that, just as with German national socialism, was cultivated only to the degree whereby it could forge a connection between modern man and the ancestral tradition, thus creating an illusion of unbroken continuity, with the ultimate aim of stressing the sense of cultural and racial superiority in relation to religions that originated mainly in ancient Palestine.”

All of these views, coming directly from Greeks familiar with the Pagan, polytheist, and esoteric communities in Greece, underline my initial thesis: that the Golden Dawn party utilizes Hellenic culture and religion to gain power and followers, but have little to do with organized Paganism or esotericism in the country (despite the preferences of scattered individuals). They wrap themselves in a flag of “Greek-ness” and purity, and will gladly exploit any community that will further their noxious goals.

As for the wider world, Pagan, polytheist, and esoteric groups have been quick to publicly condemn the values of the Golden Dawn, and clarify that they in no way support the controversial political party. In late September US-based Hellenic polytheist organization Hellenion recently released a statement clearly rejecting the use of Hellenic polytheism to promote any kind of hatred. Earlier in that same month, The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn categorically rejected any possible connection with the “racist, and arguably fascist, Golden Dawn political organization of Greece.”

“The Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn stands against racism and intolerance. Our Golden Dawn tradition stems from a magickal Order begun in Victorian-era England, and we are not in any way aligned with the racist, and arguably fascist, Golden Dawn political organization of Greece (The People’s Association – Golden Dawn, Greek: Λαϊκός Σύνδεσμος – Χρυσή Αυγή, which has been in the news recently. We are a constitutional democratic institution and reject authoritarianism in its fascistic or other forms. We accept applications for membership from all sincere applicants who are local to an OSOGD Lodge, regardless of race, sex, ethnicity, physical abilities, ancestry, gender identity, religion, or sexual orientation.”

In addition, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig has issued a call to all Golden Dawn leaders to make plain their views on the political party, stating clearly that “Greece’s Golden Dawn does not represent the ideals of any group claiming to be associated with the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.” As a result, more orders are doing exactly that.

Whatever happens in Greece, and with the Golden Dawn political party, we must remain vigilant that fascists and violent ultra-nationalists do not co-opt our faiths, and we must stand firm with the Hellenic polytheists, Greek Pagans, and esoteric practitioners in Greece as they weather this crisis. There will always be groups and individuals that will try to exploit our faiths, using a brew of romanticism and nationalism to claim power in the name of the people. We must not allow that to happen, not in our names, and certainly not in the names of our gods.

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.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

  • Is Bolivia imposing an animist/indigenous worldview on Christians? That’s the charge some Christian groups are making in the wake of a new law which oversees the recognition of religious groups in the country. Quote: “They want to control the activities of the evangelical churches,” Agustín Aguilera, president of ANDEB, told the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. “Article 15 (of the law) would force all religious organizations to carry out our activities within the parameters of the ‘horizon of good living,’ which is based on the [ethnic] Aymara worldview. This is an imposition of a cultural and spiritual worldview totally foreign to ours.” It should be noted that the ethos of “Living Well,” while originating in indigenous thought, does not force a particular theology. Since Christianity Today is so concerned with people being forced to conform to religious philosophies not of their choosing, I’m sure they’ll speak out against a monarch in Nigeria who converted to Christianity and is now jettisoning traditional practices beloved by the locals. Right? Any day now…
  • Sociologist Robert Bartholomew says there’s a “sudden upsurge” in cases of mass psychogenic illness, better known in the common parlance as “mass hysteria” Worse, Bartholomew says that it can now spread via social media, which is bad news for those trying to prevent another “Satanic Panic,” or plain-old witch-hunt for that matter. Quote: “In a paper titled “Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Social Network: is it changing the pattern of outbreaks?” Bartholomew writes, ‘Local priests, who were inevitably summoned to exorcise the ‘demons’, faced a daunting task given the widespread belief in witchcraft, but they were fortunate in one regard: they did not have to contend with mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook.’ However, the old and the new are more intertwined than one might expect. Two separate strangers messaged Thera through Facebook saying she needed an exorcism.”
  • Greek Jews live in fear of the Golden Dawn, an extremist political party that’s been on the rise in the wake of austerity and fiscal crisis. Their words and actions are getting increasingly reminiscent of another European political party that arose during a time of fiscal crisis.  Quote: “In Athens on July 24, another song was heard — a Greek version of a Horst Wessel song, a Nazi anthem. The Golden Dawn Party blasted it outside its headquarters while handing out free food to “Greeks only.” Golden Dawn says it wants to “clean” Greece of foreigners. Its black-shirted supporters attack poor South Asian and African migrants, claiming they’re all in Greece illegally. The violence scares Orietta Treveza, a Greek-Jewish educator who has three young daughters. ‘It’s very scary because we think that we are next,’ she says. ‘It’s not going to end with the immigrants.’” For those wondering, the party did/does embrace nationalistic pseudo-pagan trappings, but has also realized the populist potential of catering to Greek Orthodoxy. Like most fascists, belief and tradition are simply avenues to power.
  • Satanic Panic bottom-feeder Bob Larson and his troupe of teenage exorcists have hit London, and the results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Quote: “Savannah seriously weighed in on why London is full of dark forces, explaining, ‘I think it’s been centuries in the making, but I believe it all kind of came to a pinnacle, a peak, with the Harry Potter books that have come out, and the Harry Potter rage that swept across England.’ Her sister Tess agreed, commenting, ‘The spells and things that you’re reading in the Harry Potter books? Those aren’t just something that are made up– those are actual spells. Those are things that came from witchcraft books.’” There’s the fruit of reality television for you, anything so long as it draws attention. Oh, and there’s going to be new Harry Potter soon, so I guess Satan wins again?
  • A United Nations housing expert has criticized a new “bedroom tax” in the UK, so naturally the Daily Fail accuses her of being a Marxist Witch. Quote: “Her lengthy CV lists countless qualifications, civic achievements, books and publications – but Raquel Rolnik makes no mention of dabbling in witchcraft. Yet the architect and urban planner appears to be an avid follower of Candomble, an African-Brazilian religion that originated during the slave trade. The academic, brought up a Marxist, actually offered an animal sacrifice to Karl Marx…” This is yet another reason why Pagans should not support or link to this tabloid.
An image from the "Abused Goddesses" campaign against domestic violence.

An image from the “Abused Goddesses” campaign against domestic violence.

  • A lot of attention has been paid recently to the “Abused Goddesses” awareness campaign against domestic violence, which features representations of Hindu goddesses that carry bruises and cuts from beatings. However, reactions from Hindus have been somewhat mixed. Praneta Jha of the Hindustan Times says that “trapping women into images of a supposed ideal is one of the oldest strategies of patriarchy – and if we do not fit the image, it is deemed alright to ‘punish’ and violate us.” Sayantani DasGupta at The Feminist Wire notes that “these images of Hindu goddesses looking sorrowful and downtrodden undermine culturally located sources of female power – however ‘contradictory’.” Lakshmi Chaudhry calls it a “giant step backward for womankind,” and USF professor Vamsee Juluri adds that “there has been such a great deal of misrepresentation, if not outright malicious propaganda, about Hinduism, that the campaign already seems to many Hindus to be a perpetuation of that, rather than a sincere attempt to address the real problem of domestic violence.” Finally, Suhag A. Shukla says that “what will be the ultimate test of the success of this campaign, however, is if it is able to stop the first of many abusers from letting his raised hand meet its intended target.”
  • Does philosophy have a problem with women? Katy Waldman at Slate.com ponders: “Taken one by one, the various explanations for philosophy’s woman problem are like Zeno’s arrow, inching ever closer to a target they can’t quite hit.”
  • In Israel, the tradition of participating in the kaparot ritual using a live chicken has caused debate after MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid called the practice “deplorable” and “pagan.” Quote: “The ritual involves circling a live chicken over one’s head three times and symbolically transferring one’s sins to the animal. The chicken is then slaughtered and eaten. Many have the practice of donating the chicken’s meat to the poor [...] Lipman urged Jews to perform the kaparot ritual with money or with flowers instead, as many currently do.”
  • Mitch Horowitz writes about how the occult brought cremation to America. Quote: “Cremation was introduced to America in the 1870s by a retired Civil War colonel, Henry Steel Olcott. As a Union Army staff colonel and military investigator, Olcott had amassed a distinguished record, which included routing out fraud among defense contractors and making some of the first arrests in the Lincoln assassination. In his post-military life as a lawyer and journalist, Olcott developed a deep interest in the esoteric and paranormal — which drove his fascination with the then-exotic rite of burning the dead.”
  • Definition of a slow news day: these leaves and overgrowth on power lines look somewhat like a witch! Wow! Really? Let’s get that spread around as quickly as possible.

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.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway could have far-reaching affects on prayers and invocations made before government and state-sponsored events. At its heart is the question of government endorsement of a particular faith, and whether sectarian prayers overwhelmingly weighted towards one faith can be made so long as a fig-leaf of neutrality is maintained in written policy. I have written about this case before, and how modern Pagans have been deeply intertwined with the development of the “model invocation policy” being challenged and with this case itself.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Now, with the case on the Supreme Court docket, “friend of the court” briefings have been trickling in, most notably from a bi-partisan group of United States Senators (over 30 Republicans and one Democrat), and from a coalition of states lead by the Attorney Generals of Indiana and Texas. The first, spearheaded by Marco Rubio, seems to argue that the Supreme Court upholding (or expanding on) the Court of Appeals verdict in this case could eliminate the Establishment Clause carve-out for a paid government chaplains (as established in Marsh v. Chambers).

“This Court should eliminate the uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing on which legislative prayer stands. In a nation of broad religious diversity, the best means of ensuring that the government does not prefer any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is to allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faiths.”

In essence, Rubio and the other senators are playing the religious freedom card, hand-waving away the fact that Greece’s “neutral” policy “virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint” according to the appeals court judges. However, even more problematic is the brief submitted by 23 states, which not only argues that sectarian prayers before government meetings to be upheld, but raises the bar in terms of challenging prayer policies.

“The amici States urge the Court to re-affirm the central holding of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 792 (1983), that legislative prayers are permissible as “simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” and to disclaim any role for the so-called endorsement test when it comes to analyzing legislative prayer practices. The Court should also consider using this case as an opportunity to clarify Establishment Clause doctrine more generally by requiring a showing of religious coercion as a touchstone for proving any type of unlawful religious establishment.

In other words, government-sponsored prayers should not only have an Establishment Clause carve-out, individuals should have to prove “religious coercion” in order to bring an establishment of religion challenge against a government body. Such a high bar would throw current precedent on Establishment Clause challenges into chaos. It would also mean that rather famous cases involving Pagans, like Darla Kaye Wynne’s successful struggle against the town of Great Falls, South Carolina, would most likely have been thrown out. Because how, exactly, does a religious minority prove coercion in a town dominated by Christians set on praising Christ before every function?

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan

Marsh v. Chambers, a SCOTUS decision which both the States and Rubio’s coalition places front-and-center in their amicus briefs to argue the Establishment Clause does not apply to government-sponsored prayer, featured a telling dissent by Justice William J. Brennan and Justice Thurgood Marshall that spoke directly to the question of coercion.

“The “primary effect” of legislative prayer is also clearly religious. As we said in the context of officially sponsored prayers in the public schools, “prescribing a particular form of religious worship,” even if the individuals involved have the choice not to participate, places “indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion. . . .” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). More importantly, invocations in Nebraska’s legislative halls explicitly link religious belief and observance to the power and prestige of the State.

In short, the coercion is already happening, but it is being ignored in the name of tradition. These State Attorney Generals, and Senators, and conservative Christian organizations like the Family Research Council, and the Liberty Institute want desperately for that coercion to continue, and indeed, for it to be trumpeted as “freedom.”

“Courts that impose religious “neutrality” categorically exclude certain religions that require the use of those prohibited terms and violate the mandate of the Establishment Clause that all persons be treated equally by the government, regardless of religious creed.”

In short, making Christians not say “Jesus” before government assemblies and functions hinders their freedom. Somehow.

As I’ve noted before, the outcome of this verdict will likely decide the fate of opening invocations before government meetings. Will the “model invocation policy” used by Greece (and several other towns) be allowed to stand? If so, we can look forward to a huge groundswell of sectarian Christian prayer being instituted across large chunks of the United States. After all, this model policy clearly states that public bodies are “not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths” and  “no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.” This could be a chilling roll-back of advances by religious minorities, and those who hold no religious affiliation at all.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

I’m hoping that the Supreme Court is prudent here, and commits no drastic change to our understandings of the Establishment Clause, though I’m less optimistic since their Voting Rights Act decision. Recent rulings in the 2nd and 4th Courts of Appeals should be respected, and their understanding of how invocations slanted towards the largest demographic can create the appearance of establishment (and coercion) listened to. The current Supreme Court is made up of Roman Catholics and Jews, two religions that once fought very hard against the unthinking privilege of the Protestant Christian majority. Now, there is a chance to make the United States a truly pluralistic nation, not one that claims to be pluralistic, but looks the other way in the name of tradition.

Whatever happens, modern Pagans, and all religious minorities, should pay very close attention to Town of Greece v. Galloway.

The United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case stemming from sectarian prayers before local government meetings in Greece, New York. At the heart of the case is the question of if a policy regarding invocations can be pluralistic and inclusive in letter, but not in spirit.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“Town officials said that members of all faiths, and atheists, were welcome to give the opening prayer. In practice, the federal appeals court in New York said, almost all of the chaplains were Christian. [...] Two town residents sued, saying the prayers ran afoul of the First Amendment’s prohibition of the government establishment of religion. The appeals court agreed. “The town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint,” Judge Calabresi wrote.”

This is a very big deal. One that strikes to the very heart of a “model invocation policy” peddled by conservative Christian legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF – formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund). The thesis is that sectarian prayers (rather than the “ceremonial deism” that permeates many government bodies) are constitutional so long as the written policy is inclusive of all faiths. However, they calm nervous Christian government officials worried about an influx of religious minorities by noting that no special efforts to be inclusive are necessary.

“If a public body implements a legitimately neutral policy and procedure to invite local clergy from established congregations in its community to offer an opening invocation, that public body is not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths. In other words, no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.”

In short, opening invocations can overwhelmingly reference Jesus Christ, and they can send invitations only to “established congregations” (ie brick-and-mortar churches) so long as they include a religious minority who inquires/complains. Something I’ve dubbed the “include a Wiccan gambit,” which is exactly what Greece, New York did.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

For a time, this gambit seemed to work in the lower courts. Then, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals both handed down rulings that called into question whether this invocation tokenism could really offset a regular schedule of Christian prayer.

“We conclude, on the record before us, that the town’s prayer practice must be viewed as an endorsement of a particular religious viewpoint. This conclusion is supported by several considerations, including the prayer-giver selection process, the content of the prayers, and the contextual actions (and inactions) of prayer-givers and town officials. We emphasize that, in reaching this conclusion, we do not rely on any single aspect of the town’s prayer practice, but rather on the totality of the circumstances present in this case.

The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint. Christian clergy delivered each and every one of the prayers for the first nine years of the town’s prayer practice, and nearly all of the prayers thereafter. In the town’s view, the preponderance of Christian clergy was the result of a random selection process. The randomness of the process, however, was limited by the town’s practice of inviting clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town’s borders. The town fails to recognize that its residents may hold religious beliefs that are not represented by a place of worship within the town. Such residents may be members of congregations in nearby towns or, indeed, may not be affiliated with any congregation. The town is not a community of religious institutions, but of individual residents, and, at the least, it must serve those residents without favor or disfavor to any creed or belief.”

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.

How will the court decide? It’s hard to say. SCOTUS took a pass on considering the similar 4th Circuit decision, letting their decision stand, but they may have simply been waiting for a case that would suit the Court’s needs better. For the most part, the modern Supreme Court doesn’t like to corner itself into making sweeping decisions, and it could be that the justices see a needle-threading solution to the issue at hand. Then again, we could be in for another “ministerial exception” moment where broad new freedoms are outlined and defined. At this point it’s anyone’s guess, but I’m sure advocates on both sides of this issue are readying themselves for a fight that could shape invocation policy for a generation.

 

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

A Farewell to Therianthropy: Pagan and neo-shamanic practitioner Lupa, author of books like “New Paths to Animal Totems” and  “Skin Spirits,” has announced that she’s letting her book “A Field Guide to Otherkin” go out of print. In the announcement she explains that she feels the resources in the book have become dated, that it isn’t up to her current standards, and that she has stopped identifying herself as Otherkin.

Lupa

Lupa

“So now here I am in 2013, and I have a confession to make: I no longer identify as a therianthrope, and I haven’t for quite some time. I’ve sat with that reality for a while, checking in with myself and making sure it wasn’t just a phase. But no, it just doesn’t fit any more; it’s not a framework that explains me. There’s still a piece of me that I feel resonates more with wolf than human, but at this point I don’t think it’s anything more than a bit of creative personal narrative, part of the ongoing myth I tell about myself. For me, the wolf is a metaphor, a piece of spirituality internalized. Sure, I’ve always leaned toward the personal mythology hypothesis of “what are Otherkin”, but the idea that I am fundamentally not human on some level just doesn’t fit. I am a human animal, 100%, just with a particular connection to the idea of “wolfness”. Call it an inner connection to my totem, or a super-charged “favorite animal”; either of those fit me better than “therian”, or “shifter”, or any of the other terms that set animal-people apart from humanity as a whole.”

The book will officially go out of print on the first of May. As the sole book devoted only to Otherkin, it has been repeatedly cited by scholars interested in the subject. The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions featured two articles on Otherkin/Therianthropy and Pagan scholar Chas Clifton noted that both heavily relied on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” You can read an interview I conducted with Lupa about the book, here.

The Life of a High Priestess: Deborah Lipp, author of several books on Wicca and magical practice, including “The Study of Witchcraft: A Guidebook to Advanced Wicca” and “The Way of Four Spellbook: Working Magic with the Elements” has written a memoir about her life as a High Priestess, and the relationships she formed over the years with people like Isaac Bonewits (to whom she was once married), Scott Cunningham, and Timothy Leary. In a guest post at Llewellyn’s blog, Lipp discusses why she wrote “Merry Meet Again: Lessons, Life & Love on the Path of a Wiccan High Priestess.”

Isaac Bonewits and Deborah Lipp at Starwood, 1987

Isaac Bonewits and Deborah Lipp at Starwood, 1987

“Why did I do this? My book was, in part, an outcome of bereavement counseling: When my ex-husband, Isaac Bonewits, was in the last days of his life, and after he died, I found myself looking back on my years with him in a way that cried out for organization, and I organize myself by writing. In part, because my path to Paganism is a path that is at risk of being forgotten: The pre-Internet, deeply closeted, ‘is there anyone out there?’ years are no more, and a journey that was meaningful to many thousands of people risks being treated as fiction. I wanted to document it. I capped off my book with my fiftieth birthday; it felt like a bookend; it felt apropos.”

I am personally excited by this development because I’m an on-the-record advocate for our elders recording their stories, their histories, whether that be in book form, or via recorded interviews. Llewellyn’s recent foray into publishing memoirs and remembrances, like Donald Michael Kraig’s short e-book about his friend, the author Scott Cunningham, is a welcome trend. One that I hope continues. The better documented our past, the better we can understand the forces that have shaped our community into what it is today. I look forward to reading Lipp’s book.

Author Raises Money to Cover Family Medical Expenses: Trish Telesco, author of several Pagan and magical titles, including “How To Be A Wicked Witch” and “Which Witch Is Which?: A Concise Guide to Wiccan and Neo-Pagan Paths and Traditions” is raising funds after her husband was diagnosed with an unexpected tumor on his brain stem.

Trish Telesco

Trish Telesco

“My husband went to the hospital Monday with what we thought was a blood pressure issue. By Weds. he was in brain surgery for a tumor on his brain stem. There is no question that the expense for this procedure will go way beyond what we can pay in a lifetime (or two). I couldn’t even figure out a goal amount. I am trying to set up a fund that will be used ONLY for the medical co-pays.”

That fundraiser was started in September, but the surgeries and tests continue. According to public posts at her Facebook profile there have been some positive developments, but the fiscal problems will be an ongoing issue even after the hospital stay is over. Until America has a real medical social safety net, people’s lives will be thrown into fiscal crisis whenever a major medical problem emerges, and this is but one close-to-home example. If Trish Telesco’s books and work have brought something to your life consider giving back by donating to the medical fund.

In Other Community News:

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

Just some quick updates on stories previously discussed here on The Wild Hunt.

More Discussion on Exorcism and Demonic Influences: Last week I took issue with Patheos Catholic columnist Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who made the argument that Aurora, Colorado killer James Holmes may have been demonically possessed. Now, Religion News Service has picked up the story, bringing this controversial view to a much wider audience.

“Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes — a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.”

Meanwhile, other Catholics, like  About.com’s Scott P. Richert, are doubling down on the demonic “infestation” scenario, referencing Ouija board use in the 1973 film “The Exorcist” as an accurate portrayal of how possession begins.

Troubling Expansion of the Ministerial Exception? At the beginning of this year I wrote about the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The ruling established that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist. Now, Religion Clause reports on two linked ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that says the exception applies even when faculty at a seminary aren’t even of the same religion.

“Because Kant’s primary duties involved teaching religious-themed courses at a seminary, his position was one that prepared students for Christian ministry…. Given his position as a faculty member teaching at a seminary, Kant’s personal views are not determinative of the function he served. Rather, we review the function of his position: teaching future Christian ministers primarily on Judeo-Christian subjects and culture. Kant’s personal faith and beliefs do not clash with the actuality that the classes he taught at LTS were for the purpose of preparing future church leaders of the Christian faith.”

So a Jew can be considered a “minister” of a Christian seminary, so long as his role supports the institution’s goals. One wonders how this interpretation could be abused by organizations who want to evade litigation over a firing. More on this particular story, here.

The Olympics and Religion (and those dualistic Greeks): I recently linked to two articles that looked at the ancient (pagan) history of the Olympic games, now underway in London. Now, USA Today spotlights an editorial by Pastor Henry Brinton that also looks at religion and the games, specifically the Christians history of the modern games, and how “muscular Christianity” saved us from the dualism of the ancient Greeks.

“Ancient Greeks are partially to blame. While they provided the inspiration for the modern Games, they also created a dualistic philosophy that included antagonism between the physical and spiritual. Christians embraced this approach for many years, until muscular Christianity came along and people began to reclaim the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. [...] As for the Olympics, perhaps the opening ceremonies should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations. Most of the world’s great faiths honor both body and spirit, and encourage health and vitality. This would correct the error made by the ancient Greeks, and would pay tribute to the religious leaders who made the modern Olympics possible. It could even inspire a few religious people to get off the couch and into the gym.”

I wish I could stamp a giant “citation needed” on these claims, because it sounds like revisionist triumphalism to me. Ancient Greeks may have believed in a physical world and a world of spirit, but that didn’t create an antagonism between the two realities. It sounds to me like Christians blaming Greek philosophy for their own shortcomings in how they adopted and adapted pagan thought. I’ll leave it to my philosophy and ancient Greece buffs to let me know if my suspicions are correct, or if Greek dualism really did create this antagonism Brinton claims.

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

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.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

  • South Korea, one of the most Christian countries in Asia, is witnessing a revival of interest in its indigenous shamanistic practices, with local mudangs (priests or priestesses) being consulted by politicians and featuring on popular television shows. Sociology professor Shin Kwang-yeong thinks the popularity is due to Koreans dealing with the “strong uncertainties” of their modern existence, with many crediting shamanism with bringing healing and piece of mind to their lives. Quote:  “I felt something from my heart. This ritual has everything in there – happiness, sadness, anger and fun [...] Sometimes tears pour out from my heart. Sometimes it’s just fun when everyone is dancing and bowing. And, it’s healing.”
  • Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, admitted to having inappropriate sexual relations with at least one woman back in 2011. Now, a Jane Doe is filing suit against Euteneuer, alleging that the priest sexually abused and assaulted her, using his position as an exorcist as a means to force sexual contact. This spiritual/physical rape of the Jane Doe has caused the Catholic church to recall him for counselling and remove his “priestly faculties,” meaning he can no longer perform mass or other sacred rites.
  • There’s a deep connection between synthesizer music and the occult, Klint Finley explores it for Boing Boing. Quote: “You can find traces of the occult throughout the history of electronic music. The occult obsessed Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo built his own mechanical instruments around 1917. The famous Moog synthesizer made an early appearance in Mick Jagger’s soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s occult film Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. And in the late 1970s Throbbing Gristle built their own electronic instruments for their occult sound experiments, setting the stage for many of the occult themed industrial bands who followed. The witch house genre keeps this tradition alive today.”
  • The Border House looks at the controversy surrounding the upcoming game SMITE, and the protests from Hindu activist Rajan Zed over the depiction and ability to control their gods and goddesses, most notably Kali, in the game. The Border House also calls out the “pornification” of Kali. Quote: “This is truly disgusting. Not only is a faith appropriated, but it is done so in a way which turns a widely revered deity into a male sexual fantasy. A goddess in non-sexual nudity is somehow less preferable to a caricature in which she is put in a costume for the male gaze. Whether you agree with Rajan Zed or not about controlling Hindu deities as combat tools is not the issue. The cultural imperialistic mindset which allows a westerner to pornify symbols of Hinduism and yet think he has the right to lecture a Hindu about the religion, this is the issue.”
  • Associated Press reporter Christopher Torchia says that ancient Greek myths lend valuable context to the country’s current fiscal and political crisis. Quote: “Greek mythology is full of examples of how mortals should find the middle way in order to live a happy life, or as it said on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Nothing in Excess,’” Peter Meineck, associate professor of classics at New York University, wrote in an email. He noted that, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, “the first divine agent that caused creation was Eros — the spirit of erotic drive or the impulse to create anything.”
  • Tammy Trotter-Bazzle, a Pagan priestess living in South Carolina, shares her experience advising the pastoral staff at AnMed Health after a Pagan patience was admitted. Quote: “I feel blessed and honored to have had that opportunity. At the end of a day, good was done for the greater good. Pagan patients will be better understood at AnMed. And that was, after all, the reason for this class; to help the patient. I, along with many of the local Pagan community, are happy to see this step forward.”
  • A majority percentage of Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, non-Christian faiths, and unaffiliated religious believers favor same-sex marriage rights. Yet we are told that we must “protect” the conservative Christian viewpoint on marriage by denying all other faiths and traditions the ability to perform legal same-sex rites. How is this about religious freedom again?
  • Is polyamory ready for its close-up? A Showtime reality program is on its way, featuring neo-tantra practitioner and “bliss coach” Kamala Devi. Will Paganism make an appearance? Are we ready for the questions if and when it does?

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.

In the long-simmering battle over the inclusion of (largely Christian) prayers at the beginning of government meetings, an assumption held sway that a written policy of pluralistic inclusion would provide a fig-leaf of legal protection against lawsuits from organizations like Americans United or the ACLU. At least that was the assertion of the conservative Christian advocacy organization Alliance Defense Fund (ADF). In their “model public invocations policy,” the ADF noted how important it was to have an inclusive “neutral” policy on paper, if not in actual practice.

“The bottom line is that any policy adopted and implemented [...] must ensure that the invocation opportunity is not exploited to proselytize any particular faith or disparage any others, or show any preference of the Council for a specific faith or religious denomination. It is our belief that the Policy we have carefully drafted meets these criteria and would pass court muster if challenged. [...] No invocations policy has a chance to be upheld by a reviewing court today unless it offers equal opportunity to at least the broad array of monotheistic faiths and denominations with a presence in that particular geographic area.  One conclusion from the case law is clear: if a public body allows any prayers, it is required to allow for most all prayers, without unlawful discrimination against any.”

The document goes on to assert that no “extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths” were necessary, and “no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.” In other words, in their opinion, a predominately Christian town doesn’t have go out of its way to include Wiccans, Hindus, or Buddhists. This 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. The idea was that if local governments threaded the needle of this issue carefully, they could have their cake (opening prayers), and eat it too (mainly Christian-only prayer).

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

Cynthia Simpson and Darla Wynne

For awhile, this tactic of de facto tokenism seemed to be working well. Towns like Greece, New York and Lancaster, California won lower-court challenges by including a smattering of minority religions in sectarian prayers (aka the “include a Wiccan gambit”), with the majority of prayers being Christian ones. Then a setback for sectarian prayers to Jesus emerged in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, who ruled that simply saying you’re inclusive while showcasing predominantly sectarian Christian prayer is not acceptable.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled 2-1 that the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners’ preference for Christian prayers violates the constitutional separation of church and state. [...] The record in the case indicates that 26 of the 33 invocations given from May 29, 2007, until Dec. 15, 2008, contained at least one reference to Jesus, Jesus Christ, Christ, Savior or the Trinity. The appellate court majority said government favoritism in religion is wrong. “Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal,” wrote Judge J. Harvey Wilkinson, “and the government should not appear to suggest that some faiths have it wrong and others got it right.”

This ruling withstood appeal when the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari (judicial review), prompting the ADF to complain that “the standard for prayer policies in the 4th Circuit will be different from the standard held by the rest of the country.” Now, it seems like the 4th Circuit has just been joined by the 2nd Circuit, who ruled on Thursday that invocations given before the town of Greece, New York (one of the early winners in the “include a Wiccan” gambit) should have been more inclusive, and the town should have gone to greater lengths to ensure religious diversity.

“…the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled the town of Greece, a suburb of Rochester, should have made a greater effort to invite people from other faiths to open monthly meetings. [...] The court found that religious institutions in the town of just under 100,000 people are primarily Christian, and even Galloway and Stephens testified they knew of no non-Christian places of worship there. [...] “The town’s process for selecting prayer-givers virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint,” it ruled.” The court acknowledges there was no formal policy on who should be invited to deliver invocations, and that the town was open to people of all faiths speaking at meetings. But it also noted the town board didn’t publicize the idea that anybody could volunteer to deliver prayers…”

The decision went on to note that a town’s religious community cannot be defined by a list of churches or religious organizations, since a town is a community of “individual residents” who each have may have unique beliefs and philosophies.

“The town fails to recognize that its residents may hold religious beliefs that are not represented by a place of worship within the town. Such residents may be members of congregations in nearby towns or, indeed, may not be affiliated with any congregation. The town is not a community of religious institutions, but of individual residents, and, at the least, it must serve those residents without favor or disfavor to any creed or belief.”

The ADF, who were defending the town of Greece, has already vowed to appeal this ruling, saying that towns will have to “complete an obstacle course” in order to have opening prayers at government meeting. If this decision holds, as the 4th Circuit’s did, it could help establish a new standard for government prayer, one that demands strong pluralism if a body is going to allow sectarian invocations. It remains to be seen how long the Supreme Court will punt on this issue by denying judicial review. Eventually, they will have to make a stand on these policies, just as it recently took a stand on the question of “ministerial exception.” However, for now, Pagans and other members of minority religions have a new precedent to use in demanding equal treatment in regards to public prayer. No doubt several towns and cities who fall under the jurisdiction of the 2nd and 4th Circuit Courts are currently talking with their lawyers over their prayer policies, and whether they need to include far more Wiccans (and Buddhists, Hindus, Musilms, Jews, etc) than previously imagined.