Archives For harassment

Tampa Bay, Florida resident Kyrja Withers, an out Pagan and author of the Pagan-themed children’s book “Rupert’s Tales: The Wheel of the Year Beltane, Litha, Lammas, and Mabon” announced that on Thursday her home was shot at, the most recent escalation in a string of seemingly religiously-motivated incidents.

Kyrja's window.

Kyrja’s window.

“Someone shot at me tonight – and though they missed, The Glitter Dome is a bit more …. holey … tonight. We’ve had intermittent problems with someone honking their horn outside our house at very late hours and screaming obscenities  Once, they threw a firecracker in our front house. Last night, they screamed “F’ing WITCH” – quite clearly. No mistake. Today, we received several telephone calls where the caller said something unintelligible and then hung up, as well as an inappropriate post on one of my Rupert videos. This is obviously personal. And now, they have crossed the line and have caused property damage. And yes – the first window they hit is where I sit. It is time to deal with this. And so we shall. We ask for your assistance in calling for swift justice.”

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

I contacted Kyrja personally for a follow-up statement where she said the police investigation is ongoing, and that she does not regret being an “out” Pagan despite the attack.

“The only statements I know to make at this point is that the investigation by our local police department is ongoing at this point, and we do appreciate their efforts.  I have seen a few posts throughout the day from people who have stated our situation is the very reason they prefer not to make their Pagan faith known.  And, while I certainly respect their own choices, I can tell you that I would never have known the level of happiness and peace I do now if not for having made my own choices both public and well-known.  Too, if we are unwilling to get to “reveal” ourselves for the people we are – to include the spiritual paths we walk, we will never diminish the level of stigmatism for all of our brothers and sister.  Normalizing our faith sometimes requires courage; more often doing so provides more opportunities for celebration. If we had the opportunity, what I would like to do is to educate the individual(s) responsible for these incidents and to have them do community service within the Pagan community.  Chances are, it would be quite the eye-opening experience for them.”

We will keep you posted on this incident as further developments occur. We wish safety for Kyrja’s family, and that justice be brought to her attackers. For those wanting to know more about Kyrja’s work writing children’s books, you can visit her web site, or Facebook page.

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.

- T. Thorn Coyle has issued an appeal to help raise money for the American Magic Umbanda House of Oakland, to help rebuild their sacred Lubisha, destroyed last year in a devastating fire. Thanks to generous donations, including one from Thorn’s Solar Cross Temple, they’ve already reached their modest goal of $450. However, I think they could use a cushion, don’t you? Any money above the goal will be used towards House related expenses, including their famous Pomba Gira ritual at PantheaCon, so let’s help out. “May the sound of drumming rise.”


- In other fundraising news, Datura Press, a small esoteric publisher that publishes the work of Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki, Gareth Knight,  Alan Richardson, and W.E. Butler, is in the midst of a campaign to buy advertising and discounted copies of their own titles so they can expand and make a better profit. Owner-editor Debbie Chapnick says that, quote, “the company is at a crossroads. People want these books. I have been contacted by distributors and bookshops from all over the world. All I need to really get this going is to have enough books in stock to fill the need.” The goal is $10,000, with 12 days left to go.  Any money raised over the goal will be donated to the New Alexandrian Library Project.

- Humanist-officiated weddings are on-track to receive full legal status in Ireland, a classification that only Health Service Executive registrars and members of religious bodies previously received. While Pagan Federation Ireland has permission to legally marry couples in Ireland under the Civil Registration Act of 2004, the new changes could allow any “philosophical and nonconfessional body” to also perform legally binding ceremonies. Starting in 2007, Ireland allowed State-recognized weddings in the venue of the couple’s choice, instead of having to hold two ceremonies.

- A teenager in Britain was convicted of religiously harassing a McDonald’s employee who is Pagan. The youth repeatedly returned over a period of two months to engage in verbal abuse, despite being told to stop by the employee and management. Barrister Laura Austin, who mitigated on behalf of the teen, said he “did not realise paganism was a recognised religion,” and that this was “this is the first case of its kind,” so far as she knew. The teen was sentenced to community service, and a restraining order was issued.

- The 2010 U.S. Religion Census, released this week by the Association of Religion Data Archives, has some interesting data for those who are following the shape of (non-Christian) religion in America. While the data is skewed towards congregational models, it did show that “Buddhist congregations were reported in all 50 states, and Hindu houses of worship in 49 states.” All together, “the number of non-Christian congregations – synagogues, mosques, temples and other religious centers – increased by nearly a third, from 8,795 in the 2000 study to 11,572 in the 2010 census.” Meanwhile, Mainline Protestants “cratered,” Catholic numbers decreased overall (with a growing disconnect between “active” and non-active adherents), and non-denominational Christian houses of worship exploded.

- Oh, did I miss the National Day of Prayer this year? Maybe because it’s almost exclusively focused on “Judeo-Christian” modes of worship and conceptions of deity. As CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero put it, “how to pray as a nation when some believers affirm more than one God and some affirm fewer?”

- Out & About Newspaper in Tennessee profiles author Christopher Penczak in advance of his visit to the fifteenth annual Pagan Unity Festival. Quote: “I think of witchcraft, rather than just Wicca, as a vocation and tradition that springs up all around the world, not in any one culture, there is a mystical, healing, cunning tradition in most cultures. The inner experience of the mysteries is the same, and I like the hunt for all wisdom around those mysteries.”

- SF Weekly looks at David Talbot’s upcoming book “Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love,” which charts the shifts in San Francisco’s culture and politics between 1967 – 1982. Author, actor activist, and former Digger Peter Coyote is quoted as saying “I blame Mick Jagger for f***ing with black magic,” when asked about the disaster that was Altamont. Sounds like an interesting read.

- It looks like the recent attention paid to infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio may have had an effect. It seems the witch-hunter canceled her March trip to Texas, and a scheduled May visit as well. Ukpabio claims the the cancellations were due to death threats from Stepping Stones Nigeria, a charity that aids children accused of witchcraft, and is highly critical of her. Blogger Richard Bartholomew is highly skeptical of these claims, pointing out that Ukpabio’s church has been slandering that organization for some time now.

- In a final note, I’d like to recognize Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who passed away yesterday after a years-long battle with cancer. Yauch was an adherent of Tibetan Buddhism, famously commemorated in the song “Bodhisattva Vow,” and worked for the Tibetan independence movement. However, for most members of Generation X, the Beastie Boys were a game-changing Hip Hop group that shook off their earlier party-boy lunk-headed image to release amazing albums like “Paul’s Boutique,” “Check Your Head,” and “Ill Communication.” Praised as “revolutionary MCs” by Chuck D, the Beasties helped define what Hip Hop would become, and oversaw its entrance into the mainstream. My consolation in this tragedy is that MCA has left behind a lot of awesome music, and that he’s now a Hip Hop Bodhisattva watching over all those who suffer.

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.

Top Story: The harassment of Pagans by intolerant neighbors isn’t anything new, but it’s rare to hear on-the-record confirmation of that hostility from prominent citizens. The Sunday Mercury reports on the plight of Albion and Raven, owners of the The Whispering Witch in Alcester, a small market town in England. Opened 15 months ago, Albion and Raven claim to have gotten threatening letters, and even had a bundle of wood stacked in front of the shop’s door one morning, seemingly to imply that they should be burned. After talking to the couple, The Sunday Mercury interviews a local Baptist Reverend, and a member of the church who’s a former mayor of Alcester, and they seem to corroborate the hostility, though stop short of endorsing harassment.

Reverend Alistair Aird, from Alcester Baptist Church, condemned those behind the attacks but added: “My impression is that people in the town don’t feel that this is the kind of thing they want in Alcester. [...] Councillor Chris Gough, a former Mayor of Alcester and deacon at Alcester Baptist Church, added: “I’m aware that they are being frowned upon. Instinctively, it is not the sort of thing we want to see in the town. As a church-goer, I think we probably feel strongly about anyone who puts themselves forward as a witch in any form.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that encourages an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. The faint condemnations of “if it is happening then it is the wrong thing to do” from Rev. Aird all but telegraphs that he won’t put any pressure on his flock to practice tolerance, allowing these activities to flourish. As for Albion and Raven, they say that  “Paganism is a recognised religion and we are here to stay.” Hopefully the press attention will spur some movement on this case, and bring out some local allies who might not have known that this was happening.

Pagans and the Pledge: Should local governments in the United States start with the Pledge of Allegiance? That’s the issue in Columbia, Missouri where the city council has voted to start each meeting with the loyalty oath. Looking for a number of perspectives, reporter Rudi Keller asks Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini, who’s a Hellenic reconstructionist, for her take.

“I modify it a little,” said Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini. “I say, ‘Under the gods’ because I am a Hellenic Reconstructionist, a polytheist. That means I follow the old Greek religion.”

Keller notes that saying personally modified versions of the pledge hasn’t always been tolerated, she quotes associate law professor Douglas Abrams who explains that “as far as loyalty oaths are concerned, there are many examples of American history where we become scared and demand overt statements of loyalty from minority groups.” What happens if religious minorities who alter the loyalty oath to their liking aren’t tolerated by locals? Or what about groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are barred from pledging to any power other than their God?  The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that “compulsory unification of opinion” violates the First Amendment, but what’s legal and what’s tolerated can be two very different things.

National Ancestor Shrine Opens in Paganistan: Cara Schultz at PNC-Minnesota reports that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in St. Paul, Minnesota, has erected a national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar.

“People talked a lot about having a shrine like this,” said Teisha Magee, executive director of the Sacred Paths Center. “An altar where anyone could come and light a candle, burn incense, put up a name plaque, or otherwise honor those who have passed the veil. Three of our members—Volkhvy, Ciaran Benson, and CJ Stone—came together with one mind and created exactly that.” [...] “The shrine is open to everyone,” said Ms. Magee. “We aren’t checking your Pagan credentials at the door. Candles and incense are available on the altar. Some folks like to leave flowers, food, or other offerings. For a small donation, Sacred Paths Center will inscribe an oaken plaque to go on the shrine. It’s like a small headstone, you get to choose the text and you can include a special message. There’s a plaque request form on the Sacred Paths Center’s website.”

You can learn more about the memorial altar/shrine, here. I find it interesting that two of the major contributors to this project are individuals who bridge modern Paganism and Japanese Shinto. Is Shinto and “Neo-Shinto” growing in popularity among Pagans? If so, will it result in more shrine-oriented projects like this one? In any case, congratulations to Sacred Paths Center on this achievement.

In the Wake of James Arthur Ray: While the ongoing legal maneuvers continue in the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths case, Native Americans continue to try and make their perspectives on the misuse and appropriation of their sacred ceremonies known. One telling exchange happened between Ray and Diné (Navajo) medicine man Leland Grass during the last days of the initial trial.

Aware that many Native Americans, individually and through organizations, were incensed over his transformation and commercial use of their traditions and practices, particularly the tradition of the sweat lodge, Ray approached Grass humbly during a break and offered his hand. Grass shook it, nodded and the two spoke quietly for a time. ”He told me he learned his lesson,” Grass said later. “I said ‘no, you have a lot more to learn.’”

Meanwhile, a juror has broken silence and talked with the press about the trial that convicted Ray of three counts of negligent homicide. It seems the jury didn’t buy the pesticides defense, though he also noted that prosecution didn’t do a good job of proving the more serious charge of manslaughter. Once the sentence for Ray’s conviction is finally handed down, you can bet there will be more appeals and legal wrangling to come.

How is Paganism Good for America? That’s the question posed by Star Foster at the Patheos Pagan Portal. I gave my own short response, which you can read at the portal’s Pantheon blog.

“No theology is perfect, but I believe polytheism, the belief in a multiplicity of the divine, is uniquely suited towards preparing the United States for its future. In his book “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” York University Professor Emeritus of Humanities Jordan Paper concludes that “polytheism at best is a very positive human experience and is never less than benign. We do not find the angst, let alone the doubts, that many experience with regard to their relationship with the divine in the monotheistic traditions.” As America slowly moves into a post-Christian era, a nation where both immigrant and home-grown religious minorities are growing, and an ever-larger percentage (currently 15%) of our fellow citizens claim to specific religion at all, only a theology that can embrace the full tapestry of human belief will be able to change and thrive with these often tumultuous times. Modern Pagans are pioneers into this future, and have already encountered and accepted a multiplicity of belief systems, finding ways to not only coexist, but to create vibrant communities that encourage participation and engagement.”

You can read the whole thing, here. You can also check out Star Foster’s response to the question. If you want to weigh in on this issue, leave a comment here, or email Star Foster to submit a longer response.

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

In Warminster, PA, just twenty miles north of Philadelphia, a modern-day witch-hunt is emerging. Local resident Rick Fire, a licensed social worker, recently had his home rezoned to allow for limited grief counseling. This seemingly innocuous request has rallied around 70 residents of Warminster to protest the rezoning. The reason? Fire’s involvement with the Pagan-friendly interfaith church Ecumenicon Fellowship.

“Some of Fire’s neighbors, however, say they were not made aware of Fire’s intentions to offer grief counseling at the house, which sits at the corner of Street and Lowell roads, at the entrance to the Wellesley Hills subdivision. But they’re also concerned by information they found on the Internet that seems to link Fire to groups involved in paganism, witchcraft and various alternative sexual lifestyles … ‘We’re here to protect our children, and our residential neighborhood,’ said Debbie Kozlowski, who lives on the 500 block of Winchester Road … ‘We don’t want that in our neighborhood,’ said Ed Kozlowski, of the 500 block of Winchester Road. ‘Would you feel safe with your son or daughter standing on that bus stop (outside Fire’s home)?’”

Since Fire is acting completely within the law, the outrage vented against the Warminster board of supervisors did nothing to change the zoning board’s ruling. The anti-Pagan mob tried to enlist the supervisors to their cause and was met with defensive equivocation.

“‘The decision is very, very limited,’ [Township solicitor] Savona said. ‘If Mr. Fire engages in any activity that is outside the scope of that decision, then he is in violation of the zoning ordinance, and the township can and will prosecute those violations. If he breaks any laws, or commits a crime — if there’s evidence of that then the township can and will prosecute those violations. What we cannot do, what we must not do, to any citizen, is begin to take anticipatory measures based upon what we think may occur, when there is no evidence that it has occurred’ … Savona advised the residents that they had 30 days to appeal the zoning board’s ruling in Bucks County Court. The residents, who said they had a petition with 70 signatures, then demanded that the township join them in an appeal, an action the board seem hesitant to undertake. ‘The laws are very specific in certain areas,’ said Supervisors chairman Frank Feinberg. ‘Our hands are tied.’”

I’m trying to think of a word to describe this situation other than “an outrage” and keep coming up short. That a religiously bigoted mob can engage in this behavior openly, trying to intimidate Rick Fire over private matters, is shocking. What happens if the intolerant mob loses its (no doubt forthcoming) appeal? Will bricks be thrown through his windows? Will the threats against his life begin? Will his 13-year-old son be safe? How long can Rick Fire and his family live in a neighborhood turned against him?

I can only hope that the Pennsylvania Pagan, esoteric, and interfaith communities will rally behind Mr. Fire and his family. If the mob succeeds here, it will only embolden them elsewhere. We can’t let hate and fear-mongers like the Kozlowski’s succeed in their witch-hunt.