Archives For Harvard

The Harvard Extension University Cultural Studies Club created quite a stir in Boston this past week when it announced the sponsorship of a Black Mass re-enactment to be staged by the New York-based  Satanic Temple. The event was originally slated to be held on campus Monday evening at Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in Memorial Hall. By 7 p.m. the Club had cancelled its official involvement leaving The Satanic Temple to stage the ritual on its own.

Harvard [Photo Credit: Joseph Williams/WikiMedia]

Harvard [Photo Credit: Joseph Williams/WikiMedia]

The Cultural Studies Club began advertising the Black Mass on May 5 with campus posters and a registration website. In accordance with their mission, the Club’s goal was purely educational. As explained by the Club President*:

In a pluralistic democracy it is essential that everyone have equal rights to display their faith. We feel this has not been the case and want to allow other legitimate groups this opportunity especially when those groups have been unfairly maligned with disturbing repercussions.

The outcry and backlash were almost immediate. On May 7 a Catholic student named Jonathan wrote, “My hope and prayer is that all Catholics on campus of sound mind and faith will oppose this injustice and picket the event.” The Harvard Catholic Student Association published an online petition that reads:

While the Cultural Studies Club dubiously claims that the purpose of re-enactment is purely “educational,” this does not change the fact that the Black Mass in fact mocks religious beliefs, desecrates sacred items and symbols, and insults the spiritual sensitivities of Harvard’s Catholics, Christians and other people of faith. … Moreover, we who are members of the Harvard community fear for the University’s reputation and for what Harvard’s stamp of approval will do to the University’s relationship with its alumni, students, faculty, and the global community it aims to serve. We demand that President Faust and the Harvard administration speak out against this event, and do all in their power to disband it.

Despite mounting student protests, the University administration would not cancel the event. On May 9 the Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs Robert Neugeboren, stated:

Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.

Neugeboren goes on to express his awareness that the event is “deeply disturbing and offensive to many” and hopes that Club organizers will open a dialog with Harvard’s Christian community.

Boston’s Catholic leaders joined the protest asking Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust to cancel the Club’s Black Mass. Fr. Roger Landry called the event “terribly ill-advised and totally insensitive.” The Archdiocese of Boston publicly “expressed sadness and strong opposition” referencing recent speeches from the Vatican.  He said:

… Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst.  We call upon all believers and people of good will to join us in prayer for those who are involved in this event, that they may come to appreciate the gravity of their actions. 

The Archdiocese also announced a vigil walk from the M.I.T. Chapel to St. Paul’s Church to be held at the same time as the Black Mass. The walk would be followed by a Holy Hour of prayer at St. Paul’s.

President Drew Gilpin Faust [Photo Credit: Harvard]

President Drew Gilpin Faust [Photo Credit: Harvard]

Despite pressure President Faust would not stop the Black Mass. She said:

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding … It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory … Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. 

In the statement Faust also emphasized that she would be attending the Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church in order to “reaffirm our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.”

By Monday afternoon the Club had over 700 people registered to attend the Black Mass; far more than expected. The Club President says, “Due to this level of interest and the conflicts this was creating on campus with concerns over upcoming finals, we decided to move the event.”  At 5:45pm the Club announced that the new location would be the Middle East Restaurant and Bar.

However The Middle East quickly responded via tweet that they were “not hosting the event.” According to one of the owners, “The booking had never been confirmed.”  The Cultural Studies Club believes that the restaurant may have experienced external pressure causing negotiations to fall through. At that point the Club had no other viable location and therefore decided to publicly cancel the Black Mass. The Club President says:

Some people seem to think the public cancellation is a victory, but it is most certainly a Pyrrhic one. The dissenters did not shut down hate speech as they like to pretend they did. Many people are keenly aware of that and are disgusted by the self-righteous behavior of those who tried to stop this event. Instead they come across as being frighteningly oppressive …The celebrations of the people protesting the Black Mass, we observed, took on a fascist tone because they were rejoicing in the suppression of those they disagree with.

Throughout the evening Christian Organizations held protests all over Harvard Square while the Archdiocese lead the vigial walk and prayer hour. At the same time there were counter-protests by supporters of the Club and Black Mass event. The Club President says, “Neither the club nor [The Satanic Temple] were actively involved, although The Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves did deliver an impromptu speech.”

Counter Protestors [Photo Credit: The Satanic Temple]

Counter Protestors [Photo Credit: The Satanic Temple]

Despite Monday’s turn-of-events, The Satanic Temple did manage to stage a Black Mass ritual that night at the Hong Kong Restaurant and Lounge across from Harvard Yard. According to The Harvard Crimson, there were 50 attendees, most of whom were Temple members and core supporters.

Looking back at the events the Cultural Studies Club President firmly believes that there were as many people or more who supported the Club’s work or wanted to experience the Black Mass as those who didn’t. The President notes that the University itself “was honorable though out and always planned to allow the event to proceed.” Despite significant pressure Harvard’s administration consistently upheld its support of “student free speech and made sure the necessary logistical support was provided.”

When asked if they would reschedule, the President said, “We certainly have the right to reschedule, but we’ll have to wait until the fall to decide. We already have a number of events planned.” Some of those events are a Shinto Tea ceremony, Buddhist mediation presentation and a Shaker performance. In addition a Southern Baptist preacher has volunteered to journey to Cambridge in order to host a ritual. The Club President adds that “All club members are open-minded and would enthusiastically accept invitations to events hosted by” Pagans and Heathens of all and any practice.


* Due to the amount of hate mail and personal threats received by the Club President and members, they wish to remain anonymous.

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!

An Appreciation of Nora Cedarwind Young: News has come from several sources that Circle Sanctuary Priestess, Death Midwife, chaplain, and Green Burial advocate Nora Cedarwind Young is terminally ill, and isn’t expected to live much longer. In response, Circle Sanctuary has posted an appreciation of her rich and varied life, allowing friends, family, and admirers to leave their own messages and remembrances.

Nora Cedarwind Young

Nora Cedarwind Young

“We invite you to share your memories and appreciations of Nora, her life, and legacy here. Nora is in the final part of her life’s journey, and although her condition is such that visitation and phone calls are not presently options, we plan to share with her what is expressed here. Please send love and support to Nora and to her husband Bud and to close friends Joanna, Elaine, and Giving who are assisting with caregiving.  Also, send love and support to Nora’s four children and four grandchildren.”

I was honored to meet and spend time with Nora at Pagan Spirit Gathering a few years ago. She acted as “Den Mother” to our cabin of featured presenters, and showed herself to be a warm, expansive, and embracing presence. It was obvious to me, and others, the inherent skills she possessed as a priestess, as a chaplain, and as a friend. My only regret is that I never took her up on her offer to visit her in Washington, it always seemed like there would be time enough for that in the future. I hope this transition is a gentle one for Nora, and that her gods will be with her, as she has been there for so many. My blessings.

Starhawk at Harvard: Author, activist, and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk recently gave a talk at Harvard Divinity School entitled “Permaculture and the Sacred.” The video recording of that talk is now up and available to be viewed at the HDS website.

Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

Starhawk at Harvard Divinity School.

“Starhawk, contemporary witch, activist, and permaculturist, spoke at HDS on March 7, 2013, about how earth-based spirituality can inform and empower efforts to build sustainable communities and societies. Starhawk is a founder of Reclaiming, a contemporary Pagan tradition that blends Goddess spirituality and social activism, and of Earth Activist Trainings, which equips people to combine permaculture design with political organizing and spiritual practice. A leading interpreter of feminist Wicca, she is the author of The Spiral Dance,The Fifth Sacred Thing, The Empowerment Manual, and many other books.”

For more on Starhawk’s permaculture work, she has pictures and a narrative up from an Earth Activist Training she conducted in January on her blog. Starhawk’s most recent book is “The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups.”

Considering Sacred Space: The 2013 Sacred Space Conference in Maryland happened earlier this month, and several blogs now have reviews and insights up from their time there. Literata says that the conference “lives up to its description as a conference for intermediate to advanced esoteric and magical practitioners,” while the Heartache Into Beauty blog says “it raises the bar for other pagan events with its high-quality, high-level presentations and rituals.” Lastly, Irene the “Pink Pagan Priestess” described the conference as “amazeballs,” which I assume is high praise indeed.

Altars at Sacred Space.

Altars at Sacred Space.

“Sacred Space draws together a truly gifted group of presenters.  They come from an impressively varied background–we have established authors who are bravely breaking new ground, ritual practitioners from every path imaginable (Reconstructionist, Shamanic, British Traditionalist, Chaos Magick…you name it, it was probably there), and luminary Priests and Priestesses who have sought out new connections to Spirit and brought that knowledge back with them.  The only downside to the conference is that I do not own a time turner!  There were several times during Sacred Space when I wished to be in more than one place at one time.  The bevvy of fascinating topics was almost overwhelming.”

2014’s Sacred Space conference will be held March 13-16 and will feature Orion Foxwood, M. Macha Nightmare, and Selena Fox as featured presenters.

In Other Pagan Community News:


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.

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.

Religious Right watchdog site Talk to Action recently noted that the Harvard Extension Service & Leadership Society is hosting the 2011 Social Transformation Conference on April 1st and 2nd. HESLS wants to reassure us that this conference is a positive, diverse, and hate-free event.

“This conference is focused not on drawing lines of division, but on providing an opportunity for students and the community at large to explore how we can transform or improve our society. We have been assured by our speakers that they have not supported any hatred directed towards any group, and that allegations to the contrary are untrue and/or misinterpreted.”

The only problem with this statement is that it isn’t even remotely true. You see, the backers and speakers at this conference are members of the New Apostolic Reformation (aka the “Third Wave”), a neo-pentecostal Christian group obsessed with waging a spiritual war against indigenous religions, Pagan religions, homosexuality, and even Catholicism! Three of the featured speakers have publicly inveighed against the dangers of Witchcraft and “New Age” religions, spurring Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action to note that “it’s been a few years now since witch hunting was in vogue in Massachusetts, but an upcoming conference to be held at Harvard this April 1-2 could help rekindle the practice.”

The staff of the Harvard Crimson have also weighed in, strongly criticizing HESLS’s defense of the event, noting that if some of the participant’s “expressions do not seem like hatred, we are hard pressed to understand what does.”

“By hosting a panel discussion whose participants will merely voice their opinions without being called upon to justify their past incendiary remarks, the event seems to accept incredibly offensive opinions without providing any internal challenge. In a sense, the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community is consequently on trial with this coming conference. Regardless of their subject matter, conferences must nevertheless be held to basic standards of intellectual honesty and accountability, and we simply cannot imagine what value the Social Transformation Conference will bring to our community.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage of this extremist Christian movement, they have taken credit for the crisis in Japan, and blamed Shinto for God’s wrath, praised the Haitian earthquake for breaking the “strongman of the occult’s” back, provided Sarah Palin a religious mentor who claims to have given a Wiccan chaplain cancer through prayer, believes Japan’s emperor literally slept with a demonic succubus, thinks worship is a weapon, gives fiscal aid to African witch-hunters, burns indigenous/Native art, and are obsessed with destroying the “Queen of Heaven”. In short, they are consumed with a theologically-driven hatred of indigenous and Pagan faiths. Oh, and I think it goes without saying they are rabidly anti-gay.

Let me echo the Harvard Crimson and say that these individuals have the right to believe as they do, and the First Amendment right to air their opinions in the public square, but for them to go unchallenged here, using Harvard to legitimize and paint a veneer of respectability over their almost cartoonishly nefarious goals seriously endangers “the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community.” As for the New Apostolic Reformation, their conceptions of resistance to this conference are typical.

“Today, however, Harvard is known as one of the most liberal universities in America.  Recently, a student felt a leading of the Lord to host a Christian marketplace conference on social transformation.  Little did he realize the level of opposition that would come against him.  It wasn’t long before this conference was met with real opposition from a gay activist group that is seeking to prevent the event from taking place.  This group has been effective at causing the Dean to question the merits of such an event.  We believe the root of this concern is simply spiritual forces seeking to keep Christ off this campus and fear caused by the gay activists.

One wonders if all it takes to have Harvard host a hate group is a willing student and a heavily edited press packet. By hosting this group, a message is being sent to religious minorities, indigenous groups, and GLBTQ individuals that they aren’t safe at this campus. That claims from extremists that they in “no way seek to convey any negative message about any group,” are taken at face value despite obvious evidence to the contrary. This isn’t the usual debate about conservative speech being allowed at liberal college campuses, or even conservative Christian speech, this group’s theology and mission transcend the usual left-right debates. This is a group on a mission, one that should concern anyone who doesn’t fit into their very narrow Christian paradigm.

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 17, 2009 — 3 Comments

I have some other stories of note to share with you today, starting with the sad news that actor Edward Woodward, 79, passed away yesterday due to complications from pneumonia. Woodward is well-known to many Pagan film lovers as “Christian copper” Sgt. Howie from the original cult-classic 1973 film “The Wicker Man” (and better-known to most Americans as the lead in the 1980s vigilante series “The Equalizer”).

Edward Woodward in "The Wicker Man"

At news of his passing, “Wicker Man” director Robin Hardy said that Woodward was “one of the greatest actors of his generation”, while co-star Sir Christopher Lee called him “a good friend and a splendid actor”. Matt Holmes at “Obsessed With Film” says that Woodward (as Sgt. Howie) committed the most memorable “gut-wrenching” on-screen death ever, while Pagan film reviewer Peg Aloi offers a touching farewell.

“Woodward is remembered by many of his colleagues as a kind, warm man who told wonderful stories, as well as being a consummate actor. His distinguished career will long be remembered. In particular, his role as Sergeant Howie in The Wicker Man will be remembered for its complexity, subtlety and power. Howie is a repressive, seemingly cold-mannered police officer who eventually reveals stunning emotional depth and passion. Woodward’s portrayal unfolds with delicious tension and suspense, as the film builds to its shocking ending.”

Here’s to you Mr. Woodward, thank you for your work, may you find peace across the veil.

Turning from the sad news of this passing, to the optimistic idea of deeper understanding and communication between faiths, we have an interesting editorial from the national Catholic weekly America. There, Catholic priest and Harvard professor Francis X. Clooney, S.J., who has argued in the past against “bland secularism” at Catholic colleges, favoring instead a “religiously diverse” campus, talks about his experiences teaching the class “Hindu Goddesses and the Blessed Virgin Mary”.

“The mix of the course is thus quite extraordinary: some wonderful Hindu and Christian texts read by a great group of students, as we discuss a wide range of issues about scripture, our images of God and humanity, and what to make of the varied religious experiences of the human race. Harvard is not the place wherein to reach single, definite conclusions about truth, but I think that this learning across religious boundaries does open us to truth, to Truth. By studying the traditions of the goddesses and Mary together, we understand both more clearly; those of us who are Catholic at Harvard find ourselves brought closer to devotion to Mary, who holds her own in every discussion. The goddesses too fare well, though each of us has to make up her or his own mind on how to appropriate these goddess traditions.”

Perhaps there’s room in this world for Mary and the goddesses? That seems to be at least partially the gist, he even recounts how a group of students sing hymns to both Mary and the goddesses before each class, and how both the Catholics and the goddess-worshipers have deepened their understanding and practice. To read more about Clooney’s work, you should read his essay “Interreligious Dialogue: Goddess in the Classroom”, and check out his book, “Divine Mother, Blessed Mother: Hindu Goddesses and the Virgin Mary”.

In a final “War on Christmas” note, it seems the American Family Assn. is issuing its yearly call to boycott The Gap for not saying “Christmas” even though the clothing chain’s silly wince-inducing holiday ad name-checks several yule-tide holidays, including “Christmas”, “Hanukka”, and “Solstice”.

“It’s unlikely the new Gap ads will placate the psalm-singers in Tupelo. After all, in the spirit of inclusiveness, Christmas is mentioned in the same breath as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and solstice. The winter solstice, as everyone knows, is a pagan celebration, so — viewed through a peculiarly warped lens — the Gap ad puts Christians on the same level as a bunch of blue-paintedheathens dancing around a Yule log drinking mead out of a stag horn.”

The LA Times is dead-on the money, as the AFA has issued a boycott update saying the Christmas-invoking ad is “completely dismissive and disrespectful to those who celebrate the meaning and spirit of Christmas.” Yes, whatever happened to all those tasteful clothing-chain holiday ads that didn’t cheapen the holy Winter months by trying to sell you loads of stuff.

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