Archives For hate crime

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!

Witchesmustdie001jpg-2568309_p9Last week, several Pagans became aware of a Facebook page entitled “Witches Must Die By Fire,” and a group called “Those Witches And Wizards Must Die By Fire By Force.”  While hate speech complaints seemed to initially work, the page is back up, and Facebook is sending back an automated message saying it doesn’t violate hate speech guidelines. A number of Pagan responses have emerged from the controversy as growing numbers of our interconnected community discover the page and group. These responses include a petition, a group on Facebook dedicated to removing hate pages and groups, a call to involve Interpol, and an overview of the issue from South African Pagan Damon Leff, who notes that rhetoric about burning witches shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Quote: Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently become targets for witch-hunters. Incitement to burn Witches anywhere in Africa must be taken deadly seriously and response to such credible threats of violence against Witches on Facebook aught to be immediate and decisive.” As an Atlantic Magazine article published yesterday about Saudi Arabia’s ongoing and deadly hunt for witches and sorcerers illustrates, the global problem of witch-hunts and witch-killings are not merely idle talk, and rhetoric underlying these actions should not be simply dismissed. The Wild Hunt is currently in contact with several Pagan organizations about further responses and constructive paths forward.

The Warrior's CallA call has gone out to Pagans in the United Kingdom to participate in a public ritual at Glastonbury Tor designed to “protect Albion from Fracking.” Quote: “Albion is in peril. Her sacred sites threatened like never before. Chalice Well and the Goddess Sulis (Bath’s geothermal springs) are in danger of becoming toxic. The Great Mother’s flesh is to be cracked open and drained dry, uncaring for consequence to bird and beast, land and life. All those of good intent are summoned hither – regardless of age or gender, color or Creed – to gather at noon on Saturday the 28th of September atop Glastonbury Tor. There, we are to engage in group magickal working for the betterment and protection of this sacred landscape.” One of the co-sponsors of the ritual is Wiccan Marina Pepper, a politician and environmental activist, who has made the issue of fracking a key concern. Pepper’s concern seems well founded, as Heritage Daily has also sounded the alarm over potential damage to the famous wells of Aquae Sulis by hydraulic fracturing. As I mentioned last week, prominent UK Pagans like Damh the Bard and Philip Carr-Gomm have already been protesting fracking operations, and it seems like concern over this issue is only intensifying as Britain’s natural landscape is threatened by this process.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

This past week Pagan activist Peter Dybing, a logistics specialist who works in disaster management, has been in Idaho helping to fight the wildfires raging through Sun Valley, the biggest fire in 25 years. Wildfires are currently spreading throughout the Northwest region of the United States, which has been plagued by drought and dry weather. In a missive posted to his blog, Dybing noted how his Pagan faith, and his work fighting these fires intertwine. Quote: “Today I am back from a fire, in Boise, resting, planning and preparing to respond again. As I reflect on my actions it is clear that the most profound influence my beliefs have had on me are my instinctive actions in crisis. When direct decisions are necessary NOW, they are laced with compassion, internal tears for the destruction Gaia faces in this firestorm and the need to be of service. The most profound expression of my Pagan beliefs and practice shine through most brightly when I have little time for piety.” Our prayers go out to Dybing, and all the brave first responders fighting these fires. May the rains return soon.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Modern Witch Magazine is now accepting submission for its fifth volume, entitled “Veils and Visions.” Quote: “The theme is centered on working with the other side, ancestors, energy work, and psychic development.” Deadline is September 25th, you can find guidelines and more information, here.
  • Water, the quarterly newsletter of the Pagan Educational Network, has just released its Lughnasadh edition. The publication is for members only, but you can get a membership subscription on a sliding scale.
  • September 27th through the 29th in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,”“weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together…To raise consciousness, challenging false perceptions of separation between these so-imagined opposed sorceries. With OCCULT, we seek to challenge old beliefs through the juxtaposition of beauty and magick, of art and ritual, blending the ingredients to make an event of highest harmony, a conjunctio of non-opposites.” You can see a lineup of OCCULT workshops and events, here. Artist line-up, here. Presenter bios, here. There will also be a masque.
  • This Saturday, August 24th, Friends of the Gualala River are starting a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk will be on hand to do a ritual that will (hopefully) turn “wine back into water.” Quote: “I’ve been working with Friends of the Gualala River and representatives from the Kashaya Pomo to help build a campaign to save an important Kashaya heritage site from being clearcut for vineyards.  Artesa, a Spanish company and the third largest wine corporation in the world, is planning this conversion.  It’s the last redwood-to-vineyard conversion planned in California, after the defeat of the huge Preservation Ranch proposal, which thankfully was defeated.”
  • Medusa Coils reports that the Lammas issue of Seasonal Salon, the online publication of the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess International, has been released.
  • On September 22nd, the Stella Natura festival, held in Sierra Nevada’s Tahoe National Forest Desolation Wilderness will begin, and will include the Norwegian experimental runic band Wardruna in an exclusive American performance. Meanwhile, Circle Ansuz, a Heathen Anarchist collective, has begun a series of posts digging into the beliefs and past of influential Heathen Stephen McNallen, whose Asatru Folk Assembly is acting as co-sponsor for Stella Natura. I will be following this story in the coming weeks, and will update you on any responses or new information.
  • As I noted previously, the Gerald Gardner documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man,” renamed “A Very British Witchcraft,” was finally aired in the UK after being shown in a truncated version in Australia. You can see the 46-minute version of the documentary on Youtube, here (for as long as it lasts). Enjoy!

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.

Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez

The Great Serpent Mound

The Great Serpent Mound

  • Indian Country Today reports on how New Age woo demeans and threatens The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio. Quote: “Kenny Frost a Southern Ute citizen, has worked to protect sacred places for more than 20 years. He is a well-respected authority on Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act issues and law and frequently consults with state, federal and tribal governments. ‘The protection put down by Native people at sacred sites is still there. Non-Native people dig around and see what they can find; they may end up opening a Pandora’s box without knowing how to put spirits back,’ he notes.” 
  • “Sorry Pagans,” that’s what Baylor history professor Philip Jenkins says as he engages in the hoary exercise of telling Pagans about how stuff they thought was pagan was actually, totally, not. Quote: “In reality, it is very hard indeed to excavate through those medieval Christian layers to find Europe’s pagan roots. Never underestimate just how thoroughly and totally the Christian church penetrated the European mind.” So why even bother, am I right? I know this is a popular topic for columnists looking for material, but we aren’t ignorant of the scholarship, and cherry-picking two (popular) examples isn’t going to embarrass us back to church. You’d be surprised at how well-versed some of us are in history. 
  • Religion Clause reports that a judge has allowed a gangster’s  Santa Muerte necklace to remain as evidence during the penalty phase of the trial (for which the defendant was found guilty of murder). Quote: “The court held that appellant had failed to object on any 1st Amendment religious ground to introduction of the evidence.” Further, the judge says they may have allowed it even if the defendant has objected earlier in the case noting the faith’s ties to narco-trafficking. Could this ruling lead to a problematic precedent? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.
  • Christians opposed to same-sex marriage know that the battle is lost. Quote: “Just 22% of white evangelical Protestants favor same-sex marriage, but about three times that percentage (70%) thinks legal recognition for gay marriage is inevitable. Among other religious groups, there are smaller differences in underlying opinions about gay marriage and views of whether it is inevitable.” I think that means marriage equality has won, don’t you? Now to undo 50 years of legislative hysteria.
  • Speaking of marriage equality, it’s very, very “pagan.” Quote: “As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the “Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media. Bill Bennett’s insight, “… the two essential questions Plato posed as: Who teaches the children, and what do we teach them?” requires deep thought, soul-searching and a response from Christian America to the secular, politically correct and multicultural false gods imposing their religion on America’s children.” That’s David Lane, one of Rand Paul’s point men in improving his relations with evangelical Christians. I’ll spare you the Dragnet P.A.G.A.N. reference.
  • “Occult,” a new television series in development for A&E, follows the exploits of an “occult crime task force.” Quote: “‘Occult’ revolves around Dolan, an FBI agent who has returned from administrative leave after going off the deep end while investigating his wife’s disappearance. Eager to be back on the job, he is paired with an agent with her own complicated back story who specializes in the occult. Together, they will solve cases for the newly formed occult crimes task force.” Whether the show actually gets on the air is still an open question. If it does, we can start a betting pool for when Wiccans, Druids, and Asatru are mentioned in the series.
  • Frank Lautenberg, the Democratic Senator from New Jersey who passed away recently, took an active role in combatting the revisionist Christian history of David Barton. Quote: “I want those who hear me across America to pay attention: ‘Christian heritage is at risk.’ That means that all the outsiders, all of those who approach God differently but are people who believe in a supreme being; people who behave and live peacefully with their neighbors and their friends. No, this is being put forward as an attempt — a not too subtle attempt — to make sure people understand that America is a Christian country. Therefore, we ought to take the time the majority leader offers us, as Members of the Senate, for a chance to learn more about how invalid the principle of separation between church and state is. I hope the American public sees this plan as the spurious attempt it is.” For why David Barton is infamous among Pagans, check out my previous reporting on his antics. 
  • Finally, here’s some pictures from the Pagan Picnic in St. Louis!

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.

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.

Robin Hood's Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

Robin Hood’s Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

  • What’s it like being a Pagan in Wyoming? Pretty hard, apparently, as locals attending a Pagan Pride Day event in Laramie discuss being closeted and how “people are not so nice here.” Quote: “They’re closeted,” said Jo-Ann Aelfwine of Laramie, who has been practicing paganism for 50 years. Wyoming is a conservative state, and people aren’t always open to differences, Aelfwine said. “We have to worry about things like losing your job, having your kids taken away from you,” she said.”
  • The Kirklees estate in West Yorkshire, believed to be the final resting place of the legendary Robin Hood, is up for sale and the British Psychic and Occult Society want to turn it into a tourist destination. Quote: [David Farrant, president of the British Psychic and Occult Society said] “The special place the tomb holds in the hearts of many local people is heartened by tales of ghostly sightings and chilling experiences from those who have made the pilgrimage to the grave, defying the vicious brambles, dense canopies of twisted trees, and watchful gamekeepers and guard dogs.” Personally, I think the legend of Robin Hood deserves more dignity than to be turned into some sort of ghost-walk, but what do I know? Maybe this will be a positive thing.
  • The Senate heard testimony on domestic hate crimes this week, a move that comes in the wake of the Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre from August. Testimony focused on how violence and hate crimes committed against Sikhs have gone unnoticed and un-tracked by the government. Quote:  “I have filmed, chronicled, combated hate crimes against this community for 11 years,” Valerie Kaur, a Sikh filmmaker and community activist, said in testimony at the hearing. “In the aftermath of Oak Creek, reporters came up to me and asked me, ‘How many hate crimes have there been? How many hate murders have there been?’ ” Kaur said. “And I couldn’t tell them … because the government currently does not track hate crimes against Sikhs at all.” You can read more about the inciting incident, and Pagan reactions to it, here.
  • Will Witches replace vampires and zombies? Maybe!
  • South African Pagans are challenging plans by the South African Police Service to start training specialists in “occult-related crimes” saying they could lead to religious minorities to be targeted by those looking for a scapegoat. Quote from the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA):  “This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities (including Satanism). Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, SAPRA believes the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of belief alone.” Considering how “occult experts” have been used to smear occult and Pagan traditions in other countries, I think their skepticism and worry are well founded.

  • Check out a new Pagan-y (and human-sacrifice-y) video from Swedish folk act First Aid Kit. “Wolf” is off of their new album The Lion’s Roar.
  • Fashion house Paul Frank shows you how to respond after you’ve been accused of offensively appropriating Native and indigenous imagery. Quote: “It is embarrassing to reveal that, say, you don’t employ anyone who might have the perspective to point out to you that a “pow-wow” is not an okay thing to do, or that a news organization airs information it found on Google without verifying it. But cauterizing those wounds and explaining how you’ve worked backwards to make sure you don’t make the errors again is a short-term pain it’s worth enduring.”
  • The Gary Johnson campaign seemed to have enjoyed my piece about them yesterday. Quote: “Thanks to Cara Schulz for help organizing and promoting tomorrow’s event. This isn’t the first time Ms. Schulz has helped the campaign. Last year she help put together a press conference with the governor and lesser-known religionists and non-religionists. She truly is the type of individual thinker for which the campaign wishes to provide a Big Tent. Here’s the story of the “pagan” vote.” 
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Satan’s nemesis!
  • John Morehead deconstructs hater Janet Mefferd. Quote: “…we live in a post-Christendom America. Surveys indicate that while Evangelicalism is still numerically large and influential, it has lost ground, both in terms of membership, and in terms of credibility within among young people, and on the outside as well, where both groups see it as judgmental and oppressive. Engaging others in a post-Christendom environment means that we can no longer assume either a monoculture, or a pluralistic culture with non-Christians who will sit quietly on the sidelines while hope to exclude them and describe them as a toxic fume creeping under the door of America’s political process.” More on Mefferd, here.
  • Hey, it’s September 21st, where’s Jason post about the Fall Equinox? Check your nearest observatory, it’s not till tomorrow!

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 Miami New Times reports this week that Santero Carlos Valdes is pushing to have a violent stalking case prosecuted as a hate crime, which, if successful, would make it the first official hate crime charge involving anti-Santeria sentiments.

Santero Carlos Valdes performing a ceremony at his home.

Prosecutors contend [Kellyd] Rodriguez has terrorized Valdes’s family for four years. It began with anti-Santería rants on the phone, Valdes says, and escalated into death threats, rock-throwing, drive-by shootings, and even heart-stopping phone calls to his young daughters’ schools. […] The oriate is also pushing prosecutors to charge Rodriguez with the first hate crime connected to Santería. […] “I’ve had crucifixes thrown through my windows and a woman try to burn my church down,” says Ernesto Pichardo, the Hialeah santero who took the benchmark case [Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah] to Washington, D.C., in 1993. “So many people in Miami still don’t realize that a santero in his home has the exact same legal rights as a Catholic priest in his church or a Jewish rabbi in his synagogue.”

While this would be the first “official” case of a hate crime against Santeria being prosecuted, the circumstances are hardly unique. Anti-Santeria sentiments and  actions have been well-documented in the past, including harassment by local law enforcement and politicians.

“In 2006, for instance, three worshippers in West Dade were arrested during a sacrifice; charges were eventually dropped. Months later, a Miami-Dade firefighter was booked when a neighbor called 911 about a goat sacrifice. He too was exonerated. In January 2007, Valdes himself was detained during an animal sacrifice. That’s why he originally went on the radio — to talk about the need to better educate police about the religion. Seven month later, in August, Coral Gables Police swarmed a house on Casilla Street, disrupting a Santería service with their guns drawn. Worshippers were detained until officers realized no crime had been committed, but defiant Gables Mayor Don Slesnick vowed to stop all animal sacrifices in the City Beautiful and refused to apologize.”

I have extensively covered the harassment, demonization, and libel against Santeria and other syncretic Afro-Caribbean religions in the United States for some time. Any instance of dead animal parts being found, almost anywhere, results in a knee-jerk invocation of “Santeria,” despite the fact that these assertions are often debunked by various experts, including the ASPCA. It’s unsurprising that some of the old “occult experts” have added Santeria to their resumes when they now talk to police and local communities, these last few years there seems to have been an increasingly ugly dimension to some Santeria stories that point towards anti-immigration hostility, and have even led to what some have called racial profiling.

If anti-Santeria harassment and violence starts to fall under the rubric of religious “hate crimes” it could create a change in how adherents are treated by law enforcement and the media. Once Santeros and Santeras are seen as human beings, and not villainous caricatures, it changes the dynamic. They are no longer the “other,” but our neighbors, co-workers, and friends. Modern Pagans today have been building increasing ties with syncretic African traditions like Santeria and Vodou, with many seeking initiations and training. They are part of our extended family, and we should be concerned with how our “cousins” are being treated. The demonization and harassment of Santeria is but a hair’s breadth from the treatment modern Pagans have received in the past, and in some instances, still receive. Even if Carlos Valdes isn’t successful in his quest to have this case prosecuted as a hate crime, it should still be seen a call towards a new activist spirit regarding how minority religions are treated and portrayed.

Top Story: Two Nebraska State Penitentiary inmates have won a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Correctional Services over the issue of religious accommodation. The issue? Acknowledgement that Theodism isn’t Asatru, and deserving of separate considerations.

“In court documents, [Wolfgang] Rust and [Bobby] Conn alleged the prison had put a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by setting specific guidelines to develop and conduct religious practices and violated their right to congregate and practice their faith by refusing to provide an outdoor space for a worship site to create an altar and by denying them certain organic foods to be sacrificed to the gods. They also asked the court to require the prison to recognize the Theodish belief as separate from Asatru and to allow them to have personal and communal religious property to practice their religion. After months of negotiations, both sides reached an agreement approved by U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp in December. The prison agreed to schedule separate worship services and educational instruction and to allow Theodish belief practitioners to buy and eat organic food during the feast days so long as the food doesn’t require special handling procedures and is available from a commercial source by mail order or delivery.”

The settlement will also allow Theodish prisoners to purchase a variety of communal items for the purposes of holding religious rites. While this may not seem like a big deal to some, the formal acknowledgement that modern Paganism is simply an umbrella term, and that different Pagan faiths, even very similar ones, deserve separate accommodations is a huge leap forward. Remember, discrimination against religious minorities is endemic, and in some prisons Pagans have no access to any sort of rites, or are lumped together regardless of tradition or path. Lets hope this is the beginning of a larger change in the way our family of faiths is dealt with in U.S. prisons.

Druid Involved in Hate Crime: Last month four  individuals in Edmonton were involved in a racially motivated attack, the culmination of a night of verbal abuse against several individuals while passing out flyers for a rally by neo-Nazi organization Blood and Honour. Now the Edmonton Journal, digging into the perpetrators, has discovered that one claims to be a Pagan and Druid.

“One of the accused, Keith Virgil Decu, claims to be a druid on a metaphysical chat group and lists German neo-pagan spirituality and cooking as interests and activities on his Facebook page.”

One of the other accused has tried to mitigate the events by marking them as a “horrible night” of “drunken stupidity.” But no amount of drink can wash away the sickness that made them think passing out racist flyers, hurling abuse, and attacking people is a decent night-on-the-town. That one claims to be an artist, and another a Druid, shames both titles. One can only hope that the moral vacuum of their souls is soon filled with something other than fashionable nihilism and racist stupidity.

COG Local Council Helps Found New Interfaith Group: The Campbell Reporter/Mercury News reports on the formation of the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council (SiVIC), a South Bay organization that includes the Northern CA Local Council of Covenant of the Goddess as an inaugural Congregational Affiliate.

So why would Silicon Valley, which hosts many interfaith groups, need another one? “We don’t have a real sense of focus or centeredness,” said the Rev. Bruce Bramlett, an Episcopalian, who also was involved in the creation of the group. A three-year study by the Knight Foundation released in 2010, “The Soul of the Community,” found that two-thirds of respondents in the valley felt disconnected. SiVIC’s enthusiastic members hope to help remedy that. “We want to help create the glue to connect various communities,” said Mari Ellen Reynolds Loijens of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

One of SiVIC’s first public activities will be to participate in CROP Walk 2011, an event to raise awareness and funds to combat hunger. Congratulations to the NCLC of COG for being a part of this new interfaith endeavor.

At What Cost Fame: So now that the Christian Day/Charlie Sheen “warlock” issue seems to finally be simmering down, will it ultimately benefit anyone? The press seems to have successfully made this about how Sheen is wacky, instead of focusing on the fact that he’s a serial abuser of women, and Day’s ritual certainly gained attention, but perhaps not in the context he’d like.

“The posse of witches and warlocks that gathered March 6 at a witchcraft store in Salem — and might have been at home on the Ward family couch in “The Fighter” — were wicked pissed at “Chahlie” for associating warlocks with violence. In a five-minute “magical intervention,” coven members summoned the archangels of the four corners of the world, along with a skull they’d named Robert, in a bid to bind Sheen from harming himself and others (well, actually, “hahming”).”

The old saw about there being no such thing as bad publicity only holds true if the subject(s) gain from the experience. In Day’s case, I assume that would mean increased sales for his upcoming book from Weiser. Or perhaps more television deals? I’m not sure where that particular metric should be lain. Oh, and to Bill Edelstein of Variety, it’s certainly your prerogative to mock Day’s ritual, but making fun of someone’s Boston/New England accent? That’s cheap.  The alpha and omega of my take on this whole thing can be found, here.

New Star-Studded Pagan Podcast Launches: In a final note, I just wanted to point out the launch of a new Pagan podcast, the Pagan Pathfinders Podcast. The show features an ever-shifting panel of notable Pagans, with Canadian Witch Sable Aradia acting as the host.

“Picture, if you will, a virtual campfire in the astral plane, and around this campfire, a heartbeat drum calls to the elders and leaders of the worldwide Pagan community. They are organizers, facilitators, authors, musicians, scholars, artists, advocates, and community-builders. They practice almost every conceivable Pagan faith and span time zones from the Pacific Coast of North America to New South Wales, Australia. Some of them are famous, some not-so-famous, and some only famous in their own communities. But wherever they are, whoever they are, they are those who find the paths for the rest of us.”

You can download the first episode, featuring Lord Alexian, Hawk, Ellen Evert Hopman, Edain McCoy, Nisaba Merrieweather, Brendan Myers, Myranda O’Byrne, Ali Ravenwood, Natalie Reed, and Sam Wagar now. I wish them good luck!

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

Top Story: Today is the beginning of the Gadhimai Mela in Nepal, a massive festival that occurs every five years in honor of the Hindu goddess of power, involving the mass-ritualized slaughter of over 250,000 animals.

“The world’s biggest animal sacrifice began in Nepal today with the killing of the first of more than 250,000 animals as part of a Hindu festival in the village of Bariyapur, near the border with India. The event, which happens every five years, began with the decapitation of thousands of buffalo, killed in honour of Gadhimai, a Hindu goddess of power … The dead beasts will be sold to companies who will profit from the sale of the meat, bones and hide. Organisers will funnel the proceeds into development of the area, including the temple upkeep … Chandan Dev Chaudhary, a Hindu priest, said he was pleased with the festival’s high turnout and insisted tradition had to be kept. “The goddess needs blood,” he said.”

The high-profile ritualized slaughter of so many animals has gained international attention from animal rights activists, including French actress Brigitte Bardot, who told the Nepalese Prime Minister that “hundreds of horrified tourists report their disgust at witnessing ritual sacrifices at various festivals in Nepal”. Also attempting to halt the animal sacrifices was Ram Bahadur Bomjon, the famous “Buddha Boy”, who met with organizers and plans to appeal directly to participants. Local opponents included the Anti-Sacrifice Alliance and the Animal Welfare Network Nepal. But the appeals have fallen on deaf ears and rural Nepalese along with throngs of Indian tourists have flocked to the gathering, animals in tow, to gain the blessing of the goddess, whom they believe will grant their wish within five years.

“Kushawa, who belongs to the opposition Maoist party that claims to be atheists, said almost 75 percent of the visitors at the fair – whose main attraction is the slaughter of tens of thousands of birds and animals – are from India. “While they are mostly from Bihar, there are others from Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and other Indian states neighbouring Nepal,” he said.”

This rite no doubt shocks the sensibilities of many Westerners, who see them as unnecessary and barbaric. Then again, the slaughtered animals are cooked, sold, and eaten, so the main differences seem to be the religious aspect, and the fact that the slaughter is open to the public. America, by contrast, doesn’t  (usually) allow people to attend or sanctify their slaughter-houses. To compare scale, perhaps a half-million animals will be ritually killed at the Gadhimai Mela, while Americans will eat 45 million turkeys for Thanksgiving alone, with 250 million grown in 2008. We also killed and consumed over 34 million cows. Is context king? If they were kept out of sight, not ritualized, would we not care? I don’t think Bardot or the “Buddha Boy” are planning a trip to America’s meat-packing plants any time soon. How much of this outrage stems from people not conforming to what we consider civilized?

In Other News: We start off “below the fold” with some good news for South Jersey Vodou priest Houngan Hector Salva. Salva was embroiled in controversy after the death of a transgendered woman at a three-day Vodou cleansing ritual this past Summer. Officials have ruled the death accidental, and not suspicious.

“Her death – which was never considered suspicious — was ruled accidental on Monday by the Camden County prosecutor’s office and the case was closed. Lucie, a male-to-female transgender, died from the combined effects of “physical exhaustion, ambient room temperature and an oxygen-depleted atmosphere,” according to The Daily News.”

While Salva has been cleared of any criminal negligence, Lucie’s mother calls him “young, stupid and negligent” and wants people to know that her daughter died under his care. Salva has already moved from his former home, after the flurry of sensationalist press made it nearly impossible for him to continue his religious practice there.

The FBI has released hate-crime statistics for 2008, and offenses against religions are up across the board. This includes 212 offenses against “other” religions in 2008, up from 140 in 2007. Making up 12.8 percent of total religious hate-crimes. Unfortunately we have no way of telling who the “others” are, but we do know it isn’t any of the Abrahamic faiths (each of whom have their own category), so it’s probably of mish-mash of Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, and all the other “Others” combined. As ominous as this rise is, what isn’t reported may be even scarier.

“The FBI’s report reflects only the information gathered by participating law enforcement agencies. Experts warned that the numbers may reflect different standards for what constitutes a hate crime, as well as the inability of some law enforcement agencies to coordinate the report because of budget constraints. “The most frightening thing about these numbers is what goes unrecorded,” said Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, the Hispanic civil rights advocacy group.”

One has to wonder how many hate-crimes get ignored by non-participating law enforcement agencies, and how many want to report these crimes but just don’t have the resources to do so. Addressing a problem often starts with having the data to support that there is, indeed, a problem. Let’s hope the FBI’s data improves, and that we someday learn who, exactly, the “others” are.

The press have reported on two Thanksgiving interfaith events that included Pagans and Wiccans, the first in Madison Wisconsin (sponsored by the Greater Madison Interreligious Association), where Selena Fox from Circle Sanctuary talked about Wiccan harvest festivals.

“Like many other religious groups, Wiccans have a tradition of giving thanks in connection with the harvest season, said the Rev. Selena Fox, of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church near Barneveld. Some contemporary Wiccans celebrate the first harvest at the beginning of August, the abundant harvest in September, and the end of the harvest in late October, Fox told a group of about 100 people Sunday during the fourth annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration.”

Meanwhile, Modesto, California’s Inter-Faith Thanksgiving Celebration included Pagans for the first time. The Pagans performed a song-chant, and local Pagan Edye Cheeseman said that it felt “very inclusive, very nice.” Both events seem like a warm-up of sorts to the up-coming Parliament of the World’s Religions, the largest interfaith gathering in the world, where the expected Pagan presence is thought to be substantial. More on that soon.

In a final god-adapting-to-modern-times story, it seems that the city of Chennai in India has flocked to the worship of Iraniamman Amma, the “highway goddess” to avoid accidents and ensure a safe journey on the roads.

“Daily thousands of vehicles stop by and queue up at the Iraniamman temple to offer prayer on the highway including two wheelers, autos, cars, buses, lorry drivers, etc People from across the nation come here to worship the highway goddess in Chennai, which keep them away from the deadly accident on that accident-prone highway. “The reason for coming here to this goddess is that I need to go safe and come back safe too. That’s why I always come here, put the lime before the vehicle and do the puja, for a good, wonderful and safe journey. I am a catholic but I do believe in this because it is a highway Goddess,” said Jude, a traveller.”

Which leaves me with the question, which god or goddess in your pantheon handles highway safety? How about computer health? How have your gods adapted to modern times?

Perhaps I’ve developed outrage fatigue from covering religious news for so many years, but I just can’t seem to muster much energy for the supposed controversy over vacuous morning-show host Kathie Lee Gifford’s “anti-pagan” comments.

The trivia question that spurred a tempest in a tea-pot.

“Wednesday June 25th on the Today Show, host Kathy Lee Gifford was quizzing guests of a wedding on wedding traditions. On a question as to the origin of wearing the wedding ring on your left ring finger, an option for an answer was that “Pagans believed it was bad luck to carry metal on the right side.” Reading the question aloud, Gifford chose to say “The Pagans, the nasty, bad, Pagans, believed …..” For any other religion, she would not have made the comment, and if she had, a public apology would most likely be released very quickly. The pagan community should not stand for it. Her personal belief may be that we are “nasty and bad”, but it does not make it alright for her to say so on national television.”

I watched the offending video clip in question, and I just don’t see anything worth threats of boycott or starting a petition. I certainly don’t agree with Ellen Evert Hopman & Dana Corby’s assertion that her off-the-cuff statement amounted to “hate speech”.

“Ms. Gifford’s hate speech has done harm to American Pagans’ ability to live in peace with our neighbors of other faiths. By allowing her hate speech to be broadcast, her direct employer the TODAY Show, and their network, NBC, participate in that hate speech.”

Hate speech is something very specific, and Gifford’s off-the-cuff riffing on a trivia question doesn’t even come close to qualifying. I very much doubt Gifford even realizes there is a modern Paganism movement, much less has a nuanced understanding of pre-Christian religion (she’s a born-again Christian). I question the petition’s assertion that any Pagan will have their quality of life affected in any way because of what a Regis Philbin cast-off said. This action by Pagans, far from chastising the folks at the Today Show, has only provided more grist for Gifford’s “comedic” mill.

I’d like to think that I’m fairly tenacious in defense of modern Paganism. I have worked daily to follow stories and bring important issues to light. There are many serious issues facing modern Pagan faiths, and we should remain vigilant and address them. However, the last thing I want to see is for Pagans to adopt the tactics of groups like the Catholic League. Constantly scanning the news looking for the next outrage, the next rallying cry for those who believe some great religious conflict is brewing. I don’t want us to become unable to laugh off something stupid, I don’t want us to become unable to tell the difference between an innocuous trifle, and real anti-Pagan hate speech.

Should you boycott The Today Show? Sure, if only because it’s stupid, lowest-common-denominator television that enriches no one. Not because Kathie Lee Gifford allegedly “hates” Pagans. Let’s turn our attention to the endemic discrimination against Pagans in prisons, or the improper influence of Christianity on our military, or the legislative strategies that seek to enshrine a Christian civil religion and relegate religious minorities to second-class status, or the role of modern Pagans in politics. Heck, we could even talk about the reality television shows that actually do some damage to our reputation. What we shouldn’t do is manufacture a controversy where one doesn’t actually exist.

PS If George Carlin has gone on The Today Show and called Chritianity “nasty” and “bad” (and he’s called it far worse things than that) would you call it “hate speech”? Would you think Christians were correct in calling for a boycott, or would you think such an action was an overreaction?

WIVB in New York reports that an anonymous caller to the Olean police department claims to be the man who ran over a holiday Pentacle display in early December.

“Police believe they’ve received a phone-call confession from the person who ran-over a holiday pentacle display in olean. This all started earlier this month in Olean. The city allowed people to put up religious symbols in front of city hall..but not long after someone erected a Wiccan pentacle sign.. Someone ran it over.”

The vandalized Pentacle display.

Here is the content of the caller’s message:

“Hello there, this is a tough call for me to make… We were in Olean shopping.. We had dinner.. We were on our way home.. my girlfriend said, hey, there’s the symbol that was on the news I wish someone would run it over I had a few beers in me.. and was showing off, so I backed into it. I am truly sorry it wasn’t a hate crime..just an off color prank.”

See? It isn’t a hate crime if you had a few beers in you and did it to impress your girlfriend. This “beer + girlfriend” defense seems to be winning over the local police, who say that they only plan to charge the man with misdemeanor charges of criminal mischief (if they catch him). No word on if further charges will be entertained (like drunk driving for instance). What do you think? Is this a hate crime or an “off color prank”, what punishment do you think the driver (and possibly the girlfriend) should receive?

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

05. Discrimination, Harassment, Hate Crimes, and Firings: Last year one of my picks for a top story was “Growing animosity and tensions between Christians and Pagans”, and while this year didn’t appear to be quite as bad, there seemed to be plenty of animosity to go around. Christians extremists fought for the right to intimidate us, Witches were beaten and stabbed in Canada, a Pagan store-owner had a noose left on her doorstep, and the FBI reported that hate crimes towards religious minorities is on the rise.

“A couple things become immediately clear, one, that Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) experienced the fewest religiously-motivated hate crimes of any faith grouping (despite claims of widespread anti-Christian activity by some conservative Christians), and two, that a large number of religious hate crimes (coming in third behind Muslims and Jews) are towards faiths that check the “other” box in surveys. In fact, the number of incidents against “other religions” have risen since 2005, with 41 more victims of a religious-motivated hate crime in 2006.”

But it wasn’t just threats and physical attacks, this year saw quite a few firings that seemed to be motivated by an anti-Pagan bias. In some cases rumor-mongering seems to have replaced due process, and people who were a bit too odd being labeled as “Witches”.

“The same early December day a fellow substitute teacher asked if she was Wiccan, Harmon found herself in Principal Jamie (Rene) Tolbert’s office answering questions about her appearance and whether she had discussed religion with students.”

I wish I could say this particular story will diminish in 2008, but I think that as we continue to enter the mainstream, a certain minority of religious believers will do all in their power to shove us back into our “broom closets”.

04. Pagans in Politics: This year, more than any other I have witnessed, saw modern Pagans involved with, and affected by, our political process. This year saw the Chair of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee in Maine outed as a Pagan by a conservative Christian group, who then stalked her and attempted to incite vandalism against her. When that didn’t work they went after the vice-chair (who is also a Pagan). But you don’t have to be a Pagan to get smeared politically, you only have to associate with them. An Asheville City Council found herself the victim of an attack ad based around her participation in a “save the trees” event, and subsequently lost her bid.

However, one of the biggest political events directly involving a modern Pagan has to be the scandal involving a deputy of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

“[Ginger] Cruz, a former spokeswoman for the governor of Guam, originally joined SIGIR as a contractor working for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. Current and former SIGIR employees have told investigators that Cruz threatened to put hexes on employees and made inappropriate sexual remarks in the presence of staff members. Cruz is a self-described wiccan, a member of a polytheistic religion of modern witchcraft. “We warned Ginger not to talk about witchcraft, that it would scare people,” a former SIGIR employee said.”

In addition to these events, 2007 saw politics become ever-more Christian focused and identified. With non-Christian expressions of faith being shoved to the margins by Presidential candidates, and non-Christian prayer getting shouted down in our halls of government. With monotheist modes of belief becoming more blatant and forceful across the political spectrum, will there be a place for Pagans (or any religious outsiders) in the near future?

03. Salem’s Psychic Wars (plus other psychic legal developments): Divination and psychic services were all over the news in 2007. With many modern Pagans making a portion of their living from providing tarot readings or other divination methods, laws regulating, taxing, or outlawing these services can become a big issue (fiscally and religiously). Michigan recently started taxing psychic readers claiming it was a “high-income” service, a local Wiccan was successful in getting Caspar, Wyoming to remove its ordinance against fortune telling, Philadelphia used a previously unenforced state law to close down psychics, tarot readers, and other diviners in the city, and Livingston Parish in Louisiana passed a religiously-motivated ordinance against all forms of fortune-telling despite objections from local Pagans.

But the biggest story involving psychics, the law, and modern Pagans had to be the “psychic wars” in the “Witch City” of Salem, Massachusetts. With 10% of Salem’s population practicing Witches, and a large amount of Salem’s tourist income based on Halloween traffic, proposed licensing regulations on psychic readers became a heated debate between rival factions. A debate that took a criminal turn, when one couple decided to use intimidation tactics. A situation that gained national attention, and was even reported on in Time Magazine. The Salem story points to the growing cultural relevance of Pagan faiths (especially when big money is involved) in America. As regional Pagan populations grow, expect to see more conflicts (and cooperation) with local governments over divination services, religious freedom, and local laws.

02. Pagans in the Public Square: A late development this year, but an important one nonetheless, is the recent eruption in the “Christmas Wars” involving modern Pagans. Three separate cases involving public property, religious Nativity displays, and Wiccan participation, have placed modern Pagans on the forefront of the debate over the separation of Church of State, religious freedom, and pluralism. One case is heading for litigation, while another appears to be drawing out into the Spring. Expect these cases to loom large in 2008, and set the stage for next Winter’s battles.

01. The Veteran Pentacle Win, and Pagans in the Military: My top story for 2006 was the Veteran Pentacle Quest, and the biggest for 2007 is the successful win in getting the Pentacle symbol approved for Veteran headstones and markers. In addition, we saw Pagan groups forming coalitions in order to expand that recognition to other Pagan symbols, and an ongoing struggle to get a Pagan military chaplain approved. Aside from activism, we also saw stories about Pagans in the military, and how safe they are in an increasingly Christian military.

The legal and social struggles concerning Nativity displays and Pagan soldiers have some of the farthest-reaching implications for modern Pagans in America. Situations that have gained international attention, and in the case of the Veteran Pentacle Quest, President Bush. 2008 will very likely see even more important developments involving these stories.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2007. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2008!

The FBI has released its data on hate crimes for the year 2006. Reported incidents of hate crimes have risen since 2005, from 7163 incidents to 7722 incidents. That number may be much larger since only a small fraction of law enforcement agencies even bother to report to the FBI (they aren’t required to by law), for instance, the incidents involving nooses in Jena were not reported to this study. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is the breakdown of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2006.

“Of the 1,750 victims of an anti-religion hate crime:

* 65.4 percent were victims of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias.
* 11.9 percent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.
* 4.9 percent were victims of an anti-Catholic bias.
* 3.7 percent were victims of an anti-Protestant bias.
* 0.5 percent were victims of an anti-Atheist/Agnostic bias.
* 8.4 percent were victims of a bias against other religions (anti-other religion).
* 5.3 percent were victims of a bias against groups of individuals of varying religions (anti-multiple religions, group).”

A couple things become immediately clear, one, that Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) experienced the fewest religiously-motivated hate crimes of any faith grouping (despite claims of widespread anti-Christian activity by some conservative Christians), and two, that a large number of religious hate crimes (coming in third behind Muslims and Jews) are towards faiths that check the “other” box in surveys. In fact, the number of incidents against “other religions” have risen since 2005, with 41 more victims of a religious-motivated hate crime in 2006.

The problem with this data is we have no idea who the “others” are. Buddhists? Hindus? Pagans? All of the above? There is no break-down within the category. While we can’t say that “x” number of Pagans (or Hindus, etc) were the victims of a hate crime, we can assume that faiths on the fringes of the mainstream, non-Christian faiths, and new religious movements have seen an increase in hate crime activity since 2005. It may also be true that the crimes against “other” are much higher since the chances that rural law enforcement districts are going to report to the FBI when a Wiccan gets harassed are most likely slim to none.

On the other hand, this data shouldn’t be used to hypothesize some sort of neo-“Burning Times” against adherents of Pagan faiths. Certainly incidents against “other” adherents are dwarfed by a still-huge number of anti-Jewish/Semitic attacks (over 1000 victims as opposed to 147). What we can say is that incidents of hate crimes against faiths outside the norm are potentially on the rise, and it is something we should pay attention to when 2007’s numbers are released. These numbers should spark renewed conversation about how welcoming we are as a society to faiths outside the Christian comfort-zone, and why attacks on minority religions are growing.