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The Pagan Bubble

Teo Bishop —  March 26, 2013 — 133 Comments
Boy In A Bubble

Photo by Charles Strebor

We live in a Pagan bubble.

Mostly, we seem unaware that the bubble exists.

We talk a lot to ourselves, Pagans do. We talk to ourselves about who we are and who we are not. We talk to ourselves about what we believe, what we do not believe, and sometimes we even argue about whether or not belief is that meaningful.

We argue, Pagans do, within the Pagan bubble.

We also, at times, dive deep into meaningful conversations that look nothing like argument. Some of us sit in contemplation with the difficult stuff of community building, and we do so with grace and compassion. We are complicated, for certain.

But the Pagan bubble is real. And so long as we continue to live inside of it, we remain ghettoized.

At least, we are ghettoized online. The Pagan and polytheist corners of the internet foster conversations that require so much context as to be nearly unintelligible to outsiders. I suppose to a degree this is the nature of any walled-off community. It’s what religious people do: they talk within their walls about who they are.

But this talking to ourselves about ourselves is debilitating. We become steeped in our own lore, influenced by our own memetic waves, and stuck within a vocabulary and symbol system that could really benefit from a Universal Translator. We are well versed at talking about who we are to each other, but I’m beginning to think that we are (or, at least, I am) unpracticed at talking about who we are to people who do not share our vernacular.

This all came into focus for me as I was sitting at my parents dining room table this past weekend. My stepfather, a man who has loved me as his own for nearly thirty years, a man who has never been religious but who has been tolerant of my religiosity in its various incarnations, looked at me and said, gently,

“I read your blog, but I don’t really have any idea what you’re talking about.”

*pause*

I was speechless.

I didn’t know I’d been that cryptic. I didn’t realize that my writing was so narrowly focused. I’d thought that within the realm of Pagan writers I’d managed to do a pretty good job thinking and writing outside of the box. I’ve worked to consider the diversity of belief and religious practice in the Pagan world, and I often reach for something more universal — more purely human — that might unite us in a shared understanding.

But that’s just it. I’ve been doing this work from within the realm of PaganismI have been writing in a Pagan bubble.

Even this blog post I’m writing now is written on a site create by a Pagan for Pagans. It offers a “modern Pagan perspective,” primarily for the benefit of other Pagans.

The bubble is big, and there’s a lot of great work going on within the bubble. But it is still a bubble.

Reeling from this realization, I ran through the list of places that house my writing:

  • My work at Bishop In The Grove is geared toward an audience of mostly Pagans and polytheists. There is the occasional Buddhist reader/commenter, and once in a while a Progressive Christian shows up with a kind word. But mostly, it’s a Pagan blog.
  • The Solitary Druid Fellowship blog is even more specific to a Pagan tradition (ADF Druidry). It’s more universal in its language and approach than many ADF groves, being that it seeks to serve solitaries of a wide variety of hearth cultures and traditions. But, you’ve still got to get a basic education in Paganism or Druidry to benefit from all of what the Fellowship offers.
  • I write for HuffPost Religion primarily on the High Days; and while I try to include a little descriptive information in each post about the relevance of the day for the benefit of non-Pagans, the posts are mostly directed toward people for whom these days already have relevance. I write posts that serve as reflections on days that are sacred to Pagans.
  • When I wrote at Patheos, an interfaith blogging site, it would have appeared that I was working outside of the Pagan bubble. But I was writing on the “Pagan channel.” Even within this mini-verse of religious blogs, there are clearly drawn religious lines. The Pagan bubble exists there, too.
  • I have a column coming out in the next edition of Witches and Pagans, and… well… can you get much more Pagan than that?

In a few seconds I realized that the majority, if not all of the writing I’ve done in the past few years — a couple hundred posts worth — has been Pagan-specific, Pagan-centered, and Pagan-directed.

Here in my parent’s kitchen, I found myself unpracticed at talking about Paganism (or more specifically, my paganism) with someone outside of my relatively small, insular world.

Photo by Jason Mrachina

Photo by Jason Mrachina

I’m not unfamiliar with operating within a cultural ghetto. Growing up gay, I immersed myself in an ad-hoc study of gay history, gay culture, and gay tradition. I sought out resources on gay spirituality, visited gay bookstores, and sewed a gay patch on my backpack. I bought gay political rags, gauged my support of politicians based on their stances on gay issues, and checked the language of newspaper and online articles with precision to search out “gay friendly” or “anti-gay” language.

Everything was, for a time, filtered through a gay lens. And by creating a gay bubble for myself (or, rather, by gleefully recognizing my place within the gay bubble created by my gay forebears), I was able to affirm my gay identity, my gay tastes and preferences, and my sense of gay-self. I knew where I stood within the gay bubble, and I knew very clearly what stood on the outside.

The gay community first organized in response to cultural oppression and subjugation. Gays organized because they were being treated poorly, and through organization we were able to forge change within culture. We continue to do so to this day. But should we achieve all of our political goals and forge the cultural change we have sought out for so long, we may find ourselves in a position where we are no longer in need of protection against the over-culture. The cultural forces whose othering allowed for us to shore up our sense of individual and collective identities may become benign.

I suspect a similar fate for Pagans should we step outside of our bubble, and I think this may be one reason why the bubble stays in place.

As my husband (my gay husband), Sean Michael Morris, told me while discussing this matter,

“In today’s world, many ghettos, which were created by people who othered us, are maintained because we cherish our otherness.”

We perpetuate our otherness because it’s safer than being out. We perpetuate our otherness, I think, because if we allow the walls to come down from around our encampment, our stronghold against those on the outside, we run the risk of losing our sense of identity in the world.

Do these boundaries continue to be necessary? Do they serve a purpose, other than for protection?

How, I wonder, might we be better served by the deconstruction of our ghettos? What would happen if we no longer lived in this Pagan bubble?

Nothing pleases me more than to see voices connected to our community write important stories that explore our experiences, and the influence we can have on the world. Today, I’m honored to spotlight three such stories, published in three different media outlets.

The Plight of Pagans in the Military: Journalist and author Jennifer Willis, a Reconstructionist Jew with “strong NeoPagan leanings,” writes an exploration of the challenges faced by Pagans in the U.S. military for the Religion & Politics site.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Stefani Barner's] experiences with religious intolerance in the military resulted in her book, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military. Though far from the witch-hunts of the past, Pagan stereotypes continue to be problematic, but perhaps even more so within the U.S. Armed Forces. Though there are now military chaplains for many minority religions—Buddhism and Hinduism included—Pagan military chaplaincy can’t seem to get off the ground, and until recently Pagan veterans could not have the pentacle—the symbol of their faith—inscribed on their tombstones in military cemeteries. But with increased accommodation of minority religions and a push for greater religious tolerance in the ranks, life could be changing for Pagans in uniform. “Things have improved,” Stefani says. “I think that we still have a long way to go, but that’s true for many, many minority faiths.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage over the years, this is an excellent summary of the current status quo, and the struggles we’ve faced in getting to the point where we are now. An auspicious first story dealing with modern Paganism at Religion & Politicsa project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Be sure to read the whole thing, and share this on social media.

Religion at the Rio+20: Huffington Post blogger Grove Harris, a UN representative for the Temple of Understanding, and a member of the Interfaith Consortium For Ecological Civilization, reports from the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  Harris talks about a side-event at Rio+20 where spiritual leaders could discuss changing consciousness in regards to the environment.

“In my work with the Temple of Understanding and the Interfaith Consortium for Ecological Civilization I convened a side event of interfaith spiritual leaders to discuss the need for consciousness change in our relationship to the environment. We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. Dr.Vandana Shiva advocates saving seeds, all kinds of the non-genetically modified kind that have grown food for humans for a long time. Jayanti Kirpalani of the Brahma Kumaris spoke of respect, respect for self, for home, for others and for the natural world. ”We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. I was invited to speak on aligning awareness and action, and offered up a set of concepts: humility, intimacy, interconnectedness, acting into new awareness, composting as a spiritual practice, love as sustainable energy, and spirituality as nourishment offering freedom.” from addiction. This is my early harvest this solstice, the seeds of a book coming your way soon.”

Considering that I just wrote about Pagans and interfaith, here’s an excellent example of a Pagan operating on the world stage within the interfaith movement. Working to help bring our values of nature as sacred to important summits on environmental policy. I’m hoping that Harris issues more reports from Rio+20, giving us a Pagan perspective.

Open-Air Community at St. Louis Pagan Picnic: Finally, here at Patheos, Kathy Nance writes about the 20th anniversary of the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, which happened earlier this month. Drawing over 4000 people, it may be the largest Pagan event held in North America, one that often goes unnoticed by the rest of the Pagan community.

“I’ve been to 10 of our St. Louis picnics. It’s ironic that I lived within blocks of the event from the second one on and had never so much as walked through before becoming Public Relations chairman for the 2002 event, then staying on for 2003. And that I’d been asking, before that, “Where are all the Pagans?” and assumed the answer was, “In California.” I’ve been able to tell, every year, that there are people who are thrilled, even stunned, that there is such a vibrant Pagan community in St. Louis. I had some newcomers in both workshops I gave at Picnic. I saw and talked to others as I walked down vendors’ row. I’ve met a few so happy to find like-minded souls that they have tears in their eyes.”

Many of us, myself included, often fall into the trap of thinking about modern Paganism in terms of 3 or 4 geographical communities that have shaped our history: The Bay Area in California, New York City, or New England/Salem. Rarely do we stop to notice how modern Paganism is growing and thriving just about everywhere, like in St. Louis, Missouri. Luckily, Kathy Nance reminds us that sometimes our most vibrant communities can happen in places we might not suspect. For more on the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, follow their Facebook page, or check out MagickTV’s coverage.

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

There’s an old chestnut in our community that goes something like this: If Christians are “people of the book,” then Pagans are people of the library. In short, we love books; reading them, writing them, arguing about them, and listing them (we’re a highly educated and literate bunch). Recently the Huffington Post posted a reader-recommended list of 27 essential Pagan texts which almost instantly set off a chain-reaction within our online communities. I saw several complaints as to what was omitted, links to the piece from authors who were included, and alternate lists from folks like Star Foster and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

“And, of course, I’m very willing to say and am totally non-self-deluded about the fact that the list of thirty-one books to follow here is very subjective, and quite biased as well because it has four books that I wrote solely, and at least one other that I contributed to in some fashion. What can you do? The books I’ve written have been books I rather wish existed when I got into this–now they do exist, and they’re meant to help people who want to pursue Antinoan devotion, so I challenge anyone who thinks they should not be included to suggest something that will do the job equally well, if not better, at this point. Plus, some books by friends and/or co-religionists of mine also make the list because they’re just that damn good, in my opinion.”

Anyone who’s known Pagans for any length of time shouldn’t be surprised by this. An integral part of just about every Pagan website in the early days was the recommended reading list. Everyone had additions, or personal tweaks, or newer works, or what they felt was an exhaustive overview of their particular area of expertise. You could say that recommended reading lists are an integral part of how we came to be. In his history of modern Paganism in America, “Her Hidden Children,” Chas Clifton spends quite a bit of time explaining how important reading books has been to our development.

“At the end of the 1970s, in her list of reasons why respondents to her Green Egg questionnaire became Pagans, Margot Adler lists seeking beauty and imagination, personal growth, the freedom of ‘religion without the middleman,’ and environmental and feminist concerns, but also bookishness: “In particular, most of the Midwesterners said flatly that the wide dissemination of strange and fascinating books had been the main factor in creating a Neo-Pagan resurgence … almost all [Neo-Pagans regardless of educational level] are avid readers.” Adler’s research was conducted in the late 1970s, but her conclusion remains appropriate.”

So, in short, books are important to us. Our mutual love of books may be one of the few things that we all mostly agree on, even if we can’t all agree on the various titles. Anyone who wants to understand modern Pagans, and modern Paganism as a religious movement, will need to spend a lot of time reading what we read (and what we write). Having said all that, I now feel almost contractually obligated to provide you with a list of my own. Since I don’t really feel like trying to present a “top ten most important books all Pagans should read” kind of list, I thought I’d provide you with something more personal.

Jason’s Ten Favorite Fiction Titles that Have Pagan Themes and He Found Personally Inspiring.

One current that I don’t think gets addressed enough in our history is how much fiction titles played a role in our development. There are obvious instances like Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the Church of All Worlds, or Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” and the inspirational role it played within Reclaiming and Paganism as a whole in the mid-1990s, but it goes far deeper than that. Paganism, at some level, has always relied on story. From Homer’s epics to Lucius Apuleius’ “The Golden Asse” to Margaret St. Clair’s “Sign of the Labrys” (a novel that ended up with her being initiated by Raymond Buckland). So here are ten novels that struck a chord with me, and maybe some of them struck a chord with you as well.

  • John Ford’s “The Dragon Waiting : A Masque of History”:
  • An early alternate history novel, first published in 1983, it supposes a world where Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (aka “Julian the Apostate”) did not fail in turning the Christian tide, creating a world where paganism is the norm, and Christianity an extremist sect existing on the margins. However, instead of making this shift the focus on the novel, Ford tells the tale of a group of adventurers who get caught up in saving Richard III’s throne in England. The characters don’t self-consciously comment on how different things are, instead they live and breath in a very pagan England, one where the Roman Empire never fell. It’s the little details that stick with you.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon”: This is probably the one that everyone else has already read, and this novel has been feted (and criticized) so many times that it seems redundant to mention it here. Still, this tale of the Arthurian mythos through the eyes of its women is a blockbuster for a reason. I went through a phase in my earlier years where I read and reread this, to the point where I don’t think I could ever do so again. In today’s light, where historical authenticity is highly prized, it seems flawed (Atlantis?) and dated (Did ancient Britons really practice what amounted to Wicca?) but Bradley was an expert teller of stories and it was hard to not get caught up in the melodrama.
  • Stewart Farrar’s “Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic”: Yes, it’s that Stewart Farrar, with a 1980 novel from the”Witches save the world genre.” Set in the far future of around seven years ago, it tells a tale of apocalypse brought about by an alternative energy source, a gas that turns people into insane zombies, and a rag-tag group of Witches who fight a Satanic coven, and a corrupt splinter government to win the future. Really, this book has it all, including some inadvertent comedy when guesses at what modern Paganism will look like after the year 2000 are made. I really hope somebody puts this back into print.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night”: Published in the early 80s (I’m sensing a trend.), and out-of-print for years, this was another “Witches save the world” book. This time it’s up to England’s Witches and occultists to save their land from an invasion by Hitler and his evil magical coven. Pulpy and full of high-adventure, Kurtz knows her way around writing about ritual magic, and weaves in the theories of Margaret Murray and divine kingship in a way that’s compelling. I have no idea why this hasn’t been put back into print, or made into a movie. For a contemporary (and darker) take on this same theme, check out “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis, where Warlocks fight Nazi mutants.
  • Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles (“The Winter King”“Enemy of God”“Excalibur”): Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell sinks his teeth into King Arthur, placing him into a real, dirty, and brutal 5th century Britain. Told in flashback by a fictionalized Saint Derfel, Cornwell shows both the beauty, and brutality, of pre-Christian religion (and Christianity is almost always found wanting in comparison). He does his best to include everything while still keeping things as historically plausible as possible. His Merlin is a real treat, as is his treatment of Druid magic in general.
  • Margaret Mahy’s “The Changeover”: This may be one of the first YA novels to deal with Witches in a purely positive light, and is interesting for the way it talks about magical initiation as a metaphor for becoming an adult and taking responsibility. A little gem of a novel.
  • Gore Vidal’s “Julian: A Novel”: Speaking of Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Vidal takes on the work of rehabilitating the character of the much-maligned “apostate,” portraying him as, if not a hero, then an intellectually curious man well ahead of his time. This is a rich novel that takes the time to establish what life and religion must have been like for Julian, and how his embrace of paganism shook the world (or at least parts of the world). It also provides Vidal plenty of chances to critique Christianity, which is done with great gusto and at regular intervals. I great way to start your journey learning about this oft-revered figure within modern Paganism.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Finnovar Tapestry (“The Summer Tree”“The Wandering Fire”“The Darkest Road”): Kay’s tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantasy epic that is explicitly pagan in its telling. One of the only “regular people get sucked into a fantasy world” series that I truly enjoy, and one that is truly moving. Kay dreams of a truer world, in a tapestry of worlds, one where gods and goddesses still walk the earth, interweaving  them with the Arthurian mythos in a way that feels engaging. It subverts the “ordinary men and women learn what truly matters” trope by upping the stakes, and drastically changing the characters by the third book. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or of Celtic mythology, you’ll love this.
  • Robert Grave’s “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God”: It’s hard to think of these novels today without thinking of the epic British television series, but Grave’s tale of the Julio-Claudian dynasty seen through the eyes of stuttering, limping, drooling Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is a masterwork. Thought a fool, but canny and smart enough to survive and grow old in an age of executions and upheavals, Claudius narrates an epic tragedy about family, principles, and duty. These books are every bit as entertaining as the show, and if Graves played with history a bit, well, that’s the prerogative of novelists. These are landmark modern novels of the ancient Roman period.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s “Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles”: Let’s end with something published rather recently, shall we? Winterson plays with myth, twisting and turning the tale of Atlas and Heracles, finding new and interesting ways to interact and engage with the story. She finds how these tales fit into our own lives, finding raw, personal, parts of ourselves in the tales of gods, titans, and heroes. Poetic, playful, and moving, she reminds us that the tales pagans told each other in times long past still matter, still live, still breathe.

That’s ten! As a bonus, let me endorse the entire oeuvre of Charles de Lint. If you’ve never read anything by him, start with “The Very Best of Charles de Lint” and work your way out from there. Also, I know I didn’t recommend Gaiman’s “American Gods,” but I’m sure someone else will bring it up in the comments. Feel free to share your favorite Pagan-themed or inspirational novels in the comments.

In a recent editorial for the Huffington Post Josh Schrei argues that the real difference between Hinduism and other world religions is that Hinduism is an “open source” faith, and that most of the others are “closed source” in their orientation.

The logo of the Open Source Initiative.

The logo of the Open Source Initiative.

“However, the key point of differentiation between Hinduism and these other faiths is not polytheism vs. monotheism. The key differentiation is that “Hinduism” is Open Source and most other faiths are Closed Source. ”Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code.” If we consider god, the concept of god, the practices that lead one to god, and the ideas, thoughts and philosophies around the nature of the human mind the source code, then India has been the place where the doors have been thrown wide open and the coders have been given free reign to craft, invent, reinvent, refine, imagine, and re-imagine to the point that literally every variety of the spiritual and cognitive experience has been explored, celebrated, and documented. Atheists and goddess worshipers, heretics who’ve sought god through booze, sex, and meat, ash covered hermits, dualists and non-dualists, nihilists and hedonists, poets and singers, students and saints, children and outcasts … all have contributed their lines of code to the Hindu string.

It’s an concept that could just as easily be applied to modern Pagan religions. Like Hinduism, Paganism is simply an umbrella term for a large number of individual faiths, traditions, and practices that happen to share a some commonalities that bind them together. Though I think Schrei might be overstating things when he initially claims that the differentiation isn’t about “polytheism vs. monotheism.” Isn’t it the theological openness of polytheism that allows both “atheists and goddess worshipers” to coexist and contribute to a religious culture? This point is all but conceded by Schrei later on in his piece.

“Western and Middle Eastern monotheistic faiths have simply not allowed such liberal interpretation of their God. They continue to exist as closed source systems.”

The similarities and shared outlooks of the Pagan and Hindu communities will be explored at the upcoming PantheaCon 2012 in San Jose, California, where members of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) will participate in a panel discussion entitled Hindus and Pagans: One Billion Strong. Perhaps the open/closed religion model idea will be discussed along with other topics.

I’m taking a personal day today as it’s my wedding anniversary and we’re headed out to the coast for a bit of celebration. But before I go here’s a few quick news notes to tide you over until tomorrow.

First off, Stone City Pagan Sanctuary has started a memorial fund for Fay Campagnola, an active part of the Pagan community in California who helped with several important events, and worked for years as live-in caretaker at the Annwfn sanctuary.

“Due to the suddenness [of her passing], the family is struggling with funeral costs and Fay’s memorial service, which was planned for earlier this month, had to be postponed due to a lack of funds. Stone City is now collecting donations from the community to raise the funds needed to hold Fay’s memorial and help her family through this difficult time. We feel it’s important for the community to honor Fay’s life and service by providing a proper memorial rite. It would be tragic both for her family and the community if a dedicated community builder such as Fay could not be properly memorialized at her passing simply because of a lack of funds.”

Stone City is looking to raise $600.00 to cover memorial costs, and help support Fay’s family. All donations are tax-deductible. If your life has been touched by Fay’s work, or if you want to help out a family in need, do consider making a donation.

Over at HuffPo, religion professor Ramdas Lamb writes about polytheism and monotheism from a Hindu perspective.

“The purpose here, then is to make the case for the inclusion of polytheism as a legitimate belief system, for it has animated people throughout the world since ancient times and has often provided an understanding of divinity and reality that is more rational than Abrahamic monotheism and has been the cause of far less violence in the world. Hinduism will be used as a primary example, since it offers a good example of polytheism and how it can be blended with the Hindu understanding of monotheism into a useful and practical theology.”

For more Hinduism-related content from the Huffington Post, click here.

Yesterday I mentioned  the new Arthurian-based Starz series “Camelot,” and how one reviewer found it “almost completely devoid of ideas or values.” However, perhaps this interview with actor Joseph Fiennes, who plays Merlin in the series, will make you want to check it out for yourself?

“…we wanted the magic to be something very organic, elemental, true to [Merlin as] a pagan character. He’s not of this newfangled Christian age. He has a very different belief system and also, we both decided that it’d be great to look at the magic where it wasn’t, you could just wield it and walk off, but actually, like all of us, if we have a power, whether it’s with our pen, the microphone or whatever, there’s a level of, you know we can’t abuse it. The moment we step up, we know that abuse comes back to haunt you. So with the magic like that, [it can’t be abused without a price]. Even in politics, you can’t abuse politics.”

As for positive advance reviews? Well, the more fannish-oriented sites seem to think it’s OK. Once it comes to Netflix, I’ll certainly give it a chance.

That’s all I have for now, have a good day, and watch out for the April Fools posts!

It’s no secret for those who’ve been paying attention that traditional media outlets (ie newspapers) have been cutting back on their coverage of religion. This was confirmed by a Pew Forum study that analyzed news coverage of religion for 2009 and found that new media (blogs, web sites, podcasts, etc) were taking up the slack, and becoming the primary outlet for religion news, debate, and discussion.

In 2009, religion attracted significantly more attention in new media sources than in the mainstream media.in a sample drawn from millions of blogs and social media finds that religion was a top story in nearly a quarter of the weeks studied (11 out of 45 weeks) … The blogosphere and other social media tools have grown over the past few years. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of internet users post online content that they have created themselves. Eleven percent of all adults use blogs. The use of Twitter has tripled since 2008. At the same time, the number of reporters assigned to the religion beat in the mainstream media has been shrinking. According to Debra Mason, executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association, at least 16 major print news outlets have reduced or abandoned their religion beats since 2007. At the same time, she says, online newspapers such as The Huffington Post and Politics Daily have increased their religion staff. “We’re in the midst of growth of the [religion] beat online,” Mason says, “but newspapers haven’t kept up with the trend and have instead let religion coverage languish.”

This year we’ve already seen the launch of the Huffington Post’s religion section, joining sites like BeliefnetPatheos, Religion Dispatches, and the Newsweek/Washington Post-supported On Faith in expanding religious coverage on the Internet. Now they are joined by CNN who has just launched their Belief Blog a few days ago.

“The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day’s biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers’ lives. It’s edited by CNN’s Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi, with daily contributions from CNN’s worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.”

With CNN joining the fray, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more mainstream news outlets (MSNBC, Fox) launching their own religion sections online. This is an encouraging trend, the more religion coverage, the better, in my mind. What is in question is how diverse will their coverage be? In other words, will they cover minority religions and modern Paganism beyond mere tokenism? So far it’s been hit-or-miss with Internet religion sections. It took Beliefnet years to give Pagans a consistent voice on their web site by finally recruiting Gus diZerega to blog for them, and the HuffPo Religion section hasn’t really recruited any consistent Pagan columnists at this point, relying on religion-tagged Pagan contributions from other sections. So far Patheos has been the most Pagan-friendly with a dedicated Pagan portal helmed by a Pagan and filled with Pagan content.

But it isn’t so much that I’m demanding sites hire Pagans or develop Pagan sections per se, only that minority faiths get the attention they deserve when a story breaks concerning them. In this sense Religion Dispatches has excelled, giving us academic and knowledgeable commentary on issues most news sources skim over. Their coverage of Vodou in the wake of the Haitian earthquake is to be commended, and I can hope more dedicated religion sites follow their lead. After all, on the Internet you have limitless space, and few time constraints, so there’s no reason to shy away from in-depth reporting or insight. Here’s hoping CNN makes the most of their new section, and really gives it the attention it deserves. As for Pagans we need to continue doing it for ourselves, so we can continue to participate and influence the conversations over faith on the Internet and in the news.

Top Story: While traditional media outlets continue to cut back on their coverage of religion, there’s been a slow expansion on the Internet. Beliefnet, one of the first Internet religion-news hubs, continues to reign supreme in terms of size and traffic, but it’s starting to see some competition from sites like Patheos and the Newsweek/Washington Post-supported On Faith. Now, another new-media contender is entering the God(s)-beat, as the left-leaning Huffington Post launches a religion section.

Site founder Arianna Huffington explains:

“Like all our sections, HuffPost Religion will bring you the latest news — in this case about all things religion-related — served up in the HuffPost style. It will also be home to an open and fearless dialogue about all the ways religion affects both our personal and our public lives. And it will do so in a way that moves beyond the pigeonhole depictions of both the faithful and the agnostic we see so frequently — and also beyond the tired assumption that God is a card-carrying member of one political party or another.

HuffPost Religion is being edited by Paul Raushenbush, an Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University and an ordained Baptist minister. As a passionate and brilliant religious thinker, pastor, writer and college dean, Paul is ideally suited to the challenge of presenting multiple viewpoints and insights, as well as the real-world implications of religion for American life.”

Some of the big-name contributors include Jim Wallis, Deepak Chopra, Sister Joan Chittister, and Eboo Patel. But will HuffPost Religion cover modern Paganism? I’ve received some initial signs from folks working there that they are looking to add Pagan voices to the section, so we’ll see how things play out in the weeks ahead. Patheos, Beliefnet, and On Faith all now include a Pagan perspective (to varying degrees), so I can’t imagine HuffPost Religion will be far behind (especially since they have Pagans writing for them in other sections). I’ll keep you posted on developments.

In Other News:

An Earth-Based Discussion: Thorn Coyle has posted the audio from a panel discussion she led at this year’s Pantheacon on the question: “Earth-Based: Are We Really?”

“Organized by T. Thorn Coyle, this panel features Weiser authors T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, Zee Budapest, Orion Foxwood, and Lon Milo DuQuette. Discussion spans our definitions of ourselves as Earth- based, Nature-Based, Cosmos-based, etc. and addresses some of the problems of our times as well as positive media influences such as the movie Avatar.”

I briefly covered (and live-tweeted) this panel in my Pantheacon coverage, so I’m glad to see the audio for it released. While the panel didn’t really dig too deep into the question of how “earth-based” modern Pagan traditions really are, there were some fascinating and insightful things said and discussed, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Fake Child Sacrifices: Earlier this year I noted the story of Ugandan anti-human-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela, who claimed to have personally killed several children, including his own son. At the time I was deeply skeptical of his claims, seeing them as a strong echo of similar stories peddled by various ex-Satanists and Witches in America. Nor was I the only one to wonder if Angela was fabricating the story, and if he wasn’t, why he wasn’t in custody for his crimes. Now the house of cards has come tumbling down, as he’s been arrested for lying to a public officer.

“He allegedly repeated his claims to a Ugandan police officer and has been charged with “giving false information to a public officer”. He denied the charges and was remanded in custody in Lira Central Prison. Police officer Godwin Tumugumye, an officer at Lira Police Station, said BBC correspondent Tim Whewell is also wanted by the police over the case, reports Uganda’s New Vision newspaper.”

In another report, it’s come out that Angela was paid 200,000 Uganda shillings to play up child sacrifice, and has now confessed to lying.  If only we could do the same to some of the professional “ex”-workers in America. As I said in my initial post on this story, it isn’t that I don’t believe children aren’t being abducted, abused, and killed in several African nations. There’s of plenty of evidence for that. I also acknowledge that some witch-doctors are indeed killing and mutilating certain children for various reasons. But the lurid portrait painted by the BBC, with help from Mr. Angela, raised many of my old “Satanic Panic” red flags (most notably the idea of a centralized sacrifice industry/conspiracy). I’m glad that the truth has come to light in this story.

Max Beauvoir Declares War: After Tuesday’s incident in Haiti, where a mob of Christians drove off a small group of Vodouisants performing a ceremony for the dead, Vodou leader Max Beauvoir says it’s war.

“It will be war, open war,” Max Beauvoir, supreme head of Haitian voodoo, said at his home and temple outside the capital. “It’s unfortunate that at this moment where everybody’s suffering that they have to go to war. But if that is what they need, I think that is what they’ll get.”

You can see a photo essay of the inciting incident, here (thanks to Jennifer for the link). Since the clash of religions, Haitian officials have ensured that Vodou practitioners will be able to perform ceremonies at Cité Soleil in the future, but that seems cold comfort to those who were driven away with stones. However, not everyone in Haiti is seeing a religious war in the future, Mambos Elsie Théanou Joseph and Silviana Désir are busy working to feed and shelter the homeless, while Catholic priest Rev. Frantz-Michel Grandoit sees a new unity developing between Christians and Vodouisants.

“Humanity doesn’t want us to be separated,” said the Rev. Frantz-Michel Grandoit, a Catholic priest. Grandoit has planned several interfaith prayer vigils with Voodoo priests, including a three-day national prayer for rebuilding, held earlier this month and sponsored by the Global Network of Religions for Children, an international nongovernmental organization. In a ceremony at the Croix-des-Bouquets temple earlier this month, priestesses and parishioners knelt at the base of a tree trunk, lighted candles and solemnly chanted prayers for the earthquake’s victims and for the future of their country. “Hold Haiti’s sweet hand!” they sang as they threw water on the tree trunk and conjured up what is known as the Veve, a mystical symbol embodying the Voodoo deities. “Save us! Give us grace and deliverance!”

So while Max Beauvoir is an important voice right now in post-earthquake Haiti, we must remember, despite his claims, that Vodou has no “supreme chief” that all Vodouisants, Mambos, and Houngans bow before. Beauvoir leads a faction, a group of practitioners who have acknowledged him as their leader, and is not a Vodou “pope”. Reporters must move beyond Beauvoir, and talk to many practitioners from different areas to get a fuller picture of religious interactions in Haiti. To be sure there are those how want a religious war, but I would say there are also many who want a sense of national unity to trump theological differences at this critical stage.

The UK Reburial Issue: The BBC tackles the issue of reburying “pagan” remains, and interviews Druid priestess Emma Restall Orr, and representatives from Honouring the Ancient Dead, about the connection some modern Pagans feel to their pre-Christian ancestors.

“Pagan groups are increasingly asking for human remains and grave goods from pre-Christian burials to be returned to the ground, and their voices are being taken increasingly seriously in the museum world.”

As I’ve said before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. It would have been nice for the BBC to get more perspectives on this, rather than simply portraying HAD and Orr as representative of Pagan stances on this issue.

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