Archives For immigration

So here’s a brand-new legal precedent involving modern Pagans that you might not have expected. An American in a relationship with a married British man, and having born his child, was granted the right to stay in the UK on the grounds that she and her child have a “human right to family life.” Here’s the twist, the British man, Alan Caulfield, and his wife Anne-Marie, claim they can’t get divorced due their Odinist faith, and they all now live together in the same flat.

“Miss DiSanto’s application succeeded after the Home Office dropped its objection on the grounds of bigamy, and she made two appeals. In the course of the appeals, her lawyer said the Caulfields no longer had a sexual relationship but could not divorce on religious grounds, as all three worship the Norse gods, including Odin and Thor. [...]  Miss DiSanto, from Chicago, arrived in Britain on a visitor’s visa in December that year, already pregnant with Mr Caulfield’s baby. They met in April 2008, but it is not known how. She gave birth to a daughter in July the following year and now lives with Mr Caulfield, 29, and his 28-year-old wife, who works as a nanny, in a three-bedroomed semi-detached property in Eltham, south-east London.”

The Telegraph is quick to point out that The Odinic Rite, the most prominent Odinist group in the UK, does indeed allow divorce among its membership and that the trio must be practicing their own form of the religion that prohibits divorce. Many see this case as a landmark because it opens the door for interpretations of family life within the context of immigration that could include polygamy and polyamory. The Home Office, which oversees immigration, issued a statement saying they would seek to reform Britain’s immigration laws to prevent such rulings in the future.

“For too long Article 8 has been used to place the family rights of immigration offenders above the rights of the British public. This is why we will change the immigration rules to reinforce the public interest in seeing those who have breached our immigration laws removed from this country.”

While I’m sure that there were some who were expecting a ruling like this at some point, I doubt any of them thought it would happen with an American, and with Odinists. The Telegraph seems first out of the gate with this story, so no doubt we’ll be hearing much more about this soon from other media outlets, and from Pagans and Heathens in Britain. I’ll be keeping an eye on the fallout from this development as things move forward.

I have some updates on recent stories covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Phoenix Goddess Temple Arrests: Since my report on Thursday, this story has hit the national and international newswires. It is now revealed that charges include prostitution, pandering, and conspiracy. Most reports I’ve read seem pretty confident that this was nothing but a brothel with a veneer of spirituality painted on as a legal smokescreen. I’ve never seen so many scare quotes being used in a mainstream newswire report before.

Phoenix Goddess Temple members. Photo by Jamie Peachey.

“During a Wednesday search of the Phoenix temple and two church-related sites in nearby Sedona, police seized evidence showing that “male and female ‘practitioners’ working at the Temple were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary ‘donations,’ all on the pretense of providing ‘neo tantric’ healing therapies,” Phoenix police said.”

We’ve also learned more about the raids on the affiliated Sedona Temple, and the undercover operations that were underway for six months. In addition, some of those arrested have spoken with journalists, insisting that they are not engaged in prostitution.

During an interview with CBS 5 News, three of the women talked while in handcuffs. “I call myself a shaman. I believe in earth-based healing,” said Holly Alsop. After a six month investigation, Phoenix Police have 18 people behind bars accused of running a prostitution ring at the Phoenix Goddess Temple. When interviewed Friday, the women would not specifically say what the healing practices were, but when they were asked if any of them had sexual intercourse at the church, they had one very clear answer. “No, no. Absolutely not,” said Amanda Twitty. “Absolutely not. Everything we do is healing,” said Holly Alsop, and “No,” said Jamie Baker. “We’re not a brothel, we’re a church,” said Baker.

Whatever our suspicions in this matter, it’s now up to a judge or jury to decide if the evidence gathered by undercover officers is indeed enough to convict them of operating a prostitution ring. Whatever the truth of the matter, this should be an interesting test of how far religious protections can extend. We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

More on Santa Muerte: It seems I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with Tim Stanley’s vicious editorial in the Telegraph, George Conger at Get Religion dissects the assertions made about the Santa Muerte folk religion and finds them wanting.

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration. Sorry.  This won’t do. The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation. [...] to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence.”

Another UK paper, the Guardian, came out with a much more sympathetic and thoughtful piece on Santa Muerte just yesterday, in what can only be seen as a counter-point to Stanley’s hysteria.

“To one side of the shrine was a candle shop. We decided to buy a candle to put on the shrine as most of the people in the queue were holding candles. I had read earlier that each colour of candle carried with it a meaning: red for love, white for luck and black for protection. We bought a white candle each and went back to the end of the line. The man before us in the queue wore a black singlet, exposing his enlarged biceps which were covered in tattoos; his wrists and neck were draped in gold chains. We observed him carefully when he arrived at the shrine. First he lit a black candle and placed it down in front of him beneath the altar. Then he got down on his knees and crossed himself. With his eyes closed, he began to utter a prayer under his breath. Finally, he stood up and lit a cigarette. He took one puff and left the rest on the ashtray as an offering.”

Also giving a far more balanced look into Santa Muerte is Texas newspaper The Monitor, who notes the rise of altars and spiritual aspects to the drug trade, but gain perspective from anthropologist Antonio Zavaleta. Zavaleta observes that this trend is less about an increase in believers and more about “a relocation of them.”

NAR’s Respect For Other Religions: New Apostolic Reformation guiding light C. Peter Wagner has been on something of a public relations blitz lately, ever since his movement has come under public scrutiny due to its ties with Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. Most recently, Wagner was interviewed by Voice of America, where he insists that NAR has respect for other religions, and operates “within religious pluralism.”

C. Peter Wagner. Image courtesy of skywaymedia.

“We don’t believe in taking over a nation. But we believe in exerting as much influence in every one of the mountains to see the values of the Kingdom of God within a democratic society, within religious pluralism,”

Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action does a thorough debunking of Wagner’s claims that NAR isn’t seeking dominion, and values pluralism, and Right Wing Watch joins in as well. RWW points out that Wagner admits to his movement’s growing political influence in the VoA interview.

“I think they’re right that the influence is growing and the influence was very strong in The Response meeting. But what I see in the media is that critics of conservative candidates like Rick Perry are accusing him of doing something bad by his friendship with people in the NAR. I don’t know if Rick Perry would consider himself as a part of the NAR but he had some people on the platform and in the audience who were part of the NAR. But I don’t think there is anything worse about being part of the NAR then being part of the Southern Baptists or being part of the Catholic Church or being part of any other segment of Christianity.”

As I’ve pointed out again and again, my bottom line is how their growing influence will affect religious minorities in the United States. NAR leaders have, time and time again, expressed their hostility to Pagan and occult belief systems, and any politician who willingly associates with them should be questioned regarding how much of their agenda they support.

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

Last year I warned that intensifying polarization over the issue of illegal immigration was leading to the demonization of Santeria and related syncretic faiths practiced by immigrants. Since then things have only gotten worse, especially in Arizona where a series of draconian lawsincluding one tailored to eliminate public school classes that are seen as too Mexican-focused, have deepened divisions. It didn’t have to be this way, many prominent conservatives, including George W. Bush, Orrin HatchCharles HagelRichard Lugar, and John McCain once supported compromise legislation like the DREAM Act, and  large swathes of Americans (including conservatives) support establishing a path to citizenship. I note this because I don’t think finding solutions to immigration issues has to be partisan, and that politicians who employ “kick ‘em all out” rhetoric are unwittingly feeding something ugly that they may not be able to control. I say this as preface to a startlingly ugly editorial in the Telegraph by conservative historian Tim Stanley, who frames illegal immigration not simply in terms of economics or crime, but as a religious war with a “Mexican death cult.”

Santa Muerte

“…the debate about illegal immigration isn’t just about competition over jobs or lingering white racism. Many Americans share the European fear that mass migration is subverting their democratic culture from within. In the same way that exotic cells of Jihadists have established themselves in London and Paris, criminal gangs motivated by bloodlust and kinky spiritualism have been found living in the suburbs of Boston and Atlanta. One of its many manifestations is the cult of Santa Meurte. [...] Tens of thousands of Mexicans living in America venerate Santa Muerte and have no association with crime. Nor is the cult purely ethnic: in North California, the Santisima Muerte Chapel of Perpetual Pilgrimage is tended by a woman of Dutch-American descent. But the prevalence of Santa Muerte imagery among drug traffickers injects an interesting cultural dimension to the debate over illegal immigration. It accentuates American fears that the drug war in Mexico is turning into an invasion of the USA by antidemocratic fanatics.”

While Stanley does include the disclaimer that many Mexicans who venerate Santa Muerte aren’t criminals, that is more than counter-balanced by connecting Santa Muerte to Muslim extremism over and over again.

“The goal of these groups is to undermine democracy and govern autonomous secret societies through family, blood and religion. [...] in Mexico, family and religion filled the vacuum left by the failure of socialism.”

I would recommend not reading the comments section of this editorial as it makes the most heated debates here at The Wild Hunt look like happy playtime, but there was one comment I thought was worth mentioning from R. Andrew Chestnut, author of the forthcoming book “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” from Oxford University Press.

“The more “vicious threat” we face than Santa Muerte worshipers is our own insatiable demand for the methamphetamines, marihuana, and heroin supplied by the narco cartels. Moreover, Santa Muete (Saint Death) is a more complex folk saint than the demonic Grim Reapress of your piece. She aslo has many devotees among Mexican law enforcement.”

Indeed, if there’s a spiritual war being waged, it’s internal, not external.

“In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California. Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets.”

The worship of Santa Muerte is a complex thing, not easily used as proof of some sort of larger constructed “Mexican death cultists vs. United States Christian values” meme, and certainly not limited to being a “narco-saint”.

The authorities have condemned Santa Muerte as a “narco-saint,” worshipped by drug traffickers, cartel assassins and dope slingers. But the worship is more a reflection of contemporary Mexico, says the anthropologist J. Katia Perdigón Castañeda, the author of “La Santa Muerte: Protector of Mankind.” The cult is an urban pop amalgam, New Age meets heavy metal meets Virgin of Guadalupe. It is no accident that it is also cross-cultural — that the centers of worship are the poor, proud heart of Mexico City and the violent frontier lands of Laredo, Juarez and Tijuana. The cult borrows equally from Hollywood and the Aztec underworld. Altars, necklaces and tattoos honoring Santa Muerte also make appearances in Mexican American neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Boston. “The believers may be drug dealers, doctors, carpenters, housewives. The cult accepts all. No matter the social status or age or sexual preference. Even transsexuals. Even criminals. That’s very important, that the cult of Santa Muerte accepts everyone,” Perdigón told me, “because death takes one and all.”

Editorials like Stanley’s do nothing more than feed fear and hysteria, creating further roadblocks to addressing illegal immigration in a constructive ways by framing the problem as war for the religious soul of America itself. Reinforcing that immigrants, illegal or otherwise, aren’t simply “taking our jobs” they are something truly “other,” and not to be trusted. This leads to anti-immigration sentiment manifesting in ways that targets the very beliefs (or at least assumed beliefs) of immigrant groups (illegal or not). This leads to profiling, and ultimately, hate crimes. By saying that some illegal immigrants might be secret death-cultists who are just as bad as Muslim extremists, you tar all immigrants with suspicion and fear. A point that’s acknowledged by Stanley in his editorial.

“Sadly, Mexicans seeking work get caught in this existential drama and are either swallowed up into the gangs or demonised in the US for crimes they have not committed. Nevertheless, Americans of every ethnicity are legitimately concerned about their country being poisoned by a criminal subculture that blends political corruption with ritualised murder. Europeans should not be so quick to judge their transatlantic friends. Americans face a vicious threat of their own.”

Nevertheless, nevertheless, nevertheless. Repeat it like a mantra until the guilt of harming the innocent along with the guilty fades from the waking mind. Don’t think about the followers of Santa Muerte or other “cults” practiced by immigrants that will now be seen as suspicious simply because they believe as they do. Even if they have a visa, or are second, third, or forth generation United States citizens. Even if they pay the same taxes and have the same worries, we now must worry if they are secretly in league with “antidemocratic fanatics.” This kind of editorial is dangerous tinder for fires that aren’t easily put out, once lit. Fear-mongering of this sort does nothing to solve the problems posed by illegal immigration, or of drug trafficking, all it does is create something new to worry about.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before it came up. Outside of maybe abortion or gun control, one of the most contentious political issues in the United States (one that creates divisions in both major political parties) is how to handle the issue of illegal immigration from our Southern border. This simmering issue exploded recently when Arizona passed a controversial new law that allowed law enforcement to demand papers from anyone they “reasonably suspect” could be an illegal immigrant.  Since then, accusations of racismcalls for boycotts, promises to tackle immigration reform this year, and quiet adjustments to the law, have followed. While this controversy rages, the larger question of what immigration reform would/should look like is ongoing. Most pragmatic pundits and politicians (including George W. Bush) agree that some form of amnesty and path to citizenship should be provided to the millions of illegal immigrants already living and working in America, but that has also sparked violent (mostly rhetorical) push-back from the conservative base. Unfortunately, and why this issue is getting mentioned here, some of this push-back seems to be demonizing Santeria in an attempt to “poison the well” of public opinion for any plan that includes a path to citizenship (aka “amnesty”).

“Obama will make instant American citizens out of 20 million illegal aliens and encourage millions more to cross our borders. What does that mean for you and me?  For starters, he makes legal citizens of the 20 million illegal aliens now dwelling in America. They become US citizens—making them eligible for unemployment, food stamps, welfare, driver’s licenses, drug rehab … It means we’ll make citizens out of people who practice ‘santeria’ or animal sacrifice in city parks in Florida and along the East Coast. It means we’ll legalize people in our country that practice dog female genital mutilation, fighting, cock fighting and horse tripping. As their numbers grow, so will their voting power so they can vote their Third World rituals into law.”

Frosty Wooldridge, the writer of the editorial linked above, is hardly the only person to invoke Santeria in order to scare people out of supporting a path to citizenship for the illegal immigrants already living here.

“I will provide you photos of “Santeria” worship with mutilated carcasses of animals in our community atop Mobile Homes. Further animal offenses including cock fighting and dog fighting abound as well in Saluda with these Illegals.”

I fear that the Santeria angle will become more prominent, especially when statistics point out that the illegal immigrants already living here aren’t some ravaging, murderous criminal horde. After all, Santeria is secretive and often misunderstood, and that combination prompts folks to ascribe anything they think might be animal sacrifice to them.

“So, let’s assume there was some religious purpose in this horror, a primitive and degraded upwelling that bullied its way into view. It’s pretty easy to judge, not so easy to live with. And there is no excuse.”

You see this confluence of fear and misinformation happen again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Despite the fact that most animal deaths, and random animal parts found in public parks, have nothing to do with Santeria or a related African diasporic religion. A fact that even the American SPCA acknowledges.

“According to experts, like local anthropologist and folklorist Dr. Eoghan Ballard, and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty services for the American SPCA, sacrificial remains found in parks, especially those adorned with talismans like candles or pennies, are most often the work of religious novices, teens or satanic dabblers.”

This blog won’t take a stance on the larger issue of immigration reform, but I will condemn any attempt to demonize Santeria in order to affect the political discourse over this issue. So should any person of conscience, no matter what your stance is on immigration. Santeria is a legal and recognized faith in this country, and animal sacrifice, while abhorrent to some, has been ruled a legal practice by our courts in two landmark cases. What one feels about Santeria should in no way influence whether illegal immigrants are granted a path to citizenship in reform legislation. Anyone who does engage in vilifying Santeria has lost the moral high ground for their arguments, and should be treated accordingly.

Note: I expect the comments to remain civil. This is not the place to get into a flame war over the issue of immigration.