Archives For India

[Editor’s Note: We welcome our newest columnist Karl E. H. Seigfried. His writing will be appearing monthly on the fourth Saturday of every month. For more on Seigfried’s background and interests, check out his bio page.]

On January 30, lawyer Thakur Chandan Kumar Singh filed a domestic violence case in India against Rāma Dasharathi for mistreatment of his wife Sītā. This would likely have not made anything other than the local news, except for one fact: Rāma is the protagonist of the ancient Sanskrit text known as the Rāmāyaṇa, and he is believed by Hindus to be an incarnation of the god Viṣṇu.

Rāma and Sītā [Public Domain]

Rāma and Sītā [Public Domain]

Composed in India between approximately 300 BCE and 300 CE, and attributed to the poet Vālmīki, the Rāmāyaṇa tells the story of Rāma across 20,000 verses. As a young man, he is wrongfully deprived of kingship and exiled to the forest, where his wife Sītā is abducted by Rāvaṇa, a ten-headed rākṣasa (shape-shifting demon) who wants to add her to his royal collection of wives. With the aid of an army of monkeys, Rāma eventually rescues Sītā from Rāvaṇa’s island kingdom.

However, Rāma doubts whether Sītā has remained chastely loyal to him while in his lustful enemy’s realm. After her lengthy suffering in captivity, she undergoes a trial by fire that proves her innocence and brings the gods to earth as character witnesses. Rāma regains his kingdom, and all is well until he asks one of his advisors to report what his subjects are saying about him. He finds out that conventional wisdom questions his decision to accept Sītā’s innocence and bring her home. Reportedly, the people ask:

How could he take Sītā back into his heart? How could he enjoy pleasures with her when she had been snatched from him by Rāvaṇa and had even sat on his lap? Rāvaṇa had taken her to Lanka and put her in the ashoka grove. She was at the mercy of the rākṣasas. How can Rāma not be repulsed? We shall have to treat our wives in the same way. For whatever a king does, his subjects must do the same.

In an echo of his own unrighteous banishment, Rāma exiles his pregnant wife to the forest. When he later finds out that she has had twin children, he brings her back to undergo another trial of chastity in front of the gods. Sītā has apparently had enough, and calls upon her mother, the earth goddess Mādhavi. The ground opens up, a celestial throne appears, and Sītā disappears into the earth to the applause of the gods.

The Rāmāyaṇa takes place during the Treta Yuga, the second of four declining ages of Hindu cosmology. We are now in the Kali Yuga, the fourth and final age of the time cycle.

Singh’s motivation for bringing the legal case underscores how vibrantly alive the ancient tales are in today’s India. He explained the initial inspiration for the suit to Catch News: “[A] few days back I was present in the court when [the] judge was hearing a domestic violence case. It suddenly struck me that by that logic Rama was the first perpetrator of domestic violence against his wife. If Sita didn’t get justice in [the Treta Yuga], how will women get justice in [the Kali Yuga]?”

When I asked Lavanya Vemsani, Professor of History and Religious Studies at Shawnee State University, about Singh’s case, she said, “I think he is asking the wrong questions here. Indian domestic violence law only came into being a couple of years ago. It cannot be taken back to apply retroactively to anyone who lived a hundred years ago, let alone thousands of years ago. The reach of the law is very limited. It does not even apply to marriages conducted under other religious personal law such as Islamic marriage law and Christian marriage law.”

Singh told Catch News that “Sita was the epitome of [the] perfect wife, [she] went to exile with him and endured all hardships with Rama.” Referring to Rāma’s spurning of Sītā based on the whispered gossip of his subjects, he asked, “How could he leave her on the words of spies who questioned her character?”

Sītā's Exile by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) [Public Domain]

Sītā’s Exile by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) [Public Domain]

Utkarsh Patel, Professor of Comparative Mythology at Mumbai University in India, stresses the importance of the ancient text in modern India yet remains suspicious of Singh’s motives. “The Rāmāyaṇa is an important epic in India, and has a strong relationship with the people at large,” he told me. “Such cases are only seen as attention-grabbing episodes and as aberrations. Besides, the majority of the people don’t even get to know of such cases, except for the few who get to notice it in the newspapers.”

On modern India’s relationship with the ancient text, Vemsani comments, “I think this shows that the stories are still considered part of a collective heritage. I think it was in the 1980s, a research scholar carried out a study asking young women about role models. Sītā still won by a large margin against other female characters of the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata.” Asked by Catch News if his filing of the case was simply a publicity stunt, Singh replied, “I know there can be no action taken against Rama. But there should be a debate on it. All I want is justice for [Sītā].”

Patel comments, “While an insignificant percentage of people do question the idea of Rāma being a role model, not many go into such things beyond debates. It’s a curious mix of mythology with faith and belief system. Debates apart, faith exists and the people who question this generally do not matter in the larger scheme of things. However, such questions have always existed, and many different versions of the Rāmāyaṇa have tried to tackle these episodes in different ways. Views and counter-views on such aspects have always existed without affecting the following of the epic. Many authors, especially women, have written on this aspect of Rāma. Time and again, these debates are in the public space.”

Vesmani dismisses the importance of Singh’s suit: “I do not see too much impact. People understand the limitations of modern domestic violence law, and I think they also understand the futility of this case. So this might not have any effect at all other than to sensationalize Rāma and Sītā and provide fodder for media outlets.”

The judge of the district court did not simply throw out the suit out as nonsensical, but took it on its own terms and asked Singh five key questions during the hearing of the case: Who would be punished if the case were successful? Why had Singh only now filed a case for such a long-ago incident? Who will serve as witness? On what date did the offense occur? What is the evidence for the complaint? These questions being fundamentally unanswerable, the case was then thrown out as “not maintainable.”

Despite the judge’s declaration that the suit was “beyond all logic and facts,” there is actually legal precedent in India, including treatment of deities as owners of temples and receivers of temple wealth. In 2010, the Allabad High Court ruled that one-third of the city of Ayodhya belonged to Rām Lalla, the infant form of Rāma. One effect of this decision was that Rāma was officially declared a historical person. In other words, this figure of mythological poetry is now legally a person.

Writing for the Deccan Chronicle, Antara Dev Sen explains: “In Indian law, a Hindu deity can be recognised as a legal person with their own rights and duties, their own worldly possessions and their right to sue or be sued. Given this, it is not absurd that [Rāma] is sued for domestic violence.”

Legal arguments over personhood are familiar in the United States. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 addressed the harming or killing of unborn children during a violent crime, defining “unborn child” as “a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.” Although the act explicitly excepted abortion, it was seen as moving toward the legal granting of personhood to fetuses – a crucial step for the anti-abortion movement. In both the Indian and the American cases, religious beliefs come into conflict with and affect changes in secular law.

When I asked Vemsani how the Singh case reflects current Hindu ideas about the reality and immanence of deities in the world, she replied, “I think Rāma and Sītā are in a different category by themselves. They are seen as incarnations of Viṣṇu and [his wife, the goddess] Lakṣmī, but in their purely human form. So they exemplify humanity with human worries and concerns. However, as a permanent and final destination Brahma (universal soul) is consistent. The gods and goddesses are path breakers – somehow human in form to help humans reach their final goal (Brahma).”

Could a case like Singh’s be heard in the United States? A 2014 Gallup poll showed that 47% of Americans believe that “the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.” There’s not a lot of wiggle-room in that statement. Gallup also found that 42% of Americans believe that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.” A 2013 Harris poll found that 36% of Americans believe in creationism. If a Biblical character were put on trial in the United States, it is not completely certain that a grand jury consisting of randomly selected citizens would find the notion of legally historicizing mythical figures ridiculous.

Sīta Taken by the Earth Goddess by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) [Public Domain]

Sīta Taken by the Earth Goddess by Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906) [Public Domain]

There have now been three separate suits brought against Singh for defamation of Rāma and for offending the Hindus who believe in him. Fellow lawyers have requested that Singh’s license to practice law be canceled. In response, Singh told the BBC, “I expected some objection but did not anticipate that my colleagues would turn against me. I was only talking about justice and had no intention of hurting anybody’s religious sentiments.” In a pattern familiar from overheated online dialogue on religious and political issues, Mr. Singh has received threatening telephone calls from right-wing groups furious at his filing of the suit against Rāma.

Relevant to these issues is Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which addresses “Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” It mandates fines and jail time for anyone who, “with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class.”

In 2014, the law made headlines when it was used to pressure Penguin Books to withdraw and destroy all copies of Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. Patel says, “Such and many other laws are open to misinterpretation, and frivolous suits will always be filed in a democracy, whether we like it or not. However, in the case of Doniger’s book, Penguin did not even get into challenging the case. If they had challenged the ‘insult,’ the outcome could have been different. The book was simply pulped without a court order. The book has been published by another publisher and is selling in the open market.”

The issue with Section 295A is not whether any statement made is true or not, whether it is a quote from an ancient religious text or not, but only whether it outrages or insults the feelings or beliefs of a religious group. Try scrolling through Twitter or Facebook and counting how many times you see a post expressing the claim of a person of faith that their feelings or beliefs have been insulted. Then imagine what would happen if each of them brought a lawsuit against the individual they felt had caused this sense of insult.

Patel told me that although people in India “do have a lot of faith in such texts and many treat them as history (itihasa) and not mythology, it doesn’t go beyond debates and discussions, in certain news channels and on the Internet. Such cases are treated as mere gimmickry and nothing else, and nobody gives it any importance.” However, there are plenty of Americans who want their religion to have a stronger role in the secular and legal world. A 2015 study by the American Bible Society found that 51% of adult Americans felt that the Bible had too little influence on U.S. society. Also last year, Public Policy Polling found that 32% of respondents “support making Christianity the official religion of the United States.” 23% thought that “Islam should be illegal in the United States.”

According to Patel, secularism can withstand challenges from the faithful: “Secularism was a decision taken by the forefathers of the freedom movement more than six decades back. A section of people are of the opinion that it has only done harm, but the majority still feel that if there is a problem, then it needs correction and [they do] not question the idea of secularism itself. In the modern context, there does seem to be a dilemma of sorts.”

We have also seen members of the highest court in the United States express legal opinions perfectly in keeping with the key principle of Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code: it does not matter whether a litigant is right or wrong about any given subject, as long as what they believe to be true is grounded in religious belief. This seems to substantially lower the burden of proof for the religious litigant. In practice, it removes it completely.

In the 2014 Supreme Court case of Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, a brief submitted by a large group of physicians and medical organizations unequivocally stated that “the scientific evidence confirms that the FDA-approved forms of emergency contraception are not abortifacients,” that, by definition, the drugs and devices in question prevent implantation rather than terminate an existing pregnancy. The brief also reminded the court that “First Amendment jurisprudence maintains a distinction between scientific facts which are verifiable, and matters of protected religious belief which are more personal.”

In contradiction to scientific fact, Judge Antonin Scalia accepted the assertion of Hobby Lobby’s Evangelical Christian owners that the pregnancy-preventing measures were abortifacients, and he referred to them as such. The court’s majority opinion begins by stating that “according to [the Hobby Lobby owners’] religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients.” Given that the case was decided in favor of Hobby Lobby, the court gave greater weight to religious beliefs about the categorization of a class of drugs and devices than to verifiable medical facts.

When I mention Singh’s case against Rāma to non-Hindu Americans, they usually react with the same sort of bemusement that they exhibit when I mention the belief in elves of modern Icelanders. “Imagine living somewhere we people still believe in this stuff!” However, in light of American beliefs regarding Biblical literalism and the role of religion in secular society, and given the Supreme Court’s preferential view of religious beliefs on scientific subjects, are we that far from serving court papers to Christ or bringing suits over outraged religious feelings? If an individual declares that God is “using” him to fight homosexuality through baked goods in a nation where 63% of adults have an “absolutely certain” belief in God’s existence, why not charge the deity with incitement in the resulting court case? 38% of Americans claim that God has told them what to do. Maybe it’s time for him to speak in his own defense.

When reporting on witchcraft in India, journalists must invariably tell the tragic tale of accusations, persecution and extreme violence. However, there is another side to the practice of Witchcraft, more specifically Wicca, in the country. While most of the victims of witchcraft-related crimes are not actual practitioners, there are Witches and Wiccans thriving in India’s unique and rich culture.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, arguably India’s most well-known and public Witch. She answered questions about her own journey and about living in a society that struggles with real witchcraft violence. Aside from being a Wiccan priestess, Ipsita is an author and the founder of The Wiccan Brigade of India and The Young Bengal Brigade, based in Kolkata.


Ipsita Roy Chakraverti [Courtesy Photo]

We first asked Ipsita how and where she discovered Witchcraft and Wicca. She said, “My journey into Wicca began many, many decades ago [in] a chalet in the Laurentians in Canada. My father Debabrata Chakraverti was in the diplomatic service, and was then posted as India’s Permanent Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organisation of the U.N.. My mother Roma came from the blue blood of India’s royal houses of Mayurbhunj and Coochbehar. We were living in Montreal … We were part of the elite and the official world. Also, very much the orthodox world.”

During that time, Ipsita met the “the enigmatic Carlotta,” a lawyer and “scholar of the esoteric and ancient traditions of the world.” Carlotta was involved in a private women’s study group of ancient religions. After a series of interviews, meetings, and discussions, Ipsita was allowed into this somewhat secret society.

Ipsita remembered, “The room in Carlotta’s house in Lachine would have the glow of lamps and velvet drapes drawn close. There, we would study and delve into ancient esoteric traditions of the world. We would research and discuss subjects as diverse as Taoism, the Jewish traditions, Egyptian magic, Celtic lore and much more. It was like stepping through a portal and into a monastery from another time, another place. It was there that I going was first introduced to the subject of [Witchcraft].”

Her parents were very supportive in Ipsita’s spiritual quest for knowledge. She studied at the chalet “hidden in the Laurentians.” For periods of time, she said, “We’d be living the monastic life. The chalet seemed to me to be set at a special power spot. It was surrounded by the elements, and by nature … I still recall vividly the room of a thousand crystals, which Carlotta had shown me. And I recall the beauty and depth of my own initiation there.”

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

Ipsita leading a group of Psychic Investigators [Courtesy Photo]

When Ipsita returned to India as an adult in the 1960s, she was faced with a culture that had a very different relationship with Witchcraft. Despite the new setting, Ipsita continued her studies and her association with the women’s group. In an article published in 1977, Ipsita wrote, “Our society contains 75 female members. I have never met them all… I am in the only Indian woman in the coven. We choose to call ourselves ‘pagan priestesses’ and sometimes ‘witches.’ ”

Over the following years, she continued her practice and studies and eventually began using the word ‘Wicca.’ As time went by, her work became more public. She began writing and was often interviewed by India’s media. Through that work, Ipsita took up the crusade to empower India’s women. In a 1994, she told a Delhi Mid Day reporter, “I want to awaken the witch in every woman.”

By the 1990s, Ipsita was directly addressing India’s witchcraft-related violence problem and the reality of women being “branded ‘daayans’ or witches.” In an essay for the Hindustan Times, she wrote, “Wicca and Witchcraft are the key to liberation.” Her religious beliefs and practice were, and still are, interwoven with a dynamic feminist spirit.

Ipsita explained, “India is very patriarchal, even today. When they saw me, standing up for those they were trying to brand and destroy, and saw that I was helping these women by calling myself a ‘witch’, these lobbies erupted with fury. These were vested interests which could not tolerate me because I was saying that a woman who was an individual had her own rights.”

Because of Ipsita’s social status, these “lobbies” couldn’t touch her, which only caused more friction. She said, “In India, class and background still count.” Using her social privliege as leverage, Ipsita was able to “show up” the motives behind the witch hunts, whether caused by gender inequality, ageism, property ownership, vendettas or sexual advances. Ipsita added that she also wanted to demonstrate that “superstition is a very carefully cultivated industry” and there are many who “gain from it – money, property, ego, power.” She said, “I was unmasking them.”

While working on these varied socio-cultural problems, Ipsita was also teaching her Wiccan tradition and building her personal practice. We asked her specifically about that tradition and how Indian culture or the Hindu religion informs it. She first said, “I follow a tradition which encompasses the goddesses of all cultures, east and west. After all, the Wiccan tradition spans something which is beyond barriers of land and people.”

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

When asked specifically about the inclusion of the Hindu pantheon, one that is often incorporated or revered by Wiccan traditions in U.S., she said, “There is no formal bind on us regarding the Hindu pantheon. However, since we follow the goddess culture, we acknowledge the Indian goddesses Durga for strength, Kali for detachment and power and Saraswati for learning and the quest for knowledge. All these goddesses seem to have western counterparts, hence we look upon the goddess power as one, whose manifestations are many. In that was, our Wicca is more monotheistic.”

Ipsita approximates that there are around 5000 Wiccans across India, both men and women. Through her own groups, she teaches “the culture of the great goddesses of the world [and] the tools of Wicca.” She added, “Most of all, I teach them what was ingrained into me – the attitude. The way of life. Of how one deals with the ups and downs of life. It is something monastic and something beautiful. And yet one lives in the normal, everyday world, going about one’s business. One learns to make a success of that too. A strange contradiction perhaps … I believe it is in us to achieve the ‘super-mind’ as taught by great Indian mystics like Shri Aurobindo,– to be a super-breed among men and women.”

As a child back in Canada, she was introduced to Witchcraft not as a structural religious institution taught within a hierarchical organization, but more of a way and or a method. She said, “I come from a world … when the name and the word ‘Teacher’ was enough. When Wicca was taught and passed on from a handful of teachers to their students. It was partly an oral tradition, and partly through the study of old parchments and books. And a lot of it was experience – of the power in rocks and earth, or the sacred forces which can come alive, and much more. My teachers were not those who were looking to run a Pagan organizations. They wanted perhaps only that some of their knowledge should pass on to a few of the next generation. That the ancient ways should not die out with them.”

Ipsita explained that she is like that in many ways. However, facing the socio-cultural issues within India, she felt “forced” to create an organization. In 2006, she formed The Wiccan Brigade. However, Ipsita still refuses titles and only wants to be known as a teacher. She said, “We delve into the old ways and mystical learnings, old texts and writings from different cultures. It is a  path, where the teacher-student relationship is important, like the Indian “gurukul” system of old. The student learns from life and the ways of the teacher, and not just book learning. Ours is a blend of both the eastern and western systems – passing on the old knowledge.”

Over the years, Ipsita has written a number of articles, essays, and books, including Spirits I Have Known, Beloved Witch and Sacred Evil. She has appeared in several movies including a 2006 Bollywood film called Sacred Evil based on her book of the same title. In 2011, her story was featured in a telefilm called Mannequin. And, a third film, Loving Doll, is currently being produced, which is also based on her true-life stories.

Appearing with Ipsita in Mannequin is her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti. Like her mother, Deepta is also a Wiccan practitioner, and is publicly open about her practice. Deepta is the general secretary of the Wiccan Brigade and has studied both mathematics and law. This summer Deepta released her own book titled, Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters.

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Ipsita with her daughter Deepta Roy Chakraverti

Ipsita said, “I have taught [Deepta] to learn from the world around her. As my own teacher had once told me, ‘life is the greatest school,’ so I have taught her. She studies the texts and subjects which are part of our Wiccan curriculum. She has an enquiring mind which enjoys delving into the why’s and wherefore’s of things, and to not take things at face value. I have taught her to align herself with the forces and elements around us, for they have much to teach. She lives with an attitude which is that of strength and independence.”

Ipsita’s journey is not yet over. Over the years, she has garnered support from the “highest echelons” of Indian society and politics in her “fight against the misuse of the term witch.” She said, “The goal is not yet reached because our women still suffer at the hands of a male dominated society and are tortured. My goal will be reached when I can show the perpetrators of crimes in the name of ‘witchcraft’ that every strong woman is a witch …”

Despite those struggles, Ipsita remains hopeful looking back on all of what she has already achieved. She said, “Today, I have the Wiccan Brigade which receives so many applications every day from men and women, of all ages, who want to be a part of the movement … But perhaps my greatest satisfaction all said and done comes from seeing how my detractors have fallen by the wayside. Today, I write books which become best sellers. Today, what I say counts.” Her voice is being heard.

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.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • At Time Magazine, Megan Gibson praises the re-ascension of the Witch in pop culture. Quote: “Now, witches are getting another crack at dominance. And I think that’s a good thing — particularly for the young girls and women who are the primary audience for these shows. Unlike the female leads in most vampire stories, women in witchcraft stories are typically depicted as strong, capable characters. They might not always be noble, but they’re certainly not weak or passive characters who sit on the sidelines while the men take charge. Fictional witches are well-rounded characters with rich interior lives, while the females in vampire stories are the supernatural equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Gibson also notes the amoral universe some contemporary fictional witches operate in these days, but thinks that “young girls and women don’t need role models from television, they need options.”
  • Could teaching about nutrition in India help deter accusations of witchcraft? Quote: “The Jharkhand State Women’s Commission is planning to approach the state government to hold nutrition programmes simultaneously with the awareness campaigns against withcraft to combat the superstition effectively. […] Superstitions were attached to illness caused by malnutrition among children and innocent women were often made responsible for this by branding them as witches. This could be curbed through joint campaigns by health mission and literacy programmes.”
  • Canada’s National Post reports on the World Mission Society Church of God, also known as the Church of God. Specifically, it notes that this Christian denomination worship a goddess. Quote: “Most Christian churches believe in one God, commonly described in male terms as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the Church of God believes the Bible testifies that two Gods exist: God the Father and God the Mother. […] The church teaches that since the Bible testifies that men and women were both created in God’s own image, God actually has two images: male and female. In other words, there are two Gods – Heavenly Parents – who together created human beings in Their likeness.” There’s nearly 2 million members of this church, FYI.
  • After the controversy in 2012 over Canada eliminating all paid part-time chaplain services (starting with the Wiccans), effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair, the government has quietly tasked a private company with providing chaplaincy services. Quote: “Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc., a company started by a handful of current and former federal prison chaplains in direct response to the request for proposals issued in May, won the bid. Since October, about 30 full and part-time chaplains of all denominations, including Wicca and including many who worked in the federal prison system perviously, have been serving prisoners across the country, according to company president John Tonks.” Proponents of the new system says it promotes “equity” among prison chaplains.
  • In a shocking twist, a Christian columnist finds that he thinks Christianity is better than Paganism. Quote: “Absolute truth exists. And truth is not determined by the majority, but by the Truth-Giver. Most important, truth matters and consequences exist. We must be willing to discuss this so we can distinguish between good and bad ideas; or risk the consequence of being held back as individuals and/ora nation; or worse. If we don’t want to accept this, pray the pagans are right so that in the end it doesn’t matter.” He also has some feelings about gay marriage, again, shocking, I know.
Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

  • profiles photographer Anthony Karen, who has spent time documenting Haitian Vodou. Quote: “The Vodou faith teaches us to bless nature and support cosmic harmony for the purposes of mastering divine magnetism. Vodou accepts the existence of the visible and the invisible, in a sense that it is believed that one does not see all that exists, and Vodou is in full compliance with the laws of nature.” Be warned, some of the photos are of animal sacrifice and quite graphic. Meanwhile, has also posted a photographic look at a Vodun fetish market in the nation of Togo.
  • So, it seems Charismatic Christians are using the phrase “religious witchcraft” for people who “shame” or “threaten” Christians into bowing “to their ungodly will.” Quote: “So when you discern religious witchcraft—which often manifests as intimidation, manipulation and maligning—don’t try to defend yourself. Let the Lord vindicate you. Don’t stop doing what God told you to do. Keep pressing into your kingdom assignment with confidence that He has your back—because He does.” I can only imagine the havoc this is going to cause Google-ing Charismatics. Good luck with all those Pagan search results!
  • Infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is trying to re-start her anti-witchcraft themed ministry. Quote: “Ukpabio has literally re-launched her witch hunting ministry which is blamed for the menace of child witchcraft allegations and human rights abuses in the region. For some time now her ministry has been criticized locally and international because of its role in fueling witchcraft accusation and related abuses in Nigeria and beyond. But she appears unrepentant, and unfazed by the criticisms. Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch with a divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft.” As I’ve pointed out before, Ukpabio has received support and money from American churches, and is a public face of the larger problem of Western missions directly or indirectly funding witch-hunting.
  • A Pagan priest in the UK is calling on goddesses to help find a lottery ticket winner, because, well, why not? I guess? Quote: “David Spofforth, priest of Avalon, has called on the help of ancient Goddesses to reveal the holder of an unclaimed EuroMillions lottery ticket. […] The self-styled Priest of Avalon priest conducted a 20-minute ceremony at St Ann’s Well in Hove, which is said to be the starting point of ley lines running across the South Downs.”
  • Satanic Panic, it really was a thing folks. Seriously.
  • 6% of libertarians belong to a non-Christian religion, while 27% claim to be religiously unaffiliated. This places them at odds with the rest of modern-day conservative-leaning groups. Quote: “By contrast, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are white evangelical Protestants, while roughly equal numbers identify as Catholic (22 percent) or white mainline Protestant (19 percent), and fewer than 1-in-10 (9 percent) are religiously unaffiliated.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

In last week’s Sunday column, we traveled to Peru with Crow Woman Alane Brown to hear about her life changing journey with the Peace Corps. This week we’ll go to the other side globe where a New York dance school is engaging in a cultural exchange with the single goal of making a difference in the lives of local youth. From the high mountains of the Andes to the picturesque lakes of Northern India, there are individuals making small changes to affect positive change.

Evening in Udaipur by By Geri from Biel/Bienne, Schweiz  via Wikimedia Commons

Evening in Udaipur by By Geri from Biel/Bienne, Schweiz via Wikimedia Commons

Udaipur, called the “City of Lakes” is located in the state of Rajasthan in North Western Indian. It is a cultural center, intellectual hot-spot, and tourist destination. With its striking landscape, dotted with majestic places, Udaipur has been the backdrop for many films and has become a popular wedding destination for the world’s wealthy. In 2008, London Times freelance journalist Max Davidson wrote:

Every image seems eerily familiar, an echo of old Europe in modern India: that glorious cacophony of mooing cows and hooting mopeds and noisy street markets. Udaipur, the Venice of the East, is living up to its name.

But Udaipur has another side. Despite its myriad of schools and Universities, Rajasthan has a 67% literacy rate which is 7 points below the country’s average (74%). For women the outlook is worse with a meager 52% literacy rate, 13 points below the national average of 65%. The 2011 maternal mortality rate was 318 women per 100,000. That is more than 100 deaths higher than the national average – one of the country’s worst.

The discrepancy between the statistics and Udaipur’s glorious reputation tell the story of India.  It is a country of economic extremes – the likes of which are not known in the United States. Today India is struggling with legacies left by the British occupation and its own restrictive cultural baggage. India’s leaders are arduously working to repair the damage and reverse negative trends. However, strict socio-economic boundaries still remain very much intact, making it difficult for those of different classes to regularly interact within a healthy community atmosphere.

There are a host of India-based organizations working to mitigate the pervasive social burdens. One of these organizations is Big Medicine Charitable Trust (BMCT), a non-governmental organization (NGO), founded by several women whose original mission was the “greening of India.”  In 2010 BMCT representatives attended the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Massachusetts. While there, they watched a performance called Earth Beat presented by The Vanaver Caravan.

The BMCT reps were so impressed with the performance that they immediately approached director Livia Vanaver to discuss a possible cultural exchange with Udaipur.  Livia had already done similar work in Sweden and was excited about the possibility of visiting India.  Later that year she invited the BMCT reps to New York’s Hudson Valley to fully experience The Vanaver Caravan’s work and mission.

The Vanaver Caravan is not a typical dance school. As stated on their website:

Peace is an ongoing process.  We recognize that cultural and traditional differences can divide us.  Our mission is to celebrate those differences through dance and music in an effort to unite the world and give hope to our communities.

Livia Drapkin Vanaver

Livia Drapkin Vanaver

Founded in 1972, The Vanaver Caravan dancers have traveled the world to teach, perform and learn traditional dances from the depth of the world’s cultures.  Returning to the United States these dancers share their experiences with others through their studio classes at Columbia University, where Livia Vanaver currently teaches, or through classroom outreach programs. In the past The Vanaver Caravan has also partnered with the Friendship Ambassador’s Foundation and performed a healing program for victims of the 9/11 tragedy.

For founder, dancer and choreographer, Livia Vanaver dance is more than just movement.  She says:

Dance and music transcend everything.  [They] offer an atmosphere of possibility that doesn’t necessarily exist in our everyday life.

In 2012 BMCT welcomed four of Livia’s dancers to Udaipur for a trial pilot program. The Vanaver dancers worked with three different schools representing three different socio-economic backgrounds. Their work was to culminate in a single final performance bringing all three schools together.  Initially there were strong reservations from both the administration and students.  For example the students from the lower-income girl’s school were terrified of being mocked during the final performance.  However the dancers pressed on.  Livia wrote:

As our program unfolded we witnessed the change in the way students, teachers and administrators thought about teaching and learning.  The culminating performance had the entire audience cheering – the children of each school watched in fascination as their peers brought dances from around the world to life.  What we did was use dance to unite three school communities of varied social castes in a celebration of arts culture and diversity.

The startling success of the pilot program paved the way for the full program which is now scheduled to begin in January of 2014.  The Vanaver Caravan is currently raising funds to support their travel expenses and that of additional college students.

BMCT already lined up 5 new Udaipur schools for the January project, one of which will be from the outlying farm lands of Udaipur.  However they expect more schools to sign on over the next few months.  In fact the organizers may open the program to the public as well.  Livia says,

[Performances like the one in Udaipur] provide such a feeling of can do and self-esteem that pure love fills the room. It is a tremendous feeling of joy that we are able to inspire and help other people in a transformative process.

During upcoming trip to Udaipur, The Vanaver Caravan will have two additional projects outside of teaching children.  First, they will be assisting in the support of a new school called The Shakti Academy of Dance, Circus Arts and Energy Healing in tandem with Shakti Works, a collaborative project between BMCT, a US/Japan environmental think tank and several other Indian cultural financiers. Shakti Works’ mission is to “reconnect the magic of performance, healing and the Natural World” through the divine spirit of Shakti as the Earth Mother, “the feminine incarnation of creative, healing and protective power.”

January 2013 "Dance for Change" Photo taken by R.J. Partington III and posted with permission from Livia Vanaver

January 2013 “Dance for Change” Photo taken by R.J. Partington III and posted with permission from Livia Vanaver

Secondly, The Vanaver Caravan will engage in an extensive cultural exchange with a local Udaipur professional dance troupe.  When The Vanaver Caravan dancers return to the United States, they will share their experience with students and children at all levels and with audiences throughout the world.  Livia says:

We aren’t becoming a global community. We are a global community. For students to experience that through their bodies is why we do what we do.

As with work being done by Alane Brown in Peru, a cultural exchange begins as a personal journey but evolves into so much more.  It is a transformative experience that can be shared. Through dance and music, it is possible to appreciate and experience another culture in an almost transcendental way without feeling the pressure to assimilate or convert, if you will.  The arts have the power of bringing people together because they are universally enjoyed.  They can be understood beyond the boundaries of language, culture, religion, and as shown in this story, even economics.

Through individual blogs and their own website, The Vanaver Caravan has shared much of their experience with this project to date.  You can read more about it  and about their other progressive project through their website.



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.

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Still from 1973’s “The Wicker Man”.

  • With the new “final cut” of the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man debuting in British theaters, a number of outlets are running new reviews, and the Guardian runs down how the film was made. Quote: “Christopher Lee was the obvious choice for Lord Summerisle. He had a patrician air, and this wonderful voice for incantations to the gods. Casting Howie was much harder. Michael York turned it down, David Hemmings had other fish to fry. Edward Woodward had always played counter-establishment parts on TV, but actors are always pleased to be cast against their image. He understood the script perfectly and grew into the uptightness of the role beautifully – the consummate actor.” Here are a selection of recent reviews: The Guardian, The Scotsman,  WhatCulture!, The Hollywood Reporter, The Arts Desk, and
  • At The Atlantic, Benson Daitz writes about how he oversaw a Santeria-style exorcism for prison inmate, and why that was the right decision. Quote: “Ron placed a large brown grocery bag on the floor, from which he produced a beautiful king conch shell. We all walked into the exam room, and standing in front of Jose’s staring face, Ron lifted the conch shell above his head and smashed it into a hundred pieces on the floor. Then he picked up a sharp piece of shell, gripped Jose’s left wrist, and cut an X into his forearm, blood oozing out from the pattern. Then, with another piece of shell, he cut a matching X into his own left forearm. Jose did not flinch. Facing Jose, Ron bound their cut arms together, palm-to-palm, with a red bandana. They spent the night in the clinic like that, tied together.”
  • At Aeon Magazine, Nigel Warburton argues that conversation, not isolation, is essential to breakthroughs and innovations in philosophy. Quote: “Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance […] Besides, why would a thinker cast seeds on barren soil? Surely it is better to sow then where they’re likely to grow, to share your ideas in the way most suited to the audience, to adapt what you say to whoever is in front of you.”
  • Guardian religion editor Andrew Brown poses the question: How do religions die? Quote: “Perhaps it is easier to think in terms of gods dying, rather than religions. And if we were to classify religions as involving different forms of worship, then you could certainly think that the extinction of worship towards a particular deity would count as the extinction of that religion. Certainly we can be sure that the religion of the Aztecs is dead with their gods, along with hundreds of thousands of others we can no longer reconstruct, and all the pre-literate ones whose existence we remain quite unaware of. Robert Bellah has a nice passage on this ‘Perhaps the end of Mesopotamian Civilization was marked, not by the last cuneiform document to be produced, but by the last prayer to be uttered to Marduk or Assur, but of that we have no record.'” Considering how many Pagans are devoted to reviving and reconstructing belief systems thought lost, this seems like a provocative question.
  • At the Religion in American History blog, John L. Crow takes a look at African-American esoteric religion. Quote: “One of the most significant African American religious tradition to fully incorporate a large variety of esoteric components, including portions from the Moorish Temple, is Dr. Malachi Zador (Dwight) York’s United Nuwaubian Nation. Operating for over 40 years, the Nuwaubian’s have an active presence in America, Canada, and the U.K. They have established temples and bookstores in a variety of cities, recruited tens of thousands of members, and yet, to date, there is only one monograph about them, The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate 2010) by Susan Palmer, and one significant essay in the JAAR, by Julius H. Bailey in 2006. Most other references in academic literature to the Nuwaubians are in passing, and usually only related to its incorporation of UFO and aliens in its religious teachings. Yet, UFOs only scratches the surface of how involved with esotericism the Nuwaubians are.” Fascinating stuff.
John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

  • The occult comic character John Constintine, who was once dramatized on screen by Keanu Reeves, is in development for a television series at NBC. Quote: “NBC has ordered a script from Warner Bros. TV that’s based upon the DC Comics anti-hero John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending citizens against dark forces.” I would like to take this opportunity to implore the writers to mine the early Jamie Delano years for material, instead of the crasser, and in my mind inferior (though more popular), Garth Ennis years.
  • Shoma Chaudhury writes about the role of women in India, and how they are trapped between the image of “slut” and Goddess. Quote: “The hopeful story about India is located elsewhere. The success of these women has a deeper foundation. Crucially, unlike almost every other democracy in the world – unlike either the US or UK – equal rights for women were enshrined in the very conception of the nation. Unlike First World countries, where women had to fight elemental battles for something as basic as suffrage rights, the Indian Constitution recognised equal rights for women from the very moment of India’s birth. No matter how imperfect the practice therefore, what we have as moral ammunition, are sublime articles of faith. It would’ve been wondrous if these articles of faith had worked as a miracle cure. But pitted against centuries-old social attitudes, they function rather as slow oxygen in the system. This oxygenation, however, should not be underestimated.” I think a crucial point here is that goddess worship, and legal rights, aren’t enough. That cultural attitudes must also change in order for women to be truly empowered.
  • Two accused “witches” in Zimbabwe are claiming in court that they are actresses hired by a local “prophet” to drum up business. It seems like it was a big con-job, one that authorities initially fell for. Quote: “A police source said: ‘His plan was to see people flocking to his so-called shrine – so spiritually powerful witches couldn’t fly over it. It was all a grand set-up.’ Police and prosecutors will face uncomfortable questions over how they took the women’s story at face value – even going to the extent of presenting them in court as witches.” Where-ever there’s a moral panic, there will be someone wanting to profit from it.
  • The Weekly Standard looks at the enduring popularity of supernatural fiction. Quote: “Nothing human is alien to supernatural fiction. Transgressive by definition, it ventures into the dark corners within all of us, probing our sexuality, religious beliefs, and family relationships, uncovering shameful yearnings and anxieties, questioning the meaning of life and death, even speculating about the nature of the cosmos. It’s no surprise that almost every canonical writer one can think of has occasionally, or more than occasionally, dabbled in ghostly fiction: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, even Russell Kirk, to name just a few outstanding examples. The genre’s best stories are, after all, more than divertissements. They are works of art that make us think about who and what we are.”
  • Druid Ci Cyfarth poses the question: What can a Pagan learn from the Five Pillars of Islam?  Quote: “In this article and the next, I’ll be looking at my understanding of each of the Five Pillars of Islam, considering what the practices of modern Pagans might have in common with Islam, and thinking about how Islam might inspire us to explore new elements of our paths we may not have considered.” Here’s part two of the two-part series.

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.

Nina Davuluri

Nina Davuluri


  • Sometimes the tourist-attraction witch business is so good you decide to go solo, at least that seems to be the case with the latest Wookey Hole witch, Sunny Van der Pas, who wants to launch her own clothing line. Quote: “Actress Sunny Van der Pas is leaving her role after two years to launch her own clothing line based upon her costumes. But now directors at the popular tourist attraction need a little magic of their own to find a replacement witch in time for Halloween. […] The attraction employs a witch pro rata, largely over the summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas, They are expected to live in the site’s caves during busy periods and to teach witchcraft and magic. The role normally attracts thousands of applicants, who then compete in for the post X Factor style auditions.” For the uninitiated, the Wookey Hole cave system in the UK (about 20 miles from Bath) has become something like the British version of Salem here (except even more tourist-y).
  • NPR highlights Candomblé in Brazil, spurred by a recent survey that saw an uptick in adherents. Quote: “Sitting among the faithful here is Marcilio Costa, who is the commercial officer at a foreign consulate in Sao Paulo. He became an initiate a year and a half ago, and he says he’s open about it. ‘Among Brazilians, yes. People understand better now. … All my friends know my religion, every single one of them,’ Costa says. ‘I don’t hide from no one.'”
  • The Paris Review interviews poet Gregory Orr, who opines on the nature of myths. Quote: “The beautiful thing about myths is that you’re never telling a myth, you’re retelling it. People already know the story. You don’t have to create a narrative structure, and you don’t have to figure out where it ends. As a lyric poet, you can take the moments of greatest intensity in the myth, or the moments that interest you most, or the ways of looking at the story that you think would be most fun to rethink—you don’t have to do the whole story. You want to know what human mystery can be revealed by retelling it. D. H. Lawrence said that myths are symbols of inexhaustible human mysteries. You can tell them a hundred, a thousand times, and you’ll never exhaust the mystery that’s coded into that story. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I believe it.” 
  • The Secular Student Alliance has launched the “Secular Safe Zones” program at high schools and colleges. Quote: “The program enlists ‘allies’ like Schmidt among faculty, administrators, counselors and others on college and high school campuses who are trained in the needs of nonreligious — or ‘secular’ — students. So far, there are Secular Safe Zone allies at 26 college and high school campuses in 14 states, including California, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Florida and New York.” This is based off of similar LGBTQ efforts, and you have to wonder how long it will be before various religious groups launch their own “safe zone” programs.
  • Blah, blah, blah, Christian persecution in the United States, blah, blah, blah, Obama is a pagan, blah blah blah. Quote: “As Barber explained, the Obama administration is the “modern-day equivalent” of ancient Rome, demanding that citizens must worship Caesar in the form of progressiveism.”

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking […] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s […]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

Florida Freemasons Reverse Anti-Pagan Edict: On November 28th, 2012, Jorge L. Aladro, Grand Master of Florida’s Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, issued a ruling stating that Paganism, Wicca, Odinism, and Gnosticism were not compatible with Freemasonry. Further, any Freemason who “professes to be a member of one of the groups mentioned above shall tender his resignation or suffer himself to a Trial Commission whose final outcome will be expulsion since there is no provision to allow anything contrary to the Ancient Landmarks.” This ruling caused quite a bit of consternation among both Pagans and Freemasons, two communities that have long and interlocking histories. Now, Christopher L. Hodapp at the Freemasons For Dummies blog reports that the edict has been overturned.


“The passed resolution reverses the Ruling in its entirety, and concludes by affirming ‘that Florida Masonry hereby declares its eternal devotion to the religious toleration that is one of the immovable and Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry, never to be changed by any man or group of men.’ The Jurisprudence Committee had recommended rejection.”

As one commenter aptly put it: “I am very proud of my brethren in Florida for defending religious tolerance and having the courage to undo a mistake that did damage to our fraternity.” This is very good news for Freemasons, Pagans, and Pagan Freemasons, and I hope it will signal a new beginning for all involved (more from PNC-Florida). For more information on how this whole mess got started in the first place, check out this editorial from PNC-Florida.

Progress, Study, and Introspection in the Matter of Papua New Guinea Witch-Killings: The world was shocked to attention earlier this year at the torture and burning of a woman in Papua New Guinea over charges of sorcery and witchcraft. While the case of Kepari Leniata was sadly not unique, that fact that it was so well documented via cell phone pictures gave it a visceral immediacy that is often absent in these cases. Now, the country’s Sorcery Act has been repealed, and capital punishment re-instated in an effort to quell these murders.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minster Peter O'Neill

Papua New Guinea Prime Minster Peter O’Neill

“The Parliament of Papua New Guinea has voted to repeal the country’s Sorcery Act and to reinstate the death penalty in certain cases to help stem an increase in violence against people accused of practicing black magic. Such violence is endemic in the South Pacific island nation, and a rise in the number of public killings in the past year has prompted international condemnation and embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. […] Amnesty International, which has campaigned loudly against sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea, praised the repeal of the Sorcery Act but assailed the reintroduction of the death penalty. Isabelle Arradon, a spokeswoman, said that represented ‘several giant steps back.'”

Meanwhile, a conference entitled “Sorcery and Witchcraft-Related Killings in Melanesia: Culture, Law and Human Rights Perspectives” is taking place this week in Australia that focuses on possible solutions to this horror, including whether legislative solutions can have any effect on witch-killings in the Melanesia subregion. Quote: “Belief in sorcery and witchcraft is so deeply embedded in Papua New Guinea that the problem will not be solved so easily as repealing a piece of legislation.” Still, at least there are signs that forces both within and without Papua New Guinea are struggling to find solutions. Let us hope that this terror can be abated for the sake of the victims, and the humanity of the perpetrators.

Famous Bengali Film Director a Member of India’s Wiccan Brigade: The world mourned this week on hearing that internationally known and celebrated film director Rituparno Ghosh died at the age of 49 after suffering a massive heart attack. As tributes and remembrances have emerged, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s most famous Wiccan adherent, claims that Ghosh was a student of her teachings, and a part of her “Wiccan Brigade.”

Rituparno Ghosh

Rituparno Ghosh

“For master storyteller Rituparno Ghosh, who died on May 30, the craft of Wicca — a modern pagan and witchcraft religion was a “great draw” as it appealed to his intellectual side. The filmmaker also exhibited a pronounced curiosity about “life after death”, says renowned Wiccan exponent Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. Ghosh was Chakraverti’s first student from the film fraternity […] “He was always a part of our programmes… As a speaker, as a participant. (He was) always very interested in learning the craft. In fact, he was my first student from the film fraternity,” said Chakraverti.”

As I’ve reported here previously, Chakraverti’s Wiccan Brigade has worked to combat violence against women in the form of witch killings and persecutions, and believes that the religion could empower women in the face of a “national problem” of rape. Knowing that Ghosh was a part of Chakraverti’s group adds an extra dimension to his character, part of a life dedicated towards equal treatment for all individuals in his home country. What is remembered, lives.

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

In North America and the UK the “Satanic” moral panics of the 1980s and 1990s are seen as an unfortunate rement of the recent past. A time when fear of secret “occult” and “Satanic” forces led innocent men and women to be accused of, and sometimes imprisoned for, imagined ghastly crimes against children. Sadly, these panics are not a remnant of the past, they continue to flare up across the world, and now that modern Pagan religions are truly global in scope, we are increasingly involved in, or endangered by, these panics.

Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti with her daughter Deepta, holding a crystal star in their hand

Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti with her daughter Deepta, holding a crystal star in their hand.

I think it is imperative that we start thinking of ourselves as a global movement. We aren’t just in Europe and the West, modern Pagans are endangered in Syria and Egypt, and the surviving Pagan religions of Russia (and their modern cousins) are increasingly threatened by draconian laws against “extremism.” We are in Africa and India, we are global in scope, we are no longer a handful of visionaries in England, New York, and California. This does not mean we should improperly claim innocent victims of witch-hunts as “ours,” but we should recognize that we can’t ignore the ramifications of ongoing attacks on “witchcraft,” “sorcery,” and the “occult” in nations across this planet. The boundaries are now getting too blurry to pretend it won’t become a major issue for us in the decades to come.

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World's Religions.

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World’s Religions.

It is for this reason, among others, that I think Pagan involvement with the global-scale interfaith movement is vital. As these issues intensify, it is imperative that Pagan voices are in a place where we can be heard. Where we can connect with influential men and women in positions to help us. Individuals like Don Frew, Patrick McCollumAndras Corban ArthenPhyllis CurottGus diZerega, or Angie Buchanan are going to be increasingly vital to how we are perceived outside our most populous strongholds. We have to move beyond the romantic ideas about who we are, and were, and work harder on pragmatic advances that will help all Pagans (and our allies). In addition, here in North America, the UK, Australia, and other places where being an out Pagan is (relatively) safer, we need to continue our outreach and dialog with African Traditional Religions, African Diasporic faiths, and other traditions who are experiencing the brunt of ill-informed and discriminatory beliefs about their practices.

Modern Paganism has been more successful than I think many people could have anticipated, and with that success comes new and greater challenges as we move forward. I think we are able to overcome these obstacles, but only if we are ready to take a clear-eyed view of what is happening in the world.

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!

Pagan Spirit Gathering Announces Location for 2013: Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), a Midwest Pagan festival that’s been running for more than 30 years, and broke attendance records last year, has announced that their festival will be held on the same lands in Illinois as the previous year, albeit under new ownership.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

“We are absolutely thrilled to be holding PSG at Stonehouse Farm,” said Sharon, PSG Manager.  “This will be our third PSG at this location, and we are excited to work with the new owners of the property to make this event a success and to grow PSG.” […]  “Our goal for PSG has always been to create a community where like-minded people can meet one another, learn, and develop tools and ideas that they can take home with them to deepen their spirituality in the year to come,” said Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary’s founder and Executive Director.  “This year our theme is ‘Connections’ and we hope to incorporate many ways for participants to connect with Community, connect with the Land and connect with the Divine!”

Stonehouse Farm was previously Stone House Park, whose owners had come under fire from locals over noise and complaints about illegal activity. This was the second PSG site to suffer from such complaints, though they never originated from Pagan Spirit Gathering. PNC Minnesota has the full story about the sale at their site.  With the site secured for another year, registration is now open!

Cherry Hill Seminary Joins Youtube:  Wendy Griffin, Ph.D., Academic Dean of Cherry Hill Seminary, has alerted me to the official launch of their Youtube account for the Pagan seminary. It will, in the words of Dr. Griffin, be used “to show people the caliber of teaching our students receive.” The first video in this new series is a talk by Sabina Magliocco, Ph.D. (who has gotten quite a bit of attention here lately) entitled “Folklore, Culture & Authenticity.”

2012 saw two major accomplishments for the Pagan learning institution: the awarding of its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, and graduate, Sandra Lee Harris having her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. No doubt 2013 hold even more in store for them as they journey towards accreditation and partner with The University of South Carolina for the “Sacred Lands and and Spiritual Landscapes” symposium.

The Pagan Voice Holds Fundraiser: Pagan Living TV, a non-profit media organization that seeks to create a world “where Pagan spirituality and philosophy is an influential voice in mainstream culture,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign for their weekly video news program “The Pagan Voice.” Dr. Todd Berntson, Executive Director of The Pagan Voice, said in a press release that the money raised will be used “to fund the purchase of equipment and build-out of our new studio space.”

“Up to this point, we have relied on borrowed equipment that is not well-suited for television production, such as digital cameras, cheap floodlights, and a mix of whatever microphones we have available to us at the time. This has made the production process very challenging and stressful. In order for The Pagan Voice to continue to grow, it is necessary to have the proper equipment.”

They are trying to raise $33,500 in 40 days, an ambitious sum for a newly launched organization and media outlet. Still, you never know, they have certainly raised the bar in production values for Pagan-oriented video programs, so perhaps The Pagan Voice will find the supporters it needs now. Check out the perks, and how they plan to spend the money raised, here.

In Other Community News: 

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