Archives For Indiana

There’s been some good conversation sparked by my post yesterday on the effects of anti-Pagan propaganda (in this case from Catholic exorcists and the Catholic media outlets who shine a spotlight on them). First, for those who wanted to hear more about the incident I mentioned concerning the Indiana Pagan Pride event, and the tensions that resulted when a Catholic youth event overlapped with it, check out the inaugural post from the new Indiana PNC bureau.

Torcyr Storm Gull, who has been the security coordinator for Indianapolis Pagan Pride Day for the last nine years, commented, “Everything worked out beautifully. I had no issues with the organizers of CYO. There was I feel a lot of miscommunication between the parks and CYO. Honestly the only issue all morning was from a stereotypical soccer dad that threatened me with violence for conducting traffic safely so the children were NOT in danger. He seemed to settle down or at least grumble to himself after I pointed out if he wished I would let the park officers deal with his disruptive behavior. There were no vehicles driving across the grass. The problem is CYO believed they had free run of the whole park and tried to use it despite the fact that the 52 vendor locations were clearly staked out. I would like to thank CYO for being so understanding and helpful after things were explained to them. All of the uproar over this wonderful event is being caused by a few rowdy parents who have no clue as to what happened .

Of course, one of those “rowdy parents” called the media, which is what brought the entire situation to our attention. A few commenters here at The Wild Hunt pointed out that the matter was resolved peacefully, and thus wasn’t a good example of how anti-Pagan propaganda has negative effects, but I think that “rowdy parents” angry enough to call the media and essentially argue that we shouldn’t be allowed equal treatment speaks volumes about how ongoing rhetoric against our faiths erodes civility and peaceful co-existence. Propaganda, in my mind, doesn’t suddenly turn human beings into violent monsters, but it does erode our compassion for those branded as “other” (or demonic).

Here are some other thoughts from yesterday’s Wild Hunt comments that I thought were noteworthy:

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn't be able to use public parks.

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn’t be able to use public parks.

“I find that in prejudiced people (like the “concerned Catholic Parent” shown in the video, there is a kind of “cognitive dissonance.” He considers the Pagans “silly” (even laughing at them), and yet he is OUTRAGED by them. Why be outraged by silliness? It just doesn’t make sense. (I think HE finds them “silly,” but his Church teaches that they are something to be outraged by. Therefore, he must keep these 2 thoughts in his mind, and the dissonance of those 2 thoughts is what is disturbing him.)”Obsidia

“Certainly there are adherents who cling to the party line and cause trouble for the likes of us and this absurdity with increasing exorcisms is definitely problematic for us. But the farther The Church goes against all sense and reason, the more members they will lose. They’ll be reduced to the whackadoos ranting about demons and throwing salt in people’s faces. And yeah, that’s dangerous, but I’m not going to hold any hostility or anger toward Catholicism because of the hard-line whackadoos.”Sunweaver

“Jason, props to you for highlighting a serious problem, not just within contemporary Catholicism, but contemporary Christianity as a whole. I first encountered the “Pagans worship the devil” narrative within evangelical Christianity, and it remains as entrenched in certain corners of the Protestant world as within the Catholic right. Meanwhile, please remember that many Catholics (and Protestants) seek to promote positive interfaith dialogue and psychologically healthy models of spirituality that eschew these kinds of narratives. Any religion is capable of demonizing outsiders (yes, even Neopaganism). It’s certainly more pernicious when Catholics or other Christians do it because of their social influence and privileged status within our society. But it’s a problem of the human condition that unfortunately can be found anywhere that people settle for ethnocentric rather than world-centric systems of ethics and morals.” – Carl McColman (a Patheos columnist, and former Pagan turned contemplative Christian)

“As Jason says, this is something that actually does trickle down. As a Pagan married to a Catholic, I happen to attend Mass every once in a while especially recently as I’ve just moved to Massachusetts and my wife wanted some support as she ventured into various churches to try and find one that she likes the best. Attending Mass a few weeks ago, during the homily, the priest was fairly specific in his denigration of Pagan practices. He didn’t specifically link them (us) to evil or to Satan, but it was still an unsettling moment for myself and for her.”Dashifen

“Occasionally, when listening to some of the more, shall we say excitable adherents of other faiths, I find myself thinking, “Hang on a minute, they’re talking about someone they think is me!”. Trying to ride out that uncomfortable moment is always problematic.”Purple Pagan

Thanks to everyone who’s contributed their thoughts on this matter. I think that openly discussing how anti-Pagan propaganda actually affects us personally helps put a human face on an abstract concept peddled by the Catholic exorcism lobby. It’s only by seeing us as human, as realizing that we  are simply adherents of a different faith, not demon-ridden monsters, that interfaith efforts and understanding can find fruit.

That there is a thread of hostility and distortion against modern Pagan faiths within Catholicism is well documented. My own journey in exploring this murky territory started in 2006 when Catholic pilgrims attacked and threatened Pagans in Glastonbury, leading me to wonder what exactly is being taught to Catholic youth about our faiths.

“Maya Pinder, the owner of the shop, said: “We’ve had to hear comments such as ‘burn the witches’, we’ve had salt thrown in our faces and at our shop, people were openly saying they were ‘cleansing Glastonbury of paganism’.”

I truly thought this was just an isolated, ugly, incident. A few bad apples who took the whole “crusader” bit a tad too seriously and thought that cursing and throwing salt on innocent people was a laugh. However, over time I realized that this incident didn’t happen in a vacuum, and that the Catholic Church was becoming radicalized around the notion of “occult” practices through the process of reviving exorcisms. The idea of demonic possession, and that it can be caused by involvement with modern Pagan religions, has been re-mainstreamed within Catholic thought.

“The second level of demonic influence is obsession. At this level, there is still no sign of anything paranormal happening. The person starts to give in to the temptation. He may become reclusive and secretive as he becomes obsessed with the evil that he is entertaining. This evil may be in the form of occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity, or obsession with power and violence.

That’s  Fr. Dwight Longenecker, and he wrote that for Patheos. Which, I am assured, is a rather mainstream and prominent site for religion coverage.

But perhaps I’m overstating my case? I don’t want to be accused of sensationalism, or raising a question over phantoms and rumor, so let’s turn to an article in today’s National Catholic Register,  the oldest national Catholic newspaper in the United States, owned by a popular Catholic television network.

“Evil has not fallen out of fashion. Exorcism is a rite developed — and promulgated — to meet a need that still exists, due to more people delving into New Age and occult practices. And, yes, satanic worshippers are a reality.”

That, folks, is the opening paragraph. This is a Catholic reporter writing for a Catholic audience, and we start with how “New Age and occult practices” are tied to evil, and by extension Satanic worship. Then, after a completely unsubstantiated aside about how Satanists are routinely stealing the host (blessed wafer) from churches to use in their diabolic rites, they trot out their expert witness.

“The Rite was one of a handful of movies about exorcism released in the last two years, and a short-lived television series on the subject also launched. But that’s far from the point, says Father Thomas. “There is a greater need for exorcism because there is a greater frequency of the practices of the occult, New Age and Satanism, both on the part of Catholics and other people alike,” he said. Conference speakers explained that  people begin experimenting with other traditions and rituals, often simply out of curiosity. They don’t realize that they are, at the same time, losing their spiritual center and turning away from God.”

That’s Catholic exorcist Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins). He’s probably the most famous Catholic exorcist currently making the rounds. Thomas is also believer in Ritual Satanic Abuse, despite the fact that the moral panic that held sway during the 1980s and 90s produced no credible proof of a underground network of Satanic abusers.

So what is the problem if some Catholics think we’re demon-haunted dupes who need a good old “power of Christ compels you” moment? Isn’t this just Catholics talking to other Catholics, using exorcism as a form of boundary maintenance of their own traditions? The problem is that rhetoric has consequences, and we don’t live in a world populated only by Catholics. When we are framed as evil and demonic, tensions can arise in the real world.

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn't be able to use public parks.

A Catholic parent who thinks Pagans shouldn’t be able to use public parks.

“Two very different cultures met on one large open field and it led to some tense moments Saturday afternoon. For the fourteenth year in a row, Broad Ripple Park was home to the annual Pagan Pride Day, an all-day event that started early this morning to commemorate the autumnal equinox. Saturday was also a cross country meet for the Catholic Youth Organization which involved hundreds of kids and parents. It turns out the festival rented the field for the day and the CYO participants had to run around the festival. “They can do it someplace else. It is inappropriate here. It is embarrassing. I was outraged by it,” said one parent.”

This was in Indiana, after a Catholic event ran long, overlapping with a scheduled Pagan Pride event. According to one source, it was the Catholics, not the Pagans, who called the local news to complain about the incident. The Pagans, on the other hand, went through all proper channels to hold their event, and worked with organizers of the Catholic youth event to accommodate their event running long. The about-to-be-launched Pagan Newswire Collective Indiana bureau is currently writing up the story (their first) and I’ll feature it here once it’s up. It’s hard to read about this story and not think about the National Catholic Register piece posted today. It seems increasingly improbable that these two events exist in universes entirely unconnected. You can’t have an ongoing stream of rhetoric and anti-Pagan propaganda emerging from the clergy, and not expect it influence the laity.

If people who hold spiritual and religious power say something is bad often enough, people will listen. It saddens me that no prominent Catholics (that I know of) will step forward and say “enough” to this propaganda masquerading as a spiritual technology. I can only hope that cooler heads will prevail as Pagans and Catholics increasingly cross paths in our secular world.  Otherwise, the risk of families being torn apart, and tensions rising to the levels of Glastonbury in 2006, will continue to increase to the detriment of all involved. This demonic possession narrative has got to stop.

ADDENDUM: Here’s the full report from PNC-Indiana.