Archives For Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

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.

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.

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.

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.

Top Story: In Marion, Illinois, the city council is weighing the decision of whether to allow a local group to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the city’s Town Square. Enter atheist activist Rob Sherman, who says he’ll bring a lawsuit against the city if they erect the Ten Commandments monument without also allowing a display by a local Wiccan.

“If a Ten Commandments monument is placed on Marion’s Tower Square, resident Robert Donelson wants equal access to share the views of his Wiccan religion … “If Christians are going to have their viewpoint up here, let them at least put up ours,” he said. Donelson, who said he has been a Wiccan for five or six years, was introduced at the news conference by Rob Sherman, the atheist from northern Illinois who has warned city leaders they could be in for a legal battle if the Ten Commandments go up on public property … “I am calling Mayor (Bob) Butler’s bluff,” Sherman said. If the city allows the Ten Commandments, it must also allow room for other religious viewpoints, Sherman said.”

According to Sherman, Mayor Bob Butler has vowed to get the Judeo-Christian monument erected, and that he would only allow the viewpoint of the majority to be represented on the Town Square. Mayor Butler goes further in local paper The Southern, and mocks the Wiccan faith.

“I do not believe Mr. Sherman’s comments are worthy of comment. Period,” he said of Sherman’s threat of a lawsuit. Butler did say that the chances of a Wiccan viewpoint making it onto Tower Square were slim. “I only recently heard of the Wiccans and I am not impressed. They probably come from a different planet, maybe the same one Mr. Sherman comes from,” Butler said.

So much for equal access! I guess to Mayor Butler, some faiths are more equal than others under the law. It looks like Sherman will get to file his lawsuit against Marion, though there’s still a chance the City Council will back down under the threat of encroaching Wiccans. This isn’t the first time the seemingly frightening prospect of Wiccan participation has been used to influence local politics, though in some cases they are used as a fig-leaf of diversity. I hope that Robert Donelson knows what he’s getting himself into.

The Divine Feminine in Judaism: Tablet Magazine profiles Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Insitute, and other groups on the fringes of modern Judaism that (re)embrace the Divine Feminine, earth-based spirituality, Jewitchery, Jewish Paganism, and related concepts. Tablet notes that Kohenet priestesses, unlike Jewish converts to Paganism, stays rooted in a Jewish identity.

Back when Jewish Renewal and Starhawk were struggling to get off the ground, the notion of Jewish paganism was unimaginable because it defied the monotheistic core of Judaism. In recent years, though, Kohenet and other earth-based Jewish groups are challenging that monotheistic essence; in their view, Judaism and paganism can coexist. As Hammer and Shere write in an unpublished manuscript about Hebrew priestesses, Kohenet holds “a soft position with regard to monotheism.” While their work “conceives of God/dess as a unity,” they “welcome women who experience the divine as a multiplicity.” But unlike Starhawk and other Jews who became pagans, today’s earth-based Jews ground their theology explicitly in Jewish traditions and texts. “What’s new here isn’t that Jews are doing paganism,” says Jay Michaelson, a columnist for The Forward and an expert on Jewish spirituality who confesses that he has become more “pagany” over the last few years. “It’s that they’re staying Jews.”

The article also notes that these movements, despite their growing popularity in some areas, haven’t found much traction within mainstream Judaism, and two quoted Rabbis are quite critical (one calls Pagan Jews “perverts”). However, The Forward’s Jay Michaelson, who’s written about Jewish Paganism, notes that “pagany” elements have been emerging in mainstream synagogues lately, so who knows what the future may hold for the Jewish Priestesses, Jewish Witches, and Jewish Pagans.

Cults or Pranksters? The Lancaster Intelligencer Journal explores whether a recent grave robbery (on Friday the 13th) was the work of a disturbed prankster, or a practitioner of Palo Mayombe. So far local authorities seem to be reserving judgement, and the expert the paper talks to doesn’t seem to be heading in sensationalist directions.

Tony Kail is a Tennessee author and educator who has studied what he calls “magico religious activity.” He spoke to Stamford police about their case and is consulted by other departments about similar cases. Kail cautioned against jumping to any conclusions about a grave robbery. “A disturbed grave alone,” he said, “is not an indication of a magico religious activity,” he said. “Historically, many of the incidents involving grave thefts are done by those who aren’t involved in actual magico religious cultures. Individuals who ‘roll their own’ take elements from established religions and create their own subcultures.” Bones used in African-based religious traditions are used to represent ancestors, he said. But most bones used in Palo Mayombe are obtained through legal means, said Kail, who wrote “A Cop’s Guide to Occult Investigations” and “Magico Religious Groups and Ritualistic Activities: A Guide for First Responders.” Though disturbing, not every grave robbery is linked to rituals or the occult.

Tony Kail of Worldview Consulting is given high marks by Pagan author Dorothy Morrison, so hopefully things won’t veer into racial or religious profiling for what may be the work of a single disturbed individual. Crates, candles, and even animal parts, do not a religious ritual make. Whoever was the culprit, let’s hope he or she is soon caught and brought to justice.

Queens Tribune Faces Scrutiny: Those of you who followed my coverage of New York City Councilman Dan Halloran’s political campaign may remember that it was the Queens Tribune who outed him in a sensationalist fashion, nearly derailing his campaign in the process. Many pointed out that the Queens Tribune had a sister company that did consulting for his opponent, and that this created a conflict of interest for the paper, something the paper strenuously denied. Now the Queens Tribune is facing scrutiny again, as it’s been revealed that Democratic State Sen. Shirley Huntley paid 30,000 dollars to Multi-Media, run by Queens Tribune Executive Vice President and Associate Publisher Michael Nussbaum, for political consulting.

“It’s uncomfortable and it crosses the line,” said [Richard] Parker, a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center. “You should not have a newspaper executive simultaneously serving as a consultant to a candidate being covered by the paper.” Huntley said Nussbaum’s dual roles don’t pose any conflicts for her. “I hired him as a political consultant,” she said. “Everyone knows he’s with the paper. I assume this is a separate business.” Huntley, facing a tough primary against Democrat Lynn Nunes, insisted she wasn’t looking to garner favorable coverage from the weekly newspaper by hiring Nussbaum.

The article notes that it’s an “open secret” that Nussbaum runs both businesses, and mentions the Halloran campaign as a previous instance where the interests of the consulting company and the paper seemed to merge in an uncomfortable fashion. Will this latest coverage finally “out” Queens Tribune as a partisan paper? How impartial can you be when your parent company is cutting checks from the people you’re supposed to cover? I wonder how many local journalists are now comparing Multi-Media’s client list against the Queens Tribune’s coverage?

Two Kinds of Witchcraft in India: Two separate articles published the same day in the Calcutta Telegraph spotlight two different kinds of Witchcraft in India. The first looks at the problem of witch persecutions and killings, around 2,500 in the last 14 years, and efforts to “rehabilitate” women who’ve been ostracized.

Three months ago, it was decided that Purangi Nag, a Munda woman who worked in the Soongachi tea estate in Jalpaiguri’s Matelli block, was a witch. Purangi’s husband had died seven years ago; her son and his wife were killed by a rogue elephant. The widow’s neighbour, Birbal, has a son who fell ill soon after these mishaps. Purangi, he declared, was a witch who had cast a spell on the neighbourhood. One night, Birbal and three of Purangi’s neighbours — all men — assaulted her, injuring her grievously and forcing her to flee with her seven-year-old grandson, Dhiren, to her brother in a neighbouring village. When she approached the local thana, she was handed over to a temporary shelter run by the North Bengal People’s Development Centre.

The second profiles popular Indian Wiccan Ipsita Roy-Chakraverti, the “beloved witch”.

“When I started in 1987 in Calcutta, ‘witch’ used to be a bad word, an abusive expression,” she said. She went on to recount how she has struggled lifelong to remove the stigma attached to the word. In the process she has had to face “brickbats”, often quite literally. But Ipsita’s success in this context is limited only to a section of the urban populace. In Indian villages, ‘witch’ is not only a “bad” but also a dangerous word. Even in the city, a witch is generally that evil woman who has stolen one’s husband. How did the word ‘witch’ acquire a sinister ring and the worshipper of Goddess Diana become the ‘daiyen’ or ‘daini’? Ipsita said it was because of the marginalization of pagan cultures by mainstream religions. “This battle was a gendered one as well,” she added. Witchcraft has feminist tendencies as witches were the “worshippers of the mother goddess”, while conventional religions promoted patriarchy.

Wicca, particularly among the young, and in urban areas, continues to grow. Roy-Chakraverti has worked, sometimes with the government, to prevent witchcraft slayings and female infanticide. Can the growth of Wicca, and the subsequent redefinition of the term “witchcraft” change the deadly superstitions in some rural areas? What tensions will we see as these phenomenons start to converge? India is a prime example of how witch-killings is quickly becoming a Pagan issue, even though those harassed, abused, and murdered, would never claim the term for themselves.

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

Sangeeta Krishnan (aka Ashtoreth), an Indian Wiccan, has written in to let me know that she (and the religion of Wicca) has been been profiled twice in the last week. First for the Mumbai Age (link to full article, here), and then for the Times of India (link to full article, here).

A clipping from the Times of India article.

“Sangeeta Krishnan, whose collective is called Astral Hub, screens films like “The Secret”, plans day trips to Madh Island with psychic games and Maypole dances, and initiates debates like the forthcoming one called Harry Potter versus Real Witches. “Wicca is a calling and I’d say there are about 50 dedicated Wiccans in Bombay,” she says. And the headcount may keep growing as Wiccans bravely come out on social networking sites.”

The article also gives credit to Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (whom I’ve covered at this blog previously) with bringing Wicca in India out of the “Indian broom closet” in the 1980s, and interviews an Indian Wiccan who received her initial training from the US-based Witch School. While the number of Indian Wiccans is still very small, the tone of these articles very much reminds me of the early profiles of Wicca in Britain and America, and we all know how our population exploded in the years after the faith was introduced in those countries.

Will later generations of Wiccans in India look towards Chakraverti and Krishnan the way we now look at figures like Alex Sanders or Starhawk? Whatever the outcome, it looks certain that modern Paganism has indeed found fertile soil among this predominately Hindu country (which brings up all sorts of interesting questions about Indian Pagans and Western Indo-Pagans), and that Wicca has truly become a world religion, with thriving communities of practitioners located across the globe (in Brazil, South Africa, India, Russia, Australia, and Mexico for instance). When the modern Pagans go to the Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne this December, they can truly claim that they have a personal stake in what happens outside the Western countries we are normally associated with.

The Telegraph in India interviews Ipsita Roy Chakraverti (India’s most prominent Wiccan) concerning international best-selling author Paulo Coelho’s spiritual life. Basing her assertions on the recent English translation of Coelho’s 1990 book “Brida”, Ipsita claims that Coelho is a Wiccan, like herself.

“There’s more to Paulo Coelho than meets the eye. The Brazilian writer whose bestselling books are said to have a life-enhancing effect on millions across the world is a “wiccan” and a “mystic”. Coelho’s wicca link was brought under the scanner by Calcutta’s own wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti at a book-reading session of his latest release Brida. Not only does Brida dwell on wicca, Coelho himself is a practitioner of the pagan religion that worshipped the Mother Goddess around 25,000 years ago, confirmed Ipsita.”

If true, this would certainly be big news (the American equivalent would be Starhawk publicly outing an author of Toni Morrison’s stature), except that it isn’t. At least it isn’t wholly true. If you look at Coelho’s Wikipedia page, you’ll find that the Brazilian author seems to be a part of some sort of mystic Catholic order. However, in the author’s past, he was a student of the occult and in the 1970’s tried to start a Aleister Crowley-influenced “alternative society” with Brazilian rock star Raul Seixas.

“Through Coelho, Seixas was introduced to the work of controversial English mystic Aleister Crowley, which influenced their collaboration. The influence extended not only to music, but also to plans for the creation of the “Alternative Society,” which was to be an anarchist community in the state of Minas Gerais based on Crowley’s premise: “‘Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of the Law.” The project was considered subversive by members of the Brazilian military, which imprisoned all prospective members of the group. Seixas and Coelho are reported to have been tortured during their imprisonment.”

However, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti’s chronological mistake might turn out to be a subtle form of prophesy. In Coelho’s latest book, “The Witch of Portobello”, the author seems to be growing disillusioned with Catholicism, and explores the re-emergence of Goddess religion.

“A new witch-hunt is starting to gain ground. This time the weapon isn’t the red-hot iron, but irony and repression. Anyone who happens to discover a gift and dares to speak of their abilities is usually regarded with distrust. Generally speaking, their husband, wife, father or child, or whoever, instead of feeling proud, forbids all mention of the matter, fearful of exposing their family to ridicule.”

So who knows, perhaps Paulo Coelho’s Pagan past may eventually become his future.

Updates on Past Stories

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 21, 2008 — 4 Comments

Thelemites Fight Pedophillia Charges: An Australian couple who posted unsubstantiated accusations of pedophilia and ritual abuse within the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) chapter in Melbourne, Australia have been sentenced to nine months in prison. The prison stay was ordered after Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine defied a court order to take down the material, and declined to appear at hearings.

“Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine posted on their website claims that an occult group, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), was really a pedophile ring in Victoria, and that its activities included hosting parties at which naked children served as waiters and members had sex with and murdered children … [Judge Marilyn Harbison] said the material was gross, insulting and bizarre in asserting that the OTO tortured and killed children and animals and consumed their organs in blood rituals. It also said OTO members were criminally corrupt, spoke of a culture of corruption at the highest levels of government, and identified politicians as taking part. Judge Harbison said she had to signal to the broader community that tribunal orders were not to be ignored and that breaching the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was a serious issue.”

The offending site in question was finally taken down in January by the hosting provider. Legg and Devine now have to decide if they will apologize to the judge and hope that their sentence is commuted, or if they will appeal their case to the Supreme Court.

The First Wiccan Multi-Millionaire: A local ABC News affiliate checks in with Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett, a Wiccan who won an estimated 33 million dollars in the Mega Millions drawing back in September of 2007. According to the report, Bartlett is keeping the promises he made back when he first realized he won the lottery.

“After Dundalk’s Bunky Bartlett hit the Mega Millions jackpot in 2007, he said he planned to help a new age gift shop expand. He also said he would continue teaching people about his Wiccan beliefs. Bartlett has been true to his word. The Mystical Voyage store in Nottingham used to occupy 2500 square feet of space. When the expanded store opens next month, it will occupy 6500 square feet — enough space for several new holistic healing rooms, and a large yoga studio.”

Bartlett continues to teach classes on Wicca at the store, as he did before the lottery win. No further word yet about the proposed Willow Springs Sanctuary and Community Center that was announced back in November.

Wicca in India: In the past I have reported on Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a famous adherent of Wicca in India. Chakraverti, a social activist, started a “Wiccan Brigade” to stem witchcraft killings and female infanticide through a campaign of education and re-framing the practice of “witchcraft” in India. While we have heard no reports on how successful these initiatives have been, it does look like Wicca and other western Pagan imports are gaining popularity in certain Indian cities.

“New age therapies and healing through a host of skills, including hypnosis, tarot reading, astrology and witchcraft are being accepted by a majority of people in Chandigarh, the twin capital of Punjab and Haryana … Claiming to be India’s first Shaman Witch, Renu Mathur helps remove all negative energy surrounding a person through prayer and meditation. She claims that she receives the energy from Gods and Goddesses as also from the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. ‘Although this may not seem like a straight fight against superstition because what I am doing is very logical like the use of colours, use of fire, use of crystals all of which has been validated by everybody in all fields. This is just a concentrated form of using them and invocations of a Wiccan or a person like me used has a very scientific oath -‘Do what will not harm anyone’. We cannot harm anyone. If we even think of doing so we lose our energies,’ said Renu.”

It should be interesting to see what the continued co-mingling of Hinduism and Indian culture with modern Paganism will produce. These cross-cultural interactions seem to hint at the promise of a post-Christian future, where theological “sisters” like Hinduism and modern Paganism can enrich one another over the longer term.

Speaking of India, today is the beginning of the Pongala Mahotsavam, a ten-day festival in honor of Bhagavathi (the mother goddess of the Malayali Hindus). Held in Thiruvananthapuram, it is the largest religious gathering for women in the world.

“Women in thousands have started pouring in to participate in Friday’s ‘Pongala’ festival at Attukal temple, famed as ‘Women’s Sabarimala’ for attracting one of the world’s biggest female congregations. The Attukal Bhagavati temple here had entered the Guinness Book two years back as a unique religious event that draws over a million women on a single day. The whole city would turn into a sea of women as sun rises on Friday with the road, pavements and by-lanes about an area of six km around being occupied by devotees with the earthen pots placed on brick hearths in front of them to prepare the ‘prasadam’ (sweetened pudding). The ritual consists of preparation of the prasadam of rice, jaggery, coconut and spices, to be offered to the Goddess to invoke her blessings for peace and prosperity.”

An estimated 2.5 million women are expected to participate this year, breaking all previous attendance records for the festival (1.7 million in 2007, and 1.5 million in 2006).

The intermingling of modern Paganism/polytheism with Hinduism isn’t just happening from the Western side of the fence. Some Indians are adopting Wicca as a means towards progress and social reform within their country, the most visible example being activist Ipsita Roy Chakraverti. Chakraverti made international headlines last year for forming a Wiccan “brigade” to help curb witchcraft slayings in rural areas of India through education and outreach.

“People from different walks of life and even governments had asked me to institutionalize Wicca, but I was waiting for the right moment…Now is the time we stood up against people who persecute and kill innocent women…”

While I never saw any reports on how that program was progressing, it seems Chakraverti’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, and she has been tapped by the Indian government to head a panel dealing with the issue of female infanticide.

“Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a Wiccan and social activist, has been nominated by the government’s National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) to head a panel tasked with improving the status of young girls, they said. Around 10 million girls have been killed by their parents over the last 20 years, the government says, as female infanticide and foeticide, although illegal, are still prevalent with boys preferred to girls as breadwinners … The Wiccan campaign has made inroads into several rural pockets across India and has helped raise awareness against victimising young women and girls as witches. Authorities expect that this influence could be expanded to promote the overall well-being of young girls.”

Chakraverti sees this as a “triumph” for Wicca in India, which she equates with the practice of Dakini or Yogini Vidya* (a tradition that invokes a great mother goddess and, according to Chakraverti, has many similarities with European Wicca). What is especially interesting is that Wicca is being introduced as a “cure” (of sorts) for patriarchal imbalances within their society, something practitioners of modern religious Witchcraft (from Starhawk to Doreen Valiente) have endorsed to one degree or another for years. How effective this cure will be remains to be seen, but it does pave the way for explosive growth of modern Paganism within India (and in an Indian context).

* Translated, “Yogini Vidya” means a powerful female practitioner/sorceress who worships the goddess as wisdom personified.

Pagan Pop-Culture

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 22, 2005 — Leave a comment

Two interesting stories in the realm of popular culture and modern Paganism today. First off is a film currently being shot in India which could well become the Wiccan version of The Exorcist.

“‘Sacred Evil’, being shot at various locations in the city with an international cast, is a rather serious film that seeks to delve into the inexplicable and the esoteric with a generous blend of science and the supernatural. The film is based on a case study from the book ‘Sacred Evil: Encounters With the Unknown’, a much-talked about work from Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the self-proclaimed wiccan for whom the world of spirits and the supernatural is not in conflict with the domain of psychotherapy.”Khalsa News

It makes me wonder which story from the book will be used, this summary from the Tribune India brings up all sorts of unique ideas for a occult-themed movie.

“The book is divided into nine chapters, or encounters, as she calls them. It presents real-life incidents where her powers as a mediating agent with the ‘unknown’ are sought by people ‘troubled by forces and events they cannot comprehend’. The descriptions themselves could well be from the script of a horror movie. They range from a young woman possessed by the evil power of a voodoo doll, a coconut out to kill, a haunted house with the power to communicate, zombies carrying out such mundane activities as plying rickshaws, to Goddess Kali who mesmerises her devotees to a frenzy that can last over a hundred years. There is even a chapter dealing with necromancy, or the power to bring the dead to life.”

I hope it gets American distribution, how could anyone resist seeing this?

The other item comes from American pop-star Tori Amos who is releasing a new CD (and accompanying book called Tori Amos: Piece by Piece) called “The Beekeeper”. A couple sources have brought up Tori’s penchant for Paganism, heretical themes and her Native American heritage.

“But Piece by Piece is neither linear nor literal enough to be accounted a memoir. Amos, who seems to live with one foot in the misty realm of myth, fills page after page celebrating her psychic links to goddesses Egyptian (Sekhmet), Roman (Venus), and pagan (Corn Mother). ‘Because I use archetypes a lot in my work,’ Amos says, ‘and Ann [co-writer and veteran music journalist Ann Powers] has researched this, it became a meeting point, sort of like a centerpiece. She could go off into her corridors and I would go into mine. But we could come back to the centerpiece to talk symbolically and archetypally.'”Philadelphia Inquirer

“Born in North Carolina and raised in Maryland, Amos is the daughter of a Methodist minister raised in the strict Christian sense that entails. Along with a voracious literary appetite, from her mother she inherited a Cherokee bloodline that connects her to spirituality deeper than any church can provide.”Billboard

“Can the daughter of a Methodist minister reconcile the rifts in American society by examining male-female relationships through a study of the Gnostic gospels? No, but they can be fertile inspiration for an album, and “The Beekeeper” is as dense and rich as they come.”Seattle P-I

But then Amos has questioned traditional religion since the beginning, but it was her third CD “Boys For Pele” that really seemed to cement her affection for Paganism.

“Well, Pele is the volcano goddess and I thought of like, um, sacrificing some of the boys in my life to her but then I decided that that wasn’t really a very good idea. And, the album is sort of about the way I’ve stolen fire from the men in my life. And I got tired of doing that ’cause I have my own. But I couldn’t see that for a very long time. And now I can respect them without needing to suck their blood.”Tori Amos; BBC Interview

As to the question of if it is any good, I’ll have to wait until I have heard it to tell you.