Archives For Iraq

Among the many atrocities committed by members of the Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIL) is the group’s attack on the Yezidis, a tribe in northern Iraq known mostly for its secretive religion and repeated persecutions by neighbors. The reports on the Yezidis hiding on mountainsides to escape conversion or death was a factor in President Obama’s decision to use airstrikes against ISIL.

Yezidi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp [Photo Credit: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Dept of International Development]

Yezidi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp [Photo Credit: Rachel Unkovic/International Rescue Committee/UK Dept of International Development]

The average westerner knows little about the Yezidi people and their religion, and media channels have struggled to learn more. The Yezidis are typically described as polytheists and have been branded as devil-worshipers many times over the centuries that their culture has endured.

However, neither label is a good fit. The Yezidis could be considered polytheistic in the same way that Roman Catholics might be. They do honor more than one entity. But the Yezidis don’t consider themselves polytheists. Many Pagans and polytheists will understand how one’s gods can become the devils of another.  That is the case with the Peacock Angel, the primary among seven angels worshiped in the Yezidi religion.

The sacred texts of the Yezidis and the religion itself are not intended for sharing with outsiders. The only translations into English come by way of The Sacred Books and Traditions of the Yezidiz, written by Isya Joseph in 1919. Joseph translated the sacred texts from an Arabic manuscript, which he was led to believe had been translated from an authentic original. Because the primary sources — the Yezidis themselves — are very secretive about their practice, any historical records of their treatment is left up to the interpretation of fragmentary knowledge within a context of political expedience.

Amin Tomeh, member of the Islamic Speakers Bureau of Atlanta, explained why Yezidi beliefs are sometimes interpreted as devil worship by followers of Abrahamic faiths. He said:

They view the Abrahamic traditional story (of God asking His angels to bow before Adam upon creating him) from a different perspective. According to what I read, they believe that there are seven archangels; chief among them is Malek Taous (with Malek translating to angel and Taous translating to Peacock or chief, i.e., Chief of all Angels). It was this Malek Taous that refused to bow before Adam while the other six forgot their pledge to God to not bow before anything or anyone other than to Him (i.e., God).

The similarity between this belief and what Muslims believe in that a creation of God (who dwelled with the angels, but was not an angel himself) called Iblis was the only one to refuse bowing before Adam. Iblis was cursed for refusing God’s command and was given a reprieve until the day of judgment before he would face his punishment. Iblis, Satan or the Devil are one in the same from a Muslim perspective. The intersection of these very similar stories is why – I would suppose – some may think that, in fact, it is Satan whom the Yezidis worship. But Yezidis themselves see the nature of Malek Taous as different from the whispering Satan who suggests evil deeds to humans.

Melek Tausi [Public Domain Image]

Melek Tausi [Public Domain Image]

Malek Taous, Melek Ta’us, Taus Melek, or Tawsi Melek is the being that the Yezidis primarily worship. Also called the Peacock Angel, Malek Taous is an intermediary between what they call “God” and the physical world. As described on

The Yezidis do not believe that the Peacock Angel is the Supreme God. The Supreme God created him as an emanation at the beginning of time. He was brought into manifestation in order to give the invisible, transcendental Supreme God a vehicle with which to create and administer the universe. Tawsi Melek is thus a tangible, denser form of the infinite Supreme God. In order to assist Tawsi Melek in this important role, the Supreme Creator also created six other Great Angels, who were, like the Peacock Angel, emanations of the Supreme God and not separate from him.

The references to Adam and God are not coincidental according to Hatim Darwesh, a American-based Yezidis who maintains a Yezidi Facebook group. Darwesh served as translator to the U.S. military during the Iraq War, when Saddam Hussein was persecuting the Yezidis as part of his broader oppression of the Kurds. For his work, Darwesh was granted a visa to come to this country. He now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While quick to say that he is not a “religious expert,” Darwesh was clear on several points: God is the same being who is worshiped in Abrahamic faiths; the Peacock Angel is not any sort of devil and the Yezidi religion is definitely monotheistic. In addition, within Yezidi culture, he says that the term “pagan” is used as a pejorative and not a label they themselves would welcome. At the same time, he explains that the Yezidis “worship the sun” and are sometimes called “sons of the sun.” He did not elaborate on that point, nor did he respond to a question about whether his religion is an Abrahamic one or not.

While the nuances of the Yezidi faith continue to be elusive, what is certain is that these people have been oppressed many times in their history. Once, according to Amin Tomeh, they were considered valuable allies. He tells of the Yezidi Prince Hussein Bek Al Daseni, who supported Sulemain the Magnificent‘s bid to retake Baghdad from the Safavids, and was given the title of prince over Soran, Irbil and Dahouk.

logoTomeh says, “This story demonstrates amply that, when political expediency demanded it, the Caliph himself found no reservation in allying his empire with the Yezidis and rewarded them accordingly.” He adds:

But again that does not mute the fact that the Yezidis often fell victim to the wrath of the political power of the day under religious guise and sometimes nationalistic (as was the case in Saddam’s time) pretexts. I personally see that phenomenon as the quintessential xenophobic impulse of blaming the presumed weaklings in any society.

Followers of mainstream media may believe that the present crisis for the Yezidis is past, but Darwesh says that this is far from the case. He reports that 2-3,000 “women, kids, and virgin girls” were taken by ISIL forces, and that “their fate remains unknown.” He explains the extremist agenda as he understands it:

Men have two choices: to convert to [Islam] or they will be slaughtered. Women are assaulted sexually and sold into slavery, and our kids are taking [sic] to be trained on learning of Quran and teach them Islamic religion.

He describes the crisis as “severe,” with 2-3 families living in a house, if they are lucky enough, and many others living under bridges. “They need to be out of there very soon,” he says. He wants them to be given the opportunity to live in a western country, like the United States or Canada, but they lack the deep support that larger religions have.  He says:

Our situation is different from Christians and everyone else in Iraq; we don’t have anyone to help us. Christians have at least Vatican to support them and [the] Pope is behind them because the religion [has] linked them together and we as Yezidis don’t have anyone but God.

To date, Darwesh finds that he is able to practice his religion freely in the United States. But what hangs over him, and all the Yezidis fortunate enough to live in Lincoln, is the fate of their tribes people half a world away.


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 them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The Iraqi government is re-opening the ancient site of Babylon over protests from the state board of antiquities and heritage that the ruins are in bad neglect and shouldn’t be accessible to tourists yet.

“The Iraqi government plans to open Babylon to visitors on 1 June, according to news reports. Iraq’s state board of antiquities and heritage is opposing the move, on the grounds that the site needs further protection and investigation before being reopened. This follows the controversial reopening of Baghdad’s National Museum on 23 February, after a government decision to proceed with this, defying opposition from curators who felt that it was too early.”

So why is the government pushing for this re-opening despite experts saying that there is “considerable evidence of damage” from the years of occupation and war? The best guess would be a combination of prestige, tourism revenue, and the appearance of a return to normalcy in the country. What better way to transmit that Iraq is stabilizing than to re-open its archaeological treasures to the world? Further, Babylon has a huge place in our cultural memory, it was the home to the Hanging Gardens, it had a huge influence on the Abrahamic faiths (to the point where it became a favorite Biblical villain), and it would draw tourists interested in Biblical history, archaeology, and pre-Christian Assyro-Babylonian religions. Let’s just hope that in their haste to draw in tourist dollars once more, they don’t furhter damage a site that has already endured the ham-fisted rebuilding efforts of Sadam Hussein and years of war (including one site being used as a helipad for American forces).

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Author and ceremonial magician Donald Michael Kraig sings the praises of Silver Raven Wolf for the Llewellyn Journal.

“I was very impressed with what she was doing. Silver and I wrote to each other several times. It was clear to me that she knew more than most people about Paganism, writing, publishing, and marketing. It was inevitable that I would ask her the following question: “So when are you going to write a book?” She was too busy and had never written anything in such a long format, she replied, but I have to admit that I recognized a writer and knew that just as my question and encouragement was inevitable, there would be an inevitable result.”

Kraig, while heartily endorsing RavenWolf’s new book, also discusses how he met her through the (seemingly) now-defunct Wiccan/Pagan Press Alliance. Perhaps, in the age of blogs, e-zines, and podcasts, a new and revitalized press alliance is needed?

Side-Line Magazine interviews Olaf Parusel, the mastermind behind the classic darkwave band sToa, about his band’s new album “Silmand”, stoic philosophy, and working with famed “faerie” musician Louisa John-Krol.

“Louisa and [I] know each other from the old times on [the] Hyperium-Label. Fortunately [the] Internet has enabled us to stay in contact. When Louisa was on tour in Europe, we have met. We have made music together very intensively in that time. For example, we went to a church of a remote monastery high up on a hill, put up a microphone and performed medieval vocal improvisations. It’s the famous monastery found by Konrad of Wettin. Later on I composed music for a historical documentation on Konrad of Wettin and used Louisas phantastic recordings for it.”

To listen to sound samples, check out sToa’s MySpace page. You can also hear tracks from sToa’s latest album “Silmand” on my A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast.

The editorial pages are tackling the thorny free speech and religious expression problems presented in the Summum case currently before the Supreme Court. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel hopes a solution can be found that “respects this nation’s undeniable Judeo-Christian roots”, while the Austin-American Statesman mulls over the thorny First Amendment problems of letting the Ten Commandments statue remain alone.

“Because the government allowed a memorial to troops who died in the Vietnam War does not mean it also must accept a memorial to those who died opposing it. But a different question arises when the government accepts a religious symbol because the First Amendment prohibits government from establishing a religion. If a monument to the founding tenet of Judaism and Christianity is acceptable in a public space, why are Wiccan pentagles or Summum aphorisms or Mormon angels unacceptable?”

Those two are hardly alone in voicing an opinion. The Concord Monitor says: “Bring it on!” Jewish groups are torn on which side to take according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, while The Week explores editorials that argue if the already existing Ten Commandments monument should be removed. All sides will have a while more to argue, since the justices won’t be handing down a decision on the case until Spring.

The Berkshire Eagle reports that a local Catholic Church had its statue of Mary destroyed. Who are the culprits? Fr. Michael Shershanovich seems to suspect dark occult powers!

“Shershanovich said several black marks had been spray painted on the statue and on the church in the weeks leading up to the desecration, including a pentagram, a five-pointed star synonymous with witchcraft.”

Yes, synonymous with witchcraft, because no other group or organization uses a five-pointed star. In fact, Witches love to roam the night and bash Catholic statues with road signs. That’s just how we roll. Has the secretive, thousands-strong, cult of disturbed teenagers struck again?

In a final note, The Chicago Tribune reports on the precarious fate of religious minorities in Iraq, and how one of them, the Mandaeans, are on the brink of extinction.

“Mandaeans, known as Sabis in Arabic, are just one of several minorities who have historically given Iraq its distinct identity as a cradle of religious diversity. All have suffered disproportionately from the spread of anarchy and extremism in the wake of the U.S. invasion. Iraq’s once-substantial Christian community has seen its numbers dwindle from about 800,000 to 500,000. Yazidis, a lettuce-shunning minority that venerates the forces of good and evil, have been targeted for attacks in their enclaves along the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. Shabbaks, a Muslim sect that permits alcohol and is neither Sunni nor Shiite, have been persecuted in their ancestral lands near the northern city of Mosul.”

The fruits of a militant monotheism is that all heretics and potential rivals must be eliminated. Once the secular (though evil and tyrannical) government of Saddam Hussein was overthrown and war raged, the old rivalries were able to come to the surface once more. It seems increasingly unlikely that plans to restore the best elements of pre-war secularism will succeed, and many are expecting/fearing Iraq’s future will be as a Islamic Republic in practice, if not necessarily in name.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Indianapolis Star reports on a mother who is investigating the death of her son, Sgt. Joseph A. Ford, who was serving in Iraq’s Anbar province. The official statement says his vehicle rolled over and he died as a consequence, but fellow soldiers have told her that the turret Ford was riding in came loose, and that he was thrown from the vehicle.

Sgt. Joseph A. Ford

“Dalarie Ford, a wife and mother from the Northern Indiana town of Knox, had never been one to rock the boat. She voted, but not passionately. Never had she felt wronged. But now she senses injustice. She’s on a mission to find out precisely what happened in Iraq’s Anbar province on May 10, the day her son died. Sgt. Joseph A. Ford was 23, a soldier with the Indiana National Guard’s 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He was a gunner in an Armored Security Vehicle, a sort of tank-on-wheels that’s commonly used to guard convoys that haul food and supplies for U.S. troops. The vehicle rolled over. Ford was killed. That’s the extent of the military’s public explanation. Ford’s mother says soldiers privately provided her with additional details. “They said the turret came loose and he was thrown out of the vehicle and the vehicle rolled over on him and it impacted his chest and face,” she said.”

Dalarie Ford, since launching this investigation, has discovered that ASVs are vulnerable to rollovers, and that this isn’t the first time the gunner’s turret has broken away. She has been contacting her state officials in an effort to make sure what happened to her son doesn’t happen to other soldiers.

As for Sgt. Joseph A. Ford, the paper reveals that he was a member of Nova Roma, a group dedicated to reviving the “Cultus Deorum Romanorum” (the religion of Rome). The group’s banner hung at his funeral.

“His friends and teachers describe him as intellectual, curious. He often had a book under his arm. He attended the University of Southern Indiana, where he majored in history. Ancient Rome fascinated him. He practiced the religion of Roman paganism. At his funeral, a banner hung on the lectern. “SPQR,” it said — shorthand for the Latin “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” or the Senate and the people of Rome.”

Ford had only been in Iraq for two months when the accident occurred. While some commentators are saying that such accidents are part of the package of military service, I can’t imagine a turret breaking off and killing its rider should be considered a normal or acceptable situation. If shoddy equipment is indeed responsible, the military should take responsibility for Ford’s death. It is the very least they can do to honor his sacrifice.

Finally, depending on burial plans, I do hope that Nova Roma enquirers with Dalarie Ford to see if her son would want an official emblem of his faith engraved on his military tombstone or marker. Perhaps this would be an excellent time for Nova Roma to join the growing coalition working for an expanded selection of Pagan and Heathen emblems of belief from the VA.

May Ford rest with his gods and ancestors, may his sacrifice be honored, and may his family find the closure and justice needed to move forward.

After two years of investigations, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, and his deputy, Ginger Cruz, have been cleared of fraud and abuse charges that were lodged by former employees of the watchdog organization.

Ginger Cruz

“On July 3, federal prosecutors alerted the office of Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen that a grand jury declined to indict him or deputy Ginger Cruz. Last week, on July 9, the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency similarly cleared him and Cruz of any administrative charges stemming from the accusations. The executive branch council was created to investigate allegations of misconduct by inspectors general at federal agencies … “I always had faith that we’d be cleared of the allegations,” Cruz said in an interview Wednesday. “We knew there was no basis to them.” Cruz described the investigations dating back to 2006 as “very thorough.” She said it combed through all of her e-mail, and multiple people were interviewed for it.”

This story first came to my attention in December of last year, after accusations against Cruz claimed that she was a Wiccan who sexually harassed her co-workers, and threatened to cast spells on those who crossed her.

“Cruz reportedly told employees that she was a Wiccan who could cast spells on people, and said she preferred hiring young “hunks” to work in the office. She is also accused of propositioning junior employees in a crude fashion, once even proposing a threesome.”

Cruz has all along denied any wrongdoing, and that the accusations of witchcraft were “ludicrous”. I felt that the emphasis on witchcraft and sexual improprieties seemed suspicious. Almost stereotypical.

“…it seems strange to me that “hexes” and her Wiccan religion were mentioned at all. Could it be that Cruz was simply too open with her religious preferences in an all-too-Christian military environment? Leaving aside the charges of cooking the books, doesn’t it seem a bit too convenient (almost stereotypical in a male-fantasy sort of way) that the the young female Witch would go around propositioning three-ways with men and claiming to put hexes on people (no doubt on men who would refuse her sexual wiles)?”

Whether Cruz was indeed a Wiccan, or simply a woman branded “witch” in an often sexist and overtly Christian military will most likely never be known. Whatever the truth, this represents not only a vindication for Cruz, who can now put this painful time behind her, but a victory for religious minorities and Pagans working for the government. Perhaps more Pagans working in the military and in governmental positions can come out of the “broom closet” knowing that slanders of malicious spellwork, or lascivious behavior, will not stand up to scrutiny.

Government official (and alleged Wiccan) Ginger Cruz is in the news again. A deputy of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), Cruz had been accused of sexually harassing co-workers, cooking the books, and threatening hexes on those who crossed her.

Ginger Cruz

“Current and former SIGIR employees have told investigators that Cruz threatened to put hexes on employees and made inappropriate sexual remarks in the presence of staff members. Cruz is a self-described wiccan, a member of a polytheistic religion of modern witchcraft…”

While a grand jury investigation into these claims did not produce any indictments, a new grand jury investigation is underway to see if Cruz and Bowen improperly read staff e-mails.

“In 2007, after the Army ruling [against e-mail monitoring], Bowen and Cruz continued to monitor staff e-mails, according to SIGIR employees at the time. At one point, Cruz held a stack of papers in her hand and claimed they were e-mails of a senior employee, one official said. Staff members also said that Cruz bragged to senior staffers in early 2006 about reading workers’ e-mails and in one case shared e-mails from one employee.”

According to Bowen’s attorney, Bradford A. Berenson, the reading of staff e-mails was a part of established SIGIR policy that staff had been made aware of.

“…as part of an authorized internal investigation into possible press leaks. SIGIR policy permits such e-mail reviews and all employees are notified, regularly reminded and trained on these policies.”

Ginger Cruz maintains she is the victim of a smear campaign by former employees, and that she isn’t a Witch.

“A previous article in the Post quoted unnamed sources and employees who claimed Cruz was a “witch”, allegations that she vehemently denies, calling the allegations “ludicrous”.”

So, is Cruz an innocent victim caught up in a vendetta by former employees? Did she ever truly consider herself a Wiccan, or is she now disavowing the faith under political and social pressures? It seems odd that people would invent Wiccan allegiance for Cruz, did they think it would strengthen claims of sexual harassment? It should be noted that her disavowal of Witchcraft is recent, and appeared in a local Guam (her native land) television station web site.

Whatever the eventual outcome of this latest grand jury hearing, it is comforting to know that no indictment was handed down relating to claims of “hexing” or “witchcraft”. Perhaps we can avoid the slippery slope to “spectral evidence” for awhile longer. As for Cruz, whether Wiccan or not, it is clear that the press jumped at the chance to sensationalize claims of magical malfeasance, almost to the point of overshadowing the more serious claims of fraud. If this was a smear campaign, it looks like cries of “witch” worked just fine. Perhaps next time claims of “witchcraft” will be met with a bit more skepticism by reporters.

I never thought I would have to type these words, but a government fraud scandal is gaining press for the (alleged) involvement of a modern Pagan. Wiccan Ginger Cruz, a deputy of Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), is being accused of sexual harassment, cooking the books, and threating co-workers with hexes.

“Cruz, a former spokeswoman for the governor of Guam, originally joined SIGIR as a contractor working for the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche. Current and former SIGIR employees have told investigators that Cruz threatened to put hexes on employees and made inappropriate sexual remarks in the presence of staff members. Cruz is a self-described wiccan, a member of a polytheistic religion of modern witchcraft. “We warned Ginger not to talk about witchcraft, that it would scare people,” a former SIGIR employee said.”

Ginger Cruz

From Harpers:

“Among the charges is that Cruz pressured an employee to come up with bogus numbers proving that SIGIR’s work had saved taxpayers some $10 billion, a figure that was used to justify the agency’s request of $30 million in the Fiscal Year 2007 budget. The true savings were said to be only in the tens of millions at best … Cruz reportedly told employees that she was a Wiccan who could cast spells on people, and said she preferred hiring young “hunks” to work in the office. She is also accused of propositioning junior employees in a crude fashion, once even proposing a threesome.”

The question now is how true are these allegations? According to Wonkette, Bowen’s office has been leaking rumors that the investigation is a retaliation for his office rooting out fraud and abuse in Iraq, while Cruz has denied the allegations made against her.

“Cruz denied making comments of a “sexual nature” and noted that she was cleared of wrongdoing by an internal SIGIR investigation.”

Obviously Cruz could be lying, and SIGIR’s investigation into her alleged wrongdoing could be an exercise in sweeping things under the rug, but it seems strange to me that “hexes” and her Wiccan religion were mentioned at all. Could it be that Cruz was simply too open with her religious preferences in an all-too-Christian military environment? Leaving aside the charges of cooking the books, doesn’t it seem a bit too convenient (almost stereotypical in a male-fantasy sort of way) that the the young female Witch would go around propositioning three-ways with men and claiming to put hexes on people (no doubt on men who would refuse her sexual wiles)?

It certainly has become a dominant theme of the story. Boing Boing mentions it, and Wonkette has posted a video of Cruz with over-dubbed “sexy” porno music playing in the background. Almost no-one is entertaining the possibility that Cruz is being smeared by those eager to see her removed from office. It does a wonderful job of deflecting attention from the real issues of this investigation (and the issue of fraud in Iraq’s reconstruction). Is this how you “burn a Witch” while “ducking” charges of malfeasance?

Religion and Law

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 29, 2007 — 2 Comments

The excellent blog “Religion Clause”, which focuses on legal developments concerning religion, has posted two stories today that should be of special interest to modern Pagans (and other minority faiths). The first concerns the release of transcripts from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom about the precarious status of minority religions in post-Saddam Iraq.

“This year the Commission added Iraq to its Watch List of countries requiring close monitoring because of the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by their governments. We made the decision because of the alarming and deteriorating religious freedom conditions for all Iraqis … influencing our decision to place Iraq on our Watch List are the grave conditions affecting minority religious groups in Iraq, including the ChaldoAssyrian Christians, Yazidis, and Sabean Mandaeans. These groups appear to suffer a degree of attacks and other human rights abuses disproportionate to their numbers. As a result, thousands of members of Iraqi religious minorities have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighboring states and among growing Diaspora communities in the West.”

Of the three groups pointed out in this hearing, two have ties to gnostic or pre-Christian beliefs and practice. The Sabean Mandaeans are a dualistic gnostic sect that considers John the Baptist to be their primary prophet, while the Yazidi are adherents to a pre-Islamic faith who revere “The Peacock Angel” Melek Taus. Both are facing extreme persecution, kidnappings, rapes, murders, and the very real possibility of elimination from Iraq.

“More than 80% of the Mandaean community has been displaced from Iraq to Syria and Jordan. The Mandaean community has dwindled to less than five (5) thousands today.”

Several recommendations were given by those giving testimony, but it remains to be seen if the already over-stressed military presence in Iraq will be able to make any substantive changes in conditions. Perhaps America can relax its immigration policy for persecuted groups within Iraq, taking in those who have no place to go.

The second story concerns the passing of a bill through both houses that enacts several recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. Included in that bill is something known as the “John Doe Amendment” which protects people tipping off the authorities to potential terror suspects from litigation if their suspicions turn out to be unfounded.

“Any person who, in good faith and based on objectively reasonable suspicion, makes or causes to be made, a voluntary report of covered activity to an authorized official shall be immune from civil liability under federal, state and local law for such report.”

What are “objective” and “reasonable” suspicions? According to the case that inspired this amendment it includes dressing like a Muslim, praying publicly, and requesting seat-belt extensions. One can only imagine how this new legal immunity will be used by those not truly acting in “good faith”, or by those who see terrorists in anyone not dressing or acting like them. If you have been wearing ritual garb at the airport in the past, you might want to think twice about doing it in the future.