Archives For Islam

We’ve long known that Pagan and polytheist revival and reconstruction movements are a global phenomenon, and that has included, quietly, tentatively, the Middle East. While most countries in the Middle East are culturally, religiously, and demographically dominated by Islam, that hasn’t stopped a few adventurous souls from embracing various forms of modern Pagan religions. This isn’t safe, and in some cases it has led to deadly tragedy, but this thread persists, alongside the sorts of syncretic esotericism that have always existed on the margins of the dominant monotheisms. A recent article in Arab Times, notes that in Kuwait people are buying statues of pre-Islamic gods, much to the outrage of some local officials.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

Statue of the goddess Anahita in Maragha, Iran.

“MP Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran has recommended banning the sale of statues of the gods followed by idol-worshippers during the pre-Islamic times of paganism, indicating that he had discovered the sale of statues as works of art and gift items by some shops, reports Al-Rai daily. He revealed that statues representing gods believed by non-Muslim pagan worshippers during the primitive era are commonly seen at various shopping malls across the country. He added that the retailer sells these items under the pretext of selling accessories and fashion materials without considering the real meaning behind those artifacts.”

There’s been a school of thought which posits that polytheism is humanity’s default religious setting, which is why religions like Christianity and Islam must constantly be in a process of conversion, re-conversion, and solidifying power to maintain the massive numbers they currently enjoy across the globe. If they don’t, or if they are limited by secular governments, the “old” beliefs start to re-emerge. As scholar Jordan Paper put it in his book, The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology, quote:

The goddess Isis.

The goddess Isis.

“Given the history of homo sapiens, it may be that polytheism is inherent in human nature, not so much in the sense that is part of our DNA structure but that it arises from the human experience in conjunction with our nature. For unless we accept the arguments of the ur-monotheists that is contrary to  the above, monotheism is extremely recent, given the sweep of human history; arose in a tiny part of the planet; and is constantly breaking down.”

Of course, that “tiny part of the planet” happens to be the Middle East, and there are immense vested interests within all the monotheisms to ensure that the birthplace of their theology remains solidly in the hands of those who believe in the God of Abraham (though they also struggle amongst themselves for dominance). But, if religious freedoms were really guaranteed, could polytheism, Paganism, truly emerge in the Middle East? Right now, Egypt, which has been rocked by revolution, coup, internal fighting, and unrest this year, is currently trying to write a new constitution for their country that will be accepted by both Islamic hardliners, the military, non-Muslim religious groups (like the Copts), and a large secular-minded minority. A key point of contention is what form religious freedom will take in this new constitution, and by extension, this new government.

“One significant change, says committee head Amr Moussa, is that Article 3 which guarantees Christians and Jews the right to exercise their religious rites will probably be extended to include all non-Muslims. Article 3 currently states that ‘For Egyptian Christians and Jews the principles of their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of their spiritual leadership.’ The amended version is expected to state that ‘for all Egyptian non-Muslims the principles of their religious laws will be the main source in regulating their personal status…etc’. The proposed change is opposed by Mohamed Ibrahim Mansour, the newly-appointed representative of the ultraconservative Nour Party. In a closed meeting on Monday Mansour issued the melodramatic warning that the term ‘non-Muslims’ would open gates to ‘religious sects like worshippers of the devil’.

Expanding religious freedoms beyond the “People of the Book” is increasingly seen as necessary by religious minorities and secular Egyptians, first, because faiths like Baha’i “cannot legally marry and continue to have trouble with matters such as inheritance because the law does not properly recognize their presence.” In addition, there is a growing number Egyptians who aren’t simply secular, but have embraced atheism, despite the grave social disadvantages inherent in that choice.

“‘Atheists are all around Egypt,’ said Othman Othman, pointing to a group of young people sitting at the table next to us. The number of atheists in Egypt is not less than three million, Othman claimed, but they do not label themselves ‘atheists’ as society would disown them. Those who have come out publicly as atheists have been not only isolated by their friends and families, but also society in general. However, others who turn down their familial religion have faced many worse trials than mere isolation. Asmaa Omar, 24, who has just graduated the Faculty of Engineering, said that once she revealed her beliefs to her family, they began to physically and mentally torture her. Her father slapped her in the face and broke her jaw. She was not able to eat properly for seven months.”

Once you open the door to Baha’i and atheists, it is only a matter of time before we see a Kemetic/Egyptian polytheist revival (or even Egyptian Wiccans). After all, Egypt is already a global hotspot for seekers, New Agers, and yes, Pagans, wanting to see the many ancient treasures and wonders of the country. Once the chaos abates, Egypt will want the massive tourism revenue to return, and with it will come the exchange of ideas that results from a flood of visitors. In fact, we know that there are already Pagans in Egypt, but a more open society might spark unexpected growth.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

A view of the pyramids at Giza from the plateau to the south of the complex. From left to right: the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu.

The question remains: can Paganism emerge in the Middle East? Will it be allowed to? If secular governments (or at least pseudo-secular hybrids) start to emerge, it could happen, and if/when it does, what happens next?

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 Salon.com.
  • 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.

On September 17 a Mcgill University student released a video taken of a man and woman engaged in a heated argument on a crowded public bus. According to a Huffington Post report, the argument began when the woman who was wearing a hijab boarded the bus.  Almost immediately the man began to harass her, demanding that she “remove her headscarf or return to her country.”  The unpleasantries continued for almost ten minutes. The man accused her of being associated with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and “criticiz[ed] the lack of Muslim integration into society.” In his “rant,” he said that Quebec’s Premier, Pauline Marois, would make her remove that “hat.”

The altercation on the bus is not an isolated incident. CTV, local Canadian television, reports that “more victims are coming forward” and the victims are not always individuals. On September 2 the Mosque in Saguenay was attacked and allegedly sprayed with pigs blood. The Muslim Council of Montreal said that it was distressed “to repeatedly see such attacks.”

What is fueling the increase in attacks? Many blame the usual suspects: Islamaphobia, xenophobia, bigotry and even racism.  However, the picture is more complicated than a single identifiable hatred of a particular religious or cultural group.  As implied by the man’s rant, the answer lies in the politics of Pauline Marois and le Parti Quebecois (PQ).

On September 10, Marois and Bernard Drainville, minister of Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, revealed PQ’s plans to institute a Charter of Values (la chartre de valeur.)  According to the Minister’s web site, the Charter would do the following five things:

  1. Amend the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms
  2. Establish a duty of neutrality and reserve for all state personnel
  3. Limit the wearing of all conspicuous religious symbols
  4. Make it mandatory to have one’s face uncovered when providing or receiving a state service
  5. Establish an implementation policy for State organizations.

The first statement seeks to “entrench the religious neutrality of the state and the secular nature of public institutions within the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.”  The second statement establishes, by law, “religious neutrality and reserve for all state personnel in carrying out their duties.” The fifth allows for the implementation of programs supporting the other points.  Taken alone, these statements appear to support Canada’s national policy of multi-culturalism.

The problem lays in points three and four. The proposed Values Charter would require all civil servants at any level including teachers and “personnel in ministries,” to remove their “conspicuous and overt religious symbols.”  This includes the hijabs, burqas, kippas (yarlmulke), turbans, large religious pendants and the like. If this proposal is passed, Marois and her party will have indeed forced some citizens to remove their “hats.”

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Informational graphic from the Quebec government

Minister Drainville explains:

le gouvernement propose d’exprimer de manière officielle cette réalité : celle de la séparation de l’État et des religions. Sa démarche est guidée par les valeurs fondamentales qui animent la société québécoise : la laïcité des institutions de l’État, l’égalité entre les femmes et les hommes et la primauté du français. Parmi ces valeurs, seule la laïcité de l’État n’a pas encore été consacrée dans un texte législatif.

Loosely translated, the Quebec Government wants to legally establish the current and fundamental Quebec ideological and political reality of “the Separation of Church and State.” The work is guided by fundamental values that drive Quebec society: secularism of institutions, equality between men and women and the primacy of the French language. Among these values, only secularism hasn’t been legislated.

In tying the Values Charter to the successful legal protection of the French language, Parti Quebecquois is demonstrating a powerful interest in preserving Quebec’s unique culture.  While the reasoning may be “fierce nationalism,” one question remains – at what or whose expense? How far will the identity-politics go to preserve tradition?

A growing number of opponents call the Values Charter a basic attack on religious freedom. On September 14 people of many religions filled the streets of Montreal to protest the proposed legislation.  The event was organized by le Collectif Quebecois contre l’islamophobie. In attendance was, Salam Elmenyawi, head of the Muslim Council of Montreal who told the Montreal Gazette that he was “Delighted” at the turnout.

Jonathan Kay, an op-ed columnist for  Canada’s National Post  called Marois and PQ’s politics a “brand of militant secularism” accusing the party of “embracing a fallback position of prioritizing secular homogeneity over the demands of newly emergent minority religious communities.” Amanda Strong, a long-time Pagan Montreal resident, former editor of WynterGreene and WitchyWays blogger, agrees that the politics are a complicated chess match with a strong historical component.  She explains,

Before the 1960s, Catholicism permeated everything in Quebec from education to healthcare to policy making.  It was a horrible time in Quebec history and was especially oppressive to the French Quebecers. Then, French Quebecers rebelled…Quebec overtly moved towards a secular society. So Separation of church and state in this province is *very* emotionally charged.  

Brendan Myers

Brendan Myers

In response to claims of “militant secularism,” Minister Drainville counters by saying, “If this was a good idea for Catholics in the ’60s, why is it not a good idea for all religions fifty years later?”  Making a similar point, Brendan Myers, a Quebec Druidic Humanist and Philosophy Professor writes on his own blog, “Premier Pauline Marois’ Charter of Quebec Values doesn’t do much that hasn’t already been done.”

Since that cultural rebellion termed “the Quiet Revolution” accommodations have been made to in various situations. Over time the number and type of accommodations were called into question by Quebecers. In 2007, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was formed to investigate the situation and make recommendations for “reasonable accommodations.”   Considering this background, the new Values Charter appears to be yet another step in a long drawn-out process of firmly establishing a secular Quebec society.

Natache Laland

Natache Laland

However, is mandated secularism really a step towards religious freedom? Natacha Lalande, a Wiccan practitioner from Magog Quebec, does’t believe it is. She says,

I am against some accommodations they have been doing like the story where a group asked others to leave the building so they could pray. It was disrespectful as their religion did not require they pray right before eating. But wearing a big pentagram necklace or a Jewish cap for example is not harmful to anybody. It is their right to wear them as they wish and should remove it only by their own decision and not be forced.

Amanda Strong agrees adding that, if passed, the Charter would not significantly affect most Pagans in Quebec. However, “the charter does affect … freedom of religious expression and, like any religion; we should be concerned about that. It also creates a culture of exclusion, which I feel is in direct contrast to most Pagan values of inclusion and acceptance.”

Additionally, Brendan Myers, who strongly supports the value of secularism, makes a very important observation. He says,

For a charter that supposedly is about secularism, there’s rather a lot of exceptions for “traditional Quebec values”. And most of those exceptions, suspiciously, involve Roman Catholic symbols, including the huge Catholic crucifix which hangs in the Quebec national assembly chamber, and the giant illuminated cross that stands at the summit of the mountain in Montreal. This strikes me as a little bit hypocritical.

A recent Time Magazine article made that very same point.  In response, Minister Drainville said, “Quebec is not a blank page…Building our future shouldn’t come at the expense of our past, our heritage.”

Are the Parti Quebecquois’ identity-politics solidifying “nationalism” by creating tension within its population? Is it capitalizing on an underlying Islamaphobia or xenophobia to promote its own agenda of separatism?

While those two questions are specific to Quebec, there are broader questions lurking beneath the surface. Where do we draw the lines for religious accommodations? Is it fair for Alberta to require Hutterites to have photos on their licenses? Should Canada have allowed Sikh Mounties to wear turbans?  When has the State gone too far?  When has religious expression placed a burden on society?  As we move further into this post-Christian era, these questions become more poignant. How do we support a healthy religious pluralism while retaining a connection to our cultural heritage without crippling our governing bodies to the point of being completely ineffective in maintaining our society?

 

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

James Arthur Ray

James Arthur Ray

“Secret”-peddler and New Age guru James Arthur Ray, currently in prison after being convicted of negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, won’t be in jail for much longer. While he could conceivably stay in prison until October, an email to supporters from Ray’s brother reveals that he’ll be released on parole on July 12th. Claiming destitution, Ray is seeking a home in Arizona to avoid living in a halfway house, as he cannot leave the state until his parole ends. Suffice to say, Ray’s critics are not happy about his early release. As Gaelic Polytheist Kathryn Price NicDhàna puts it: “He wants your money; he’ll take your life. Don’t let him ever again have a career at this stuff. Don’t let him sell his deadly fake rituals. Don’t let him lead any kind of ceremony, ever. Don’t buy it, don’t excuse it, don’t look the other way.” It should be noted that despite Ray’s claims of destitution, he’s still somehow paying his lawyers, who are still fighting to overturn his convictions.

PF_13.07.02_ViewsofNones_275x200The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life has released data from a new survey analyzing how people feel about the growing of people claiming “no religion” (aka “nones”) in the United States. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we collectively seem to be evenly split on whether these ramifications are good or bad (or indifferent). Quote: “The new, nationwide survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life asked Americans whether having ‘more people who are not religious’ is a good thing, a bad thing, or doesn’t matter for American society. Many more say it is bad than good (48% versus 11%). But about four-in-ten (39%) say it does not make much difference. Even among adults who do not identify with any religion, only about a quarter (24%) say the trend is good, while nearly as many say it is bad (19%); a majority (55%) of the unaffiliated say it does not make much difference for society.” I’ve written quite a bit about the “nones” and what the ramifications of their growth are for religious minorities. I think it’s important to reiterate that “no religion” doesn’t mean “not religious,” many nones have spiritual beliefs and practices, they just don’t label themselves. I think that religious surveys need to start thinking about what kind of questions they ask, because the way we talk about and experience religion is changing. We should certainly escape the “good/bad” dualism about a classification of people that is endlessly diverse.

Egyptian protests.

Egyptian protests.

The world has been rightly focused on the incredible events unfolding in Egypt, with the military removing President Morsi from power after massive protests involving tens of millions of demonstrators. In the wake of those actions, whether Egypt will remain largely stable as these shifts take place remains to be seen. One aspect of the Egyptian economy that is being impacted by this upheaval is Egypt’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry, some elements of which have been eager to see Morsi go“We need somebody to do something for the people, but now the poor are very poor, and the rich are very rich, there is no middle class. And business is horrible.” Back in 2011 I wrote about reports of growing religiously-motivated hostility towards Egypt’s tourism industry, though the Muslim Brotherhood seemed eager to not disturb a significant part of the country’s GDP (mostly). Tourism had recovered somewhat during Morsi’s tenure, but has taken a “body blow” as Western countries advise against any non-essential travel to Egypt.  There currently isn’t a tourism minister, as he has stepped down, and it remains to be seen how events will unfold. The Wild Hunt is currently exploring several Egypt stories, including this one, and we’ll keep you posted as things develop.

E.W. Jackson

E.W. Jackson

Virginia Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who I profiled recently here at The Wild Hunt, continues to clarify himself after coming under fire for saying and writing a number of stock conservative Christian positions on various social and religious issues. He recently walked back past statements he made that implied yoga can lead to Satanism, and now he wants you to know that he doesn’t hate gay people, well, most gay people. Quote: “I don’t treat anybody any differently because of their sexual orientation, but I do think that the rabid radical homosexual activist movement is really trying to fundamentally change our culture and redefine marriage and do a number of things that I just think are not good at all.” So there you go! He just doesn’t like gay activists, or anyone who wants to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Jackson claims his critics are applying a “religious test” on him for his views, but I think it’s important for Pagans living in Virginia to know he feels Witchcraft is “wrong and dangerous.” Any candidate, no matter what their party, or their personal faith, has to be able to serve all of their constituents. That includes the Pagans. Can you (would you want to) really serve the interests of someone you think is dangerous?

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

[The following article is reprinted from the PNC Minnesota bureau, and reported by Cara Schulz.]

Areas where there is political turmoil or fighting are often difficult places for even those in the mainstream of a culture to live in. It’s even harder for people on the fringe of society as they face confusion, uncertainty, deteriorating living conditions, and daily fear for personal safety. Those set apart by ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, political views, or religion are the most vulnerable to loss of property or even loss of life. In Syria and Egypt, two countries currently experiencing political turmoil or civil war, one by one Pagan voices have fallen silent.

Syrians demonstrate in the coastal city of Banias against the regime of hard-line leader Bashar Assad in the spring of 2011. (Syrian Freedom via Creative Commons)

Syrians demonstrate in the coastal city of Banias against the regime of hard-line leader Bashar Assad in the spring of 2011. (Syrian Freedom via Creative Commons)

There are eight Pagans, three in Egypt and five in Syria, that I have regular contact with online. They had always been cautious about revealing their religion to people within their country and expressed dismay over their isolation, but they were happy to talk online and wanted to know what American Pagans, especially those who practice Mesopotamian or Kemetic religions, were doing.

Egypt

The Egyptian Pagans, who were elated at the fall of Muburak, expressed hope that a truly democratic government would emerge in Egypt. Then, concerns crept in at the increasing power of the Muslim Brotherhood. Karim saw the Brotherhood as a threat to both his country and to him, as a Pagan, personally. Over the past seven months, the lag in communication grew as he became more politically involved and went to rallies and protests. He expressed fear that pagans and other religious minorities were in increasing danger and that the Christians would sacrifice people like him to the Brotherhood to appease them. The other two Pagans I communicate with followed a similar pattern. Elation, followed by concern, followed by fear and determination. Then silence. I have no way of finding out if they are simply too involved with the political turmoil in Egypt to respond, if they are keeping quiet to avoid suspicion, or anything else. It’s been three months since I have heard from any of them.

Syria

The situation in Syria appears to be more grave, according to the last messages I received from the five Pagans I chat with regularly. They spoke of the fighting and how places looked like Beirut, buildings just shells of themselves, rubble blocking the streets. They detailed neighbors going missing. Islamic fundamentalist patrols that monitor behavior and took violent action against people who violated rules and customs. They debated fleeing, worried about being outed as a Pagan, and started destroying or burying altars. Three began attending local mosques to show their devotion to Islam.

email-for-article

Yana dropped off first.  I last heard from her in June of 2012.  Bayan, another Syrian Pagan, also hadn’t heard from her but said fighting in her area was intense.  He said he had seen patrols targeting young women and men, beating them and he said it was rumored they were raping them.  He thought perhaps she fled to a safer area or was silent to avoid detection.

That was the last email I received from Bayan.  Like dominoes the other Syrian Pagans went silent.  No emails or texts.  No word on their safety.  I keep hoping I will hear something, but it’s been several months and still no word.

I reached out to a Pagan in Lebanon, Adon, to see what he has heard about his coreligionists in Syria and Egypt.  Although he’s not in the same country, he’s much closer than I am.  I asked Adon if he had heard from Pagans in Egypt and Syria.

I haven’t heard of my pagan friends in Syria for a while too now, i know at least three of them who moved to other countries, especially Algeria, and United Arab emirates, but i have lost their contact in the process. The others are still silent, so they’re either disconnected, moved from the country, or worse. It’s hard to tell at the moment, pagans in the Near East were already several secluded clusters of individuals who don’t have a lot of contact with each other before everything started to happen. This is the case even in Lebanon where it’s relatively easier to be open about one’s religious identity.

I didn’t had any contact previously with Egyptian pagans, but they’re probably fine, but everyone in Egypt is too distracted to think about anything but politics and survival at the moment, i’ve had trouble having a decent conversation even with non-pagan egyptian friends in the past few months.

Anyway, you’re right that the atmosphere is getting a lot less safer for non-muslims in general and even for less devoted muslims. It’s very risky to even discuss religion in Syria at the moment, whether we were in the areas controlled by the regime or by the rebels. In Egypt the situation is a bit brighter since there’s a larger civil society and minorities in general and things are still relatively peaceful. However, the general feeling here is that this is temporary, the Islamists are taking the lead now after being in the shadows for decades, and all this will catalyze the process of getting over fundamental Islamism faster.  – Adon

My hope is that peace and liberty come to this region of the world.  I hope my friends are safe and that someday soon, they can live without fear.  That their voices are once again heard and this terrible silence ends.  May Anu and Horus watch over them.

The Pew Forum has released a report on the size and distribution of the world’s religions, based on data collected in 2010, and according to their findings the religiously unaffiliated are the third largest group behind Christians and Muslims.

01 groups

“The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith. “Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed. [...] Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population. Japan comes next with the second largest unaffiliated population in the world with 72 million, or 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, 51 million people — 16.4 percent of all Americans — said they have no link to an established faith.”

This analysis comes in the wake of another Pew study that showed the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, “nones,” on the rise in America,  and making a definite impact on 2012 presidential elections here. Likewise, recently released 2011 census data from the UK shows nones making up 25% of that nation. Meanwhile, Hindus make up 15% of the global population, indigenous and folk religions are at around 6% with 405 million people, and “other” religions (our favorite category here at The Wild Hunt), which includes modern Pagan faiths, and makes up around 58 million (0.8%) of the world’s religious adherents.

16 other map

The largest religious category in the world, Christianity, while still dominant at over 2 billion, has seen a shift towards becoming a truly global faith where “no single continent or region can indisputably claim to be the center of global Christianity.” In addition, Pew noted in a separate look at global Christianity that Europe was rapidly becoming post-Christian in character.

“In 1910, about two-thirds of the world’s Christians lived in Europe, where the bulk of Christians had been for a millennium, according to historical estimates by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. Today, only about a quarter of all Christians live in Europe (26%). A plurality – more than a third – now are in the Americas (37%). About one in every four Christians lives in sub-Saharan Africa (24%), and about one-in-eight is found in Asia and the Pacific (13%).”

So what’s the take-home of all this data? Well, for one, it’s obvious that news and policy centered on a Christian frame of reference is a distorted lens when you account for the fact that they only account for 31.5% of our planet’s religious adherents. More than 45% of this world view things outside of those confines, yet “religion news” in the West essentially acts as a play-by-play of internal Christian squabbles and their influence on politics. Hinduism, Buddhism, indigenous traditions, “other” religions and the unaffiliated have been treated as a side-note at best, and almost completely shut out of moral conversations that affect non-Christians. This situation, particularly in news dealing with Europe, Asia, and increasingly, the United States, is becoming untenable.

Secondly, it’s important to keep in mind the essential “pagan-ness” of our world today, despite the best efforts of Christianity and Islam to replace all beliefs with their forms of exclusive monotheism. Polytheism, pantheism, henotheism, post-theism, and other theological variants outside the Abrahamic conceptions of divinity continue to thrive and make an impact on our world. The growth of the “nones” provides the Hindus, Buddhists, folk-religionists, and “other” faiths a chance to change the narrative of belief in this world, that Christian and Muslim one-size-fits-all salvation are not guaranteed eternal dominance, and that we can find pluralistic alternatives to the status quo.

The religiously unaffiliated, the “nones,” aren’t exclusively atheistic or agnostic, many of them hold to religious and spiritual conceptions, often quite Christian in conception, but their collective reluctance to be put into a box, and their unprecedented growth, could change everything. Most importantly it could change the perception that we live in a Christian, or Muslim, world. It could give journalists covering religion a new remit to start covering stories outside the Abrahamic paradigm, and it could give increased impetus for politicians across the political spectrum to embrace a real pluralism in their policy and rhetoric.

Yesterday, and in less than a week, The Wild Hunt’s Fall Fund Drive met, and then surpassed, its $6000 dollar goal. While I was always confident that this campaign would eventually meet its goal, I had no idea it would do so with such alacrity. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of my readers, my community, in helping The Wild Hunt go independent once again. To fund a new vision for the site, and Pagan news. So thank you, whether you donated $5, $50, or $500 dollars, you all made this happen. The campaign will stay up through November, and any donation above the $600 goal number will go towards a travel and a materials stipend for our reporters, and perhaps even towards paying additional contributors. So once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. The links lists, Fall Funders list, new underwriting affiliates, and supporter graphics will be going up soon (honestly, I had no idea I would make my goal this fast).

Fall fund large

http://www.indiegogo.com/the-wild-hunt-fall-funding

Now that I’ve shared that happy news, let’s have a few news links, shall we?

  • You may have seen a wire story about a pagan rock carving in Morocco being destroyed by ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims. Turns out that the report of the sun-divinity’s image being destroyed may have been greatly exaggerated. Quote: “The Moroccan government has denied that an 8,000-year-old rock engraving depicting the Sun as a divinity has been destroyed in the south of the country in an attack residents had blamed on ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims. Communications Minister Mustafa el-Khalfi took journalists to the site of the pagan engraving in the Toukbal National Park to demonstrate that reports of its destruction were untrue.” So, I guess the lesson here is “pics or it didn’t happen.”
A not-destroyed petroglyph inToukbal National Park.

A not-destroyed petroglyph inToukbal National Park.

That’s all for now, have a great day, and thank you for supporting The Wild Hunt!

Though I’ve written thousands of posts for The Wild Hunt, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of excitement writing today’s. Not just because I’ve been away for over a week, but because this is the first post of a newly independent Wild Hunt. A Wild Hunt that, while maintaining many of the things you’ve grown to love about our site, will also see a number of changes. The first will be that The Wild Hunt is no longer a solo venture. I am proud to welcome two new writer/reporters who will be making regular contributions each month here at this site: Rynn Fox and Heather Greene (Miraselena). Both have excellent resumes and backgrounds, and I’m excited about not only for what they’ll bring to you as readers, but also what they’ll allow me to do: spend more time writing and researching original journalism for the Pagan community.

In addition, The Wild Hunt is standing on principle, and will not only be paying our two new reporters, but will also be paying all contributors to the site from this point forward. I’ve seen a troubling trend within our culture to expect content and excellent reporting to happen without support from the community the writers are serving. While there is amazing free content out there, and many, many, talented writers who are doing this for the love of it, I feel there needs to be a space where this work is nurtured, supported, and paid for. From guest posts by top-notch writers like Eric Scott, a contributing editor at Killing The Buddha, to the contemplative writings of Teo Bishop, or the latest breaking story from a Pagan Newswire Collective bureau. So with my first post of the newly independent Wild Hunt, let me announce our annual Fall Funding Drive.

Fall fund large

http://www.indiegogo.com/the-wild-hunt-fall-funding

Over the next month I’m hoping to raise $6000 to not only cover costs here, but to use that money to turn The Wild Hunt into an enterprise that pushes this site to a different level, one that sustains, trains, and propagates excellence in Pagan journalism, analysis, and commentary. Head over to the official IndieGoGo site for a full explanation of what the money will be used for, the various perks of becoming a Wild Hunt funder, and why your donation is so important. So spread the word, and if can, please contribute!

Now, having said all that, it’s been a while since we’ve unleashed those hounds, hasn’t it? Let’s take a look at some stories that have been percolating while I’ve been away.

That’s all I have for now, but expect much more in the days and weeks (and hopefully years) to come! Thanks to all of you for your support, and I hope you’ll spread the word about our Fall Funding Drive and consider donating to help us achieve our goals!

Thanks to Valerie Herron for allowing me the use of her lovely “Cernunnos” illustration for The Wild Hunt.

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.

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

  • Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Leyva in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice, has had a request for a reduced sentence denied. Sanford has been sentenced to 20 years under a plea agreement, her story was recently dramatized on the show Fatal Encounters.
  • The Pagan community has been in the process of having a debate/discussion over the issue of obesity. It started with a post by Peter Dybing, and has been raging ever since. Notable responses have come from Star Foster,  Iris Firemoon, and  Kitsune Yokai at the Fat Pagan blog, with Margot Adler, Crystal Blanton, and Shauna Aura adding their voices in the comments of Peter’s blog. The most recent commentary on the question of health and obesity comes from T. Thorn Coyle: “There is some real dialogue, some hurt feelings, some anger, and some derision. Bottom line is this: we all have ways in which we do not walk our talk. Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.” As this conversation  no doubt continues, I hope we can steer clear of judging bodies, and instead focus on building a more supportive community for everyone.
  • At The Revealer, Alex Thurston writes about syncretism in Islam within the context of Mali and the destruction of Sufi shrines. Quote: “The alternative – and the greatest challenge to Ansar al Din’s program – is not to assert Islamists’ hidden love for the things they say they hate, but to assert the reality, the desirability, and the possibility that there is more than one way to be a real Muslim. Timbuktu in 2012 is not Mecca in 630. African Muslims are Muslims, full stop. And the loss of shrines in Timbuktu is a loss not only for world civilization and for locals, but also for Islam.”
  • PNC-Minnesota recently published two interviews, one with M. Macha NightMare, and one with Lady Yeshe Rabbit, who will be appearing at Sacred Harvest Fest. Quote: “I am bringing an open mind. I am interested in learning and sampling from you all the regional flavors of your community. I am bringing my own classes and rituals that I will be leading. One is a project that has been dear to my consciousness, called American Sabbats. It is looking at the secular, bank holidays of this country and their history, and the amount of energy that is generated within them. How the energy of those holidays, which many of us celebrate in addition to our Pagan holidays,  might be channeled toward the greater good of our country. There are many changes needed in our country in order to be healthy. I am curious to go and sample what the opinions and thoughts are of all of you who have a unique experience of America from your vantage point in the Midwest.”
  •  The US Dept. of Justice is supporting Native American inmates in their quest to have a South Dakota ban on using tobacco in religious ceremonies lifted. You can read the DOJ’s supporting brief, here.
  • Nicholas Campion, author of “Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions,” shares an excerpt of his book at HuffPo’s religion section. Quote: “The ancient zodiac signs survive in the modern West because, uniquely, in an age of aggressive consumerism, media-overload and scientific materialism, they encourage people to reflect on themselves and their inner worlds; their hopes, fears and secret motivations. In mass culture, astrology replaces the remote scientific language of relativity and light-years with stories of love and luck. In an era when we are now aware that we live on an insignificant planet on the edge of a minor galaxy, astrology restores each individual to the center of their own cosmos. According to its practitioners it provides a sense of personal meaning and purpose and, sometimes, a guide to action. Both astrology’s advocates and its critics find rare agreement on this point. This has nothing to do with the truth of astrology’s claims, but it does explain its survival in the 21st century.”

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.

Witchcraft and sorcery are illegal in the United Arab Emirates, but unlike their neighbors in Saudi Arabia they treat the matter as a fraud and nuisance, rather than a grave crime that can earn you the death penalty.

“Witchcraft and sorcery is strictly illegal in the UAE and most Gulf countries. In Saudi Arabia, it is a crime punishable by death. However in Dubai, authorities have treated it largely as the purview of scam artists and confidence tricksters. In the United Arab Emirates, and Dubai in particular, authorities take a more liberal stance. However, because of the large number of scam artists posing as sorcerers and exorcists in Dubai, police have set up a special task force to crack down on so-called ‘magic-related crimes.'”

Despite this no-doubt impressive task force, it was UAE’s airport security who caught two Asian men trying to smuggle over a thousand items related to sorcery and magic into the country.

Seized occult haul. Image Credit: Dubai Police

Seized occult haul. Image Credit: Dubai Police

“Ali Al Maghawi, Dubai Customs’ Director of Airport Operations Department, said the two men were apprehended after their bags were scanned. “Two Asian passengers were suspected when their bags passed through the internal inspection machines,” he said. “Their bags were scanned and searched manually. Inspectors found out a great number of wicca literature, talismans and items which are usually used in witchcraft and sorcery work.” Al Maghawi pointed out that the 1,200 seized items fell into 28 categories used for black magic, sorcery and incantation.”

Did you catch that? “A great number of Wicca literature.” Later in the article, while listing what was seized, an official simply says “magic teaching books,” by why say “Wicca literature” in the first place unless there are actually books that say “Wicca” on them? Sadly, though I searched, there isn’t a clear picture of the seized books (Imagine the marketing coup for the company that published the titles!). So my question is, are there Wiccans in the UAE?

Certainly most of these items, including the literature, are being used in syncretic or indigenous magical systems, but even the most utilitarian Western Witchcraft spell-books usually have some information about Wicca and its beliefs in them. If the “great number” of Wiccan books seized here are simply the tip of the iceberg, as is the case with most black market busts, then it stands to reason there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people reading about modern Pagan faiths in the UAE. Does that mean there might be modern Pagans and Witches in the country as well? It’s not so far-fetched an idea. Wherever Western literature and Internet access has become easily accessible, small pockets of Pagans have also emerged. There are Pagans in Lebanon, and in Israel, and the country of Jordan has welcomed Patrick McCollum as a guest, so these materials can’t all be mere fodder for scam-artists.

Modern Paganism is now a global movement, and has been so for some time. While our critics would like to believe that Wicca, Druidry, and other faiths under our umbrella are merely the passing fancy of bored teenagers, radical feminists, and aging hippies, the truth is that the underlying appeal of reviving pre-Christian religion has sparked something far larger than even we could have anticipated. The harder the dominant monotheisms grasp, the more people start looking for alternatives. What’s truly exciting is to see how the ideas and concepts of modern Paganism change and grow in places like India, South America, Africa, and the Middle East. Books on Wicca may be inadvertently helping to revive polytheism without a single missionary uttering a single word.