Archives For James Arthur Ray

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

  • So, hey, the Summer Solstice happened! Unless you’re in Australia, then the Winter Solstice happened (it’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with the world being round). That means it is time for everyone’s favorite question: What the heck is Stonehenge actually for? Quote: It has been called a Neolithic temple; a ritual gathering place; a royal burial ground; an eclipse predictor; even a kind of ancient computer capable of mapping celestial patterns. Yet, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, we are still no closer to knowing, definitively, why Stonehenge was built. Neolithic people gathered there, certainly, but, despite modern assumptions, they weren’t Druids – since those ancient British priests, with their white robes, sickles and mistletoe, were a phenomenon of the Iron Age, and only emerged centuries after Stonehenge was abandoned.” So the answer is: it depends on when you’re talking about. Also, ten demerits to any journalist out there who posted a link to Spinal Tap when talking about Stonehenge. 
  • I’d also like to note that Stonehenge is so cool, we will happily dance around replicas of it built outside Britain. Quote: “The monument nearly lines up with sunrise on the solstice, just like Stonehenge – though stories about Bronze Age human sacrifices there were almost certainly false. The original structure was probably one of the earliest calendars. And much like Stonehenge, the replica draws a coterie of neo-Druids, pagans and wiccans each year on the summer solstice. About 30 turned out in small groups from Oregon and southern Washington state.” I love the Pacific Northwest so much. Also: Carhenge, it’s a thing. It’s made of cars. It’s in the Midwest (and people really like it).
  • Is Hillary Clinton an advocate for “sexual paganism?” Quote: “Among the nonsense spread about Clinton’s age, looks and alleged affairs, several right-wing nuts claimed she advocated ‘sexual paganism’ during a speech condemning LGBT violence she delivered in 2011. Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, Richard Land, Southern Evangelical Seminary president, and right-wing author Richard Brown, were particularly vocal in their attack on Clinton. ‘There is no question in my mind, God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path towards sexual paganisation,’ Land commented.” I’d comment, but I don’t want to give the appearance of partisan feeling, though I think there are plenty of our readers who would be pro a “Paganization” campaign.
  • An article on the Celtic Druid Temple in Ireland notes that modern Druids do, in fact, use the Internet (and they are appropriately wary of journalists). Quote: “A notice on the school’s website (yes, Druids use the internet) stipulates that any media coverage must be approved before publication, something The Irish Times has a policy against. Con Connor, who runs the school with his partner, Niamh, explains that this is due to the long history of misrepresentation surrounding Druidism, dating from Roman times to recent Irish schoolbooks on religion. They do not wish to be misunderstood or portrayed as eccentric cranks.” There may also be ancient wisdom involved.
  • There are approximately seven things Paganism can teach “modern man” (But what about post-modern man?). One of them, apparently, is that 1973’s “The Wicker Man” is a really good film. Quote: Seriously, if you ignore all the advice above at least see this classic British ‘horror’ film from 1973. Apart from the fact that it has Christopher Lee, nudity, people dressed up in weird animal masks and Britt Ekland having sex with a man through a wall (hey, Pagans Do It Better!), it also has a cracking Brit folk soundtrack. Don’t bother with the 2006 version starring Nicolas Cage though: that’s absolute pants.” I would make fun, but this is 100% accurate, and if he wants to credit modern Pagans as champions of this cinematic masterpiece, I’ll take it. In fact, here’s the trailer from the recently released “final cut” Blu Ray edition

  • Anna Goeldi, who was killed on accusations of witchcraft in Switzerland in 1782, was honored in a memorial unveiled as an “expression of atonement.” Quote: “Goeldi, who was 48 at the time of her death, was exonerated by the Glarus parliament in 2008. The memorial, comprising two permanently lit lamps on the side of the Glarus court house, is intended to draw attention to violations of human rights that occur in the world today, as well as Goeldi’s story.” Considering the fact that “witches” and “sorcerers” are being murdered in the here and now, perhaps this memorial can serve a purpose beyond righting an old wrong.
  • So, this film exists. Quote: “Witching & Bitching, a simple yet utterly bonkers battle of the sexes that chuckles at male chauvinism before castrating it completely.” This film looks bananas, so I can’t really tell you how well it balances its satire and the use of the horror-movie-witch-trope.
  • There are hundreds of Pagans in the modern UK military. That’s it. That’s the story. They’re just… there. Being Pagan. Quote: “Hundreds of witches, pagans and Druids have signed up to join the UK armed forces, according to the latest official figures. All three services have taken on people whose religious beliefs involve pagan rituals and casting spells. MPs fear that military top brass have been forced to hire members of alternative faiths and beliefs to halt the recruitment crisis. Recent attempts to boost regular and reserve units have had disappointing results, according to a report in the Mirror.” Note, again, that there is no story here other than that Pagans have joined military service in the UK.
  • “Monomyth” is not a term to be thrown around lightly in the Pagan community (I dare say it might even be a ‘fighting word’ in some places). But since Star Wars is revving back up, it’s time to get your Joseph Campbell groove on. Quote: “Campbell’s influence, however, extends far beyond Darth Vader and the gang. From Harry Potter to The Matrix to Happy Gilmore, amateurs and experts alike have drawn connections between multiple modern narratives and Campbell’s theory of the Monomyth, which asserts that various myths, legends, and fairy tales throughout human history share a common story structure involving a hero who departs from known reality in order to confront a series of trials and tribulations before returning home as an initiated master of both realms. The theory, of course, involves more intricacies and complexions—e.g. the call to adventure, the crossing of a threshold, the guidance of a mentor—but that’s the gist.” To be fair, they do point out that the monomyth theory actually has critics.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The Voynich manuscript.

The Voynich manuscript.

  • A professor from the University of Bedfordshire claims to have made significant progress in translating the mysterious Voynich manuscript. Quote: “An award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world. Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach. The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text. 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.” So what’s it about? Bax says it “is probably a treatise on nature.” More on the manuscript here.
  • The Houston Chronicle profiles its local Santeria community. Quote: “Disciples fill Faizah Perry’s sunny suburban Houston home for a day of worship as chanting emanates from a sheet-curtained side room in which she divines the future and enacts other secret rituals. Perry, a priestess, feels a deep spiritual connection to a saint-like “patron” called Ogun and predicts events channeling other spirits using sacred seashells. Her faith is called Santeria, a religion grounded in African beliefs that were transported to the New World aboard slave ships and melded with Christian beliefs in Cuba. By at least one survey now a decade old, there were about 22,000 Santeria practitioners active in the United States.”
  • Catholic magazine America wrings its hands over secularization in the United States and what that means for religious liberty. Quote: “To be blunt: Religious people who hold traditional values are in the way of what many powerful people want. We are in the way of widespread acceptance of abortion, unrestricted embryonic stem cell research and experimentation with fetal tissue. We are in the way of doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia and the mercy-killing of genetically defective infants. We are in the way of new reproductive technologies, which will become more important as our society makes sex more sterile. We are in the way of gay rights and the redefinition of marriage. We are in the way of the nones and the engaged progressives and their larger goal of deconstructing traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed in accord with their vision of the future.” Will someone get me my smelling salts? I think I might swoon with worry.
  • A woman has filed suit against the hotel chain W Hotels, claiming she was dismissed after employee rumors emerged that she practiced Vodou and witchcraft. Quote: “The plaintiff claims shortly before her termination, employees spread rumors about Hall being much older than she looks and that she is a practitioner of evil witchcraft. Hall is of Haitian descent and believes these rumors linked her to discriminatory narratives of Voodoo. Hall accuses the W of denying her equal opportunity based on age and national origin.”
  • The Christian “singer” Carman, who famously penned a song slandering Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits, says that his terminal cancer is cured. Quote: “Less than a year after announcing his diagnosis with myeloma, an incurable form of cancer, Carman Licciardello now says he’s cancer-free. ‘They took tests (and there will be more) P.E.T., MRI, Bone biopsies ect [sic] and could find NO trace of Cancer,’ the former CCM star wrote on his Facebook page.” No doubt Carman will use this extension of life to make amends towards those he has wronged.

  • Philebrity showcases a short clip from a longer forthcoming documentary on Harry’s Occult Shop. Quote: “The clip above, which according to the Vimeo page is part of a longer (though still short) documentary on the legendary South Street shop, might be the first and likely last look inside the shop for many of you. And on this day-off for some and unproductive day for others, it’s just what you’ll need to kick-start your daydreaming at your desk.” The shop itself, sadly, seems to have gone online only (I think this is how it exists now).
  • Here’s another profile of New Age star Marrianne Williamson’s run for Congress, this time in the Weekly Standard. Quote: “In fact, at the moment, there is only one candidate running anything approaching a real campaign. Well, maybe “campaign” is the wrong word. It’s more a vision quest. If you live in Waxman’s district, Marianne Williamson doesn’t just want to represent you. She wants to save your soul.”
  • Meanwhile, Diane Winston at Religion Dispatches defends her congressional run, saying there’s nothing “woo” about her. Quote: “Williamson’s appeal is not based on what she wants to do but on why she is doing it. Since the 1970s, she said, the American left has abandoned the spiritual impulse that fueled movements for abolition, labor reform, women’s rights, civil rights and pacifism. For Williamson the spiritual impulse, the “self-actualization of the individual,” leads to a life of love and a beloved community embodied by a society that seeks the best for its citizens and their planet.”
  • The occult history of the television set. Quote: “The origin of the television set was heavily shrouded in both spiritualism and the occult, writes author Stefan Andriopoulos in his new book Ghostly Apparitions. In fact, as its very name implies, the television was first conceived as a technical device for seeing at a distance: like thetelephone (speaking at a distance) and telescope (viewing at a distance), the television was intended as an almost magical box through which we could watch distant events unfold, a kind of technological crystal ball.”
  • The Phoenix Business Journal looks at the rise and fall of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who was recently released from prison for negligent homicide in a deadly sweat lodge ceremony gone wrong. Quote: “I lost everything tangible, and ended up millions of dollars in debt,” he wrote. “I never thought I would be in this position. In the blink of an eye I lost my life savings, my business that took 20 years to build, my home, and my reputation. All gone in one fatal swoop. Four banks dropped me like a bad habit; they wouldn’t even allow me to have a checking account with them post the accident. My book publishers wouldn’t return my call.” You can read all of my coverage of Ray, here.

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

There was a time when James Arthur Ray was a heavy hitter in the world of New Age, self-help, guru-dom. He appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s popular daytime talk show during the height of “The Secret” (aka the “Law of Attraction”) craze, appearing in the 2006 “Secret” film, and collaborating with other Secret authors. His 2008 book “Harmonic Wealth” climbed the New York Times bestseller list, and he had positioned himself as someone who would use New Age teachings to, well, get you rich. This is hardly new, the New Thought movement, which heavily influenced the New Age movement, also concerned itself with the acquisition of wealth alongside spiritual enrichment, but Ray was a particularly turbo-charged and modern variant of this old profession.

Rays kingdom of macho spiritual affluence came crashing down in 2011 when he was convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of three participants in a makeshift sweat-lodge ceremony that took place in 2009. The tragedy amplified everything wrong with the sort of empire Ray was running: near-abusive indifference to the suffering of his charges, a (deadly) misunderstanding of spiritual technologies that he was appropriating, and the inability to deal with his own edifice of his godlike confidence collapsing. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath, Ray spent a lot of time on damage control, instead of on his fatal failures. One Ray staffer, in a conference call to followers after the ceremony said that “the two that had passed and they left their bodies during the ceremony and had so much fun they chose not to come back and that was their choice that they made.” Ray initially called the deaths an “accident,” but that statement seems to have been scrubbed from his website. Ray, found guilty, served only two years in prison, and was released from custody this past Summer. During his incarceration, the New Age industry shuddered a bit, perhaps momentarily humbled by the deaths, not to mention that opulent spiritual searching had gone out of fashion in the age of Occupy (at least on the surface).

Those who assumed that a chastened Ray, now finally free, would lay low for awhile until the memory of his crimes were faded, were in for something of a shock. Ray almost immediately started blogging again, reaching out to followers, and was soon booked on primetime television. Appearing on the Piers Morgan show, alone, with no counter-point, on November 25th. There, he got to work rebuilding his empire, hoping to appear evolved and transformed from his time in prison.

“I think the most difficult thing I can ever imagine is investing your entire life in helping people, and then finding them getting hurt,” he said. “It’s just the antithesis of anything that I had ever stood for or wanted. And so that anguish has continued every single day since that moment.”

The organization Seek Safely, formed by family members of those killed in Ray’s sweat lodge ceremony, have been pushing for Ray to make real, concrete, promises about his teachings going forward.

“It has been our hope that Mr. Ray would cease and desist from practicing self-help programs. However, Mr. Ray has returned to national media, re-launching his brand, complete with a fresh website, blog entries and testimonials.

In an effort to protect people from further acts of gross negligence, we have asked Mr. Ray to sign the SEEK Safely Promise. The SEEK Safely Promise is a commitment that self-help practitioners can make to provide truthfulnessaccuracyrespectprotectionintegrity andsafety to their customers. While over 20 self-help practitioners have made the commitment to the SEEK Safely Promise, Mr. Ray has yet to respond.

While SEEK Safely supports everyone’s journey of growth and improvement, we do not condone Mr. Ray’s returning to the public stage to promote his business without his first making a commitment to provide a safe environment for his customers.”

The Verge, in a longform piece of journalism, explores Ray’s career, the sweat lodge deaths, and his new attempts at a comeback. At its heart is a James Arthur Ray who doesn’t seem all that different than the one who entered prison.

“The Browns watched the interview, but, they say, were not invited to participate — Ray stipulated he could be the only guest. Ginny Brown watched, looking for some evidence of a changed man. “If he doesn’t understand that he caused this, he’s not a safe person to follow. I do believe that he’s sorry that Kirby and James and Liz are dead. I think he’s sorry that this tragedy happened. But he doesn’t understand that he needs to apologize, that he caused this to happen. And I don’t think he’ll apologize for that,” she says. She and her husband have asked James Arthur Ray to sign the Seek Safely promise. He has refused.”

The question now is, will the New Age Movement allow for Ray’s comeback? Will his former followers? For those in our broader religious and spiritual community who overlap into New Age events, what is our duty, and what are the lessons of Ray? Can a multi-million dollar industry, and those who want a piece of it, ever be truly humbled? When you think you’re speaking with the voice of the universe, or of God(s), what limits you? What stops you from treating students like servants, or pets, and appropriating from cultures one barely understands?

In the twenty years I have been a part of the Pagan movement, many have (publicly and privately) yearned for “New Age” money, the big paychecks that come from luring the rich and powerful to your classes. But with that inflated pocketbook comes the deadly over-feeding of ego and desire. The guru humbled by controversy is nothing new, power often corrupts. The question is can this industry, and those who would emulate it, really turn toward a more just and accountable system before the next deadly “accident” occurs? Maybe spiritual teachers should never allowed to be rich, maybe a rich spiritual teacher has learned, and is transmitting, the wrong lessons.

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.

  • Moonhenge in Cambridgeshire was recently dedicated and blessed by local Pagans. Quote: “For Jo-Ann Childs, a druid from ­Huntingdon, the experience was ­particularly spiritual because she said she had dreamed about the henge during a trance three weeks before the artist Derek Massey’s design appeared in The Hunts Post. She said: ‘It was exactly what I saw in my dream – tonight is a dream come true.’ Ms Childs, 72, a retired anaesthetic technician, has been a druid for many years. She explained that by blessing the site, druids hope it will be a sacred place for everybody, no matter what their religion.” Moonhenge is a wooden replica of Stonehenge built in honor of the land owner’s late wife, and featuring 19 outer trees representing a lunar cycle. BBC News notes that there’s a bit of bother over planning permissions, though nothing too dire it seems.
  • The Christian obsession with witchcraft continues unabated, with spiritual warfare peddler Landon “The Rev” Schott‘s new book entitled “Jezebel: The Witch Is Back” that will “equip and empower you to wage spiritual warfare aggressively” against “Jezebel’s diabolical characteristics and behaviors.” Quote: “Her assault will continue until all of God’s people are dead or defeated. Jezebel’s bloodlust for death and destruction will only be stopped when met with spiritual violence.” This is hardly the first book about the “Jezebel spirit,” she’s practically a household name among certain Christians (see here, here, here, and here). So what happens when you explain away everything from depression to simple illness to witchcraft? Do you start looking for scapegoats when your “spiritual violence” isn’t enough anymore to keep things as Christian and stable as you would like? Make no mistake, we’re considered a “symptom” of Jezebel’s reign.
  • For some time now I’ve been covering the Phoenix Goddess Temple saga. Were the practitioners devout tantric healers, or was it merely a front for a prostitution ring? Now, two years after the temple was raided and shut down by police, founder Tracy Elise will be headed to trial in October, and will be representing herself. Quote: “According to court paperwork, Tracy Elise has fired her attorney and has chosen to represent herself in court. Two years ago, police raided Elise’s church, known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Investigators claimed it was a house of prostitution, but parishioners said they were just practicing their religion.” For the curious, Elise has a Youtube channel where she outlines some of her beliefs. We will be covering this story as it continues to develop.
  • The trial of psychic matriarch Rose Marks continues, with gripping testimony back and forth over how successful her services were, and whether she was merely conning people for lucrative pay-outs. Quote: “Walker said she became unhappy, though the psychics felt they’d had successes: Walker’s husband had returned to live with her before he died; no child had been born; and Walker’s legal team had negotiated an initial payment from the estate to Walker.” My previous reporting on this story can be found here, and here.
  • Bloomberg, Salon.com, and Discovery all write about the deteriorating water supply in Caracas, Venezuela. While Bloomberg largely focuses on the political and structural failures that are causing the unsafe water, the others seem to focus in on Santeria practitioners dumping dead animals into local reservoirs (which the processing plants are unable to filter toxins from). Quote: “Witch doctors regularly dump animal sacrifices into the reservoir meant to quench the thirst, clean the dishes and wash the clothes of 750,000 Venezuelans, reported Bloomberg. As a result, citizens of one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the world, Caracas, Venezuela, can’t even take a drink of water from the tap safely. The 60-year old water treatment plant at the reservoir lacks the ability to filter out the toxins from the putrefying carcasses.” None of these articles seem very balanced to me. The problem isn’t the dumping per-se, if it is indeed as pervasive as claimed, the problem is a decaying infrastructure, law enforcement, and a political system in turmoil. The bad water is a symptom of a problem far larger than dead animals.

  • Self-help “Secret”-peddler James Arthur Ray, currently free on parole after serving two years for negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, has decided to drop his conviction appeal. According to the Associated Press, Ray “wants to avoid the possibility of a retrial and resentencing.” Quote: “I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and sentence to stand undisturbed.” In other words, the appeal to his not-that-harsh sentence considering 3 people died was generating a lot of criticism, and he feared that being sent back to prison was a real possibility if a new trial went forward. So perhaps this is the end of the James Arthur Ray saga? Let’s hope he sinks into a quiet and isolated retirement.
  • BBC News Scotland has the tragic story of how one abused girl’s testimony was manipulated into what would be known as the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal in 1991. Quote: “The tiny Orkney island of South Ronaldsay became the centre of a worldwide media storm in 1991 when nine children were removed from four families following allegations of satanic sexual abuse. Two decades on, Esther, who was the child at the centre of the scandal, believes none of it would have happened if she had spoken out at the time.” Esther has published a new book entitled “If Only I Had Told.”
  • Interfaith activist Andrew Luisi says that Indian culture teaches us plurality. Quote: “India has taught me that there are endless paths to reach the same destination. Hindus believe in many deities, but ultimately and regardless of the deity they choose to worship, they believe that they will be lead to the same truth. To this point, Hindus believe that they are worshipping the manifestation of the deity in the specific image that they are performing the puja, or religious ritual, to. It is not as if each Hindu believes that the image is the deity because most understand that divine power is greater than any one physical figure; divinity is present anywhere in the world and at any time.”
  • The Revealer interviews Ronald L. Grimes, ritual theorist, and author of “Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage.” Quote: “His book “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage“ (University of California Press, 2000), for example, mixes personal accounts of the ways people have performed rites of “hatching, matching, and dispatching” with theoretical approaches to those rites. Through his detailed explanations, Grimes also makes arguments for why rites of passage matter, not just as an academic discipline, but for our lived lives. These passages are difficult, when fully comprehended, and it takes performance, imagination, and community to work through them. Crucially, they have to be updated, changed, and “re-invented” to continue to have impact.”
  • Paganism is resurgent, and thus, people are throwing away babies. Modern Catholic thought in action folks.
  • Matt Hedstrom at the Christian Century admits that a “come-one, come-all” open prayer policy would unfairly favor Christianity, but can’t bring himself to endorse either “ceremonial deism” or complete elimination of opening invocations. Quote: “As Stephen Prothero recently reminded me, many evangelicals and fundamentalists actually supported—for this very reason—the landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, which banned school-sponsored prayer. Fundamentalist leader Carl McIntire made this point clearly: ‘Prayer itself without the name of Jesus Christ’—whom the prayer in question did not name—’was not non-denominational prayer—it was simply a pagan prayer.’ McIntire continued: ‘No Government agency or power in the United States can be used to establish a religion.’ Prayer without Jesus represented a religious orientation, one McIntire found objectionable.” Again, this is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is so important.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

  • Alongside the horrific human cost, a sad casualty in the ongoing violence and turmoil in Egypt has been the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya. Quote: “Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a ‘masterpiece.’ Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth.” Over 1000 pieces were stolen, and when Hanna tried to confront the looters, telling them that, quote, “this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” the looters responded that they were upset by her lack of veil and that the thievery was in retaliation for military killings. This is yet another blow to Egypt’s legacy and tourism industry, one which is/was a huge part of the country’s income. The longer that industry is disrupted, the longer it will take for the country to financially recover from the current crisis.
  • In 1951 the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in Britain was repealed and replaced with a law against fraudulent mediums. It was this action, fought for by Spiritualists and other interested parties, that allowed religious Witchcraft, Wicca, to enter into the public eye. However, British law was passed on to many of its former colonies, including in Australia, where the Northern Territory is finally getting around to repealing the Witchcraft Act. Quote: “Attorney-General John Elferink said he ‘laughed out loud’ when he stumbled across the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which punishes people with up to one year in prison. If convicted, prisoners can then expect to be hauled out every three months and taken to the town market place to be publicly humiliated in the pillory – a wooden block with holes to trap the offender’s head and hands. Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act was one of many outdated laws the Government planned to repeal.” Luckily, not many people even knew the law was still on the books, and so was never abused by modern-day Puritans looking for a legal foothold.
  • I linked to this Atlantic Magazine story earlier this week, but in case you missed it, their look at the runaway religious police of Saudi Arabia and their pursuit of “witches” and “sorcerers” is worth reading. Quote: “The Saudi government’s obsession with the criminalization of the dark arts reached a new level in 2009, when it created and formalized a special “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” to educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells. Saudi citizens are also urged to use a hotline on the CPVPV website to report any magical misdeeds to local officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.” I have reported several times on Saudi Arabia’s infamous witch-hunters, and the innocent men and women caught up in their dragnet. No one is safe, not even well-known Muslim television personalities from neighboring countries. As a revolutionary sentiments run through the Middle East, the need for social control may only heighten the number of people imprisoned, tortured, or killed for the crime of witchcraft.
  • Speaking of witch-hunts, historian Tracy Borman has a new book looking at a case of three women killed for witchcraft during the Jacobean period in England, and how powerful men pulled strings to make the tragedy happen. Reviewer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst notes that “one of the most terrifying things about the whole process was its randomness.” Quote: “Anyone could be accused by a neighbour with a grudge, and in small village communities, where memories were long and tongues as sharp as scythes, the witch-finder could easily be employed as a form of human pest control. Equally terrifying was the regular use of physical examinations as a cover for sadistic sexual exploitation, or simply to suck up to King James, whose dark obsession with witchcraft meant he rapidly became ‘one of the leading authorities on the subject’.” The book is out at the end of August in the UK.
  • Miami New Times spotlights Selene Perfumeria, a company the manufactures perfumes and baths stocked in many botanicas across Florida. Quote: “If you’ve ever wondered where these occult objects found in the Magic City’s bodegas and botanicas start their lives, Selene is one major source. Fragrances are widely used in Santeria, a syncretic religion that came to Miami by way of West Africa and then Cuba […] one mark of how widespread Santeria has become in Miami is how many of Selene’s products have found their way into local grocery stores. Although Selene makes some pretty malevolent mixtures, only the posi-potions make it to Publix. Grocery shoppers won’t find their ‘Law Stay Away’ mix near the sub counter, but you can still purchase ‘7 African Powers’ (the bottle does not specify which powers are included for $5.49).” Personally, I can think of a few instances where “Law Stay Away” potion would be quite positive.
Nathan Salas

Nathan Salas

  • Two people meet on a Wiccan bulletin board, one of them is unhappy, allegedly in a verbally abusive and neglectful home, so the other buys two plane tickets and flies her to California so she can start over. There’s just one problem: the alleged rescuer is 27, and the rescued girl is only 14. Quote: “The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office arrested 27-year-old Nathan Salas for child concealment. They say an online relationship with the teen led Salas to pick up the girl on the East Coast and fly with her to Sacramento, where deputies were waiting. Authorities in Connecticut reached out the Merced County Sheriff’s Department with information about a flight the two may have boarded to California. Deputies in Merced then reached out to the Sacramento airport, leading Sacramento County deputies to arrest Salas at the airport. The suspect was taken into custody just after getting off his inbound flight. ‘At that exact moment, it hit home that no matter how good of intentions I had, this was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my entire life,’ Salas said from jail.” I suppose this is a good time to remind folks that if you encounter a minor in trouble, the best recourse is to contact the local child protection agency or other locally based crisis resources.
  • H.P. Lovecraft fan? Today is NecronomiCon in Rhode Island. In honor of the event The Revealer looks at religion in the works of Lovecraft. Quote: “Lovecraft’s concept of religion – the use of “religious experience,” and “subjective ecstasies,” gives away the game. Whether he was a direct reader of William James or not, Lovecraft inherited a number of assumptions from the phenomenology of religion – most notably, the elevation of private experience as religion’s principle building block. Lovecraft’s experience is, however, more guardedly sensual, hence his dismissal of Christian “feelings” in favor of his own pagan “sight.” Ultimately, Lovecraft rejects his visions of Pan as the work of imagination – a kind of waking dream.” More on the convention can be found at the Washington Post.
  • Oral arguments in the appeal by self-help guru James Arthur Ray to have his negligent homicide convictions for the deaths of three people in a 2009 sweat lodge overturned have been set for September 11th. Quote: “Ray’s attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors in Yavapai County. In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid putting them at an unreasonable risk of harm.” Ray is currently free on parole after serving two years in prison.
  • The New York Review of Books laments the decline of used book stores, and writer Charles Simic recalls a fond experience at a used metaphysical book store. Quote: “Years ago, in a store in New York that specialized in Alchemy, Eastern Religions, Theosophy, Mysticism, Magic, and Witchcraft, I remember coming across a book called How to Become Invisible that I realized would make a perfect birthday present for a friend who was on the run from a collection agency trying to repossess his car. It cost fifteen cents, which struck me as a pretty steep price considering the quality of the contents.” If you’d like some more grim book-selling news, here’s the latest on Barnes & Noble.
  • TLC, the cable network formerly known as The Learning Channel, has a show called “Breaking Amish” about Amish and Mennonite young adults adjusting to the outside world. One of the young women on that show apparently practices “witchcraft” and claims to have had sex with Satanic beings (or perhaps Old Scratch himself). Quote: “‘I’ve been involved in witchcraft for quite a few years — probably most of my life. My connection to the spirit world is actually really, really scary to some people,’ she [Betsy] says in the sneak peek before explaining that “the demons” have been coming back around her since she’s been in LA. But then, she takes it a step further. ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, like, having sex with something. Like, literally in your sleep, and you wake up like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ You have sex with, um … Satan.'” Yes, a lot of this is probably faked up for television, but I’m still concerned that TLC seems to have no trouble selling sensationalism (and Satan) to get ratings.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

  • Back in April, the sale of sacred Hopi objects in France went ahead despite protests from the Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona, Survival International, and the actor Robert Redford, who called the sale “a sacrilege, a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions.”  Now, Survival International reports that at least one sacred katsina was returned by a buyer who participated in the auction to retrieve it for the Hopi. Quote: “M. Servan-Schreiber then bought one katsina at the auction to return it to the Hopi. He said, ‘It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war. I am convinced that in the future, those who believe that not everything should be up for sale will prevail. In the meantime, the Hopi will not have lost everything since two of these sacred objects have been saved from being sold.’” A second katsina acquired at the auction by another buyer will be returned to the Hopi later this year.
  • Are prisoners in the UK claiming to be Pagan to get extra benefits? Possibly! Though, this is a tabloid so no real data is given other than that self-described Pagans behind bars has nearly doubled to 602 since 2009. Quote: “The surge in paganism behind bars has sparked fears some may be converting for an easier life.” A Prison Service spokesperson noted that Pagan prisoners receive 4 days off per year, and no more.
  • The New York Times profiles the Living Interfaith Church in Washington, a religion that embraces all religions, even Pagans. Quote: “Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.” One wonders if the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation wasn’t theologically inclusive enough? Religion scholar Stephen Prothero notes that “one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.”
  • Is 2013 the year of the Witch? Pam Grossman at the Huffington Post seems to think so. Quote: “As the year progresses I predict we will all more fully channel the spirit of the witch. Honoring the earth and our bodies; shifting away from mass-market medicines and agri-business toward natural healing and whole foods; sharing our resources rather than focusing on mere accumulation of goods; collaborating and communicating more openly; helping to elevate women and girls to equality all over the world: these are all grand workings of feminine magic that we are manifesting together.” Pardon me while I pick up every stitch.
  • Lisa Derrick at La Figa isn’t fond of Rick Perry voodoo dolls, saying “they perpetuate dangerous, off-base stereotypes and do nothing to help either pro-choice factions or non-Christians.”

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

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

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!

We just a have a few quick (Pagan) news notes for you today, enjoy!

Sarah Pike on Studying Religion, Paganism, and Spiritual Festivals: The always-excellent Religion in American History blog interviews religion scholar Sarah Pike, perhaps best known to modern Pagans as the author of “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community” and “New Age and Neopagan Religions in America.” In a fascinating interview, Pike talks about how she got into studying religion, the “internal revolutions” of young people, and the current state of Paganism in the mainstream media (among other things).

Sarah Pike

Sarah Pike

In a chapter I wrote recently on “Wicca in the News” about changing representations of Witches in American news media since the 1960s (Oxford Handbook of Religion and the American News Media, 2012), I argue that reporters today rarely depict Witches as evil or satanic, even though stereotypes from the 1960s and 1970s of sexy young female Witches or cuddly cookie-baking elderly Witches-next-door still remain. In the past 25 years since I entered my first occult shop and started asking questions, the boundaries between categories like religion and magic and the differences between “folk,” “popular,” and “institutional” religion are treated with more nuance. And scholars of American religions are more likely to take traditions like Wicca seriously than they did when I was a graduate student, because Neopaganism has become firmly established across North America and formally recognized in government branches and institutions such as the military and prisons.”

The whole thing is worth a read, I’m particularly intrigued by her upcoming focus on “the lineage of twenty-first century spiritual festivals,” which seems to intersect with recent work on “transformational” festival culture.

James Arthur Ray Still Trying to Evade Responsibility: “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, is still in the process of trying to get that conviction overturned despite asking the families for forgiveness and saying that “I’m disappointed in myself and I don’t have any excuses.”

James Arthur Ray

James Arthur Ray

“Attorneys for a self-help author imprisoned in the deaths of three people say the prosecution has done little to show the case wasn’t plagued by error. James Arthur Ray wants his conviction on three counts of negligent homicide and his 2-year prison sentenced overturned. His attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors from Yavapai County in briefings to the Arizona Court of Appeals. […] In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid creating a situation that put them at unreasonable risk of harm.”

If Ray were truly the spiritual visionary he claims to be, he would bear the paltry sentence given him (just over two years for three deaths) and work to re-build himself once free.  Reaching out to the families he’s harmed, and speaking out on the dangers of appropriating cultures one doesn’t understand. The reverberations from this case are still being felt, and it remains to be seen if the right lessons have been learned. We’ll keep you posted on his appeal.

Orion Foxwood Heads to Paganicon, Talks About His Personal Journey: Spiritual teacher, conjurer, and seer Orion Foxwood, author of “The Candle and the Crossroads: A Book of Appalachian Conjure and Southern Root-Work” and “The Faery Teachings” is headed to Paganicon in Minnesota this week, and PNC-Minnesota interviews him before the event.

Orion Foxwood (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

Orion Foxwood (Photo: Tony Mierzwicki)

 “I have three major streams I work with. There is my Pagan witchcraft, Faery Seership, and Southern conjure. The Faery Seership grew along a parallel path with my craft work. I was influenced in a major way by R.J. Stewart in my Faery work, and through his work attained a contact in the spirit world named Brigh.  Brigh and I have continued to develop that work over the years. I teach much of that, it is more of an integrated, co-created practice working with the more invisible side of nature. All three streams of practices really come together with their own unique insights. They all have a way of speaking as to how my soul has grown; spiritually, magically, and mystically. They all support my work in the world, and within myself. They give me a broader set of language to often say the same things. It makes it easier to reach many kinds of “ears”, including people with different types of spirit work.”

The entire interview is interesting reading if you’re unfamiliar with Orion’s background and practice. I’m hoping to hear a lot more from Paganicon this weekend, where Orion Foxwood will be joined by Brandy Williams, author of “The Woman Magician: Revisioning Western Metaphysics from a Woman’s Perspective and Experience” as featured guests.

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

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.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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.