Archives For Japan

Shinto and Politics

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 5, 2014 — 14 Comments

Back in November I pointed to an article in the Japan Times on the recent ascent of a politically oriented brand of Shinto, the indigenous faith of that island nation. Because of the role Shinto played in Japan during World War II, this has made some people very nervous, despite protestations from organizations like the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership that their mission is merely “renewing spiritual values” in their homeland.

“In the past, Ise Jingu (shrine) was the fountainhead for unifying politics and religion and national polity fundamentalism,” author Hisashi Yamanaka recently told the Asahi newspaper. “Abe’s act is clearly a return to the ways before World War II.”

After I linked to that article,  P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a polytheist who has participated in many Shinto ceremonies at a local temple in Washington state, warned against engaging in “Shinto-y slope arguments.” 

“I don’t think that a better understanding of Japan’s Shinto cultural and religious heritage being given to students in modern Japan is a bad thing at all–in fact, they would greatly benefit from knowing more about the symbols and phenomena which their parents revere but are often at a loss to explain, particularly in the post-World War II period for the reasons described above. There is no “Shinto-y slope” involved in knowing more about this religion, which could provide an important corrective to corporate greed and environmental degradation not only worldwide, but also within Japan specifically (especially in the aftermath of the earthquake/tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster), which is sorely needed in the world today. The people who advocate such a return to their indigenous values do so in a context in which the questions of religious and cultural separation are not as clear as they are in Western contexts, nor are they as relevant. And, I really don’t think that the people involved, no matter how stern and formal they may be, are foolish enough to suggest some of the excesses that occurred in earlier State Shinto contexts be replicated today–or, at least, let’s hope they aren’t thinking in those directions, and attempt to assume the best of intentions meanwhile until proven otherwise rather than resorting to the fallacious “slippery slope” arguments, no matter how tempting and popular they may be.”

So, with the qualification that we shouldn’t rush to judgment, it’s time to revisit the issue of politics and Shinto, this time involving our own Vice President, and the issue of diplomatic relations between Japan and other Asian powers like South Korea and China. It all revolves around a visit to the politically volatile (even in Japan) Yasukuni Shrine.

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine

“U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spent nearly an hour trying to persuade Prime Minister Shinzo Abe not to visit the war-linked Yasukuni Shrine, two weeks before a trip there sparked a furor in Asia, diplomatic sources said. Abe visited the Shinto shrine, where convicted wartime leaders are honored along with war dead, on Dec. 26, triggering fierce criticism from China and South Korea, and leading Washington to express disappointment at his decision in an unusually explicit manner. With U.S. President Barack Obama expected to visit in April for talks with Abe, the rising tensions between Japan and the two neighboring nations will likely be high on the agenda. The turmoil, which undermines American interests in the region, could dash Abe’s hopes of boosting Japan’s U.S. security alliance.”

As noted in the Japan Times piece, Prime Minister Abe is deeply invested in the revitalization of Shinto within Japan, and sees Shinto as a way of restoring an essential “Japanese-ness.”

“This group is dedicated to “restoring Japanese-ness” by promoting Shinto values. They oppose female imperial succession, promote official visits by prime ministers to Yasukuni Shrine, and oppose the construction of a non-religious site of war commemoration and the ‘removal’ of the spirits of  war criminals from Yasukuni, push for constitutional revision and patriotic and moral education, oppose free trade of agricultural products because of what they describe as traditional ties between rice cultivation and Shinto, oppose giving permanent residents the right to vote in local elections and the sale of forest land, water resources, or ‘important property’ to foreigners, and oppose separate family names for married couples and “gender free education” which they see as examples of support for equality between the sexes gone too far.” – Matthew Penney, Assistant Professor in the Department of History, Concordia University, Montreal

In short, they’re the rough Shinto equivalent of culturally conservative Christians here in America. But why is Joe Biden interfering? Why would the American embassy in Japan make plain their disappointment in Abe’s visit to this controversial shrine? Because it is destabilizing relations with other Asian powers, who see these moves as overtly political, a return to a Japan that once invaded their territory. The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s leading newspapers, issued an editorial advocating for a secular war shrine, noting the ramifications of having political leaders visit Yasukuni Shrine.

Prime Minister Abe

Prime Minister Abe

“The world is feeling uneasy as Cabinet members and other senior government officials of Japan and China trade barbs at international conferences over Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s views about history-related issues. Abe has stressed his willingness to hold talks with his Chinese and South Korean counterparts, repeating, “The door is always open for dialogue.” But such overtures alone cannot make a difference. It is time for the Japanese leader to start taking concrete action to treat the festering sores in Japan’s relations with these countries. […]  We also ask people who support the prime minister’s visits to the shrine, especially young generations, to listen to our thoughts about the matter. The feeling of mourning over the deaths of war victims should be respected. But Yasukuni Shrine cannot be described as a simple place for praying for the spirits of the war dead. It is a religious facility burdened by its past links with Japan’s wartime militarism. If the prime minister or other Japanese political leaders visit the shrine, their acts hurt the feelings of many people in Japan as well. Yasukuni is fundamentally different in nature from the Arlington National Cemetery in the United States. Those who don’t learn from history will suffer reprisals from history. And young people with hopes for a bright future will suffer the most from such reprisals. We hope this will not be forgotten.”

Meanwhile, the United State’s involvement in this issue has not gone unnoticed here at home. Tez M. Clark at The Harvard Crimson advocates a “hands-off” diplomatic strategy, saying the government went too far in publicly chiding the Prime Minister for his visit to the shrine.

“What makes Abe’s most recent visit unique is the fact that the Ambassador Caroline B. Kennedy ’80, newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Japan, issued a statement condemning the visit, stressing that “the United States is disappointed.” Personally, I agree with the U.S.—and with the 69 percent of Japanese who said Abe should have considered diplomatic relations—that Abe’s decision to visit Yasukuni shrine was rash and insensitive, given the current political climate in East Asia. Unlike Germany, the other major Axis power, Japan has not sincerely made an effort to apologize for its brutality during the war. Despite numerous apologies by the central government over the decades, Japanese politicians have been consistently insensitive to the countries harmed by the Japanese Imperial Army—one of the more recent examples being a Japanese mayor who referred to the wartime rapes of thousands of East Asian women as “necessary.” But while Abe’s actions were not optimal, the U.S. overstepped its bounds by issuing a reprimand for his conduct. Kennedy’s statement was especially impolitic in tone, treating a head of state as though he were a petulant child.”

The intersection of religion and politics will never be simple, especially when something as seemingly simple as a temple visit can ripple out into damaging international relations. This story about the politics of Shinto in Japan should be sign that we all need to understand religions that fall outside the monotheistic norm far better, especially for those who engage in religious journalism. Most of the time, Shinto is presented an entertaining cultural sideline for foreign reporters in Japan. Focusing on the dances, movements, music, and spectacle, with very little understanding of the context. This needs to change. Shinto is as important a topic in Japan as Christianity is here in America. It is a faith that helps define the nation, and is key to understanding motivations that can seem baffling to an outsider.

“A survey by the Asahi Shimbun last week showed that 46 per cent of Japanese thought that he should not go there, while 40 per cent said it was not a big deal. What mattered most for Abe was quite simple — 56 per cent of those who voted for the Abe administration supported the visit, while for 35 per cent it was a no-no. For Japan’s domestic consumption, Abe’s visit has given him a much-needed boost as he continues to struggle to beef up the country’s economic growth. He has added a new arrow — the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games stimulus — to the three-arrows package of fiscal incentives, monetary loosening and structural reforms. Unsettling mood However, the mood is unsettling within the region. The further deterioration in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea could have far-reaching economic repercussions for economic integration in Asean and East Asia.”

For modern Pagans, a deeper understanding of Shinto is also beneficial, not just as a study of a non-Christian indigenous faith that has survived into the post-Christian modern era, but in understanding what a revival of modern Paganisms (and polytheisms) could mean. What will the beliefs and religious structures we endorse translate into once we have a taste of real power? Are we ready not just for infrastructure, but for the way shifting beliefs shifts a culture? Japan is a nation wrestling with how best to engage with Shinto in the modern world, and different factions have different ideas of how that should happen. This diplomatic incident gives us an opportunity for deeper thought and study, calling us to pay closer attention to faith outside our own borders.

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.

maetreum sign large

  • As I reported this past weekend, the Maetreum of Cybele has finally won their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York. So far, the only mainstream media (non-Pagan) outlet to report on this has been The New York Law Journal (registration needed to read the article), who note that town officials are “disappointed” with the ruling, and are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “[Attorney Daniel] Vincelette said town officials believe the primary use of the property is as a ‘residential cooperative,’ not for religious purposes. He denied that the nature of the group’s pagan beliefs has been a factor in the town’s opposition to the property tax exemption. ‘It was never ever a consideration or an issue at all,’ he said.” That statement seems rather laughable, considering the lengths the town has gone to fighting their exemption.
  • So, anybody read the New York Times lately? In an article about Teo Bishop re-embracing Jesus, reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviews T. Thorn Coyle, Amy Hale, and myself, about the story (and the meta-story, I suppose). I thought that, all told, it was a fair and balanced snapshot of the situation, and I’m pleased that we weren’t subjected to a Christian counter-point for the sake of “balance.” This being a New York Times piece, it has gotten a lot of commentary and links, including from a local Portland paper, and our “friends” at Get Religion. For those dismayed at the amount of attention this is getting, I encourage you to help build our community’s journalistic apparatus so we can have a bigger influence on mainstream journalism. Journalism isn’t something that just happens to us, it is something we can do.
  • Religion Clause points to a Japan Times article on the growing influence of Shinto in Japanese politics. Quote: “‘They’re trying to restore what was removed by the U.S. Occupation reforms,’ explains Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland. If it succeeds, the project amounts to the overturning of much of the existing order in Japan — a return to the past, with one eye on the future. […] Many of the nation’s top elected officials, including Abe and Shimomura are members of the organization’s political wing, Shinto Seiji Renmei (officially, the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership — eschewing the word ‘political’ from the title) […] Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on ‘Japanese spiritual values.’ […] Since its birth in 1969, Shinto Seiji Renmei has notched several victories in its quest to restore much of the nation’s prewar political and social architecture.” This is a story I’ll be paying close attention to in the future, and one that Pagans who are interested in Shinto should also note.
  • Religion in American History looks at Vodou in the early American republic, and finds more questions than answers. Quote: “Finding the place of Vodou in the early republic presents problems of definition and problems of sources and evidence relating to the practice of Vodou and the experiences of Dominguan migrants. In considering these issues, I stand by my interpretation of the evidence for Philadelphia, and now agree that Vodou may have been practiced in Dominguan communities elsewhere in the United States; however, there is much that remains unclear.” 
  •  Last week major environmental advocacy groups walked out of the climate talks in Poland, stating that there’s been a lack of progress on achieving a sustainable future. Quote: “This is the first time environmental groups have walked out of a UNFCCC conference. In astatement, the groups said they had grown tired of the conference’s gridlock over issues such as aid to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, as well as the apparent disconnect between Poland’s commitment to coal and its job as host of this year’s conference.” News post-talks described this round of talks as “uneventful.” 
Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

  • Famous psychic and author Sylvia Browne died last week at the age of 77. A Gnostic Christian, Browne emerged as a popular figure in the 1990s and oversaw a vast media empire that included talk-show appearances, bestselling books, and luxury cruise ship experiences for fans. During her life, Browne came under fire from many who saw her off-the-cuff style as irresponsible, especially when it concerned life-or-death matters. Quote: “Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like ‘Larry King Live’ and was a regular guest on ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes. She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author. She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list.” No doubt Browne’s legacy will continue to be debated, and depending on your beliefs, perhaps she’ll still want a say on what that legacy was.
  • An Egyptian statue that had been rotating, seemingly of its own accord, has been explained. Quote: “An engineer, called in to look at the statue, found that that vibrations from a busy nearby road were causing the 3,800-year-old stone figure to rotate. The convex base of the figure made it ‘more susceptible’ to spin around than the cabinet’s other artefacts.” Sorry, folks, maybe next time.
  • Indian newspaper The Hindu has agreed to stop using the word “primitives” to refer to tribal groups. Quote: “The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ movement to challenge prejudice towards tribal peoples in India is celebrating a major success after ‘The Hindu’, one of the world’s largest English language newspapers, pledged to no longer describe tribal peoples as ‘primitive’. Several journalists from renowned Indian publications have also endorsed the movement, including Kumkum Dasgupta of the Hindustan Times, Nikhil Agarwal of the Press Trust of India, and V Raghunathan of the Times of India.” Congratulations on this step forward in respect for tribal and indigenous peoples.
  • Should artists form their own political party? Maybe? Quote: “In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.” Just so long as they don’t elect Koons as party chair, I’m down.
  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting just happened, and I know a bunch of Pagan stuff happened. I’m hoping to get some of the inside scoop soon. Stay tuned!

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

Before we move too far into the future, let’s pause a moment to talk about Halloween. Not the spiritual vigil of Samhain or seasonal harvest celebrations.  Let’s discuss the wholly secular, American and Canadian holiday of Halloween, complete with candy, costumes and PVC pumpkins.

Vintage Halloween Pumpkin Men

Vintage Plastic Halloween Pumpkin Men by riptheskull

It’s fair to say that Halloween has a somewhat uneasy place in the family of North American holidays.  On the one hand, we, as Pagans, fully embrace the festivities. It is the one calendar event that openly clings to its Pagan origins. When else can you buy a pentacle in TJ Maxx?   But, on the other hand, the celebration mocks its own spiritual roots, something that we hold very dear.

We aren’t alone in our unsettled attempts to navigate through the Halloween season.  American religious and community leaders repeatedly attempt to ban the holiday.  Why?  The list is endless including concerns over the overindulgence in candy, the potential dangers of trick-or-treating, the increased popularity of over-sexualized or violently graphic costumes and, of course, its Pagan origins. But the majority of folks really just want an excuse to party. Halloween provides a unique canvas that can only be topped by the decadent bacchanalia that is Mardi Gras. (The Atlantic, 10-30-12)

Japanese McDonalds Costumes

Ronald McDonalds Girls
Photo courtesy of Japan-Talk.com

More recently, the Halloween debate has been getting larger – much larger. Over the past two decades, our secular holiday has been spreading across the globe, seizing the imaginations of youth cultures on every continent. The holiday has hitched a ride with missionaries, English language teachers and ex-pats. It’s being promoted by imported American cultural commodities like internationally-based Theme Parks, McDonald’s stores, Coca Cola products and Hollywood movies.  And, of course, the ever-increasing accessibility to the internet only fuels the proverbial fire.

In some regions, Halloween has been readily incorporated into long-established fall cultural traditions. In the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, Halloween finds itself at its ancestral birthplace. Today, the newly-imported version has mixed with surviving local customs associated with, among others, Guy Fawkes Day.  As noted by English writer, Chris Bitcher:

“Trick or treat has now actually become a bona fide tradition in the UK ….Fireworks were our autumnal treat of choice and for a good little while we fought off any competitor to it. But then we gave that up and decided to embrace both.” (Your Canterbury)

Disneyland Honk Kong on Halloween

Disneyland Honk Kong
During Halloween

Across the globe in China, Hong Kong and Japan, people have been enthusiastically adopting the holiday. Lisa Morton, award-winning writer of Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween, and noted Halloween authority, attributes this acceptance to the presence of two Disney Theme Parks  (Tokyo and Hong Kong), Hollywood horror movies and a fascination with American pop-culture. During my own discussion with her, Lisa added, “In Japan, there is a love of festivals and affection for costuming or “cosplay,” which is associated with anime and manga.”  In mainland China, Halloween is slowly replacing Yue Laan or “ Hungry Ghost Festivals,” during which people appease and entertain ancestral ghosts.  To fuel and solidify this cultural shift, China will be getting its very own “Haunted Mansion” at Shanghai Disneyland in 2015.

On the contrary, in continental Europe, Halloween has been receiving a less than welcome reception. In Oct 2012, the Polish Archbishop Andzej Dzięga, was quoted on Polskie Radio, as saying, “This kind of fun, tempting children [with] candy, poses the real possibility of great spiritual damage, even destroying spiritual life.” He warned against the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death.”  In 2003, CNN.com reported that France’s Catholics are trying everything to fend off a Halloween celebration they say is an “ungodly U.S. import.”

More recently, in Russia, the war over Halloween rages on. ABC Online reports that one Russian Education Ministry official called the holiday, a destructive influence “on young people’s morals and mental health.” The Moscow city schools banned Halloween celebrations claiming that they were concerned about, “rituals of Satanically-oriented religious sects and… the promotion of the cult of death.”  In the same article, an unamed Russian psychologist warned:

Halloween poses a great danger to children and their mental health, suggesting it could make young people more likely to commit suicide.”(ABC Online)

Despite this heavily Christian rhetoric, the resistance is not entirely about religion.  In our discussion, Lisa explained that, “While it is difficult to fully separate the expression of nationalism from religious tradition, many European countries, like France and Slovenia, have strong anti-American undercurrents.”  Religious fervor may, in fact, be serving nationalist interests.  Lisa said, in the end, she “believes the protests are far more about nationalism than religion.”

This is expressed in an article by Paul Wood, an Englishman living in Bucharest:

Just as the North American grey squirrel has made the red squirrel almost extinct so has the North American Hallowe’en taken over with extraordinary swiftness, extinguishing older, weaker traditions. This too is life, I suppose, but it is part of the process by which the whole world is becoming plastic. (Romania Insider)

Despite the rejection, Halloween is still growing, albeit very slowly, deep within European youth cultures.  In Italy, Halloween is called La Notte delle Streghe or “Night of the Witches.”  In Romania, home of the Carpathian Mountains, the local economy is profiting from world’s fascination with Count Dracula. What a better way to spend Halloween than in Transylvania on a “real Dracula Halloween tour” complete with a four-course dinner and prizes!

Now, let’s move into the Southern Hemisphere where Halloween faces a new obstacle. Simply put, the harvest-based holiday does not apply. In this part of the world, October 31st marks the middle of Spring, not Fall.  Over the summer, I was reminded of this fact when wishing an Australian friend, “Joyous Lughnasah.” She responded with an equally joyful, “Happy Imbolc.”

2671887 eeda9c5cIn the Southern Hemisphere, traditional festivals continue to be celebrated in accordance with appropriate seasonal shifts with no noticeable attempt to transplant Halloween to May.  However, youth cultures have been showing a small amount of interest in an October-based Halloween celebration, particularly in the English-speaking countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.  If for no other reason, the Northern holiday offers a chance to party and dabble in the macabre – even if it’s completely devoid of its seasonal aspects.

What about the Americas?  As noted above, the countries in the Southern Hemisphere do not recognize Halloween chiefly due to geographical complications.  However, the closer you get to the U.S., the more our secular Halloween has influenced local October traditions.  In Costa Rica, for example, locals “have taken this “foreign” holiday and used it to revive an ancient Costa Rican custom: Dia de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense or Masquerade Day,” reports the Costa Rican News.

Closer to home, in Mexico, the famous and mystical celebration of Dias de los Muertos is, now, often called Dias de las Brujas or “Day of the Witches.”  Halloween practices have been woven in to this largely religious holiday.  As expected, there has been backlash from Mexican nationalists and religious leaders.  However, Mexico is just too close to the U.S. to prevent the blending of two very similar October holidays. And that continues to happen in both directions.

Just as Halloween has infiltrated Mexican culture, elements of Dias de los Muertos are now showing up within U.S. Halloween celebrations.  In an interview, Lisa Morton explained:

Last year I saw my first piece of major Dias de los Muertos American retailing – the Russell Stover candy company released several themed candy bars… That’s probably a sign that Dias de los Muertos is starting to be accepted into the American mainstream. It’s certainly very popular in those areas of the U.S. with large Latino populations.  More people seem to be joining in large-scale Dias de los Muertos celebrations in America every year.

Dias de los Muertos Candy

Dias de los Muertos Candy
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Morton

There are some areas of the world in which Halloween has yet to find a home for reasons already listed. These areas include the Islamic Middle East, the heavily Christian areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, India and parts of South East Asia.  I’ll go out on a limb and add Antarctica to that list – just to complete the geography lesson.

What does all this mean for Pagans? First of all, in every article for or against Halloween, a discourse emerges surrounding the origins the holiday.  In many of these reports, the author includes a reasonable account of Halloween’s Celtic origins and Samhain-based traditions. Modern Pagan language is, unwittingly, hitching a ride on Halloween’s broomstick.

With the growing public interest in Halloween, we may find ourselves more able to openly join in the global conversation and, at the same time, deal with our own reservations. Maybe we should embrace the evolving holiday, “seize the spotlight” and become the stewards of Halloween worldwide?  After all, the U.S. media loves interviewing witches in October.  Or, we could completely renounce the secular holiday and its derogatory effigies. We could join others in protest with slogans like “We’re a culture. Not a costume.”

Regardless of our personal feelings about the secular celebration, Halloween continues to gain popularity worldwide, year after year.  As a result, every October when the veil thins, a brand-new door opens for us providing a unique opportunity for a teachable moment.  Now, we can say that both the ancestors and the world are listening.

 

Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween

Note about Lisa Morton: Trick or Treat:  A History of Halloween. This book is an historical and cultural survay of Halloween’s evolution from early Celtic traditions and lore through the ages and across the globe. It is a good read for history junkies, like myself, or students of comparative culture. Within her detailed work, Lisa did reach out to consult Wiccans, world-wide, and gave a decent nod to the modern-day Pagan spiritual celebrations of Samhain or Halloween. 

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

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

This Sunday, March 11th, will be the one year anniversary of a massive earthquake and tsunami that brought death, destruction, and nuclear chaos to Japan. A tragedy that the island nation is still trying to recover from. A few days after the disaster began, I explored the religious angle to stories of Japanese citizens dealing with tragedy, and how Western journalists seemed uncertain of how to talk about the spiritual dimensions outside of a Christian context.

Rescue workers in front of Shinto shrine. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Rescue workers in front of Shinto shrine. Photo: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

“As things progress, we can hope that a larger sense of the importance of ancestor worship, tradition, the divine within nature, and the multiplicity of spiritual beings within Japanese culture will shine through in future aftermath coverage. In this disaster there is a rare opportunity to understand how a culture outside the Christian context grapples with universal questions and problems. Religion journalists should rise to this occasion, and minority faiths in the West should ask for the true diversity of faith in our world be accurately and fairly covered.”

In my article, I criticized the Religion News Service’s coverage for being disproportionately focused on Christian reactions to the tragedy in a land where Christianity is a tiny minority, while religions like Shinto and Buddhism dominate. So I’m pleased to see RNS covering Shinto plans to commemorate this anniversary.

“Shinto priests throughout Japan are preparing to hold commemoration ceremonies on March 11 to mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that killed an estimated 20,000 people. The Association of Shinto Shrines has issued a suggested prayer to be read during the ceremonies. That prayer, according to the Rev. Masafumi Nakanishi, a Shinto priest, describes the calamity, pleads that there be no more disasters and asks that people live peacefully. […]  Nakanishi said many of the shrines that were spared last year were built just beyond the tsunami’s reach, crediting Shinto ancestors with their safe placement. Many of the surviving shrines were used for disaster relief efforts, with some serving as shelters following the earthquake and tsunami and others serving as collection sites for donations to assist the victims.”

CNN did a feature on one of the shrines that survived in April of last year, I’ve embedded it below.

The RNS piece also quotes Georgetown professor Kevin M. Doak, who says that “the Japanese have a kind of innate, intuitive empathy” which “may be due to Shinto as much as to anything else.” Another insight into the minds of those who’ve been shaped by Shinto, and this recent tragedy, comes from MSNBC.com. In that piece, Kuni Takahashi reports on rebuilding plans and interviews Masanori Sato, the son of a Shinto priest.

“At first I didn’t have a clue where to start, but I slowly began to see things clearly after moving out of the evacuation center into temporary housing,” Sato said recently. “I felt myself settling down a bit. I want to put our village together again. The land has changed but the people are not all gone. We are talking about reviving our community just like it used to be – including both good things and bad things […] Being a tsunami survivor changed my way of thinking. I guess I learned from it. I realized how important the community is to help each other. I was too selfish before.”

Both of these looks into how Shinto adherents deal with immense tragedy are welcome, though I still wish more time was spent unpacking how Japanese culture, and traditional Japanese religion, shapes views of the earthquake and tsunami. For example, a recent AFP report mentions how this tragedy has created scores of “ghosts,” and notes that “Shinto priests have been called upon to console the souls of the dead and ease their passage into the next world before they purify the places their bodies were found.” Yet no further detail is given into how this process happens, or how the role of Shinto priests have changed in the wake of the tsunami. So much more is here to be said, and heard. I hope those who cover the religion beat rise to the occasion and continually move beyond their comfort zones to hear the voices of religious men and women who may operate outside a context they understand.

For many modern Pagans, we feel a natural affinity with our Shinto cousins. Last year we saw Peter Dybing lead an initiative that raised $30,000 dollars for Japan earthquake assistance, a new landmark in our ability to collectively give. I hope that our community will also observe March 11th as a day of prayer and commemoration. That we ask our gods, the spirits, the land itself, to spare Japan from further disasters, and people live peacefully.

Top Story: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, who recently scored a major judicial win in their ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, is seeing the fight extended further as Catskill appeals the decision to let the case go forward.

As we reported in February, Judge Pulver’s decision was a big victory for the self-described witches of the Maetreum, who argue that the town treated them differently from other religious groups when it placed their Palenville property on the tax rolls […] Despite the appeal, Judge Pulver, who held a preliminary conference in the case yesterday, has set a date for a bench trial. Pulver will hear evidence in the case and rule on it himself on July 20.”

Here’s a statement from the Maetreum of Cybele on the town’s appeal.

“We learned this past weekend that the Town of Catskill appealed the Judge’s decision to the New York Appellate Court. We believe this is their last ditch effort to avoid having to legally grant our exemption for 2011 as the deadline for them to decide on that is fast approaching and the decision left no grounds for denial since the Board of Assessment Review refused the invitation to tour our property last year meaning they have no direct knowledge of how we use our property, literally the only wiggle room they had.”

This is an issue that Catskill is going to fight to the bitter end, and is breaking their budget in the process. While they continue to fight for pennies from the Maetreum, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. I guess it’s about priorities.

Heathens Gather Near Paganistan: PNC-Minnesota interviews Brody Derks of  Volkshof  Kindred about Heathenry and the upcoming Northern Folk Gathering near the Twin Cities in June.

“June 10-12, we have this event, the Northern Folk Gathering, it used to be called the Midwest Thing, but we have changed the name. Registration includes three days and two nights of cabin camping. We have open activities, and a Saturday night feast. It is at St Croix State Park at the boot camp. This is just outside the Twin Cities. We having folk coming in from Kansas, Michigan, and other parts of the country.

It has a few different aspects. It is a gathering of tribes. The Chieftains do gather and and have meetings. We are part of an alliance of people, tribes, of the Midwest. We come together and make decisions that influence the road that Heathenry takes in the Midwest. There is also a lot of workshops, information about Anglo-Saxon cultureKari Tauring will be presenting song and Stav. There will also be events for the children. We have plenty of children centered events, and we very much welcome children.”

Derks also talks about why they don’t use the term “Pagan,” and his time as president of the University of Minnesota Pagan Society.

Analyzing Satanism’s (Alleged) Rise: TheoFantastique interviews Jesper Aagaard Peterson, a Research Fellow at the Dept. of Archaeology and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who studies modern Satanism, about the recent rise in exorcisms and claims of explosive growth among Satanic groups.

“Regarding the rise of Satanism, that depends on how you define it. The article you mention calls it a “surge” and a “revival”. It is true that the 1990s and early 2000s saw an increase of interest in Satanism alongside Witchcraft, Neopaganism, and other religious currents with roots in esotericism and occultism. This has to do with the general re-enchantment of the West in the past 50 years (an enchantment that never really went away, actually, but that is another story), which has developed in dialogue with popular media. It is also true that Satanism is more visible and more accessible because of the Internet, and that it flourishes on the de-regulated arenas the Internet provides. On the other hand, membership figures are hard to come by, and should be seen in relation to degrees of affiliation – a majority of witches or Satanists are tourists or dabblers, and only a small minority affiliate with a group and/or develop a long-term engagement. It is likely that more people are attracted to Satanism than before, and they are more visible today, but actual members still amount to thousands and not millions. In any case, where I differ from the article’s conclusion is in the effect of mediated religion on susceptible youth. Watching a movie, accessing a website or participating in a discussion forum does not automatically make you a Satanist, and it certainly does not make you possessed.”

The conversation here was sparked by a Daily Telegraph article about a six-day conference being held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. According to organizers and exorcists there’s been a “revival” of Satanism and that “the rise of Satanism has been dangerously underestimated in recent years.” For all my exorcism-revival coverage, click here.

The Shrine That Survived: CNN reports on Buddhist/Shinto shrine at Otsuchi that survived the tsunami and a fire.

Stories about indigenous faith traditions from Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami have been somewhat rare, so I’m glad to see this story emerge. Strangely, this story was posted to CNN’s Belief Blog for a short time, but was then removed. I’m not saying there were any nefarious motives, but I do wonder why that happened. Internal turf battle? Editorial decision? As for whether this was divine intervention, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Reconstructed and Engaged: Over at Patheos.com, the PNC’s own Cara Schulz writes about Hellenismos and why a reconstructed ancient religion makes the most sense to her.

“But this is how we see it – why reinvent the wheel when you can put some air in the one you’re given and get back on the spiritual path? There were reasons why our ancestors interacted with deities in the way that they did. Because it worked. It’s spiritually fulfilling. It makes sense. It allows for a deeper connection with deities and the world around you. It has meaning and depth and beauty. It is timeless. It vibrates in our very souls. But the key is to regularly engage in rituals, observances and practices. To adhere as close to what the ancients did, in order to learn from their wisdom and experience, and then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

Cara also links to a video of a wedding ceremony conducted by Hellenic Pagans in Greece. Showing how ancient traditions give a depth of meaning to these important milestones of life.

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

The initiative started by Peter Dybing for the Pagan community to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has reached and surpassed its goal! Here’s a statement from Peter Dybing on this achievement.

Today the Pagan Japan Relief Project prevailed in its effort to raise $30,000.00 for Doctors Without Borders. This achievement belongs to the entire community. While there are many examples of individuals and organizations that established efforts in support of this project, it is the community as a whole that has spoken; declaring it’s allegiance to the principle that we are one human family.

Already First Giving has distributed funds to Doctors Without Borders in support of their relief efforts. As little as $3.00 purchased a blanket for those without shelter. The small sum of $5.00 obtained medications for individuals unable to afford them. Today there are survivors receiving critical care as a result of this effort.

This project also represents an important moment in Pagan history. Working together across intrafaith boundaries this community has demonstrated the maturation that has occurred over the past few decades. We have established that we are an effective and unified religious community that can respond to world events, take action when necessary and work together in support of achievable goals. Gone is the quietly whispered sentiment that Pagans do not work together or that Pagans do not give to charity.

Pagans from all over the country gave from the heart in support of this effort. About a week ago I received an email from a community member who was attempting to figure out how to make the FirstGiving site charge their ATM card $5.00 as that was the balance in their account. It is this ethic of giving all that we can that has so impressed me. Many community members have given multiple times to the effort. We should all be proud of these incredible expressions of intent, compassion, self-sacrifice, and determination to make a difference. Collectively, we have manifested change in the world and our community all at once.

As facilitator of this project it has been my privilege to witness our community pull together in this effort. Humbled is the only word I can think of that expresses my feelings about this effort. Humbled viewing this achievement humbled to be a member of this community and humbled to be allowed to play a small part in this historic response.

Pagans we are strong, we are focused, we are effective, we have proven that there are no limits on what this community can accomplish and we deserve to be Proud.

In Service and Gratitude,
Peter Dybing

In addition, here’s a short statement from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who was instrumental in spreading the word and making contacts within the Pagan community for this to happen.

“The combined efforts of Pagans of many paths & places in giving, in expressing support, and in networking has not only raised money to help one of the international organizations engaged in relief efforts in Japan, but it has raised consciousness that Pagans can work together for the greater good.”

That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise over $30,000 dollars, much more if you could count donations to other initiatives and organizations that Pagans have been involved in, is a monumental achievement. My personal thanks to all of you who became a part of this effort, and not only helped the people of Japan and a very worthy organization, but also showed that we can collectively pull together to accomplish great things. To the people of Japan, the Pagan community stands in solidarity with you at this time of crisis and tragedy.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Pagan Japan Relief Project Reaches Finish Line: The initiative started by Peter Dybing for the Pagan community to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières has almost reached its conclusion! As of this writing, there is less than 1,400 dollars left to raise, and the hope is that this goal will be reached by the end of the weekend.

“When disaster strikes, it means that the Earth is finding Her own balance. But it is our job to feel compassion, lend aid, and support our fellow creatures that they may survive this terrible time and regain wholeness. And while we do this, let us also remember that it is this life that matters – the next will take care of itself. So as we come to the aid of our fellow beings on Mother Earth, let us live as though each day is our last, and let every day be a blessing.” – Rev. Kirk Thomas ADF Archdruid

Today, there is a joint Patheos and Pagan Newswire Collective (via PNC-Minnesota) article up interviewing various Pagan leaders about the initiative, and why the success of this project is so important. If you haven’t donated yet, and wish to show that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities, please head to the Pagan Japan Relief project FirstGiving page. I’m hoping that before Monday I’ll be able to post about our collective success in meeting our fundraising goal!

Paganicon Opens Today: The first ever Paganicon conference near Minneapolis, Minnesota starts today, and PNC-Minnesota has interviewed Elysia Gallo from Llewellyn Worldwide, one of the sponsors of the event, and Guest of Honor John Michael Greer.

“There are two ways you can take a talk about Paganism and the future. One is what is going to be the future of Paganism, the other is how is Paganism going to deal with the broader future, that is breathing down our necks at this point. I will be talking about both. We are moving into a future that a lot of people are going to find very challenging, especially if they have bought into the attitude, that “Our ancestors were stupid. We are smart, and we are going to go zooming off to the stars.   We know the truth, and no one else has ever done so.”

Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for more updates from the conference.

Independent Pagan Film Shooting: Morrighan Films in Canada is shooting a new film “99% made by Pagans” entitled “Our Pagan Heart.” After a small article ran in a local paper about one of the actors, film producer Laurie Stewart contacted me with a short synopsis and some stills from the production in progress.

Still from the film.

“Our Pagan Heart is an independent film, being shot over the course of a year.   It follows a village outside of time (neither truly Norse nor quite Mad Max) over the nine sabbats followed by my Druid group.  We added the ritual for Fallen Warriors at Remebrance Day (Veterans Day) because so many of us are military, ex-military or base rats.  Each 10-12 minute episode not only tries to show the reason for the sabbat, but also to explore one of the nine virtues of Celtic-Norse tradition.

As the villagers face challenges ranging from the death of their only healer, to a radical change in leadership and the resulting change in priorities, we see the heart of our faith.  What does it mean to live these virtues, these beliefs, the result of believing in ever-present, personally committed Gods who touch every aspect of your life.  There are real struggles for meaning, real questioning of their faith in the face of devastating loss.”

You can find more film stills and information, here. Between “Our Pagan Heart,” “Dark of Moon,” “Tarology,” and other independent film productions with Pagan and occult themes, it almost seems like a small grass-roots industry is emerging. It could be a trend worth exploring as it develops.

In Solidarity with Madison: Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight, a member of the excellent band Pandemonaeon, recently participated in a gathering of Oakland, California musicians to record a song showing solidarity with the Madison, Wisconsin labor protesters.

“This week I joined a group of my fellow musicians to create a music video in support of the protesters in Madison, Wisconsin. The song, “Madison”, was written by my friend Mark Vickness of Glass House, and spoken word artist PC Munoz. It was produced start to finish at EMB Studios, the studio Winter and I share with Paul Nordin. I was proud and honored to be a part of this project and thought I’d share it with you all here. Enjoy and may it bring you hope and good cheer!”

Thanks to Sharon for sharing this with the Pagan community. For more on Pagan participation in the Wisconsin labor protests, click here.

Health Updates: I have an update on the condition of Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who underwent surgery on Wednesday. I spoke with him on the phone yesterday, and while he’s (understandably) experiencing some pain, is mobile, alert, and active. He says that there won’t be word on test results regarding what was eating the tissue in his jaw until early April. He also expressed his thanks to everyone who has been sending prayers and energy his way. Meanwhile, Selena Fox has an update on Circle member Ed Francis, who recently suffered a stroke.

“Ed Francis is doing better & has begun speech, physical, and occupational rehabilitation at a hospital in St. Louis. Please continue to send healing to him & support to his partner Linda & other caregivers. Share words of encouragement for his rehab at this Healing page. Thanks much!”

Circle has also set up a healing page for Patrick McCollum as well. Please continue to send both your healing thoughts and prayers for their swift recoveries.

Theologies of Justice: In a quick final note, I’d like to point my readers to an essay just posted by T. Thorn Coyle about developing and acting on “(poly)theologies of justice and connection.”

“If everything is holy – imbued with divine power – how do we relate to that holiness? We pay attention. We find connection. We give back. One definition of sacred is “set apart and dedicated to a deity.” How do Heathens act in ways that are dedicated to Thor or Ing? How do Thelemites act in concert with the energy of Nuit? How do Celtic Reconstructionists honor the ever abundant cauldron of the Dagda? I could go on, but the implications of these questions should be clear: we bring everything in our lives into alignment with our worship and our practice. We can give food to the hungry as an act of devotion to the Dagda. We can offer protection to the weak, in Thor’s honor. And we can remember: Nuit is everywhere, the circumference of all that lives.”

There’s a lot there, so I hope you’ll read the entire essay, and use it to spark discussions on your blogs, social networks, and within your communities. As modern Pagans start to act within the world in an increasingly prominent and public manner, how our theologies drive and inspire our actions is something that we’ll need to hold close to our thoughts.

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. Before I begin, let me just remind everyone that the Pagan Japan Relief project, an initiative to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is just over 3,000 dollars from its final goal! That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise nearly 27,000 dollars already is a monumental achievement, but lets do a final push, spread the word, and prove that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities. For more background on this initiative, and why it’s important, check out Peter Dybing’s blog.

Now then, unleash the hounds!

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.

The Peter Dybing-initiated drive to raise money from within the Pagan community for Doctors Without Borders’ work in Japan has now raised nearly 22,000 dollars! Dybing has just released a special video message about the Pagan Japan Relief project in honor of this remarkable achievement.

I urge you to head over to Dybing’s blog where he has posted an interview with with Eric Ouannes, General Director, MSF Japan, in addition to messages of support from several Pagan organizations and individuals. If you’ve been considering making a donation, and would like that donation to be counted as part of a joint Pagan community effort, it’s not too late to give now.

You can find all my previous coverage of this issue, here.