Archives For Jedi

Yesterday I laid out the initial 2011 British Census religion numbers, which showed a big jump in Pagan numbers from 2001, which of course means that the British press wants to talk about the Jedi.

Jedi knight Obe Wan Kenob 007

“I was also very good in ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.'”

“The new figures reveal that the lightsabre-wielding disciples are only behind Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism in the popularity stakes, excluding non-religious people and people who did not answer. Following a nationwide campaign, Jedi made it onto the 2001 census, with 390,127 people identifying themselves a decade ago as followers of the fictional Star Wars creed. Although the number of Jedis has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the past 10 years, they are still the most selected “alternative” faith on the Census, and constitute 0.31% of all people’s stated religious affiliation in England and Wales.”

The Huffington Post’s UK branch also couldn’t resist leading with the Jedi.

“The Sith Lord has been hard at work in England and Wales since the rise of the Jedis in 2001, with the Jedi population declining by more than half in the last decade.”

Also a popular topic of conversation: Metal Hammer’s campaign to get people to list “Heavy Metal” as their religion, which over 6000 people did.


“A further 65 people declared their religion as “heavy metal” – making Norwich the heavy metal religion hotspot of England and Wales.”

Metal Hammer would go on to brag that “it turns out that more people put Heavy Metal down as their religion of choice than Scientology, Druidism, Shamanism, and a shit-ton of others we haven’t heard of.” 

As much as I sympathize with newspaper editors who know that leading with “data on religion reveals Jedi Knights are in decline” is Google page-views gold I believe there’s some serious religion-beat malpractice going on here. While I have absolutely no doubt that there are sincere believers in a faith based around the Star Wars Jedi mythos, everyone also knows that this census phenomenon, like the Metal Hammer campaign, is something of a laugh for most, a fandom-generated prank on the governments who ask questions about religion on their census. So when a reporter says that Jedi “are still the largest “other religion” by far named by participants in the 2011 census” there needs to be a giant asterisk next to that statement. Otherwise, you are playing into the prank, and burying the actual “other religions” lede, which is that modern Pagan faiths have grown, and that they are, in fact (and still), the 7th largest faith grouping in the UK behind Sikhism, Judaism, and Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

Indeed, modern Paganism has not only held on to 7th place (if you disqualify Jediism), but has grown considerably in the official census count, and will no doubt gain in numbers when the results for Scotland and Northern Ireland are released. If you lump the Pagan faiths together, you’re around, or over, 80,000 adherents (depending on who you include or don’t include). This is significant because Pagan faiths in the UK are still waging battles for equal treatment, and organizations like the Pagan Federation are still working on getting charity status. If the headlines had all read: Paganism growing, remains 7th largest faith, it could have had a positive effect on our treatment. It could have given Pagan leaders in the UK a new moment to establish themselves as an integral part of British society.

As for the declining Jedi, it wasn’t the Sith, it was the atheists and humanists, who launched a campaign to increase the number of people who checked “no religion,” and it seems to have worked.

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“The British Humanist Association spoke of a “significant cultural shift” in a society where “[r]eligious practice, identity, belonging and belief are all in decline… and non-religious identities are on the rise”. The number of people with no religion at all  in the UK has doubled since 2001.”

So here’s hoping for some better coverage of all the “other religions” in Britain in the weeks ahead, and maybe some better attention paid to the growth of Pagan faiths, and if these numbers are (still) only a fraction of our true presence in the UK.

I have updates on several previously reported stories for you today.

No One Likes a Jedi at Census Time: Last week I reported on the “PaganDash” campaign, which is looking to encourage Pagans in the UK to stand up and be counted in the census, and use a uniform write-in for the census form. However, Pagans aren’t the only group looking to improve their numbers in the 2011 British census. British humanists and atheists have launched a campaign to increase the number of respondents that check “no religion”, taking aim at the Jedi census phenomenon from 2001’s census.

If your religion is of low enough importance to you to that you are willing to put in a religion from 3 good sci-fi films from years ago, and 3 more recent rubbish ones,please consider ticking “No Religion” instead. The data gathered is used to inform government policy, and was used by the last government to justify funding of religious community bodies over secular ones. For example, 2001 census data has been used repeatedly to justify an increase in the number of state maintained faith schools and the increasing level of government money spent on faith organisations. By ticking ‘No Religion’, you will ensure that the Government receives an unambiguous message about the number of non-religious people in the UK. Any other response may be manipulated into a response in favour of religion and publically funded religious organisations.”

The argument seems to have convinced  author and Boing Boing co-founder Cory Doctorow, who says “I’m convinced; we’re atheists and we will list ourselves as such.” There’s other campaigns going on as well, but I wanted to specifically mention the Jedi phenomenon, because I don’t think it just skewed atheist/agnostic numbers. I’ve long thought that those 400,000 “Jedi” also comprised a fair number of modern Pagans as well. In any case, this may be our last chance to get this right, because the UK is seriously considering removing the religion question entirely, with a spokesperson lumping Pagans in with the Jedi as “prank” responses.

Romanian Witches Win Tax Battle: It looks like all those spells and hexes worked. A controversial bill that would require psychics, fortune tellers, and practitioners of witchcraft in Romania be licensed, and tax their largely under-the-table income, has failed.

“I am very disappointed, the bill was meant to prevent people from being deceived by so-called witches,” Liberal-Democrat MP Alin Popoviciu, who initiated the bill, told AFP. Under the text, fortune-tellers and clairvoyants were to be licensed, pay taxes and set up professional associations. “The bill angered many witches who threatened to cast a spell in order to make it fail. It seems they have succeeded,” Mr Popoviciu added.

It seems many feared that instead of protected people from witches, it would instead legitimize the industry, a view shared by some Romanian witches. Popoviciu has vowed to try again, but for now that status quo remains in place.

James Arthur Ray Trial Continues: The trial of New Age self-help guru James Arthur Ray, who’s charged with manslaughter after three people died during a sweat lodge ceremony led by Ray in late 2009 continues. These initial days are seeing the prosecution’s witnesses, including a participant who says Ray “dismissed her alert about the failing condition of a fellow participant,” and an ill-trained sweat lodge volunteer, who says she was not prepared to deal with individuals who were “burned, delirious and unresponsive.” Prosecutors also played an audio recording of Kirby Brown, one of three people who died.

“When we started the (Samurai) game, I was like you,” Brown said on the recording, which was made just before she and the other attendees entered the sweat lodge. It is a segment from recordings made during four days of Ray’s October 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat. “I was gonna be the hero, and I died right there before it even began.” Brown, 38, went on to recount the efforts she made to try to save her teammates in the game from sharing her fate, saying that she swallowed her own vomit in an attempt to lie perfectly still. Had she moved, Ray, playing the role of God, would have sentenced another of her team to death. “As I laid there dying and everyone was working, I kept sending my energy to them,” she said.

Defense strenuously objected to the tape being played, that is was “overwhelmingly prejudicial.” You can see why they don’t want that tape played, because it paints a portrait of a man who has utter control over his subjects. Meanwhile, if the comments section of my previous James Ray post are any indication, Ray’s defenders are spinning conspiracy theories and making excuses for their guru across the Internet. After all, once you’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars on his “teachings,” I can’ imagine you’d want to believe he’s a negligent egomaniac. It will be interesting to see who the defense calls in this trial, and if they have more than signed waivers and conspiracies to keep their client from prison.

Sex Cult Leader Convicted: Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, was convicted of “11 separate rapes, three indecent assaults, causing prostitution for personal gain, causing a child to have sex and inciting a child to have sex.” Batley and his alleged followers were said to wear red robes and read from the Thelemic sacred text The Book of the Law (he had laminated pages from the book at his home), penned by influential occultist Aleister Crowley at ceremonies. Other sources said that all the women in the group sported matching tattoos. As I mentioned in my previous post, Batley claims to have “given up” reading Crowley and was now a Mormon.

“A man has been found guilty of leading a “satanic” sex cult from his home in a small Welsh town. Colin Batley, 48, of Kidwelly, west Wales, presided over a group that preyed on young children and held occult rites. He was found guilty at Swansea crown court of rape and carrying out perverted sexual acts on children and adults. Batley was the self-styled high priest of the group, which operated from a series of homes in a cul-de-sac in the seaside town.”

Four other members of the alleged group were also found guilty. There seems to have been enough testimony from both victims and “customers” to prove some sort of underage sex-ring was happening, what hasn’t been established is how sincere the “occult” elements were, or if they were just trappings of control used on their “recruits”. Nor, at this point, will we ever likely know the full story.

The Further Adventures of Father Gary Thomas: CNN has decided to do profile of Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist, and inspiration for the Hollywood film “The Rite”. As I pointed out in January, Pagan media critic Peg Aloi got Father Thomas on the record about some of his many retrograde views regarding Pagan religions and “Satanic” underground cults. Despite, or perhaps because of, these views being out in the open Thomas continues to tar other religious systems as pathways to demonic possession.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …”

Father Thomas also mentions an ongoing exorcism case where the client is “suffering from a very unique psychological disorder,” but also, it seems, “been exposed to satanic cults.” He truly seems to think that both are true, and the question is which method to use in treating the client. What I find disappointing is that this is a man labeling an entire religion, Wicca, as a pathway to Satanic possession. Had he done so with Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Mormonism the reporter would have no doubt called him on his statement. Yet, reporter Tom Foreman’s response is “a vision of politician Christine O’Donnell fills my head.” Proof once again that the press just doesn’t “get religion,” it can’t even properly grapple with the topic of modern Pagan religions in a mature and level-headed manner.

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

Top Story: Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University has recognized its first Pagan chaplain, Mary Hudson, co-founder of the Syracuse/SUNY college Pagan group SPIRAL, and co-owner of The Fey Dragon metaphysical shop. Hudson was sponsored in her chaplaincy by the Church of the Green Wood, affiliated with the Church of Ancient Ways. Jessica Mays, the current president of SPIRAL, sees her appointment as an important positive step in raising awareness of modern Paganism on campus.

“I would like to see us get more of the student body not necessarily involved but to know we’re there and to know that we’re normal people … Being in an interfaith school where most of the religions are a branch off of Christianity, you have to be able to say what you need to say and say it well as to not offend everybody, but also know what it is that you believe in and stand by what you believe in.”

Hudson joins a small but growing group of officially recognized Pagan chaplains serving at universities, including the Rev. Cynthia Jane Collins at the University of Southern Maine, Brian Walsh at the University of Toronto in Canada, and Catherine Starr, also at the University of Toronto. Naturally, not everyone is happy with this growing ethos of interfaith cooperation, both Free Republic and conservative Anglican site Virtue Online have gotten the vapors over this development. Despite these rumblings from the fringes, Hendricks Chapel Interim Dean Kelly Sprinkle sees this as a something that will put Syracuse on the forefront of religious pluralism.

“Having a Pagan chaplain clearly places Hendricks Chapel and Syracuse University as one of the leaders on the national scene among university and college chapels in recognizing and embodying the importance of religious pluralism on campus. It helps those students that may not be part of one of the larger traditions to realize that we care about them as well and that they are welcome here.”

As this news reverberates into the blogosphere I’m sure we’ll be seeing more commentary, both positive and negative, in the weeks to come.  The Wild Hunt will be sure to keep you posted as things develop. In the meantime, congratulations to Mary Hudson, may she serve well.

In Other News:

Have the Jedi Ruined the British Census for Pagans? The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK is saying that the 2011 census may be the last of its kind, partially due to the quickly-shifting demographics of the nation, but also due to what they say are “prank” answers.

“Prank responses to questions that are perceived to be too intrusive have also knocked confidence in the current system. In 2001 — the first time a voluntary question was asked about faith — almost 400,000 people took inspiration from the Star Wars films to claim that their religion was “Jedi”. This was in addition to about 7,000 people who said that they were witches.”

Now I’m not going to get into a debate about whether the British Jedi are a “real” religion, or how many of the 400,000 were having a laugh, as opposed to being truly spiritually moved by the works of George Lucas. But it is troubling that Pagan Witchcraft, which has been around openly in the UK since the repeal of anti-Witchcraft laws in the 1950s, is being lumped into this “problem”. This development has inspired some unlikely defenders, like from Guardian columnist Tanya Gold.

“But still I feel an urge to defend the witches. Of all the silly religions – and I think that all religions are silly – I believe that witchcraft is the least dangerous and the most benign. It is also the least understood.”

Gold’s somewhat mocking and half-hearted defense of Witchcraft somewhat masks the larger problem here, which is that the 2011 census may be the last opportunity we get for a truly accurate count of Pagans in the UK. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from the Pagan Federation, and especially PEBBLE, who were trying to coordinate Pagan response to the 2011 census, on these developments soon. To replace a census with regular surveys could make data about religions far more unreliable, and mask the growth of minority religions in the UK.

Medea Not Gaia: The Christian Science Monitor reports on a new book by paleontologist Peter Ward that offers a counter-theory to James Lovelock’s popular  Gaia hypothesis. Ward’s book, “The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?”, argues that instead of life sustaining habitable conditions on Earth, per Lovelock’s hypothesis, life might instead be its own worst enemy.

“Ward’s book isn’t really about human-caused global warming. It’s about the long-term future of life on the planet. Organic life has repeatedly caused the collapse of the biosphere, and on at least one occasion (snowball earth) has almost extinguished it entirely.”

But while this counter-theory may be somewhat depressing, the scenario isn’t without hope, and Ward explains that humanity may be able to turn our Medea planet into a Gaia in the longer term.

“Ward brings us full circle. Life is Medean, he’s argued for 140 pages, not Gaian. By its very nature, it’s self-destructive. The only hope in the very long run is through human foresight and planning, to ensure continued survival. Then, he implies, life on Earth life will have finally overcome its Medean nature. It will have become truely Gaian.”

This book will no doubt incite some fierce debate, especially within the modern Pagan community, where the Gaia hypothesis has been almost fully embraced.

Myth, Religion, and Percy Jackson: It look like critics are evenly split on “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”, with some saying it’s a lifeless slab of market research aiming for the Harry Potter dollar, while others were enchanted by seeing the Greek myths brought to life on screen. Those who might be enchanted particularly worries the Catholic New Service.

“…it may represent an attempted revival of pagan ideas with the potential to confuse impressionable kids.”

Then again, perhaps the Catholics should be worried, since young Catholics are increasingly relativistic regarding other faiths. As for the Pagans, they seem excited to see the film, and meet-ups are being planned. I’ll be interested to see reviews from Pagan film-goers emerge (especially from Pagan film critic Peg Aloi). As a kid who was completely enchanted by myths, which did eventually lead me to Paganism, I’m sure I would have utterly loved Percy Jackson. Maybe I’ll have to sneak out to a showing and treat my inner child a bit.

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

Back in 2001 the British census was rocked by a massive Internet campaign/practical joke, where, for a variety of reasons, 400,000 people listed “Jedi” as their religious affiliation. The Pagan community, though ranking as the seventh-largest faith in Britain with a combined number of nearly 40,000, paled in comparison (Pagan groups, who feel they could actually number in the hundreds of thousands, are organizing to ensure a more accurate count in 2011). While I don’t doubt that there are sincere adherents to some sort of constructed Jedi-faith, it seems more likely that it became a haven for people who don’t like the idea of telling the government their religious affiliation, or even having to decide on a religious affiliation. I bring all this up because the Washington Post is doing a spotlight on faith within the popular social networking site Facebook, and it looks like the return of the Jedi.

“Since then, Facebook’s beliefs box has generated a staggering number of entries. So exactly how many users put down “beer” as their religion? How many “Catholic”? What correlations exist between religion and number of friends? Company spokeswoman Meredith Chin declined to answer such questions, citing user privacy. But Chin agreed to compile a list of the most popular religious identities and offered some tantalizing hints at what a full readout might show. Not surprisingly, the most popular faith professed is “Christian” and the various denominations associated with it. The category is so dominant that for this list, Facebook’s statisticians insisted on combining such other designations as “Protestant,” “Catholic” and “Mormon” under the “Christian” label. As a result, the second most popular entry on the list is “Islam,” followed by “Atheist.” “Jedi,” interestingly enough, makes an appearance at No. 10.”

There are so many questions about Facebook’s religion data that aren’t asked or answered in William Wan’s breezy little article. For instance, Facebook statisticians “insisted” on combining all the Christian variations, but did they do the same for other religious groupings? Were all the various Pagan faiths combined as well? If not, why not? Is “spiritual” a catch-all category, or is it just people who listed themselves solely as “spiritual”, and why include a Washington DC top-ten but not one for the USA as a whole?  Why only ten? If it isn’t a violation of user privacy to give us a top-ten list, why not a top twenty or fifty? Further, why did Wan classify “Seguidor del Wiccanismo” (follower of Wicca in Spanish, of which there are 2000 on Facebook) as “offbeat”, did he not bother to run it through a translator? Does the fact that this listing was given as an example of “offbeat” answers to the religion question (along with “Heavy Metal” and “Amish”) in fact prove that Facebook statisticians didn’t bother to gather the modern Pagans into an easy-to-count single grouping?

Instead of doing a real investigation of religion on Facebook, Wan focuses instead on how “hard” it is to fill in that text box, when all you want to do is hook up with some friends.

“It’s Facebook. The whole point is to keep it light and playful, you know?” said Heim, 27, a college student from Dumfries. “But a question like that kind of makes you think.”

Indeed, it does make you think, I just wish the Washington Post were similarly inspired. It’s “interesting” that Jedi came in tenth, but not interesting enough to probe a bit deeper into why it’s the tenth-most-popular faith category on Facebook. If only the The Force could spur some more in-depth journalism on these questions.

ADDENDUM: Get Religion and I seem to be on the same wavelength today.