Archives For Jessica Orsini

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 these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Top Story: The harassment of Pagans by intolerant neighbors isn’t anything new, but it’s rare to hear on-the-record confirmation of that hostility from prominent citizens. The Sunday Mercury reports on the plight of Albion and Raven, owners of the The Whispering Witch in Alcester, a small market town in England. Opened 15 months ago, Albion and Raven claim to have gotten threatening letters, and even had a bundle of wood stacked in front of the shop’s door one morning, seemingly to imply that they should be burned. After talking to the couple, The Sunday Mercury interviews a local Baptist Reverend, and a member of the church who’s a former mayor of Alcester, and they seem to corroborate the hostility, though stop short of endorsing harassment.

Reverend Alistair Aird, from Alcester Baptist Church, condemned those behind the attacks but added: “My impression is that people in the town don’t feel that this is the kind of thing they want in Alcester. [...] Councillor Chris Gough, a former Mayor of Alcester and deacon at Alcester Baptist Church, added: “I’m aware that they are being frowned upon. Instinctively, it is not the sort of thing we want to see in the town. As a church-goer, I think we probably feel strongly about anyone who puts themselves forward as a witch in any form.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that encourages an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. The faint condemnations of “if it is happening then it is the wrong thing to do” from Rev. Aird all but telegraphs that he won’t put any pressure on his flock to practice tolerance, allowing these activities to flourish. As for Albion and Raven, they say that  “Paganism is a recognised religion and we are here to stay.” Hopefully the press attention will spur some movement on this case, and bring out some local allies who might not have known that this was happening.

Pagans and the Pledge: Should local governments in the United States start with the Pledge of Allegiance? That’s the issue in Columbia, Missouri where the city council has voted to start each meeting with the loyalty oath. Looking for a number of perspectives, reporter Rudi Keller asks Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini, who’s a Hellenic reconstructionist, for her take.

“I modify it a little,” said Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini. “I say, ‘Under the gods’ because I am a Hellenic Reconstructionist, a polytheist. That means I follow the old Greek religion.”

Keller notes that saying personally modified versions of the pledge hasn’t always been tolerated, she quotes associate law professor Douglas Abrams who explains that “as far as loyalty oaths are concerned, there are many examples of American history where we become scared and demand overt statements of loyalty from minority groups.” What happens if religious minorities who alter the loyalty oath to their liking aren’t tolerated by locals? Or what about groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are barred from pledging to any power other than their God?  The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that “compulsory unification of opinion” violates the First Amendment, but what’s legal and what’s tolerated can be two very different things.

National Ancestor Shrine Opens in Paganistan: Cara Schultz at PNC-Minnesota reports that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in St. Paul, Minnesota, has erected a national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar.

“People talked a lot about having a shrine like this,” said Teisha Magee, executive director of the Sacred Paths Center. “An altar where anyone could come and light a candle, burn incense, put up a name plaque, or otherwise honor those who have passed the veil. Three of our members—Volkhvy, Ciaran Benson, and CJ Stone—came together with one mind and created exactly that.” [...] “The shrine is open to everyone,” said Ms. Magee. “We aren’t checking your Pagan credentials at the door. Candles and incense are available on the altar. Some folks like to leave flowers, food, or other offerings. For a small donation, Sacred Paths Center will inscribe an oaken plaque to go on the shrine. It’s like a small headstone, you get to choose the text and you can include a special message. There’s a plaque request form on the Sacred Paths Center’s website.”

You can learn more about the memorial altar/shrine, here. I find it interesting that two of the major contributors to this project are individuals who bridge modern Paganism and Japanese Shinto. Is Shinto and “Neo-Shinto” growing in popularity among Pagans? If so, will it result in more shrine-oriented projects like this one? In any case, congratulations to Sacred Paths Center on this achievement.

In the Wake of James Arthur Ray: While the ongoing legal maneuvers continue in the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths case, Native Americans continue to try and make their perspectives on the misuse and appropriation of their sacred ceremonies known. One telling exchange happened between Ray and Diné (Navajo) medicine man Leland Grass during the last days of the initial trial.

Aware that many Native Americans, individually and through organizations, were incensed over his transformation and commercial use of their traditions and practices, particularly the tradition of the sweat lodge, Ray approached Grass humbly during a break and offered his hand. Grass shook it, nodded and the two spoke quietly for a time. ”He told me he learned his lesson,” Grass said later. “I said ‘no, you have a lot more to learn.’”

Meanwhile, a juror has broken silence and talked with the press about the trial that convicted Ray of three counts of negligent homicide. It seems the jury didn’t buy the pesticides defense, though he also noted that prosecution didn’t do a good job of proving the more serious charge of manslaughter. Once the sentence for Ray’s conviction is finally handed down, you can bet there will be more appeals and legal wrangling to come.

How is Paganism Good for America? That’s the question posed by Star Foster at the Patheos Pagan Portal. I gave my own short response, which you can read at the portal’s Pantheon blog.

“No theology is perfect, but I believe polytheism, the belief in a multiplicity of the divine, is uniquely suited towards preparing the United States for its future. In his book “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” York University Professor Emeritus of Humanities Jordan Paper concludes that “polytheism at best is a very positive human experience and is never less than benign. We do not find the angst, let alone the doubts, that many experience with regard to their relationship with the divine in the monotheistic traditions.” As America slowly moves into a post-Christian era, a nation where both immigrant and home-grown religious minorities are growing, and an ever-larger percentage (currently 15%) of our fellow citizens claim to specific religion at all, only a theology that can embrace the full tapestry of human belief will be able to change and thrive with these often tumultuous times. Modern Pagans are pioneers into this future, and have already encountered and accepted a multiplicity of belief systems, finding ways to not only coexist, but to create vibrant communities that encourage participation and engagement.”

You can read the whole thing, here. You can also check out Star Foster’s response to the question. If you want to weigh in on this issue, leave a comment here, or email Star Foster to submit a longer response.

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

Pagan News Updates

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 22, 2010 — 9 Comments

Here’s a round-up of updates concerning stories and issues covered previously by The Wild Hunt.

Martha Coakley and the Fells Acre Case: In a historic upset, Republican candidate Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death, defeating Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, who many initially saw as a sure thing. The media, and many politicians, are ruminating on how it all happened. While some are debating whether Brown’s win was a referendum on Obama’s presidency, others are saying that the reasons were very local. Columnist Carey Roberts claims that Coakley’s ties to the infamous Fells Acre ritual abuse case damaged her chances far more than the national political media are willing to credit.

“This legal travesty did not attract national attention until last Fall. At that point, Coakley held a nearly insurmountable 30-point lead over her Republican challenger. Then Ann Coulter devoted her December 9 column to the case, calling it the “second-most notorious witch trial in Massachusetts history” and charging Coakley had “kept a clearly innocent man in prison in order to advance her political career.” A month later, Dorothy Rabinowitz delivered the coup de grace. Recounting in the Wall Street Journal how prosecutors cast Gerald as the chief predator, “his gender qualifying him, in their view, as the best choice for the role,” Rabinowitz adjudged the superfluous prosecution was “powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat.” The Rabinowitz editorial was published on January 14. The same day a Suffolk University poll spotted Brown a 4-point lead over Martha Coakley. And when the ballots were tallied nearly a week later, Scott Brown had defeated Coakley by a resounding five-point margin.”

The Fells Acre case was also mentioned in electoral postmortems at The Huffington Post (who called her “doomed from the start”) and The New American. As for Coakley, what are her plans? Why, she’s going to run for reelection as Attorney General. Which makes me wonder, will outrage over the Amiraults carry over to the Fall elections? Or will we be content to forget? For all of my past coverage of Martha Coakley, click here.

Those Christian Gun Sights: Since the story broke earlier this week, controversy and commentary has been raging over a military contractor, Trijicon, that had been inserting Bible references into its serial numbers. These sights had apparently been used by some military commanders to hammer home the uniquely magical Christian-ness of the weapons, and their effectiveness in killing non-Christians. Now the company says it will stop inserting the Biblical references, and will provide means for existing sights to modified.

“Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” said Stephen Bindon, Trijicon president and CEO in a statement. “We want to thank the Department of Defense for the opportunity to work with them and will move as quickly as possible to provide the modification kits for deployment overseas.”

While some in the military defended the Bible references, or didn’t see what the fuss was about, others, most notably General David Petraeus, called the sights “distrubing” and a “serious concern”.

Jessica Orsini Sets Her Sights on Another Term: The Columbia Daily Tribune notes that Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, will be running unopposed for another term.

“Filing for the April 6 school board and municipal election ballots in Boone County ended at 5 p.m. yesterday … Centralia Board of Aldermen: Third Ward Alderwoman Jessica Orsini and First Ward Alderwoman Catherine Simmons are unopposed for re-election.”

Orsini, in addition to being one of only two openly transgendered elected officials, is also a Hellenic polytheistic reconstructionist. So it looks like we’ll continue to have two openly Pagan elected officials in America for a while longer. For more on Orsini, check out Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with her at Witchvox.

More Stupid Things Being Said About Vodou: Mark Krikorian, at National Review Online, joined the growing “it’s all Voodoo’s fault” chorus yesterday with this rousing endorsement of colonialism.

“My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough … A major indicator of how superficial is the overlay of French culture in Haiti is the strength of paganism, in the form of voodoo — the French just weren’t around long enough to suppress it, to the detriment of Haitians.”

Yes, if only they had been under the heel of the French for a bit longer, because we all know how well colonialism worked out for the Native Americans. Do these commentators actually read what they write before it gets posted? I wonder. For all my coverage of Vodou in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, click here.

While I was spending a lot of time covering the elections (and controversies) of Pagan candidates Dan Halloran and Alice Richmond, it seems I overlooked the fact that there was an already-elected openly-Pagan politician out there. However, thanks to Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, I’m up to speed.

“At 17, when I went off to college, my spirituality did as well. I finally came to realize that the connection I *had* forged, the voice I’d heard in the woods since I was a small child, was Artemis. I was introduced to paganism by a very soft-polytheistic Wiccan; from there, I ran through the usual assortment of Llewellyn publications and wound up with a sort of mish-mosh. I spent twenty years of wrangling through various efforts at implementation, trying somehow to fit my beliefs to Wicca. I tried this sort of “take the best from each” approach – the “many facets” concept that is so popular with a lot of pagans today. But it never really worked for me. I finally realized that my beliefs would never fit Wicca… and that there was this amazing old way that actually *did* fit. When it all boiled down, I needed the hard, deep roots of Hellenism. I needed Hesiod’s Theogeny, his Works and Days. I needed that cohesive pantheon, and the culturally complete approach it allows.”

In my defense I had certainly heard of Orsini, but for entirely different reasons.

“Advocates for transgender equality hail the public, albeit low-key, leadership role played by Orsini, who for the first three decades of her life was known as Jeff Orsini, an Air Force veteran and self-described computer nerd partial to role-playing war games. As one of just two openly transgender politicians to win elected office in this country — the other, Michelle Bruce, is a City Council member in Riverdale, Ga. — Orsini is a trailblazer, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.”

So now we have a Hellenic transgender Democratic Alderwoman in Missouri, and a conservative Republican Theodsman on New York’s City Council. I find it very interesting that the two openly-Pagan elected American officials in this era are polytheistic reconstructionists. Just a twist of fate? Or is there something more there? Needless to say, from now on I’ll be watching the career of Alderwoman Orsini just as closely as I’m currently watching the career of Councilman Halloran.

PS – In an entirely unrelated note, I’ll be a guest tonight on the streaming Internet radio program “Pagans Tonight”. I’ll be discussing Pagan news, this blog, and other projects I have coming up. So tune in!