Archives For Joseph Laycock

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.

Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun (aka King Tut)

  • There’s an excellent long-form journalism piece at Medium on the controversial issue of King Tut’s DNA. Quote: “The possibility that Mormon researchers were trying to convert the ancients was a particular, peculiar threat to Egypt’s sense of self, but it soon became apparent that it wasn’t just the Mormons that the Egyptians were worried about: it was all foreigners.”
  • Everyone knows that World Net Daily (aka World Nut Daily) is your prototypical “Obama is the Antichrist” conspiracy site, I don’t think anyone disputes that. So keep that in mind when you read about how Canada is going to force Catholics to teach their students about how awesome Wicca is. Quote: “A dispute over whether government can require Catholic schools to teach Wiccan and pagan rites as equal to the Ten Commandments and the resurrection of Jesus is heading to Canada’s highest court. [...] The battle is over a government program adopted in Quebec in 2008 called “Ethics and Religious Culture” that is mandatory for all public and private schools. It presents all religions, from Christianity to Wiccan, “as equally valid” and requires schools to teach the beliefs in that fashion.” Here’s some non-dramatic information on the program. Here’s a non-hysterical new story from 2012 on the challenges to the curriculum. Christians sure love the idea of religious education in public schools until you subtract the triumphalism.
  • A goat’s head was recently found in a park in New York and Joseph Laycock at Religion Dispatches is unimpressed. Quote: “Much of our horror and fascination concerning severed goat heads may be due to the fact that we’re almost entirely alienated from our food supply. Many Americans are unaware that goat heads can be acquired from a butcher without any illegal or violent activity involved (and there are numerous recipes available should anyone be interested). Maybe if we stopped getting so excited every time someone left a goat head where it doesn’t belong, the problem would go away by itself.”
  • Can you do group-based spiritual work (like meditation) on a smart phone application? Sue Thomas at The Conversation investigates. Quote: “So how does it feel to meditate alongside invisible people? Well if, like me, you’ve spent a lot of time in virtual worlds, gaming online, or even just chatting in Facebook, you’ll know that there can often be a strong sense of co-presence. During research for my book on technobiophilia, our love of nature in cyberspace, I found that as early as 1995 the Californian magazine Shambhala Sun described the internet as an esoteric place for meditation which provided ‘a feeling of complete and total immersion, in which the individual’s observer-self has thoroughly and effortlessly integrated’.”
  • The Tasmania Examiner has a “meet the Pagans” article up. Quote: “University of Tasmania sociology associate professor Douglas Ezzy said ritual was central to all pagans. He said paganism, like Christianity, was separated into various denominations according to their traditions and beliefs, for example witches, wiccans, druids, heathens, and Greek or Roman reconstructionists who follow the corresponding gods and goddesses.”

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.00.55 AM

  • So how’s the Gaia Hypothesis holding up? According to a new critical book on the subject, not as well as some would hope. Quote: “Tyrrell concludes that the balance of the available evidence does not tip in favor of the Gaia Hypothesis. He adds, however, ‘While rejecting Gaia, we can at the same time appreciate Lovelock’s originality and breadth of vision, and recognize that his audacious concept has helped to stimulate many new ideas about the Earth, and to champion a holistic approach to studying it.’” There’s a website for the book, if you want to explore this more.
  • Can Jews reincarnate? Apparently they can! Quote: “For the person, however, who has graduated from Chumash to Mishnah to Talmud, and then to the Zohar, he will find, among countless other topics, a very detailed discussion about reincarnation, particularly in the Zohar’s commentary on Parashas Mishpatim, what reincarnation is, how it works, and why it is necessary in the first place.”
  • The concept of Christians trying to raise other Christians from the dead confuses me. Aren’t they, in essence, grabbing a soul that’s in heaven and bringing them back to earth? Wouldn’t that, you know, kind of suck? Quote: “Tyler Johnson runs a ministry called the Dead Raising Team in the US. He claims to have brought several people back to life. He says he even persuaded the authorities in his state to issue him with an official photocard which lets him through police lines at car accident sites. Johnson appears in a new documentary film called Deadraisers, which follows enthusiasts as they trail round hospitals and mortuaries trying to bring people back to life. Sadly, those they pray for in the film remain resolutely dead.” I think there was a whole Buffy the Vampire Slayer subplot about this very issue.
  • Indian Country Today features an editorial advocating for Native youth to reclaim tradition. Quote: “Give tradition a second chance and see the miracle for yourself. When we follow tradition, the spirits of our ancestors smile down on us. Tradition helps. Tradition soothes. Tradition heals. Tradition cures. Tradition certainly does not mean rejecting modernization and scientific progress. But it does mean recognizing that traditional Indian values are vastly different from the values of the shallow and materialistic society presented to us by the colonizers. Indians have admirable traditions. Family-orientedness, courage, loyalty, sacrifice, generosity, honoring elders, being respectful to women, never interrupting, being tolerant of all people whether they are gay or of some other race, not focusing on material values, forgiving others, helping our fellow humans, being gentle with children, giving thanks to the Creator every day, being kind to animals, treating the Earth and the environment with utmost respect – these and more are all part of our sacred traditions.”
  • Be careful with how you market those mythological flood narratives, people get picky about them.  Quote: “Aronofsky said recently that he had won a battle with executives to screen his own version of Noah in cinemas after around half a dozen alternate cuts failed to find traction with evangelical filmgoers. Now a new profile of the film-maker in The New Yorker details the desperate lengths to which Paramount went to court religious audiences in the US, who had earlier turned their noses up at a test screening of Aronofksy’s edit. ‘In December, Paramount tested its fifth, and ‘least Aronofskian’, version of Noah: an 86-minute beatitude that began with a montage of religious imagery and ended with a Christian rock song,’ reveals the profile.”

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.

Satanism has been in the news recently, or more accurately, the ghost of Satanic hysteria has reared its head as two different murder inquiries offer journalists details that are sure to generate page-views. First, there’s the alleged murder of Corriann Cervantes by two teenage boys, with intimations of drug-use and the alleged intention to sell a soul to the Christian Devil.

“Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan disclosed details of the occult killing Tuesday but provided no explanation for what may have motivated the two boys or where their interest in devil worship had come from. ‘They discussed the fact that Mr. Reyes had sold his soul to the devil,’ said Jordan. ‘And if they ended up killing this teenager, it would allow the 16-year-old to also sell his soul to the devil.’”

Trials are currently ongoing in that case, with one of the accused being tried as an adult, and the other being held in a juvenile facility. The second case is, in many ways, far stranger. Miranda Barbour of Pennsylvania, charged in the November murder of man she and her husband met through Craigslist, told a reporter that she had been involved in over 20 murders, and that she was part of a Satanic cult.

Miranda Barbour

Miranda Barbour

“Miranda joined a satanic cult in Alaska. Soon after, Miranda said, she had her first experience in murder. Barbour said she went with the leader of the satanic cult to meet a man who owed the cult leader money. ‘It was in an alley and he (the cult leader) shot him,’ she said, declining to identify the cult leader. ‘Then he said to me that it was my turn to shoot him. I hate guns. I don’t use guns. I couldn’t do it, so he came behind me and he took his hands and put them on top of mine and we pulled the trigger. And then from there I just continued to kill.’ While in the satanic cult, Miranda became pregnant. The cult did not want her to have the baby, so, she said, members tied her to a bed, gave her drugs and she had an ‘in-house abortion.’ However, her mother on Saturday said that when Miranda told her about the abortion, she took her daughter to a doctor who said there were no signs of an ended pregnancy.”

Anyone familiar with the Satanic Panic era should be seeing all sorts of red flags at this point. The unidentified cult leader, the massive undetected body count, the possibly phantom at-home abortion, the claims of being a “high ranking” member in the cult, invoke all the tropes of sensationalist (and almost universally disproven) claims of panic-peddlers like Michael Warnke and Michelle Smith. Given the unlikely nature of this killing spree, authorities are expressing doubts over their validity.

“Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician who analyzed prolific murderers in the book, “Popular Crime,” told ABCNews.com that authorities have every reason to be skeptical of Barbour’s claims. ‘I don’t think there has ever been a 19-year-old that killed 22 people. I don’t think that has ever happened in the country,’ he said.”

Considering the dangerous nature of moral panics, how experts and journalists respond to these “occult” and “Satanic” crimes matter. Joseph Laycock, who has studied the vampire subculture, gives a possible scenario for how these two incidents happened.

Joseph Laycock

Joseph Laycock

“I’d suggest that these teens were playing a sort of game that went terribly wrong. In his excellent study, Kamikaze Biker, sociologist Ikuya Sato explored why teenagers from affluent Japanese families became involved in motorcycle gangs, sometimes participating in gang rapes and other crimes. His answer was that participation in these gangs amounts to a form of imaginative play: a socially constructed alternate reality in which teens perform an exciting role. Normally these roles can be abandoned when the play ends.

However, play becomes corrupted when it leads to irrevocable consequences. A teenager might “play” at being a Satanist or a criminal, drawing on countless depictions of these personas from the media and pop culture. (Several sources have already compared Miranda’s tale to the show Dexter.) But once an actual murder occurs—possibly in response to frustrated sexual advances or a Craigslist date gone wrong—the role becomes real. If police approach these cases as “occult crime,” their interrogations may be more likely to flesh out the teen’s Satanic play-persona than to uncover the actual motive for the crime.”

Beth Winegarner, author of “The Columbine Effect,” says that Barbour’s claims just don’t add up.

“The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters. What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.”

Meanwhile, the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple have both made it clear that these murders (and the alleged perpetrators) have nothing to do with them.

“According to our records, we have never had any contact from this woman, nor her accomplice,” said Magus Peter Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan. “It seems to me that she is calling herself a member of a ‘satanic cult,’ not a legally incorporated above-ground form of satanism. Thorough investigation will likely demonstrate that this cult story is fiction.”

Finally, Literata gives advice to Pagans tempted to respond publicly in the media to these stories.

Literata

Literata

“Pagans, please think before you respond to questions about this. Please, for the love of all you value, think before you reflexively start any comment with, “Well, we’re not Satanists.” That’s true, but it’s usually missing the point. When people ask you about your practices and beliefs, lead with what you actually believe: “I recognize the divine spirit in everything and value life and nature.” Then, if you absolutely must, continue with: “So obviously a string of vicious murders – if it actually happened – is completely antithetical to anything I’m involved in.” Now, you may actually be involved in conversations about this that don’t have anything to do with your religion. If it’s office scuttlebutt, and no one confronts you, then the above advice is irrelevant. But – and this is a big but – you should still think about framing. If no one asks you about your religion in the context of this issue, don’t reinforce the connection in people’s minds between the spurious Satanic Panics of the 90s and any form of alternative religion.”

The take-home here is that trials should be held, the perpetrators brought to justice, and we should all work to dispel any claims to an illusory underground Satanic cult. So far, the mainstream media has largely behaved itself, realizing that Barbour’s claims could be mere fantasy. However, moral panics are not rational things, and we must remain vigilant that the wild claims of the Satanic Panic era do not find purchase once more. The writers quoted here give us all some sensible context for moving forward in a media landscape that rewards the sensational.

On Thursday, Religion Dispatches featured a guest editorial from Joseph Laycock, religion scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism.” Laycock examined the most recent crackpot theory from crackpot conspiracy theory king David Icke, he of the “reptoid hypothesis.” In short, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics were part of a brainwashing Satanic conspiracy, and in turn a rallying cry to the spiritual warriors, the “experts in evil” skilled in rooting out these hidden conspiracies. While Icke is largely a figure of fun, a comical nut who sees evil vortexes and reptoid hybrids under his couch, Laycock reminds us that this is no laughing matter.

“While the theories can be entertaining, when too much momentum forms behind them they have historically resulted in moral panic and the persecution of innocent people. The Satanic Panic that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s is constantly threatening to return.

“Constantly threatening to return.” Is this true? Could the madness that were the Satanic Panics really manifest itself again, in an almost identical fashion? It’s hard to believe, until you start looking for the signs.

[Judy] Byington is an authority on Satanists, and as a clinical social worker she spent years helping others heal from wounds so deep most would shrink from the task. With the permission of her clients, she has written about one woman’s experience of growing up within a coven and surviving. The book is called “Twenty-Two Faces.” “This is a huge breaking story validating the existence of human sacrifices of children in our society,” Byington said. [...] They have secret combinations. They live in duplicity. They torture and sacrifice the innocent. They give birth in secret so the babies they sacrifice have no birth certificate record. They take the time to learn speaking Latin backwards from what is called the Black Bible.”

That’s not an archive story from the mid-1980s, that’s from a paper in Utah, dated July 28th of this year. Those of us old enough to remember the moral “Satanic” panic of the 1980s and 90s will find the narrative put forth in “Twenty-Two Faces” eerily familiar.

“As the only known survivor-intended-victim of a human sacrificial ceremony, Jenny Hill is living proof that ritual abuse is, in fact, a reality. With great courage and in open defiance of her sadistic abusers, Jenny wishes her story told. The ending will shock you.Referring to journals written throughout childhood, Jenny Hill and her multiple personalities document how as a five year-old, she overcomes trauma by turning to prayer while utilizing her alter states to compartmentalize abuse at the hands of a master mind-control programmer from Nazi Germany. After suffering deaths of a high school sweetheart, plus her only girlfriend, she somehow completes Army medic training, receives a nursing degree, prepares for a church mission and becomes a mother. Simultaneously led by sex-addict Head Alter J.J., intrepid alters assume frequent control, engaging in larceny and prostitution. With her children, her lifeline, the increasingly desperate nurse escapes a drugged-out pimping husband, blacks out in a job interview, comes to nine days later as an inpatient headed for the Utah State Psychiatric Hospital and only then learns what her life has really been.”

It really is as if someone took the 1980 book phenomenon “Michelle Remembers” and used it as a guide.

“The book documents Smith’s memory of events recovered during therapy, documenting the many satanic rituals she believed that she was forced to attend (Pazder stated that Smith was abused by “the Church of Satan,” which he states is a worldwide organization predating the Christian church). The first alleged ritual attended by Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults.”

Unlike Icke, this is no joke. This is the very tinder that ruined the lives of thousands of innocent people as they were accused of being a part of underground Satanic abuse organizations. We often forget how pervasive anti-Satanic propaganda was back then, with many journalists and talk-show hosts (even Oprah) diving right into the hysteria. The West Memphis 3, released almost a year ago, were probably the most well-known victims of this panic. Jessie Misskelley’s former defense attorney Dan Stidham, in an interview with John Morehead, painted a picture of the Satanic hysteria that surrounded the trial.

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

We are still dealing with the fallout of this era, with a dedicated core of true believers keeping the fires burning, all that has to happen is for the right/wrong set of circumstances to line up, and it all erupts again. Indeed, this time it could be worse, since it’s far easier to do “research” and even the usually reserved Catholic church is ramping up the rhetoric about demon possessions, exorcisms, and even underground Satanic cults.

Peg Aloi: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

Father Gary Thomas: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States. 

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

It’s a tinder box, all it needs is a match. Will they target Witches and Pagans? Adherents of Santeria or Palo? Those who venerate Santa Muerte? It’s impossible to say, as it will depend on how the panic manifests, but any group that gets confused with “Satanists” are fair game in such a scenario. It is for this reason that more Pagans need to engage in serious ecumenical, intrafaith, and interfaith work,  and move into more proactive advocacy and anti-defamation initiatives. This advocacy shouldn’t be from small start-ups on Facebook, but from the dominant organizations within our movement, the groups that have built networks and connections over the span of 20 or 30 years. We need to be ready in case an incident that none of us could foresee sparks an ugly backlash against us or our allies. We need to be ready in case our society panics.

Joseph Laycock, scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism,” examines media coverage of the killing of two boys and one woman over the span of four years in Mexico, allegedly the work of Santa Muerte cultists. Laycock’s Religion Dispatches piece argues that “these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America,” that they are a “Manson moment” that will have potentially harmful reverberations in the years to come.

Santa Muerte

“It goes without saying these murders are unconscionable, and a tragedy. But attempting to find a grand pattern, or a reason, in a connection to so-called ritualistic violence brings authorities no closer to preventing such crimes—while greatly increasing the likelihood that innocent people will be persecuted.

It is almost a certainty that at some point in the future the events that have unfolded in Nacozari will be presented as “proof” that Santa Muerte is an inherently violent tradition. As Saint Death’s popularity spreads and the Latino American population continues to grow, this is not a theory we can afford to entertain.

If we can accept that not all Beatles fans are Charles Manson, we must also have faith that not all who pray to Santa Muerte are Silvia Meraz.”

Will these incidents provide the tinder necessary to fuel a new moral panic in the United States? We’ve already seen some declare that illegal immigration wasn’t simply a problem of policy, economics, or laws, but a religious war between antidemocratic religious “fanatics” and Western Christendom. Nor is Santa Muerte isolated in this rhetoric, as Santeria has also been invoked in the increasingly polarizing debate over immigration policy in America. These tensions seem likely to increase as the religious landscape in Mexico becomes increasingly diverse (and the diversity continues to filter north).  R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” notes that the once-dominant Catholic church faces “significant competition from Pentecostals, neo-Christians, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even “heretical” folks saints, such as Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde.”

“Among two of the most dynamic religious practices in the Mexican megalopolis [of Mexico City] are the cults of Saint Jude, patron of lost causes, and Santa Muerte. Centered in the notorious barrio of Tepito, devotion to Saint Death takes place beyond the pale of the Church. Just a few miles away, the Church of Saint Hippolyte draws tens of thousands of devotees to its monthly celebrations of Saint Jude, who shares Santa Muerte’s devotional base of marginalized youth.”

Mix growing outsider faiths, increasingly inflamed rhetoric over the issue of illegal immigration, and reliably bad journalism on often misunderstood religions like Santeria and Palo, with an incident that seems to validate the worst fears of those who are already negatively disposed towards non-Christian or syncretic traditions and you have a potential powder keg. Isolated criminal actions can be, and have been, used to prove the existence of a widespread malefic network. In “Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend,” Jeffrey Victor talks about how Charles Manson and Jim Jones were used to create a stereotype of criminal Satanism.

The stereotype of criminal Satanism merged imagery of fanatical religious cults with that of psychopathic criminals like Reverend Jim Jones and Charles Manson. This dramaic imagery had great mass media appeal. Satanic cult stories were first able to find a channel to a national audience when they appeared in small town newspaper reports as a possible explanation for an epidemic of spurious claims about cattle mutilations. Later, small town newspaper reports about a wide variety of crimes, from a cemetary vandalism to serial murder, began to attribute the crimes to “Satanists.”

Replace “Satanism” with “Santeria” and you can see the pattern emerging once again. “Santeria Panic,” fueled by fear, bad journalism, and extreme events like these “sacrifices” to Santa Muerte. In fact, back in 2010 Kenneth Ross, the law enforcement chief for the Westchester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, made explicit the link between the old panic, and the one that seems ready to emerge.

“I think what happens is you have different cultures coming into the United States, and when the cultures come in they bring their traditions and they bring whatever they practice,” said Ross, the SPCA police chief. “If you look back in the ’70s … Satanism was the big thing and everybody was dabbling in Satanism. I’m sure it happens and that’s how different sects are created within Santeria,” Ross said. “But I don’t know if it’s the dabblers or is it just the influx of different nationalities that bring their own traditions?” the SPCA police chief added.

So if this is the new “Manson moment,” the thing that will spark a new moral panic that could have “lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America,” it raises two practical questions for modern Pagans. How do we derail this trend, stopping it before it ruins thousands of lives as it did during the Satanic Panics of the 1980s and early 90s, and how do we form a workable political coalition with practitioners of Santeria, Palo, Vodou, and other groups that will no doubt inhabit the eye of such a storm?

During the recent Hindu-Pagan panel at PantheaCon 2012, I suggested that our faith’s friendly interactions move to the next stage, that we form a national advocacy group that merges our resources and concerns. Perhaps the timetable on that needs to be moved up and expanded. Considering the amount of overlap between modern Paganism and the African/Caribbean diasporic religions, we certainly can’t afford to simply claim it’s not our struggle. A new moral panic about non-Christian faiths would damage us all, and that’s something none of us can afford at this critical juncture in our movement.

Top Story: Neighbors of Betty Marquez in Tracy, California, are upset that the practitioner of Santeria is holding religious gatherings and performing animal sacrifice at her home. Marquez, who is quick to point out that the animals are slaughtered humanely, and eaten afterwards, says she feels as if she is being harassed, while at least one neighbor is eager to prove he isn’t prejudiced by saying something that sounds pretty prejudiced.

“We used to spend a lot of time in our yard, and now there’s bongos and loud singing, and we just don’t feel good about it anymore,” he said. “We’re not prejudiced. We’re very fair. Take that stuff outside of town.”

Meanwhile, another neighbor has contacted PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who called the cops on their behalf, and is “staying in contact with authorities” concerning the matter.

“Of course we’re against religious sacrifice,” Martin Merserau said. “We’re against animal abuse in many forms, whether you’re dragging a knife across the throat of an animal for quote-unquote religious purposes or not.”

PETA, perhaps feeling that their racist, sexist, sizeist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and transphobic campaigns haven’t been going far enough, they now feel the need to attack minority religions as well by getting involved in a local spat. Never mind the sheer hypocrisy of calling animal sacrifice “abuse”, while they “humanely” euthanize thousands of healthy unwanted animals, and have even had employees charged with illegal disposal of animal corpses. I guess context is king. All I know is that I’ve been a vegan for years, and I’ve never supported this group. As for Marquez, considering the recent win for Jose Merced in court, it’s going to be increasingly hard to enforce animal slaughter laws against Santeria practitioners.

More Fodder for Sharkey’s Ever-Hungry Ego: Joseph Laycock, author of  “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism”, decides to give more attention to Jonathon ‘The Impaler’ Sharkey for an essay at Religion Dispatches. Why? To make the point that Sharkey’s buffoonish extremism now seems almost normal in today’s ultra-polarized political landscape.

“The Impaler” arose during the Bush Administration, seeking popular appeal by promising to kill an unpopular president. And while he has continued this strategy during the Obama era, sadly he no longer seems nearly as crazed and peripheral next to the extreme fringes of the Tea Party movement. Simply put, violent rhetoric has become more acceptable. Progressives have criticized Sarah Palin for a political “hit list” on her Facebook page that features gun crosshairs over the home states of targeted Democrats. Sharkey and Palin are in effect both catering to the same sentiment. While Palin has never called for the impalement of Harry Reid, her supporters might not take offense if she did.

I suppose I see the point he’s trying to make, but I object to giving this criminal, who has shown a pattern of having inappropriate, and sometimes threatening, interactions with young girls, any more media-driven oxygen. I almost didn’t comment on this story because I want nothing more than to see Sharkey fade off into obscurity until he’s finally imprisoned for stepping too far over the line. Of course he’s calling for Witch-hunts! He is desperate for our attention, because without it, he’ll be forced to face the life he’s created for himself. So barring some truly newsworthy event involving Sharkey, the topic will no longer come up at this blog, and I urge everyone in the Pagan and Vampire communities to follow suit. As for Laycock, check out the interview with him about modern Vampirism at the always-excellent TheoFantastique blog.

Starhawk and Social Justice: In the wake of the Glenn Beck/Jim Wallis spat, author, activist, and On Faith panelist Starhawk weighs in on “social justice” in the context of modern Paganism.

“While Pagans do not have a set creed or unified code of beliefs, our traditions hold in common the understanding that we are all deeply interconnected, all part of the sacred weave of the world. The Goddess is immanent in this world and in all human beings, and part of our service to the sacred is to honor one another and take care of one another, to fairly share nature’s bounty and to succor one another in facing the hardships of life. We must create justice in this world, not wait for redress of grievances in the next. No one person or group has the right to commandeer nature’s resources, which are the underpinnings of all wealth. Generosity, justice and fairness are old Pagan virtues…”

I’m personally all for social justice, but then I’ve never been all that offended when people called me a socialist because of it. Which I suppose makes me one the 36% of Americans who have a favorable opinion towards the ideology. Not that social justice has to be equated with socialism, but I’m not the one blurring those lines in order to score political points.

South African Pagans and Inclusion: The Richmark Sentinel focuses on South African Pagan Council’s (SAPC) quest for representation at the country’s national multi-faith organizations.

The South African Pagan Council says its being ignored by the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM), National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) and National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) … Asatruar Charles van Bergen, the representative of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) tasked with negotiating the inclusion of Pagan religious leaders to both the NILC and its forerunner the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF), thinks South Africa is not achieving its stated intention to facilitate cooperative inter-religious participation. “Organizations such as Home Affairs and SARS have been forced to abide by the laws pertaining to such things, but other than that an active policy of passive-aggressive exclusion of Pagans is the status quo countrywide.”

Why does the SAPC want a voice in predominately socially conservative and anti-pagan multi-faith organizations? To remind the leaders of the dominant faiths in South Africa that other opinions exist and should be respected.

“I believe the SAPC’s presence on both the NILC and the NRLF will ensure that religious policies and dialogue maintain respect for the rights of minorities who do not necessarily agree with the conservative views and positions expressed by members of these organizations. We’d like the right to participate and contribute constructively to our Nation’s spiritual and moral values.”

The SAPC is currently involved in supporting the 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts campaign, and is one of three legally recognized Pagan organization in South Africa (along with The South African Pagan Rights Alliance and the Correllian Nativist Tradition S.A.). I wish them luck in trying to change opinions concerning modern Paganism in South Africa.

Ongoing Tensions in Haiti: Reporters from the Miami Herald look at the ongoing tensions and deteriorating relations between faiths in post-earthquake Haiti, and mention that a human rights lawyer went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last month, calling for an investigation into anti-Vodou attacks.

Last month, Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking an investigation of attacks against Vodouists after several were stoned by Evangelical pastors in the Cité Soleil slum. “In other zones of the country,” he told the commission, “particularly in the commune of Verrettes in the Artibonite, literal witch hunts have been launched against priests and practitioners of this religion.”

This news of “literal witch hunts” is deeply troubling, and there seems to be no real investigation of this by the press, many of whom have moved on now that the initial disaster is over with. In the chaos, with international eyes turned elsewhere, and the government still powerless, is there a quiet campaign of violence and intimidation against Vodou practitioners under way?

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