Archives For Kentucky

MOREHEAD, Ky – Kentucky’s Rowan County clerk Kim Davis is in court today and continues to make headlines as she pushes back against state laws. On June 26, Davis, a born-again Christian, stopped issuing marriage licenses just hours after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of same-sex marriage laws. She has repeatedly said that issuing licenses to same-sex couples violates her “sincerely held” religious beliefs.

[Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn, Flickr]

[Photo Credit: J. Stephen Conn, Flickr]

Davis’ personal protest has now earned her national attention as she openly defies state marriage laws. On Sept.1, the ACLU of Kentucky filed two motions asking, “the court to hold Davis in contempt of court for failing to comply with its previous ruling and to clarify that Davis must issue marriage licenses to everybody.” Steven R. Shapiro, legal director if the ACLU, said:

It is unfortunate that we’ve been compelled to take further action today to ensure that the people of Rowan County can obtain the marriage licenses they’re entitled to receive from their County Clerk’s office.  The law is clear and the courts have spoken. The duty of public officials is to enforce the law, not place themselves above it.

Davis’ case has factored into the election scene, becoming a prop in political campaigning. In a recent tweet, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said, “I stand w/ Kim Davis & Americans of faith under attack by Washington elites who have nothing but disdain for our faith & the Constitution.” Huckabee, who is hoping to become the 2016 presidential candidate for the Republican party, even specifically mentioned the issue in a letter to his supporters.

Priestess Nancie Clark, a Kentucky resident and co-Founder of Spirit of the Earth Church, told The Wild Hunt that the local situation is “very intense.” Clark said, “It’s hard to go anywhere without hearing about [the case] and people are intensely passionate when defending their side of the issue.”

In July, Federal District Court Judge David Bunning ordered Davis to issue the licenses but she refused. In response, she asked both a federal appeals court and the U.S. Supreme Court to remove that order. Both courts denied the request, which puts Davis at risk of being held in contempt, heavily fined and even jailed.

To demonstrate what was happening, Kentucky residents David Moore and David Ermold recorded their attempt to get a marriage license. Over the summer, that video went viral. But, more recently, several members of the local LGBT community directly confronted Davis in her busy clerk’s office. In that video, Davis tells the group, “We are not issuing marriage licenses today.” One of the protesters asks, “Under whose authority are you not issuing marriage licenses?” Davis calmly replies, “Under God’s authority.”

Priestess Clark explained, “Those who support Kim Davis are so strong in their convictions, they truly believe that God is supporting Davis’s decision and that she and others like her must not back down. There are some who truly believe that she is doing God’s work by standing up for her beliefs.The issue of whether are not she needs to do her job as a County Clerk is secondary.”

However, as noted by Columbia law professor Katherine Franke, Davis sincerely held religious beliefs are not “at stake.” In an NPR interview Franke said:

She has absolutely no legal ground to stand on. As a public official, she’s supposed to abide by the law and perform her public duties, which are issuing marriage licenses to qualified couples. Same-sex couples are now qualified to marry in the state of Kentucky, so she is refusing to do her job .. 

Of course. Kim Davis has all sorts of religious liberty rights secured under the First Amendment and under other laws. But they are not at stake in this case. All she’s asked to do with couples that come before her is certify that they’ve met the state requirements for marriage. So her religious opposition to same-sex marriage is absolutely irrelevant in this context.

Davis and her eleven deputies are appearing in a court this morning to determine whether they will be held in contempt. Davis’ lawyers argue that she is unable to obey the law due to her conscience and, therefore, cannot not be held in contempt. Lawyers for the state are arguing that Davis is obliged to follow the law regardless of her religious convictions. Judge Bunning told one reporter that Davis is promoting “her own religious convictions at the expense of others” and that if she cannot abide by the rules then “she should resign.”

Kim Davis

Kim Davis

Many have asked why Davis hasn’t been fired. The answer is simple. She is an elected official. Therefore, she must either resign, be removed by the legislature or be impeached. As Kentucky law states, “All county officials are susceptible to impeachment for any misdemeanors in office (Ky. Const., sec. 68) … Officials can be disqualified from holding public office or lose their office as a result of their conduct. Public servants are subject to disqualification from office if convicted of abuse of public trust under KRS 522.050.”

Davis, a Democrat, was elected in 2014 defeating Republican candidate John Cox. On Nov.7, 2014, she told a local paper, “I am so humbled and feel so blessed that the people put so much confidence in me … I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

In recent days, the Rowan County attorney Cecil Watkins has come forward to state that Davis is acting alone and does not in any way represent the county In an interview, Watkins also told the Kentucky Trial Court Review that the eleven deputy clerks “would issue lawful marriage licenses. They are simply afraid to do so.” According to Watkins, those clerks were afraid of Davis, their boss.

Now, everyone is waiting for the federal courts decision. Large crowds, estimated to be over 1100 people strong, have gathered in front of the Ashland courthouse and several local stations are live streaming. Before this morning’s hearing, Davis told Fox News, “I’ve weighed the cost and I’m prepared to go to jail, I sure am … This has never been a gay or lesbian issue for me. This is about upholding the word of God.”

According to reports, protesters from both sides are out in full force with large groups screaming at each other and homeland security close on hand.

Priestess Clark said, “This has been a passionate issue here on both sides. The implication of Kim Davis’s actions are being felt state wide and only serve to further divide us.” She added, “While I am confident that justice will be served for our LGBT community, what happens after this is incident is over? There is much work that needs to be done here and I feel that this incident is just the beginning.”

Priestess Clark and her group have been offering regular healing prayers for the Kentucky community. She said, “What we need to do and probably the most difficult thing to do right now with this issue being so raw, is to extend the olive branch to foster conversations and promote understanding. That is a long road. Right now the energy here is like a boiling tea kettle, everyone is waiting assured that justice will be served in what they feel is the right direction.”

As of publication, the hearing is still in session. The story can be followed via Twitter and local live streaming.

Update 1:26pm: Kim Davis was held in contempt and taken into custody by federal Marshals.

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

  • Let’s begin with a community note. The New York City Pagan community celebrated its 4th annual Witchfest USA in July.The event is a “Street Faire” that is hosted on Astor Place in the heart of Manhattan. The 2015 event was visited by a Broudly journalist who published her, somewhat skeptical or baffled, take on the entire experience. She wrote, “The crowd looked exactly as you’d expect a crowd of polite pagans to: Near the corner of Lafayette and Astor Place...” Regardless, the article offers a nice array of vivid photographs of WitchFest, its people and happenings. For more photos or information on next year’s faire, go to the organization’s Facebook page.
  • Now for less festive news, several Kentucky lawmakers appear to be unwilling to end their quest to publicly support the so-called “Ark Park.” According to Americans United, “Kentucky Sens. Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) and Chris Girdler (R-Somerset) said they will file a bill (SB 129)” to delay the start of Kentucky public schools in order to “give more tourists the opportunity to visit state attractions in August.” More specifically, Senator Thayer was quoted as saying that Ark Encounter will become a major tourist destination, and that delaying school will give local children an expanded opportunity to visit. The bill, which will be considered in 2016, comes on the heels of “Kentucky officials [rejecting] up to $18 million in tax rebates” for the theme park. Owned by the group Answers in Genesis, the park is scheduled to open in Summer 2016.
  • Unfortunately, attacks related to “witchcraft” continue to plaque sub-Saharan Africa. But this month, one story shares the hope hope being brought to those who have been victimized by such violence.Tanzanian children, who are born with albinism and are often targets of such violence, are finding aide through a New York-based charity called The Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF)With guidance from Under the Same Sun, GMRF is bringing young victims to the U.S. for medical assistance. According to an Associated Press article,There has been a sharp increase in attacks in Tanzania and neighboring Malawi in the past year,” despite laws against “witch doctors” using human body parts. The first five children sponsored by GMRF are being fitted with prosthetics in New York City. The Fund’s founder Elissa Montanti said, “They’re not getting their arm back … But they are getting something that is going help them lead a productive life and be part of society and not be looked upon as a freak or that they are less than whole.”
  • On a similar note, a recent Namibian article demonstrates the depth of the problem in sub-Sahran Africa. The media outlet recently had to run a counter article to an older one that reported on the death of a man from tapeworms. According to the second article, there were “a number of comments on The Namibian’s Facebook page show that there is a deep misunderstanding of what is or what causes tapeworms.” They go on to illustrate and describe what actually does cause this medical condition. But the article starts the lesson by saying, “In actual fact, having tapeworms has nothing to do with witchcraft or any form of curse.” And to be perfectly clear, the article is titled, “Witchcraft does not cause tapeworms.”
  • Now moving to entirely different global region,The Independent has published an interesting and detailed article on an entirely different religious observance. Entitled “Beer and blood sacrifices: Meet the Caucasus pagans who worship ancient deities,” the article opens a window on a little known religion and culture in the country of Georgia. As one follower describes, “[The people] are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically. They cannot tell you why they are doing this or that and what it means. They cannot touch bears or wolves, touch chicken or eggs, or touch a woman when she has her period, but if you ask them why, they don’t know. It’s supernatural, it’s a mystery.” The article goes on to share the specifics on the ritual observance as well as other aspects of their theology, dedication and customs.  
[Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

2010 Toyko Obon observance [Photo Credit: Fabian Reus / Flickr ]

  • Photography: Many people in Japan will be observing the Buddhist festival of the dead, Obon (お盆) in mid-August. The site Global Voices has brought together a number of recent photographs posted to Instagram from various events, festivals and observances. The article, entitled “Instagram Photos Offer a Peek Into Nagasaki’s Unique Send-Off for the Dead,” paints a vivid picture through text and these snapshots of the traditions and the reverence paid to ancestors at this time.
  • Books: National Geographic writer Simon Worrall interviews Isabella Tree about her new book called The Living Goddess. The book’s subject is “the Kumari of Nepal: young girls who embody the creative, female energy, or Shakti.” In the published interview, Tree speaks about her experience in researching and writing the book. She says, “It’s one of the things that I found most striking of all, this idea of worshiping a child, particularly a girl. Throughout much of Nepalese history, the King of Nepal has knelt at these little girls’ feet—nowadays it’s the president—in order to receive permission to rule the country.” Tree first met a Kumari when she was very young, and the book is the culmination of thirteen years of research.
  • Art: Inspired by several of the world’s natural disasters, actor and artist Lorenzo Quinn has created a dynamic sculpture series dedicated to Mother Earth. On his blog, he explains his purpose,”This would be reminiscent of the early statues made as peace offerings to the Gods in the hope of quenching their anger.” Each piece, part of a “Forces by Nature” series, depicts a female figure swinging the Earth around. Versions have been installed in multiple locations worldwide including England, the United States, Monaco, and Singapore. The Bored Panda has published a number of photos of the various statues.
  • Film: Lastly, the trailer for the award-winning film The Witch is now available on YouTube. Directed by Sundance Best Director Robert Eggers, The Witch is a horror film based in 17th century New England. After seeing the film at the festival, one reviewer described the film, “In this exquisitely-made and terrifying new horror film, the age-old concepts of witchcraft, black magic and possession are innovatively brought together to tell the intimate and riveting story of one family’s frightful unraveling.” The Witch is due out in 2016.

The first time I ever drove cross-country, my only real objective was to get it over with as quickly as possible. I was moving from the East Coast to the West Coast, and I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and days behind the wheel. I mapped out the quickest route that I could find, and took off in a precariously packed minivan full of my worldly possessions with the goal of reaching Oregon in five days.

It turns out that the route that I thought would be the easiest was also the route that those who blazed trails long before me found to be the most practical as well. By the time I hit Nebraska, I quickly realized that I was following the general route of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Following the railroad, with the train in my constant line of sight, it occurred to me that there was an entire history there that I knew very little about, a history that was crucial to the successful settlement of America. Prior to that moment, I had understood the importance of the railroad in theory, but there was something about literally keeping pace, face-to-face with that history that emphasized its significance in a way I had never considered before.

It wasn’t long after I diverted from that route north into Wyoming that I discovered that I was traveling the same route as the Oregon Trail. Similar to the railroad, I was again faced with an essential piece of American history that I knew little about. The farther west I went following the Oregon Trail, the more the rest stops started to double as historical markers. By the time I approached the Blue Mountains in eastern Oregon, learning about the horrors of westward migration become synonymous with stretching my legs. A layer below the initial digesting of that history, the colonial perspective of that telling also gnawed at me, as I knew that there was a whole other story within the saga of westward expansion that had not been inscribed on state-owned plaques at rest stops.

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

The Oregon Trail. [Public Domain]

There was also something in the land itself that was commanding my attention– something unexplainable, a pull entrenched in the power of the wounds and stories and spirits of America. In connecting briefly to the history of the land, as one-sided as it was being reflected, I was quickly realizing my overall disconnect to these places as a whole. They themselves seemed to reflect that disconnect to me quite clearly, and the closer I got to my destination, the more I felt the urge to backtrack and explore.

By the time I made it to Portland, I felt like a stranger in my own country, but a determined stranger who wished to understand and befriend the unknown. That small taste of America had suddenly stirred up an enormous yearning, and my new surroundings in Oregon quickly started to relate and reflect the same themes and realizations that I had stumbled upon during the trip. Immersing myself in history wasn’t enough. I needed to meet the land, to understand these places from the bottoms of my feet. I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to find, but I knew that I needed to search for it, and that need only grew stronger as time went on.

A few years later, time and money finally conspired in a way that was too precise to ignore, and I threw an old mattress into the back of my van and hit the road. I left with the intention of connecting with place and with history, of trying to understand my own complex relationship to the America I felt that I didn’t really understand. I wanted to learn from the places that made me feel as a stranger. I wanted know this land by its nooks and crannies.

I decided that my path would be dictated by both fate and curiosity, by signs and invitations alike. I was guided by paragraphs and articles in books and magazines, by roadside markers, by suggestions from friends and strangers and gas station attendants all the same.

From the time I first started out, those same people often asked me where I was going and why, and I quickly found that, while I understood my intent and motives, I didn’t necessarily have the language to express that to others. It was part pilgrimage, part adventure, part surrender, part obligation, part reconciliation, part sequel, and yet none of those things sufficed on their own as an explanation. After a few days of trying to explain it a variety of ways and seemingly failing every time, I simply told folks that I was “searching for America”, which seemed to be an acceptable answer no matter where I went.

Astoria, OR

The mouth of the Columbia River has been known among sailors for well over two centuries as the ‘Graveyard of the Pacific.’ One does not have to be schooled in sailing to sense its treachery; simply standing at the edge of the mouth on a windy day puts one quickly in touch with the intensity, the enormity and mortality that emanate from this crucial intersection of river, sea, wind, and sky.

It is a notable place of both power and history, both as a port in itself and as part of the story of American expansion as a whole. The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1804 bunked down at this spot, and a few years later a party funded by fur magnate John Jacob Astor founded Fort Astoria, the first permanent American settlement on the West Coast. Reminders of that history and the wealth that accompanied it are reflected in the mostly well-preserved Victorian architecture dotted throughout the town. The town reflects both history and modernity, feeling neither gentrified nor stuck in time.

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

Mouth of the Columbia River as seen from Astoria, circa 1912. [Public Domain]

As I stood at the mouth, watching the bar pilots guide a cargo ship through the treacherous channel, I thought back to something I had read about Concomly, the Chinook chief who served as the original bar pilot for the Columbia in the early 1800s. Aside from the obvious technological advances, what I was currently witnessing on the river was essentially an unchanged ritual that had been performed regularly in this same spot for over 200 years now.

Thinking of Concomly, the question that approached me seemed to come from outside, from the mouth itself. What did Concomly call this river? This graveyard, this mouth of ghosts – what was her name?

I was only a few days into my trip, but it was already apparent to me that actively decolonizing my surroundings whenever possible on this journey was both a challenge and an obligation on my part, an obligation to the land and the ancestors as well as to myself. I knew from prior research that there was no single indigenous name that the Columbia was known by, and most of the names that had been recorded were badly translated and phoneticized. Nonetheless I wished at that moment that I had one of those names at the tip of my tongue. I wanted to greet the river properly without also invoking the name of a colonizer, but I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the ability to do so at that moment.

But while that specific name may not have been known or available to me at that moment, I also knew that the indigenous place-names of numerous lakes, rivers, and mountains throughout the country were well-known and were easily accessible information. From that point onward in my travels, I took it upon myself to revert to the indigenous names of the places I visited whenever possible, and to make notes and research specific places and place-names when the information wasn’t readily available.

Fargo, ND

“We’ve been staying here for well over two months now. My hope is to get back to New Mexico by the time school starts.”

She paused for a second, looking over at her two daughters across the table, who were distracted by a set of crayons and the activities on the diner placemat.

“But we need to stay for long as there’s decent work. School will do them no good if we can’t afford to eat.”

I had met Marcela and her daughters the night before, at a rest stop right outside of Fargo. Their family had been sleeping in the van next to mine, and it had been immediately obvious to me that they had been living at the rest stop for quite a while. I saw the father leave on foot before dawn and, instead of taking off immediately, I felt pulled to take Marcela and her kids out to breakfast.

I learned over breakfast that her husband was a migrant worker who was currently working in the local sunflower fields. She also worked in the fields on days when she could find someone to watch her girls, but she hadn’t been able to find anyone for at least a few weeks. They had been living out of the van for nearly two years at that point, with brief periods spent on and off with relatives near Santa Fe.

The sunflowers were the focus of my attention the day before, stretching for miles as I was driving down I-94 towards Fargo. When I first saw the sunflowers, I had spotted a few people out in the fields as well, and I had been thinking about the relative invisibility of migrant labor in this country on the drive into Fargo. So it seemed fitting that Marcela was the first person I found myself interacting with when I stopped.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. Photo by Hephaestos.

Sunflower fields near Fargo, SD. [Photo Credit: Hephaestos.]

I knew that there were an untold number of families just like Marcela’s, skirting on the edges of existence and survival, but there was something in listening to Marcela’s story that brought that struggle home for me. Hers was a story that so many know abstractly and yet so few actually hear. I was grateful for the opportunity to share this space and time with this family, as heartbreaking as it was.

After breakfast I took them back to their van, said goodbye, and headed back out. A few miles down the road, I stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bunch of sunflowers. I looked out towards the farm and saw small dots out in the fields that I knew to be humans, and I couldn’t help but to wonder if one of the men out in the field was Marcela’s husband.

Sparta, WI

The first time I drove past the sign I though I must had read it wrong. I did a literal double-take as I passed it, somewhat convinced that I had just seen a sign for an astronaut and bicycle museum and concerned that my eyes were playing tricks on me.

A half-mile later right before the exit, I saw the sign again, and it was no mistake. “Astronaut Deke Slayton and Bicycle Museum”, the sign said. I laughed out loud and turned off towards the exit.

Neil Gaiman has suggested that America’s roadside attractions are America’s most sacred sites, and I was finding more and more by the day that there was a deep truth to that sentiment. I had passed up on several other similarly quirky roadside attractions prior to that morning, but I had no immediate destination. It seemed the perfect day for such a detour. I wasn’t sure what bicycles and astronauts had in common and how or why this was being presented to the public, but I was curious to find out.

It turned out that what the two had in common was the town of Sparta itself. Sparta, Wisconsin was the birthplace of Deke Slayton, one of America’s first and most famous astronauts. Sparta is also known as the “Bicycling Capital of America,” and the museum was a rather impressive (and surprisingly cohesive) expression of those two aspects of transportation. I spent the afternoon unexpectedly immersed in the histories of both bicycles and space, appreciative of both the actuality of what was in front of me as well as the process that led me to this point. While the phrase “only in America” is so often reduced to meaningless cliché, it was the defining thought on my mind as I walked back from the museum to my van.

In finding that museum, not so much the exhibits themselves but the very existence of the museum itself, I found a piece of the unexplainable that I had been itching to immerse myself in.

Lincoln, NE

I pulled up at the gas station, parked in front, and went inside the convenience store to grab a bottle of water. The front door was partially propped-open, and taped to the door was a huge sign. “No hoodies. No exceptions.”

I was wearing a hooded jacket. I pushed open the door the rest of the way to enter, and I immediately started to take off my hoodie as the bell on the door sounded my entrance. The woman behind the counter spotted me and waved me off. “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said with a smile. “I’m not worried about you.”

I stood for a moment in discomfort, wondering who she was ‘worried about.’ I then walked to the back of the store to grab a beverage and as my back was to the door the bell went off again. I looked over behind me, and a young Hispanic man was walking into the store. The woman looked up at him sternly and immediately pointed to the sign on the door. “Please remove your hoodie”, she said to him firmly.

I looked at her in horror, gave him a sympathetic look, and quickly made my exit without purchasing anything.

Back in the van, I tried to shake off my anger. I had been on the privileged end of racial profiling before, but there was something about the bluntness of that experience that caught me off-guard. I zoned out on the highway, driving what was quite possibly the straightest stretch of road that I’ve ever driven, to the point where my elbows started to ache for lack of movement. My heart ached along with my elbows, albeit for a different reason.

Pike County, KY

The roads are quite narrow through Appalachia, and navigating them requires a very specific attention to detail that I wasn’t used to in my travels. I spent so much time hyper-aware of my position on the road that I nearly missed a key aspect of my surroundings. Winding through the heart of Hatfield-McCoy country, I was quite taken by the stark contrast between the various rock formations and the lush green beauty.

It wasn’t until I pulled over to stretch my legs that took a wide-range inventory of the terrain that I noticed that I was at the base of a mountaintop mining operation, surrounded by what used to be mountains. While I had been aware on some level that mining companies actually remove the tops of mountains, it had only affected me as an abstraction until that moment.

This is ‘progress’, I thought to myself. We remove the tops of mountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. Photo by ilovemountains.

Mountaintop removal in Pike County, Kentucky. [Photo Credit: ilovemountains.]

I walked up a gravel path into the woods at the base of the mountain, and I was quickly overcome by how angry the woods felt. It was as if a mist of despair and sadness and rage had enveloped this place around me. I felt angry back; I also felt absolutely heartbroken and disgusted. The actual brutality in how this practice affects not just the land itself but the people and the creatures who live here was all I could focus on as I stood there observing the the beauty around me, a beauty which emanated so strongly despite the sadness of the woods.

Later that afternoon, I stopped off for lunch. When I parked the van, a woman was getting into the car next to mine. She had a bumper sticker that read “I Love Mountains”.

“Are there any mountains left?” I asked her, nodding towards the sticker.

“Not for long at the pace they’re going,” she replied, the sadness evident in her voice.

Medora, ND

The distance from the parking lot to the comfort station was less than fifty feet, but by the time I got to the entrance of the building, I had seen at least three separate signs warning me not to try to touch the bison. Inside the restroom, there was another prominent sign, and by the time I made it out of the building and up to the main patch of land overlooking Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the number of bison warning signs I had seen had approached the point of repetitive absurdity.

Who in their right mind would try to touch a bison in the first place? I shook my head in amusement as I climbed up and looked out upon miles of badlands, the untouched wilderness peppered with picturesque herds of bison.

Then I noticed people out on the bluffs, trying to touch the bison.

And I realized that a dozen signs are no more effective than one or none or a hundred when it comes to overcoming the mentality of entitlement that so many feel in terms of our wild places and the creatures that inhabit them. I was furious, watching the display of utter ignorance and disrespect in front of me, not to mention the danger. Suddenly I had no desire to stay and explore this place.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Bison at Theodore Roosevelt national Park. Photo by Matt Reinbold.

Walking back, I remembered a talk I had seen by a Native woman who spoke of the prevalence and pervasiveness of ‘settler mentality,’ especially in the American West. I glanced around at the parking lot, at cars bearing the license plates of at least a dozen states and thought back to the bison and what I had just witnessed. That entitlement, that defiant exercise of blatant disrespect, right there was a painful example of the pervasive behavior that she had spoken of.

Rock Springs, WY

I’ll admit that there wasn’t much that caught my eye as I drove into Rock Springs, but I also wasn’t there for the scenery. I was there to pay my respects to the victims of the 1885 Rock Springs Massacre, where at least 28 Chinese immigrants were murdered and mutilated among an ugly backdrop of racism and greed. While the West is dotted with countless massacre sites, the Rock Springs Massacre had always stuck out in my mind as especially significant both in its barbarism and its political implications, and Rock Springs was one of the destinations that I had in mind from the very beginning of the trip.

My mistake was in assuming that there was a memorial.

I asked first at a gas station, and then I asked a few residents who had no idea what I was talking about at all. Eventually I came across the local history museum, where the man at the front desk embarrassingly assured me that there was no such memorial, although he “personally felt that there should be”.

I came here looking for something that did not exist, and the fact that it did not exist was extremely unsettling. Outside the museum, I watched the people walking to and from, realizing that they were mostly clueless about the horrifying carnage that once took place on these very streets.

I thought again of history and of colonization, and of the oft-repeated adage that history is written by the victors. I suppose that going to work each day is much easier when you’re completely unaware that there was once a massacre in the middle of your downtown. I suppose that to publicly recognize such a history would be more than a little inconvenient and uncomfortable, to say the very least.

The wind suddenly blew rather harshly as I stood there, and I could feel something extra in that wind. It was as though the land and the spirits themselves were screaming for recognition, screaming for justice.


I spent nearly six weeks on the road, visiting at least twenty states and traveling over 10,000 miles. When I finally got back, it took nearly as long to recover. I spent the next several months processing what I had taken in over the course of the trip. To this day, I find myself often drifting back to some of the people and places that I had come across along the way.

While I can’t say definitively that I found all the answers to my questions or discovered all I was looking for, it was an eye-opening and life-changing experience that greatly influenced my understandings and attitudes about this country, for better or for worse. Looking back, part of what I was searching for was a unifying energy, a linking thread of sorts that I never did find, but in not finding it I also came to see why it was not there in the first place.

More than anything, I came into and remained in touch with the anger and trauma of this land itself, one that is continuous throughout with so many of her wounds unacknowledged. That trauma, and the strong undercurrent of denial that feeds and sustains it, quietly expresses pain and consequences in ways that no history book could ever truly convey.

*   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth. 

It is official. This July Kentucky’s brand new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) will go into effect. The state’s legislature put its final stamp of approval on the bill when it overturned, by a wide margin, Governor Steve Beshear’s veto on March 26th.

Originally called House Bill 279 (HB279), Kentucky’s RFRA states:

Government shall not substantially burden a person’s freedom of religion. The right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief may not be substantially burdened unless the government proves by clear and convincing evidence that it has a compelling governmental interest in infringing the specific act or refusal to act and has used the least restrictive means to further that interest. A “burden” shall include indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, or an exclusion from programs or access to facilities. – Kentucky HB279 Draft as of 4-4-2013

At first glance this sounds great. The state of Kentucky cannot “burden” a person’s freedom to practice his or her religion or limit the right to act or to refuse to act due to “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Pagan children can miss school on Samhain. If one’s jury duty falls on Beltane, we can ask to be excused.

amish buggy

By Amy Sancetta, AP
Source: USA Today

Before everyone packs their bags and moves to Kentucky, let’s take a closer look. State Rep. Bob Damron, a conservative democrat from Nicholasville, sponsored HB279 after the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld a ruling concerning the Amish community. In 2008, nine Amish men were arrested after refusing to comply with a state law requiring reflective orange triangles on their buggies.

The local chapter of the ACLU defended these men stating that, “This case is about the right of Kentuckians to freely exercise their religious beliefs and by necessity the limits of government’s ability to impose a substantial burden on that right.”

However, when HB279 was brought before the legislature, the ACLU didn’t support it. On March 11, the organization stated, “though laudable in its purpose, the bill as currently drafted, would undermine existing civil rights protections in the Commonwealth.”

GovBeshear_5x7Governor Steve Beshear’s agreed. Upon vetoing the bill, he stated:

I appreciate the good intentions of House Bill 279… However, I have significant concerns that this bill will cause serious unintentional consequences that could threaten public safety, health care, and individuals’ civil rights… The bill will undoubtedly lead to costly litigation. 

HB279’s opponents fear that its language provides residents with the legal power to disregard state laws in the name of religion. Governor Beshears said, “Imprecise legal standards lead to unforeseen consequences.” He cites various areas where problems could arise including: civil rights, school curriculum standards, economic development efforts, public health initiatives and drug enforcement. For example, a science teacher might refuse to teach evolution or choose to teach creationism. Prayer could enter government meetings. The implications are endless.

Local Kentucky Priestess Nancie Clark of Spirit of the Earth Church said:

This law is deeply concerning to me on multiple levels and I am certain it is more than likely being pushed by those with their own religious agendas… I can foresee many fellow Kentuckian’s personal liberties being chipped away in subtle ways throughout pockets of this state. What saddens me is that many people here may not be aware of just how this law will affect them until of course something happens to them or someone they love.  

Oberon Osiris, co-Public Information Officer of Covenant of the Goddess’ Midwest Regional Local Council, echoed those sentiments adding “For Pagans and other minority religions, this law could create strained relationships and conflicts in the overall community.”

Priestess Nancie Clark

Priestess Nancie Clark

Specifically, opponents, like Priestess Clark, are concerned about the Fairness laws protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered citizens. HB279 could render these city-based ordinances completely useless. Priestess Clarks adds, “What’s to stop a teacher or other mentor from preaching to a gay teen the error of their ways according to scripture? This law helps to legalize bullying.”

Despite all objections, the bill’s supporters including Family Foundation of Kentucky, the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention, maintain the bill’s only goal is to protect religious liberty. State Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington said:

It wasn’t so long ago we had prayer in the schools, but they made us take it out… There have been attempts to take God out of everything. They want to take God out of the pledge of allegiance, can you believe that? You don’t think your religious freedom is under attack? Then maybe you do believe in a boogeyman….

But are Rep. Lee and the other supporters really concerned with protecting religious liberty? Or is this just a back-door attempt to re-establish government-sanctioned religious practices?

Interestingly, Kentucky isn’t the only state with an RFRA. In fact, in 1993, the Federal Government enacted its own RFRA which was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. Justice Stephens said:

In my opinion, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) is a “law respecting an establishment of religion” that violates the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Since 1993, 16 states have some form of RFRA and the Federal government has a new more restrictive version. Professor Christopher Lund of Wayne State University studied these laws in great detail and found them to be ineffective and unnecessary. His reports show that only three of the states (Florida, Illinois and Texas) have significant instances of litigation related to their RFRAs.

So why be concerned? Kentucky’s bill is touted as much broader in scope using “imprecise” language. In addition, Kentucky is proving to be a very conservative environment. Outside of this initiative that passed by a landslide. The state’s Department of Homeland Security requires all of its training materials to include the statement: “the safety and security of the commonwealth cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God.”

Kentucky State Seal

Kentucky State Seal

When it comes to RFRAs, there is always one  lingering question: Why bother? Isn’t religious freedom already guaranteed by both the Kentucky and U.S. Constitutions? As best expressed by Democratic state Rep. Darryl Owen, “This is a piece of legislation looking for a reason.”

As always, Lady Liberty League will be watching the situation closely. Selena Fox stated:

Religious Freedom is an important foundation for the United States. We need to be vigilant, guard it, preserve it, and uphold it. However, as part of this work, we also need to closely examine political crusades and legislation that are put forth in the name of “Religious Freedom.” Just because something is proclaimed to be about “Religious Freedom” does not make it so. It is an affront to Freedom to pass and implement laws, whatever they are called, that can permit religious dogma and opinion to override Liberty and Justice for All.

In less than 90 days, HB279 will become a law. Whether civil liberties will be trampled in the name of religious freedom has yet to be seen. All we can do is wait and see.


(Note: The 16 states with RFRAs include Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Rhode Island, Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina, Texas, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Utah and Tennessee.)

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.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

Just some quick updates on stories previously discussed here on The Wild Hunt.

More Discussion on Exorcism and Demonic Influences: Last week I took issue with Patheos Catholic columnist Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who made the argument that Aurora, Colorado killer James Holmes may have been demonically possessed. Now, Religion News Service has picked up the story, bringing this controversial view to a much wider audience.

“Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes — a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.”

Meanwhile, other Catholics, like’s Scott P. Richert, are doubling down on the demonic “infestation” scenario, referencing Ouija board use in the 1973 film “The Exorcist” as an accurate portrayal of how possession begins.

Troubling Expansion of the Ministerial Exception? At the beginning of this year I wrote about the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The ruling established that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist. Now, Religion Clause reports on two linked ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that says the exception applies even when faculty at a seminary aren’t even of the same religion.

“Because Kant’s primary duties involved teaching religious-themed courses at a seminary, his position was one that prepared students for Christian ministry…. Given his position as a faculty member teaching at a seminary, Kant’s personal views are not determinative of the function he served. Rather, we review the function of his position: teaching future Christian ministers primarily on Judeo-Christian subjects and culture. Kant’s personal faith and beliefs do not clash with the actuality that the classes he taught at LTS were for the purpose of preparing future church leaders of the Christian faith.”

So a Jew can be considered a “minister” of a Christian seminary, so long as his role supports the institution’s goals. One wonders how this interpretation could be abused by organizations who want to evade litigation over a firing. More on this particular story, here.

The Olympics and Religion (and those dualistic Greeks): I recently linked to two articles that looked at the ancient (pagan) history of the Olympic games, now underway in London. Now, USA Today spotlights an editorial by Pastor Henry Brinton that also looks at religion and the games, specifically the Christians history of the modern games, and how “muscular Christianity” saved us from the dualism of the ancient Greeks.

“Ancient Greeks are partially to blame. While they provided the inspiration for the modern Games, they also created a dualistic philosophy that included antagonism between the physical and spiritual. Christians embraced this approach for many years, until muscular Christianity came along and people began to reclaim the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. […] As for the Olympics, perhaps the opening ceremonies should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations. Most of the world’s great faiths honor both body and spirit, and encourage health and vitality. This would correct the error made by the ancient Greeks, and would pay tribute to the religious leaders who made the modern Olympics possible. It could even inspire a few religious people to get off the couch and into the gym.”

I wish I could stamp a giant “citation needed” on these claims, because it sounds like revisionist triumphalism to me. Ancient Greeks may have believed in a physical world and a world of spirit, but that didn’t create an antagonism between the two realities. It sounds to me like Christians blaming Greek philosophy for their own shortcomings in how they adopted and adapted pagan thought. I’ll leave it to my philosophy and ancient Greece buffs to let me know if my suspicions are correct, or if Greek dualism really did create this antagonism Brinton claims.

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

Talking Points Memo reports that Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, up for reelection next week, has come under attack from his opponent, Senate President David Williams, from a surprising angle: idolatry. You see, Beshear attended a a groundbreaking ceremony for Indian company FlexFilm, and during that ceremony a traditional Hindu blessing was performed.

Gov. Steve Beshear

Gov. Steve Beshear

“Gov. Steve Beshear sat cross legged on a white cushion for an hour in what may be the first bhoomi poojan ceremony held in Kentucky. He hopes it’s not the last, the governor said Friday at a celebration of the Flex Films (USA) Inc. investment in Elizabethtown. […]  For more than an hour, guests observed the traditional Indian blessing through a haze created by burning incense and a ceremonial fire. A handful of participants, including Beshear and Elizabethtown Mayor Tim Walker, sat cross legged and shoeless on cushions while a priest chanted Hindu prayers. At the end of the ground blessing, participants shoveled the newly blessed earth into a hole in the center of the pit.”

You can watch a video of the ceremony, here. It seems Williams isn’t happy with Beshear sitting in fellowship with the Hindus, intimating that a Christian Kentucky governor shouldn’t involve themselves in “polytheistic situations.”

“If I’m a Christian, I don’t participate in Jewish prayers. I’m glad they do that. I don’t participate in Hindu prayers. I don’t participate in Muslim prayers. I don’t do that. To get down and get involved and participate in prayers to these polytheistic situations, where you have these Hindu gods that they are praying to, doesn’t appear to me to be in line with what a governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky ought to be doing.

Apparently being an honored guest a Hindu ritual makes you a polytheist by default. According to Williams you “disrespect other peoples’ religion when you go down there” (ie sit on a cushion during a blessing ceremony) and that Beshear’s Baptist grandfathers “wouldn’t be very pleased” with him. Beshear’s campaign spokesman responded saying the attack was “pathetic and desperate,” and that he is “proud that 250 new jobs are coming to Elizabethtown.”

If we’re going to split theological hairs, where exactly is the line between attendance and participation?  If a secular political leader is invited to sit with Hindus during a blessing ceremony, instead of at a theologically imprecise safe distance, does that mean he’s worshiping Hindu gods? Or does it simply mean that he’s showing support for job creation during a recession? Keep in mind that this is the same governor who obtained tax credits for a to-scale replica of Noah’s Ark (much to the derision of the left), so I doubt he’s suddenly gone polytheist on us. Williams says he isn’t showing disrespect to Hindus with his comments, but when you treat a religion like a contaminant that will tarnish you if you get too close I can’t see how one wouldn’t take some offense. Also, even if Williams is correct, and Gov. Beshear is now an idolator, why would that disqualify him in any way for political office? I thought the state of one’s soul is a personal matter, not a talking point during a campaign.

ADDENDUM: The Hindu American Foundation has released a statement.

“The words of Sen. Williams are not only an affront to Hindu Americans, but all Americans as he conjures up the lowest sentiments of exclusion and bigotry. ” said Suhag Shukla, Esq., HAF’s Managing Director and Legal Counsel. “He’s shown he’s ignorant and intolerant — two qualities that we hope Kentuckyians will reject at the polls.” […] “While it is necessary to condemn Senator Williams’ intolerant comments, it is equally important to congratulate Governor Beshear and Mayor Tim Walker for respecting America’s religious diversity by participating in the ceremony,” said Samir Kalra, Esq., HAF’s Director and Senior Fellow for Human Rights. “Their actions epitomize our nation’s great traditions of religious tolerance and pluralism, and they should be celebrated.”

It should be interesting to see if Sen. Williams will walk back his remarks, or double down.

Just a few quick news notes for you this Saturday.

Subcultural Red Light Districts: The aptly-named city of Banning, California is looking to adopt changes to its zoning codes, targeting certain kinds of businesses.

“Under the proposed development standards, tattoo and body-piercing parlors, hookah and smoking lounges and businesses that specialize in fortunetelling or occult arts would be kept away from schools and parks, residential neighborhoods and businesses that sell alcohol and adult merchandise. Their hours of operation would be limited. Someone who wants to open this type of business in Banning would have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city. Such permits cost $4,779 and have to be approved by the Planning Commission.”

They are, in essence, working to make sure no-one opens a tattoo parlor, occult shop, or smoking parlor in any place where people might congregate. They can’t even open near an “adult” book shop! This is how you ban certain kinds of businesses without actually banning them, make the barriers so high few can surmount them. It remains to be seen if singling out such businesses like this is legal, or will hold up to litigation. The city council is scheduled to take up the matter on Jan. 25, 2011.

Teaching Vodou: The Lexington Herald-Leader interviews history professor Jeremy Popkin about his class “Haiti in the Modern World”, which includes a section on the religion of Vodou. According to Popkin, the class was a way for the campus to discuss and explore Haiti after it came to international attention during the January earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince. The paper also interviews Vodou scholar Leslie Brice about the oft-misunderstood faith.

There is a movement to create a centralized way to share information about voodoo. There is now a federation of voodoo practitioners in Haiti. But efforts to alter what for hundreds of years has been a religion passed down as an oral tradition have encountered resistance, said independent voodoo scholar Leslie Brice, who spoke at UK earlier this fall. Some of the resistance is because people fear the religion will be mocked by those who don’t really understand it, Brice said. Voodoo is often portrayed in popular culture, especially movies, as a singularly dark force, said Brice, who is studying to be a voodoo priestess. But, she said, it really is a religion centered on healing. When slaves were first brought to Haiti they came with “nothing except for what was in their minds and hearts,” she said. The religious traditions they brought with them were crucial to their survival, she said.

In a culture that often depicts Vodou as a detriment to Haiti’s future, and often only reports on it when something horrific happens, classes like these are vitally needed to educate people as to Vodou’s true nature and legacy. Classes like these, along with an emerging “Vodou voice”, may be essential to preserving this faith at a time when Haiti is in serious crisis.

Saving the Wicker Man Library: The Whithorn Library, the front of which was featured in 1973 cult classic film The Wicker Man, is in danger of being closed down due to government austerity measures. Jan Cole, and other campaigners, are trying to rally support to stop the historic library from being shut down.

The "Wicker Man" Library

“The library is part of the famous Wickerman Trail which popular with tourist fans as well as, surprisingly, stag parties who have been known to turn up in fancy dress. Occasionally fans will be seen to re-enact the film, or take a rubbing of the plaque outside.”

A sit-in protest was held last week, and there already seems to be some response from local government. Hopefully this site will be spared, not only because it was in a cult film that many of us love, but because libraries are wonderful things that should be honored and protected! You can keep track of the campaign at their official Facebook group.

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

Top Story: If you’ve been following the legal saga of Wiccan chaplain Patrick McCollum, who is fighting to have California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy overturned, you’re going to want to listen to Anne Hill’s hour-long radio discussion with McCollum concerning the case.

“Today I sat in for my friend and colleague Peter Laufer on his Sunday morning KOWS radio show, which gave me the opportunity to interview Patrick on the air about his case. If you have not educated yourself about the case and what is at stake, now is your chance to listen to Patrick explain it in his own words.”

If you aren’t already outraged by this case, you may well be after hearing this interview. You can listen via an audio stream at Anne’s site, or download an MP3 of the entire discussion. For my complete coverage of this case, click here.

In Other News:

Starhawk in Milwaukee: OnMilwaukee interviews Pagan activist and author Starhawk on the occasion of her visit for a series of talks and workshops at a local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

“When I talk or give workshops I try to provide a sense of hope or empowerment regarding what can be done on a personal level, so we’re listening and learning how to be an advocate on a larger level. And how to make our voices heard. But most of all, we create ritual and sacred space and hopefully people walk away feeling like they had a lot of fun.”

Starhawk also discusses her new children’s book, and why connecting with the natural world is important. For a regular dose of Starhawk-related content, check out her personal blog, and her ongoing participation as a panelist at the On Faith site.

Entering the “ex” Industry: After mentioning professional “ex” William Schnoebelen (he’s an ex-Wiccan/Satanist/Mason/Mormon/Vampire) in Saturday’s post about vampires, I’ve come across another looking to get into the “ex” business, Kristine McGuire, who’s releasing a new book entitled “Escaping the Cauldron”.

“What would prompt a woman who had been a Christian for twenty-nine years to abandon her faith and embrace the occult; becoming a witch, medium, and ghost hunter for eight years?  Escaping the Cauldron: What You Should Know about the Occult details the personal journey of Kristine McGuire and how God restored her to faith in Jesus Christ. The book also examines the current upswing of interest in the paranormal and its effect on Christians. The first book in the Escaping the Cauldron series, this book will give the reader insight into the occult from the vantage point of a former insider.”

McGuire’s “hook” is that she wasn’t a Wiccan, but was instead a “Christian Witch” and ghost hunter who has now seen the light and is going steady with Jesus. In all honesty, McGuire seems like a nice enough person. She doesn’t tell giant lies about Pagan faiths like Schnoebelen and other “ex” authors do, but she’s yet another person hoping to sell her experience with the occult, and parlay that into speaking engagements and, I assume, a career as a professional “ex”. I do question her assertion that she was an “insider” to our culture, as it seem rather plain from her writings that she stayed on the margins, but perhaps that’s just copy to sell more books. Oh, and her site disables right-clicking and copying text, which is really annoying, and isn’t the protection against copyright infringement some seem to think it is.

James Arthur Ray Update: The New Age guru who led a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge that ended up killing three people, and who is now in custody after being charged with three counts of manslaughter, claims that he’s broke and can’t pay the $5 million dollar bail.

“Despite misconceptions perpetrated in the media, Mr. Ray is not a man of significant assets and certainly not the millions reported in the press,” his attorneys wrote in documents obtained by The Associated Press from the court. The documents are now officially sealed. Ray himself has touted his wealth and success in numerous media interviews and on his Web site, including an estimated $10 million in revenue in 2009 and a seven-figure advance for his book, “Harmonic Wealth” that hit the New York Times Best Sellers List in May 2008.

The article points out that Ray’s company “James Ray International” is not listed as an asset, and it’s very likely he could be using the business as a shield for the sizable wealth he claims to have amassed (and now claims doesn’t exist) over the years. Whether a judge buys the “poor Ray” argument and lowers his bail remains to be seen.

Bible Study: In a final note, Kentucky is moving to join Texas and Tennessee in establishing guidelines for elective Bible literacy courses in public schools. While supporters of the new guidelines say it would teach the Bible as a “historical document”, and would not proselytize, comments from sponsoring lawmakers paint an entirely different scenario.

“Sen. Elizabeth Tori, R-Radcliff, told co-sponsors Boswell and Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, that “an angel was sent down on your shoulders” prompting “you to put this bill together.” “I‘ve said for many years that until we put God back into our households, things in society will not change for the better,” Tori said. “Your bill is the first step to that change.” The measure passed 12-0, but comments by the bill’s co-sponsor, and other senators prompted concern from a few committee members.”

Personally, they can have their elective “Bible literacy” courses so long as they also institute an elective “Classics literacy” course that would teach kids about Homer, Plato, Socrates, Greek history, and other enriching topics. These would be taught as “historical texts” naturally, and I doubt it would lead kids to become polytheists, or major in philosophy. In fact, didn’t restoring the classics to the curriculum used to be a conservative action item? I guess that was before Bible fever hit the movement.

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