Archives For Kirk White

The Satanic Temple logoTALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA –The Satanic Temple struck another blow for religious equality when it secured the right to erect a Satanic holiday display in Florida’s capitol. It will sit alongside a display celebrating the birth of Jesus, the noodly appendages of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and a pole marking Festivus. This is the same Satanic organization that has previously offered to make a bronze statue of Baphoment for the Oklahoma capitol, announced it would distribute Satanic literature to Florida schoolchildren, and performed same-sex weddings over the grave of Fred Phelps’ mother. Reviled by stalwart Christians and mistrusted by other Satanists, The Satanic Temple invariably makes a media splash when it comments on the separation of church and state.

So many Pagans have spent time either rehearsing or actually having conversations explaining how Paganism differs from Satanism. Therefore it is no surprise that The Satanic Temple has received negative reactions from Pagans. But is there anything this group can teach Pagans about public relations or defending religious freedom?

To find out, we first asked how this organization relates to Pagans, if at all. The spokesperson for the temple, who goes by the name Lucien Greaves, explained that there’s always been a bit of push back from Pagans:

It happens less now — probably because of our apparent successes — but in the beginning, we would receive occasional messages from Pagans and Atheists, both concerned that our activities were attaching their own values or symbols to a caricature of ultimate evil. The concern seems to be that, by invoking Satanism, we serve to justify the worst fears born of superstitious bigotry.

The notion that we should coddle such divisive witch-hunting impulses by maintaining a taboo against Satanism is, I feel, a completely backward approach. In fact, there is a culture of Satanism, culled from various elements, including Pagan symbols. The identification with Satanism isn’t arbitrary to the point that we feel it could simply be exchanged for a more palatable label. Satan symbolizes unsilenced inquiry, rebellion against tyranny, and personal freedom.

For a Pagan, or any other minority religion, to openly engage in efforts to distance themselves from Satanism serves only to affirm the misguided notion that Satanism stands for cruelty, abject depravity, and unabashed evil. As Satan, mythologically, stands in opposition to the Biblical God’s authority, Satanism too is feared to challenge Biblical doctrines of faith. To concede that such opposition must, by its nature, be corrupt and criminal is to conversely affirm that traditional religious institutions hold a monopoly on moral virtue.

In fact, we feel our campaigns embrace the highest of moral callings — from gay rights, to women’s rights, to the protection of children against institutionalized abuse. In each of these cases, we fight against regressive mainstream religious thinking. I think that by embracing Satanism, we represent another phase in our civilization’s social growth. This is another step toward ensuring that each individual is judged for his or her actual actions in the real world, free of fear from persecution for symbolic crimes and/or “blasphemy.” If our past has taught us anything, it’s that the most cruel and evil acts are committed not at the hands of secret religious minorities, but by the witch-hunters whose paranoia allows them to imagine such minorities are willfully acting against the common good.

With that background, we asked a few Pagans and Polytheists the following question. What can Pagans learn from The Satanic Temple? It turns out that they had a lot to say.

Author and activist T. Thorn Coyle recognizes the activism in the temple’s work:

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

The Satanic Temple is approaching the public square head on, with no apologies. I appreciate that. Their take on things is, “OK. Religious materials in schools? Here’s an educational children’s book that we are handing out. You ruled that it was fine,” and, “Monumental religious statues at the state capitol? Here is one of our own.” They are also mobilizing around issues such as reproductive rights and the rights of children to not suffer corporal punishment.

The Satanic Temple are unapologetically themselves and move ahead by assuming they already have the same civil rights as other religions. In approaching the public sphere in this way, they serve to highlight where the real cracks in the wall of “separation of church and state” are. The Satanic Temple, by acting forthrightly, are taking a hammer and chisel to those cracks. For this, I applaud them.

Philosopher Hannah Arendt spoke of the need to become ‘conscious pariahs’ rather than parvenues (assimilationists) or pariahs outcast by society. The conscious pariah rejects and directly challenges the status quo, not from petulant rebellion, but because the status quo is corrupt. There is great power in choosing to be a conscious pariah. I see some Pagan groups wishing to be “just like everyone else” and that can take away some of the power and bite we have in not being like everyone else. The role of the conscious challenger is important to society. I think that Pagans could take some lessons from the ways the Satanic Temple are issuing their challenges and refusing to assimilate. They are acting from their power, rather than begging for it or giving it away.

Their most recent holiday display, though? I find it offensive. Why? It’s bad art.

Kirk White, author and (now unaffiliated) founder of Cherry Hill Seminary also appreciates that The Satanic Temple is true to its path:

Rev. Kirk White

Rev. Kirk White

I have long been an advocate for Pagans walking a middle path. On the one hand, I think it behooves and benefits us to resist being cast as ‘other, outcast, the antithesis of normal.’ On the other hand we absolutely must retain our integrity and not sell out those features of our beliefs and practices that define and distinguish us just to gain respectability and acceptance. And of course, we must always be willing to stand up against institutional oppression.

What the Satanic Temple is doing greatly benefits religious freedom across the spectrum and Pagans should support those and similar efforts. Their outrageous, funny, ‘in your face’ approach is proving effective. But they do so purposefully building on their otherness and with no expectation of being accepted or even taken seriously as a religion. Their social power is in their marginality and their oppositional approach. If Pagans decide to replicate their ‘in your face’ approach we allow the overculture to define us in contrast to themselves rather on our own unique qualities and merits. We become the enemy rather than the neighbors. We should support them, but I do not believe that we should replicate their methods.

Boeotian polytheist and Neo-Cyrenaic Ruadhán J McElroy would like to see more people pushing boundaries:

Ruadhán J McElroy

Ruadhán J McElroy

I pretty much only know the highly publicized activities of The Satanic Temple, but from that alone, I think between that and the later, philosophy-focused writings of LaVey, it would do the Pagan Community, and all pagans, polytheists, and others involved in alternative religion, a lot of good to do more questioning of the status quo and pushing boundaries of both society and oneself. Sometimes comfort zones exist for a reason, but a lot of times we construct them as a crutch, which does us no good.

If a person who can walk chooses to instead live in a wheelchair, their muscles atrophy and they come to need extensive physical therapy to be able to walk again, and if a wheelchair bound person doesn’t get certain physical therapies and daily time in a standing frame, they open themselves up to all sorts of health issues, from muscle spasms to potentially fatal blood clots. With my chronic back pain, you have no idea how much I want to just give up and get a wheelchair, some days, but if I can at all walk through the pain, I make myself cos it’s better for me to walk than to not. Since we clearly need to do physical things every day that push our boundaries, lest we risk atrophy or worse, we also have to push our boundaries mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and of the culture we are in. Or as the Cyreniacs might say, sometimes you gotta make a little rough motion to make a big smooth motion.

It’s good that The Satanic Temple is willing to push those boundaries of the culture in such a public way, though I wish I could say at this point that I’m disappointed that I’ve not seen as many pagans and polytheists doing similar –I’m too used to pagans (and especially Pagans) who are content with the status quo and too fearful of rocking any boats, even if someone set the starboard on fire and you gotta douse it (like what’s been going on in Missouri), to be disappointed in pagans, anymore.

Ritualist and speaker Shauna Aura Knight thinks it’s worth learning how The Satanic Temple handles the media:

Shauna Aura Knight

Shauna Aura Knight

The Satanic Temple effectively uses shock and the legal system to their advantage. There are few Pagan groups out there with much media savvy, and fewer still able bankroll lawyers. I have a background in marketing work, and I’d say that The Satanic Temple is cleverly using the fact that many people think that Satanists are about the worst thing ever. Specifically, they’re using the outrage to call attention to infringements on the separation between church and state.

It’s pretty clear that the dominant religions want those infringements—so long as it’s their own religion. When TST introduces themselves into that infringement they appall people. It’s incredibly effective tactic as an activist. You want prayers before city council meetings… religious holiday scenes…statuary at public buildings? You want to give out religious texts at school? You want your religion to provide a legal loophole supporting your beliefs on contraception and abortion?

Ok. Then Satanists can do that too. People rarely see a problem with the status quo until provoked.

This strategy of contrast doesn’t work quite as well for Pagans because most Pagans have been trying hard to put out the PR that we’re not that bad, we’re good people. Satanists don’t seem afraid of their own bad press and use it to further their goals.

However, Pagans can still effect the same legal pressuring which could provoke the, “If I have to include you, then we just won’t have any prayers at all.” However, that still requires us to have professional media and PR folks as well as lawyers on retainer.

What we can learn from The Satanic Temple is that with trained media professionals and a legal budget, we too can combat the system. TST understands a strategic aspect of activism; sometimes you have to play the legal game. TST grasps the rules of the system and is willing to exploit those rules and find the loopholes. We can do this too with enough budget and expertise.

Knight’s comments about being able to “bankroll lawyers” was not a unique sentiment, but Greaves says it’s not entirely deserved.

Our cadre of lawyers (from Americans United for the Separation of Church and State) representing us in Florida were pro bono, working for us at no charge, simply because they believed strongly in our position. To be clear, it would be a mistake to think that these lawyers were motivated by the prospect of receiving compensation in the form of monetary damages from the lawsuit. In fact, we weren’t seeking monetary damages at all, only to secure the right to place our holiday display in the Capitol Rotunda. And this, largely, is how we’ve managed to get so many things done: our campaigns have resonated deeply with people who support our positions, to the point that they will volunteer their efforts, even if many of them don’t care to identify as Satanists themselves.

In the case of the Baphomet monument, we crowd-funded around $30k through Indiegogo, after which we found an amazing sculptor who was willing to work on the project at-cost. Even with that solid foundation, the monument ended up costing 10s of thousands more. I, and the other core membership of The Satanic Temple, have consistently put significant amounts of our own money into our campaigns. It seems we’re always scraping up the bottom dollar to push things through, but we keep moving forward. Despite the heavy burden this imposes, we think that the imposition of dues for religious affiliation is inappropriate. We sell merchandise in hopes of generating revenue toward our campaigns, but this hasn’t proven lucrative by any means. We clearly have the beginnings of some enormous legal battles now in the works, for which we have set up a legal fund.

As for Greaves’ advice for Pagans talking to the media, he recommends, “Stay on point and control the dialogue. Don’t be pulled into superfluous and irrelevant arguments. If you’re asked an unreasonable question, simply answer with whatever message you wish to put forward, whether it addresses the question in any way or not.” He might file all questions about theology under ‘unreasonable,’ because he also says, “Move away from meticulously describing what it is you believe and practice. Your material has long been publicly available to the genuinely curious. You simply do not have to justify your religious perspective to anybody to assert your rights as equally regarded citizen[s].”

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Aquarian Tabernacle Church (a Wiccan tradition/church) has sent out a press release concerning new developments regarding the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. The online school is getting a makeover, and gaining a new vice-president and administrator.

“The Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, given degree granting authority by Washington state in 1999, is having a face lift this spring … In addition, WSTS proudly announces the appointment of Kirk White as interim Vice President and Administrator of the Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary. White, a well known Wiccan author and respected High Priest, is co-founder of the National Association of Pagan Schools and Seminaries, a past co-National First Officer of Covenant of the Goddess, North America’s oldest and largest association of Witches and Wiccans. White also founded and served for 10 years as President of Cherry Hill Seminary. In 2006, Wildhunt.org named him one of the “25 most influential modern living Pagans today”. Since 2007 he has served as a consultant to new and established Pagan seminaries across the United States and we are pleased to have him working with us.”

Bringing Kirk White onboard seems like a move for WSTS to gain some more credibility as a Pagan seminary, though that might be hampered by the fact that the school’s dean is Belladonna “Wife Swap” Thompson. It should also be noted that “degree granting authority” isn’t the same thing as accreditation. So always check to see who exactly your teachers are, and what qualifications they have to be teaching you the subject at hand. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am on the BOD of Cherry Hill Seminary, but I have no particular animus or rivalry with WSTS.

When is “witchcraft” our “Witchcraft”? By that I mean, what do journalists and authors like Bob Morgan mean when they say a young woman was kidnapped and initiated by a “a coven of witches”? A South Alabama paper reports on the e-publication of a book by one of their reporters concerning a young woman who claims to have been held hostage for years by a Californian “coven” called “The Brotherhood”.

“At the age of 15, Nikki Russo checked into a California hospital for treatment of an eating disorder. It was in this hospital that she was eventually abducted by a nurse, initiated into a coven of witches and thrown into a dark world filled with drugs, alcohol, abuse and intimidation. Nikki Russo hopes The Pomegranate Seed will be a warning to readers not to take anything for granted where cherished institutions are concerned. Today, Russo’s story and struggle to recovery is chronicled in the new book The Pomegranate Seed — Nikki Russo’s Sojourn Through Institutional Failure and the World of the Occult.”

Morgan is apparently sensitive to accusations of “Satanic Panic” since he first reported on Nikki Russo, and claims that the book is filled with legal documents and depositions. However, neither the initial 2007 report by Morgan, or the 2009 piece on his subsequent book, goes into any detail as to what exactly this “Brotherhood” was practicing, and how they are linked with California’s occult community. This lack of detail is all explained as a way to honor the victim, but it also denies us any clear notion as to what this group was. I have no doubt that Russo was abused if she says she was, I’m just skeptical concerning how “witchy” these “witches” were.

World of Wonder shares with us some “homo history” in the form of ancient examples of same-sex marriage.

As Africa was the birthplace of civilization it should come as no surprise to find that the earliest known reference to same-sex marriage in history can also be found there. Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep were royal manicurists in the court of Pharaoh Niuserre during Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. The artwork in their tomb leaves no doubt that they were viewed as a couple. The men are depicted in near constant embrace. They are shown with their noses touching (the most intimate embrace permitted in Egyptian art of the time, a form of kissing). Even their names speak to the intensity of their bond. When the names Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep are put together, it translates into “joined in life and joined in death.”

Just goes to show you that there is nothing new under the sun, and that different cultures and times had different reactions to same-sex relations. To claim a singular constant for legal and social public bonds is myopic at best and revisionist at worst.

I understand that some people don’t like Barack Obama, but the intense white-hot loony anger he invokes in some people is just plain amusing (when it isn’t frightening). A recent letter published in a Virginia newspaper now compares our “Marxist” president with Pagan hero Julian the Apostate!

“God has given America her very own 21st century ‘Julian the Apostate’, better known as the Marxist, Barack Obama. Now before any of Obama’s supporters hastily come to his defense, consider the fact that his ideologies are blatantly Marxist, yet, he is not alone in his Marxist tendencies … If the reports of Obama’s Marxist passion were not enough to wake up the Christian community to the fearful danger of a ‘Julian Administration’, the issues of abortion and homosexuality should have made it crystal clear that professing Christians should not accept such an individual as the leader of America. The community of Christendom should have rejected such a blasphemer out of hand. Yet, for the sake of party, race, historical precedence or simply a hatred for the prior administration, those Christians professing allegiance to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe have grossly erred in their judgment, and along with hypocrites, heathens and traitors are responsible for destroying the roots of traditional American Christianity … At the outset of the Obama administration, a vicious war was declared against both Christ and all those that call themselves by His Name. Even now many of those Christians who supported him initially are finding themselves the target of his wrath. His goal is, and always was, the eradication of Christianity through government policies aimed at solidifying a Marxist, Totalitarian, immoral Statist order. This is nothing short of fascism.”

Ah! I love the smell of paranoid conspiracy theories in the morning, it smells like victory. Somehow I doubt Obama is going to “eradicate” Christianity, but if paranoid pastors keep invoking Flavius Claudius Julianus, they may not like what his spirit (once called) will do. This is the fellow who wrote “Against the Gallileans” after all.

In a final note, since yesterday was Earth Day plenty of reporters were out looking for a religious angle. These ranged from those who interviewed Pagans about their connection to the Earth, to snarky bloggers mocking right-wing hysteria that Earth Day was a conspiracy to get red-blooded Christian Americans to start worshipping Gaia.

“Earth Day, Green Week, Global Warming, Cap and Trade, Radical Environmentalism, Gaiaism. These and similar beliefs are rapidly becoming a state sponsored religion. This is a worldwide religion, not just an American movement. The end goal of this religion is to halt the industrial and economic advance of man, and to make man subserviant to Gaia, the earth as a living super-organism: Earth as God.”

I can’t believe our super-secret conspiracy to slowly re-paganize the Earth has been discovered! Curses! Foiled again! How will we ever spread our plans for a worldwide religion based on a living super-organism now!

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 30, 2008 — 1 Comment

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Vancouver Sun looks at how colleges in Canada are adapting to the changing realities of our religiously diverse society.

“At Carleton University and the University of Western Ontario, the official calendar listing holy days when students can be excused from classes or exams includes those central to Wicca and Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion that originated in Iran and is now estimated to have about 200,000 members worldwide … In an effort to serve students’ spiritual needs, the University of Toronto counts two pagans, two Hindus, two Buddhists and a First Nations spiritual leader among more than 20 chaplains associated with the new multi-faith centre that opened last year. It features half a dozen prayer, meeting and worship rooms, says director Richard Chambers, along with facilities for foot-washing and a de-pressurized space that allows for fire and incense during worship ceremonies.”

The University of Toronto’s Pagan chaplains are Brian Walsh, who serves Celtic and reconstructionist groups on campus, and Catherine Starr, who serves the Wiccan community there. So if your thinking of going to college in Canada, this article is practically a guide for potential Pagan students.

A South African teen who killed a classmate with a sword and blamed it on Satan has brought forth the old “Satanic Panic” peddlers.

“[Pastor of Destiny Harvest Church in Umhlanga, Marc] Bredenkamp, who has been helping children involved in Satanism for the past 20 years and has housed recovering witches, said Satanic groups operated on fear and people could not get out because the group threatens to kill their family or do something to them. Apart from numerous death threats and attacks from Satanic groups, Bredenkamp recalled the time his eight-year-old son was abducted by Satanists. He said they threatened to kill his son and wanted him to offer his life in exchange for his son’s. He approached the young girl who had abducted his son and began praying for her. In so doing, he helped expel the evil spirits from her.”

“Uncle Marc” is a classic Satanic Panic con-man who used to be a part of the now-disbanded South African Police Service Occult Unit, and loves to warn of the dangers of heavy metal (and wearing black clothing). Bredenkamp is no doubt enjoying the renewed media attention, though he is “disappointed” that schools no longer tolerate his nonsense.

The Danville Commercial News in Illinois reports on the Correllian tradition Lustration ceremonies taking place this weekend in Rossville.

“[Rev. Don] Lewis conducts the ceremony, but a First Elder — a woman from Danville — performs the actual Lustration blessing. During the ceremony, Lewis also invokes an oracle, which means he receives a prophecy or message from the ancestors. Messages may involve events taking place in the next year or next few years. Some messages might talk about emotions.”

This event of “purification and blessing” will also highlight a new clothing line entitled “Wycked Velvet” (not to be confused with the similarly-named erotica web site).

While I’m on the subject of central Illinois, my former employer, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is featuring an exhibit on the paranormal and occult sciences at its Main Library.

“…the occult collection contains more than 16,000 items relating to occult sciences and parapsychology and was originally endowed by Merten J. Mandeville in 1966, a retiring professor of commerce. Not all the items that are part of the exhibit today were around when the collection started, but it continues to grow. “(The exhibit) is everything ‘X-Files,'” said JoAnn Jacoby, former selector for the Merten J. Mandeville collection. “It includes works on paranormal phenomena, werewolves, the possibility for occult powers, witchcraft, astrology and 19th century spiritualism,” she said.”

For more information about UIUC’s occult book collection, check out The Merten J. Mandeville Collection in the Occult Sciences’ web site.

Greek Pagan group Ellinais (aka The Holy Association of Greek Ancient Religion Believers) is planning to hold a service to Athena at the Acropolis this Sunday to protest the removal of statues and ask the goddess to protect the sacred site.

“Peppa’s Athens-based group, Ellinais, is campaigning to revive ancient religion and has defied Culture Ministry bans to hold prayers at several ancient temples. She said she would not seek state permission for the ceremony, to be held near the ancient Parthenon temple, built between 447-432 B.C. in honor of Athena. ‘We will just sing three hymns. It won’t be a big ceremony,’ Peppa said. ‘I don’t know how many of us will be there. People are afraid. The fact is that we are subject to religious persecution.'”

It was only in 2006 that Ellinais was granted the legal right to exist in the Orthodox-controlled country. There is still great resistance to the group, and they have had to partake in civil disobedience in order to worship at the old sacred sites.

The Delaware News Journal interviews Cherry Hill Seminary co-founder Kirk White at the sixth annual Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival.

“[Pagans] having outgrown the stages he called “forming and storming,” paganism now is “norming,” or becoming like some religions. Although pagans may continue to believe in magic, he said, “if we’re not careful, we’ll become the big white circle on Main Street where all the pews face forward.” He urged listeners to be of service — whether their calling is dance, music, drumming, ministry or filling out paperwork for government agencies so events such as the festival can take place.”

Also interviewed is author and Wiccan elder Ivo Dominguez Jr., who helped organize the event.

That is all I have for now. Have a great day!