Archives For L.A.W.

Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, is finally seeing a limited release in American theaters  this weekend after achieving financial and critical success in Europe last year. American reviews are starting to trickle in, here’s A. O. Scott from the New York Times.

“Mr. Amenábar, working from an insightful script that he wrote with Mateo Gil, focuses on two moments when the ancient culture war reached a fever pitch and shows that no group is entirely innocent of violence and intolerance. Whoever is in power tries to preserve it by fair means or foul, and whoever wants power uses brutality to acquire it. So in the first half of the film the insurgent Christian mob draws pagan blood, and the beleaguered pagan elite, including Theon and Orestes, meets the threat with savagery.”

Other American reviews can be found at Movieline and Vanity Fair. Here’s pictures from a special screening at NYC’s MOMA on Wednesday. So check with your local art-house theater and see if they’ll be getting it.

So Far So Good For Pagan Festival In Livingston: The much-discussed Memorial weekend Pagan festival in Livingston Parish, Louisiana is now underway, and other than a minor incident of vandalism, there don’t seem to be any major problems.

“Cliff Eakin, owner of Gryphon’s Nest campground on Bull Run Road, said he expected the bulk of the weekend’s participants to arrive today. Eakin said he had one instance of vandalism by teenagers on the campground’s sign, so he hired security personnel to protect participants in the weekend celebration … The event that started Friday night was scheduled to run through Monday. Perry Rushing, chief of operations of the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office, said he had met with Eakin, the operator of the campground, and was assured that the event would consist of people practicing their religion and would not involve anything illegal. “We have no interest in that,” Rushing said.”

Rushing, who initially said he “vehemently opposed” a Pagan festival in his Parish, now says he doesn’t expect any problems. Let’s hope he’s right, and the locals realize that the world didn’t end simply because a bunch of Pagans decided to congregate in their Parish for a weekend of camping and celebrating.

Is Alternative Right, Wrong? Nick Pell of the socialist-oriented Red Star Times, and one of the former masterminds behind Key23 and Key64 (and now Esozone), puts the spotlight on the conservative “radical traditionalist” site Alternative Right.

“My first subject of study is Alternative Right, a particularly noxious website that brands itself as “radical traditionalist.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, radical traditionalist is a term used by hipsters, goths and faux-erudite who espouse fascist ideology but want a term with more intellectual cache. Radical traditionalist favorites include Oswald Spengler, Julius Evola and Alain de Benoist. Associated (allegedly) political movements include Eurasianism, metapolitics, third positionism and national anarchism. Alternative right is an exemplar of radical traditionalism and fascism in as much as it begins with hatred of minorities, women and the working class and proceeds to construct a bizarre mish-mash of gobbledygook as “ideology” after the fact.”

My readers may remember my own foray into the world of Alternative Right when I covered their interview with Asatru leader Stephen McNallen (here’s McNallen’s response to that article). There definitely seems to be some nasty elements hiding within some of the rhetoric at Alternative Right, especially their sympathetic coverage of the National Anarchists, who really do seem to be neo-fascist in orientation. I do think one can be a radical traditionalist (at least as some people define it) without being a racist or a crypto-fascist, but you certainly can’t do it while tolerating and including those elements in your “big tent”.

Reviewing the Chaplains Under Fire: Pagan author and poet Erynn Rowan Laurie, who writes for the PNC blog Warriors & Kin, has an in-depth review up at Patheos of the documentary “Chaplains Under Fire”, which explores the world of military chaplains.

“One interview illustrated the difficulties faced by non-Christians quite clearly. Rev. Billy Baughaum of the International Conference of Evangelical Chaplain Endorsers, a retired military chaplain, verbally and physically expressed absolute disgust and revulsion for the Wiccan faith, openly mocking it. At one point in his interview, he said, “I think the Wicca religion is repulsive, however if there’s a Wicca [sic] chaplain who comes, I will swallow my grimace, but I believe the first amendment, he has a right or she has a right to pray to the horned god of the north. … Although I think it’s a bunch of baloney personally … if that’s what they want to pray to I will put on my greens again and get in a foxhole and I’ll support their right to do that.” A statement that he believes in first amendment rights is not a commitment to neutrality in actually helping servicemembers in need of spiritual counsel. How genuinely can someone serve another spiritually when they are attempting to “swallow my grimace” and disguise hatred and contempt for the person seeking help? I cannot imagine feeling comfortable in the office of a chaplain who openly and publicly states that other religions are false and that they find them repulsive; that hatred cannot help but transfer over to the individual practicing the hated faith.”

The whole thing is very much worth reading, and I encourage you to do so. As we enter Memorial Day weekend, being aware of what our Pagan military personnel (past and present) have to deal with on an ongoing basis is vitally important.

Good Journey Alexei Kondratiev: In a final note, I’d just like to point to a few touching blog memorials for Celtic scholar Alexei Kondratiev, who died earlier this week from a heart attack; including tributes from Jason Fisher, Erynn Rowan Laurie, and Cat Chapin-Bishop.

“Here is what I do know: For twenty-five years, I have been a Pagan, and for all of those years, I have felt that I am weaving something, a kind of cloth or tapestry, together with my friends. Paganism is so new, and, when it is working well, so warming and so full of hospitality, that for me at least, the heart of my experience as a Pagan has been the weaving together all of our separate lives to form one fabric, one community honoring the earth and the old gods. I’ve never cared particularly who called himself a shaman, who a Witch or a Hellene or a Druid, because I have felt it in my bones how much we are woven together as kin. Believe it or not, today is the first day I have properly understood: the whole time I have been weaving, weaving my life and the lives of those I love into this fabric, time has been unweaving it again at the other end. Alexei has died. And part of the world is gone.”

For those who can make it, the wake will be Tuesday, 1st of June, from 2pm-5pm and from 7pm-10pm at Gleason Funeral Home 149-20 Northern Blvd, Flushing, 11358. The funeral, Wednesday, 2nd of June, 10:45am, St Andrew Avellino 158th Street and Northern Blvd, Flushing.

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

Top Story: A Louisiana Senate panel has approved Senate Bill 606, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, to go forward for debate, and ultimately a vote, on the full Senate floor. The bill, which seeks to protect religious freedom by holding government bodies to a higher standard regarding religious expression than current Supreme Court precedent, has been backed by the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum (affiliated with Focus on the Family). It has also found support from the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), who testified in support of the bill.

“Valli Henry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans, said the legislation “bolstered our hope of spreading Wicca and paganism throughout Louisiana.” Henry’s group recently came under attack as it planned a pagan festival in Livingston Parish.”

LAW’s support for this new law comes despite the Louisiana Law Institute issuing a report saying there was no evidence that the new regulations would be needed, and opposition from groups like the Capital City Alliance (CCA), who say the new ordinance would further enshrine anti-gay-marriage laws within the state.

“Ted Baldwin, who helped establish the Metropolitan Community Church, said the legislation discriminates against those whose religious beliefs may differ from those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The legislation specifically states that nothing in it “shall be construed to authorize any relationship, marital or otherwise” that would violate a state constitutional provision under which no marriage other than that between a man and a woman is valid in Louisiana. “It specifically says freedom is for some, but not freedom for all,” said Baldwin, a  Republican State Central Committee member.”

Since many Wiccan and Pagan groups support having their gay marriage rites legally recognized, I found it surprising that LAW would uncritically support this measure. Is this an effort to show that they are “family friendly” to the conservative Christian opponents who have been giving them trouble lately? Is LAW an explicitly socially conservative organization, or did they not think the anti-gay-marriage clause in the proposed law was problematic? What is known is that many of the “religious freedom” and “religious expression” laws backed by conservative Christians in this country are designed to privilege the majority, not protect the rights of religious minorities.

Wiccan Child Abuser Sent Back to Prison: The Guelph Mercury in Canada reports that Kenneth James McMurray, who had been released on supervision after serving a four-year sentence, was sentenced to anther three years in jail after threatening to kill his parole officer. McMurray was initially sent to prison for leading a “sex-cult” that abused underage boys.

“The supervision order was imposed by Guelph Justice Norman Douglas in 1999, after McMurray pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault. Court heard he led a group said to be based on the Wiccan religion, and forced his young followers to engage in sex acts with each other and with him in the basement of his parents’ home. The boys, aged 14 to 16, were plied with marijuana and beaten if they questioned McMurray, who they believed was a supreme spiritual being who could harm them at will.”

Yet another reason why I’m hoping we can continue to work civilly and constructively towards a joint community statement against sexual abuse. Here’s hoping that Mr. McMurray will never again be in a position to exploit and abuse boys.

Is Saudi Arabia Fed Up With the Religious Police? News that a Saudi woman beat up a member of that country’s infamous religious police has been igniting the newswires and blogosphere.

“When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition. But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix. For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop. According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.”

According to human rights groups the Internet and local media have been damaging the once fearsome reputation of this religious militia, and many Saudi citizens are getting fed up with the force, who are currently engaged in a political struggle with the (relatively) more moderate Saudi King Abdullah. It is the religious police who have been the force behind the imprisonment and death sentence for alleged sorcerers and witches, including Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who, while spared the death penalty, is still in a Saudi prison. I can only hope this is a harbinger of a popular uprising against the Mutaween in that country.

The Earth Goddess Comes to Mexico City: The largest monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli ever discovered is going on public display for the first time in Mexico City for an exhibition on Aztec emperor Moctezuma II.

“The largest known monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli will go on show for the first time next month in Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History has said. The giant stone was found during renovations almost four years ago on a house near the Templo Mayor, the most famous Aztec temple in the heart of the Mexican capital, an INAH statement said. Weighing 12 metric tonnes and measuring 4.19 meters (13.7 feet) by 3.62 meters (11.8 feet), the monolith is “the only Mexican sculptural piece that conserves its original colors,” the statement said.”

According to some accounts Tlaltecuhtli was a fearsome goddess indeed, and seems to hold some similar characteristics to the primordial  Babylonian goddess Tiamat.

Destroying the Cemetery to Take the Bus: In a final note, the New York Times has published a photo-essay on the destruction of  a cemetery in Pétionville, Haiti, which was spared the ravages of the recent earthquake, but not the plans for a new bus station.

“Undamaged by the earthquake that struck in January, the cemetery was crowded with brightly painted mausoleums decked out with metal flower wreaths. Names carved in marble marked the final resting place of many families, buried over a long period of time. A cross to Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, stood in a corner where people would bring him coffee and cigarettes in exchange for a favor. Until bulldozers came and demolished the whole cemetery. Where there was once a small, beautiful memorial, there is now a pile of rubble; another victim of Haiti’s earthquake, this time at human hands. People who had lost so much already were at a loss as to how to stop the demolition, if they even knew about it.”

Some, like artist Magda Magloire were lucky enough to receive enough advance warning and save the remains of her brother, Stivenson Magloire, a famous Haitian painter, and their mother, Louisiane St. Fleurant, the godmother of the Saint-Soleil movement in Haitian art. This is a surprising act of desecration in Haiti, where the ancestors and grave-sites are revered.

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

A few quick news notes and updates for your Sunday.

First Livingston Parish Event Goes Smoothly: The first of two Pagan events being held at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, seems to have happened without any trouble despite rumors of Christian protests and some rather one-sided local journalism.

“Saturday’s event, which turned from fundraiser to private gathering, was organized by a Wiccan group and offered speakers, workshops and other activities. “We’re sharing our love and peace,” said Valli Harry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans. For Rhye Gray, a high priest of Spiritwheel Coven, a Wiccan for 22 years and Baton Rouge resident, the gathering aimed to raise consciousness “for our community to connect to one another and to have a positive experience with one another.” The gathering also was designed to raise community awareness “that we are very much like others,” Rhye Gray said.”

Saturday’s event, initially a fundraiser for the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), was moved to the Gryphon’s Nest Campground in the wake of local opposition to a festival at the site planned for later this month. In addition to area Pagans, the event also drew members of other minority faiths, who came to show solidarity and seek community.

“Mukunda Datta, of Baton Rouge, a practicing Hindu, decided to attend Saturday’s gathering after reading about it in the newspaper. He said he was hoping to find “some like-minded individuals at the event.” “When I moved here from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, everyone thought I was some kind of demon or something,” Datta said. “Now, they all love me. They know that I’m not a threat.” His advice for others who may be skeptical of the pagan religion was simple: “Be open and don’t close your mind off before you find out. There’s a lot to offer in all of the traditions,” Datta said.”

This all seems like a hopeful sign that the larger festival set for Memorial Day weekend will happen without incident. I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

The Goddess of English: Dalits in the village of Bankagaon near Lakhimpur Khiri in India, inspired by stories of social and financial advancement, have decided to start worshiping the English language as a goddess and are erecting a temple in her honor.

“April 30, the day Bankagaon’s dalits pledged to learn the English language as well as worship it as a goddess. It was the day they laid the foundations of a temple dedicated to “English, the Dalit Goddess”. One of those listening to Gangania was Chandra Bhan Prasad, a self-taught Dalit social psychologist who thought up the idea of worshipping English as a goddess … The dalits’ new appreciation of English highlights the new class divide in modern India — between a minority of the English-speaking elite and others. For dalits, the medium is the message. Prasad says Indians have figured out that English is the password that can open the doors to a better life … the message of the English Goddess is simple: “Come to me, I will empower you.” That is why the temple ceremony was an all-dalit affair. The premises of a dalit-run school are being used for the temple.”

For those not familiar with India’s caste/class system, the Dalits are members of several caste groups that were once labeled as “untouchable”. While the caste system was formally outlawed in India’s constitution, these groups still face prejudice, discrimination, and barriers to social and fiscal advancement. In the past, Dalits have performed mass conversions to Buddhism or Christianity as a method to transcend the specter of untouchability.  Will worshiping the English Goddess, and learning her language, bring them the advancement they seek?

Robin Hardy and The Wicker Tree: Fangoria Magazine has a new feature up focusing on writer/director Robin Hardy and the upcoming film “The Wicker Tree”, a spiritual sequel of sorts to the 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”.

“It had been in my mind to do another movie,” Hardy says, “and when they made the Nicolas Cage version, I thought they missed the point of the first film completely. I say point, but I mean points, really. They just used the plot and threw away all the atmosphere and charm, the things which lulled you into a sense of this being a marvelous, fun kind of community, and then wham!—at the end you get the nasty surprise of how wicked people can be en masse when they feel they’ve got a good reason. And that made me want to do the other one that had been in my mind for a few years. Since I’d already written the book, COWBOYS FOR CHRIST, I decided to make a movie of it.”

Still no word on when the film will be coming out, but I’m definitely looking forward to it, especially since Christopher Lee is heavily rumored to be appearing as Lord Summerisle in a cameo.

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

As I mentioned in my May 2nd post, there’s been some local opposition to a Pagan festival being held in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, including some questionable statements by a local law enforcement official,  a newly formed “concerned citizens” group, and rumblings of protests and missional activities by some local Christians.

“No one in Livingston Parish wants any witches here, and it IS our right, and our DUTY to make the experience of anyone attending this gathering as educational as possible. We are praying for the salvation of all the people in attendance. We are also gathering people to bring the gospel to these attending. We hope many people will learn about the true Lord while they are in our parish. – Longtime resident of Livingston Parish, anxiously waiting to meet all of you!”

This situation has sparked a statement from James A. Harry, the attorney representing the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans and Gryphon’s Nest Campground (owned/run by Cliff Eakin, the man who successfully challenged Livingston Parish’s anti-fortune-telling ordinance). I reproduce the proclamation, in full, below.

Once again, the headlines in Livingston Parish, Louisiana are ablaze because Wiccans are standing up for their right to choose to follow a religion that isn’t Christianity. This time, however, the problem is not with the Parish leaders, but rather some extremist[s] who appear to claim to be Christians. They have attempted to stop two Pagan festivals scheduled in Livingston Parish through a program of defamation of Wicca and Wiccans and they are apparently calling others to take acts that appear to be designed to terrorize the festivals and their speakers. Presently, each of the Pagan festivals will now be forced to provide security for these events, and it is thought that turnout will be low or non-existent as a result of the actions of these defamers.

The festivals that have been attacked are the Gryphon’s Nest Campground Grand Opening scheduled for Memorial Day Weekend. The other festival attacked was the Annual LAW Festival set for May, 8, 2010. LAW is a non-profit organization which has just received 501(c)(4) tax exempt status by the IRS, whose purpose includes protecting the legal rights of Wiccans. The organization grew from the support received by local Wiccan groups, including The CPWC and the Coven of the Gryphon, in the fight against the Livingston Parish Anti-Divination Ordinance, which suit resulted in victory for the Wiccan community. Subsequently, LAW has retained legal counsel for individuals whose religious rights or problems have been at issue in the Court system in Louisiana and those individuals have had problems in Jefferson Parish, St. Tammany Parish, Livingston Parish, and Ascension Parish.

As the attorney who will be representing both Gryphon’s Nest and LAW in the planned suits against the extremists referred to above, I urge pagans not to post messages on the Internet regarding any of the matters described above. Such postings will not help my clients.

Instead, I urge you to write your elected representatives to create laws that will protect Wiccans’ values and to add stiff criminal penalties for those who commit terrorist acts to promote their religion at the expense of Wicca. Please feel free to contact LAW to obtain sample letters to send to your elected representatives and to help you identify your elected representatives. LAW can be contacted at vharry@hughes.net

Further, I urge you to help both Gryphon’s Nest Campground and LAW to mitigate its damages by attending the festivals.

Furthermore, the problems faced by residents of Livingston Parish, Louisiana are not unique to this community. The work done here sets precedents in the rest of the country. On behalf of my clients, I beg our National Leaders, our Founders, our Authors, and all those who can garner the attention of other Wiccans to rally to our aid by contacting me through LAW’s email address above. Wiccans have made excellent progress in obtaining the respect and tolerance of the government here. If we stand together, we can show everyone that we will not be whipped by the bible belt.

James A. Harry
Attorney at LAW

So there you have it. Taking the advice of LAW’s attorney, I urge all who want to support the Wiccans and Pagans in Livingston Parish (and surrounding areas) to coordinate with them on the matter. I will, of course, be keeping an eye on press coverage, and have been in contact with local organizers should they need to get the word out to the wider Pagan community.