Archives For law

Today’s the day. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which centers on the role of prayer at government meetings, and could shape the legal landscape on this issue for decades to come. I have written extensively on this case, and you can find a round-up of my coverage here. The ever-essential SCOTUSblog gives us a preview of the arguments expected to be made today.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

“It is no exaggeration to say, then, that the constitutional meaning of church-state separation is very much in flux, and it is tempting to think that the Court has taken on a case from a town in New York to reach for some new clarity. At its core, the Town of Greece case is about the constitutional test to review government involvement in practices that have or can have religious meaning.  Should such involvement be judged by its potential effect in endorsing or promoting one religious faith over others?  Or should it be judged by its capacity to coerce what one believes about faith principles? That is basically the either/or choice that now is before the Justices.  But even making that choice is not at all simple when either alternative test is applied to prayer at the opening of a government meeting.”

SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston notes that this case could endanger the “endorsement test” in regards to displays of religious belief at government functions.

“This case, at its most significant potential level, could put the “endorsement test” into significant jeopardy.   It no longer enjoys real favor with a majority of the Court, and the sustained denunciation of it by the town board’s lawyers here could further energize that skepticism.  It is far from clear, however, what would be left of modern church-state precedents if the Court were to opt to abandon that test altogether. That, perhaps, is why the town board’s attorneys have not suggested the total demise of that test, instead recommending only that it be walled off from use in the context of legislative prayers.”

If the endorsement test is gutted, it would most likely be replaced with a coercion standard, which would greatly benefit the religious majority at the expense of religious minorities. Linda Stephens, an atheist and co-plaintiff of the Town of Greece case, told CNN that she felt marginalized during town board meetings, which overwhelmingly featured Christian prayers to Jesus Christ.

“Galloway and Stephens say the elected board of the community outside Rochester almost always invited Christian clergy to open the meetings, usually with sectarian prayers. And they say they felt ‘marginalized’ by the practice. ‘When we tried to speak with the town, we were told basically if we didn’t like the prayers, we didn’t have to listen,’ said Stephens, ‘or could stand out in the hallway while they were going on.’”

The New York Times, in reporting on this story, focuses on the 1983 case Marsh v. Chambers, the case which almost every amicus brief is referencing.

“Thirty years ago, a state senator and a Presbyterian minister faced off in the Supreme Court over whether the Nebraska Legislature could open its sessions with a prayer. The court said yes, siding with the minister, and for three decades that settled matters. Such prayers are commonplace.  On Wednesday, the question of legislative prayer will return to the Supreme Court, in a case from upstate New York. But the actors in the earlier drama — the senator and the minister — have not left the stage. They continue to differ about the proper role of religion in public life. But they agree that later court decisions have twisted the facts of what went on in Nebraska.”

At The Daily Beast, Eric Segall thinks the correct answer to this prayer impasse is clear.

“Most constitutional cases the Supreme Court decides to hear raise difficult interpretative questions that don’t yield easy answers. Greece v. Galloway, however, is not one of those cases. The inherent unfairness that results from overtly religious exercises at government hearings is easy to see. A Jewish man wearing a yarmulke trying to obtain a zoning variance immediately after being asked to bow his head and pray to Jesus may feel like an outsider to the process. On the other hand, many people believe it is important to dignify official government business with a prayer. The obvious answer is to have a moment of silence during which people can pray to whatever god they want to or not pray at all. There is no coercion or identification of the town, city, or state with a particular god, or indeed with any god. That solution has worked well for public schools, and there is no good reason not to apply it to legislatures, courts, and executive sessions.”

The New York Times Editorial Board seems to agree.

“The prayers in Greece are constitutional, the defenders say, because they may be delivered by anyone, and the town does not compel citizens to pray. But compulsion is not the only issue. As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in a 1984 case, when a government appears to endorse one religion, it “sends a message to nonadherents that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.” After the Greece lawsuit was filed, one of the plaintiffs received a letter, signed “666,” that read, “If you feel ‘unwanted’ at the Town of Greece meetings, it’s probably because you are.” There are many ways to solemnize official functions without sending such a message, including a nonsectarian prayer or a moment of silence, which is what the Greece town board did for years without incident. To some degree there will always be a tension in cases such as these. On the one hand, Americans deeply value the First Amendment, which protects religion and government from each other. But as the Supreme Court has recognized, the country’s history “is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations.” In a country where religious diversity is increasing daily, the Supreme Court’s primary concern should be to ensure government neutrality toward all religions.”

At the Chicago Tribune, Eric Zorn is concerned about the reasons why the Supreme Court decided to hear this case.

“Lower courts have ruled for the plaintiffs, which suggests the high court may have another view — one that says ‘Prayers before meetings are traditional, ceremonial and voluntary. Don’ t get your knickers in a twist, non-Christians, the good people of Greece, N.Y., are simply performing public rites to reflect the views of a majority of townsfolk.’ I would pretend to be baffled why people of any faith would want to encourage government to muck about promoting one belief system over another, but of course I know why. It’s a form — not even a subtle form — of proselytizing; of encouraging conformity to a particular set of religious views. And this is a feature, not a bug, in their opinion. And, I fear, in the opinion of the current majority on the Supreme Court.”

No matter what the decision, it will no doubt have a major effect on prayer policy. Repercussions that will deeply affect all religious minorities, including Pagans, who have played an outsize role in the development of this case. By this evening, we will no doubt have some comment from the justices, giving us tea-leaves to read for the eventual decision. Let’s all pay attention as events unfold.

The Supreme Court of the United States opened a new term this week, and America’s highest court will be hearing a number of “weighty” cases that could have far-reaching implications.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judges.

“There isn’t one single blockbuster case on the docket, as in recent Supreme Court terms, but the high court will consider a number of weighty issues. The nine justices will hear cases dealing with campaign finance, abortion, prayer in government, presidential power, affirmative action, and housing discrimination.”

One of those cases, Town of Greece v. Galloway, which involves prayers given before government meetings, is one that I’ve been paying very close attention to. One, the stakes for the ruling are very high, and could change the way prayer before government functions are approached.

I think the legal experts at SCOTUSblog put it quite well:

“The Court’s decision in Galloway could conceivably matter in several ways.  First, the custom of legislative prayer itself is widespread in national, state, and local governments.  All of these will be looking to the Supreme Court for guidance on what is constitutional.  Second, the Court’s law on legislative prayer provides the most relevant guidance for a range of religious expressions by government that have not yet been evaluated directly by the Court – customs like opening Supreme Court sessions with the phrase “God save this honorable Court,” inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, adoption of the official motto of the United States, “In God We Trust,” and public prayer by military chaplains.  Third, the case presents the Court with an opportunity to revisit the legacy of Justice O’Connor, who was especially influential in this area.  Her “endorsement test,” which was embraced by the Court during her tenure, prohibits government from sending messages that endorse one or all faiths in a way that disadvantages outsiders and harms their standing as members of the political community.  That test, which informed the circuit court’s analysis in Galloway, is vulnerable and could be weakened or explicitly eradicated now that the composition of the Court has changed.”

Secondly, this case directly involves modern Pagans, specifically Wiccans, in the case and in the legal maneuvers that led to it. Something I’ve been harping on for some time, even to the point of chastising religion reporters for not picking up on it. Well, it seems that angle is finally getting a bit of attention now that arguments are looming. First up, the Wall Street Journal’s law blog zooms in on the one Wiccan sectarian prayer that took place in Greece, noting that it might be enough of a fig leaf for the town to escape accusations of coercion and Christian endorsement.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

“It’s not too often that a Wiccan priestess factors into a U.S. Supreme Court case. But that moment will come next month when the high court considers a public prayer case involving a Rochester, N.Y., suburb [...] A key point made by Greece in its defense is that its invocations are inclusive and not discriminatory, as claimed by two of its residents. To back that up, the town is highlighting a board meeting in 2008 that began with a prayer recited by Jennifer Zarpentine, identified as a Wiccan priestess from the Sanctuary of the Crescent Moon. Ms. Zarpentine was invited to deliver the prayer after two residents, Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens, began complaining about the prayers and filed their suit.”

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress notes that Greece “includes residents who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, and Baha’i” and that a Wiccan prayer was one of the very few non-Christian invocations.

“For 10 years, Christian clergy have offered virtually every prayer that has opened the town board meetings in Greece. Two-thirds of their 120 recorded prayers contain specific references to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “Your Son,” or the “Holy Spirit.’” In 10 years of the board meeting once per month, only four non-Christian prayers have been given, including two prayers from a Jewish layman, one prayer from a Wiccan priestess, and another from the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation.”

Other news outlets that have mentioned the Wiccan angle to this case including CNN and The Economist.

“In 1999 the town of Greece, in upstate New York, invited citizens to open its monthly town-board meetings with a prayer. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Baha’i and Wiccans have all had a go. Most prayers have been Christian, but no citizen who wishes to offer an invocation has been turned away. [...] This time, the Court will probably side with Greece. Christians used to burn witches; some see it as progress that the two groups now pray together.”

With Witches being the hot thing in pop-culture right now, and with this being October, expect more outlets to dig into this angle. I’d expect three basic takes among the opinion-shapers.

  1. They included one Wiccan, therefor the Town of Greece is very inclusive (perhaps even too inclusive) and should win this case.
  2. They included a Wiccan, and other religious minorities, as a desperate gambit after it became clear a lawsuit was heading down the pike, and so Greece should lose.
  3. Look! Wiccans! Witches! Halloween! Let’s include a picture from [Harry Potter/Wizard of Oz/Bewitched/American Horror Story/etc] and make jokes about cauldrons and brooms. Do we still have that strobe light and fake spiderweb from a few years back?

Ambitious outlets will no doubt go for the trifecta.

I would advise Pagan and Wiccan/Witchcraft organizations to have responses to this case (whatever they may be) crafted beforehand should the need arise. Journalists may very well come calling for an “official” Wiccan take on the case, and we should have a clear, coherent, and focused take on the case and its ramifications. For those who want a quick recap of my own take, here are a selection of recent posts I’ve written about this issue.

This case will be important, and Wicca’s role in this case should not be underestimated. A lot may hinge on our inclusion in this case, and on the lawsuits of the past that shaped invocation policy. However the ruling goes, we should be prepared to understand how we’ve shaped the result.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

2013-EBC-SaleThe 2013 Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, Washington is coming up on September 14th and 15th, this year marks its 5th anniversary. Quote: “The Esoteric Book Conference is an annual international event to bring together authors, artists, publishers and bookmakers working in the field of esotericism. In addition to presentations by notable authors and scholars, the conference opens it doors to publishers and booksellers showcasing new & used books as well as rare and hard-to-find esoteric texts. For two days the conference hosts the largest selection of esoteric books under one roof. Contemporary esoteric publishing, finepress book arts and antiquarian texts are offered to augment the libraries of readers, scholars and collectors alike.” Featured presenters this year include M. Isidora Forrest, author of “Offering to Isis: Knowing the Goddess Through Her Sacred Symbols,” Dr. David Shoemaker, Chancellor of the College of Thelema of Northern California, Chaos magician and ritual designer Joshua Madara, and many more. Of course a main selling point of the event is esoteric books, and lots of them, including book launches. You can get updates at their official Facebook page.

template-2panel revised [Converted]Hexenfest, an annual one-day mythic music and art festival held in the Bay Area of California, has announced Ego Likeness as their headliners for 2014. Quote: “Ego Likeness was created in 1999 by artist Steven Archer, a DC native, and writer Donna Lynch in Baltimore, Maryland. Taking their name from Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel ‘Dune’, the band combines dark electronic/ dance music with heavy rock and striking poetry. They have released several albums, and have toured extensively trhoughout the US and Europe in the company of Voltaire, Rasputina, Peter Murphy, The Cruxshadows, and many ore. They are regular performers at DragonCon, the largest comic convention in America.” Joining Hexenfest will be Pagan tribal-fusion-rock band Pandemonaeon, with further announcements forthcoming. Hexenfest co-producer Anaar Niino said that “we are very pleased to announce that Ego Likeness will be our headliner for Hexenfest 2014″ and that folks should save the date of April 26th, 2014. For future updates, you can follow their official Facebook page. You may also enjoy looking at photos from last year’s Hexenfest.

spring2The White Spring temple at the base of Glastonbury Tor in England has put out an urgent appeal for funds to stay open. Quote: “The White Spring in Glastonbury needs your help. There is a real risk that we will be forced to close unless we get more support! The owner is no longer able to generously support financially towards the annual costs as he has in previous years. Over the next year the current custodians are needing to step back to start focusing on other projects.” According to the appeal, they need to raise £600 by the end of October. The temple is open to all faiths and spiritual traditions. While the White Spring works to remain open, Pagan anti-fracking activists are working to ensure the water beneath Glastonbury is not tainted by the controversial extraction process (as reported on previously here at The Wild Hunt). Jonathan at the Barefoot Anthropology blog gives a good overview of Pagan resistance to fracking, and ponders if this is a key moment in history for modern Paganism. Quote: “As an anthropologist, it is hard to predict what impact The Warrior’s Callwill have. Nevertheless, as a practitioner, there does appear to be a sense of destiny about it, as though something has been set in motion that will be truly significant. If as many people join in as is predicted, then The Warrior’s Call will certainly be unprecedented in scale, but not unprecedented in intent.” We will keep you updated at these stories continue to develop.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

Ab4 Paperback Cover online

  • Speaking of images and permissions, Fire Lyte at Inciting A Riot gives an overview of recent controversies regarding images being used without attribution or permission by Pagan pages on Facebook (and other social media outlets). Quote: “What brought this topic up again, was when I noticed that several well-trafficked pagan-related pages on Facebook make it a regular practice to post pretty pictures for dissemination without attribution. Even going so far as to include their own watermark on a piece that didn’t have one, or to further delete an existing watermark in order to add theirs.” Fire Lyte has done a lot of legwork on this story, and it is an important piece worth reading. Don’t miss out.
  • Circle Magazine is currently seeking submissions for their next issue. Quote: “Circle Magazine is seeking submissions both of art, articles and poetry of general interest to the Pagan community and for the forum on ‘Lineage and Family Traditions.’ Forum articles could include subjects such as raising Pagan children, magical linage, ancestors, passing on traditions, nontraditional family rituals, becoming a teacher, chosen families and more. For this issue we are also looking for Pagan themed art drawn by children, as well as art, articles or poetry by youth. Help us celebrate the diversity of ages within our community and explore the way that our ideas and legacies are passed down to seekers of all ages.” Deadline is September 12th, though that may be extended. Submission guidelines and forms can be found at their official web site.
  • Our condolences to the Circle Sanctuary community on the loss of Peggy Hall, a member of their organization since 2011. A natural burial service was performed on September 4th at Circle Cemetery. What it remembered, lives.
  • As US military involvement in Syria seemingly inches ever forward, recent commentaries by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and M. Macha Nightmare are both timely and worth considering. I think our reporting this year on the death of a Pagan in Syria underscores just how complex the conflict truly is, and how simple solutions won’t be coming any time soon. I echo Lupus on the need for prayer at this time. Quote: “I hate to say it, but one of the only things I think we as responsible pagans and polytheists can do is pray, and preferably to the very old gods of Syria, who are yet alive and active and interested in the well-being of the people and the land in which they once thrived.”

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

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.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973′s “The Wicker Man” and 2012′s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.’” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.’” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.’” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“The Parks Department may not want me here, but this land tells me otherwise.”

We were standing on the north bank of the Willamette River, where I had come down to check up on a friend who had lived on the river next to the boat landing for as long as I had known her. I had come to the riverbank bearing root beer, but Mary Ann met me at her entryway bearing bad news and a yellow piece of paper. Maintenance workers had just come through the area earlier in the afternoon, and the yellow paper had been left taped to her door. She was being evicted from her home.

North bank of the Willamette river.

North bank of the Willamette river.

I looked around, forgetting for a moment as I always did that her “home” was not a house in the traditional sense, but a primitive hut built from waddling and covered with a canvas tarp that was tucked away within the confines of a city-owned park. My experiences camping at various pagan festivals over the years had instilled in me a great appreciation for makeshift dwellings, especially for ones that were cleverly built and aesthetically pleasing, and hers was second to none in that regard. It was an extraordinary spot, and it was indeed her home in the strongest sense of the word. Literally built from scratch with her own two hands, her riverfront hobbit-hut was truly otherworldly, quietly hidden and secluded with the river as her only neighbor.

So secluded, in fact, that it had taken the parks department over a year to find her within the tangled overgrowth of the riverbank. But find her they finally did. And unlike a legal eviction from a “legitimate” residential dwelling, which allows for seven days and a judicial hearing, a legal eviction of a “homeless camp” from a city park grants neither adequate time to vacate nor any form of due process. Her hut was literally set to be bulldozed the next day, and she had no recourse. She also had nowhere else she felt she could go.

“This place is a sanctuary, and this land wants to protect me,” she said to me, tearfully. “This ground beneath my feet, it welcomes me here. We have a relationship, an understanding. I don’t care if they need to trim the blackberries. I am of the Earth and this is my home. I have a connection with this space. Myself, the trees, the bushes, the river. We get along, we are friends. Nobody bothers me here. This place wants me here. This is the only place I’ve ever felt such safety.”

I looked at her and realized at that moment that not only was she losing her home, she was also being severed from a deep and powerful spiritual connection that she had forged with this odd little patch of sand and brush. In the eyes of the parks department, she was simply another illegal camper who was squatting on public land and interfering with their futile attempts at controlling the blackberries. As I saw it, however, the home she had crafted and her connection to this place was nothing less than sacred. I looked at her again and realized I was gazing into the eyes of a fellow priestess who was facing the loss and destruction of her hand-built, self-defined sanctuary.

Sanctuary. I muttered the word under my breath. She was far from the first person to tell me that this specific strip of riverbank felt like an energetic sanctuary for the disenfranchised, but never before had I considered the issue while literally standing in the place in question. Sanctuary. I closed my eyes for a moment, cleared my mind, and allowed my inner awareness to tune into my surroundings. It felt calm, deep, rooted, potent.

I looked into the eyes of my friend once more, trying to comprehend in the moment what it could possibly be like to live in a blackberry thicket that swirled with such a force, and what it meant to develop such a deep relationship with one’s surroundings in a place such as this. I knew there was nothing more I could offer her at that moment other than understanding and sympathy, and the only thing I knew to do in the moment was to hug her as hard as I could. We said our goodbyes, and I climbed back up the ridge of the riverbank to the path above. Halfway up, I glanced back and over at her beautiful dwelling, soon to be demolished, and I felt a lump form in the back of my throat. That wasn’t just a homeless camp. I truly felt that her little spot was sacred ground.

As I walked home, my rage and sadness quickly transformed into an unshakable curiosity regarding the energetic resonance of that chunk of the riverbank and Mary Ann’s strong belief that the land specifically wanted to provide her sanctuary. I was reminded again that I had heard similar claims before, from people that weren’t nearly as spiritually attuned as my friend was. There were dozens of parks scattered throughout this city, countless hidden spots scattered up and down the riverbanks where one could make a temporary home. Why did people gravitate to this specific place? What is it about this place that feels welcoming and safe to those who are otherwise living in exile, despite the fact that people are rousted from here just as much as anywhere else? I tried my best not to dwell on it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that there might be something more to it.

A few days later, I was having coffee with another friend when I mentioned my experience in the park and the unanswered questions that were still lingering.

“What is it about that place?” I asked her, not necessarily expecting an answer. “I can’t help but feel that there’s something specific about that spot that’s creating or contributing to a widely-sensed feeling of safety. Mary Ann’s been getting the message from the land directly since she was first drawn to that spot, and I sense that there’s a true authenticity to her connections and experiences. But then other folks, many who don’t subscribe to spiritual thinking and would scoff at the idea of talking to the trees, will still tell you that that there’s a “welcoming vibe” down on that part of the riverfront.”

She looked up. “Well, you know that’s where the old black settlement used to be, right?”

My friend had lived here for many years, and was an indispensable and often spontaneous source of local history. She immediately realized by the look on my face that I had no idea what she was talking about.

“There was a tent city on the riverbank sometime around World War II that existed as the only black community for several years. The neighborhood was eventually bulldozed in order to make way for the Ferry Street Bridge, and those who lived in the settlement were mostly forced out into the wetlands at the other end of town Some weren’t even given time to claim their possessions before their homes were destroyed. But for years before the bridge was built, the north bank was the only place that black folks were allowed to live, the only place where they were safe from harassment and left alone.”

“The only place they were allowed to live?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Well, yes,” she continued. “Back then, city limits ended at the river. The north bank was county land.” She paused. I stared at her, processing what I had just been told. We both started to speak at the same time. I let her go first.

“You do know that this used to be a sundown town, right?”

She had just answered the question I was about to ask, and I was suddenly hit with a burst of clarity. As a recent transplant that was still in the wee learning stages of understanding the history, politics and dynamics of this area, that one powerful piece of factual information immediately started to trickle its way into the various questions and thoughts about this area that I had been filing away in my head all this time.

I looked up at my friend and smiled. “You just gave me a real important piece,” I said to her. “Thank you.”

I had been aware of the overall history of sundown towns and their effects, but until that moment I hadn’t a clue that this liberal, Pacific Northwest college town, with its reputation as a hippie mecca and its emphasis on human rights and diversity, also had a notable history of racial discrimination. As a former New Yorker, one of the first things I noticed about Eugene was how overwhelmingly white the population was, but I had assumed it was mainly the result of the same discriminatory housing practices that were once widely practiced throughout the nation. But the newly-acquired knowledge that this town had a history of systematically excluding the entire black population from the city limits after sunset affected me almost instantly in my understandings and perceptions of this place. Not only was it simply important on its face in terms of my desire to understand the basic history of where I lived, but it provided a powerful and important historical context that was quite relevant in relation to the current patterns of exclusion and oppression that I had been observing and noting, and the ideas and questions that I had been tossing around and pondering in response to those observations.

I immediately thought back to Mary Ann and her sanctuary. The reason that Mary Ann and countless others hide out on the north bank of the river is because they are constantly subject to local laws and policies that have resulted in the systematic harassment, persecution, and exclusion of the homeless population from the city center. These exclusion policies and practices are numerous: ordinances that criminalize sleeping anywhere on public property, strictly enforced park curfews that prohibit people from gathering at night, a deliberate and complete lack of public benches combined with an ordinance that prohibits sitting on the sidewalk, a constitutionally-suspect judicial remedy known as the “exclusion zone,” and an infamous team of private security guards who are specifically tasked with forcing homeless people to move along.

dpsz

Especially at night, it is essentially illegal to exist in the downtown area if you have nowhere else to go at night, and choosing to willfully remain in the downtown area is to risk arrest, assault, or worse. These various laws and strategies create the effect of a sundown town for anyone who lacks a home. The similarity had never been lost on me, but it took on a much stronger significance for me now that I knew that this place actually had been a sundown town. I had been criticizing and speaking out against these policies without ever knowing or understanding the degree to which this city had a history of discrimination and exclusion, a history that not only is unknown to most, but has arguably been effectively and deliberately erased by forty years’ worth of liberal rhetoric that has consistently projected the image that Eugene has always been a haven for diversity and tolerance.

I then thought about the history of that stretch of the riverbank, and the similarities in the two narratives, historic and present, as they related to that specific area. There have been countless tent communities and temporary homesteads erected along that stretch over the years, inhabited by folks who had been driven out from the city center, and eventually they were generally all subject to the same fate in the form of a bulldozer, often without any notice or warning. The same exact fate, I now knew, that another community of makeshift homesteads had succumbed to over a half-century ago in nearly the exact spot. Another community that was forced to retreat to this area and build their own huts and shanties after being systematically denied the right to live within the city limits.

I recognized that the knowledge and recognition of these historic connections and patterns was an essential part of my ongoing process of forging a deeper relationship with the land, and in developing a more solid understanding of the habits and tendencies of both people and place. I couldn’t define exactly what these connections meant in the large sense of that process, but I understood exactly why I was led to discover them as I did. As someone who has long been committed to fighting for justice, stumbling upon such ugly yet important truths about this town’s discriminatory past only strengthened my commitment to recognizing and standing up to oppression in all its insidious forms.

A few months later, I finally found Mary Ann on the riverbank again, a few hundred yards upstream from the spot where her hut had been demolished. Her new place was further hidden away and nowhere near as enchanting as her previous spot. A simple tent had replaced her former hut of sticks. “I don’t see the point right now,” she told me. “I’m still too angry. I don’t want to start over. For all I know I’ll be evicted from here in a week. They don’t understand that I’m supposed to be here. I don’t know how to make them understand that the land wants me here.”

I told her what I had learned about the history of this area. “I kept thinking about your feeling of sanctuary,” I said. “And I can’t help but to keep going back to the historical parallels as a reference point, and then bounce right back to thinking about your sense of this place.”

I may have been fascinated by it all, but she didn’t look the slightest bit surprised. “What have I said again and again? This piece of land doesn’t believe in exclusion,” she told me. “This place protects the oppressed. I know that, I told you that. I don’t need to dwell on why it is. It just is.”

I smiled and nodded. I wasn’t about to argue.

Perhaps that stretch of the riverbank is exactly as Mary Ann says it is, and the spirits of that land truly and simply wish to protect those who are oppressed and excluded. Perhaps they’ve always done that, and it was my job to pick up on a small piece of that pattern. Perhaps the history of that spot as a sanctuary for those who have been excluded has left a subtle psychic echo that many happen to pick up on, in a wide variety of strengths that range from “feeling safe vibes” to the absolute steadfast religious belief that the river and the trees want to shelter and protect the oppressed. And perhaps there are no true connections at all, and the entirety of my observations amount to nothing more than pure coincidence. Perhaps the belief among many that the area offers them safety is purely in their heads. It could be that its nothing more than a matter of simple location that accounts for the similarity between the history of that spot and the current usage as it relates to those who have sadly experienced exclusion and oppression throughout the years.

What I do know is that the true value of the lesson has very little to do with any one definitive answer, and much more to do with illuminating and reinforcing the importance and power of knowing the various histories of the places in which we inhabit and interact. I find that often, hints from the land itself will point me straight to the answers, the history that you need. Other times, these hints serve as a caution and reminder as to the dangers of forgetting that history, and in the importance of seeking out and researching patterns and connections.

I consider the stories that make up our history to be sacred, and to learn about, research, remember, and retell such stories not only serves to honor those who actually lived those histories, but it also ensures that if and when we ever find ourselves in patterns of repetition, we carry within us important pieces of our collective memory and experience that can serve as a point of reference and reflection.

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.

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

  • Alongside the horrific human cost, a sad casualty in the ongoing violence and turmoil in Egypt has been the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya. Quote: “Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a ‘masterpiece.’ Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth.” Over 1000 pieces were stolen, and when Hanna tried to confront the looters, telling them that, quote, “this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” the looters responded that they were upset by her lack of veil and that the thievery was in retaliation for military killings. This is yet another blow to Egypt’s legacy and tourism industry, one which is/was a huge part of the country’s income. The longer that industry is disrupted, the longer it will take for the country to financially recover from the current crisis.
  • In 1951 the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in Britain was repealed and replaced with a law against fraudulent mediums. It was this action, fought for by Spiritualists and other interested parties, that allowed religious Witchcraft, Wicca, to enter into the public eye. However, British law was passed on to many of its former colonies, including in Australia, where the Northern Territory is finally getting around to repealing the Witchcraft Act. Quote: “Attorney-General John Elferink said he ‘laughed out loud’ when he stumbled across the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which punishes people with up to one year in prison. If convicted, prisoners can then expect to be hauled out every three months and taken to the town market place to be publicly humiliated in the pillory – a wooden block with holes to trap the offender’s head and hands. Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act was one of many outdated laws the Government planned to repeal.” Luckily, not many people even knew the law was still on the books, and so was never abused by modern-day Puritans looking for a legal foothold.
  • I linked to this Atlantic Magazine story earlier this week, but in case you missed it, their look at the runaway religious police of Saudi Arabia and their pursuit of “witches” and “sorcerers” is worth reading. Quote: “The Saudi government’s obsession with the criminalization of the dark arts reached a new level in 2009, when it created and formalized a special “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” to educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells. Saudi citizens are also urged to use a hotline on the CPVPV website to report any magical misdeeds to local officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.” I have reported several times on Saudi Arabia’s infamous witch-hunters, and the innocent men and women caught up in their dragnet. No one is safe, not even well-known Muslim television personalities from neighboring countries. As a revolutionary sentiments run through the Middle East, the need for social control may only heighten the number of people imprisoned, tortured, or killed for the crime of witchcraft.
  • Speaking of witch-hunts, historian Tracy Borman has a new book looking at a case of three women killed for witchcraft during the Jacobean period in England, and how powerful men pulled strings to make the tragedy happen. Reviewer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst notes that “one of the most terrifying things about the whole process was its randomness.” Quote: “Anyone could be accused by a neighbour with a grudge, and in small village communities, where memories were long and tongues as sharp as scythes, the witch-finder could easily be employed as a form of human pest control. Equally terrifying was the regular use of physical examinations as a cover for sadistic sexual exploitation, or simply to suck up to King James, whose dark obsession with witchcraft meant he rapidly became ‘one of the leading authorities on the subject’.” The book is out at the end of August in the UK.
  • Miami New Times spotlights Selene Perfumeria, a company the manufactures perfumes and baths stocked in many botanicas across Florida. Quote: “If you’ve ever wondered where these occult objects found in the Magic City’s bodegas and botanicas start their lives, Selene is one major source. Fragrances are widely used in Santeria, a syncretic religion that came to Miami by way of West Africa and then Cuba [...] one mark of how widespread Santeria has become in Miami is how many of Selene’s products have found their way into local grocery stores. Although Selene makes some pretty malevolent mixtures, only the posi-potions make it to Publix. Grocery shoppers won’t find their ‘Law Stay Away’ mix near the sub counter, but you can still purchase ’7 African Powers’ (the bottle does not specify which powers are included for $5.49).” Personally, I can think of a few instances where “Law Stay Away” potion would be quite positive.
Nathan Salas

Nathan Salas

  • Two people meet on a Wiccan bulletin board, one of them is unhappy, allegedly in a verbally abusive and neglectful home, so the other buys two plane tickets and flies her to California so she can start over. There’s just one problem: the alleged rescuer is 27, and the rescued girl is only 14. Quote: “The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office arrested 27-year-old Nathan Salas for child concealment. They say an online relationship with the teen led Salas to pick up the girl on the East Coast and fly with her to Sacramento, where deputies were waiting. Authorities in Connecticut reached out the Merced County Sheriff’s Department with information about a flight the two may have boarded to California. Deputies in Merced then reached out to the Sacramento airport, leading Sacramento County deputies to arrest Salas at the airport. The suspect was taken into custody just after getting off his inbound flight. ‘At that exact moment, it hit home that no matter how good of intentions I had, this was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my entire life,’ Salas said from jail.” I suppose this is a good time to remind folks that if you encounter a minor in trouble, the best recourse is to contact the local child protection agency or other locally based crisis resources.
  • H.P. Lovecraft fan? Today is NecronomiCon in Rhode Island. In honor of the event The Revealer looks at religion in the works of Lovecraft. Quote: “Lovecraft’s concept of religion – the use of “religious experience,” and “subjective ecstasies,” gives away the game. Whether he was a direct reader of William James or not, Lovecraft inherited a number of assumptions from the phenomenology of religion – most notably, the elevation of private experience as religion’s principle building block. Lovecraft’s experience is, however, more guardedly sensual, hence his dismissal of Christian “feelings” in favor of his own pagan “sight.” Ultimately, Lovecraft rejects his visions of Pan as the work of imagination – a kind of waking dream.” More on the convention can be found at the Washington Post.
  • Oral arguments in the appeal by self-help guru James Arthur Ray to have his negligent homicide convictions for the deaths of three people in a 2009 sweat lodge overturned have been set for September 11th. Quote: “Ray’s attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors in Yavapai County. In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid putting them at an unreasonable risk of harm.” Ray is currently free on parole after serving two years in prison.
  • The New York Review of Books laments the decline of used book stores, and writer Charles Simic recalls a fond experience at a used metaphysical book store. Quote: “Years ago, in a store in New York that specialized in Alchemy, Eastern Religions, Theosophy, Mysticism, Magic, and Witchcraft, I remember coming across a book called How to Become Invisible that I realized would make a perfect birthday present for a friend who was on the run from a collection agency trying to repossess his car. It cost fifteen cents, which struck me as a pretty steep price considering the quality of the contents.” If you’d like some more grim book-selling news, here’s the latest on Barnes & Noble.
  • TLC, the cable network formerly known as The Learning Channel, has a show called “Breaking Amish” about Amish and Mennonite young adults adjusting to the outside world. One of the young women on that show apparently practices “witchcraft” and claims to have had sex with Satanic beings (or perhaps Old Scratch himself). Quote: “‘I’ve been involved in witchcraft for quite a few years — probably most of my life. My connection to the spirit world is actually really, really scary to some people,’ she [Betsy] says in the sneak peek before explaining that “the demons” have been coming back around her since she’s been in LA. But then, she takes it a step further. ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, like, having sex with something. Like, literally in your sleep, and you wake up like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ You have sex with, um … Satan.’” Yes, a lot of this is probably faked up for television, but I’m still concerned that TLC seems to have no trouble selling sensationalism (and Satan) to get ratings.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming ruling in Town of Greece v. Galloway could have far-reaching affects on prayers and invocations made before government and state-sponsored events. At its heart is the question of government endorsement of a particular faith, and whether sectarian prayers overwhelmingly weighted towards one faith can be made so long as a fig-leaf of neutrality is maintained in written policy. I have written about this case before, and how modern Pagans have been deeply intertwined with the development of the “model invocation policy” being challenged and with this case itself.

“In just a few seconds’ time during the April Town Board meeting, Jennifer Zarpentine made Greece history. Zarpentine, a Wiccan, delivered the first-ever pagan prayer to open a meeting of the Greece Town Board. Her hands raised to the sky, she called upon Greek deities Athena and Apollo to ‘help the board make the right informed decisions for the benefit and greater good of the community.’ A small cadre of her friends and coven members in the audience chimed in ‘so mote it be.’”

Senator Marco Rubio

Senator Marco Rubio

Now, with the case on the Supreme Court docket, “friend of the court” briefings have been trickling in, most notably from a bi-partisan group of United States Senators (over 30 Republicans and one Democrat), and from a coalition of states lead by the Attorney Generals of Indiana and Texas. The first, spearheaded by Marco Rubio, seems to argue that the Supreme Court upholding (or expanding on) the Court of Appeals verdict in this case could eliminate the Establishment Clause carve-out for a paid government chaplains (as established in Marsh v. Chambers).

“This Court should eliminate the uncertainty and affirm the strong constitutional footing on which legislative prayer stands. In a nation of broad religious diversity, the best means of ensuring that the government does not prefer any particular religious view in the context of legislative prayer is to allow all those who pray to do so in accordance with their own consciences and in the language of their own faiths.”

In essence, Rubio and the other senators are playing the religious freedom card, hand-waving away the fact that Greece’s “neutral” policy “virtually ensured a Christian viewpoint” according to the appeals court judges. However, even more problematic is the brief submitted by 23 states, which not only argues that sectarian prayers before government meetings to be upheld, but raises the bar in terms of challenging prayer policies.

“The amici States urge the Court to re-affirm the central holding of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 792 (1983), that legislative prayers are permissible as “simply a tolerable acknowledgment of beliefs widely held among the people of this country,” and to disclaim any role for the so-called endorsement test when it comes to analyzing legislative prayer practices. The Court should also consider using this case as an opportunity to clarify Establishment Clause doctrine more generally by requiring a showing of religious coercion as a touchstone for proving any type of unlawful religious establishment.

In other words, government-sponsored prayers should not only have an Establishment Clause carve-out, individuals should have to prove “religious coercion” in order to bring an establishment of religion challenge against a government body. Such a high bar would throw current precedent on Establishment Clause challenges into chaos. It would also mean that rather famous cases involving Pagans, like Darla Kaye Wynne’s successful struggle against the town of Great Falls, South Carolina, would most likely have been thrown out. Because how, exactly, does a religious minority prove coercion in a town dominated by Christians set on praising Christ before every function?

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan

Marsh v. Chambers, a SCOTUS decision which both the States and Rubio’s coalition places front-and-center in their amicus briefs to argue the Establishment Clause does not apply to government-sponsored prayer, featured a telling dissent by Justice William J. Brennan and Justice Thurgood Marshall that spoke directly to the question of coercion.

“The “primary effect” of legislative prayer is also clearly religious. As we said in the context of officially sponsored prayers in the public schools, “prescribing a particular form of religious worship,” even if the individuals involved have the choice not to participate, places “indirect coercive pressure upon religious minorities to conform to the prevailing officially approved religion. . . .” Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 431 (1962). More importantly, invocations in Nebraska’s legislative halls explicitly link religious belief and observance to the power and prestige of the State.

In short, the coercion is already happening, but it is being ignored in the name of tradition. These State Attorney Generals, and Senators, and conservative Christian organizations like the Family Research Council, and the Liberty Institute want desperately for that coercion to continue, and indeed, for it to be trumpeted as “freedom.”

“Courts that impose religious “neutrality” categorically exclude certain religions that require the use of those prohibited terms and violate the mandate of the Establishment Clause that all persons be treated equally by the government, regardless of religious creed.”

In short, making Christians not say “Jesus” before government assemblies and functions hinders their freedom. Somehow.

As I’ve noted before, the outcome of this verdict will likely decide the fate of opening invocations before government meetings. Will the “model invocation policy” used by Greece (and several other towns) be allowed to stand? If so, we can look forward to a huge groundswell of sectarian Christian prayer being instituted across large chunks of the United States. After all, this model policy clearly states that public bodies are “not required to extend any extraordinary efforts to include particular minority faiths” and  “no apology is necessary for the demographics of the community that the public body serves.” This could be a chilling roll-back of advances by religious minorities, and those who hold no religious affiliation at all.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

I’m hoping that the Supreme Court is prudent here, and commits no drastic change to our understandings of the Establishment Clause, though I’m less optimistic since their Voting Rights Act decision. Recent rulings in the 2nd and 4th Courts of Appeals should be respected, and their understanding of how invocations slanted towards the largest demographic can create the appearance of establishment (and coercion) listened to. The current Supreme Court is made up of Roman Catholics and Jews, two religions that once fought very hard against the unthinking privilege of the Protestant Christian majority. Now, there is a chance to make the United States a truly pluralistic nation, not one that claims to be pluralistic, but looks the other way in the name of tradition.

Whatever happens, modern Pagans, and all religious minorities, should pay very close attention to Town of Greece v. Galloway.

This week a law was passed that will make same-sex marriage legal in England and Wales. The landmark legislation, approved by Queen Elizabeth II, clears the way for legal marriages to start in 2014. The way the new law is structured, religious organizations must “opt in” in order to perform a legally binding ceremony. This historic move follows recent advances for same-sex marriage in parts of the United States and for all of France. Just as I collected reactions from modern Pagans in America following the DOMA/Prop 8 Supreme Court decisions, so too did I want to see how Pagans in England and Wales felt about this development.

web-gay-marriage-getty

Mike Stygal, President of the Pagan Federation, celebrated the “wonderful development,” though pointed out that inequalities remained.

Mike Stygal

Mike Stygal

“Finally the Marriage Act (same sex) has made it through all the hoops our political system presents. This wonderful development is the result of many, many years of persistent effort to secure equality for the LGBT community. There are still inequalities towards LGBT that will need to be challenged and that will require persistent effort to overcome. There are still inequalities with regard to spirituality and faith too. The Pagan Federation is no stranger to persistent effort to challenge and change inequalities and we know just how hard it is to achieve success. Congratulations to all those people who kept at the cause of legal same sex marriage, and to all those who challenge inequality, take heart that inequality can be beaten.”

Yvonne Aburrow, a Pagan from Oxford who also writes for the Patheos blog Sermons From The Mound, noted that Pagans in England and Wales cannot perform legal wedding ceremonies of any kind (which became a point of contention in the lead-up to this law being passed), though was still “delighted” over this advance for marriage equality in the UK.

Yvonne Aburrow

Yvonne Aburrow

“I am delighted that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people can now marry someone of the same sex in England and Wales, and that some religious groups will be able to marry same-sex couples in their places of worship. Unitarians, Quakers, and Liberal Jews campaigned particularly hard on this, and Derek McAuley, Unitarian Chief Officer, Paul Parker (Recording Clerk, Quaker Yearly Meeting), and Rabbi Danny Rich, should be applauded for their lobbying efforts. It is a shame that Pagans in England and Wales are unable to marry either opposite-sex or same-sex couples in a legal ceremony, but it looks as if the House of Lords have left open the possibility of humanist weddings, and weddings for other religions too.”

Aburrow added that her optimism was “cautious” and that “tomorrow, we keep fighting for LGBT rights around the world, and for human rights generally. Until it is safe everywhere to be Black, disabled, LGBT, a woman, or a member of a religious minority, then our work is not yet done.”

Like Aburrow and Stygal, Sophia Catherine of the Divine Community podcast brought up the fact that Pagan weddings can still only be symbolic in nature, and not legally binding, but also raised true gender equality as a primary concern.

“My one sadness about this Act is that, initially, it was to be called the Equal Marriage Act, but the name was changed to make it clear that ‘same-sex’ marriage was involved. There are more than two genders, and that the Act upholds the gender binary that society is obsessed with. However, this Act does take a step forward, in that regard, Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, for mixed-sex married couples where one member changed their legal sex, the couple had to divorce and obtain a civil partnership. Now that marriage is available to all regardless of sex/gender, this will no longer be the case. It is a shame that couples who were forced to go through this process will not automatically regain their marriages, but they will be able to ‘convert’ these civil partnerships back into marriages. Of course, this does not make up for the indignity of what they had to go through, but in the future, this won’t happen to any more couples where one changes their legal sex.”

Vivianne Crowley, author, Jungian psychologist, and faculty at Cherry Hill Seminary, is currently in Paris, and gave a broad perspective informed by France’s recent legalization of same-sex marriages.

Vivianne Crowley

Vivianne Crowley

“The last three centuries have seen in western culture a shift towards recognition of the autonomy of the individual and the right to freedom of self-expression. It is a tide that dictators and others have sought to suppress. It has been subverted – sometimes the tide has turned; but slowly consciousness has undergone a shift.

Major social changes occur when almost unconsciously the greater mass of people sense that an idea is self-evidently right. At first, such evolutions of thought are the preoccupation of a few who are ahead of the zeitgeist. In the late eighteenth century and nineteenth centuries, recognition of the unique value of each individual led inevitably to the abolition of slavery in Europe and the United States. The political impetus that overthrew absolute monarchs led to democracy and the recognition that every adult male should have the right to vote for who should rule his country. In the twentieth century, an inexorable tide saw that right extend to women. Now the west is ready for a new right – the right of individuals to choose to marry their life partner regardless of gender and to make a public commitment that is recognized and honored by the state.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa, among others, set the trend. Now the United Kingdom and France have followed almost simultaneously and other European countries will do the same.

Here, in France, Catholics marched against same-sex marriage, but the law has been swiftly passed. July 14th is Bastille Day, France’s equivalent of the 4th of July – a celebration of revolution past and national identity present. There are major celebrations in all French towns, and particularly of course in Paris. This July 14th the iconic Eiffel Tower was lit up with rainbow colors and songs filled the Paris night sky, celebrating equal marriage rights for all.

Where Canada and Europe can go, other nations can go too. But in the meantime, Vive la France –liberté, égalité, fraternité! And well done, Britain!”

Perhaps the most succinct response that encapsulates many of the recurring themes heard from UK Pagans on marriage equality is from Cat Treadwell, a Trustee of The Druid Network, and ordained Awenydd (Priest) of The Anglesey Druid Order.

“Consenting adults have loved each other for centuries, with or without permission, and will no doubt continue to do so; the law slowly moves forward to accommodate this. We can only hope that as society becomes more accepting, Pagan unions will also be recognised in our own lifetimes.”

Let us hope that society continues to move forward on accepting the simple reality of consenting adults loving each other, and that the desire for modern Pagan clergy in England and Wales to perform legally recognized unions within that tapestry of love is soon realized.

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.

Vic Toews

Vic Toews

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

After the katsina handover, Hopi and the delegation exchanged gifts.

  • Back in April, the sale of sacred Hopi objects in France went ahead despite protests from the Hopi tribe of northeastern Arizona, Survival International, and the actor Robert Redford, who called the sale “a sacrilege, a criminal gesture that contains grave moral repercussions.”  Now, Survival International reports that at least one sacred katsina was returned by a buyer who participated in the auction to retrieve it for the Hopi. Quote: “M. Servan-Schreiber then bought one katsina at the auction to return it to the Hopi. He said, ‘It is my way of telling the Hopi that we only lost a battle and not the war. I am convinced that in the future, those who believe that not everything should be up for sale will prevail. In the meantime, the Hopi will not have lost everything since two of these sacred objects have been saved from being sold.’” A second katsina acquired at the auction by another buyer will be returned to the Hopi later this year.
  • Are prisoners in the UK claiming to be Pagan to get extra benefits? Possibly! Though, this is a tabloid so no real data is given other than that self-described Pagans behind bars has nearly doubled to 602 since 2009. Quote: “The surge in paganism behind bars has sparked fears some may be converting for an easier life.” A Prison Service spokesperson noted that Pagan prisoners receive 4 days off per year, and no more.
  • The New York Times profiles the Living Interfaith Church in Washington, a religion that embraces all religions, even Pagans. Quote: “Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.” One wonders if the local Unitarian-Universalist congregation wasn’t theologically inclusive enough? Religion scholar Stephen Prothero notes that “one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.”
  • Is 2013 the year of the Witch? Pam Grossman at the Huffington Post seems to think so. Quote: “As the year progresses I predict we will all more fully channel the spirit of the witch. Honoring the earth and our bodies; shifting away from mass-market medicines and agri-business toward natural healing and whole foods; sharing our resources rather than focusing on mere accumulation of goods; collaborating and communicating more openly; helping to elevate women and girls to equality all over the world: these are all grand workings of feminine magic that we are manifesting together.” Pardon me while I pick up every stitch.
  • Lisa Derrick at La Figa isn’t fond of Rick Perry voodoo dolls, saying “they perpetuate dangerous, off-base stereotypes and do nothing to help either pro-choice factions or non-Christians.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

As was widely reported yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down decisions in cases affecting DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriages in that state. Both rulings were broadly seen as victories for marriage equality (with the caveat that there is more still to do, and legal hurdles remain). In the immediate wake of the decisions being released I spotlighted several Pagan reactions to the rulings, but I received and read far more than that. So I would like to do another post today highlighting further reactions to these landmark decisions.

Yeshe Rabbit

Yeshe Rabbit

“The past 24 hours have been huge for personal sovereignty in America. Wendy Davis and the women of Texas took a stand and told the GOP, “Hands off my uterus,” and SCOTUS declared DOMA unconstitutional. I am rejoicing in these outcomes, along with many of my Pagan sisters and brothers, because these outcomes represent the triumph of free will in two highly-charged matters: women’s freedom of choice and marriage equality. I celebrate both of these decisions. And yet, it still troubles me that both of these high-level governmental decisions revolved around what takes place in the most private areas of our lives: our sexuality and reproduction. As if it is OK that these things are regulated in the first place. As if we should feel content to have won the right to determine what choices we make about our bodies at a fundamental level. As if we were not free and sovereign in our sexuality all along. As if the law could ever regulate the way one’s heart sings when one looks upon a beloved. May the wheels of change, now with greater momentum, spin faster toward a future of profound sovereignty in our sexual bodies, in our heart’s loving desires, beyond even what this moment of celebration can provide.”Lady Yeshe Rabbit, CAYA Coven

Cherry Hill Seminary's Holli Emore

Holli Emore, Executive Director, Cherry Hill Seminary

“A long twilight of injustice finally sees the light of reason and clear conscience!  That I lived to see this day, after well over 25 years of marching, speaking, contributing, showing up at rallies and challenging narrow minds – this is a day to celebrate and remember and tell to the generations to come.  To those who are cynical or anti-government – this is the American way at its finest, the beauty of justice, the possibility of admitting wrong and making it right.”  - Holli Emore, Executive Director of Cherry Hill Seminary

Diana Paxson

Diana Paxson

“In the Germanic countries in pre-Christian times, although the gods would be asked to bless the union (as they did every other rite of passage), marriage was a social contract between two individuals or more properly, between their families, that changed their status and relationship to the community as well as to each other. Since same-sex couples are as capable of forming long-term relationships, raising children, and functioning as a household in a community as hetero-sexual couples are, they ought to have the same legal status and protections. The Troth has always supported equality, and our clergy have officiated at many same-sex weddings (where legal), and hand-fastings (where not legal yet).”Diana L. Paxson, Elder, Clergy Coordinator, The Troth

Lord Blackcat

Lord Blackcat

“Today’s Supreme Court ruling striking down DOMA is an important victory on the expansion of freedom for all people and pagans in particular. Since the 1990′s, there has been a well documented effort by certain conservative Christian groups to shape American law in accordance with their philosophical and religious views. Opponents of marriage equality repeatedly cite Judeo-Christian reference as a basis for the legal definition of marriage. As pagans, most of us have long recognized our deities as transcending culturally based gender roles.  Most pagans have similarly embraced all aspects of consensual adult love as inherent rights.  Today’s recognition that diverse members of society are Constitutionally entitled to equal access under the law sets an important precedent.  Mob-mentally, majority rule does not trump individual liberty.  It is this individual liberty that allows for minority religions, such as make up most pagan practice, to openly exist.  Whatever one’s politics, religion, or sexual orientation, everyone should celebrate this recognition that religious views of a majority cannot and should not be permitted to squash the diversity which is the basis of life,liberty and the pursuit of happiness, guaranteed by our US Constitution.”Lord Blackcat, HP, Sylvan Grove, Seattle WA

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

Rev. Philipp J. Kessler

“As a Pagan I am thrilled by both rulings. “All acts of love and pleasure” are the rituals of the Gods. I personally feel that the government should have no say in whether legal consenting adults get married, regardless of their sex or sexual identity. Marriage in this context is a religious institution. How politicos view marriage is as a legal contract. If you are going to view marriage as a legal contract, then any two consenting adults should be able to enter into such a contract. I am a legally ordained and recognized minister in the state of Nebraska, and many other states that recognize my ordination. I have been asked many times to do weddings and handfastings. I’ve not had the joy or the privilege to perform a same-sex ceremony. I have been asked, but things changed in the lives of the couples and the unions did not take place. If I were asked today to go to one of the 12 (soon to be 13) states that have legal same-sex marriage (and the District of Columbia) to perform such a glorious union, I would gladly do so. If I were asked today to do a same-sex handfasting or other such ceremony in any of the 50 states or anywhere else in the world, I would gladly do so. I am now and always have been of the firm opinion that all adults have the right to love who they want and how they want as long as it does not infringe on the rights of others or place themselves or others at risk of undue harm. There is still a long uphill battle in the United States for marriage equality. The provision of DOMA that allows states without same-sex marriage to ignore the validity of a same-sex marriage from a state that does still stands. SCOTUS declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. The rest of DOMA still stands, which means that each state still has the right to define marriage according to its voters or law makers.”Rev. Philipp J. Kessler, Co-founder and Nebraska Facilitator of the Pagan Alliance Network

Fire Lyte

Fire Lyte

“We’re hoping that our federal government will get a majority of its House and Senate to enact a federal law giving sweeping marriage equality nationwide. DOMA doesn’t give us that. Prop 8 doesn’t give us that. And there isn’t anything in the United States Constitution to challenge in a judicial setting. It is possible that the President could give an Executive Order attempting to force the issue, but this would likely get overturned in Congress, since it’s been found in the past that an Executive Order cannot be used to create law, but rather to clarify or enforce current law. Though, in this Rioter’s opinion, if an Executive Order can be used to go to war, it should be able to be used to give equal marriage rights. But, it’s not like the President doesn’t have enough on his plate right now. And that’s where we stand, folks. There is a lot to celebrate today, but the war is nowhere close to over. And, for folks like me in states where gay marriage still isn’t recognized, today is just another day. I can’t rush out and marry my Partner. I can’t file my 2013 tax return jointly. I can’t receive one of the over 1000 legal rights only married couples receive. I’m just Partner’s roommate for most legal purposes. Bittersweet, definition of.”Fire Lyte, Inciting A Riot podcast

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“This morning, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down both the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8. To me, this time, the legal system stood for love and justice. I’ve said before that we ought not to give one set of citizens rights that another set does not have. If we are to have laws, they must be equitable. That said, I think government should get out of the marriage business. I also recognize that my own relationships are much larger and more fluid than this sort of marriage can encompass. Yes, I came out about this last time we were discussing DOMA.  Today the Supreme Court decided in favor of equity and love. Yesterday, the Supreme Court did the opposite. Yesterday, the Supreme Court gutted the Voters Rights Act, an action which threatens to disenfranchise many people who still need the support of things like district elections in order to give themselves a proper voice in a political system stacked toward the privileged. That does not sound like justice. Nor does it sound like love. It sounds like a further separation of us from one another.”T. Thorn Coyle, Solar Cross Temple

Teo Bishop

Teo Bishop

“When I say that this is a small step toward equal treatment under the law, I’m not just talking about us queers here. I’m also talking about moving toward a place of greater gender equality, too. Our society is built within a binary gender paradigm which favors one gender over the other. In many ways, the LGBT rights movement threatens that very paradigm, because jumping on board the gay train requires you to suspend all of your “normal” assumptions about gender roles in relationship. Do that, and you start seeing imbalance and injustice nearly every place you look. LGBT rights are like a gateway drug in that way. Start supporting the homos, and before long you’ll end up a complete social justice activist. (I’ve seen it happen.) It’s good to remind people who may think of LGBT rights as a “fringe issue” that today’s ruling fits into a much larger discussion about personal liberty and equality — two principles which can, with enough political firepower, be jeopardized for even the most mainstream among us. Even hetero-normative folks need to be on the lookout. But not today. Today is a day worth celebrating. I believe that equality is a Pagan value, and equality was upheld today.”Teo Bishop, Bishop In The Grove

I have no doubt there are even more thoughts and responses out there that I have missed. Have you weighed in? Please let me know in the comments. The DOMA and Prop 8 rulings were just one of several major rulings made this term, and I’m also hoping to explore the changes to the Voting Rights Act from a Pagan perspective soon. For now, I’m content to celebrate this step forward for equality. Have a great day!