“Missing from the district court’s discussion of Almonte’s qualifications is any discussion of how his Santa Muerte testimony could legitimately connect Medina’s prayer to drug trafficking. There is no evidence that Santa Muerte iconography is ‘associational,’ nor was there any allegation that the ‘main purpose’ of Santa Muerte veneration ‘was to traffic in’ narcotics. Cf. id. at 1562, 1563. Almonte testified that there may be ‘millions’ of followers of Santa Muerte, but he proffered no manner of distinguishing individuals who pray to Santa Muerte for illicit purposes from everyone else. His data comes from his work as a narcotics detective and his compilation of ‘several cases from law enforcement officers throughout the United States where these items have been involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activity.’ Mere observation that a correlation exists—especially when the observer is a law enforcement officer likely to encounter a biased sample—does not meaningfully assist the jury in determining guilt or innocence.”
The decision went on to note that describing Santa Muerte as a “tool” of the drug trade was, legally speaking, a bit of a reach on the part of prosecution.
“The government’s inability at every stage of litigation to explain precisely how Santa Muerte can be “used” elucidates the poor fit between our ‘tools of the trade’ jurisprudence and Almonte’s purported area of expertise. It also highlights that further inquiry by the district court would have revealed that Almonte’s testimony would not properly ‘help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.'”
In short, mere devotion to Santa Muerte is not probable cause, and can’t be used to tie someone to the drug trade. On reading the decision Dr. Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies and author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” tweeted that this was a “big blow” to self-appointed hobbyist experts within law enforcement.
Santa Muerte court ruling is big blow to law enforcement self-appointed “experts” who testify in drug cases on regular basis
So what does this ruling mean? It means that the two accused in this case will get a new trial, one that will leave out testimony regarding Santa Muerte, and it is also a huge blow against the liberal use of self-made occult and “cult” experts in criminal trials. This is very good news for anyone who practices a misunderstood minority religion in the United States. It is easy to scare a jury with tales of strange belief systems, when the focus should be on presentation of material evidence in a particular case.
As I’ve been reminding folks here near-daily, The Wild Hunt’s Fall Funding Drive is currently underway. I’m very happy with the way things have gone so far, and thanks to 245 funders we’ve raised $8,888 dollars of our $10,000 dollar goal. That means we are very, very, close to hitting our official goal, and funding this site for another year. I have every confidence that we’ll hit our goal, and one Pagan media site, Humanistic Paganism, has even launched their own fund-drive so that they can donate enough to become an advertiser. However, you don’t have to raise a lot of money to help us finish this campaign, at this point all it will take is a small number of regular readers to just give a little to push us past the finish line. For $5 dollars you can join our new exclusive content e-list, and for $15 dollars you will receive an exclusive blogroll link. Once the campaign is finished the old links will come down on their one-year anniversary, and the new year’s donor’s links will go up, so don’t miss out on your chance to show your support (and possibly get some link-traffic).
I also want to note that this money isn’t simply lining our coffers, we pay our columnists and contributors, and we’ve already spent a significant chunk of the money raised so far to pay for web hosting (as our traffic continues to grow, so to does the money needed to keep our site running smoothly, our current traffic load would crash a typical shared server setup). When we hit October of this year, our account was bare, because all the money went back into making sure The Wild Hunt was running. This is as it should be, but I’m hoping we can continue to grow, and establish The Wild Hunt as a media institution that lives beyond the tenure of any writer or editor, becoming a flagship publication for our interconnected movement. So my deepest thanks to everyone who has donated so far, and I hope it will be my privilege to thank even more of you. I think 2014 will be an important year in our growth, and only your support can make that possible, no matter what level that support may be.
Now, since I know that reading Funding Drive pitches probably aren’t everyone’s idea of a great time, here are some recent news links of note that I’ve come across this week. Thanks again, and please help this site reach its goal! Now then… UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!
Sometimes, there are practices from our past that we don’t want to revive, like necropants. Quote: “In the 17th Century, Icelandic mystics believed an endless supply of money could be had by flaying a corpse from the waist down and wearing its skin like pants. They called the skin-slacks nábrók, or ‘necropants.'” Look, I don’t need to raise money that bad.
So, sometimes when you find a tool shed with bones in it, a local media outlet will call an ‘expert’ to give their take. Sadly, most occult experts have some rather prejudicial views about people who engage in occult practices. Quote: “‘Usually somebody will turn to that when they are an outcast from society – that they already don’t fit in – maybe they’re actively trying to not fit in, so they’re trying to do something shocking to push other people away,’ Dr. Wachtel said. ‘Other times, maybe in their childhood – they’ve been pushed away, and this is their way of reconciling that in their mind.’ Dr. Wachtel says believers in the occult often have a background of abuse, ranging from verbal to physical, to neglect.” Perhaps they should note that Dr. Wachtel’s specialty is forensic psychology.
The (infamous) Warrens are still at it. Quote: “A long, narrow passageway connects the basement of Lorraine Warren’s home to a small room filled with dozens of occult items said to be evil in nature. ‘This is perhaps the most haunted place, I would say in the United States, because of all the objects that are housed here,’ said Tony Spera, director of New England Center for Psychic Research (NESPR). ‘These [objects] are the opposite of holy and blessed.'” More on the Warrens, here. I’ve since seen “The Conjuring,” and while a well-constructed thriller-chiller, it’s obvious when the clunky demon-haunted belief system of the Warrens is being inserted into the narrative.
“The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors. The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.”
Opponents insisted this was only about traffic and noise, and not about Witchcraft, though one neighbor did question if the Temple of Witchcraft was “truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.” Still, this is a win, and I congratulate the temple on their new home.
“Petrauske was said to be the “high priest” of a witches’ coven in St Ives, Cornwall, and ordered the girls to carry out his sick fantasies. The court heard Kemp videoed the abuse, but also took part in the assaults, along with friends Solheim and Stan Pirie – a notorious paedophile who died in jail following his conviction for sex abuse in the mid-2000s. The duo’s victims gave harrowing evidence from behind a screen during the three-week trial. They said they were then abused by their tormentors, before being given money and sweets to buy their silence.”
As I said when I first reported on this, “those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.” I can only hope the victims find some measure of closure with their conviction.
“The commission’s decision is interesting, says Emma Moody, head of charities at the commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, because it has said in the past that it is not the regulator of religion. But it is now saying, she says, that the Pagan Federation is not a religion because it does not meet its requirements.”
The decision also states tht due to Jaynes’ history of using aliases, concealing his identity and eluding criminal prosecution, “an allowance of the Petitioner’s change of name petition jeopardizes public safety.”
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.
David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman
Fields Book Store in San Francisco, California, a haven for spiritual and esoteric books since the 1930s, has announced that it’s closing their physical location and moving to online sales only. Current owner David Wiegleb says that “the bottom line comes down to the bottom line — revenues did not meet expenses for quite a number of years, even after cutting back wherever we could.” They have set up an email address at ThankYou@FieldsBooks.com where patrons can send photos and remembrances which they hope to collect into a gallery to be shared. I’m proud to say I’ve visited (and bought books) at Fields, and that David Wiegleb is a gentleman and a scholar, I wish Fields well as it makes the transition to being an Internet-only business.
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has announced that the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions will not be happening in Brussels due to the ongoing economic hardships in Europe, and that they are seeking a new home for the gathering. Quote: “The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Parliament of the World’s Religions Brussels 2014 regretfully announce that, due to the European financial crisis, it has not been possible to raise the necessary funds to hold the 2014 Parliament. The two organizations look forward to exploring other potential joint projects. Separately, the Council is pursuing options for the next Parliament with other interested and qualified cities.” Currently, two Pagans, Andras Corban Arthen and Phyllis Curott, sit on the Board of Trustees, while a third, Angie Buchanan, is a Board Emeritus. Could this mean the Parliament will come to America? Will the Parliament even happen in 2014? We’ll keep you posted as things develop.
Suhag A. Shukla, Co-Founder of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), writes about how congresswoman-elect Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii breaks the “religious glass ceiling.” Quote: “My hope is that Tulsi Gabbard, as a Hindu American, will bring to Washington and to her style of representation two striking qualities that are as quintessentially Hindu as they are American — the duty to work toward the greater good and pluralism. Hinduism teaches that each of us is an embodiment of the Divine and this shared quality of divinity makes us part of a world family (Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). How should this translate to how one governs? See everyone as an extension of oneself, treat others fairly and equally, regardless of race, religion, gender or class, and support actions (i.e. policies) that benefit the greater good, and not special interests.”
Check out this interview with Dr. Dave Evans, author of “Aleister Crowley and the 20th Century Synthesis of Magick” and “The History of British Magick After Crowley.” Quote: “It is also very difficult when historical research starts to unpick and in some cases undermine a lore that surrounds a big name, and I got some pretty hateful stuff by email from a few Grant fans who didn’t like me pointing out some historical problems with his tales, even though I made it abundantly clear that while pure academic work on him showed some logic problems, as a magician I had the ultimate respect for him. Unlike Amado Crowley, who I pretty much dismantled in every way possible, his claims were a dreadful case of fairytales (in a bad way) – which was a shame, I really *wanted* Aleister to have left a living vessel behind, with some massive magickal power. Maybe he did, but it was not Amado, and all the email abuse and threats from his students doesn’t change that… As I said, for every asshole there were angels, and now that the fictional character known as Amado has “died” the abusive emails have stopped.”
Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.
“I’m currently in a place where if an inmate brought a case, my case could go forward [...] I saw this coming down the pike, and so I have helped inmates bring forward cases that meet the criteria to make it so my case is viable and valid [...] I’ve managed to keep those cases under the radar and the first of those cases his the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last week. [...] If the court rules that those inmates who are on that case do have a right to a chaplain then I can walk right back into the court and forget the ruling made by the 9th Circuit or anybody else.”
“Shauna Hartman and Karen Hill, two Wiccan inmates in the California Department of Corrections and rehabilitation who are members of Rev. Patrick McCollum’s prison program, will be represented Friday morning in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by the law firm Jones Day of San Francisco. Hartman & Hill have sued the CDCR for not providing a Wiccan Chaplain and for discriminating against Pagans in general. The lawsuit, following the case brought by Rev. Patrick McCollum, continues the battle for equality in the prison system and will fulfill the court’s requirement that an inmate must first prove that they need a Wiccan chaplain before McCollum’s case can become viable. If the court rules in Hartman’s favor, then the McCollum case under the previous court’s ruling once again becomes viable and can continue to be litigated.”
McCollum called The Wild Hunt just after completion of oral arguments to say that proceedings went “exceptionally well” though it will be months before a decision is handed down. In the meantime, McCollum will be at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting where he’ll take part in a special presentation on chaplaincy in prison, and the new data that was gathered by the Pew Forum earlier this year. According to that data, there could be as many as 40,000 modern Pagans currently incarcerated in the United States and more than a third of prisons say their Pagan populations are growing. Yet the vast majority of prison chaplains are Christian, and of that number an impressive 44% are Evangelical Christians, so the California challenge to their “five faiths” policy is a vital step towards correcting a growing problem.
“It was intense, but fulfilling, and I hope that similar prison festivals can take place someday in other prisons and for other incarcerated people. The mere fact that five prominent Pagans were willing to come and celebrate for a day with the men gave them a sense of validation, an understanding that they truly aren’t forgotten, and that they, too, matter in the world. And this can only be a good thing!”
The battle over access to Pagan chaplains here in United States, or even the question of if Pagan chaplains should be paid in Canada, can seem far away from our troubles and cares. However, these fights get right to the basic question of equal treatment for Pagans and other minority religions. Access to chaplains, to religious guidance and instruction, should be a fundamental right and the human cost when that right is denied can be greater that some would imagine. The rights of prisoners are a canary in the coalmine of our society, what we imagine is acceptable to deny them eventually become acceptable to deny others. Precedents are won and lost behind bars, and McCollum has worked tirelessly to ensure that minority religions have access to chaplaincy. As information on this case, and related cases, becomes available, The Wild Hunt will be here to update you.
Corrections Canada this week put out a request for a proposal for a Wiccan chaplain who will provide about 17 hours of service a month, about an hour less service than the department says it needs for the Jewish faith. [...] “This has been put to tender because there is a need,” said Corrections spokesman David Harty. “The requirement of these services is on-going. It has been used in the past.”
“About an hour after The Canadian Press reported about the contract, a statement from Mr. Toews’s office said it will not proceed until after a review. “Religious freedom is a paramount value in Canadian society,” Julie Carmichael, director of communications for the minister, said in an email. “However, the government is not convinced all services offered through the chaplaincy program reflect an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.” A government official said Mr. Toews was not consulted about the Wiccan posting.”
So which kind of notoriety would you prefer? The guy who hired a Witch chaplain, or the guy who buckled under pressure and removed a chaplain posting for Wiccan prisoners? Here’s how the Canadian Press is framing the move:“Public Safety Minister Vic Toews appears less concerned about the quality of spells cast from behind bars than he is about a backlash from taxpayers, cancelling a Corrections Canada tender for a priest to nurture the spiritual needs of witches in prison.” Ouch. No matter what he does now, he’ll have to explain his decision. In the meantime he’s managed to alienate Pagans in Canada, and may be opening his office up to possible legal action.
David Eby with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association say Corrections Canada is constitutionally obligated to provide the spiritual leader. “It’s the kind of job posting that is going to catch a lot of people off guard, but the government does have an obligation not to discriminate between religions,” he said. “They don’t get to say, ‘We like the Catholics but we don’t like the Wiccans,’ or ‘We like people who practice the Muslim faith but we don’t like the Wiccans.’ They have to provide those services equally.”
“Iowa-based Brock Auction Co. planned to auction five tracts of land owned by Leonard and Margaret Reynolds on Saturday. But a message on the auction house’s website Thursday said it has been canceled at the land owners’ direction. The auction house and Margaret Reynolds declined to comment. Tribes of the Great Sioux Nation consider the site key to their creation story and are trying to purchase it because they fear new owners would develop the land, which they call Pe’ Sla. The property, which spans about 1,942 acres of pristine prairie grass, is the only sacred site on private land currently outside Sioux control.”
This is certainly a step in the right direction, and gives more time for tribes of the Great Sioux Nation to raise funds should the land eventually go up for auction. Let’s hope the request of James Anaya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is heard and a consultation with tribal nations, local, and federal government officials can take place to find a way forward so that this sacred site isn’t developed.
“Is this, as some claim, a case of deep discrimination? On its face, it does not appear to be so. It appears to be a stand-up analysis of facts presented at trial. Were these all the facts presented at trial? One would have to review all the exhibits accepted into evidence and read the transcript of all the testimony in order to be sure. Wil this case be appealed? That is yet to be seen. What will the fate of the Matreum be if it is appealed? Appellate courts do not like to second-guess the fact finding entity (whether it be a judge or a jury) on appeal. The appellate court will be entitled to review the entire record, however, and not just the facts which Judge Platkin found to be determinative. This fight may not be over.”
I don’t think this fight is over as the Maetreum feels that the judge analyzed the evidence through a lens that delegitimized practices he didn’t understand. Quote: “Charity is not charity, prayer, meditation and spiritual activities are not religious, duties of clergy clearly spelled out are not spelled out, activities every week and formal ones every two weeks are “irregular”, some mythical standard of number of regular congregants was not met. We are a “legitimate” religion but actually exist to wrangle a tax exemption (not legitimate) I am personally a liar with no actual evidence provided to justify saying that.” The real question will be if the Maetreum can afford to take this fight to the next level. The Wild Hunt will keep you posted of further developments.
You can download the file, here. It’s only twelve minutes long, and there’s some background noise, but I think there’s a lot of wisdom, history, and good conversation packed into it. I hope you’ll check it out.
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.
David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.
Spanish filmmaker Monica Demes has created a documentary about her initiation into the Reclaiming tradition entitled “Diary of a Sorceress.” Quote: “Through a journey into the legend of Avalon, we travel to Glastonbury, where the director of the documentary is initiated into Celtic Reclaiming, a modern tradition of Witchcraft, connected with the power of nature and with ancient celtic rituals. Her trip and the contact with these wise women opened to our director a new way of living, closer to nature and through this she recovered her capacity to dream.”
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious issued a response to the Vatican-led crackdown on their autonomy. They say the Vatican’s ruling was “based on unsubstantiated accusations and the result of a flawed process that lacked transparency.” What happens next remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see if the Catholic hierarchy blinks in this showdown.
HuffPo lists “27 Essential Pagan Texts” though it should be noted that “essential” doesn’t necessarily mean “historically important works that help you understand the development of modern Paganism.” It’s just a list of books Pagans really like, which is fine, everyone should make one.
Happy May Day everyone! 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 lets get started!
“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”
“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”
“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”
“Nine months after a federal judge barred the state from making legislatively approved plates with the religious message, Attorney General Henry McMaster says a similar plate designed by a nonprofit group is legal. The plate under review at the Department of Motor Vehicles reads http://www.IBELIEVEsc.net along the top. It features a golden sunrise and on the left, three crosses symbolizing the site where Jesus was crucified . The nonprofit group applied for the plates in February under state law that allows private groups to create specialty plates, if they pay a $4,000 deposit or collect at least 400 prepaid orders before production. It officially changed its name to the website address, in hopes of meeting new DMV rules that require tags bear the sponsoring group’s name.”
“In South Carolina, Baptists wanted the tag on cars here and pitched the idea to Republican South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s chief of staff. State Sen. Yancey McGill, a Kingstree Democrat, got the bill passed in a couple of days without even having a public hearing or debate. “It’s a great idea,” McGill said Tuesday, calling it an opportunity to express beliefs. “People don’t have to buy them. But it affords them that opportunity. I welcome any religion tags.” What about Wicca, commonly referred to as witchcraft? “Well, that’s not what I consider to be a religion,” McGill said.”
“The specialty license program has a secular purpose – allowing all nonprofit organizations to identify themselves by a logo or symbol,” McMaster wrote in his Aug. 16 opinion. “It is our opinion that the Establishment Clause would not be violated by approval of the plate. Indeed, it is our opinion that denial would infringe upon the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.”
We should be paying close attention to what the DMV rules in the instance, and we should be quick in testing the parameters of an approval to see if the law will be applied similarly to all religious non-profits. If Christ’s cross is OK as a logo, then a Wiccan, Druid, Asatru, Hindu, or Buddhist symbol should be as well. If they aren’t, then we may have another court battle on our hands.