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SALEM, Mass. — Lorelei Stathopolous sees her role as an animal-rights activist as a natural extension of being a Witch. “I defend the defenseless,” she said, and in particular she tries to protect dogs as a way to honor the two dogs hanged here in 1692, during the infamous witch trials. Acting in accordance with her beliefs is what she was doing Aug. 14, when she responded to a call about a dog in a hot car. Trying to intervene on the animal’s behalf got her arrested, leading to breathless coverage over local and national media outlets.

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Lorelei Stathopoulos [courtesy photo]

Stathopoulos owns Crow Haven Corner, billed as “Salem’s oldest Witch shop,” and she’s also the founder of Salem Saves Animals. The manager Hex, another local witch shop called to ask her advice after noticing that a dog had been left in a car with only a slightly open window on a 98-degree afternoon. She recommended breaking the window. When she was told no one at Hex was comfortable doing that she told them, “Get the bat ready, I’m on my way down.”

She calculates that the dog had been in the vehicle for at least 21 minutes by the time that she arrived.  Since she had notified police on the way to the area, she did not actually break the window.  Instead, she tried to persuade officers that the animal was not as well off as they believed.

Salem’s animal control officer, who reportedly has both the training and equipment to take a dog’s temperature through the window, only works 30 hours a week. Stathopoulos urged the officers to call the fire department to extract the dog, and then to charge the car’s owner when he appeared. However, their assessment was that the dog was not in distress.

“I don’t blame the officers. I blame the training they have received” she said.

Noting that the dog was “panting heavily,” Stathopoulos attempted to give it water through the window before the owner arrived, over objections of the police officers. The dog didn’t take any, which may have been due to it not being thirsty or being excited by the attention, or even in extreme distress. That was never determined and the dog was not taken in for examination.

The dog’s owner was eventually given a warning. However, this was not enough for Stathopoulos. who informed the officers that if he wasn’t arrested that she should be. They obliged, charging her with disturbing the peace. The video below shows some of what occurred at that moment.


“I have no regrets for the arrest, or what I said. These are emotional beings,” Stathopoulos said, which is why she and others have been pushing for a more comprehensive animal protection law in Salem. “Even the Pope said that all dogs go to heaven.”

A stronger law would, she hopes, provide for better officer training with regard to animal issues. She recounted a time recently when a pit bull was found tied up and abandoned, and how the police response was, “Bring it down to the station, we’ll shoot it.” The city animal control officer once declined to assist a coyote caught in a fence, presumably because the training only deals with handling dogs.

What makes this story particularly good fodder for “shock jocks” and mainstream media reporters is the fact that there is going to be a trial, and it is scheduled for Oct. 26.

Stathopoulos wouldn’t agree to plea guilty, and the district attorney has opted to take the case to trial, although the charge can only amount to a fine of $150. The guilty plea would have included agreeing to stay away from the car owner, whose name she said that she has yet to learn.

She also estimates that she will have to pay her own attorney $3,-5,000, and that she will “lose thousands that day on readings” that she won’t be able to do at her shop. It is possible that the only beneficiaries of the trial will be the commentators who are watching the developments, such as conservative radio host Jeff Kuhner, who interview Stathopoulos on The Kuhner Report for the Boston station WRKO.

Kuhner admittedly was unfamiliar with modern-day Witches and, at one point, asked Stathopoulos if she were a Wiccan, but pronounced it “weeken.”   He wasted no time comparing this “modern day witch trial in Salem” to the historic events of 1692, saying, “It didn’t turn out well for your ancestors then.”  The segment can be heard in its entirely at WRKO’s site, and it appears that he based his understanding of the events on a WHDH video news segment.

Stathopoulos, who said she has extensive experience being interviewed, was not impressed with the coverage overall. “I do have a colorful personality,” she acknowledged, but making light of the Witch trials is inappropriate in her opinion. “Professional interviewers can make it go one way or another,” she said. “For them to ask, ‘Did the Witch do the right thing?’ is sort of appalling. Do [they] think we should leave the dog in the car?'”

Kuhner said several times during the segment that he did not agree with leaving the animal in distress, but thought the matter should have ended when the owner arrived and could turn the air conditioning on in the vehicle. He never answered the questions posed by Statholopoulos on whether he’d consider it the same if it had been a baby. Later on in the segment, Christian Day — owner of Hex outside of which the incident took place — pressed him on that point, and the host admitted that he believed the life of a baby is more important.

Witches and other Pagans should brace for another round of “Salem Witch trial” stories making the media rounds this fall when Stathopoulos has her day in court, Oct. 26, just in time for the busiest tourist season in America’s Witch city.

CHITTENANGO, NEW YORK –Cindy McGinley understands the circle of life and death quite well. A former president and current trustee of the Henge of Keltria, her belief that all life is sacred includes a recognition that all life also must eventually end. It’s her love of animal life that led her to obtain a license to rehabilitate wildlife from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a role which has sometimes required her to end the life of a creature which could not be restored to health.

Nevertheless, she now finds herself in a battle to save the lives of two does that she has been caring for at Rivendell Farm & Sanctuary, a 12-acre property she maintains mostly as a base of operations for her horse-centered life coaching practice. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has effectively condemned the deer, named Deirdre and Lily, to death. According to the DEC’s  assessment, McGinley overstepped the bounds of her license by keeping them. That decision was made in response to McGinley’s application for a new license specifically to keep the two animals for educational purposes, because she believes that they cannot be released into the wild.

Deirdre, now five years old, was the first deer McGinley rehabilitated, according to a story in the Legislative Gazette. She was found as a fawn by the body of her mother, who had been killed by a car. Several boys discovered her and brought the newborn home. They contacted McGinley when they learned that keeping deer without a license is illegal in the state.

Despite her training on how to avoid having the young animal imprint upon her, McGinley said it simply wasn’t possible given the intense ministrations needed to save Deirdre’s life. Moreover, as she later mused in a blog post, their meeting seemed foreordained by a shamanic journey that she had taken earlier that year:

And, quick as a flash, as my heart went out to the little creature, the realization dawned that this fawn was sent to me by Morning Glory, and was perhaps even the physical manifestation of the spirit fawn with which I had touched noses in the Spirit World. I did not know if the plan was to send her to me even as I met her in the Spirit World. I only knew that with the arrival of this fawn, Spirit was at work in my life once again. Our connection was instant and powerful. From the moment we locked eyes, I became Deirdre’s mother and she, my child.

Regardless of this connection, McGinley regularly evaluated Deirdre to determine if she was ready to be released, something she dutifully reported to the DEC in the mandated annual log of her work the year she saved the animal. The doe, having lost its mother after only one or two days, never acquired any of the skills needed to survive in the wild. McGinley told The Wild Hunt that she kept trying, but life circumstances intruded. She said:

In the wild, doe fawns stay with their mothers until they are at least 2 years old. When Deirdre was just 2 years old, I sustained a mild head injury, a concussion, that really threw me for a loop. I had to take a semester away from grad school because the post-concussive syndrome was so bad, and I’ve only recently achieved a full recovery, after physical and occupational therapy. So the paperwork for Deirdre slipped through the cracks. I did have hope, too, that last summer she might be ready for what we call ‘soft release’ — that is, a gradual return to the wild where she would still receive support, shelter and food until she was entirely able to fend for herself. (Incidentally, that was not an option offered by the DEC for her.)

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Although Deirdre had imprinted upon McGinley, this is not typical in her rehabilitation work; other fawns don’t bond with their human host simply because the doe is present, allowing them to be released. Even as McGinley was recovering from her own injury, another fawn was brought to her farm, a doe who would come to be called Lily. Unlike Deirdre, she did have the chops for life on the outside, but Lily had problems of her own, as McGinley chronicled.

I had the vet come out and she recognized a thiamine (B1) deficiency. If fawns (and goat kids, incidentally) have a drastic change of diet, thiamine production in the stomach ceases, and that can cause brain swelling and blindness. Of course, losing her mother had created a drastic change of diet! We started her on (unfortunately, painful) B1 injections, and after the first 2 days, she would not let me near her to give her anymore of that! But the vitamin did the trick, because she was strong and aware enough now to run away from me. Unlike Deirdre, Lily had had the care of her mother for 3 months and the education of a wild fawn, so she was quite wary of humans, and the painful injections did nothing to endear us to her. Lily was a candidate for release when she was stronger.

Unfortunately, though she is now quite healthy and happily follows Deirdre around, Lily never regained her eyesight.

With two deer on her hands which she could not release, McGinley set about to apply for the special license needed to legally keep them on her farm. Six weeks later, she received a rejection letter that included strict orders on what to do. Lily should have been euthanized right away, she was informed. McGinley could either do so herself or turn the blind doe over to DEC officials to end her life. Those two options were also presented for Deirdre, along with a third one: lock her out and stop providing food and water. This was a far cry from the “soft release” for which McGinley  had hoped.

That notice came in June, and McGinley has worked to save Deirdre and Lily ever since. She agrees with the law preventing people from keeping deer as pets. However, she thinks there should be some avenue to appeal decisions, and consider gray areas. “There is no reason why these two does should not be allowed to live safely where they are, so I was shocked when the [license] was denied out of hand, sight unseen, with no cogent reason given as to why they denied my application,” she said.

An attorney was hired, and she took her case to the people. Perhaps it was divine intervention, but her online petition went viral and now has over 205,000 signatures, of which she says at least 12,000 are from New York residents. When there was just over 130,000 signatures, she delivered the petition via a disc to Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She got no response.  She then brought printed copies of all 200,000+ names to his office in the state capital of Albany. ” An aide met us in the waiting area of the executive chambers, listened politely to my plea, and took the very heavy box with the 3000+ double-sided pages of printed petition back to the office. She promised a response from the Governor, but I have to say, I am not holding my breath.”

The outpouring of support for the deer included shout-outs by actor Ian Harding, who tweeted about their plight and prominently featured them in his Instagram account and on Twitter.

On the legal front, the execution has been stayed while the DEC presents its case to a judge, and McGinley’s attorney has indicated he is hopeful some kind of deal can be reached. “I have directly spent $8500 to lawyers already, and I’ve raised maybe $5300 in donations to the legal fund,” McGinley said. “The cost will be directly proportional to how long the DEC continues to treat 2 rescued does in rural central NY like they are Public Enemy Number One. I’m certainly not going away.”  She is due back in court on September 8, so the animals have at least that much of a reprieve.

Most of the money raised was through Indiegogo campaigns, but supporters are also invited to buy a t-shirt to support the effort. According to longstanding legal precedent, wild animals are owned by the state, a philosophy so entrenched it is not likely to even be challenged in this case. The best hope is to convince the DEC that McGinley’s keeping these animals is neither irresponsible nor dangerous.

Supporters gathered in Albany

Supporters gathered in Albany [Courtesy Photo]

The Wild Hunt reached out to DEC officials for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply. Other media outlets to which department officials have responded suggest no room for compromise. The role of a wildlife rehabilitator is to treat and release, period. If that’s not possible, mercy killing is all that remains in the eyes of the law. However, McGinley remains committed to the cause. Asked if she had considered what she might do if the court battle is lost and the deer condemned to either an extremely short life in the wild or an intentional execution, she replied simply, “I can’t imagine that happening.”

Last week, two individuals charged with firearm and drug trafficking charges had their convictions overturned on appeal thanks to authorities using their devotion to the Mexican folk-saint Santa Muerte to “taint” proceedings. In the decision handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court blasted using the expert testimony of U.S. Marshall Robert Almonte, who government prosecutors described as a “cultural iconography hobbyist.”

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“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.

Chesnut went on to tell the Associated Press that “Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases, but she is not just a narco saint, and many of her devotees aren’t involved in criminal behavior.” Chesnut has long advocated against law enforcement trusting the testimony of self-appointed experts on this often misunderstood religious movement, and has written in-depth about Santa Muerte and other folk-saints for Huffington Post.

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!

  • Boing Boing profiles Mitch Horowitz’s forthcoming book, “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,” detailing the history of “positive thinking.” Quote: “The roots and impact of ‘Positive Thinking,’ from its 19th century occult core all the way to Dale Carnegie’s confidence building books and Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, will surprise you.”
  • 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.
  • Palo Mayombe practitioner Angel Silva, whose story I’ve linked to before, has lost the case over whether he needed a vendor’s license to sell crystals in Union Square. Quote: “Judge Diana Boyar ruled Silva was guilty of a single count of acting as an unlicensed vendor. The verdict came within minutes of hearing final arguments and she did not explain her finding but sentenced Silva to the time her served while being processed during his arrest. Another judge previously ruled Silva’s goods are akin to selling jewelry under the law. Both would require vendor’s licenses.” An appeal has been promised.
  • 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.
  • Religion Clause has news regarding a case involving religious minorities in Washington state. Quote: “The Washington state Supreme Court yesterday heard oral arguments (summary and video of full arguments) in Kumar v. Gate Gourmet, Inc. At issue is whether the Washington Law Against Discrimination requires employers to accommodate employees’ religious practices. The suit was brought by four employees of a company that prepares meals for airline passengers. Plaintiffs, including a Hindu, Muslim and Orthodox Christian, claim that the lunch options served to them violate their religious beliefs because the company sometimes puts meat products in the vegetarian dish or pork in the meat dish offered to workers.  Employees for security reasons cannot bring their own lunches or go off-site for food.”
  • 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.

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

The Temple of Witchcraft Wins Zoning Permission: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, has received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“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.

UK Witches in Sexually Abusive Coven Found Guilty: Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp have been convicted of being involved in a pedophile ring that used the trappings of Wicca to lure in young girls in order to sexually abuse them. Their abuse, which involved “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five,” was also linked to murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“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.

More on the Pagan Federation Charity Fight: Third Sector Magazine reports on the Pagan Federation’s fight for charity status in England and Wales after being recently denied for not meeting “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.”

Pagan Federation

“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 Wild Hunt recently interviewed  The Pagan Federation’s president, Chris Crowley, about the matter, and he said that the organization will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it is recognized as a charitable Pagan organization. We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

Charles Jaynes Denied Religious Name Change: Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge this past November wanting to change his name to “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” in what he claimed was a necessary step in his growth within the Wiccan religion. Now, the judge has denied that request, stating “that allowing the Petitioner’s petition for change of name is inconsistent with public interests.”

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

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.”

As I said previously, this case points to how badly we need effective, and supported, Pagan chaplaincy in our prison system (and better information about Paganism available in general). Perhaps this name-change request might still have gone forward, but it may not have had the label “Wicca” put on it in the process. Be sure to read the very insightful comments on this issue at my original post.

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.

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

David Wiegleb, Heidi Geyer, and Esther Fishman

PPR SeekingtheMystery draft2 187x300

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.

In 2011 Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum, whose work has been reported on often here at The Wild Hunt, experienced a serious setback when the 9th Circuit Court upheld a lower court decision stating he doesn’t have standing to challenge California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents and is part of what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system. Ultimately, instead of going forward in challenging the 9th Circuit Court decision, McCollum has been nurturing new cases brought by Pagan inmates that would also challenge the California chaplaincy policy.

Patrick McCollum on the cover of Witches & Pagans.

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.”

The case he mentioned back in September of last year, Hartmann v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation et al, has just had oral arguments before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this past Friday. In a message to me, the Patrick McCollum Foundation laid out what the case was about, and how the decision could have a huge impact on his own stalled case against California’s corrections system.

“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.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

Asatru prisoners and their chaplains.

Noted Pagan leaders like Starhawk have personally experienced the poor treatment and lack of respect our religions often receive from prison officials. However, when Pagan clergy are allowed in, and Pagan inmates are given the same consideration as other inmates, truly healing moments of fellowship can happen.

“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.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews does not seem to be a fan of notoriety. Earlier this week Canada’s federal corrections agency announced that they were looking to hire a chaplain to service the spiritual needs of Wiccan inmates.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

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.”

While this move was welcomed by Canadian Wiccan groups, including the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of B.C., mere hours after the Canadian press started reporting on the story (“Wiccan priest called to perform rituals, invoke gods for BC prison inmates”) Minister Toews immediately retracted the posting saying it needed to be “reviewed” before proceeding.

“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.”

I’m sure Toews simply wanted to avoid notoriety, but all he did was trade one kind of sensationalist story (“Canada Hiring Witches”) for an entirely different one (“Why Won’t Canada Hire A Wiccan?”). It went from a novelty story about hiring a Witch to questions as to why a Wiccan chaplain position needs special review when other religions don’t (though it seems Toews has a history of wrong-headed decisions). Here’s a sampling of the headlines…

“Wiccan priest hire reversed by federal minister,” “Toews cancels Wiccan chaplain tender: Potential backlash spells the end for prison service,”  “Sorry Wiccans, no chaplain for you in B.C. prisons,” “Wiccan prisoners in B.C. cursed by the federal government,” “Toews nixes Wiccan priest for B.C. prisoners,” and my current personal favorite “Vic Toews hexes job posting for prison witch in B.C.” (it’s almost poetic).

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.”

In short, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews should have sucked it up, strapped on his helmet, and hired a Witch.

Happy Sunday! Here are few quick updates on stories that I’ve covered here previously at The Wild Hunt.

Sacred Land Sale Stopped: A week ago I reported on Lakota, Dakota and Nakota efforts to purchase the land known as Pe’ Sla, an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota, that was being sold by its owners. This was no ordinary piece of land, as one Native commentator put it:Its grounds are holy. It is our Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is our Mecca. Pe’ Sla is our wailing wall, where we are meant to pray.”  However, after a flurry of media scrutiny, and an urging for consultations from the United Nations, the land was withdrawn from auction with no comment or reason given.

“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.

An Analysis of the Maetrum of Cybele Case: Earlier this month I reported on how Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, lost their exemption battle before the New York State Supreme Court. Catskill’s lawyer intimated to a local paper that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” That lawyer may have spoken too quickly, as the Maetreum seems fighting mad, not cowed, though Pagan attorney Dana D. Eilers (author of “Pagans and the Law: Understand Your Rights”) doesn’t seem convinced that the Maetreum would be able to turn this decision around on appeal.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele’s building.

“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.

A Dogwood Blooms at COG’s Grand Council: About a week ago I wrote my analysis of Wiccan/Witchcraft organization Covenant of Goddess (COG), having just returned from their annual Grand Council. However, while I managed to say quite a bit in my piece, there was lot I didn’t include. Most memorable was a brief audio interview with several members of the Dogwood Local Council, which covers Georgia and Alabama. A truly vital example of how local councils work within their community, I would like to share that audio with you.

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.

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.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

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.