Archives For Literata

On Monday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) upheld the right of legislators to offer sectarian prayer before conducting business. The landmark decision overturned a U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the now famous case, Town of Greece vs. Galloway. SCOTUS’ concluded that “the town’s prayer practice does not violate the Establishment Clause.”

Photo By Jarek Tuszynski (Jarekt) (Own work) via WikiCommons

Photo By Jarek Tuszynski (Jarekt) (Own work) via WikiCommons

The case began in 2007 when Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens challenged the town’s legislative prayer practice which, to that point, had only included Christian clergy. The case was heard by the U.S. District Court in Western New York which ruled in favor of the town stating:

The Christian identity of most of the prayers givers reflected the predominantly Christian character of the town’s congregations, not an official policy or practice of discriminating against minority faiths.

The District Court also stated that the town was exempt from seeking clergy outside its own borders in order to maintain religious diversity. This ruling was eventually reversed by the U.S.Court of Appeals who felt that aspects of Greece’s prayer program, seen as a whole, did indeed endorse Christianity and were therefore unconstitutional.

In November 2013 the case moved to the Supreme Court. Monday’s ruling reflects the opinion of the District Court decision which declared the legality of the town’s prayer program. However SCOTUS’ focus moved away from the concept of “religious endorsement” toward a test for “coercion.” Are the town’s legislative prayers being used to coerce attendees into practicing or fiscally supporting the Christian faith?

The Court didn’t believe so. In its deeply divided 5-4 ruling, SCOTUS states:

Municipal prayers in this case bear no resemblance to the coercive state establishments that existed at the founding which exercised government power in order to extort financial support of the church, compel religious observance or control religious doctrine.

The Court’s opinion, as prepared by Justice Kennedy, emphasizes the historical and cultural aspects of legislative prayer. He says that the purpose of such prayer is chiefly “to lend gravity to the proceedings” or “public business” not to coerce. The prayers are for the legislators; not the attending constituents.

SCOTUS’ ruling also places a powerful emphasis on national tradition and heritage. It reads:

Legislative prayer has long been understood as compatible with the Establishment clause … This fits within the tradition long followed in Congress and State Legislatures.

In essence the Court ruled that Greece’s prayer program was non-coercive and fully reflective of American historical tradition and the town’s own cultural heritage. If a legislative body employs sectarian prayer to “lend gravity” to its proceedings and does so in a way that is non-threatening, then religious prayer before a governmental meeting does not violate the Establishment Clause.

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court of the United States [Public Domain Photo]

Not all of the Justices agreed. Two of the four dissenting opinions came from Justice Elena Kagan and Justice Stephen Breyer. Kagan’s strongly worded opinion begins:

For centuries now, people have come to this country from every corner of the world to share in the blessing of religious freedom. Our Constitution promises that they may worship in their own way, without fear of penalty or danger, and that in itself is a momentous offering. Yet our Constitution makes a commitment still more remarkable— that however those individuals worship, they will count as full and equal American citizens. A Christian, a Jew, a Muslim (and so forth)—each stands in the same relationship with her country, with her state and local communities, and with every level and body of government. So that when each person performs the duties or seeks the benefits of citizenship, she does so not as an adherent to one or another religion, but simply as an American.

I respectfully dissent from the Court’s opinion because I think the Town of Greece’s prayer practices violate that norm of religious equality—the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian

Kagan goes on to point out that prayer in front of a large Congressional body is very different from that of a small town council. The intimate setting of the latter allows for a scenario that could lead to religious coercion through simple social pressure. That type of pressure is less likely within a giant legislative body where it might be easier to walk out, not bow your head or simply ignore the proceedings.

Justice Breyer agreed with Kagan and, in his own comments, said that legislative prayer is not solely for the officials. In that small town setting, attendees are often active participants in legislative business. Breyer also believes that Greece made “no significant effort” to mediate the issue, to invite non-Christian clergy or to create diversity guidelines for its speakers. He says:

During more than 120 monthly meetings at which prayers were delivered during the record period (from 1999 – 2010), only four prayers were delivered by non-Christians. And, all of these occurred in 2008, shortly after the plaintiffs began complaining about the town’s Christian prayer practice and nearly a decade after the practice had commenced.

Since Monday the National American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United, Hindu American Foundation, The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Freedom From Religion Foundation and many other organizations have expressed their fear and disappointment in the SCOTUS decision. As stated by Rob Boston from Americans United for Seperation of Church and State (AU), “This ruling is out of step with the realities of modern-day America, which is marked by expanding religious and philosophical diversity.”

Pagan Artist RC DeWinter tweeted, “This is just the first chink in the wall.” The wall being the one established between religion and government. It is the one that provides for the religious freedoms described in Kagan’s opening statement.

Pagan Blogger Literata, expressed her owns concerns saying “The decision is all about accommodating the majority rather than protecting the minority. In the meantime, we run a serious risk of being used as cover – call it the “I Have a Wiccan Friend” defense.”

[Public Domain Photo]

[Public Domain Photo]

Their fears and frustrations may very well be justified. In Roanoke County Virginia, Board Supervisor Al Bedrosian has already established a plan to overturn the County’s prayer policy which currently allows for the region’s “expanding religious diversity.”

After Monday’s SCOTUS ruling, Bedrosian said “I think we have to say more or less that we’re a Christian nation with Christian ideology … we need to move toward our Christian heritage.” He has openly expressed concerns about the County’s policy being one that could allow for “Wiccan and Satanist” prayers. When the local Roanoke reporter asked if his proposed policy would permit non-Christian prayers, he said “probably not” adding that non-Christians were welcome to pray during the “allotted time for citizen comment.”

Despite Bedrosian’s grandiose statements, SCOTUS did not offer a complete free license to pray in any form before governmental meetings.There are limits and boundaries.The decision reads:

If the course and practice over time shows that the invocations denigrate nonbelievers or religious minorities, threaten damnation or preach conversion, many present may consider the prayer to fall short of the desire to elevate the purpose of the occasion and to unite lawmakers in their common effort. That circumstance would present a different case than the one presently before the Court.

In that statement, the Court recognizes the potential for abuse. However SCOTUS didn’t feel it is place of the Courts to determine the constitutionality of specific language within a single prayer speech or what can and can’t be said. In addition the Judges themselves could not agree on the exact boundaries of the “coercion test.”  What constitutes a coercive prayer or action and what doesn’t?

With the new approach is the Court suggesting that it is now constitutional for a government to endorse a single religion through legislative prayer provided that the prayer speech does not coerce anyone into participating or threaten “damnation?” How important is historical precedent or tradition in deciding future policy in a changing culture?

As AU’s Rob Boston said “I suspect we haven’t seen the last of this issue.”

Satanism has been in the news recently, or more accurately, the ghost of Satanic hysteria has reared its head as two different murder inquiries offer journalists details that are sure to generate page-views. First, there’s the alleged murder of Corriann Cervantes by two teenage boys, with intimations of drug-use and the alleged intention to sell a soul to the Christian Devil.

“Assistant Harris County District Attorney John Jordan disclosed details of the occult killing Tuesday but provided no explanation for what may have motivated the two boys or where their interest in devil worship had come from. ‘They discussed the fact that Mr. Reyes had sold his soul to the devil,’ said Jordan. ‘And if they ended up killing this teenager, it would allow the 16-year-old to also sell his soul to the devil.’”

Trials are currently ongoing in that case, with one of the accused being tried as an adult, and the other being held in a juvenile facility. The second case is, in many ways, far stranger. Miranda Barbour of Pennsylvania, charged in the November murder of man she and her husband met through Craigslist, told a reporter that she had been involved in over 20 murders, and that she was part of a Satanic cult.

Miranda Barbour

Miranda Barbour

“Miranda joined a satanic cult in Alaska. Soon after, Miranda said, she had her first experience in murder. Barbour said she went with the leader of the satanic cult to meet a man who owed the cult leader money. ‘It was in an alley and he (the cult leader) shot him,’ she said, declining to identify the cult leader. ‘Then he said to me that it was my turn to shoot him. I hate guns. I don’t use guns. I couldn’t do it, so he came behind me and he took his hands and put them on top of mine and we pulled the trigger. And then from there I just continued to kill.’ While in the satanic cult, Miranda became pregnant. The cult did not want her to have the baby, so, she said, members tied her to a bed, gave her drugs and she had an ‘in-house abortion.’ However, her mother on Saturday said that when Miranda told her about the abortion, she took her daughter to a doctor who said there were no signs of an ended pregnancy.”

Anyone familiar with the Satanic Panic era should be seeing all sorts of red flags at this point. The unidentified cult leader, the massive undetected body count, the possibly phantom at-home abortion, the claims of being a “high ranking” member in the cult, invoke all the tropes of sensationalist (and almost universally disproven) claims of panic-peddlers like Michael Warnke and Michelle Smith. Given the unlikely nature of this killing spree, authorities are expressing doubts over their validity.

“Bill James, a baseball writer and statistician who analyzed prolific murderers in the book, “Popular Crime,” told ABCNews.com that authorities have every reason to be skeptical of Barbour’s claims. ‘I don’t think there has ever been a 19-year-old that killed 22 people. I don’t think that has ever happened in the country,’ he said.”

Considering the dangerous nature of moral panics, how experts and journalists respond to these “occult” and “Satanic” crimes matter. Joseph Laycock, who has studied the vampire subculture, gives a possible scenario for how these two incidents happened.

Joseph Laycock

Joseph Laycock

“I’d suggest that these teens were playing a sort of game that went terribly wrong. In his excellent study, Kamikaze Biker, sociologist Ikuya Sato explored why teenagers from affluent Japanese families became involved in motorcycle gangs, sometimes participating in gang rapes and other crimes. His answer was that participation in these gangs amounts to a form of imaginative play: a socially constructed alternate reality in which teens perform an exciting role. Normally these roles can be abandoned when the play ends.

However, play becomes corrupted when it leads to irrevocable consequences. A teenager might “play” at being a Satanist or a criminal, drawing on countless depictions of these personas from the media and pop culture. (Several sources have already compared Miranda’s tale to the show Dexter.) But once an actual murder occurs—possibly in response to frustrated sexual advances or a Craigslist date gone wrong—the role becomes real. If police approach these cases as “occult crime,” their interrogations may be more likely to flesh out the teen’s Satanic play-persona than to uncover the actual motive for the crime.”

Beth Winegarner, author of “The Columbine Effect,” says that Barbour’s claims just don’t add up.

“The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters. What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.”

Meanwhile, the Church of Satan and the Satanic Temple have both made it clear that these murders (and the alleged perpetrators) have nothing to do with them.

“According to our records, we have never had any contact from this woman, nor her accomplice,” said Magus Peter Gilmore, high priest of the Church of Satan. “It seems to me that she is calling herself a member of a ‘satanic cult,’ not a legally incorporated above-ground form of satanism. Thorough investigation will likely demonstrate that this cult story is fiction.”

Finally, Literata gives advice to Pagans tempted to respond publicly in the media to these stories.

Literata

Literata

“Pagans, please think before you respond to questions about this. Please, for the love of all you value, think before you reflexively start any comment with, “Well, we’re not Satanists.” That’s true, but it’s usually missing the point. When people ask you about your practices and beliefs, lead with what you actually believe: “I recognize the divine spirit in everything and value life and nature.” Then, if you absolutely must, continue with: “So obviously a string of vicious murders – if it actually happened – is completely antithetical to anything I’m involved in.” Now, you may actually be involved in conversations about this that don’t have anything to do with your religion. If it’s office scuttlebutt, and no one confronts you, then the above advice is irrelevant. But – and this is a big but – you should still think about framing. If no one asks you about your religion in the context of this issue, don’t reinforce the connection in people’s minds between the spurious Satanic Panics of the 90s and any form of alternative religion.”

The take-home here is that trials should be held, the perpetrators brought to justice, and we should all work to dispel any claims to an illusory underground Satanic cult. So far, the mainstream media has largely behaved itself, realizing that Barbour’s claims could be mere fantasy. However, moral panics are not rational things, and we must remain vigilant that the wild claims of the Satanic Panic era do not find purchase once more. The writers quoted here give us all some sensible context for moving forward in a media landscape that rewards the sensational.

Happy 2014! Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“I make time between Samhain and Gregorian New Year for cleaning, organizing, and contemplating. I appreciate the time to prepare. Some consider Samhain to be the end of the old and the start of the new year – and I used to be one of those. These days, however, I am appreciative of the longer tides. Maybe it is a hallmark of middle age. Years rush by and I want to deepen and savor the gifts and the lessons. In recent years, I’ve come to understand that Samhain marks the threshold of many things, including the winding down of the old year. This enables space to open for deeper tides of magic, and helps me percolate on my new intention for the coming year. I appreciate the subtle changes that occur within my practice and my work by this shifting of attention. The tide carries me through Solstice and on. I don’t feel slammed into a new year, breathless, filled with resolutions I’ve scrambled to make.” – T. Thorn Coyle, on setting intentions for the new year.

Peter Beckley

Peter Beckley

“Well I for one enjoy taking stock of the previous year, examining my role in it, how I did with last year’s resolutions, and making new ones. I always have a lot of resolutions, even more than I publicly say, because I’m far from perfect, and want to work on many aspects of my life as well as myself. I could just as easily choose another day in the year to make these resolutions, like my birthday, Samhain, or any other, but I choose to follow the traditional one that I’ve grown up with. The funny thing is, when people make the same kinds of resolutions at other times in the year, people don’t seem to have that knee-jerk negative reaction. Weird! One of the toughest parts about these resolutions is identifying the opportunity for them. You have to willing look at yourself and your life and ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?” During the year, there are plenty of chances to stop working on these resolutions, stuff happens, and that’s the next tough part, follow through.” – Peter Beckley, on resolving to have New Year’s resolutions.

Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ

“I have written many times that we must learn to love a life that ends in death. I was speaking about accepting that each one of us will surely die. I do not fear death. Overcoming this fear has opened me to a greater and more clear-sighted love for life. Can we learn to love life while accepting that the world we love may be dying? Can we continue to work to improve the conditions of life for individuals and species knowing that the world as we love it may not survive? Do we have any other choice? For me the hope that can trump despair in our time begins in gratitude for a life that has been given to us, a life that has come down to us through the generations, and through billions of years of the evolutionary process on our planet. Let us bless the Source of Life. Let us bless the Source of Life, and the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration. Let us turn back from despair. Let us embrace the gift of life and share it with as many others as possible in the new year.” – Carol P. Christ, on the nature of hope that can triumph over despair at the new year’s dawning.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“No Voodoo or Hoodoo discussion about this time of year would be complete without talking about the traditional New Year’s recipe for collard greens. This dish is served just after midnight. If eaten and prepared right, it is said to bring divine blessings of money and success. The shredded greens, which you are supposed to tear with your bare hands, are thought to represent dollars coming your way.  Collard greens are really good for you too. They are rich in calcium and are said to lower cholesterol, detox your body, and give you cardiovascular and digestive support. Linda Stradley in her piece for What’s Cooking America mentions the popular folklore that a fresh leaf can be hung above the door to “ward off evil spirits.” Collards are undoubtedly a southern U.S. Tradition. Lucky for us, they are readily available this time of year, I even found them on sale as I got ready to make this recipe.  Don’t like greens, well my best advice is to eat them anyway, Amanda Galiano says in her piece about Wealth with Collard Greens and Cornbread that each bite “is worth $1,000 in the upcoming year”  How’s that for incentive to eat your veggies.” – Lilith Dorsey, on the New Year’s tradition of eating collard greens (you have to click the link to get the recipe).

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

“Now, notice something about the above list: in-person practice trumps everything, including theological developments. And, there are lots of things that happened, and that drew a HUGE amount of attention to this blog in various ways, that I did not mention in the above countdown. 2013 was a year of a huge number of controversies amongst modern polytheists and other pagans, and I don’t think that will subside in 2014. I’m quite certain I’ll be posting more about it in the future, but it is good to be reminded what the purpose of this blog is, where the heart of my practice and attentions lie, and what is truly the most important when it comes to the life of a modern devotional polytheist. I hope your 2013 was excellent, that 2014 will be better in all the ways that 2013 was deficient, and that what was good in 2013 is only improved by this time in 2014 for all of you! The blessings of Antinous and Hadrian and Sabina, Polydeukion and Memnon and Achilles, Herodes Attikos and Appia Annia Regilla, Lucius Marius Vitalis, and the Tetrad++ Group–Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, Pancrates, Paneris, and Panprosdexia–be upon all of you this day and every day!”  - P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, taking stock of the year just passed, and explaining why in-person practice trumps everything.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“I am ending this year with pride and culture. I have been hesitant to start the practice of Kwanzaa in my home for some time, not because I did not believe in the value of its practice, but because of…. fear. It is the continuous fear of breaking away from overculture, even though I am Pagan, and a Black woman. I will never fit into the norm of overculture, and it is not something I am trying to do anyway. It is often an unconscious fear that pushes us away from something that is new and potentially beneficial…. yet different. Kwanzaa is different, even though it should not be. I have dibbled and dabbled in studying up on it, but this year is different for me. 2013 has been one of intensive, intentional cultural reflection and learning. I have much more to learn, and yet am happy about what I am accomplishing on this journey. I have come to see that this year, my openness to embracing my ancestral culture and knowledge has made some people very uncomfortable. And yet, this same openness to embracing my ancestral culture and knowledge has led me to Kwanzaa.” – Crystal Blanton, on Kwanzaa in a Pagan home.

Lori Dake

Lori Dake

“As 2013 draws to a close, there’s a good deal to reflect upon. Many members of our Community have passed on, relationships have changed and babies have been born. Within the military, quite a few changes have occurred as well. [...] Overall, I am satisfied with the progresses that have been made, and, make no mistake, these changes are coming rapidly. I would like to see this momentum carried on through 2014 in avalanche speed for overall equality and fairness. My hope for 2014, besides the aforementioned, is to see Pagans joining the ranks of military chaplaincy, which has been discussed at length for several years. I have mentioned this many times before on Warriors & Kin, and with the efforts of so many people including Patrick McCollum and Circle Sanctuary, perhaps I can be writing this article next year congratulating those who have been accepted for enlistment.” – Lori Dake, reflecting on 2013, for Pagans and individuals in the military, and the hopes for 2014.

Literata drawing down.

Literata drawing down.

“Liminality is a vital concept because in the real world, boundaries are often fuzzy. One year is not the same as the next, but they bleed into each other continuously. We can find and observe “natural” turning points, such as the solstices, but if we weren’t paying some attention, it would be hard to nail down the precise moment when one year turns into the next. We construct more precise boundaries in time, just as we construct more precise boundaries in space. We tend to create rituals that reinforce those constructions, and the change of the calendar from December 31st to January 1st is a perfect example. Even around these kinds of secular or “mundane” (as if anything is truly devoid of magic) kinds of things, there is a common human tendency to create rituals and to observe the experience of liminality. In Wicca and magic, I find the concept of liminality so useful because in those in-between spaces, it’s easier to imagine change, to believe that change is possible, and to work to make change. It is, almost by definition, a more magical time, a situation where we have greater access to possibilities.” – Literata, on liminality in the mundane world.

Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan)

Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan)

“It’s been a hell of a trip this past year… a mix of absolutely wonderful things, horrifying things; really I suppose it’s been just like any 12 month period of time and the only thing special right now is an arbitrarily chosen end date, but hey… what better excuse is there for parties, noisemakers, and revelry? Come to think of it… there’s never really a bad time for parties, noise, and revelry. (Even if most of us use those three words to refer to the period of time known as “college”.) There’s truly something to be said for sending the old away with enough noise to terrify a small elephant and enough joy in the face of all the last year’s troubles to proclaim one’s ability to rise above it all in jubilation and triumph. In many ways for me it’s been a fantastic year, one of many MANY swift changes… I got to open a wonderful brick-and-mortar shop here in Kansas City with some fabulous friends, a fabulously bright and colorful space full of great product and working altars (both personal working altars for our shop staff as well as community altars for setting of lights and public work) and I really couldn’t be happier with how it’s all been turning out. If you find yourself in Kansas City, you’d better come check out Good Luck! A Kansas City Conjure Shop… and, if you’re not in the region, you’d better go find us on Facebook where we’ve got both a terrific page and a fabulous discussion group.” – Houngan Matt (aka Bozanfè Bon Oungan), on welcoming the New Year.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

Alley Valkyrie.

“I would like Eugene to decide what it actually wants to be. This is a town that suffers from quite the identity conflict. Are we a big city that wants to attract big money and tourism? Because if we are, we have to accept the big-city issues that come with that terrain and stop acting like reactionary provincialists when it comes to issues like the homeless. Or are we a small, little college town? Which is it? Are we a human rights city? Or do we let people die on the streets for lack of shelter as houses sit empty nearby? We can’t be both. And trying to be both has failed.” – Alley Valkyrie, quoted in the Eugene Weekly, on what her vision for the future of Eugene, Oregon would be, at the closing of 2013.

That’s all I have for now, have a great 2014!

Pagan Voices is a spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

Courtney Weber

Courtney Weber

Learn from rituals, but don’t nit-pick them. Trust me, my Coven of media specialists, writers, musicians, and copy-editors is wont to pull our shit apart and play the “pick out the not-perfect” bits. But we’ve finally learned that rituals should not be discussed for at least a few weeks after something is done. We file away moment of imperfections, suggestions for improvements, other ways to get to be even better at rituals into our mental rolodexes and take them back out when the time to plan our next ritual arises. We give respect to the experiences of those in the space, and the Spirit for attending. All other quirks can be worked out at another time. I can’t lie…I’ve been to some rituals that made me cringe. But I have to respect the fact that other people might be affected negatively by my piss-poor perfectionist attitude. I have to respect the fact that the energy of the ritual is still going after the fact. I can learn from the mistakes of others–and the mistakes I myself make–but if it’s a serious mistake that I will want to avoid next time, I’ll remember it.” - Courtney Weber, a Wiccan High Priestess, on learning to not “wine and cheese your rites.”

Gus DiZerega

Gus DiZerega

“The biggest and most divisive ethical issues of our time involve abortion and the environment. Does a zygote or fetus have sufficient moral standing to put its interests above those of the pregnant woman carrying it? If so, how much? Does the other-than-human world have any moral standing able to override human interests? If so, how much? Significantly, of those most opposing abortion, few have interest in or recognition of the other-than-human world’s moral standing.  On the other hand, most supporting a woman’s right to choose will be sympathetic to and sometimes deeply committed to environmental concerns. Individuals in both camps are usually ethically motivated, but they live in different ethical worlds. These contrasting moral visions reflect a schism going to the center of contemporary America, a genuine clash of cultures capable of tearing the country apart. One is ultimately rooted in an agricultural order, the other in our industrial one.” – Gus DiZerega, on how conflict over abortion and environmentalism are related, and what modern Paganism’s role is in these struggles.

Literata

Literata

“My religion encourages oral sex. Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, wants to outlaw it. Why am I not the new face of the brave fight for religious liberty? Seriously, though: Ken Cuccinelli, the current attorney general of Virginia and Republican candidate for governor has just launched a new website as part of his campaign that argues in favor of a law which criminalizes oral and anal sex between consenting adults in private. [...]  quite frankly, my understanding of Wicca really does validate all kinds of consensual sex. It’s right there in the Charge of the Goddess: ‘All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.’ The idea of ‘acts of love and pleasure’ is a very potent way of expressing my feminist ethic of consent to sex. I’m not going to consent to something that’s not pleasurable to me. If I can’t consent – if I can’t engage in love and pleasure – then whatever’s happening isn’t sex; it’s sexual assault, abuse, battery, or rape.” - Literata Hurley, a Wiccan and resident of Virginia, on Ken Cuccinelli’s campaign to reinstate Virginia’s unconstitutional Crimes Against Nature law.

Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey

“One of the things that Evangelicals don’t seem to understand is that people are tired of obstacles separating them from other faith communities. I’m not a Buddhist, but I want to walk a religious path that validates the choices of my Buddhist friends. I don’t walk with Jesus, but I’m fine with those that walk hand in hand with the hippy from the Galilee. People are tired of hearing how their friends are wrong, Paganism takes that antiquated rhetoric away. I’m not saying that everyone should roll the religion dice each morning (today I’m an Atheist Hellenic Thelemite!), but Paganism has never shut out wisdom, no matter where it comes from. [...]  like every generation we long to touch the sacred. For centuries touching the sacred was limited to Jesus and his Dad, but those days are over with, and people are waking up to the many and varied sacred currents that are around us all. Some find that connection to the sacred within the Earth and the change of the seasons. Some of us find it in more personal deities, gods and goddesses that come to us without centuries of misguided close mindedness. (Give me Pan rutting around in the woods over a god that would kill an entire country’s firstborn.) There will always be people who long for Jesus, and many good things (and some very bad) have been done in his name, but it’s getting harder and harder to lock out the Divine Feminine. Jesus might be calling, but I think She is too.” – Jason Mankey, on why Millennials love Paganism, and in answer to Christian writer Rachel Held Evan’s piece about why Millennials are leaving Christian churches.

Lupa

Lupa

“So many of our decisions have been made in ignorance of the effects of our actions. While the internet, antibiotics, and central heating have their definite uses, the most popular technologies used to create them have been developed with only our benefit–and the profit margin–in mind. It is plausible that many of the things we’ve created that have improved our species’ average quality of life could have been made in such a way that they didn’t negatively affect the lives of other beings (and some humans). Instead, we stand at a point in time where we’re watching thousands of species of animal, plant, and fungus die out every year, accelerated by our activities, and we still refuse as a whole to explore the depth of the connections we’ve been severing with each local, regional or complete extinction. Why don’t we emphasize to our children that the mycelial mat is at least as important as Thomas Edison’s inventions? In part, it’s due to selfishness. We don’t want to think about anything other than our own advancement and comfort. We want that plastic grocery bag to carry three small items in, dammit, and who cares about the oil it was made from, or the fact that it won’t break down for thousands of years? This doesn’t mean we should feel guilty for the things that have made our lives longer and healthier as a whole. We can explore whether a particular item is necessary, and whether its manufacture is as sustainable as it could be, without sacrificing our quality of life. It just means that we need to make more effort on the behalf of beings besides ourselves.” – Lupa, on recognizing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.

Cat Chapin-Bishop

Cat Chapin-Bishop

“If I have no business turning you into a scapegoat for all the generations past who have ever harmed anyone in the name of Jesus, I also think you have no business turning me into a mascot for your tolerance and good intentions. I don’t want to be a symbol of your goodness; I don’t want to be anything more or less than what you probably want to be: a human being among other human beings. Along those lines, I ask you not to abuse your newfound (or longstanding) empathy for me and mine by rushing to speak for me. Specifically, I would ask that, as an advocate, you not speak to my concerns before you allow me a chance to speak them for myself. This is harder than it sounds, I know. Quakers love to set injustices right. We work hard to empathize with oppressed peoples. We want to be advocates. We want to be the good guys, and we want to speak out for people who have been marginalized, because it feels so good to be the voice of righteousness. However, it is tiresome to the person whose cause you’re espousing, to be spoken for when we’d rather speak for ourselves.  Certainly, we’d rather not be shut out of discussions of our needs by the voices of eager advocates.” – Cat Chapin-Bishop, from the second part of a letter sent to her Quaker Christian Friends (part one is here), on owning Christian privilege, and how to act once you have.

King Arthur Pendragon

King Arthur Pendragon

“As Druids, we believe that the Ancestors should be left to Rest in Peace and that the Sacredness of the site should not be desecrated in such a way, especially when there are many alternatives to this desecration. We have never been against Science or Education. We are however against the removal and display of our ancestors in such a manner. Whilst ‘Picketing’ at Stonehenge we gained support from peoples from each and every continent of many and of no faiths with the simple message “ Let those we Lay to Rest-Stay to Rest” and we challenged the Ministry of Justice’s decision to extend the ‘licence’ for study. That challenge will continue if ‘The Guardians’ are not returned and re-interred by August 2015. In the meanwhile we will ‘oppose’ English Heritage’s plans to display ‘our’ collective Ancestors, once buried at our most Sacred Site. This opposition will take many forms and we will call on the assistance of other like-minded Groups throughout the World if necessary, for let us not forget Stonehenge is designated as a World Heritage site. Like the ‘Guardians’ campaign, we will call for support from Any, All, and No faiths, who like us believe that the Dead should be left in peace. If English Heritage believe that they can ‘open’ their new visitors centre to a ‘fan-fare’ of common assent and complementary reports on the World stage, whilst planning to display our Guardians in such a macabre manner, they had better think again.”  - Activist and Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon, who is currently in a struggle to stop the display of human remains at Stonehenge’s new visitor’s center, calling it a desecration.

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“Monday [August 5th] is the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Oak Creek Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin.  I was contacted for comment this morning by a reporter from our local news station.  Valarie Kaur, a Sikh activist and founder of Groundswell, notes that a full year later, everyone knows about Aurora and other tragedies, but most never understood what happened at Oak Creek and have already forgotten.  The anniversary is a good reminder to those of us in another misunderstood minority religion of the importance of interfaith relations. The reporter who contacted me at first said she was doing a story about religious tolerance.  The first thing I said to her was that I look forward to the day we can stop thinking about tolerance and begin appreciating our religious differences.  This includes Pagan appreciation of the religions whose members have often persecuted or despised us, whether we like the idea or not. [...] While organizations like Groundswell and interfaith groups all over have done much to make our communities safer, the work is hardly begun, the weeping probably not over. Our heartfelt prayers and intentions go to our Sikh friends and to all in this world who suffer because their spirituality is misunderstood.” – Holli Emore, Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, on interfaith work, tolerance, and the anniversary of the Oak Creek Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

“That’s right, I strongly disagree with your interpretation of divinity, the Gods, worship or piety. So what am I going to do about it? Maybe un-friend you on Face Book, write a post tearing you a metaphorical ‘new one’ or demonstrate my need to be right by encouraging others to give no credibility to your views? Instead I think I will choose to celebrate our differences. Harvest. if you will, what has value in our discourse, demonstrate that respect for others views of divinity is a basic value of my Pagan beliefs.  Your actions and views help me to clarify my own beliefs about my path. It is in discussion and debate that we grow, are challenged to develop new insights into both self and the nature of the Divine. Each of us has a unique perception of divinity and spiritual practice. In learning about your perceptions I grow, consider what is new or uncomfortable, stretch my mind and heart to embrace the bountiful tapestry that is the diverse cloth of Pagan belief. Today I hold you, with your heretical beliefs, in Sacred Regard, as some of my most insightful teachers. Our discussions have planted the seeds of new insight, growth and compassion.  Today I celebrate the harvest of these efforts. Tending this garden of dissention is an honorable and meaningful investment of my time.” – Peter Dybing, on what he plans to do with people he disagrees with theologically.

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

Trey Capnerhurst / Treasach

“I used to have repeated arguments with others in the pagan community on this topic, though in the past few years, curiosity and hope are beginning to replace the sneering. “Why should WE need an abbey?”, some said with a snort. “There are plenty of Buddhist and Taoist monasteries around..” Well, we are neither Buddhist nor Taoist, although most of us get along quite nicely with them, of course. For a religion to be more formalized, to grow and permeate more areas of a culture or a group, it needs full time members who are dedicated to practising, refining, writing, recording, studying and teaching. Though we do have quite a few of those, they usually have day jobs, rather than being a full time professional community. We have a great many of what could be termed lay sisters and brothers; those who are devoted and dedicated to living their lives in the Way, but we have no priest ‘class’, as it were. So, though we do have a professional priesthood of sorts, we have not yet created spaces to support them full time, or train and hone them, or even facilitate professional community environments of librarians, educators and other academics. It is vital to our religion to establish these communities, and not just as teaching venues, but as places where we can totally immerse ourselves in our religion, and not only for short retreats. But for years. They are already becoming a reality. I was in contact with an abbess of the Cybeline abbey in New York for some time. They already have a large community of nuns with hospitality, retreat centres and libraries. Though there is room for dedicating to one Goddess in particular, like mine, because that’s just for me, a similar kind of non-deity specific community can appeal to far more people under the auspices of Pagan Humanism, where everyone can hear the call in their own way, yet we can work under one banner. Conserves resources and coalesces talent, doncha know.” - Treasach (aka Trey Capnerhurst), a Pagan Abbess, on why establishing Pagan abbeys are a practical solution to several ongoing problems within our communities.

Damh the Bard

Damh the Bard

“Yesterday was a glorious day to hold a Lughnasadh ceremony. Although not in full flow the grain harvest has begun, and John Barleycorn is falling in the fields. I started the ceremony by asking if there were any News of the World reporters at the ceremony, and then remembered that there were no such things any more… So changing that to The Daily Mail I pointed out that this ceremony might reinforce the odd stereotype, with its theme of sacrifice. A falling Corn King, sickles and scythes, all good sensationaistic fodder for the ignorant. But this is a festival of thanksgiving, a spiritual honouring that within its very language understands that for some things to continue to live, other things have to die. It’s all around on our supermarket shelves, we just don’t have to see the blood any more, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot honour the life that has been given, and this thanksgiving also includes the grain harvest, and the falling of the Corn King.” – Damh the Bard, on celebrating Lughnasadh at the Long Man of Wilmington in Sussex.

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

In June of this year, I featured a guest post from Literata Hurley, a Wiccan priestess and theaologian, who had just been denied clergy status in the state of Virginia, despite meeting all stated legal requirements (clergy in Virginia must register with a circuit court to perform legal marriages). Arlington County Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson, told Hurley at the time of her application that there were unstated “other things” preventing his approval and that he didn’t “feel” she qualified.

“She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.”

That attitude started to change after Americans United For Separation of Church and State sent a letter to the Arlington circuit court, with the court responding that it had all been a “miscommunication” between the clerk and Hurley. Having got that response, Hurley returned to the Arlington County Circuit Court, and applied again.

Literata Hurley with authorization.

Literata Hurley with authorization.

“She [the clerk] had to go get approval from someone else; she said that the person who wrote the reply to Americans United for Separation of Church and State had to review my new application and paperwork. That took a little while, but she came back and said that it was approved, and then it was a matter of paying the fee, taking an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia and to do my duty fairly and impartially, and then I got the official authorization!”

So after an journey of several months, one that included the aid of Pagan elders like Circle’s Selena Fox and Assembly of the Sacred Wheel’s Ivo Domínguez, Jr., in addition to the support of her ordaining body, Order of the White Moon, and a letter from Americans United, Arlington County, Virginia finally did what it was supposed to have done back in June: authorize a Pagan clergyperson to perform legal weddings. Hurley says that she hopes this will open the doors for other Pagan clergy looking to get their authorization, and lays out the paperwork she brought with her on the day of her approval.

For anyone who wants to apply in Arlington in the future, here’s what I took with me: Certificate of Ordination; Letter of good standing (to show that I am “in regular contact” with my religious organization); Certified copies of the articles of incorporation of the Order of the White Moon, the most recent business filing with California showing that the Order is still active; Copies of the letter from the IRS granting OWM its 501(c)3 tax exempt status and the most recent filing with the IRS showing that OWM is still active and exempt; Letters of support from Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, Ivo Dominguez Jr. of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and Sacred Circle bookstore, attesting to my standing as a priestess and the ministry I do; and a letter of support from a coven sister who also lives in Arlington, because the court insisted that I show “a connection between [my] ministry and the Arlington community.”

Despite the completely unnecessary hassle and delay, this is in important step forward in making sure that Pagan clergy are recognized even if they don’t adhere to the “church and pews” model many Americans are comfortable affirming. In the past, Pagan clergy in Virginia would travel to a different circuit court when denied in Arlington, now this doesn’t have to be the case. I urge clergy in the area to make sure this miscommunication is never repeated, and that when you travel to Arlington for authorization remind them that they approved Literata Hurley on this day. My thanks to Literata for her work here, and to the elders who supported her, and Americans United for defending her legal rights.

[The following is a guest post from Literata Hurley. Literata is a Wiccan priestess, poet, and theaologian. Her work has appeared in several anthologies and  periodicals, including MandragoraQueen of the Sacred WayAnointed, Witches & Pagans, and CIRCLE Magazine. She blogs regularly for The Slacktiverse and her own site, Works of Literata. She is an ordained High Priestess of the Order of the White Moon, a women's spirituality organization. In between leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot, and communing with nature, she is writing her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and cats.]

The Arlington County Court refused to grant me the right to perform marriages in Virginia, apparently on the grounds that my “congregation” does not own a building.

I presented my certificate of ordination and documentation of the 501c3 status of the Order of the White Moon, which ordained me. Since my Order is incorporated in California, the secretary asked me if I had a congregation in Virginia; I said yes. She asked me to list the address of the congregation, and I said that we don’t have a building. She asked, “So, what, you just meet in each other’s homes?” I said yes, we meet in each other’s homes, or out of doors (Wicca is, after all, an earth-based religion, but I thought that mentioning that would only be prejudicial to my situation).

Literata

Literata

She left and came back with the Clerk of Court, Paul Ferguson. Mr. Ferguson said that they were not going to approve me. I asked if it was because we don’t have a building. He said, “Yes, you don’t have a building, and there were a few other things.” I asked him if he would give me a written list of the reasons I was being denied. He refused; he offered to show me the relevant section (Sec 20-23) of the Virginia Code. I assured him that I had read the Code, and asked again if he would give me more specific reasons I was being denied. He said that approving these applications was at his “discretion” and that he didn’t “feel” I met the qualifications, but he wouldn’t tell me how. He told me that I could apply to another court in another county but that he thought they would probably give me the same answer.

Has property ownership now become the measure of what constitutes a “real” religion in Virginia, or at least in Arlington County? Or is this another example of anti-Pagan discrimination at work?

Patchwork enforcement and a history of discrimination

Virginia is one of the few states in the US that requires clergy members to register with a circuit court in order to be able to perform valid marriages. The requirements in Sec 20-23 of the Code state that the minister must present proof of ordination and “of his being in regular communion” with the organization that ordained him.

These requirements are apparently interpreted in widely varying ways across various circuits in Virginia, as different courts’ websites list different types of documentation – or none – that may be required. For courts that openly state they require more than just proof of ordination, the way they ask for information gives tremendous privilege to traditionally-organized, i.e., Christian, groups. And if granting these applications really is up to the “discretion” of the Clerk of Court, there is wide scope for potential discrimination against minority religions with or without the fig leaf of requiring a “location” and other organizational trappings potentially beyond the reach of minority religious organizations.

This problem goes back more than a decade; in 1999, the ACLU helped another Wiccan priestess get her application in this situation approved.

I think it’s not unreasonable that I am concerned about what kind of documentation will satisfy the court. I serve multiple groups, one of which meets in a designated location, but since it is an open circle, the people who attend are mostly not members of my ordaining organization. If I provide documentation of this group meeting in a specific location, will the court then ask how many people attend, and how often we meet? What will they require to conclude that I am “really” a High Priestess in a “real” religion?

Why this matters

This is about more than performing weddings. This decision has a chilling effect on me trying to function as clergy in other ways; if the Court will not recognize me as legitimate clergy in this situation, will my right to confidentiality be protected? How can I assure people who come to me for counseling that their communications with me are protected by clergy privilege?

Literata drawing down.

Literata drawing down.

And since this is one of the two major forms of government approval used by a wide range of institutions and organizations to determine whether someone is a “real” clergy member, it can impact my ability to reach out to those who have particular needs: people in hospitals, the military, and prisons all need clergy services, but those institutions are much more likely to deny me the ability to minister to the people involved if I can’t say that I’m approved by the State of Virginia to perform marriages.

And although I might have my application granted if I tried another court, that does nothing to resolve the doubt cast on my status by the court with jurisdiction over where I live and do most of my ministry. If another court approved me, it would only serve to highlight the irregular and potentially biased variations in granting recognition across jurisdictions.

What you can do

I currently plan to gather additional supporting documentation and reapply, and if I am denied again, to ask whether I can appeal to a judge of the court. I am also currently seeking advice from the ACLU, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and the Lady Liberty League. Here’s what you can do to help:

First, get the word out. The more Pagans pull together, the better our chances of being recognized as “legitimate” in these kinds of situations.

If you are a Pagan clergyperson in Virginia and you have applied to perform marriages, please write to me at literatahurley@gmail.com. If you were approved, I’d like to know when you were approved, in what court, with what paperwork, and what questions they asked, both written and verbal. People who have been declined, please tell me that too. The more information I have for comparison the better.

I would also like to be able to present letters of support from other Pagan clergy and potentially from Pagan organizations that ordain people, especially ones that ordain people all over the country. If you’re interested, please contact me. And if you have other ideas about how to help, please speak up!

People who aren’t in Virginia, please provide spiritual and magical support. Pray and send energy that I am able to gather the evidence I need and make a convincing argument, that the court will grant my new application swiftly, and that I may stay positive and be patient throughout this whole process.

I sincerely hope that together we can ensure this is the last time a Pagan in Virginia has her credentials questioned and her status as clergy denied.

[This post was republished, with permission, from Literata's blog. Please follow it for further updates and commentary from Literata on this matter. The Wild Hunt will be keeping in close contact with Literata on this issue, and will post updates as warranted.]

[The following is a guest post from Literata. Literata is a Wiccan who studies theaology and enjoys developing poetry and rituals. Her work has appeared in the anthologies "Queen of the Sacred Way", "Anointed" and "The Scribing Ibis" from Neos Alexandria, in CIRCLE Magazine, and in the ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She also writes regularly for The Slacktiverse and blogs at Works of Literata. In between leading Rose Coven, reading Tarot, and communing with nature, she is writing her Ph.D. dissertation in history and enjoys travel and spending time with her husband and cats.]

The Hail Columbia movement is a way for Pagans to protect freedom of religion – and you can help.

At today’s Celebration of the Divine Feminine, I will lead a prayer to Columbia, honoring her as a patron goddess of the district that bears her name and as a protecter of our ideals of freedom, especially freedom of religion.

“Wiccans and Pagans are part of the American religious mosaic, and they’re here to stay. Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison gave us religious liberty – and that means religious liberty for everyone. The followers of nature-based faiths are going to use it because they don’t want to lose it. What could be more in keeping with the great American tradition?”Reverend Barry Lynn, United Church of Christ minister and executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State

The Hail Columbia movement grew out of concern over the efforts exerted by a small but increasingly influential group of conservative Christians to restructure America so that all aspects of life conform to their vision of a Christian society. Several Republican candidates for president have significant connections to the New Apostolic Reformation and other groups that have explicitly stated they intend to influence politicians so that the government will enforce their religious edicts.

The catalyst for Hail Columbia was a NAR project called DC 40 which involved organizing “prayer warriors” nationwide to “change the spiritual atmosphere over DC forever” by conducting “spiritual warfare” and renaming DC the District of Christ. As DC-based bloggers, Hecate Demeter and I found this idea not just preposterous but offensive. We started spreading the word and encouraging Pagans to respond by honoring Columbia and, ultimately, by participating in politics to help protect freedom of religion.

“The methods used by the NAR and other Dominionists are founded upon hate, fear, and ignorance.  Their demonization of our Gods and Goddesses uses inflammatory language that can lead to violence and discrimination against followers of minority religions.  We have choices in how to respond to this threat to our freedom and our faiths.  Many are resorting to prayer, some to writing letters, and some to defensive strategies.  We decided to honor the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess Inanna, in a public space, and demonstrate the very freedoms the Dominionists seek to destroy.”Katrina Messenger, founder of Connect DC and the Reflections Mystery School in Petworth.

Star Foster and others created a Facebook page and Dash put together a website to spread information and coordinate Pagan responses. The results have been heartening; local coordinators are volunteering in states across the nation and we’ve raised awareness about the potential dangers posed by these would-be theocrats. But it’s not just about leaders – it’s about voters. NAR-related groups are working to register more evangelical Christians and to encourage them to vote for specific candidates who have expressed agreement with this radical agenda.

This is why it’s vital for Pagans to be politically aware and politically active. I want to work towards that goal by making the Hail Columbia project a nexus for information and action. It could include features such as information on candidates’ positions on religious liberty and action alerts for people to write to their elected officials about government infringement on freedom of religion. I’d like to hear more from the community about how useful something like that would be and any other ideas you have for how to move Hail Columbia forward. I’m also looking for additional contributors to the Hail Columbia blog.

Columbia represents the freedoms on which America is founded. She encourages us to protect what has been won and beckons us onward to expand freedoms, including religious liberty in a peaceful and pluralistic society. Will you help?

[You can read more about Literata's work with the Hail Columbia movement, and why she thinks it is important, here. You may also want to keep an eye on the PNC-Washington DC site (here's a pre-event post) for coverage of today's gathering. I'd like to thank Literata for taking the time to share her thoughts with us.]