Archives For Maria Lionza

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

  • The New York Times does a profile of Lady Rhea, “the Witch Queen of New York.” The article focuses on how Lady Rhea doesn’t fit the profile of the fantasy witch, noting that she is “no cartoon witch. She is a no-nonsense Bronx native who drives a Ford Focus and tells it like it is. No black robe and pointy hat here. On Wednesday night, she wore slacks, a sweatshirt and designer glasses and jewelry.” Actually, Lady Rhea’s non-pointy-hat wearing fashion sense is pretty much the norm for most Pagans, and it seems strange that the fact that we don’t dress like Elphaba Thropp is still a story hook to hang a profile on. Still, it’s a positive look at a local figure, and I’m glad the NYT devoted time to doing the story.
  • Remember all my talk about Pope Benedict XVI meeting with Vodun leaders in Benin? Turns out it didn’t happen, at least according to the National Catholic Reporter. Quote: “One might think the trip afforded a chance to open lines of communication with a religious movement that enjoys a vast following, estimated at between 30 million and 60 million people worldwide — comparable to the global footprint of, say, Methodism. Yet Benedict never made any reference to voodoo, and didn’t meet a priest or other exponent. His rhetoric in Ouidah, asserting that Christianity represents a triumph over “occultism and evil spirits,” was taken by some as a swipe.” NCR reporter by John L Allen Jr surmises that the controversy over Pope John Paul II’s 1992 meeting with Vodun leaders made Benedict gun-shy about doing something similar. So much for the “importance of dialogue with practitioners of indigenous African religions.”
  • The Los Angeles Times looks at Pagans and Paganism in the Air Force Academy, focusing on the $80,000 outdoor worship center for “earth-based” and Pagan religions that was recently installed. Quote: “Witches in the Air Force? Chaplain Maj. Darren Duncan, branch chief of cadet faith communities at the academy, sighs. A punch line waiting to happen, and he’s heard all the broom jokes.” It’s a fairly decent story, but I have to say, and maybe I’m biased, but I felt Cara Shulz’s recent story for PNC-Minnesota focusing on the same topic (which was reprinted here) was better.
  • Ritch Duncan, co-author of “The Werewolf’s Guide to Life: A Manual for the Newly Bitten”, writes about the bizarre media panic that ensured after a “Satanic sex ritual” resulted in a man being hospitalized, and his book was listed as being found at the scene. Quote: “Even worse than being misrepresented in the media was how lazy it all seemed to be. If the reporters charged with covering this story actually spent five seconds looking up what the book was about (they certainly had the time to do a Google search and steal an image of the cover), they could have mentioned it was filed under the “humor/parody” section.” The piece is a great look at how moral panics are fueled just by shifts in emphasis.
  • Amanda Marcotte writes an editorial for Reuters on the “increasingly Godless” American future. Quote: “The more that religion can be pushed off into the realm of private practice and out of the public square, the better for public discourse, as we can dispense with the God talk and move on to reality-based discussions about what we want and how we can get it. The Millennials have the right idea when it comes to dismissing the belief that religion somehow improves politics. Now we just have to wait for the religious right to finish with their temper tantrum over this, and then we can move on to the future.”
  • This year the Christmas Tree at the United States Capitol was given a traditional Native American blessing by an elder from the Tuolumne Band of Me-wuk tribe, the first time such a thing has happened. Quote: “It was an amazingly moving ceremony they sang and blessed the tree and blessed the people there on site and blessed our safe journey for the tree.” You can watch a video of the blessing, and the tree being harvested, here.
  • The Guardian looks at the rise and mini-revival of “occult rock,” highlighting Rise Above Records, the return of Black Widow, and Swedish band Ghost.  Quote: “Whether it’s a heartfelt expression of devilish beliefs or simply a good excuse to wear a spooky mask and annoy a few Christians, occult rock can hardly fail to provide a welcome antidote to an increasingly soulless and cynical music world that prizes profit over atmosphere, and perfection over power. Perhaps more importantly, its newest exponents seem to have abandoned shock tactics in favour of a subtle, persuasive approach worthy of Eden’s duplicitous serpent himself.”
  • The Times of India has yet another article about the spread of Wicca in India, this time focusing on Swati Prakash, head of The Global Wicca Tradition. Quote: “In the middle and dark ages, anyone who followed any ancient belief was falsely accused of ‘consorting with the devil’ and was tortured into accepting the new faith. Ironically, you will note that male wizards are always depicted as wise old men in fiction and art throughout history while women witches were shown as cunning and ugly. Clearly, there has been a gender bias in favour of male spiritualists and gurus.”
  • The Associated Press explores American Indian reactions to the James Arthur Ray verdict, with some hoping that it will result in better safety when non-Natives try to appropriate Native ceremonies. Quote:  Bill Bielecki, an attorney representing the Black Hills Sioux Nation Treaty Council on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge reservation, said the trial would encourage non-Natives to focus on safety when running sweat lodge ceremonies. “They’re going to look at the facts,’’ said Bielecki, who also was party to the lawsuit, “You don’t use a large sweat lodge, you make sure people can leave and you don’t coerce the occupants into staying beyond their limits or capabilities. If you do that, then you avoid gross negligence.’’ You can see a round-up of my coverage regarding this case, here.
  • Why do Catholics think the worship of Maria Lionza is so popular in Venezuela? Why, “poverty and poor education are contributing factors,” naturally. But they better be careful what they wish for, because isn’t Catholicism’s main growth areas with the very same “people lacking education and social services?” Do I sense a double-standard here? Are the poor and uneducated Catholics actually wise, then?

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.

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.

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.

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

Let’s start off with some updates on past stories, first off Sarah Pike, author of “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community”, reports on the Dan Halloran story for Religion Dispatches. Pike ultimately sees his candidacy as a positive sign of modern Paganism’s entry into the mainstream.

“It would have been impossible to find a Neopagan like Halloran running for political office twenty years ago, when most Neopagans kept their identities carefully guarded for fear of losing jobs or child custody battles. In neighborhoods all over the country, Neopagan communities have been treated suspiciously and outright persecuted by some Christian neighbors, law enforcement, and government agencies. Since for many Americans, the Republican Party is inseparable from conservative Christianity, Neopagans were surprised that the party stood by Halloran, and took it as a sign that not only is the makeup of the religious left and the religious right shifting, but that the country as a whole is becoming more receptive toward their religion.”

As for Halloran’s campaign, he’s trailing badly in the fundraising department, but has benefited greatly from the city’s matching funds program (which his Democratic challenger opted out of). The two candidates are scheduled to debate on October 24th, I’m sure many of us will be watching to see if religion is brought up.

Now we turn to another ongoing story, the death of two participants (and hospitalization of others) in a sweat-lodge ceremony lead by New Age “Secret” peddler James A. Ray. Commentary on the issue, as you can imagine, has been fast and (mostly) furious. New Agers and Natives in Arizona are undertandably split on the issue of Ray’s sweat-lodge use, historian Al Carroll, one of the founders of New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans (NAFPS), is asking Oprah to apologize for promoting him, and Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle has made an official statement.

“Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic’oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag’a – by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted – to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone’s life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient, they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate. What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life! When you do ceremony – you can not have money on your mind.”

Meanwhile, James Ray reportedly broke down in tears at a scheduled speaking engagement in Los Angeles, saying that he grieved for the families and is “being tested” by these events. Let’s hope his contrition is genuine, because another sweat-lodge victim is in a coma with multiple damaged organs, and two more remain hospitalized. Authorities have also noted that the sweat lodge didn’t have a permit to be constructed, and that there was a past mishap in its use in 2005, also lead by Ray. For even more, check out the Newspaper Rock blog.

Turning to other events, Mollie at Get Religion has totally got my back this week. She looked at coverage of the James Ray sweat-lodge deaths, and debunked one-sided press speculation that roaming goats were Santeria sacrifices.

“But while we get tons of perspective from animal rescue groups, there is literally not one practitioner of Santeria whose views are included. We don’t even hear from a professor or other expert who could speak about Santeria. And finally, I’m unclear how these live, wandering goats are related to animals killed as part of a religious sacrifice. Maybe we could just get some explanation on that front.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m really happy to see Get Religion start to dip its toe in the waters of minority faiths, especially Santeria and its practice of animal sacrifice, becasuse press coverage of those topics is especially bad.

If you’re a Pagan who needs his bladed weapons to meditate, maybe you shouldn’t wave them in the face of a policeman.

“He told police he had travelled the world and needed the weapons to meditate with in a peaceful place. Thornton, 46, of no fixed address, was committed to Bradford Crown Court for sentence by the city’s magistrates for carrying an ornamental dagger and a lock knife in Buttershaw on June 13. On bail, he drew a sword in the city centre five days later and waved the weapon at a Police Community Support Officer.”

The world-traveling homeless magician was sentenced to two years imprisonment (for two seperate offenses). Proving, I suppose, that “religious purposes” isn’t some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card you can wave anytime you do something stupid.

Inside Jersey takes a look at the “real” vampire subculture in New Jersey, with all the usual stopping points about blood-drinking, safety, ethics, interviewing Michelle Belanger, sparkly pop-culture vampires, and such. But what really caught my eye was this little tidbit.

“Their August event featured a pagan rite performed by a guest from outside the court. It was an animal sacrifice; a lizard was dispatched for a good harvest. That was followed by a vampire town hall. There was a debate, an election for magistrate and Q&A session addressing tensions between clans.”

A lizard? For a good harvest? Did lizards suddenly become a livestock animal? Or was that the only animal they thought they could stomach killing? I’m sorry, I try not to judge regarding people’s rituals, but this seems, well, wrong. Not wrong because they sacrificed an animal, but wrong because it sounds like a failed attempt to be “dark” and “shocking”. I’d really like to know what tradition the lizard-killer is from, and what the ritual format for this “harvest sacrifice” was.

In a quick final note, be sure to check out the AP article about Maria Lionza followers in Venezuela, you may remember that I did several stories about the socio-political importance of the goddess Maria Lionza years back on this blog.

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

In Venezuela one of the largest religious cults is the one devoted to the goddess Maria Lionza. She is the central figure in a religion that incorporates elements of indigenous belief, Catholicism, and Santeria. Back in 2004 a much revered statue of the goddess toppled over backwards at the waist. This was read by some anti-Chavez factions in Venezuela as an omen that his administration would soon topple (Hugo Chavez was facing a recall referendum at the time). Despite the political storm, most Marialionceros (and their goddess) called for peace.

Maria Lionza

Maria Lionza

Two years later the statue has been repaired and unveiled in time for the annual pilgrimage honoring Maria Lionza.

“Several thousand Venezuelans made an annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Indian goddess Maria Lionza, while a refurbished statue of the revered religious figure was unveiled after a two-year restoration effort. Followers of the religious sect walked through sugarcane fields to a river near the Sorte Mountains, about 180 miles (290 kilometers) west of Caracas, to perform rituals after dusk Wednesday. The glow of candles lit up the group, including Reinaldo Pinto, who said he acts as a “medium” through which believers communicate with the goddess and summon her “court” of deities. “We come to make offerings to the queen for fulfilled promises,” said Pinto, 37, who wore only a pair of red shorts and beaded necklaces.”

In the two years since the statue toppled Venezuela has stabilized quite a bit. Though Chavez is much-hated by certain elements in the country (and by conservatives in America who see him as another Castro), his popularity has remained strong amongst most Venezuelans and he is expected to easily beat the opposition in December elections. No doubt the restoration is something of a political act, symbolizing Chavez’s vision of a unified country. The real controversy at this point is where the statue will end up.

“University and city officials are at odds over the original statue’s future destination. The university, which owns the statue, insists it should be returned to the highway. City authorities, citing pollution and vibrations from passing vehicles as factors that caused the statue to collapse, argue it should be moved to a plaza.”

So it seems like Maria Lionza’s journey isn’t over yet. One hopes that the placement of the statue won’t be used to generate more omens for the political right or left.

The splitting of the statue of cult figure Maria Lionza in Venezuela has made the news again. The BBC investigates the political ramifications for the country, they even interview the goddess herself.

” In his incense-filled office three blocks from the parliament building, Priest Rafael Albis dons a shiny white robe, scents his hands with magical perfume, and, with a paroxysm of shuddering, is miraculously transformed into the goddess herself. “What message does her fall hold for the nation?” asks a reporter present at the event. “If the people want violence, there will be violence; if they want peace, there will be peace,” replies a feminine voice from Albis’ huge torso. “I want peace for the world.” Whatever the message, nobody interprets the goddess’s crisis as positive for Venezuela. – Mike Ceaser

In even more Pope news, modern pagans should watch their step.

“The Vatican is holding a special summit with Catholic leaders from around the world, hammering out a way to deal with so-called “New Age” religions and fads that pose a “threat” to Christianity.”Jeannette Walls (“MSNBC,” June 21, 2004)

“This is an enemy with dozens of heads: the version of the Jewish kabbalah espoused by Madonna, the Enneagram personality-reading cult, ancient Egyptian occult practices, Sufism, the lore of the Druids, Celtic Christianity, medieval alchemy, Renaissance hermeticism, Yoga, Zen Buddhism, and many more.”Peter Popham (“The Independent,” June 16, 2004)

Hey, didn’t the Pope just apologise for the Inquisitions?

In Venezuela one of the most beloved cult figures is The Cult of Maria Lionza.

“The legend has it that Maria Lionza was an indigenous princess that was abducted by an anaconda snake, the master of the lagoon. God punished the crawler by making it so swollen that its burst apart at the seams. The blowup caused a great flooding that killed off the entire tribe the princess belonged to. The girl became the master of the lagoon, the rivers, the jungle and the wild animals.”

Recently the famous statue of Maria Lionza toppled over backwards at the waist. Despite warnings by experts that the statue was in grave danger, it is being spun by anti-Chavez media as being an omen of the left-wing President’s downfall in the upcoming August recall referendum.

“”It’s all coming to an end. The abuses against us and this country are ending. We are going to see liberty, truth,” said Tamara Escalona, a faith healer who also happens to be a critic of President Hugo Chavez. The fact that the statue fell backward to face the sky means Maria Lionza is asking God for assistance to resolve the crisis, she said.”Fabiola Sanchez (AP)

Hugo “Bush is an asshole” Chavez, who is popular among the poor in Venezuela, is hated by the elites who own the majority of media in the country and feed US news sources on Venezuelan issues. This has been eaten up by the Bush team as they push for a leader more in line with their thinking (especially about their oil).

“The Bush administration has been pushing for “regime change” in Venezuela for years now, painting a false and exaggerated picture of the reality there…Reporting on Venezuela relies overwhelmingly on opposition sources, many of them about as reliable as Ahmed Chalabi. Although there are any number of scholars and academics — both Venezuelan and international — who could offer coherent arguments on the other side, their arguments almost never appear. For balance, we usually get at most a poor person on the street describing why he likes Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, or a sound bite from Chavez himself denouncing “imperialist intervention.””Mark Weisbrot (CEPR)

In the end it looks like the faith of the people of Venezuela has been manipulated to prove that the recall referendum is divinely annointed and not merely the work of structural damage and vandals.