Archives For Massachusetts

Yesterday Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge in a Brockton, Massachusetts District Court to petition for a name change. The man who would be named “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” seeks to abandon his “old human name” as it is “religiously offensive” to his claimed Wiccan faith. He further elaborated that this name came from “God” after his conversion experience.

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

“I can’t hide from my crime,” Jaynes said. “I wake up in prison, I see my crime every day. I don’t seek to minimize my crime. I’m growing spiritually.”

Robert Curley, the father of Jeffrey Curley, opposes the change, pointing out that Jaynes used multiple aliases to commit crimes while he was free, and that the change could muddy the waters down the line when Jaynes is eligible for parole. Curley was joined in his protest by a local couple and Curley’s lawyer, Michael Chinman. Meanwhile, the Covenant of the Goddess, one of the oldest and largest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations, sent out a press release restating that Wicca does not demand changing one’s name, and that Jayne’s actions do not represent their religion.

As we stated in August 2012, “The Covenant of the Goddess, a public not-for-profit 501c3 organization representing Witches and Wiccans for 37 years, in no way views the actions  of Charles Jaynes, as being even remotely related to the religion that we recognize as Wicca. Nor  do we, as a religion, have any tenet that mandates a legal change of name for any reason. Though it is a common Wiccan practice to take a second name in accordance with spiritual  beliefs, it would be considered very unusual to do so legally; as these names are very personal to the individual and unlikely to be shared outside of a select few.”

Witnessing this controversy, I am immediately pulled back to my experience at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting where I watched a special forum on the Pew Forum’s Religion in Prisons survey. As I mentioned before, this survey noted the overwhelmingly Protestant (and theologically conservative) Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, and how lacking in resources Pagan inmates (and other religious minorities) are. Further, because of the overwhelmingly Christian nature of prison chaplaincy, most Pagan inmates are self-made and often undirected in their spirituality. This is not so troublesome a phenomenon in the outside world, where solitary practitioners can freely interact with like-minded individuals and teachers, but it can spawn variations of “Wicca” or “Paganism” that have little relation to how the our faiths are actually practiced by the majority of adherents.

Had there been a Pagan or Wiccan chaplain for Jaynes to consult, or at least a chaplain well-versed in serving minority religions within a prison populations, he or she might have told him that legal name changes aren’t a requirement of the Wiccan faith, or that most forms of Wicca are either duotheistic (worshipping/acknowledging a God and Goddess) or polytheistic (worshipping many gods) as opposed to his rather Judeo-Christian conception of what Wicca is (referring to his Charles Jaynes as his “heathen” name, and referring to God as his “father”). Further, such a chaplain could have been called to testify in regards to this matter, and give accurate information about the religion Jaynes claims to have converted to.

I’m not here to judge the sincerity of Jaynes religious beliefs, only pointing out that they seem to differ wildly from my extensive experience interacting with, and being a part of, modern religious Witchcraft. The judge said she would make a decision in the next 30 days, and I have no doubt that it will be based on constitutional merits and existing precedents, but I can only think this entire matter would have been clearer had there been a better, more effective, chaplaincy for prisoners outside the Christian paradigm. Our correctional system needs to support minority faith chaplaincy, not only to give prisoners spiritual support while incarcerated, but to make sure our traditions aren’t distorted in the void created by a solely Protestant chaplaincy body. Perhaps some of this trauma for Jaynes victims could have been avoided had there been more robust spiritual instruction for would-be Pagan prisoners.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.'” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

On Wednesday the Salem News reported that Laurie Cabot, Salem, Massachusetts’ official Witch, would be closing the doors of The Official Witch Shoppe at the end of January, bringing to an end Cabot’s 42-year run of owning and operating Witch-related stores in Salem. The Salem News piece quotes a message sent out by Cabot on January 6th, detailing the reasons why Cabot is stepping back from personally running a retail establishment.

Laurie Cabot

Laurie Cabot

“Here I sit now, reflecting on my life as a Witch, my goals, challenges and successes both in the past and what will be in the future. My goals have changed, my focus must now change to meet those goals and it is to that end that I have decided to gear my focus to our temple, the first ever temple of Witchcraft in Salem, the Cabot Kent Hermetic Temple, what an event! In 1692 people in Salem township were killed in the name of Witchcraft, murdered when there is no evidence to support they were even Witches or knew what Witches were, and now today we have founded our temple in its place! We are working to replace fear and hate with hope, love and majick. My goal is to is to see this temple flourish, I want to see us have a building, a real place where anyone can come and learn about Witchcraft, the science, the art and the religion. A place where you can learn about your Celtic ancestors, our Gods and Goddesses, where we can use majick and cast spells to heal the world.”

Over the years Cabot has run and operated four separate stores:  The Witch Shoppe, opened in 1971, Crow Haven Corner (now under different ownership), The Cat, The Crow and The Crown, and finally,  The Official Witch Shoppe. Cabot and her growing family of initiates and students oversaw Salem’s transformation from sleepy New England city with an infamous history of killing accused witches, to a massive Halloween tourist draw that now boasts a number of occult, Pagan, and Witchcraft-related businesses. During that time, Cabot emerged as a prominent voice for an emerging Pagan movement in the United States, was profiled in National Geographic, appeared in documentaries, on talk-shows (including Oprah!), and wrote a number of popular books on Witchcraft and occult practices.

At news of this shift in focus for Cabot, hundreds of Pagans and Wiccans have expressed their thanks for her work, and wished her well on the planned temple project. Noted author and Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who was a former student of Cabot’s, says that “there was always a special magick to learning magick in her shop.”

“I’ll treasure the time I spent in this shop in the reading room chatting with her and teaching there after hours. I’m sad to see it go, but know it’s part of her evolving work to manifest a physical temple in Salem for the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple. With about forty years involved in a shop in Salem, it’s time for a change and I”m glad to see her making that change.”

Green Witch Amy Blackthorn, a frequent visitor to Salem, added “you can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide” by entering her shop.

“I’ve been following Ms Cabot’s work for 19 years. My husband and I vacation in Salem every quarter, and though I don’t go to Laurie for readings, she is always a dear to talk to. You can always tell what the ‘temperature’ in the Pagan community nationwide by going into ‘The Cat The Crow and the Crown’ because it’ll feature in the shop. No matter what Laurie sets her mind to do, especially with her new Temple, I’m sure she’ll do it in her signature way. Pickering Wharf will be a bit darker for her absence. I’ll raise a Wharf Rat in her name on our next visit.”

While Cabot has been a polarizing figure for some in the Pagan community due to her flamboyance and willingness to embrace publicity, it was also these characteristics that helped slowly mainstream religious Witchcraft, Wicca, and modern Paganism.  For all the black capes, conical hats, and impressive eye makeup, we shouldn’t forget that Laurie Cabot was named Salem’s “Official Witch” by then-Governor Michael Dukakis for her work with special needs children. At Cabot’s root is a willingness to be healer and a teacher, to endure years of scorn and ridicule so that today’s Witches in Salem can largely party with impunity.  As for the future, the 78-year-old has no plans to slow down.

“I will continue to teach; my classes on Witchcraft and Tarot are still very much available as are my physic readings and workshops. The shops phone number will remain the same and continue to operate for more information on classes, workshops and readings as well as online at the shops website which will continue to operate, more information will be provided should the fate of that site change.”

You can follow the progress of the Cabot-Kent Hermetic Temple, here. You can also keep track of Cabot’s work at her official web site. We here at The Wild Hunt wish Ms. Cabot all the best in her future endeavors, and thank her for her ongoing service to our community.

Just a few quick news notes to start off your Friday.

The Day the Lights Stayed on at Atlantis: London’s oldest occult bookseller, The Atlantis Bookshop, was apparently the only business unaffected when an explosion caused a blackout on their street. Could it be magic?

The Atlantis Bookshop

The Atlantis Bookshop

Geraldine Beskin, whose family has run the shop for the past 50 years, said: “The lights flickered, and in the streets I could see everyone else’s go out. But we were left intact. It must have been magic!” Staff at the street’s boutiques and cafés turned to Atlantis, a Mecca for mysticists worldwide, for candles to keep their shop-fronts lit.

Atlantis Bookshop is (in)famous for being a place that occultist Aleister Crowley would visit regularly, though the paper points out he died in 1947, precluding any role for Britain’s “wickedest man” in the blackout.

Pendle Witches House Discovered? England’s “Pendle witches,” victims of the most famous witch trials in that country’s history, have long fascinated tourists and historians alike; now some are claiming that an excavated 17th century cottage may have been the legendary Malkin Tower, where the witches were rumored to congregate.

Photograph: Lorne Campbell/United Utilities/PA Wire

Photograph: Lorne Campbell/United Utilities/PA Wire

“Some historians have speculated as to whether the cottage could have been the fabled meeting point of the Pendle witches. “This could well be the famous Malkin Tower — which has been a source of speculation and rumour for centuries,” Pendle witches expert Simon Entwistle told Reuters. He said the find, right in the heart of witch country was incredibly rare, and was made just a few months before the 400th anniversary of the infamous Pendle trials.”

Why the speculation on this particular cottage? Because a mummified cat was found in its walls. Author and Pendle Witch expert Mary Sharratt, author of the novel “Daughters of the Witching Hill,” noted to me that a “mummified cat was a common country charm to ward off evil so it doesn’t necessarily follow that cunning folk lived in the cottage, but it’s still an interesting discovery.” As for the Pendle Witches, they remain strange celebrities in England, with a statue of Pendle witch Alice Nutter to be unveiled in 2012.

Meet the (University of Massachusetts) Wiccan: University of Massachusetts paper The Daily Collegian does a paint-by-numbers “meet the Wiccans” piece on Laura Wildman-Hanlon, office manager for the school’s psychology department and author of “What’s Your Wicca IQ?” While a positive article, I’m not kidding when I say this is textbook “meet the Wiccans” material.

Laura Wildman-Hanlon

Laura Wildman-Hanlon

“Laura Wildman-Hanlon, a practicing Wiccan, is not your Hollywood witch. She doesn’t wear a pointed hat or have green skin, and she certainly doesn’t turn men into frogs. This she says, is not at all what real Wicca and witchcraft are about.”

Still, good on The Daily Collegian for spotlighting a local Witch who is stable, successful, and happy. Here’s hoping a few minds are opened in the process.

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

Religious Right watchdog site Talk to Action recently noted that the Harvard Extension Service & Leadership Society is hosting the 2011 Social Transformation Conference on April 1st and 2nd. HESLS wants to reassure us that this conference is a positive, diverse, and hate-free event.

“This conference is focused not on drawing lines of division, but on providing an opportunity for students and the community at large to explore how we can transform or improve our society. We have been assured by our speakers that they have not supported any hatred directed towards any group, and that allegations to the contrary are untrue and/or misinterpreted.”

The only problem with this statement is that it isn’t even remotely true. You see, the backers and speakers at this conference are members of the New Apostolic Reformation (aka the “Third Wave”), a neo-pentecostal Christian group obsessed with waging a spiritual war against indigenous religions, Pagan religions, homosexuality, and even Catholicism! Three of the featured speakers have publicly inveighed against the dangers of Witchcraft and “New Age” religions, spurring Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action to note that “it’s been a few years now since witch hunting was in vogue in Massachusetts, but an upcoming conference to be held at Harvard this April 1-2 could help rekindle the practice.”

The staff of the Harvard Crimson have also weighed in, strongly criticizing HESLS’s defense of the event, noting that if some of the participant’s “expressions do not seem like hatred, we are hard pressed to understand what does.”

“By hosting a panel discussion whose participants will merely voice their opinions without being called upon to justify their past incendiary remarks, the event seems to accept incredibly offensive opinions without providing any internal challenge. In a sense, the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community is consequently on trial with this coming conference. Regardless of their subject matter, conferences must nevertheless be held to basic standards of intellectual honesty and accountability, and we simply cannot imagine what value the Social Transformation Conference will bring to our community.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage of this extremist Christian movement, they have taken credit for the crisis in Japan, and blamed Shinto for God’s wrath, praised the Haitian earthquake for breaking the “strongman of the occult’s” back, provided Sarah Palin a religious mentor who claims to have given a Wiccan chaplain cancer through prayer, believes Japan’s emperor literally slept with a demonic succubus, thinks worship is a weapon, gives fiscal aid to African witch-hunters, burns indigenous/Native art, and are obsessed with destroying the “Queen of Heaven”. In short, they are consumed with a theologically-driven hatred of indigenous and Pagan faiths. Oh, and I think it goes without saying they are rabidly anti-gay.

Let me echo the Harvard Crimson and say that these individuals have the right to believe as they do, and the First Amendment right to air their opinions in the public square, but for them to go unchallenged here, using Harvard to legitimize and paint a veneer of respectability over their almost cartoonishly nefarious goals seriously endangers “the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community.” As for the New Apostolic Reformation, their conceptions of resistance to this conference are typical.

“Today, however, Harvard is known as one of the most liberal universities in America.  Recently, a student felt a leading of the Lord to host a Christian marketplace conference on social transformation.  Little did he realize the level of opposition that would come against him.  It wasn’t long before this conference was met with real opposition from a gay activist group that is seeking to prevent the event from taking place.  This group has been effective at causing the Dean to question the merits of such an event.  We believe the root of this concern is simply spiritual forces seeking to keep Christ off this campus and fear caused by the gay activists.

One wonders if all it takes to have Harvard host a hate group is a willing student and a heavily edited press packet. By hosting this group, a message is being sent to religious minorities, indigenous groups, and GLBTQ individuals that they aren’t safe at this campus. That claims from extremists that they in “no way seek to convey any negative message about any group,” are taken at face value despite obvious evidence to the contrary. This isn’t the usual debate about conservative speech being allowed at liberal college campuses, or even conservative Christian speech, this group’s theology and mission transcend the usual left-right debates. This is a group on a mission, one that should concern anyone who doesn’t fit into their very narrow Christian paradigm.

While the mainstream media continues to figure out this whole “dabble-gate” thing with Christine O’Donnell I think I’ll take a quick moment to focus on what’s going on with some actual Pagans. After all, September is Pagan Pride season, so why don’t we check in with how coverage is going of these events.

The Salem News covers the Eastern Mass Pagan Pride, and produces a rather charming video piece to accompany the main article called “Faces of Pagan Pride Day”.

“This (festival) is a place for folks to get together and express themselves without the fear of persecution,” said Carol Fairbank, the local coordinator of EMPP. “(Paganism) is just starting to be something that is acceptable to practice out in the open. We’re hoping people will come to this festival, look around and think, ‘Wow. Look how many of us there are.'”

They also interview Salem Witch Lori Bruno, who co-hosts the show “Hex Education” with promoter and shop-owner Christian Day. It is, on the whole, a very positive piece.

Also fairly decent, though not quite as good, is the write-up of the 10th Annual Central North Carolina Pagan Pride Day Festival by the News & Observer who begins their piece with “it’s no longer scandalous to be a pagan”.

“At the entrance to the festival, there were barrels filled with donated cans and boxes for the N.C. Food Bank. On Saturday, a Rex blood mobile unit was stationed nearby. Sure, there were the occasional women wearing pointy black witch hats and a few girls walking around with butterfly wings attached to their backs, but overall it was hard to tell this crowd apart from fairgoers. Asked whether pagans still suffer from discrimination, Michelle Basnett of Cary, the event’s coordinator, said, “It’s gotten amazingly better.” Back in 1999, the YMCA of Greater Durham backed out of an agreement to lease its Wake Forest campground to a pagan group. But these days pagans are no longer considered devil worshippers or Satanists with blood-dripping rituals.”

Pagans! Not the blood-drenched Satanic worshipers you once thought we were! The paper also has a photo gallery from the event, but the photographer seemed more interested in capturing a sword-fighting demo than getting shots of the attendees. Still, this is most likely a massive improvement in coverage for Pagans in North Carolina, so kudos to the organizers for putting together such a popular event.

America isn’t the only place that’s holding pride events. A paper in Italy covers a Pagan Pride celebration in Rome (Pagan Pride Italia) and uncovers some tensions between Pagan factions in that country.

Only peace, singing, dancing and joy? At Villa Pamphili, [it] should be so. But [that] some plot in the shadows of the ritual seems to be something well known, even among neo-pagans [there] are jealousies. “There are religious organizations that [work] to rebuild the original Roman worship of the pagans,” explains the neo-pagans. Just two weeks ago in Bologna, the European Council of Ethnic Religions [took place], representing the traditionalists. “But we who have nothing to do with the conservatives of pagan worship, we always showed openness and willingness to face [the public?]: after all, our inner search is similar to [their's],” recalls Vanth Spirit Walker. Who knows if the spirits will agree, Saturday 18 at Villa Pamphili, could also make their head, the guardians of tradition, Mithras, allowing the peaceful god, but gave the rain from the world began, unwelcome gift in the middle of a ceremony in the park.

So yes, even in Italy there are splits between traditionalists and eclectics. The Pagan experience truly is universal.

Finally, while not under the umbrella of the Pagan Pride campaign, in the UK the Pagan Federation North East is holding a conference this week, and even the Lord Mayor of Leeds is dropping by.

“The Pagans have persuaded Leeds’s Lord Mayor, Coun Jim McKenna and his wife Andrea to drop into the conference and Mr Speight hopes his visit will encourage others to attend. “We are delighted the Lord Mayor is coming along, and we hope it will help dispel many people’s misconceptions about us,” he said. The Lord Mayor – who is keen to point out he is not a pagan and has never been to a pagan event before – will have a quick tour of the day-long event. Activities for visitors include talks by witch and high priestess of Sheffield Patricia Crowther, and author Philip Heselton, who has published books about witchcraft and paganism.”

I know the Lord Mayor dropping by is big news, but as Pagan I’m more excited about the fact that Patricia Crowther will be there. Still this must be major PR coup for the Pagan Federation NE, so good for them.

There are quite a few more Pagan Pride write-ups floating about up there, including some written by Pagans. Did your Pagan Pride day get written up? Was it good? Bad? Share with us in the comments.

Pagan News Updates

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 22, 2010 — 9 Comments

Here’s a round-up of updates concerning stories and issues covered previously by The Wild Hunt.

Martha Coakley and the Fells Acre Case: In a historic upset, Republican candidate Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat left vacant by Ted Kennedy’s death, defeating Democratic candidate Martha Coakley, who many initially saw as a sure thing. The media, and many politicians, are ruminating on how it all happened. While some are debating whether Brown’s win was a referendum on Obama’s presidency, others are saying that the reasons were very local. Columnist Carey Roberts claims that Coakley’s ties to the infamous Fells Acre ritual abuse case damaged her chances far more than the national political media are willing to credit.

“This legal travesty did not attract national attention until last Fall. At that point, Coakley held a nearly insurmountable 30-point lead over her Republican challenger. Then Ann Coulter devoted her December 9 column to the case, calling it the “second-most notorious witch trial in Massachusetts history” and charging Coakley had “kept a clearly innocent man in prison in order to advance her political career.” A month later, Dorothy Rabinowitz delivered the coup de grace. Recounting in the Wall Street Journal how prosecutors cast Gerald as the chief predator, “his gender qualifying him, in their view, as the best choice for the role,” Rabinowitz adjudged the superfluous prosecution was “powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat.” The Rabinowitz editorial was published on January 14. The same day a Suffolk University poll spotted Brown a 4-point lead over Martha Coakley. And when the ballots were tallied nearly a week later, Scott Brown had defeated Coakley by a resounding five-point margin.”

The Fells Acre case was also mentioned in electoral postmortems at The Huffington Post (who called her “doomed from the start”) and The New American. As for Coakley, what are her plans? Why, she’s going to run for reelection as Attorney General. Which makes me wonder, will outrage over the Amiraults carry over to the Fall elections? Or will we be content to forget? For all of my past coverage of Martha Coakley, click here.

Those Christian Gun Sights: Since the story broke earlier this week, controversy and commentary has been raging over a military contractor, Trijicon, that had been inserting Bible references into its serial numbers. These sights had apparently been used by some military commanders to hammer home the uniquely magical Christian-ness of the weapons, and their effectiveness in killing non-Christians. Now the company says it will stop inserting the Biblical references, and will provide means for existing sights to modified.

“Trijicon has proudly served the U.S. military for more than two decades, and our decision to offer to voluntarily remove these references is both prudent and appropriate,” said Stephen Bindon, Trijicon president and CEO in a statement. “We want to thank the Department of Defense for the opportunity to work with them and will move as quickly as possible to provide the modification kits for deployment overseas.”

While some in the military defended the Bible references, or didn’t see what the fuss was about, others, most notably General David Petraeus, called the sights “distrubing” and a “serious concern”.

Jessica Orsini Sets Her Sights on Another Term: The Columbia Daily Tribune notes that Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, will be running unopposed for another term.

“Filing for the April 6 school board and municipal election ballots in Boone County ended at 5 p.m. yesterday … Centralia Board of Aldermen: Third Ward Alderwoman Jessica Orsini and First Ward Alderwoman Catherine Simmons are unopposed for re-election.”

Orsini, in addition to being one of only two openly transgendered elected officials, is also a Hellenic polytheistic reconstructionist. So it looks like we’ll continue to have two openly Pagan elected officials in America for a while longer. For more on Orsini, check out Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with her at Witchvox.

More Stupid Things Being Said About Vodou: Mark Krikorian, at National Review Online, joined the growing “it’s all Voodoo’s fault” chorus yesterday with this rousing endorsement of colonialism.

“My guess is that Haiti’s so screwed up because it wasn’t colonized long enough … A major indicator of how superficial is the overlay of French culture in Haiti is the strength of paganism, in the form of voodoo — the French just weren’t around long enough to suppress it, to the detriment of Haitians.”

Yes, if only they had been under the heel of the French for a bit longer, because we all know how well colonialism worked out for the Native Americans. Do these commentators actually read what they write before it gets posted? I wonder. For all my coverage of Vodou in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, click here.

Top Story: Reuters is reporting that several Haitian Vodou priests are upset over the creation of anonymous mass graves, saying that it is a desecration which removes all dignity from death. Among those protesting was Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who met with Haitian President Rene Preval over the matter.

“It is not in our culture to bury people in such a fashion,” Haiti’s main voodoo leader, Max Beauvoir, said in a meeting with Preval. Local radio is broadcasting messages for Haitians to put bodies recovered from under the rubble of collapsed buildings on the street for collection by garbage and other trucks. “The conditions in which bodies are being buried is not respecting the dignity of these people,” Beauvoir, who was educated at City College of New York and the Sorbonne in Paris, said in the Preval meeting this weekend.

Which brings us to the question of whether these anonymous mass graves are indeed a necessity. The Haitian Red Cross President Michaelle Amedee Gedeon says that disease risk is minimal, while the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) says that anonymous mass graves are bad procedure that can worsen the tragedy.

“The belief that bodies pose a serious health threat often leads authorities to take misguided action, such as mass burials, which can add to the burden of suffering already experienced by survivors,” the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said. “The worst part of this is that these actions are taken without respecting the processes of identifying and preserving bodies, something that not only goes against cultural norms and religious beliefs but also has social, psychological, emotional, economic and legal consequences that add to the suffering directly caused by the disaster,” said PAHO … ICRC officials, who recommended only shallow ditches to cover the dead, said: “People need to be able to identify their relatives. It is important to at least take photographs of those being buried and to note any unique physical markings, like teeth and scars.” They cited the Asian tsunami of 2004 in which people were swiftly buried in mass graves or cremated. “We don’t want to repeat those mistakes,” the Red Cross said. But here in Port-au-Prince, fresh fatal errors are committed daily.

Despite the protests and the advice of various health organizations, some 50,000 dead are already lying in pits surrounding Port-au-Prince. Whether this policy will change with the influx of aid and volunteers remains to be seen. There is little to no Haitian government infrastructure left to guide aid efforts, and some may see the mass graves as a more efficient (and psychologically tolerable) solution in the short term.

In Other News: Over at Psychology Today, noted addiction psychologist Stanton Peele weighs in on Mass. Democratic candidate Martha Coakley’s involvement in the Fells Acre ritual abuse case.

“Whenever you mock the trials of witches in Salem, consider having an unrepentant witch hunter in the United States Senate.  Coakley is heavily backed by the Massachusetts Democratic Party, Ted Kennedy’s widow, and President Obama. So witch hunting can be a path to success. Perhaps these worthies are correct in supporting her – they are political people. But I couldn’t vote for Coakley (although I certainly don’t support Coakley’s opponent). Even if Coakley survives this election, however, her campaign has marked her as damaged political goods – something her behavior re “ritual child abuse” should have done, but failed to.”

The Overlawyered blog rounds up more blog and editorial commentary on Coakley relating to the Fells Acre case. Meanwhile, moderate conservative Andrew Sullivan seems to be leading the “Coakley is bad but Brown would be worse” charge at his blog (as are the Democratic partisan blogs, naturally). Though even he wonders if the “perfect storm” of resistance to Coakley can be turned aside. As I said before, I don’t envy the choices presented to Massachusetts voters.

Former Pagan author AJ Drew has apparently converted to Catholicism, and is in the midst of an ugly custody battle with his wife, who he is accusing of ongoing domestic (and possibly sexual) abuse. Here’s the relevant quote concerning his current religious status.

“I think it is fairly clear that religious discrimination can be added to sexual discrimination. In court, as if this were the 16th century, I have been accused of being a Witch. This either because several years ago I wrote some New Age titles or because today I am a practicing Catholic. I can not be sure why they are so concerned with my religious preferences, but the supervisor demanded that I tell her my religious preferences in court while she was testifying against my sanity. It was as if she felt all Catholics or members of other religions to which she does not subscribe are insane.”

As to the issues of abuse, and the custody of his children, I have no idea what the situation truly is. Nor do I feel inclined to venture a guess. Custody cases, especially ones where abuse is alleged, can be quagmires of competing narratives and claims, the results often pleasing no-one. You can read AJ Drew’s side of the story here, and here. Readers can follow up on them, or not, as they wish. As for further coverage here, it’s clear that a connection to the wider Pagan community is no longer desired by Drew (now going by Andrew Schlomann), so barring extraordinary circumstances, I’ll respect those wishes.

Turning briefly to Romanian politics, it seems that Social Democratic Party leader Mircea Geoana and his wife Mihaela Geoana have accused Romanian President Traian Basescu’s (of the Democratic Liberal Party) team on national television of using mystical attacks to win the recent elections.

“National paper Romania libera writes an op-ed on Monday headlined “Voodoo politics”, while TV news channels focused on debates on the “Violet flame mania”, referring to renewed accusations of mystical attacks by President Traian Basescu’s team against Mircea Geoana, his rival in the second round of presidential elections in December 2009. Romanian news agency Mediafax reported that last weekend Mircea Geoana said on Antena 3 news channel that he did not feel drained of energy during the last televised debate of the presidential elections. But while claiming these were childish excuses, he said Basescu was using the support of people with paranormal abilities who were present at the debate. Then, on Saturday, his wife Mihaela Geoana said Mircea Geoana was the target of malicious energy attacks during that debate, which would explain why he was “paralyzed” during parts of the discussion.”

Luckily, it doesn’t look like many are taking them very seriously, even fellow party members are mocking them. You can read more about the “violet flame conspiracy”, here, and here.

In a final note, today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The government thinks you should make this day a day of service, while others are reflecting on King’s legacy in the era of Obama. As for Americans United, they want to remind you of another dream King had, the dream of religious freedom.

“In a pluralistic society such as ours, who is to determine what prayer shall be spoken, and by whom? Legally, constitutionally or otherwise, the state certainly has no such right.”

They close with what King thought the true role of religious institutions in America were for.

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

May all of King’s dreams for America, and the world, be fulfilled.

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

On Tuesday a special election is being held in Massachusetts to pick the replacement for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, and despite the fact that the state is solidly liberal and reliably Democratic, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. Certainly part of it is that Scott Brown has been presenting as a liberal-ish Republican (except when he doesn’t), and has been running a tight campaign, but it’s also due to the fact that Democratic candidate Martha Coakley has done a terrible job, treating her election as fait accompli, and failing to energize voters. Which brings us to why I’m commenting on this race, Coakley’s involvement in the notorious Fells Acres Day Care Case. While Coakley didn’t prosecute the case, one of the most high-profile “ritual abuse” trials of the 1980s, she subsequently spent years defending the convictions as D.A., still insists the family was guilty, and placed bizarre restrictions on the accused once they were released.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

It would be fair to say that electing a possible Satanic Ritual Abuse/Organized Ritual Abuse true-believer to the Senate has made several Pagans, especially the ones who lived through the moral panics of 1980s, uneasy.

“It’s like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. “Spectral evidence.” On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy. The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults’ case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind. She is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat. But I don’t care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.  For that reason alone–for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters–if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.”

Chas Clifton’s sentiments are echoed by Beliefnet Pagan blogger Gus diZerega.

“Perhaps most revealing with respect to Coakley was the conditions she imposed on people she allowed to be released after years of confinement.  They could not talk to the press nor could their lawyer be used to help another family member.  These conditions have nothing to do with guilt or innocence and a great deal to do with covering up abuses of power.  What was Coakley hiding?  We have seen a lot of such abuses and we do not need another Democrat inclined to do the same.  There already are more than enough Democrats and Republicans of that ilk.”

Her participation in moral panics are bad enough, but her steadfast defense of the Fells Acres convictions seems to also extend to a “law enforcement doesn’t make mistakes and shouldn’t be questioned” philosophy.

“Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.”

Of course, with Obama’s health care plan possibly on the line, many are urging voters to “hold their nose” and vote for Coakley anyway. Indeed, I know of some Massachusetts Pagans who’ve indicated that they will be (reluctantly) voting for Coakley, and a commenter on Chas Clifton’s blog sums up many of their talking points.

“I understand your feelings, but I’m a Masschusetts voter, and I will vote for Martha Coakley.  The whole SRA thing was a travesty, but even so Coakley is much better than her Republican opponent Scott Brown, who is anti-choice for women, pro-death penalty, opposed to the public health care legislation, and opposed to gay marriage (which we already have in Massachusetts). Coakley isn’t perfect, but if Brown is elected it will be a disaster for our state and country.”

I want health care reform too, heck, I want a single payer system! I’m also pro-choice, but I’m troubled when serious accusations about a candidate abusing their powers are made, and then swept aside in the name of party unity and the fear of legislative gridlock. The Boston Globe, in endorsing Coakley, praises her for “prosecuting child abusers”, never noting that some of those alleged abusers may have been completely innocent. As I’ve said before, I truly hope Coakley isn’t a SRA true-believer, because if we do see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail.

So, to my Massachusetts readers, who are you voting for? Why? Do certain issues trump others, no matter how serious they may be? I’d really like to know, because I certainly don’t envy your choices right now. Perhaps that is why some Democrats are already spinning for a Coakley loss?

A recent column by Francis Wilkinson in The Week Magazine puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is a front-runner for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. It seems her role in the notorious  Fells Acres Day Care Case is causing some waves among Democrats with a long memory for abuses of power.

“Coakley did not prosecute the case, which was already under way when she joined the office as an assistant district attorney in 1986. But years later, after the day-care abuse hysteria had subsided and she had won the office’s top job, she worked to keep the convicted “ringleader,” Gerald Amirault, behind bars despite widespread doubts that a crime had been committed … the convictions won by the Middlesex DA in the Fells Acres case have not borne up well. By today’s standards, the prosecution of the Amirault family, who owned and operated the day-care center in Malden, Mass., looks like a master class in battling witchcraft.”

It looked like “battling witchcraft” because these “ritual abuse” (aka “Satanic abuse” or “organized abuse”) cases often hinged on rumours and false testimony of an imaginary network of underground Satanic sex and abuse-cults. Children were often prodded and coaxed into false testimony, much of which is recanted when those same children grow up, and many innocent men and women spent years, sometimes decades, of their lives behind bars. In the instance of the Fells Acres case, children were interviewed by nurse and SRA true-believer Susan J. Kelley, who elicited flatly implausible testimony about sex with bladed implements and “clowns” in “magic rooms” from children that a judge later called “improper” and “biased”.

“The evidence in this case is nothing short of overwhelming with improper interviewing techniques. The bias toward the Amiraults by investigators and interviewers from the beginning. Parental and other family influences. All of it leading to these tragic results.”

Despite the mounting evidence that this case was handled improperly, and that it was very likely the Amirault family were innocent of the charges brought against them, Coakley stubbornly refused to revisit the case. As D.A. she opposed parole for the family despite many lawyers thinking this was a “travesty” of justice, and she made strange conditions for the release of Cheryl Amirault LeFave.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal‘s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

These conditions, and this case, has made some Democrats uneasy about her candidacy, and seems to be causing her supporters to close ranks on the issue. As for Coakley, she defends her decisions regarding the case, saying she feels the Amirault family were indeed guilty.

“Based on my own extensive experience with child abuse investigations and cases, and my thorough review of all the evidence, including that which is often taken out of context and deemed “exculpatory,” I also believe the convictions were sound, and that he received a fair trial. It is for all of the above reasons that I, as Middlesex District Attorney, opposed his commutation, and I stand by that decision to this day.”

One wonders if this is a case of not wanting to admit to a mistake, access to some sort of mysterious insider knowledge that several lawyers, reporters, judges, and parole boards don’t have, or if Coakley is (like the judge that oversaw Gerald Amirault’s trial) an SRA true-believer. I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter, because if we see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail based almost solely on improperly gathered testimony and hysteria.