Archives For Mexico

Top Story: A Louisiana Senate panel has approved Senate Bill 606, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, to go forward for debate, and ultimately a vote, on the full Senate floor. The bill, which seeks to protect religious freedom by holding government bodies to a higher standard regarding religious expression than current Supreme Court precedent, has been backed by the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum (affiliated with Focus on the Family). It has also found support from the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), who testified in support of the bill.

“Valli Henry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans, said the legislation “bolstered our hope of spreading Wicca and paganism throughout Louisiana.” Henry’s group recently came under attack as it planned a pagan festival in Livingston Parish.”

LAW’s support for this new law comes despite the Louisiana Law Institute issuing a report saying there was no evidence that the new regulations would be needed, and opposition from groups like the Capital City Alliance (CCA), who say the new ordinance would further enshrine anti-gay-marriage laws within the state.

“Ted Baldwin, who helped establish the Metropolitan Community Church, said the legislation discriminates against those whose religious beliefs may differ from those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The legislation specifically states that nothing in it “shall be construed to authorize any relationship, marital or otherwise” that would violate a state constitutional provision under which no marriage other than that between a man and a woman is valid in Louisiana. “It specifically says freedom is for some, but not freedom for all,” said Baldwin, a  Republican State Central Committee member.”

Since many Wiccan and Pagan groups support having their gay marriage rites legally recognized, I found it surprising that LAW would uncritically support this measure. Is this an effort to show that they are “family friendly” to the conservative Christian opponents who have been giving them trouble lately? Is LAW an explicitly socially conservative organization, or did they not think the anti-gay-marriage clause in the proposed law was problematic? What is known is that many of the “religious freedom” and “religious expression” laws backed by conservative Christians in this country are designed to privilege the majority, not protect the rights of religious minorities.

Wiccan Child Abuser Sent Back to Prison: The Guelph Mercury in Canada reports that Kenneth James McMurray, who had been released on supervision after serving a four-year sentence, was sentenced to anther three years in jail after threatening to kill his parole officer. McMurray was initially sent to prison for leading a “sex-cult” that abused underage boys.

“The supervision order was imposed by Guelph Justice Norman Douglas in 1999, after McMurray pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault. Court heard he led a group said to be based on the Wiccan religion, and forced his young followers to engage in sex acts with each other and with him in the basement of his parents’ home. The boys, aged 14 to 16, were plied with marijuana and beaten if they questioned McMurray, who they believed was a supreme spiritual being who could harm them at will.”

Yet another reason why I’m hoping we can continue to work civilly and constructively towards a joint community statement against sexual abuse. Here’s hoping that Mr. McMurray will never again be in a position to exploit and abuse boys.

Is Saudi Arabia Fed Up With the Religious Police? News that a Saudi woman beat up a member of that country’s infamous religious police has been igniting the newswires and blogosphere.

“When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition. But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix. For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop. According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.”

According to human rights groups the Internet and local media have been damaging the once fearsome reputation of this religious militia, and many Saudi citizens are getting fed up with the force, who are currently engaged in a political struggle with the (relatively) more moderate Saudi King Abdullah. It is the religious police who have been the force behind the imprisonment and death sentence for alleged sorcerers and witches, including Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who, while spared the death penalty, is still in a Saudi prison. I can only hope this is a harbinger of a popular uprising against the Mutaween in that country.

The Earth Goddess Comes to Mexico City: The largest monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli ever discovered is going on public display for the first time in Mexico City for an exhibition on Aztec emperor Moctezuma II.

“The largest known monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli will go on show for the first time next month in Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History has said. The giant stone was found during renovations almost four years ago on a house near the Templo Mayor, the most famous Aztec temple in the heart of the Mexican capital, an INAH statement said. Weighing 12 metric tonnes and measuring 4.19 meters (13.7 feet) by 3.62 meters (11.8 feet), the monolith is “the only Mexican sculptural piece that conserves its original colors,” the statement said.”

According to some accounts Tlaltecuhtli was a fearsome goddess indeed, and seems to hold some similar characteristics to the primordial  Babylonian goddess Tiamat.

Destroying the Cemetery to Take the Bus: In a final note, the New York Times has published a photo-essay on the destruction of  a cemetery in Pétionville, Haiti, which was spared the ravages of the recent earthquake, but not the plans for a new bus station.

“Undamaged by the earthquake that struck in January, the cemetery was crowded with brightly painted mausoleums decked out with metal flower wreaths. Names carved in marble marked the final resting place of many families, buried over a long period of time. A cross to Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, stood in a corner where people would bring him coffee and cigarettes in exchange for a favor. Until bulldozers came and demolished the whole cemetery. Where there was once a small, beautiful memorial, there is now a pile of rubble; another victim of Haiti’s earthquake, this time at human hands. People who had lost so much already were at a loss as to how to stop the demolition, if they even knew about it.”

Some, like artist Magda Magloire were lucky enough to receive enough advance warning and save the remains of her brother, Stivenson Magloire, a famous Haitian painter, and their mother, Louisiane St. Fleurant, the godmother of the Saint-Soleil movement in Haitian art. This is a surprising act of desecration in Haiti, where the ancestors and grave-sites are revered.

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

McCollum Discusses His Case: We begin our Monday with a few quick notes, starting with the news that Pagan chaplain Patrick McCollum, currently embroiled in his challenge to California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, was interviewed by the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, head of The Interfaith Alliance, on his radio show State of Belief.

“…a Wiccan clergyman fights discrimination in California’s prisons. Reverend Patrick McCollum joins host Welton Gaddy to discuss his challenge to California’s “Five Faiths” policy.  It says only Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Native-American chaplains will be hired to minister to inmates.”

Here’s hoping this interviews continues to push this story into the mainstream, and keeps up the pressure on California officials hoping this will all disappear. You can subscribe to the podcast, listen on-line, or download the entire show, here. I also urge you to check out Patrick’s other recent radio/podcast interviews with Anne Hill and Ravencast. The important thing at this stage is to keep our community aware of this case as it goes forward, write to California officials, and spread the word when new information arises. This is a big story, and if we persevere, it will eventually get noticed by the mainstream media.

Spirits Enter the Drug War: As violence intensifies in Mexico’s drug war, police officers in Tijuana are increasingly turning to otherworldly aid as they face better-armed gangs of drug traffickers.

In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California. Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets. “Sometimes a man needs another type of faith,” said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. “I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn’t die.”

This isn’t just a war of bullets, it’s now a war of spirits, pitting the three-horned Bosou Koblamin against Jesus Malverde or Santa Muerte. It’s a practice quietly endorsed by police superiors, who know that the under-paid and out-gunned officers need any psychological reassurance they can get. I have the sinking feeling that the end of this struggle is in the hands of American lawmakers, that the decriminalization of marijuana could now save countless lives, as illegal trafficking is too profitable to ever want for replacements.

The Poetry of the Esoteric: Scarlet Imprint is releasing a new limited-edition collection of sacred poetry entitled “Datura”, that features work from T. Thorn Coyle, Erynn Rowan Laurie, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, and several others. At the Scarlet Imprint site they interview editor (and fellow Pagan blogger) Ruby Sara about the project.

“…for me there truly is no difference on a metaphysical level between poetry and magick – they are the same movement, and you cannot have true magick without poetry (or true poetry without magick). poetry is the language of magick, it is magick given voice and form. on a practical level, the human voice is a critical instrument in various manner of spellcraft, as is language…history bears this out thoroughly i think…and in my experience, spellcraft is hugely enhanced by applying to it the music and rhythm and articulate beauty of invocative, resonant poetry.”

The book is scheduled to be released on April 16th, and is being printed in a hand-bound limited run of 500 copies, so get your order in today if you want to ensure you get a copy of what sounds like a truly momentous collection. Here is where our modern liturgy and inspiration are flowing freely, so don’t miss out!

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

Top Story: Is eclecticism and syncretism part of America’s religious DNA? A recent survey by the Pew Forum seems to suggest just that. While America is dominated by various forms of Christian belief, many adherents also partake in different religious practices and subscribe to various beliefs outside the theological boundaries of their faith.

“In total, upwards of six-in-ten adults (65%) express belief in or report having experience with at least one of these diverse supernatural phenomena (belief in reincarnation, belief in spiritual energy located in physical things, belief in yoga as spiritual practice, belief in the “evil eye,” belief in astrology, having been in touch with the dead, consulting a psychic, or experiencing a ghostly encounter). This includes roughly one-quarter of the population (23%) who report having only one of these beliefs or experiences. More than four-in-ten people (43%) answer two or more of these items affirmatively, including 25% who answer two or three of these items affirmatively and nearly one-in-five (18%) who answer yes to four or more. Roughly one-third of the public (35%) answers no to all eight items.”

This increasing trend of heterodoxy undermines the idea that the Religious Right, and other vanguards of religious orthodoxy, have much sway outside their main base of support. When nearly a quarter of America Christians say they believe trees possess spiritual energy, I’m far more convinced we’ll see a post-Christian culture than some sort of Family-style conservative Christian coup in the years to come. This transition may upset some, but I suspect that most Pagans, especially the eclectic and syncretic, will feel right at home.

In Other News: Pagans seem to be the ultimate test of how “open” your local city council’s opening invocations are. When a government body is accused of engaging in primarily sectarian prayer, as is the case in Bakersfield California, they usually point out that the invocation slot is welcome to any faith tradition that wants a turn. But as Americans United senior policy analyst Rob Boston points out, that openness often grinds to a halt when a Wiccan signs up.

“When communities try to set up a totally open forum for prayers, “what usually happens is that sooner or later someone comes along from a religion that is unpopular or misunderstood” — such as a Wiccan or Pagan — “and the conservative Christians throw a fit,” he said in an e-mail.”

Councilmember Jacquie Sullivan says Bakersfield is ready to pass the Pagan test, stating that “it would be their turn”. Did you hear that Bakersfield Pagans? Time to step up! They are ready. It’s your turn! Whether the “include a Wiccan” gambit would help them in a lawsuit is still an open question.

In Toronto, a con-artist who bilked a woman out of tens-of-thousands of dollars isn’t just up on charges of fraud, but also on charges of pretending to be a witch.

Det. Constable Jones says it’s rare to charge someone under Section 365, but the circumstances of this case fit. “It’s a historical quirk,” says Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School. Some sections of the Canadian criminal code reflect offences that were more prevalent centuries ago. When the code was enacted in 1892, witchcraft per se was no longer a punishable offence, he says, but lawmakers wanted to ensure witchcraft wasn’t used as a cover for fraud. Section 365 states that any one who fraudulently pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, or enchantment or who “undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes … is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.” “It’s not really about occult activity,” Prof. Young says. “It’s about defrauding people.”

One would assume that a real Witch would be immune from such charges. One would also hope that this near-forgotten law won’t be abused in a crusade against honest psychic practitioners, as they have been in America.

The Daily Grail features an excerpted essay from Greg Taylor that is very close to my heart, the history of occult practices in rock music.

“There is a vast amount of related material we could cover: from the influence of the occult upon Norwegian Black Metal, to Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson’s interest in Aleister Crowley, which has recently resulted in a feature film. Or perhaps even The Mars Volta’s use of an Ouija Board in the creation of their 2008 album The Bedlam in Goliath (considering the mayhem that allegedly resulted, perhaps they should have listened to David Bowie’s advice…). But, ultimately, rock music is about transcending the intellect, and just losing yourself in a maelstrom of sound and feeling.”

That essay, and others, is from Darklore volume 2, available now from Amazon.com. Also, in a somewhat related note, Thee Temple Ov Psychick Youth’s “Thee Psychick Bible” (a project initiated by Industrial music pioneer Genesis P-Orridge) has been re-released in an updated, expanded, corrected edition. Perfect gifts for the occult music-lover in your family, and if all this talk of occult and Pagan music has you wanting to listen to some, why not check out my weekly podcast?

In a final note, the Houston Chronicle looks at the massive December pilgrimages in Mexico, with many traveling to the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe (her feast day is on Saturday), located on a former pagan shrine. While nearly a million travel to gain the blessings of the “goddess of Mexico”, the local priests want you to know that there is no trace of pre-Christianity left in the rites and traditions surrounding this popular saint.

“Arriving by bus, car or bicycle, the faithful first stop at the artesian stream springing from the roots of a huge and ancient cypress tree. They don crowns made of fresh flowers and leave petitions to God hanging from the fence posts, wash in or drink from the spring and dance before the statue in a small chapel … When their dance is finished, the pilgrims ride a few miles down the mountainside to the village of Chalma itself, where they walk through a gantlet of vendors and restaurants to arrive at the church. There they attend Mass, get blessed by priests and leave petitions or letters of thanks to God hanging on walls. “It is 100 percent Catholic,” Manzanares said of the pilgrimage, “based in Catholic belief for the Catholic faithful.” Chalma’s shrine was erected by Spanish friars in the 1530s conquest in a cave that the Aztecs once worshipped as the dwelling of Ozteatl, a god represented by a large man-sized black boulder they believed had healing powers. The friars destroyed the stone, according to some accounts, and a Christ statue appeared in its place.”

Catholic perhaps, but grown from “pagan” soil and tradition. Whether Guadalupe is “100% Catholic” or a Christianized version of the Aztec moon goddess Tonantzin, she is still the most-venerated goddess/saint in the Americas, and neither Catholic nor Pagan should take that lightly.

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

Top Story: I’m very pleased to present, as part of my coverage of the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia, an interview with Pagan scholar Michael York. Michael York is Professor of Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at Bath Spa University College, UK, an instructor at Cherry Hill Seminary, and author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion”. We discussed the evolving place of modern Paganism at the Parliament, the importance of the Pagan voice in interfaith interactions, and how polytheism promotes democracy.

If you are a Pagan podcaster, or host a Pagan-friendly radio show, you are welcome to download this file to play on your program. Be sure to credit the Pagan Newswire Collective as the audio source. For more Parliament-related audio, check out my discussion with Ed Hubbard, a PNC correspondent, as well as host of MagickTV and Pagans Tonight. There are more scheduled Parliament interviews, so stay tuned to the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest news.

In Other News: William Booth at the Washington Post looks at the oft-misunderstood cult of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death. An anthropologist interviewed for the piece makes the argument that this growing, and controversial, faith is a true reflection of contemporary Mexico.

“The authorities have condemned Santa Muerte as a “narco-saint,” worshipped by drug traffickers, cartel assassins and dope slingers. But the worship is more a reflection of contemporary Mexico, says the anthropologist J. Katia Perdigón Castañeda, the author of “La Santa Muerte: Protector of Mankind.” The cult is an urban pop amalgam, New Age meets heavy metal meets Virgin of Guadalupe. It is no accident that it is also cross-cultural — that the centers of worship are the poor, proud heart of Mexico City and the violent frontier lands of Laredo, Juarez and Tijuana. The cult borrows equally from Hollywood and the Aztec underworld. Altars, necklaces and tattoos honoring Santa Muerte also make appearances in Mexican American neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Boston. “The believers may be drug dealers, doctors, carpenters, housewives. The cult accepts all. No matter the social status or age or sexual preference. Even transsexuals. Even criminals. That’s very important, that the cult of Santa Muerte accepts everyone,” Perdigón told me, “because death takes one and all.” Where mainstream Mexican Catholicism promises a better life in the hereafter, “central to the devotion of Santa Muerte is the fact that the believers want a miracle, a favor, in the present, in this life, not when they are dead,” Perdigón said.”

I find it very interesting that while many modern Pagan religions are quite self-conscious of mixing pop-culture with our Paganism, or of modernizing ancient sacred imagery, the followers of Santa Muerte seem to do it instinctively. Focusing more on necessities than proprieties. I wish I could read J. Katia Perdigon Castaneda’s book, but it appears to be only available in Spanish, a language I have not mastered.

I have an update on the case of Ali Sibat, a former Lebanese television presenter who was arrested and sentenced to death for sorcery in Saudi Arabia by the Mutaween (religious police) in Saudi Arabia, but I’m afraid it isn’t good news.

“He was condemned to death last month, and the religious court may confirm the sentence as soon as Thursday. The family’s lawyer, May Khansa, has tried desperately to persuade Lebanese politicians to intervene to save Mr Sbatt’s life – the Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, and President Michel Sleiman are aware of his case and so is the Sunni Grand Mufti, Sheikh Abdul Amir Qabalan – but so far without success. Sheikh Qabalan did, however, say that what Mr Sbatt did on television was merely psychological help for people who have lost hope and did not involve black magic. The family wisely appealed to Sunni prelates for help rather than dignitaries from their own Shia background. Their local member of parliament has been asked to assist – uselessly, it appears – and Ibrahim Najjar, the Minister for Justice, has said he has done “the necessary”, whatever that is.”

Saudi lawyers have asked for a million dollars to make a legal appeal, and it seems only the intervention of King Abdullah could save his life at this point. I’ll have more on this case as it develops, but it looks like another innocent person will soon be killed by a government for alleged supernatural crimes.

Why do white supremacists feel the need to subvert Pagan, Heathen, and Christian faiths? Because their own sad attempts at building a “religion” are so transparently political that federal district court judges have no problem denying them equal treatment in court cases.

“In Conner v. Tilton, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111892 (ND CA, Dec. 2, 2009), in a decision unusually detailed in its analysis for a case brought by a prisoner pro se, a California federal district court held that the White supremacist Creativity Movement is not a “religion” for purposes of the First Amendment or RLUIPA. In the case, an inmate sought the right to practice various aspects of his purported religion in Pelican Bay State Prison. In deciding the case, the court relied on the definition of “religion” articulated by the 3rd Circuit in Africa v. Pennsylvania.”

In short,”what’s good for white people is good” just isn’t a comprehensive world-view that addresses “fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters”. There may be (and are) racist Heathens, Pagans, Muslims, and Christians, but they at least have the fig-leaf of an actual faith-tradition when considering legal matters. This sadly means that racists will continue to distort our faiths for their own ends, but at least the misguided may have some chance of interacting with genuine non-racist permutations of those faiths as they move through life.

In a final note, Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, who has been covering the plight of child witches in Nigeria, brings us the news that notorious (and popular) witch-hunting mega-pastor Helen Ukpabio is suing a local activist and witch children charity. Why is she suing them? For making Ukpabio look bad when her followers raided a conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights.

“Helen applied to the Federal High Court in Calabar for the enforcement of her fundamental rights. She claimed, among other things,that the conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights, held on July 29 in Calabar – which her members disrupted- and the arrest of her church members on the said date constituted an infringement on their rights to practice their christian religious belief relating to witchcraft. She asked the court to issue perpetual injunctions restraining me and others – From interfering with their practice of christianity and their deliverance of people with witchcraft spirit … From holding seminars or workshops denouncing the christian religious belief in witchcraft … From arresting her and her church members etc.”

The activist, Leo Igwe, has sent out a press release regarding the lawsuit. Due to oppressive British libel laws, Bartholomew wasn’t able to reprint the entire thing, so I’m making it available here. I’ll try to keep you posted as new developments in this case arise, but I strongly suggest you also read Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion for the latest updates as well.

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne,  and have a great day!

A few stories of note I wanted to share with you, starting with a development that has already been mentioned by a few heavyweights in the Pagan blogosphere, the destruction of altars to Santa Muerte in Mexico. Collatoral damage of the intensifying drug-war in that country.

“Mexican law enforcement won’t say it is targeting the “Santa Muerte.” But last month, army troops accompanied workers who used back hoes to topple and crush more 30 shrines on a roadway in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas. Many were elaborate, one-story, marble-clad constructions with electric lighting and statues of the skeletal Death Saint. The sect’s archbishop, David Romo, denounced the destruction as religious persecution and demanded a meeting with President Felipe Calderon … “Sometimes people look down on us because we believe in her, but my faith is bigger than somebody looking down on me,” said America Melendez, a 24-year-old street vendor marching with a red-robed statue of the saint.”

Because Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is extremely popular among those who live in fear of violent death, it is popular both with drug-dealers and the communities plagued by them (though this recent destruction was supported by some local residents and officials). This psychological slash-and-burn tactic against the drug cartels may backfire on the government, making adherents believe the government isn’t interested in protecting their rights or safety.

I don’t know if you heard, but Easter is coming up this Sunday, and there are plenty of “pagan origins of Easter” stories littering the aggregators. But is Easter really “stolen” from the pagans? Christian History looks at the evidence and finds it lacking.

“The first question, therefore, is whether the actual Christian celebration of Easter is derived from a pagan festival. This is easily answered. The Nordic/Germanic peoples (including the Anglo-Saxons) were comparative latecomers to Christianity. Pope Gregory I sent a missionary enterprise led by Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo-Saxons in 596/7. The forcible conversion of the Saxons in Europe began under Charlemagne in 772. Hence, if “Easter” (i.e. the Christian Passover festival) was celebrated prior to those dates, any supposed pagan Anglo-Saxon festival of “Eostre” can have no significance. And there is, in fact, clear evidence that Christians celebrated an Easter/Passover festival by the second century, if not earlier. It follows that the Christian Easter/Passover celebration, which originated in the Mediterranean basin, was not influenced by any Germanic pagan festival.”

Lest you think author Anthony McRoy is using biased sources, he generously quotes Ronald Hutton’s investigations into the history of Easter, and finds little evidence that Christians were trying to steal Eostre’s thunder. Of course that doesn’t mean that all those eggs and bunnies aren’t “borrowed” from pre-Christian folk traditions, but I think we can rule out wholesale holiday theft in this case.

In a final note, does a sickening crime against a child point to the spread of a growing anti-witch hysteria? A 10-year-old girl reported being beaten and sexually abused by a relative until she confessed to being a “witch”. The suspect, Emmanuel Beavogui, a native of Guinea here on an expired visa, was arrested and the alleged implements of his torture as well as a book on expelling demons was found in his home.

“The girl’s aunt told police that the youngster confided to her that Beavogui was beating her with a stick and accusing her of being a witch. The girl then told police a similar story, saying Beavogui pushed her against walls and recently struck her in the shins with a broomstick, which made her bleed. Police took photos of her injuries. The girl also said Beavogui beats her “until she confesses.” At Midwest Children’s Resource Center, which evaluates alleged child abuse, the girl said Beavogui had often given her baths when his wife was gone. During these baths, he would rub her vagina and scrub it with a plastic mesh — doing it so hard on one occasion that she bled, the girl told a nurse. After getting a search warrant for Beavogui’s home, police found two brooms, a wooden stick, a blue plastic mesh and the book about demons.”

Beavogui seemed cocky concerning his arrest, saying he could beat a “sexual charge” due to being married. He is currently out on bail, and his passport is being held while he awaits trial. The girl is in protective custody. While the abuse of children is always troubling, there seems to be something more here than mere abuse. I’ve noted that some extremist Christian elements lately seem quite comfortable adopting language and practices from the anti-witchcraft/occult hysteria-peddlers in Africa. Mix that with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt spread by the two-bit occult “experts” and concern-trolls and you have a potentially volitile mix that could endanger kids who don’t toe the line. Could the next “Satanic Panic” be focused on the children instead of in alleged defense of them? What happens when some of those quiverfull children don’t want to become culture warriors for their parents? Will they suffer extensive “exorcisms” as some children already have? Or something even worse?

Palo or Satanism?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 8, 2009 — 1 Comment

If you ever needed an example of how journalism can change the religious aspect of a story, look no further than the media outlets currently doing retrospectives on the kidnapping and killing of Mark J. Kilroy twenty years ago. Kilroy was a University of Texas pre-med student on spring break in Mexico. On March 14, 1989 he was kidnapped and ultimately killed by a group of drug traffickers lead by the charismatic and insane ex-fortune-teller to the stars Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo.

“Kilroy arrived at South Padre Island on March 11 with friends Billy Huddleston, Brent Martin and Bradley Moore, joining the tens of thousands of students who each year made the trek to a warm sun, alluring beaches and unfettered nightlife on both sides of the border. Sometime during a visit to Matamoros on their third day in the Valley and into the early morning hours of March 14, Kilroy became separated from his group. They never saw him alive again … Constanzo’s followers selected Kilroy at random. Most of the other victims were competitors in the drug trade.”

Now, here’s where things get tricky. Constanzo adhered to his own twisted and distorted variant of Palo Mayombe, and ran his drug operation like a cult (complete with brainwashed followers), with numerous ritualistic human sacrifices (mostly competitors) being done to “feed” his magical power. The Mexican press dubbed Constanzo and his followers “narcosatánicos” (Satanic drug dealers), sensationalistically linking Constanzo’s warped Afro-Carribean practice with Satanism. Now, twenty years later, The Brownsville Herald’s report takes the time to unwrap the tangled story interviewing anthropologist Tony Zavaleta, an expert in African diasporic religions who advised police twenty years ago and witnessed first-hand the horrifying work of the cult. Zavaleta makes it clear that Constanzo was a madman engaging in a twisted and isolated distortion of Palo.

“…they also found evidence of “Palo Mayombe,” an imported Afro-Caribbean religion. It would be engrained into their memories. Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, the ringleader of the drug gang, gave the religion a “bad name” in the “self-styled” manner in which he practiced it, anthropologist Tony Zavaleta said … He has met with Palo Mayombe practitioners during the past 20 years in the Rio Grande Valley, other Texas locations and Mexico City and, “They all, with no exception just lament what Constanzo did and he caused them so much harm and so much damage (to their religion).” Zavaleta said he recently talked to a “santero,” a person who practices Santería, who also is a “palero” and a “padrino.” And in talking about the 20th anniversary of the Rancho Santa Elena massacres “he went into a rant about Constanzo, about ‘ese loco,’ ” Zavaleta recounted.”

Now, compare that excellent bit of journalism by Emma Perez-Trevino with the report by local television station KVUE.

“…the work of a satanic cult, the leader, a Cuban-American who promised drug traffickers protection in exchange for human sacrifices … the satanic cult’s so-called godmother was a student at Texas Southmost College, now U.T.-Brownsville … Many still refer to it as the work of the devil, just across the border from a Spring Break paradise.”

Even though KVUE also interviews Zavaleta, they don’t include any information from him about the formation of this cult, satisfied to call it “Satanism” and move on. Now think about how many people saw that television newscast as opposed to reading the two in-depth pieces from The Brownsville Herald and you start to see how religious misinformation starts to spread. I suppose “Satanist” has a bit more “zing” than “twisted and isolated offshoot of Palo Mayombe”, but it isn’t correct and clouds the true facts of this horrible event. As horrible as this case was, and no doubt as much as ethical practitioners of Palo and related faiths wish this wasn’t in their history, the truth can ultimately benefit them. If labeled “Palo”, ethical journalists can at least find and interview modern practitioners who can explain the distorted nature of Constanzo‘s insane cult. But if they are “Satanists” then people make all sorts of troubling associations, and most likely triger interviews with “Satanic Panic” peddlers who have a vested interest in inflating a largely imagined threat (or genuine modern Satanists who will have little to no knowledge about the case).

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 27, 2008 — 1 Comment

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

As if sensing that the recent Pew Forum study of America’s religious landscape would show that modern Paganism continues to grow, while Christianity’s majority status is eroding, a growing number of anti-Pagan articles have appeared warning the faithful of our growth. One comes from Janice Crouse, a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America, who warns of the growth of Wicca and “Earth Worship” among the Christian youth.

“Janice Crouse, a senior fellow with Concerned Women for America, says it’s disturbing that many young people in evangelical churches are experimenting with the Wiccan religion. Church leaders and Christian parents, she warns, must be ready to counter that growing interest among their youth. Crouse cites an article in Religion Journal which said youth pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention were worried about large numbers of evangelicals taking part in Wicca, a religion that involves nature worship, stresses moral autonomy, and includes remedies and spells … [Crouse] says the interest in Wicca can be traced to recent books featuring witchcraft and similar topics.”

Meanwhile, WorldNetDaily prints the cover story from their recent Whistleblower magazine issue dedicated to the growth of Witchcraft in America. Besides including a strange obsession with author Neale Donald Walsch, it is your typical anti-Wiccan piece, complete with the “feminism/lesbianism encourages Wicca” argument.

“In many ways, the interest in Wicca among women (at least two-thirds of Wiccans are female) parallels the growth in feminism and lesbianism – all fueled by disillusionment with and alienation from men. Indeed, sociologist Helen Berger, who spent 10 years researching and writing the authoritative book “A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States,” reports the astounding conclusion that at least 40 percent of Wiccans and neopagans are homosexual or bisexual. Clearly, Wicca has become the spiritual home for many feminists, including lesbians. It’s also the most graphic, in-your-face example of a much more universal phenomenon – the increasing feminization of the Christian church and of Western culture.”

Articles like these (and others) seem to point to an increasingly nervous conservative Christian population. A group of believers concerned with their looming irrelevance. A future where politicians no longer feel the need to pander to them, and where they are just another voice in diverse chorus of religious voices.

The blog Newspaper Rock links to an article put out by the United Methodist Church discussing their problems ministering to Native Americans, and the long history of (justified) distrust among Native peoples towards the Christian religion.

“No more than 6 percent of the 2.7 million Native Americans in the United States identify themselves as Christian–a statistic often blamed on mistrust of the church. Mission schools operated on Indian reservations from the late 1800s through the first half of the 20th century, many of them founded by Methodists. Children were forced to adopt Anglo-European culture, abandon their tribal languages and convert to Christianity. Today the Native American Church, an indigenous denomination that mixes elements of Christian faith with tribal sacraments, thrives in Native communities where mainline churches don’t.”

Newspaper Rock blogger Rob Schmidt says that there is another very good reason, aside from distrust, why Christianity has problems making inroads into Native Country.

“I suspect most Natives eschew Christianity not because they mistrust the church but because they already have perfectly good religions.”

A point not often conceded by the missionary-minded.

In the wake of a woman being sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia for “witchcraft”, the European Union is criticizing a draft penal code in Iran that would order death for anyone convicted of “witchcraft”.

“The European Union has called on Iran to drop provisions in a draft penal code stipulating the death penalty for apostasy, heresy and witchcraft. “These articles clearly violate the Islamic Republic of Iran’s commitments under the international human rights conventions,” the Slovenian EU Presidency said in a statement.”

Are Muslim nations ushering in a new era of witch hunts? How will the international community react once innocent women are being put to death for the “crime” of witchcraft?

Diane Slawych travels to Catemaco, Veracruz (in Mexico) and surrounding areas to witness the annual Congreso Internacional de Brujos, a convention of shamans, witches, Brujos, Santeros, and other traditional healers in the region.

“Another local tells me witches can be found in more than a dozen towns in the area and are often consulted by locals seeking a spiritual cleansing or help with various life problems. But why have all the witches congregated in the same region I wonder. One guidebook offers a possible explanation. Until the 1940s the area was dense jungle and so folk traditions survived longer here than elsewhere … the witches festival isn’t heavily promoted, though many Mexicans, who make up most of the visitors, seem to know about it. The weekend event begins this year on Friday, March 7. Ask for details of shows and other activities on arrival. And if you want to meet a practitioner of folk medicine, keep in mind you don’t have to come during the festival. In the towns of Los Tuxtlas you can meet a witch at any time of year!”

Its too bad the article is written as a light piece of “spiritual tourism”, instead of actually taking an interest in the indigenous and syncretic faith practices of the area.

The Interfaith Alliance has compiled a video outlining the “Top 10 Moments in the Race for Pastor-in-Chief and the unholy use of religion in the presidential campaigns.”

Number one? Mike Huckabee tells a crowd: “What we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards”. With all the Christian rhetoric flying this primary season, its hard to know which candidate will really hear the concerns of minority faiths in America.

In a final note, Slate.com reports on the growing popularity of mead, a drink made from fermented honey, popular throughout the ancient world.

“…the recent interest in fermented honey has morphed it from an esoteric item that only a few bearded Dungeons & Dragons players indulged in to a small yet legitimate commercial enterprise … Is mead, last popular around King Arthur’s table, poised for a comeback?”

Sadly this interesting article is marred by the harping on the drinks “image problem” due to its popularity with SCA members and Renaissance fairs (as if this were some insurmountable obstacle). In the end, the author admits that he just doesn’t like mead all that much, claiming mead is the perfect beverage for Winnie-the-Pooh should he ever take to the bottle. Perhaps next time an article of this nature could be written by someone who actually enjoys mead.

Some last minute essays, opinions, and stories (some of it dealing with the upcoming holiday), for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Times reviews Emily Wilson’s new book about the death of Socrates. Entitled, appropriately enough, “The Death of Socrates: Hero, villain, chatterbox, saint”, the book looks at the different perspectives through history of this famous free-thought martyr.

“For some Romans, Socrates talked too much while dying a rather comfortable death. According to Plutarch, Cato the Elder called him “a big chatterbox”; the painless demise was contrasted with the hideous suicide of Cato the Younger. As an explicit act of political protest, inspired by Socrates, Cato stabbed himself till his innards extruded; after his wound had been sewn up, he tore it open again and ripped out his bowels. This scene is illustrated, along with numerous versions of Socrates’ end.”

The book goes on to illustrate how Socrates ended up a hero to Christians (thinking that Christ was the culmination of the philosopher’s teachings), and being used as a popular character in a string of recent novels.

New DNA evidence was filed Monday in hopes of overturning the convictions of the West Memphis 3. The three teens were convicted for the murders of three children back in 1993, the case has long been criticized for using “Satanic Panic” to frame the teens, bringing up Damien Echols’ interest in Wicca and Heavy Metal music, and using an “occult expert” to gain a conviction.

“Defense lawyers say two hairs — evidence that looms large in a case long devoid of physical evidence — link the stepfather to the crime scene where the bodies of three 8-year-old boys were found nude and hogtied in a watery ditch … The prosecution’s theory of a satanic motive was key to the convictions … However, forensic reports offered by the defense attribute nearly all those injuries to predators — possibly dogs or raccoons — that fed on the bodies in the hours after the murders.”

In fact, according to a report filed in July, none of the genetic material found at the scene could be trace back to the three teens. It remains to be seen if this new evidence will in fact clear the teens (now in their 30s) or save Echols from execution.

The Idaho Statesman explores the famous witch-trials in Salem through three women descended from victims and accusers at that time.

“‘I lived this for about two weeks – what would he have said, what would she have done – and I literally entered her skin,’ Judith Alexander said. Judith Alexander, Rebecca Bowen-Odom and Lila Hill. The three women recently portrayed their ancestors in a dramatization of the Salem witch-hunt era for Pioneer, the local chapter of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

The article thinks ergot poisoning was the most likely culprit for the witch hysteria, though there are several theories out there.

Mexico’s Roman Catholic Church has gone on record as saying it doesn’t like Halloween.

“Those who celebrate Halloween are worshipping a culture of death that is the product of a mix of pagan customs,” the Archdiocese of Mexico said in an article on its Web site yesterday. “The worst thing is that this celebration has been identified with neo-pagans, Satanism and occult worship.”

No word on if this includes Dia de los Muertos celebrations as well, or if the death-haunted holiday is significantly free of “occult” influence to remain safe.

Finally, a somewhat strange attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records was attempted by a group in Somerville, MA.

“The witches were urged on by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne, the Somerville author of the new children’s book Witches’ Night Before Halloween and an authority on the holiday. Witches’ Night (Pelican Publishing) is her fourth Halloween book, but her first for kids. Pratt Bannatyne wanted to celebrate Halloween in a new way, and Somerville — with its eclectic festivals and “the willingness of people to come out and do something different” — seemed like the place for the first known Guinness attempt for the ‘Largest Gathering of Halloween Witches (Reciting Poetry).'”

No word on how many of the “witches” were also Witches (of the religious sort), but they did succeed in winning the record. Maybe a Pagan group can work towards ‘Largest Gathering of Pagan Witches (Reciting Poetry)’ sometime in the near future.

That is all I have for now, have a good holiday in the coming days!

Time Magazine has a profile feature on the cult of Santa Muerte, which looks at how the controversial syncretic religion has spread from Mexico and into the United States.

“Santa Muerte began appearing in U.S. neighborhoods with large Mexican populations only in the last decade. Walk down 26th street here in Little Village, one of Chicago’s largest Mexican neighborhoods, and notice the tiny shops, or botanicas, selling statues, candles and palm-sized prayer cards bearing Santa Muerte’s image. Notice references to Santa Muerte in Spanish-language newspapers. Young Mexican-American men are marking their bodies with Santa Muerte tattoos to prove their devotion. Middle-class, suburban-bred Mexican-Americans are snapping up black tee-shirts bearing Santa Muerte’s image to reconnect with what they perceive to be part of their heritage. Last weekend, a Chicago art gallery opened an exhibit showcasing images from Tepito – with Santa Muerte figuring prominently. And Santa Muerte may gain even more credibility: the famed Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal narrates Saint Death, a new documentary about the phenomenon.”

Time hints that part of the popularity of Saint Death is a Catholic Church riddled with scandal and hypocrisy. One devotee in the article says outright that she worships Santa Muerte “because of everything you hear with priests”. What started out as a small splinter cult mixing attributes of indigenous religion, Santeria, and Catholicism is evolving into a far more mainstream concern that is advocating for legal rights and adopting friendlier imagery for its ever-growing body of followers.

“A small religious group that worships the grim reaper and is fighting for government recognition unveiled a softer image of their so-called Death Saint on Sunday: a woman with a porcelain face, brown, shoulder-length hair and long thin fingers … “This image is one of justice, of freedom, but above all one that reveals the face of God,” Romo said. Believers say the Death Saint kills only on God’s orders.”

The growth of Santa Muerte shows that there are religious needs that the dominant monotheisms are no longer meeting, and that Paganism and other new religious movements aren’t isolated to Europe and the “first world”. Religious diversity is basic human impulse, and attempts to get everyone worshiping the same God (in the same manner) are ultimately doomed to failure as the needs and wants of individuals, groups, and societies stray from entrenched dogma and doctrine.

The resurgence of European-based religious Witchcraft (or Wicca) isn’t the only form of modernized folk religion to spread around the world and grow in popularity. Magical traditions and witchcraft(s) have also come to America from Mexico and the Caribbean. Two recent stories have emerged that remind us that Witchcraft is global and creating tensions within both Christian and secular society as it grows. This first concerns the town of Catemaco in southern Mexico (the Mexican equivalent to Salem) where the booming tourist trade of Brujos and shamans are spurring the Catholic Church into waging a spiritual campaign against the practitioners.

“Thanks to this bustling trade in mysticism, Catemaco is Mexico’s unofficial capital of all things occult. It also presents a unique challenge for and competition to the Catholic Church. For decades, the church has waged a campaign against “brujeria,” or witchcraft, in Veracruz, a state along the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years the church has issued declarations and even put a cross on the top of White Monkey Peak, a nearby hilltop used by shamans as a ceremonial center.”

But despite the Church’s claims of rampant fraud and extortion, the occult is becoming ever-more mainstream in the Catemaco due in part to the city’s reliance on the tourist trade it brings.

“Despite these scams, the tradition of witchcraft, which predates Catholicism in Mexico, persists … Today, while tourists are the main customers, many residents still go to shamans for routine cleansings and good-luck amulets. An even greater challenge is economics: Brujeria means big bucks. The Veracruz government dubbed the region “the Land of Witches” in a recent tourism campaign, and a massive, festive “black mass” is held each first Friday of March. The state governor often attends. “It’s our way of life; there are no companies here,” said Norberto Baxin Mantilla, known to customers as “the Black Unicorn.” “There are hundreds of witches and shamans. It’s a source of income.” Baxin’s work space, located in his house, is adorned with posters of skeletons and statues of “La Santa Muerte,” the incarnation of death, a skeletal figure that has spawned a growing cult in Mexico in recent years. The hood of his silver Camaro also bears the grim-reaperlike image of Santa Muerte.”

In the end it seems that (spiritually speaking) money talks, and since the Catholic Church can’t spur tourist income for this region, the Witches, shamans, and other magical practitioners are finding mainstream acceptance (and government approval) by filling that gap. But the (sometimes shady) monetary ethics of Witchcraft in the global south don’t always play well in America, as seen in a recent case of a school Principal in New York who is catching heat for hiring a Santera to “cleanse” her school.

“A principal at a high school in Lower Manhattan had heard the jokes about using a “sage,” or spiritual guru, to perform a “cleansing” of the building to counteract misbehaving students. The principal took the jokes seriously – performing a Santeria ceremony during the school’s midwinter break in 2006, according to a report released today by the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City public schools. One day last winter, the principal, Martiza Tamayo, told an assistant principal, Melody Crooks-Simpson, that she had a friend who could do just that. Ms. Tamayo promised that the friend “could burn sage and incense in the school and it would calm the students down,” according to the report.”

The ritual (which included the sprinkling of chicken blood on the building) apparently went fine until the principal convinced the reluctant assistant principal that she must come to a follow-up ritual and then demanded $900 for “her share” of the fees. That and a general misappropriation of funds involving the Santera (which included paying her as a private driver for some students) has caused the local Department of Education to remove Martiza Tamayo from her position. There is no word on if the fiscal misdealing was all Tamayo’s doing, or if the Santera was directly involved as well.

While neither of these stories are going to be heralded as PR coups for Santeria or Brujeria, both stories illustrate the slow mainstreaming of these traditions and practices. One wonders how this will affect Wicca and other European-based forms of Witchcraft as they start to interact and co-exist in greater numbers. Eventually the maxim that “not all Witches are Wiccans” will be all but unavoidable.