Archives For New Jersey

A massive fire broke out yesterday in Long Branch, New Jersey, claiming 10 businesses and 14 apartments. Luckily, no human life was lost in the fire, though some pets were killed. Among the businesses that were destroyed was Sacred Circle New Age Center, a local meeting point for area Pagans, who were deeply saddened by the news.

Sacred Circle after the fire. (Photo courtesy of NJ Pagans FB Page)

Sacred Circle after the fire. (Photo courtesy of NJ Pagans FB Page)

“…we’ll be there for them when they re-build, once we find out more info, if they need anything we can start a fundraiser or donations…This is so sad today for our Community to lose a business but so grateful they are alive and well.”

The owners of Sacred Circle, Adam Kane and Al Romao, released a statement yesterday about the fire.

“To everyone in our community. With a very heavy heart, today Sacred Circle was burnt down from a fire that started several doors down from our store. We are fine and many of the tennants in the building are fine, but some of our four legged friends in the building unfortunately did not make it. Please send prayers to them. We want to thank everyone in our community for the ourpouring of love, prayers, energy and support coming our way during this difficult time….Adam and I very much felt it and thank everyone. By the looks of everything, the building and store are destroyed, we will update everyone on our process and progress as we find things out.  To everyone, your continued love, support and prayers and very much appreciated.”

The most recent pictures show damage that is near-total, placing in doubt the ability to salvage any stock. This early in the process, it will be difficult to say if the owners will re-build, or open a store in a new location. When shops like this are closed or destroyed, it’s more than losing a shopping opportunity. Since the idea of Pagan temples and community centers are still in their early days, many Pagans still rely on Pagan or New Age shops for local networking and finding a communal safe space. An important face-to-face compliment to connections made via social networking. Hopefully the community in Long Branch can rally together during this time of trial, and use this tragedy to knit closer bonds. I think prominent New Jersey Pagan blogger Mrs. B speaks for us all when she says: “Our prayers are with you Sacred Circle.”

Top Story: Last month I reported that the New Jersey State Board of Education was planning to add the eight Wiccan/Pagan “Wheel of the Year” holidays to its “official” list. Now, Kris Bradley reports that the NJ BoE met yesterday and approved the new calendar, which included the Pagan holidays.

“This morning, the New Jersey Board of Education voted to approve their list of religious holidays permitting pupil absence from school for the 2010-2011 school year. Included for the first time on this list are the eight Pagan/Wiccan holidays, or sabbats.  This marks the first time any state has approved Pagan holidays to a state calendar, and will set a precedence for other districts and states across the country.”

The Rev. Elena Ottinger of Salem County, who started this campaign when her daughter’s school wouldn’t allow an excused absence for Yule, is now working to change the policy that gives individual school districts the discretion whether to allow the holidays to be excused. Needless to say this is a groundbreaking display of what grass-roots organizing, paired with social media (much of the organizing was done through places like Facebook), can do for Pagan rights in this country. I urge everyone to read the well-written summary of the events that brought us to this point at Kris Bradley’s Examiner site. Now to see how long before another group of Pagans works to get their children’s religious holidays put on the official school calendar.

Pagan Leaders Backing Patrick McCollum: The Pagan civil rights coalition Our Freedom has released an open letter of support for Pagan chaplain Patrick M. McCollum’s ongoing fight to ensure equal treatment for minority faiths in the state of California, and criticizing the discriminatory amicus brief submitted by WallBuilders, Inc. in support of dismissing the case.

“…we as Pagan Americans say and affirm to the Northern District Court of the State of California, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, California Attorney General’s Office, and the Governor of the State of California, that Pagan inmates have similar requirements and needs comparable to those of the five faiths currently being served. Included in these needs are: access to paid Pagan chaplains to facilitate regularly scheduled religious services, provide spiritual guidance and counseling support; facilitate Pagan rites of passage and liturgical needs; and to serve as intermediaries between Pagan inmates and correctional administrators and staff to educate about Pagan religious needs or requirements of Pagans. In doing so, the state of California will continue to move forward into a system which is inclusive of religious belief.”

Signing on to the statement were representatives from ADF, Circle Sanctuary, CUUPS, EarthSpirit, Gaia’s Womb, Irminsul Aettir, Pagan Pride Project, Inc., and several other groups. I have uploaded the entire statement as a plain text document, so that you can read it in its entirety and forward it to other Pagan news outlets.

Medical Examiner Rules on Sweat Lodge Deaths: Autopsy results from the three deaths in the James A. Ray  “Sweat Lodge” case have been released, with the examiner ruling them all “accidental”.

“Autopsy reports from the Yavapai County medical examiner show that shortly after arriving at a hospital on October 8, Shore, 40, and Brown, 38, died of heat stroke brought on by the sauna-like conditions inside the tent. Neuman, 49, died October 17 from multiple-system organ failure as a result of prolonged exposure in the sweat lodge, according to the Coconino County medical examiner.”

It should be noted that the “accidental” death ruling doesn’t mean Ray is off the hook for the manslaughter charges he is currently facing. It just means that no other factors, aside from prolonged exposure to the sweat lodge’s conditions, contributed to their deaths. What Ray, currently out on bail, will have to prove is that he didn’t act negligently in conditions that led to their deaths.

God In 100 Words or Less: Last month the pan-religious news portal Patheos.com posted a selection of Protestant Christian “theobloggers” describing “who or what is God” in 100 words or less. Since then, they’ve decided to expand the question to religious bloggers from several other faiths. One of those answers came from me, with essential help from Erynn Rowan Laurie and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

Modern Paganisms are plural and within them the concept of “God” is also seen as plural, not singular. While many Pagan faiths acknowledge a source of some kind, they also believe that sacrifice, the act of making something sacred, or worship, the act of giving worth to something, are practices that evolve between the many deities and powers who have grown, struggled, and changed along with humanity. A second-century philosophical text has Epictetus saying the gods are “A constellation of eyes, the spirits of understanding; if you fear, it is fearful; if you are temperate, it is sanctified.”

Patheos.com invites people to add their own 100-word conceptions of “God” in the comments section. While I’m on the subject of Patheos, they are currently looking for bloggers to write for their Pagan portal. If such a gig sounds interesting to you, please contact their Director of Content, David Charles.

All About that Witch-Hunting Movie: If you were curious to know more about that “Last Witch Hunter” movie that just got acquired by Summit Entertainment (the folks who brought you the “Twilight” saga), IESB has a full script overview.

“They have been walking among us since the beginning. They call themselves Haxen and are not the biggest fans of daylight. The witches abilities have brought a fear into the hearts of many Examples of this fear of witches can be found in historical events such as The Crusades and The Salem Witch Trials. This is why the Haxen have hid for many centuries and have broken up into what we know as covens. Each nationality has their own coven of witches, Hispanic “brujas” in the Bronx, and witches of African heritage in Harlem. The only one who has the ability to stop them is the immortal Nightshade.”

It sounds like a pretty crazy mix of full-blown fantasy-action film with random bits of witchcraft-related folklore thrown in for spice. Personally, I’d like to say that I’m not really worried about people becoming “last witch hunters” and going around killin’ or persecuting Pagans because of a stupid action film, I just think it’s in poor taste when there are still plenty of people in the world who are killing and persecuting (primarily) women and children for the crimes of “witchcraft”.

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

Pagan Weddings in Ireland: Just a few quick news notes for you this Sunday, starting with the news that Ireland will now recognize weddings performed by officiants from Pagan Federation Ireland as legally binding.

“Following a five-year campaign the Irish state has now recognized the right of the Pagan Federation Ireland to perform weddings. Couples will now be able to be legally married after a ceremony that concludes with jumping over a broomstick to mark crossing over from an old life to a new one.”

Before this, Pagan couples would have to get legally married at a separate civil ceremony, and then participate in a religious ceremony of their choosing. A circumstance that still holds in the UK (unless you’re Christian). Eight solemnizers are currently being trained under the new guidelines, and no doubt wedding planners who work with Pagan tourists are excited about these new developments.

Invisible Vodou Aid: The BBC  examines why Vodou, practiced by such a large number of Haitians, isn’t more visible in post-earthquake relief efforts. What emerges are more accusations that some Christian aid missions are excluding and turning away Vodou practitioners.

“Some Christian communities do not want to give food to voodoo followers,” [Theodore 'Lolo' Beaubrun] says. “As soon as they see people wearing peasant clothes or voodoo handkerchiefs, they put them aside and deny them food. This is something I’ve seen.”

It should be noted that this isn’t the attitude of all aid organizations, many, most notably Catholic charities, have been welcoming  towards Vodou practitioners. In addition, Vodou practitioners took part, along with Christians, in a recent 3-day prayer ceremony held for earthquake victims. Still, these incidents of exclusion are deeply troubling, and point to a thread of “aid” that is more about winning souls than saving lives.

Pagan Holidays in New Jersey: In a final note, word has been spreading through Pagan e-mail lists that the New Jersey State Board of Education has added the eight Wiccan/Pagan “Wheel of the Year” holidays to its “official” list.

“I just got a call from the NJ Board of Education. They are adding 8 Wiccan/Pagan holidays to the “official” BoE calendar! They just wanted to double check the dates with me, in response to my letter to them in December. They said it will be adopted as official policy next month at the March BoE meeting!! our holidays plus a couple Jewish ones they apparently missed.”

This means that school children in New Jersey can now take an excused absence for those eight holidays without question. The addition of Pagan holidays came after  a Salem County School refused to grant an excused absence for Yule to a Pagan student, which started a letter-writing campaign by local Pagan parents. Congratulations to the New Jersey Pagans for this win!

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

Ever wonder what delivery drivers do in-between stops? Well, at least one driver for FedEx in New Jersey apparently dispenses Chick Tracts to people who display non-Christian bumper stickers. A “Goddess Bless America” bumper sticker on Wiccan author Trish Reynolds‘ car was seemingly too tempting a target for FedEx driver Brian Kaufman, who decided that the Halloween-themed tract “Boo!” would send the appropriate message.


“Apparently upset, Kaufman went back to his truck and returned to place a small pamphlet under the windshield wiper of Reynolds’ car. Kaufman had driven away by the time Reynolds went out to her car to find the pamphlet was a cartoon titled “Boo,” that focused on the evils of witches and their danger to Christians. Among other things, the cartoon depicts an evil Halloween pumpkin, accuses Wiccans of committing human sacrifices and links Wiccans with Satan … Reynolds later complained to FedEx and Kaufman subsequently returned to speak with Reynolds about her complaint.  Reynolds said Kaufman was not apologetic but simply repeated his objections to what he considers Wiccan beliefts.”

A FedEx spokesperson said that they were “taking steps with the driver” over the matter, that the drivers behavior was “inappropriate”, and that they don’t condone drivers using company time to hand out crazy conspiracy-laden hate literature (unless, I assume, you are paying them to deliver it to you). In a unique extra step, Mt Oliver Chronicle reporter Phil Garber called up Chick Publications to get their reaction to the situation. They are, of course, the persecuted party in all this.

“We see them as lost,” Rockney said. “Without the lord, we are all lost.” She said she was not surprised that the group is listed as a hate group because, “anytime you go to tell the gospel of Jesus, you’ll have people hate you for that.”

Just wait, if Mr. Kaufman ends up losing his job over this, you can expect the usual suspects to start crying “persecution”. As for FedEx, I’m sure it was an isolated incident, and that most of the kind and industrious drivers could care less what our bumper-stickers say. Oh, and you can find a listing of Trish Reynold’s books, here.

Remember yesterday when I complained about some apparently secret evidence in a New Jersey case of a grave-robbing, and the subsequent racial profiling of people who “practice Satanic rituals” (ie Santeria and Palo)?

“Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Detective Bureau said Wednesday that police are targeting people of African, Central American, Haitian, Cuban or Caribbean decent who practice satanic rituals as potential suspects in the grave robbing. “We’re starting to look at this as a ritualistic-type incident,” said Conklin … Conklin said evidence recovered at the grave site and in New Jersey indicate the body was taken for ritualistic reasons. For fear of compromising the investigation, he would not go into specifics …”

Well, the police have decided reveal some of the evidence that has them rounding up the usual African diasporic suspects, and it doesn’t exactly paint a convincing picture of Satanic Santeros.

New Jersey police investigators say sacrificed chicken remains were found a quarter-mile from the body of a two-year-old girl taken from her Stamford grave. Sgt. Robert Bracken, a juvenile detective with the Clifton Police Department, said there is still no direct link between a possible ritual and the discovery of 2-year-old Imani Joyner, who died in 2007. Two fishermen found her body Sunday in a sealed garbage bag in the Passaic River, and an investigation led Clifton police to Stamford. Up river in Elmwood Park, authorities also found a bag containing chicken parts and believe them to be part of a sacrificial ritual, Bracken said. “Other towns around us have found sacrificed animals,” Bracken said. “I wouldn’t say it happens every day, but it’s not uncommon either.”

Despite the police admitting there’s no direct link between this grave-robbing and Santeria/Palo, and despite the fact they admit finding sacrificed animals around that area isn’t “uncommon”, and even though Sgt. Bracken said that there was “no evidence of a ritual” found near her body, they are still proceeding with the theory that this is a ritualistic act.

“From all the signs and info we have gathered, that’s where it’s pointed right now,” Conklin said. “If we get other information that points somewhere else, we’ll go that way.” In Clifton, Bracken said police are not narrowly focused on the body theft as a being part of a ritual, but investigators are seeing whether there’s a connection between the obscure beliefs and a motive behind the theft.

At this point they had better hope it was some crazed rogue Santero or Palero digging up what they thought was a “magical” corpse. Because if it turns out to be some run-of-the-mill insane fellow, or disturbed teenagers, the police will have wasted countless man-hours on a racist, religiously discriminatory, and futile line of inquiry. Even if it was a Palero, or some superstitious adherent to Palo, they are handling this in such a way as to damage relations between law enforcement and these religious communities for a long time.

I’m out on the road today, but I did want to share a few news items of interest. First off, the Chicago-based web publication Gapers Block features a review of a recent Pagan unity ritual and appearance by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart. While starting off pretty snarky, the journalist is ultimately taken in by the experience.

“People are circling the candlelit altar, clapping and stomping and screaming with abandon. Suddenly, the chant drops out, giving way to a wordless, pulsating hum. It’s a totally spontaneous, genuinely moving moment, and it sends shivers down my spine. I forget, for a moment, all about wizards and unicorns, forget that I mostly came here looking for a cheap laugh; the simple joy of being in a room full of people, singing and dancing and feeling at one, is more magic than I could have hoped for, and if this is the sort of spell that Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is capable of casting, then perhaps his claims to wizardry are not as far-fetched as I’d believed.”

You have to wonder how many skeptical journalists have been won over by better-than-expected rituals over the years. If you want to see the ritual in question, it’s up on Youtube.

Meanwhile, in New Jersey, Lisa Rose of the Star-Ledger explores if the economic downturn has been good for  New Age and Pagan belief systems and businesses.

“Like Reynolds, who is a Wiccan, a growing number of Jerseyans are exploring alternate routes to their spiritualilty — rather than joining a church, synagogue or mosque — to cope with the economic tailspin. While she’s been studying the stars and worshiping the earth for decades, there are plenty of novices shopping for inner wisdom at New Age stores and botanicas. “People are looking for something,” says Kim Sandak, owner of Whispers of Enlightenment, a New Age store in Hewitt. She reports healthy sales since she opened in October.”

Apparently “green”, “healthy”, and other counter-cultural businesses are also weathering the current downturn well. Whether this perceived trend continues, or even really exists outside individual cases, remains to be seen.

In a final note, we have an update on the controversial case of a Canadian mother and Odinist who had her child taken away after she was sent to school with a swastika and “white supremacist symbols” drawn on her arm.

“On Tuesday, another social worker testified the girl said she was missing school because her mom and stepfather didn’t wake her up on time. She told the social worker that her stepfather made the rules in the house, that he was angry and would get drunk, and that he didn’t make meals, or change her brother’s diaper often enough. The girl, now eight years old, went to school with white supremacist symbols drawn on her skin in March 2008. Her teacher scrubbed them off in the afternoon, but the girl showed up again the next day with another one, along with other white supremacist symbols drawn on her body. CFS caseworkers were alerted and went to the family’s apartment, where they found neo-Nazi symbols and flags, and took custody of the couple’s two-year-old son. CFS officials picked up the daughter at her school. The children have been in foster care since then.”

The stepfather is filing a constitutional challenge, while the mother is hoping to tell “her side of the story” and says that the social workers are lying about her and her daughter. You can read my original coverage of this issue, here.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 8, 2008 — 3 Comments

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

It seems our troubled economy is sparing no-one. The International New Age Trade Show has canceled their East coast show for 2009 (the West coast show is proceeding normally), citing concerns over the “current worldwide economic situation”.

“In light of the current worldwide economic situation, we’ve decided to postpone the INATS East show until 2010. By waiting out these hard times, we feel we’ll be better able to provide the buyer attendance that is crucial to exhibitor success. It’s always our goal to provide the optimum situation for both buyers and exhibitors. With the holidays upon us and the predictions being made about retailer slow-downs, we feel it is in our exhibitors’ best interest to postpone at this time.”

So much for that “one decimal point”. Will Pagan festivals and conventions also see postponements, cancellations, and moves to smaller venues as the world tightens its collective belt? After all, it’s hard to buy trinkets and take time off work when you’re barely making ends meet. Thanks to Juliaki for tipping me off to this developing story.

We aren’t the only ones noticing that Republicans have lost the non-Christian vote.

“For Republicans, the news only gets worse. Not only is the country becoming less White Anglo, it’s becoming less rural, and perhaps even less religious. Meaning, in political terms, less Christian, specifically less Protestant. Most Catholics voted Democratic Tuesday. Jews and Muslims mostly voted for Obama. So did that still small but growing minority—mostly Asian-American—raised in the Buddhist or Hindu traditions. So, in all likelihood (the exit polls don’t get into these areas) did those who were raised as Christians but now consider themselves New Age, neo-pagan or simply indifferent. Every year, there are more of these folks, fewer of the stereotypical traditional American—the rural, white Protestant whose ancestors have been here for generations. Every year, the country gets more diverse, more metropolitan, more cosmopolitan, even a bit more secular. In the process, it gets less Republican.”

The strategy of doubling-down on conservative Christianity may have seemed like a great idea thirty years ago, but in an increasingly religiously pluralistic society it can cost you elections.

Speaking of the Obama victory, I’ve rounded up reactions from some notable Pagans, including Thorn Coyle, Starhawk, Deborah Oak, Hrafnkell, Cat Chapin-Bishop, Erynn Rowan Laurie, and Judith Laura. Meanwhile Pagan authors Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Edain McCoy have sent out a call for spiritual protection for our 44th president.

“We have been made aware that a clear and present danger hangs over the head of Sen. Barrack Obama. Unfortunately, we still live a country where many are taught to hate and fear others based on nothing more than the hue of their skin. Our community mobilizes all the time to send healing and protection to others, and we hope you will join us in a multi-faith magickal effort to keep Barrack Obama–and his family–safe from harm as he transitions into the role of our President.”

They are asking for focused workings at Yule/Midwinter and on inauguration day. Also, while technically not a Pagan, I think Nobel-winner Wangari Maathai eloquently puts forth a prime concern among many Pagans looking towards the next four years.

“If there is one thing I would personally wish of Obama, it would be to fight for the environment. I would urge his administration to help Africa protect its forests and to adapt to the changing climate. We know that Africa will be very adversely affected. The post-Kyoto protocol negotiations are ongoing, and forests must be included as part of the solution. I hope America will support that.”

Here’s hoping that global warming and the environment is at the top of his priority list, for all our sakes.

Though the Halloween interview season is over, that hasn’t stopped New Jersey monthly from interviewing local Pagan shop owners and the editor of the forthcoming “Thorn” magazine.

“For those who want to explore paganism in relation to modern culture, Thorn Magazine, will make its debut this month. Editor Chip O’Brien said it’s the only one of its kind in the northeast. He hopes this Matawan-based publication and website will ‘illuminate the joys and complications of living ancient paths in the wired era.’”

Nice to see a reporter actually scour the state looking for Pagans to interview, though overall points have been deducted for not fact-checking claims that Wicca stems from “ancient Egyptians and Celtic lore”. Still, a generally decent overview of the Pagan business community in the state.

In a final note, it looks like all sorts of litigation of interest to modern Pagans will be in our future. South Carolina is going ahead with their controversial “I Believe” license plate design, Bill O’Reilly is gearing up to fight the Christmas Wars once again, and the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin, has decided to include religious displays after all.

“Yesterday’s Appleton (WI) Post-Crescent reports that the proposed policy that would have allowed only secular displays on government property has now been changed. By a vote of 8-4, Council added language stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has approved combined religious and nonreligious displays, and that city officials, at their discretion, may permit these as well as purely secular ones. Before final passage, Green Bay’s city attorney will study the new language.”

You can click here for a quick overview of the whole sordid religious mess caused by Green Bay’s mayor and city council because they want to place a plastic baby Jesus on their building (litigation is already pending). Also, keep an eye out for news of the the Supreme Court case Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, which will hear arguments on November 12th.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!