Archives For New Mexico

It is all over the mainstream news from local papers to The Washington Post: “Wiccans Sue City over Ten Commandments.” Yes this story is true. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico filed a lawsuit in February on behalf of two Wiccan practitioners who were offended by the installation of a Ten Commandments monument on City Hall property in their hometown of Bloomfield, New Mexico. The lawsuit went before a U.S. District Court Monday drawing national media attention.

bloomfield nm

©jorndorf/roughshelter.com

The narrative isn’t new but the players are. Wiccans fill the plaintiffs role instead the widely expected Atheists or Humanists. In this case, the two plaintiffs are Bloomfield residents Janie Felix and Buford Coone, both members of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage. Janie is a certified clinical herbalist and High Priestess of the group. In 2000 she moved to Bloomfield New Mexico  where she began teaching Wicca 101 and herbalism at the local metaphysical shop. She says:

I quickly found there were many like-minded folks, some not knowing where to turn, some practicing solitaries and some merely dabbling. Over a period of time we formed a spiritual group, and eventually a formal coven.

Janie Felix

Janie Felix

Janie’s home now serves as the covenstead with a permanent ritual site in the backyard. That site and Buford’s home are both less than 2 miles from City Hall where the problems all began.

On April 3, 2007, Bloomfield’s Councilor Kevin Mauzy “made a presentation of a monument to display the Ten Commandments in front of Bloomfield City Hall serving as a historical and art display for the city.” As noted in the official meeting minutes, the proposal was approved and the funds were to come from “private donations from the community.” In testimony this past week, The Albuquerque Journal reports Mauzy saying, “[The monument] was not for religious purposes. It was for historical purposes and to beautify the city.”

After the approval, the Council adopted a resolution permitting private “citizens, groups and organizations” to sponsor displays on City Hall’s lawn. The official resolution outlined the scope and approval process for such an installation. For example one requirement states that all displays must reflect the “history and heritage of the City’s law and government.”

There was an almost immediate outcry from people of many religious backgrounds. At the 2007 meeting, the City Manager urged the Council to delay the monument’s approval until legal concerns were addressed. Opponents spoke at council meetings, sent letters-to-the-editor and signed petitions. One Bloomfield citizen even launched a blog called: “Bloomfield NM Ten Commandments Monument.” In one of the few entries, the writer includes a published letter to editor of The Farmington Daily Times. His words prophetically state:

Perhaps saddest of all, the City Council will no doubt cost the small town of Bloomfield large amounts of taxpayer dollars in legal fees in an attempt to defend this unconstitutional course.

Despite the myriad protests, the monument was erected in June 2011.

Present at the unveiling was Debra Dogget, volunteer coordinator of Ardantane Pagan Learning Center, former Bloomfield resident and former member of the Order of the Cauldron of the Sage. Debra says, “It was very much a religious ceremony … with a great deal of talk about the Ten Commandments being the foundation of law in the US.”

In the ACLU’s complaint , Buford Coone is recorded as saying the “display shows that the City favors the Christian religion and supports Christianity over other religions [and] … violates the U.S. Constitution and the New Mexico Constitution.” In the same document, Janie Felix says, “[the monument] sends a message of exclusion to those who do not adhere to that particular religion.”

Watching the situation from her own home in New Mexico is Amber K, a Wiccan Priestess and executive director of Ardantane.  She says:

New Mexico is home to hundreds of different religious faiths, traditions, denominations and sects, who should be able to expect that government agencies will perform its duties in an unbiased, even-handed, secular manner, respecting no creed above any other. New Mexicans can be proud that citizens of many cultures and beliefs live together in mutual respect; the Bloomfield monument threatens and disrespects that fine tradition.

Debra Doggett

Debra Doggett

Amber’s statement supports Janie’s own observations about the region. She notes that there are Muslims, Roman Catholics, Buddhists, Taoists, Atheists, Baptists, other Protestant denominations and, in nearby Farmington, a Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. In addition, the region has at least two CUUPS chapters, Ardantane Pagan Learning Center and Covenant of the Goddess’ Albquerque-based local council Chamisa. Janie also adds that the area boasts “a strong presence of Native Americans following traditional paths.”

Despite this diversity, both Janie and Debra agree that the immediate Bloomfield area has become more religiously conservative. Debra says:

The climate in Bloomfield, at least for those who work for the city, is very much controlled by Christianity and those who don’t tow that line are very much in fear of losing their jobs. There [were] many more folks who were approached to be plaintiffs … but several of them work for the City of Bloomfield and they fear for their jobs … They knew they would lose them if they agreed to sue.

But why sue? Why not simply fund a monument per the city’s resolution?  Debra points out that news articles got that point wrong. She says that there “is no longer any room for more” monuments. “The group that funded the Ten Commandments has [used] up” all the allotted space.

©jorndorf/roughshelter.com

©jorndorf/roughshelter.com

“That group” is the Four Corners Historical Monument Project which was led by councilor Kevin Mauzy himself. Twenty-one days after the 2011 monument ceremony, the Council amended the 2007 resolution stressing the limits of usable lawn space. Later that year, the group installed two other monuments, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address, within that limited space.

Was the original monument actually the city council’s endorsement of the private religious beliefs of its sitting councilors?  The ACLU believes so. The organization has been watching since 2007. After sending letters-of-concern and launching an investigation, the ACLU finally decided to file a lawsuit on Feb. 9, 2014. According to the filed complaint:

The City of Bloomfield accorded preferential treatment to the monument’s sponsors, disregarding many city ordinances and policy requirements that would regulate the monument’s installation. Public records requests also reveal that Mauzy sought and received legal advice on the monument from the Alliance Defense Fund, an organization that often advocates for the merging of government and religion.

On Monday, March 10, the case went to trial before U.S. District Judge James A. Parker in Albuquerque. Janie and Buford were both there to testify. The trial ended Thursday but the Judge is not expected to make a ruling for several weeks or even months.

On advisement from her attorneys, Janie was unable to comment further on the case. However she did say that she will be happy to share her experiences with The Wild Hunt at a future date. Until then we will have to wait to see how the next chapter in the story is written.

Covenant of the Goddess (COG) is one of the oldest and largest credentialing bodies for Wicca and Witchcraft in the United States. Originally founded in 1975 by 13 original member covens, the organization today boasts 121 member covens and a growing number of solitary members. The work of COG is done by a national board of directors, and fourteen regional local councils that engage in much of the grassroots organizing and direct activism in service of Wiccan rights. For example, it was the Dogwood local council in Georgia who responded to a story about religious harassment of a Wiccan student in Bowden, forming a coalition of local and national Pagan groups to make sure the student’s rights were respected. Representatives from these councils, solitary caucuses, and the national board gather each year in a different city to hold a Grand Council, a two-day consensus-run meeting where national elections are held, business is discussed, and Witches from across the country spend hours envisioning the future of the covenant.

I was pleased to attend the 2012 MerryMeet and COG Grand Council in Albuquerque, New Mexico not only as a reporter, but as a pending member. In 2010 I was invited to speak at MerryMeet in Indiana, and was able to cover their process, and the election of Peter Dybing to the office of First Officer. Since then I’ve built professional and personal relationships with many COG members, and have become convinced that the survival and expansion of the covenant is vital to the future of Wiccans, and modern Paganism as a whole. As modern Paganism continues to grow, and religious demographics in America reach various tipping points, more attention, both positive and negative, will be paid to what Witches do. As we enter that reality, an organization that is built to speak with the voices from many different Wiccan traditions will be increasingly necessary.

While many instinctively point to COG’s historic past, and who’s-who of famous members past and present ( Margot AdlerStarhawkDiana Paxson, Isaac Bonewits, and many more), I think it is more important to talk about what COG is doing right now. COG and COG members help fund Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan learning institution that just awarded its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling.

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

“When I started in 2002, Cherry Hill Seminary was the first and best opportunity I found for inexpensive and trustworthy Pagan education beyond the training I received in the Fellowship of the Sacred Grove,” said Harris in an interview. “By the time the masters program was introduced in 2009, I had committed myself to becoming a board-certified chaplain. I embraced the Cherry Hill Seminary program as a way to add the necessary qualification of an M.Div. or equivalent.”

COG members are a part of Cherry Hill’s leadership, and extends COG’s role of credentialing clergy into making sure those clergy, whether COG-aligned or not, are well-prepared for their future in service. Another important part of educating Wiccan clergy is making sure they have the material and papers necessary for their research and development. The Adocentyn Research Library in the San Francisco Bay Area, is in the process of building what they hope will be “the premier Pagan research center in the Western US.” All of its Board of Directors, save one, are current COG members, this includes Don Frew, Rowan Fairgrove, Anna Korn, and Gus diZerega. Starting with a collection of 13,000 volumes that they are currently cataloging and shelving, the library already has a physical space, and will soon have non-profit status. At this 2012 Grand Council, it was decided that Adocentyn would be added as a donation option on COG member renewal forms.

Adocentyn Research Library

Adocentyn Research Library

In addition to simply opening a research library, Adocentyn is in preliminary talks with the New Alexandrian Library Project (which recently laid its foundation) and other institutions in forming a Pagan Libraries Organization so that they can share information, and offer inter-library loans. Don Frew is also working with other Pagan elders in forming a Pagan Foundation to help fund initiatives like Adocentyn and other projects that enrich and benefit our community.

The above examples are just a sampling of the work that is happening right now that COG is involved in. Work that often happens behind the scenes and doesn’t get the attention it often deserves. Of course, COG is also rightfully respected for its intensive interfaith activities, for the public events and Pagan Pride Days sponsored by local councils, for its partnership with Circle Sanctuary in honoring Pagan veterans with the Order of the Pentacle, for the many Pagan chaplains it provides resources to, and its support of Ardantane Learning Center, The Witches’ Voice, and other institutions that make our community what it is today. Look at almost any Wiccan or Witchcraft initiatives that has benefited our community, and in many cases you’ll find COG or COG members involved in some capacity.

Returning to this year’s Grand Council, what is apparent is that despite the contention, and sometimes esoteric points over by-laws or process, what emerges is a microcosm of Wicca today full of mutual respect and love. British Traditional Witches alongside utterly eclectic “bootstrap” traditions, alongside solitary Witches, finding common ground and purpose. Engaging in the kind of ecumenicism our sometimes fractious community desperately needs. There’s an emphasis on tradition at Grand Council, for obvious reasons, but I also caught glimpses of COG’s future as younger Wiccans started stepping forward. The election of Miraselena from Dogwood, a media professional, to the National Public Information Officer position, the formation of committees to explore better outreach and to make sure COG is fulfilling its purpose, which includes the participation of rising star Crystal Blanton, author of “Bridging the Gap: Working Within the Dynamics of Pagan Groups and Society,” and several more small hints that things are starting to shift.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

The newly elected COG national board for 2013.

First Officer Ginger Wages (Hawk), was re-elected for a second term, when first elected she told media representatives that the job of everyone in this organization to make sure we’re still here thirty years from now,” and it’s obvious from much of the discussion underway this year that her emphasis on that goal is starting to bear fruit. Her oversight in 2013 will no doubt play a vital role in seeing these budding initiatives succeed. She is joined by an energized and enthusiastic incoming board which sports representatives from local councils across the country.

As I said earlier in this piece, I believe COG is vital to Wicca’s future. It is the only organization of its type dedicated to the needs and issues faced by Wiccans and Witches. Unlike other large Witchcraft-oriented organizations like Circle Sanctuary, Sacred Well, or Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, they are not a church or single tradition, they are a collective of many different traditions who choose to align themselves under COG’s banner. This also differentiates them from other Pagan organizations which are often focused on a single tradition or practice within a Pagan faith. As Paganism grows, we will not only need “Pagan” spokespeople and leaders, we will need those who publicly advocate for views and positions within a particular Pagan faith. Journalists will all eventually understand that modern Paganism is a religious movement, not a religion itself with “denominations” branching out from it. As we move into that time, organizations that can speak with an explicitly Wiccan voice will be needed more than ever.

Conservative estimates say there are currently over 300 thousand Wiccans in the United States (I personally believe that number is higher), which means that COG will have to grow at a continual steady pace if it hopes to effectively serve religious Witchcraft as a whole. Of all the Wiccan-oriented groups, I think COG is best placed to achieve this goal, and be the proactive, responsive body it needs to be in a post-Christian society where Pagan voices will be heard by larger and larger numbers. This means more local councils, more solitary members, and an even greater engagement with new traditions, groups, and leaders. It is for this reason that I have taken the step of actively involving myself in COG, and helping it to work toward those goals. Despite the many challenges we face, externally and internally, I am optimistic about COG moving into an ever-growing and important role within the world of religious Witchcraft traditions. If you are interested in becoming a part of COG’s future, you should contact COG, or one of the local councils about you or your coven becoming a member. There’s a somewhat lengthy process, but one that I think is worthwhile.

Before I end this post, one picture, that I think sums up the importance of COG. Outside our hotel in New Mexico was a giant stone Ten Commandments monument. Instead of being seen as an affront, or reminder of Christianity’s dominance in our culture, I saw it as sign of how far we’ve come that this hotel readily accepts the business of a out-and-proud Witch conference.

Wait, isn't this a graven image?

Wait, isn’t this a graven image?

Crowley said that Magick is ”the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will,” and our Will to be an accepted and vital part of our society is manifesting before us. I’m excited about where our Will takes us next.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Saturday.

Wiccan Murderer Sentenced: The sensationalism-drenched case of Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Levya in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice, has finally come to an end.  Sanford plead no contest to second-degree murder in August, and was today sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“Angela Sanford was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday for her connection to the death of Joel Leyva back in March 2010. Sanford, 31, said she was afraid Leyva, 52, would rape her so she convinced him to have sex with her and then she later stabbed him in the head, neck and stomach a total of 13 times.”

Sanford originally said the killing was in self-defense against an attempted rape, but that story soon unraveled as the details didn’t fit, and her cell phone listed Levya’s number under “sacrifice.” What really sparked Sanford to violently murder this man still remains unknown.

Wiccan Teen Attacked: A New Mexico teen made the local news when a fellow student attacked him with pine-cones after he stated his desire to become Wiccan.

“Officers were dispatched to the Aggie Express on Monday at 4:20 p.m., where the alleged victim, 14, said he had gotten off the school bus and was talking to another boy about a book he had, “Protecting Your Teen from Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult.” The alleged victim said he “recently has chosen to change religions to Wicca and the book was given to his dad by a friend of his dad’s,” according to the police report. After the second boy looked at the book briefly, he allegedly threw the book, called it “satanic” “and then picked up pine cones and started to throw them” at the complainant, who reported being hit several times in the arms.”

So why was this seemingly random bullying event covered by the local news, it seems because a man was sentenced to 4 days of prison and a year of probation for throwing a pine cone at a police officer this past Summer. In any case, this is a perfect example of how anti-Pagan propaganda gets distributed, and how Pagan/Wiccan teens can face harassment for their choices.

Lighting Up Stonehenge: English Heritage and Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) are often at odds over the proper way to preserve Stonehenge, but they agree on one thing, lighting up the prehistoric monument would be a bad idea.

Senior Druid, King Arthur Pendragon, said it would “detract from the very purpose of Stonehenge”. English Heritage, which manages the site, said it could be a distraction for nearby traffic. [...]  ”It’s not designed to be illuminated at night and in my opinion it smacks of theme park Stonehenge which is everything I stand against.”

Meanwhile, archaeologists now think the site could have been a place for “sun worship” well before the stones were erected. Oh, and the Olympic torch will pass by the site.

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

 

Earlier this evening a live Google+ video interview/”hangout” with GOP Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and members of the Pagan media was held. Pagan media organizations participating in the Q&A with the former New Mexico Governor included Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota, Star Foster of Patheos.com, Devin Hunter of ModernWitch Podcast, David Salisbury of PNC-Washinton DC, Crystal Blanton of PNC-Bay Area, and myself. In addition, Ramesh Rao of the Hindu American Foundation also took part. The conference was streamed and recorded by Keith Barrett, and you can watch the entire press conference embedded below (or at this link).

There was also a post-conference podcast hosted by Devin Hunter and Rowan Pendragon where participants shared their thoughts on the event.

A number of issues were discussed, including religious freedom, the rights of minority religions, LGBTQ rights, drug policy, education, taxes, and much, much, more. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota in the coming days for more details.

Aside from the political issues discussed, I think this is a big step forward for Pagan media on the Internet, and does much to establish ourselves as a community with serious concerns that deserve to be addressed on a national level. My thanks to Cara Schulz of PNC-Minnesota, who did a marvelous job moderating, for making this happen.

ADDENDUM: The story has been picked up by The Hill.

The former New Mexico governor spoke with members of the Pagan Newswire Collective, ModernWitch Podcast, and Patheos.com, among others. He said it was important to reach out to voters that fall outside the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, while slamming his own party for being too beholden to the Christian right. “I think the world looks down on Republicans for their socially conservative views, which includes religion in government,” Johnson said. “I think that should not play a role in any of this. When Republicans talk about values – you know what? I bet you and I have the same values.”

So it looks like talking to Pagans will gain you some attention.

ADDENDUM II: You can now read a full transcript of the conference, here.

“You know all I have is my own experience and my own experience would be having been Gov. of New Mexico two terms I did not get the social conservative vote in New Mexico in the primary. I ended up getting the social conservative vote in the general election because then it seems like all the Republicans took on their second most important issue which was dollars and cents. And I really thought .. I really think I excelled in the area of dollars and cents. As Gov. of New Mexico it just wasn’t an issue ever. It wasn’t an issue when it came to filling my cabinet, filling the heads of agency. It was never an issue when it came to filling boards and commissions. It just wasn’t an issue. And I don’t expect it to be different as President of the United States. It’s just not a consideration. It’s just not something I ask of people and for the most part most people don’t volunteer it. All though there are those that do. It’s not something that I consider in my actions my appointments.”

A big thank-you to Masery at the Staff of Asclepius blog!

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The raging Las Conchas wildfire in New Mexico, which has been threatening the Los Alamos National Laboratory, is also within 20 miles of Ardantane, a Pagan learning center in the Jemez Mountains. According to the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) PIO blog, there’s no immediate danger as “wind is blowing in a direction away from Ardantane and towards Los Alamos.”

Ardantane

Here’s a statement released today by Ardantane:

“By now, many of you have heard that a huge wildfire is raging in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. (Our campus is located about six miles south of Jemez Springs). At this point, the Las Conchas Fire is moving away from Ardantane, and toward Los Alamos. Very bad news for Los Alamos, which was hit hard in the Cerro Grande Fire in 2000. The fire is now at 60,000 acres (which I believe is the largest in NM state history) and 0% contained. There is significant smoke at Ardantane, and if it gets worse we might have to evacuate resident staff and visitors. But so far there is no immediate danger to the campus. If conditions change, we will provide an update here. Thanks to the many people who have offered shelter in the homes, in case of evacuation. If you would like to help, please work magick for rain here, and for the safety of firefighters and all those in the fire’s path.”

COG National First Officer Peter Dybing, who has participated in hands-on activism in places like earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince in Haiti, and in clean-up efforts on the Gulf Coast, in addition to helping raise over 30K for Japan relief, has been dispatched to the area as a firefighter by the US Forest Service and FEMA.

We will keep you updated on any new developments.

The new documentary film “American Mystic”, which focuses on the beliefs and practices of a Lakota sundancer, a Spiritualist, and Pagan priestess Morpheus Ravenna, is going to be screening at the Albuquerque Film Festival in New Mexico on August 28th. Directed and co-produced by Alex Mar of Empire 8 Productions, initial feedback I’ve heard has been extremely positive, and it could be one of the most thoughtful and positive depictions of modern Paganism that our community has seen in many years.

“When you’re making a film about faith, I think it’s only fair to put your own family beliefs and your own questions on the line when approaching your subjects. Most people would only share with me about their own practices once they had heard about my own hopes and doubts about what greater meaning might be out there. For the record, I don’t subscribe to any religious institution, but I do believe that we’re here for some mysterious, larger purpose.”Alex Mar

“American Mystic” had its world premiere back in April at The Tribeca Film Festival, where it was one of 12 selections in the  World Documentary Feature Competition for 2010. The Albuquerque Film Festival is the film’s second official showing. It next travels to the Bay Area of California for its West Cost premiere, and it will see DVD release not long after that. I’ve been communicating with Mar about the film, and there is talk of having a showing at the 2011 Pantheacon in February as well, though details are still being worked out. As we get closer to the official DVD release, I’ll not only be featuring an interview with Mar about the film, but will be reviewing the documentary itself.

I urge all Pagans and fellow travelers in the Albuquerque area to attend “American Mystic”, it even happens the day before the Albuquerque Pagan Pride Day, so the timing couldn’t be better! In addition, on the same day as “American Mystic”, the Albuquerque Film Festival is also featuring the documentary “The Shaman & Ayahuasca” by filmmaker  Michael Wiese, which sounds like a great double-feature. Lets spread the word, and show that there is a market for smart, respectful, films that feature modern Pagans.

A new development in the Angela Sanford case, a Wiccan who claims to have killed  Joel Leyva in self-defense during a Spring ritual gone awry, seems to point to the murder being premeditated.

A self-described Wiccan had a man’s phone number programmed in her cell phone under the word “sacrifice” before she stabbed him to death, then claimed he had tried to rape her, authorities said Thursday. Angela Sanford, 30, is accused of killing 52-year-old Joel Leyba last month with a dagger after inviting him to join her in a Wiccan celebration of spring near a popular hiking trail east of Albuquerque. “It makes us absolutely confident there was something more here than her claims of self-defense,” said Patrick Davis, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office.”

This is a pretty damning revelation, and one that would erase any claims of self-defense or even a temporary trauma-related psychotic break. There has been no comment from Sanford’s court-appointed defense team.

While the local Albuquerque Pagan community say that Sanford was all but unknown to them, and have been working to educate the local police about Pagan faiths,  this will surely prompt a new firestorm of sensationalist press, and opportunistic editorials from folks like Chuck Colson wanting to prove that polytheistic faiths are inherently, violently, sacrifice-oriented. You can also bet the network of “occult experts” who talk to law enforcement officials will be having a field day with this.

The important thing right now is to let the legal process move forward, assist law enforcement when they ask for information, and not rise to the temptation of engaging in any public speculation to the press as to why this murder was committed. We don’t know Sanford’s mental state, we aren’t sure what she actually believes, if she believes in anything at all, and we have no idea what actually transpired on the day of the killing.

What we can do if the press comes calling is to state that no modern Pagan faith teaches or condones premeditated or ritual murder, that we have no information as to what Sanford’s belief system was, and we aren’t willing to offer conjecture as to why she felt the need, if true, to “sacrifice” Joel Leyva. Anything else will simply muddy the waters and provide ammunition for those wanting to turn this into a “Wiccan killing”.

You can read all my previous coverage of this story, here.

On Tuesday I was complaining that police officials and local media seemed to be ignoring the voices of the Pagan community in the case of Angela Sanford, an Albuquerque resident who used her ritual blade (athame) to kill Joel Leyva, allegedly in self-defense after an attempted sexual assault. Well, that’s all changed, local television station KRQE interviews Wiccan Linda Owl, and she isn’t happy.

“That excuse is not sitting well with other Wiccans. Linda Owl, a local practicing Wiccan, said Sanford is using the Wiccan religion as an excuse for her actions on Monday. Owl says a Wiccan would never use a ritual dagger as a weapon. “A dagger like this,” Owl told News 13 as she held her own 12-inch long dagger. “Would be blessed and cleansed in rituals and (to use it as a weapon) it would be so wrong.” Wiccans, according to Owl, place heavy symbolism on items like candles and necklaces. None of those items were part of Sanford’s ritual.”

I don’t know about you, but if I felt truly threatened, I’d be tempted to use a consecrated blade in my defense. I also find it problematic that Ms. Owl is taking the “she was doing it wrong” defense, especially considering the wide variety of eclectic practice in modern Wicca. Still, at least the press is talking to local Pagans. Meanwhile, APD Chief Ray Schultz, recovering from his “solstice” gaffe, has been inundated with calls from Wiccans, and is clarifying his department’s stance on Sanford’s religion.

“Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said his detectives are trying learn more about the religion Sanford claims to practice. “Our detectives are trying to educate themselves and I know we have some community members of the Wiccan [practice] who have offered to share information with us about what the religion is and is not,” said Schultz. Schultz said he’s getting a lot of e-mails and phone calls from the Wiccan community in New Mexico and across the country stressing that murder and violence are not part of their beliefs.Schultz said Sanford’s Wiccan connections are not confirmed.”We’ve been very clear from the beginning [that] the offender, Ms. Sanford, is a self-proclaimed Wiccan. We’ve never said we’ve been able to directly link her to any Wiccan society. That’s just her telling us that,” Schultz said.”

Let it not be said that speaking up doesn’t work. The tone of the religion angle to this story has completely changed in the course of 48 hours, and may very well affect how this case is prosecuted.

Here in the comments section of The Wild Hunt, a local Albuquerque Pagan has come forward to give some insight into how the community has been reacting to this situation, and also noting that Sanford is “unknown” to the larger community.

“There is doubt in the local community that this person is Wiccan, not only because this incident happened at all, but also because it involved a (in the great words of the Abq Journal again) “Wicca ceremonial dagger” [sic] and she said the holiday was Beltane. For whatever its worth (which may not be much), the suspect is unknown in the larger local pagan community.”

Also of note is that an alleged former boyfriend of Sanford’s has come forward saying that there is no way she could have murdered Leyva in cold blood.

“Angela was my ex girlfriend. She did not murder him. It had to be self defense. She had a phobia about men after being raped. I went to that area where she stabbed that guy with her many times. She is not that kind of person. She raised her daughter and her nephew. That guy had to of done something to her to cause her to do such a thing.”

It should be noted that no one really knows what happened between Sanford and Leyva, and despite the inconsistencies in Sanford’s story, it very well could be a case of self-defense, or at least a trauma-related break from reality. Either scenario could explain the discrepancies between the collected evidence and her statement to police. So let’s remember that she’s innocent until proven guilty, and not be too quick to pass judgment from incomplete press reports and police statements. Let’s keep our criticisms to how the press and law enforcement are handling this case, and not focus overmuch on if Sanford was being ritually correct, or using the proper terminology.

A bizarre murder case is making headlines in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at the center of it is a Wiccan and her ceremonial blade. 30-year-old Angela Sanford is being charged with the murder of Joel Leyva, a killing that Sanford claims was in self-defense after Leyva attempted to sexually assault her, but police say her story doesn’t add up.

“When Leyva arrived, the two walked from the Copper Avenue trailhead into the open space where they drank some beer and a miniature of Tequila. It was then that Sanford said she had to use the restroom and Leyva asked if he could watch. While she was using the restroom, Leyva removed a rope belt from her waist and tied her up. He also removed a dagger she had in her back pocket. Sanford said the dagger is used in Wiccan rituals and also told investigators she convinced Leyva to untie her as she wanted both of them to get undressed. When they did, she got on top of Leyva and stabbed him with her dagger. In her version to police, she said she only stabbed him about three times, but investigators reported finding as many as 13 stab wounds to Leyva’s head and torso. Sanford said she later told witnesses that she was raped and needed them to call police. Witnesses later stated that when they found Sanford she was only wearing her underwear. The investigation by police later proved that the story of rape was false. Sanford is being held on a $500,000 cash or surety bond.”

Both local new sources and the Associated Press have made note of her MySpace profile, though thankfully neither have tried to make any guesses about her mental status from the postings there. What is troubling is that local police are trying to see if there’s a Wiccan angle to this killing.

“Doing some research into this case, this is a time of Wiccan holiday being the solstice, and we’re still in the process of determining whether or not that had anything to do with this particular homicide case occurring,” [APD Chief Ray] Schultz said.

Let’s just hope that they turn to an actual scholar in modern Paganism, or a local leader in the Pagan community, instead of calling in some sham “occult expert” to give context to the religious elements in this case.  As for the journalistic coverage so far, it’s been pretty sensationalist and terrible. KRQE seems to be reading up on the religion from Wicca.org, home of the infamous Gavin & Yvonne Frost’s Church and School of Wicca, they initially referred to the murder as a possible “ritual killing” (since taken down), and nobody has seemed to talk to an actual Wiccan or Pagan yet for some perspective and insight.

Hopefully these problems will be addressed in future coverage of this case, and the issue of Sanford’s religion, both in the press and in legal proceedings, is separated from the question of if this murder was committed in self-defense or not.