Archives For New York Times

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.

maetreum sign large

  • As I reported this past weekend, the Maetreum of Cybele has finally won their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York. So far, the only mainstream media (non-Pagan) outlet to report on this has been The New York Law Journal (registration needed to read the article), who note that town officials are “disappointed” with the ruling, and are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “[Attorney Daniel] Vincelette said town officials believe the primary use of the property is as a ‘residential cooperative,’ not for religious purposes. He denied that the nature of the group’s pagan beliefs has been a factor in the town’s opposition to the property tax exemption. ‘It was never ever a consideration or an issue at all,’ he said.” That statement seems rather laughable, considering the lengths the town has gone to fighting their exemption.
  • So, anybody read the New York Times lately? In an article about Teo Bishop re-embracing Jesus, reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviews T. Thorn Coyle, Amy Hale, and myself, about the story (and the meta-story, I suppose). I thought that, all told, it was a fair and balanced snapshot of the situation, and I’m pleased that we weren’t subjected to a Christian counter-point for the sake of “balance.” This being a New York Times piece, it has gotten a lot of commentary and links, including from a local Portland paper, and our “friends” at Get Religion. For those dismayed at the amount of attention this is getting, I encourage you to help build our community’s journalistic apparatus so we can have a bigger influence on mainstream journalism. Journalism isn’t something that just happens to us, it is something we can do.
  • Religion Clause points to a Japan Times article on the growing influence of Shinto in Japanese politics. Quote: “‘They’re trying to restore what was removed by the U.S. Occupation reforms,’ explains Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland. If it succeeds, the project amounts to the overturning of much of the existing order in Japan — a return to the past, with one eye on the future. […] Many of the nation’s top elected officials, including Abe and Shimomura are members of the organization’s political wing, Shinto Seiji Renmei (officially, the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership — eschewing the word ‘political’ from the title) […] Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on ‘Japanese spiritual values.’ […] Since its birth in 1969, Shinto Seiji Renmei has notched several victories in its quest to restore much of the nation’s prewar political and social architecture.” This is a story I’ll be paying close attention to in the future, and one that Pagans who are interested in Shinto should also note.
  • Religion in American History looks at Vodou in the early American republic, and finds more questions than answers. Quote: “Finding the place of Vodou in the early republic presents problems of definition and problems of sources and evidence relating to the practice of Vodou and the experiences of Dominguan migrants. In considering these issues, I stand by my interpretation of the evidence for Philadelphia, and now agree that Vodou may have been practiced in Dominguan communities elsewhere in the United States; however, there is much that remains unclear.” 
  •  Last week major environmental advocacy groups walked out of the climate talks in Poland, stating that there’s been a lack of progress on achieving a sustainable future. Quote: “This is the first time environmental groups have walked out of a UNFCCC conference. In astatement, the groups said they had grown tired of the conference’s gridlock over issues such as aid to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, as well as the apparent disconnect between Poland’s commitment to coal and its job as host of this year’s conference.” News post-talks described this round of talks as “uneventful.” 
Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

  • Famous psychic and author Sylvia Browne died last week at the age of 77. A Gnostic Christian, Browne emerged as a popular figure in the 1990s and oversaw a vast media empire that included talk-show appearances, bestselling books, and luxury cruise ship experiences for fans. During her life, Browne came under fire from many who saw her off-the-cuff style as irresponsible, especially when it concerned life-or-death matters. Quote: “Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like ‘Larry King Live’ and was a regular guest on ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes. She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author. She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list.” No doubt Browne’s legacy will continue to be debated, and depending on your beliefs, perhaps she’ll still want a say on what that legacy was.
  • An Egyptian statue that had been rotating, seemingly of its own accord, has been explained. Quote: “An engineer, called in to look at the statue, found that that vibrations from a busy nearby road were causing the 3,800-year-old stone figure to rotate. The convex base of the figure made it ‘more susceptible’ to spin around than the cabinet’s other artefacts.” Sorry, folks, maybe next time.
  • Indian newspaper The Hindu has agreed to stop using the word “primitives” to refer to tribal groups. Quote: “The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ movement to challenge prejudice towards tribal peoples in India is celebrating a major success after ‘The Hindu’, one of the world’s largest English language newspapers, pledged to no longer describe tribal peoples as ‘primitive’. Several journalists from renowned Indian publications have also endorsed the movement, including Kumkum Dasgupta of the Hindustan Times, Nikhil Agarwal of the Press Trust of India, and V Raghunathan of the Times of India.” Congratulations on this step forward in respect for tribal and indigenous peoples.
  • Should artists form their own political party? Maybe? Quote: “In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.” Just so long as they don’t elect Koons as party chair, I’m down.
  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting just happened, and I know a bunch of Pagan stuff happened. I’m hoping to get some of the inside scoop soon. Stay tuned!

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

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

Angel Silva. Photo by Dave Sanders for The New York Times.

Angel Silva. Photo by Dave Sanders for The New York Times.

  • The New York Times profiles Angel Silva, a practitioner of Palo Mayombe, who’s in a legal showdown over whether the healing crystals he sells on the street in Union Square are works of art, or if he’s simply vending without a license (as local police believe). Quote: “Mr. Silva insists he needs no city permit because his stones are artistic sculptures covered under the First Amendment, and he hopes to convince a judge of this in Manhattan Criminal Court at a trial next month. Lines of customers form on Mondays, when Mr. Silva offers free spiritual healing. He delivers his psychic readings of their life issues, from cheating spouses to chakra imbalances, and he treats some people at the nearby sidewalk tree, to better connect to the gods of the forest.” What’s refreshing about the story is that it steers clear of some of the sensationalism usually accompanied with reporting on Palo. For a perspective of a Pagan who moved into the practice and religion of Palo, check out the columns Stacey Lawless contributed to The Wild Hunt.
  • Back in June I spotlighted “America Bewitched: Witchcraft After Salem” by Owen Davies, which debunks the popular notion that we stopped killing and persecuting “witches” after 1692, and shows that belief in witchcraft persisted throughout this country into the 20th century (and beyond). Now, appropriately enough, The Salem News interviews Davies about the book. Quote: “Witchcraft beliefs and the persecution of supposed witches during the Salem trials era and beyond seem like another world, aspects of another time unconnected with ours, but they are not. At the heart of witchcraft accusations are fundamental fears, misfortunes, insecurities, uncertainties and personal experiences that people in America experience today.”
  • The Sault Star profiles the Wild Ginger WitchCamp in Ontario, and finds that people from “all walks of life” are in attendance. Quote: “Forget your Halloween and fairy-tale images of witches. The people gathered at Unicamp for the weekend are therapists, teachers, artists and students, nurses and midwives, computer programmers, parents and grandparents. Here there are no voodoo dolls, black magic spells, curses or consorting with the devil. The only bubbling cauldrons are in the kitchen, where Alta, who has cooked for Wild Ginger for years, works her own kind of sorcery, producing delicious meals for the seventy campers.” I think it is interesting that the mainstream press is finally starting to notice the international network of Witch Camps, a phenomenon that has quietly existed under the radar for some time, even within many corners of the Pagan community. 
  • At The Washington Post’s On Faith section, scholar Charles C. Haynes debunks the notion that the United States is a Christian nation. Quote: “Religious diversity at America’s founding made a necessity of religious freedom because no one group had the power or the numbers to impose its version of true faith – Christian or otherwise – on all others […] Any attempt to establish a Christian nation, therefore, always has been and always will be unjust, dangerous and profoundly un-Christian.”
  • Poet Annie Finch writes about her mother, the Witch. Quote: “My mother Maggie, as she likes to be called, has referred to herself as a witch for a couple of decades now — at least since she was in her early 70s. That was around the time she started adding 8,000 years to the date: She would date her letters to me 9989 instead of 1989 and 9992 instead of 1992, to signal that she was reckoning time from the estimated beginning of Goddess worship. Nowadays, at 92 years young, she talks about the Goddess often, keeps an altar with a Goddess statue from Malta, and regularly wears a large pentacle around her neck.”
Alley Valkyrie being arrested last December. Photo: Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard

Alley Valkyrie being arrested last December. Photo: Kevin Clark/The Register-Guard

  • Last year I interviewed Feri initiate, activist, and Wild Hunt columnist, Alley Valkyrie after she was arrested protesting for the rights of the homeless in Eugene, Oregon. Now, the verdict is in, and Alley Valkyrie has been vindicated. Quote: “Lane County violated the constitutional rights of a local activist last year when it had her cited for trespassing following her refusal to leave a public plaza after officials closed it, a Eugene Municipal Court judge has ruled. In her decision, Judge Karen Stenard said the county’s reason for ejecting protesters and shutting the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza — that the area had to be cleaned because human feces were smelled in the area — was too broad and did not pass the rigorous test required for government actions that restrict constitutional freedoms. As a result, Stenard dismissed the charge of second-degree trespassing filed against protester Alley Valkyrie.” You’ll no doubt be hearing more about this from Alley personally, but for now you can read a recent column she wrote about her activism on behalf of the homeless in Eugene. Congratulations to Alley Valkyrie! 
  • American Horror Story’s new season, subtitled “Coven,” will deal with Salem Witches escaping to New Orleans, Vodou practitioners, a serial killer, and how oppressed minority groups will sometimes attack one another instead of their true enemy. Quote: “This season, Minear said, will focus on themes of oppression of minorities of all kinds. ‘Within that idea, the idea of minority groups going after each other and doing the work of the larger culture for the larger culture [will be explored],’ Minear said. ‘While there is a strong feminist theme that runs throughout Coven this year, there are also themes of race, oppression and there is a very strong theme of family, specifically mothers and daughters.'” I would like to ask the television gods for this to not suck, because it actually sounds kinda interesting. 
  • There are so many problematic elements to these teenage exorcists under the leadership of Satanic Panic bottom-feeder Bob Larson, and Slate.com ventures into just some of them. Quote: “What Duboc captures is troubling: Large groups of people come to these exorcism events, often because they are struggling with drug addiction or because they have long-term mental health problems, sometimes because they’ve been sexually abused. Larson and the girls blame all of these people’s problems on demonic possession, and proceed to play-act exorcisms on members of the audience.”More on this from Jezebel.
  • Famous paranormal radio host Art Bell is coming out of retirement to host a new show for Satellite radio company Sirius. Quote: “A Sirius representative contacted Bell through social media a few months ago, leading to the formation of his show, ‘Art Bell’s Dark Matter.’ He’ll talk about things like UFOs, ghosts, near-death experiences and weird aspects of science. He’ll do interviews and take calls from viewers. Scott Greenstein, Sirius XM president and chief content officer, said the show will be ‘uncensored, unrestricted, uncluttered and utterly unique.'” As someone who once worked a graveyard shift job, and heard Mr. Bell on the radio “back in the day,” expect lots of conspiracy theory, weird science, yeti calls, alien abduction stories, and Freemasonry allusions.  Oh, and he would bring Pagans on the show from time to time. 
  • The Huffington Post UK Student’s section features a story on Oberon Zell-Ravenheart’s Grey School of Wizardry. Quote: “As Headmaster, I cannot help but identify strongly with Albus in Harry Potter. He is so much like me that I have often been referred to as ‘the real-life Dumbledore’ and I was personally distraught upon reading the account of his death.”
  • Religion Dispatches asks: Why is the State Department opening an Office of “Religious Engagement”? Quote: “Constitutional or not, official interfacing with “faith-based organizations” will constitute a troubling form of government endorsement: the defining of some communities, among various porous-bordered normative and discursive communities, as “religions” and the anointing of some individuals as recognized spokespersons for those communities.”

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

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

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • It’s always worth a mention when the New York Times takes an interest in modern Paganism. Their New York-focused City Room blog highlights the Wiccan Family Temple Academy of Pagan Studies in Manhattan, interviewing two of the program’s students. Quote: “People go to school to study the things that interest them most; some people go to law school, others to medical school,” [Shantel Collins] said. “I want to be a religious leader in my community, so the path I chose is to become a high priestess. I am learning how to counsel people in my community. No one is born a pastor or a reverend or a rabbi — you have to work at it, and that’s what I’m doing. So for me, these classes are worth every minute and every penny.” I suspect this piece came about because the New York City Wiccan Family Temple is not afraid to promote themselves to the media. I know I’ve received a fair share of press releases from them, and it’s a tactic that does succeed in breaking through to the mainstream media from time to time. 
  • Virginia Lt. Governor candidate E.W. Jackson, who I profiled recently here at The Wild Hunt, was (unsurprisingly) a big hit at the recent Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference. Quote: “Audience members clapped most intensely when Jackson focused on the rights of parents to lay down rules for their children and on the need to preserve belief in Christianity as the foundation of the United States. “Freedom is the ability to worship God as we see fit and not be persecuted for it,” he said.” Jackson, while revving up the conservative Christian base, has also been walking back past statements he made that implied yoga can lead to Satanism. In his 2008 book “Ten Commandments To An Extraordinary Life” Jackson called tarot reading and Witchcraft “wrong and dangerous.”
  • At Sojourners Magazine, Rabbi Seth Goren discusses Christian privilege and “how the dominance of Christianity affects interfaith relations.” Quote: “Even in interreligious settings intended to be neutral, Christianity retains primacy. Exchanges emphasize concepts in Christianity, such as belief and faith, and downplay the Jewish stress on action, behavior, and ritual […] In clergy gatherings, I feel the expectation that I should know Augustine and Aquinas without a corresponding expectation that Christian counterparts have heard of Rabbis Akiva or Eliezer […] Even on a relatively level playing field, I start from a defensive posture and find myself envious of what Christians take for granted that I can’t and don’t.” Go read this, and share it. I’m hoping the relatively high-profile nature of the venue will prompt some reflection. 
  • Chas Clifton reports that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has cleared the way for a suit against Oklahoma’s license plate design to move forward. Why is the license plate being challenged? Because it allegedly endorses “Indian religion.” Quote: “Cressman, who says he “adheres to historic Christian beliefs,” objects to the image of a Native American shooting an arrow toward the sky. He claims the image unconstitutionally contradicts his Christian beliefs by depicting Indian religious beliefs, and that he shouldn’t have to display the image.” The plate is based off of a famous statue depicting a sacred act, but does it really endorse a religion? It seems rather tenuous, considering the arguments we hear consistently about “secular” Christian crosses. You can’t have church-state separation absolutism without it cutting both ways. A “win” for this Christian could create ripples he may not enjoy.
  • Advocacy organization Amnesty International has condemned the rise of blasphemy cases in Egypt, saying it uses defamation of religion as a way to silence critics. Here’s more on the issue from Daily News Egypt: “Slapping criminal charges with steep fines and, in most cases, prison sentences against people for simply speaking their mind or holding different religious beliefs is simply outrageous,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, in the report. Luther added that defamation of religion charges should not be used to “trample over people’s right to freedom of expression and conscience” 
The "Other Religions" section of the Urbana Free Library (post-culling).

The “Other Religions” section of the Urbana Free Library (post-culling).

  • The picture you see above is the “Other Religions” section at the Urbana Free Library in Illinois after a hugely controversial culling that has gained national attention from library observers. In essence, any book acquired more than ten years ago was culled from several non-fiction sections before local outcry halted the process. This has left books on Pagan religions decimated, with only 3 or 4 left visible on the shelf. Libraries are in important first step for many people exploring our faiths, and for those looking to understand us, and decimating collections like this does more harm than I think people realize. Not everyone has consistent and reliable access to the Internet, and even if they do, it doesn’t replace reading seminal books like “Drawing Down the Moon” or “The Spiral Dance.” I’m hoping to have more on this story soon, as Urbana is my old home-town, and I know several library workers there. Stay tuned. 
  • The United Nations World Conference of Indigenous Peoples is taking place in New York, September 2014. A recent gathering in Alta, Norway, home of the Sami People, resulted in an adopted outcome document for the conference. Quote: “Our purpose was to exchange views and proposals and develop collective recommendations on the UN High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples (hereinafter referred to as HLPM/WCIP), which will convene in New York, 22 – 23 September 2014. This document sets forth our recommendations along with the historical and current context of Indigenous Peoples.” I think the document is important and thought-provoking reading for anyone interested in indigenous and Native American issues. 
  • Sufi mystic Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee writes about the holiness of the Earth for the Washington Post’s On Faith section. Quote: “I deeply feel that we need to reclaim our spiritual relationship with this beautiful and suffering planet, feel it within our hearts and souls. We need to develop an awareness that the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the energy we use, are not just commodities to be consumed, but part of the living fabric of a sacred Earth. Then we are making a real relationship with our environment, respecting the land on which we live, the air we breathe. We still carry the seed of this primal relationship to the Earth within our consciousness, even if we have long forgotten it. It is a recognition of the wonder, beauty, and divine nature of the Earth.”
  • Move over Beltane, because Summer Solstice is all about sex! Quote: “In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice has a history of stirring libidos, and it’s no wonder. The longest day of the year tends to kick off the start of the summer season and with it, the harvest. So it should come as no surprise that the solstice is linked to fertility — both of the vegetal and human variety. ‘A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden,’ says Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject.” 
  • There are some places in Scotland where being transgendered will get you accused of being a witch. Quote: “Walking down the street I’d get a lot of abuse sometimes. They’d shout at me a lot, call me gay and even accuse me of witchcraft. I feel like I’ve lost a lot of my friends because I had to leave Johnstone. My past was almost completely wiped away.” The ugly strain within humanity that persecutes “the witch,” the “other,” is still very much a part of us I’m sad to say. 
  • The commemorative blue plaque for Doreen Valiente at her home in Brighton has gained the notice of the BBC. Quote: “Doreen Valiente, who was known as the “mother of modern witchcraft”, lived in Tyson Place until her death in 1999 and is to be honoured with a blue plaque on the side of the block of flats where she lived. Ralph Harvey who read the eulogy at her funeral, described her as ‘a very gentle lady’. ‘Witchcraft was always shrouded in mystery and medieval superstition,’ he said. ‘Doreen and Gerald Gardner brought it into the 20th century, they blew away the cobwebs and this was the renaissance of witchcraft as it truly is.'” You can read all of my previous coverage of the plaque, here

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

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

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

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

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

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

Since I first took note of the “Wiccan coven” sex scandal that has engulfed John Friend, head of the popular Anusara hatha yoga school in America, the story has left the confines of the American Yoga community and been picked up by larger media outlets. William J. Broad, author of “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards”, informs readers of the New York Times that no one should be surprised that this has happened.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

“Yoga teachers and how-to books seldom mention that the discipline began as a sex cult — an omission that leaves many practitioners open to libidinal surprise. Hatha yoga — the parent of the styles now practiced around the globe — began as a branch of Tantra. In medieval India, Tantra devotees sought to fuse the male and female aspects of the cosmos into a blissful state of consciousness […] if students and teachers knew more about what Hatha can do, and what it was designed to do — they would find themselves less prone to surprise and unyogalike distress.”

Broad’s somewhat controversial notion that the many recipients of Friend’s affections should have seen this coming, because yoga is a sex cult at its roots, isn’t sitting well with Indian-American commentator Sandip Roy, who blasts Broad’s correlation with yoga’s founding and the bad behavior of some teachers.

The bafflement with the Times article is the ridiculous equation that Mr. Broad has seen fit to draw between Friend’s personal fall from grace and the roots of yoga. His argument suggests philanderers and yoga are a natural fit. (I wonder if Bill Clinton knew about this.) Also a yoga class is just an affair waiting to happen given all that “arousal, sweating, heavy breathing and states of undress.” Houston, we have a sticky mat problem. As proof, alongside Friend and other fallen yoga gurus like Swami Muktananda and Swami Satchidananda, Broad cites the fact that the student-teacher sex problem was so prevalent the California Yoga Teachers Association had to deplore it as “immoral.”

Yes, yoga does draw a lot of starry-eyed groupies and yogis have become rock stars. Yes, after Mahesh Yogi’s Beatles adventure many so-called gurus set up ashrams in the West and dispensed the spiritual East in five easy poses and nirvana in five easy doses. But that’s really a gullibility problem, a megalomania problem, an abuse of power problem, not a yoga problem. A lot of cult leaders (even non yogic ones) have that very same problem. Remember David Koresh of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? Or Jim Jones? Or even Thomas Peli in Papua New Guinea who told his followers that the banana harvest would increase every time they fornicated in public? The problem really is, as Lauren Jacobs points out in her Huffington Post blog the “guruization of religious leaders, spiritual teachers, politicians, and even therapists who seem to be permitted to act above the rules that govern the rest of us.”

SF Gate Columnist Mark Morford also skewers Broad’s piece, noting that it explains “how yoga can make you into an orgasmic pervert sex monkey love guru.”

“I’m happy to report the NYT and Broad are mostly full of crap on this. Yoga is a physical, spiritual, energetic, wildly interconnected practice that can transform every aspect of your world. It’s based on some powerfully sacred, ancient philosophy and scriptural teachings that only want you to become a fully realized, divinely illuminated being, right now, this very second, on your very next breath — no gods, guilt, cultish sex rites or blind faith required. What’s not to like?”

While this back-and-forth over the place of sex and sexuality within yoga is interesting, there’s still almost no talk about how Friend’s Wiccan coven enters into this scandal, including the fact that Friend said Anusara yoga is “a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level.” What does that mean to him in light of these scandals? In a leaked letter, Friend seemed to hint that sacred sex was a common denominator.

Tiffany joined us in this auspicious and sacred endeavor. As part of our rituals you and I both agreed that we would use sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices, which is a common element of most Wiccan circles, as you know.”

Yet there’s been almost no talk about how Wiccans see this scandal, no interviews with Pagans or Wiccans who are also yoga practitioners, no mentions at all, except for fleeting ones. Only the Jezebel blog even attempts to grapple with how these two traditions intersected within the scandal.

“Both personally and as a means of seduction, Friend appears to have embraced Wicca, which he seems to feel aligns quite closely with the foundations of Anusara. He even causally mentions Wicca in his official bio, but it looks like he was pretty deep into it. In a letter that seems to be addressed to one of his lovers, he details how Wicca intersects with their sexytime … [excerpt of the letter I quote above ] Oh, the old Wiccan coven trick. But seriously, since this man is essentially a quasi-religious leader to his many devoted students and employees, his willingness to exploit his teachings and beliefs for sexual purposes seems particularly gross.”

Lauren Jacobs at HuffPo also briefly mentions the “old Wiccan coven trick.”

“Alleged special (supposedly ‘Wiccan’) sexual circles with teachers and students, including married individuals whose partners were not aware or had not approved?”

Beyond that? Nothing, and that’s a problem. No doubt that many will think this will all soon fade from memory now that Friend is stepping down from Anusara, taking a “leave of absence,” and reorganizing the tradition. That controversial Wiccan coven will get lost in a cloud of allegations that need “verification.” However, I think this scandal should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, and an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. If we allow this aspect to simply get lost in the larger narrative about Friend’s downfall, it only allows misconceptions to grow. To cultivate the idea that maybe we are OK with non-transparent sex covens centered around a powerful leader.

Like yoga, Wicca’s roots, its core, is in sacred union. Many over the years, both detractors and adherents, have called it a “sex cult” or a “fertility religion.” This can lead to some taking liberties that ignore our ethical base, our commitment to sacred trust, our belief that “as above” is at one with what’s “below.” It can lead to people like Friend misusing the currents of both Wicca and yoga for his own gratification. Here we stand with Hindus who are fighting against yoga being turned into something it’s not, as we both see our traditions cynically used. This is not the time to hope it “blows over,” but a time for our leaders to engage in powerful outreach on what Wicca is, what its ethics are, and what our stance is on Friend’s behavior. If we don’t, we run the risk of others doing it for us, quietly, with whispers, insinuations, and misinterpretations.

Entheogens, psychoactive substances used in “a religious, shamanic, or spiritual context,” once popularly known as “psychedelics,” are often sensationalized, misunderstood, and are usually banned from being used legally. Despite the United State’s policy of religious freedom, there are only two instances where entheogens have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and  ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). So any attempts to demystify and contextualize their use to a broad audience can only help change the tone of the conversation. Enter Hamilton Morris, and his Vice.com web series “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia,” profiled on Friday by the New York Times.

Hamilton Morris

Hamilton Morris

“Through documentary footage “Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia” tries to expand viewers’ knowledge of drugs and temper a subject that can be romanticized. Episodes run as shorts or sometimes as multipart serials, chronicling Mr. Morris’s travels, obsessions and encounters with figures on the fringe of culture. Unlike his father, who has an understated off-screen presence, Mr. Morris is in front of the camera as interviewer and host. His narration is filled with monologues on sub-subcultures and scientific evidence.

His work is driven by research, not by aesthetics or any filmic lineage. In most episodes the stories that emerge feel exploratory, with failures and complications incorporated, not hidden, in the final edit. Mr. Morris spent several miserable nights in a Brazilian village waiting for a frog that didn’t arrive and in Reykjavik discovering that the liberty cap mushrooms he planned to ingest were out of season. It’s a raw, earnest approach used across much of Vice’s programming, including the widely viewed series, “The Vice Guide to Travel.”

Famed entheogen guide Erowid gets a nod in the NYT article, and most interestingly, notes that Morris will “depart from drugs entirely” in future episodes, “widening the purview to include all the ways people alter consciousness.” This seems like an important step, because it puts entheogens in the context of just being one of many different tools used to change our consciousness and achieve altered states.

I personally know many modern Pagans who use, or have used, entheogens within a ritual context. It’s a small but expanding population within our communities, though most still prefer to avoid potential entanglements with the law, and use legal methods of attaining an altered state. That said, the responsible use of these substances within a religious context should be allowed, and the ongoing harassment of practitioners who have fought hard for legal recognition needs to end. In my mind, legal entheogens are an inevitable eventuality, the question is not “if” but “when.” This article, and Hamilton’s work, helps to change perceptions and misconceptions for when that day arrives.

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.

This past week saw a flood of new coverage and commentary concerning Christian pseudo-historian David Barton thanks to a New York Times profile and a much-discussed appearance on The Daily Show. The wave of media attention is due to his standing with three possible Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich and Representative Michele Bachmann. While I appreciate the various examinations and criticisms about Barton that have popped up as a result, none have broached one of the most troubling views Barton peddles to his admirers and followers.

The true historic meaning of “religion” excludes paganism and witchcraft, and thus, does not compel a conclusion that McCollum has state taxpayer standing … paganism and witchcraft were never intended to receive the protections of the Religion Clauses. Thus, in the present case there can be no violation of those clauses … Should this Court conclude that McCollum has taxpayer standing … this Court should at least acknowledge that its conclusion is compelled by Supreme Court precedent, not by history or the intent of the Framers.”

That quote is from an amicus brief written by Barton in the case of Patrick M. McCollum; et al., v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. McCollum v. CDCR centers on the state of California’s discriminatory “five faiths” policy, which limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. Right there, on the record, Barton straight-up denies Pagans equal religious protections under the law. This is why I become concerned when politicians say his views should be taught in public schools. Not because he’s Christian, or a bad historian, but because he flatly denies minority faiths equal treatment under the constitution. If the mainstream media had any teeth, they would be pressing Barton, and any politician who seeks his approval, on this issue.

The fact is that early Americans did indeed consider the issue of non-Christians gaining equal rights under the constitution, and spoke (and debated) at great length on the subject. The idea that the Free Exercise Clause doesn’t apply to non-Christians is dangerous, ahistorical, and stupid. That Barton is preaching this lie weakens the very foundations he claims to revere. The fact is that the Founders were educated and far-sighted men who understood quite well what they were constructing and its implications. Barton would have them be short-sighted dolts. So long as the depth of Barton’s extremism is glossed over, we’ll never get a chance to pin him down on this very, very important issue.

Today is Easter/Pasha/Resurrection Sunday, when it is said that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion. Rather than give a barrage of “how pagan is Easter” type stories, I thought I’d leave you with a few non-Easter related links to look over today when you’re not busy finding eggs, eating candy, or dressing up like a witch.

Easter Witches in Sweden.

The Ganges in New York: The New York Times reports on how Hindus near Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York have turned the body of water into a local Ganges, a place to leave offerings for a variety of rituals. The problem is that the large number of offerings are disturbing the local habitat and creating an eyesore for park officials.

“We call it the Ganges,” one pilgrim, Madan Padarat, said as he finished his prayers. “She takes away your sickness, your pain, your suffering.” But to the park rangers who patrol the beach, the holy waters are a fragile habitat, the offerings are trash and the littered shores are a federal preserve that must be kept clean for picnickers, fishermen and kayakers. Unlike the Ganges, they say, the enclosed bay does not sweep the refuse away. The result is a standoff between two camps that regard the site as sacrosanct for very different reasons, and have spent years in a quiet tug of war between ancient traditions and modern regulations. Strenuous diplomacy on both sides has helped, but only to a point. “I can’t stop the people and say, ‘You can’t come to the water and make offerings,’ ” said Pandit Chunelall Narine, the priest at a thriving Ozone Park temple, Shri Trimurti Bhavan, who sometimes performs services by the bay. “We are at a dead end right now.”

The article does a good job of capturing the tensions as both sides try to find a workable compromise. I feel that as religions that engage directly with nature grow these tensions will continue. I anticipate that this will not be the last story I read about religious groups and law enforcement confronting how offerings impact a particular area.

A Queer Theology: In his latest Patheos.com column, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus confronts the “queerness” of theology within modern Paganism.

“I mentioned in an earlier article in this column that some modern Pagans have suggested that theology doesn’t really have a place in modern Paganism, and that Paganism as a religion isn’t really appropriate to the concerns of theology.  It was mentioned on that earlier occasion, though, that ancient Pagans in Greece and Rome invented most of the vocabulary of theology—including the term itself. The reservations of some modern Pagans on theology are understandable, and the ways in which Christianity has dominated the discourse on theology for the past several millennia are certainly a concern and something of which any Pagans actively engaged in theological work should be aware. Nonetheless, it is an area that is not only historically relevant to Paganism and polytheism, but one that is quite necessary to confront for modern Pagans.”

As always, Lupus is thoughtful an well-worth reading. Be sure to also check out his wonderful personal blog.

Who Gets Their Religious Freedom Protected: There’s a general election being held in Canada on May 2nd after the conservative government collapsed in a no confidence vote. It is in this context that Canadian Pagan and philosopher Brendan Myers looks at Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s plan to create an Office of Religious Freedom, and wonders whose freedoms it will work to protect.

“…given the Christian fundamentalism that dwells in the Reform Party’s agenda (pardon me, the Conservative Party’s agenda), therefore you can bet that this office will almost certainly not be used to help voudouisants in Africa, Tibetan Buddhists in China, Jews in Palestine or Muslims in Israel, or for that matter any religion at all which is not Christian. The only exceptions, the only non-Christian religions which this office might support in other countries, would be religious communities that are wealthy and well-organized enough in Canada to pressure the government to help their co-religionists in other countries.”

It seems that conservative Christian outlook in Canada isn’t too dissimilar from their brethren in the United States.

That’s all I have for now, have a happy Sunday, no matter what your activities or beliefs.