Archives For Nigeria

On April 14 more than 260 girls were violently abducted from their secondary school in the Chibok region of Borno State, Nigeria by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group. Local soldiers valiantly attempted to defend the school but were grossly outmatched in both numbers and weaponry. Now more than one month has passed since the abduction and the girls are still missing.

But that’s no longer breaking news.

#BringBackOurGirls

When the children were first abducted, very little attention was paid to the crisis. The Nigerian government seemed unwillingly to respond and the Media remained mostly silent. Outraged Nigerians began to protest this perceived apathy. Joining them was former Minister of Education Obiageli Ezekwesili who called for the government to “Bring back our girls.”

Nigerian lawyer Ibrahim M. Abdullahi was inspired by Ezekwesili’s televised speech. The very next day he repeated her words in the now famous tweet “heard around the world.”  He said:

Hashtag Activism

Since Abdullahi’s famous tweet, the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has been repeated on Twitter nearly 3.5 million times The phrase has evolved from a Nigerian-based protest statement to a rallying point for an international cause. Media strategist Vivia Armstrong told NBC’s TheGrio: “I haven’t seen anything like this on a worldwide scale aside from the Middle East uprisings.”  #BringBackOurGirls has created the single largest display of what’s now called ‘hashtag activism.’

The hashtag concept itself is an integral part of the basic Twitter application. It serves as a DIY keyword creator that can turn any phrase into a searchable subject. ‘Hashtag Activism’ is triggered when a socially-charged hashtag (i.e., #BringBackOurGirls, #StandwithPP) goes viral in an effort to raise awareness for a specific cause. It is a decentralized, uncontrollable, grass-roots style-activism who’s only propelling force is its own momentum.

In that way the hashtag phase can become an effective weapon for social or political justice. It feeds on itself and can even transcend its Twitter roots to become a call-to-arms, a convergent point for like-minds and badge of belief. It operates like a digital bumper sticker, a modern-day political mailer or a sound bite slogan. As such the hashtag becomes a wholly-independent symbolic entity that encapsulates a sentiment fueling and inspiring an unknowable number of people.

By Michelle Obama, Office of the First Lady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Michelle Obama, Office of the First Lady [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Pagans Respond

That is just what happened with #BringBackOurGirls. Hashtag activism successfully brought the Nigerian crisis to the world. As word spread communities around the globe began holding rallies, vigils, marches and similar events in order to raise awareness, pray for the victims and push for international intervention. Pagans were not absent from these efforts.

On May 13 the California-based Nerdy Witches Study Group hosted a “web working” in order to raise energy for the victims. Group founder Slate Miradora said:

During my morning sitting I [sent] blessings to those affected and one morning it occurred to me that others might like to join in. I also thought it would be a great way to raise awareness of the ongoing situation with Boko Haram and start a discussion about how our community interfaces with the larger world.

Together with High Priestess Ivy Artemisia of the Twilight Tradition of Wicca, Slate Miradora crafted and hosted the webworking which attracted more than 100 participants. The women used the recognizable hashtag slogan #BringBackOurGirls to advertise their intentions on Facebook. In retrospect Slate Miradora said, “The working went very well … I was surprised to feel the insistent tug of our energy web.”

Altar Used During #BringBackOurGirls Webworking [Photo Credit: Ivy Artemisia]

Altar Used During #BringBackOurGirls Webworking [Photo Credit: Ivy Artemisia]

On May 11 The Great Lakes Witches Council sponsored a “Lights for Life” public vigil at Steinhauser Park in Michigan. Founder and Organizer Mistress Belladonna says:

As Witches, Magickians, Root Workers, etc. we have it in our power to influence this situation and help be part of the solution. As a small body of leadership here in SE Michigan, we also have the onus of gathering together the tribes, so to speak, in order to make the community not just aware, but to provide the framework to do this work. For some folks, this was simply not on their radar … We could not let this moment be a silent working, but a public one that grasped those outstretched hands across the field in the joint effort to accomplish the spiritual charge needed.

Mistress Belladonna during May 11 Lights for Life event [Photo Credit: Lyon]

Mistress Belladonna at May 11 event [Photo Credit: Lyon]


As with the Nerdy Witch webworking, Mistress Belladonna used the famous hashtag to advertise her event on Facebook. When Sunday arrived she was joined by fellow council member Lyon as well as representatives from Pagan Pathways Temple, Pagan Pride Detroit, Trillium Reclaiming Tradition, Black Moon Tradition and Oak Moon Coven. Several organizations participated from a distance such as the Michigan Council of Circles and Solitaries. Mistress Belladonna says:

The people who came forward all felt that this helped with the Crisis on many levels. The most obvious being that magick was done, prayer was done, and a change was made in the ethers. Secondly, it allowed a joint tip of the spear if you will, a moment of focus beyond theory, and the very real boots on the ground style work regarding a real life issue involving the Lord and Lady’s children … We have chosen Sade’s “I’ll be there” as the official song of this working, and ask that every time it is played, that energy is sent to the crisis’ resolution. In this way, the work can continually be charged and awareness spread.

The Global Response

As demonstrated by these two Pagan events, hashtag activism does have the power to inspire action. The viral potency inherent in digital media allows for infectious levels of duplication that are otherwise unknown. This unique quality can birth not only local events but has also translated into decisive political action.

After the terrorists released a video of the abducted girls, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan flew to Paris for a summit meeting to discuss the crisis. He was joined by French President Francois Hollande and dignitaries from Chad, Camaroon, Niger, Benin, the U.S., the U.K and IsraeI. During Saturday’s meeting, the African leaders agreed to declare war on Boko Haram who the French President called “a major threat to West and Central Africa.” In addition the U.S., Israel and the U.K. have pledged or already provided military assistance and intelligence. Nigerian writer Chibundo Onuzo said:

It’s amazing what a little international scrutiny will do. We have discovered the power of the hashtag over the last week.

“Unhashtaggable”

Despite the apparent positive momentum generated by #BringBackOurGirls, critics still question the efficacy of what they term ‘slacktivism.’ How often does retweeting #BringBackOurGirls actually result in any real positive action, local or otherwise? Do people retweet and then forget the meaning behind the message? Does hashtag activism transform complicated socio-political realities into sensationalized, superficial trendy media products – the “cause du jour?” In a string of angry tweets Nigerian-American author Teju Cole touched on this issue saying:

Cole thanked the world for its “new interest” in struggles that have plagued the Nigerian people for years. In his May 7 string of tweets, he questioned whether trendy hashtag activism diminishes the profound nature of a crisis. The world stylishly clings to the hashtag without ever understanding the complexity and depth of the reality.

#BringBackTheirGirls

Unfortunately that reality is often absent from media articles and online discussions. That reality rests with the 270 plus frightened children who have become unwitting pawns in a political and ideological battle. Their trauma has been reduced to a slogan, a cause and hashtag. They are trending but not in a way that any teenage girl would ever want to trend.

The other reality rests with the Chibok families who have little connection or knowledge of the outpouring of international support. According to Nigerian writer Chika Ouda, these people have no Internet access; they don’t tweet, post or hashtag. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has yet to visit the region due to “security concerns.” As noted by Oduah, the families feel abandoned.

Chibok Kidnapping Destruction. [Photo Credit: Yaroh Dauda [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

Chibok Kidnapping Destruction. [Photo Credit: Yaroh Dauda [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

For these people the crisis is very personal. It is a simple tragic reality in which parents have lost children; a teacher has lost students, siblings have lost sisters. The abducted children aren’t “our girls.” They are their girls and they are gone.

Hashtags alone won’t provide any comfort to the people of Chibok as they face another day without their children. However if it wasn’t for the hashtags, the world might not know of the atrocities that they face. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has undoubtedly shifted the international agenda and turned the world’s focus on a tragedy that was largely being ignored.

Does it matter whether hashtag activism inspires genuine compassionate action or simply provides a trendy “to do” while sipping craft beer? Not at all. The act of retweeting the hashtag alone grows awareness despite personal motivation. Through that growing awareness, a global bond of belief is created that can expand indefinitely and nurture hope which, unlike a hashtag, can comfort the victims through another day.

Last week notorious “witch-hunter” Helen Ukpabio, known as Lady Apostle, arrived in London to hold a 3 day revival meeting called a ”Season for Disconnections From All Spiritual Attack.” Ukpabio’s message is made very clear in a widely circulated poster that asks “Are you under Witchcraft attack? Mermaid Attack? Ancestral Spirit Attack?” It adds: “Come and be disconnected” a service that is “free of charge.”

Helen-Ukpabio-in-London2

Ukpabio is the founder of Nigeria’s Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries which claims to have more than 150 churches in that country alone. Allegedly Ukpabio is looking to open one in the UK to serve its large African-born population. More specifically she is targeting its large Nigerian-born population which has grown over 110% since 2001.

Unfortunately for Ukpabio, the UK did not welcome her with open arms. When the event was announced, there was immediate backlash. The planned venue, Albany World Music Theater, canceled her booking due to its content. In a statement, the Albany said:

We only cancel bookings in very exceptional circumstances. In this instance we were not given full information about the nature of the booking by the booker, which is at odds with our terms and conditions and ethical policies as an organisation. As soon as we became aware of the full details of the booking, it was canceled and the booker was issued with a full refund.

The Witchcraft Human Rights and Information Network (WHRIN), The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) all reportedly contacted Home Secretary Theresa May and requested that Ukpabio be deported and permanently banned from the UK. Why? Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN explains:

We believe that her presence in the UK is pursuant to section 3(5) of the Immigration Act 1971 on the basis that her presence here is not conducive to the public good and request that she is immediately deported and has her UK visa revoked. There have been numerous cases of children in the UK being tortured and sometimes killed due to the beliefs that Helen Ukpabio espouses … We cannot afford to wait for another such case before the Government takes action to put a stop to such preachers.

For many Ukpabio is the one performing the “spiritual attacks” rather than saving anyone from them. In March, WHRIN released its “2013 Global Report” to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council on faith-based, witchcraft-related violence. During that year Ukpabio’s home country of Nigeria along with South Africa had the highest number of reported acts on the African continent. Unfortunately the statistics are flawed because there is “considerable under reporting, particularly when children are accused.” WHRIN explains:

These figures are inconsistent with the experience of organisations providing support to child victims in these settings. It may be that such accusations have become so common they cease to attract attention. It is also possible that previous unwelcome international media coverage discourages local or national reporting.

This past week’s events in London certainly did stir the international media. Despite all that attention and outrage, Ukpabio successfully held her meeting in an small, undisclosed venue. A group from IHEU discovered that location and managed to stage a small protest. In an interview with Channel 4 London, IHEU’s Bob Churchill called Ukpabio’s work a crime because it “incites people to abuse.” The TV station sponsored a short but comprehensive report on the subject:

Ukpabio has since left the UK. However many are hoping that the government will permanently ban her from the country. Foxcroft says:

The issue of children being abused due witchcraft accusations in the UK has been recognised by the Government who established a National Working group to tackle the problem. However, as yet, there have been no successful convictions of pastors whose preachings are known to lead to child abuse and there is no law in place to stop such harmful practices.

London’s Metro Police operates a special task force called Project Violet to interface with local communities and organizations specifically working to prevent abuse. Additionally the national government has created an “action plan to tackle child abuse linked to faith or belief.” It states:

This action plan is intended to help raise awareness of the issue of child abuse linked to faith or belief and to encourage practical steps to be taken to prevent such abuse … The beliefs which are the focus of this action plan are not confined to one faith, nationality or ethnic community. Examples have been recorded worldwide among Europeans, Africans, Asians and elsewhere as well as in Christian, Muslim, Hindu and pagan faiths among others. Not all those who believe in witchcraft or spirit possession harm children.

Within the UK there are also a number of charitable organizations, like Afruca, who work to raise awareness within African immigrant communities as well as in Nigeria itself. Afruca has offices in both London and Lagos, where it operates the Foundation for the Protection of the Rights of the Vulnerable Children. When Ukpabio left the country, Afruca tweeted:

It is the right direction for the UK and does send a message to the  international community. However the problem in Nigeria persists. Within the borders of her home country, Ukpabio is not only a respected minister but also a celebrity, a musician and a filmmaker. Her film production company, Liberty Films, is a household-name and a force in Nigeria’s film community Nollywood. Like her books and broadcast sermons, Ukpabio’s films are a delivery method for the anti-witchcraft message.

In a 2010 New York Times interview she defended her films saying, “It is only because I am African that people who understand that J. K. Rowling writes fiction would take literally Ms. Ukpabio’s filmic depictions of possessed children, gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh.” In another 2012 interview with Nigerian Yes! International Magazine, Ukpabio blames atheists for the continued backlash saying, “I marvel at the way people can easily use their demonic wisdom to kill, murder and slander another person.” When asked why she has so many enemies she says:

 I think [they fight me] because I preach the truth. Because I don’t compromise … So, people want to see me fall, people want to see me compromise … and I’ve refused.

Yes! International Magazine and other similar Nigerian pop media give Ukpabio a positive public voice in a country where she has millions of followers. However they do not speak for the entire country. The recent buzz on social media, blogs and in the Nigerian general media demonstrates that Ukpabio faces strong opposition among her own people. Here is a tweet from a mother and business woman residing in Lagos,

In addition there is a growing Nigerian child rights movement supported in part by international organizations such as UNICEF and Stepping Stones Nigeria. Ukpabio’s followers were caught on tape disrupting a meeting held by one these organizations.

As the fight for Africa’s children continues, the global community appears to be closely monitoring Ukpabio and other Pentecostal ministers like her. In 2008 Mags Gavan and Joost van der Valk released the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children which focuses on the dangers in Ukpabio’s ministry. The film was broadcast internationally over several years. In the U.S. it appeared on HBO in 2010 while Ukpabio happen to be in the States. When she tried to return in 2012 the U.S. refused to grant her a VISA.

UNICEF Nigeria has posted a series called Radio by children accused of being witches which catalogs the experiences of the child victims in their own words. As we reported Wednesday, South Africa Pagan Rights Alliance is now holding its yearly 30 Days of Advocacy campaign to raise awareness in its own country  – another hard hit by these witch accusations. The list goes on.

While the world grapples with this wide-spread problem, it raises many questions concerning religious freedom and more. Where does religious practice end and child abuse begin? Who gets to draw that line? Even if Ukpabio and others like her are stopped, there are still millions who have been raised with this very real cultural fear of witchcraft as defined by those teachings. Where and how does the process of effective education start in order to prevent future abuse by new ministers who could easily step into Ukpabio shoes?

30days

Here are some quick updates on stories previously reported on at The Wild Hunt.

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross: Alleged murderer Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller), an avowed white supremacist, currently held on murder and hate crime charges after reportedly opening fire on two Jewish community centers, was tied to Odinism earlier this week by CNN’s Belief Blog (despite citing a contradictory source). Since then, that reporting has been worked into official CNN newswire reports, and repeated by tabloids like the New York Daily News. However, other outlets, like Time Magazine, have sources that call Cross a “good Christian.” While the alleged killer’s true religious orientation remains murky, what is clear is that this has shone a light on the issue of racism within Pagan and Heathen faiths. Since I first reported, Heathen Joshua Rood wrote a guest column for CNN on Heathenism’s battle with white supremacists, Alyxander Folmer at Patheos.com (also a Heathen) writes about the work of Heathens United Against Racism, including a fundraiser for victims of the Kansas City shooting that has raised over $2,500 dollars so far, Karl E.H. Seigfried at the Norse Mythology Facebook page pokes holes in the theory that the Nazis were Odin-worshippers, and Beth Lynch writes about the nature of Odin at Witches & Pagans Magazine. Quote: “Odin is a god of many, many things: wisdom, inspiration, exploration, shamanism, prophecy, kingship, rune magic, language and expression, expanding and altering consciousness, creativity, death, blood magic, self-sacrifice, and yes, even warfare, savagery and bloodshed at times.  But do you know one thing He does not stand for?  Racial hate crimes.” This issue seems to have galvanized anti-racism voices within modern Heathenry, and will perhaps lead to a new level of engagement with the mainstream media on these often misunderstood faiths.

U.S.Helen Ukpabio: I’ve written several times about the infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio, whose witch-hunting ministry has generated a lot of controversy both inside and outside of Nigeria. Now, activists inside the UK are working to get her banned from traveling to that country after a recent visit. Quote: “In the letter, the Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN), the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) cite the cases of Victoria Climbié and Kristy Bamu as examples where witchcraft beliefs played a role in the  horrific torture and murder of children. ‘Whilst the Government has moved swiftly to block entry to the UK for Islamic preachers whose presence is considered as harmful to the public good, there have been no cases of Christian pastors facing such measures,’ the letter said.” While Ukpabio denies that her teachings incite abuse, Tracy McVeigh, who went to Nigeria to report on children accused of witchcraft says that “even the slightest risk of one case of the kind of abuse I witnessed in the Niger Delta happening here because someone somewhere takes the idea of demonic possession too far, is more than enough reason in my mind to deny a visa to any preacher who claims that children can be witches.” Religion News Service notes that “during the last 10 years, British police have been involved with 81 cases of African children being abused, tortured and sometimes killed after treatment by so-called spiritual mediums.” The Wild Hunt will have more on this story tomorrow (Sunday).

Town of Greece v. Galloway: The case of Town of Greece v. Galloway is currently awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court, and it’s a case I have written a lot about. I’ve repeatedly harped on how this SCOTUS case has a huge Wiccan angle that the mainstream media seems to have largely overlooked. Whatever the outcome, Wiccans, have played a key role in this issue’s development. The law journal Oyez has a fabulous “deep dive” on the issue, the case, and its consequences (complete with videos).

What’s clear, as we await a verdict (probably in June), is that ripples from this case already seem to be influencing public prayer policy at government meetings outside of the Town of Greece. The Pismo Beach City Council decided to settle a suit about its prayers, officially ending the practice before meetings. The article notes that the settlement will stand no mater what the SCOTUS decision will be. Meanwhile, a Maryland County Commissioner recently defied a court-issued injunction to invoke Jesus Christ, perhaps in the belief that SCOTUS will eventually rule in her favor. Keep an eye out, because if the standard for public invocations is altered, a huge number of cases currently in litigation could be affected.

Apolinario Chile Pixtun: In a final note, Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun, spokesperson for the Mayan Confederacy of Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, who was active in interfaith work, and had several meaningful encounters with modern Pagans in the United States, passed away this past Saturday. Don Frew, a National Interfaith Representative for the Covenant of the Goddess, on relaying the news of his death, said he and Pixtun were “spiritual brothers” and that “Tata was always supportive of CoG’s interfaith work and helped usp make connections with other indigenous representatives.”

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun

You can read all of my reporting on Apolinario Chile Pixtun’s interactions with modern Pagans, here. COG Interfaith reports also has several related articles on this subject worth reading. What is remembered, lives.

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

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.

  • NPR does a Samhain-inspired spotlight on New York City’s Lady Rhea, owner of Magickal Realms in the Bronx, and a spiritual mother to many influential Pagans, including Phyllis Curott. Quote: “I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen. My age, I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me Pagan Mother. Call them up and I’ll say hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.” For more in this series, check out Faith in the Five Boroughs.
  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but did you know that by simply hoarding rose quartz or buying a lucky cat statue you can instantly block him? It’s true according to Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia: “When paganism and the occult contaminate the faith, the relationship with God is blocked and we can end up saying to ourselves that God is not interested in us, personally and as a nation [not knowing that] His blessings and protection… would not be able to fully enter into our lives.” So remember, God’s blessing, kinda easy to block (darn free will).
  • The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has made it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft,though activists point out that Christian churches will also have to be reigned in if real changes are to be made in this problem. Quote:  “But some say churches in the impoverished state where unemployment is rampant, must also be reigned in. Some activists cite the churches as the source of the belief that children are sorcerers or witches.” For more on this problem, visit  Stepping Stones Nigeria, an organization that is fighting against the branding of children as witches.
  • Meanwhile, four women were arrested for practicing witchcraft in the United Arab Emirates. According to a news report they were caught in the midst of practicing sorcery, and that “a large number of substances and herbs including detergents and bodily fluids” were confiscated. Quote: “Colonel Salem Sultan Al Darmaki, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Ras Al Khaimah police, said that the case details date back to when they received information from an Arab lady reporting that four women were practicing sorcery from their flat.” Lucky for them the UAE doesn’t kill women for sorcery like Saudi Arabia does, but it still presents a chilling portrait of what fundamentalism run amuck looks like.

INDIA TREES PAINTING

  • Artists in the Indian state of Bihar are painting trees and bushes with images of Hindu deities in hopes it will stop locals from cutting them down. Forest cover for the state is under 7%, which worsens effects of floods and extreme weather.  Quote: “The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork. Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.” 
  • Amy Wilentz, author of the forthcoming “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” gives some perspective on zombies in the New York Times. Quote: “There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.” This is a seriously great read – don’t miss it.
  • Salem Witch Richard Ravish, who passed away earlier this year, is remembered by his friends, loved ones, and co-religionists, during the annual walk to Gallows Hill in Salem. Quote: “I am doing a widow’s walk,” Ravish’s wife of 31 years said before the ceremony. “I’ve never done it before. This is the first year that the high priest … my partner, is not here to walk the circle with me. So I want to walk the circle round in a special walk.”
  • Science thinks we all might be a little bit psychic, albeit not in the bending spoons, having visions, sense. Quote: “What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.” 
  • Reasons why I’m glad to be a Pagan: Christian alternatives to Halloween. Plus, here’s some bonus Halloween season “exwitch” stuff, if you’re into that.
  • Samhain at the joint Lackland military base: “Cammen is among a curious multiplication of Wiccans at Lackland. Hundreds of basic military trainees have chosen to study witchcraft at the base. “When we come over here on a Sunday, often times, there are 300 to 400 (trainees),” Tony Gatlin said.”
  •  Texas schools love Jesus, and litigation. Imagine how the handful of non-Christian students feel when Christian prayers are blasted throughout the school on their speaker system. Do you think they feel empowered to share their own faith, or are they instead pushed deeper into the “broom closet”? This is why a strong separation of church and state is necessary.

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.

The United States has a strong ethic of not interfering with the internal affairs of religious organizations. The recent unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming the right of “ministerial exception” sent a clear signal that our government is limited in what in can demand or regulate. In America, religious institutions aren’t taxed, and our constitution enshrines a secular ethic that prevents one faith being raised up above any other. However, freedom of religion does not place clergy and religious leaders above the law, individuals have been imprisoned when their teachings have led to the abuse or deaths of others. Now, the question is if the United States should act to keep a religious leader accused of encouraging the abuse, and in some cases death, of children from entering our country. In March, Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is planning a trip to the United States to engage in a “Marathon Deliverance” session in Texas. The International Humanist and Ethical Union claims that Ukpabio “uses her sermons, teachings and prophetic declarations to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards.”

“Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch, initiated while she was a member of another local church, the Brotherhood of Cross and Star. She later founded the Liberty Gospel Church to fulfill her ‘anointed mission’ of delivering people from witchcraft attack. Ukpabio organizes deliverance sessions where she identifies and exorcizes people, mainly children, of witchcraft. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, the Liberty Gospel Church has grown to be a witch hunting church with branches in Nigeria and overseas.”

Ukpabio’s teachings were profiled in the documentary “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a ministry that includes a propaganda film, “End of the Wicked,” and a book entitled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft,” materials that are taken very seriously by many Nigerians, and is claimed to have directly led to the torture and abuse of “witch” children. When confronted with these allegations by the New York Times during her last visit to America, Ukpabio claimed the film was mere fantasy, and that the accusations against her were fueled by racism.

“Do you thinkHarry Potteris real?” Ms. Ukpabio asked me angrily, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express where she was staying. “It is only because I am African,” she said, that people who understand that J. K. Rowling writes fiction would take literally Ms. Ukpabio’s filmic depictions of possessed children, gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh. [...]  Ms. Ukpabio argued that “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” exaggerates or invents the problem of child abandonment. Asked how she could be so sure, she said, “because I am an African!” In Africa, she said, “family ties are too strong to have a child on the street.”

Despite these claims of “exaggeration”, Nigeria has since outlawed accusing a child of witchcraft. A law challenged by Ukpabio, who tried to sue the Akwa Ibom state government, local police, and relief charities for damages and an exemption from the law. Failing in that initiative, her followers have used the press to attack the organizations that seek to help children accused of witchcraft. As the New York Times so aptly puts it: “In the name of religious freedom, Ms. Ukpabio seeks a gag order on anyone who disagrees with her.” Now she seeks to return to America again, to no doubt rake in donations from her American followers and admirers.

I’ve written about Ukpabio several times at this blog, a prominent figure in a gruesome business of churches naming and “curing” witchcraft in children. A phenomenon that Western churches have much to answer for. This time, Ukpabio’s visit is seeming to inspire some coordinated opposition. Humanitarian activist Michael Mungai at HuffPo says there should be protests, which are now being organized by Staise Gonzalez in Houston against Ukpabio’s visit.

Her critics, such as Staise Gonzalez, say that once children are identified as witches, especially in areas where people believe in sorcery, they are tortured and sometimes killed. “These suspected witches have been treated in brutal and inhumane ways,” says Gonzalez, who is organizing 12 days of protest to correspond with Ukpabio’s appearance, scheduled from March 14 to March 25. “Abandoned, isolated and otherwise ostracized from the community, taken to the forest and slaughtered, disgraced publicly, bathed in acid, poisoned, buried alive, chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confession, and murdered,” she says.

A Facebook page, Stand Against Helen Ukpabio, has also been created. Meanwhile, back in Nigeria, children are still being branded as witches, and a judicial commission on witchcraft accusations in Nigeria is demanding that she appear and testify before it. A warrant for her arrest may be issued if she ignores those summons. Considering the circumstances, and the mountain of evidence that Ukpabio is engaged the naming of child witches, and her defiant stance to any and all accusations of wrongdoing, is it in the best interests of our State Department to allow her a visa? A petition on Change.org argues that Ukpabio should be denied entry.

“US Department of State needs to be urged to do the right thing and deny Helen Ukpabio’s entry into the United States on grounds of her human rights violations.”

PZ Myers adds that “this evil, criminal woman ought to be met at the airport and turned right around, if not sent off to trial for crimes against humanity.” Will the State Department acknowledge Ukpabio’s witch-hunting as a crime against humanity and deny her entry? I can only imagine that a concerted effort to bring the matter to their attention may have some effect. I will try to contact them to see if they have an official stance or response to the charges against Ukpabio.

Those who would accuse children of witchcraft have no place in our society, and should not be feted or encouraged by welcoming them to our shores. The cures and blessings peddled by Ukpabio, and those like her, should face intense scrutiny, and not allowed the status of an United States victory lap.  For those who want to help the witch-children of Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria is a good place to start.

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.

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. Before I begin, let me just remind everyone that the Pagan Japan Relief project, an initiative to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is just over 3,000 dollars from its final goal! That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise nearly 27,000 dollars already is a monumental achievement, but lets do a final push, spread the word, and prove that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities. For more background on this initiative, and why it’s important, check out Peter Dybing’s blog.

Now then, unleash the hounds!

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.

News was made in Nigeria last week when a unique lobbying group warned presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar to drop his bid lest he face humiliation at the polls.

“Atiku should withdraw now if he loves himself. He would be humbled by President Goodluck Jonathan. If he withdraws now, it will be a saving grace for him, but if he insists on going ahead with the primaries, that will be the end of his political career. “During our emergency meeting to deliberate on the state of affairs in Nigeria, it was clearly revealed to us that the days of Atiku’s relevance in Nigeria’s politics are over.”

It wasn’t a political advocacy group sending this message, or at least not a typical political advocacy group. It was the Witches and Wizards Association of Nigeria (WITZAN), and they have a message to send to their fellow Nigerians.

“The way some people look at witches and wizards is as if we are evil-minded people. Not all witches are bad. Our own type of witchcraft which we practise is a progressive one. The day government and other stakeholders invite us to intervene in the affairs of Nigeria, we will gladly do so. We have the antidote to bring lasting peace to this nation. Nigeria is a great country, witches and wizards can help restore its lost glory.

Considering the fact that Nigeria has seen fearsome persecutions against children accused of witchcraft, the fact that a public association of Witches and Wizards has come forward could be a positive step. Could this mean that Nigeria, home to several traditional religions, including Vodun, is starting to organize itself in much the same way Pagan groups have in the West? Since they have a Facebook page, we should keep track to see how this group develops. Depending on their goals and outlook, this could be an association that Pagan and indigenous groups outside Nigeria could find solidarity with.

Just a few quick news notes for you to start your Monday.

Asylum For Witch-Hunt Victims: A Nigerian woman in Britain is fighting deportation on the grounds that she will be hunted and killed as a witch in her country if sent back. Cynthia Owie came to the UK in 2008 with her infant daughter, shorty after the baby sadly contracted meningitis and died, now Owie says she is receiving death threats from fellow Nigerians accusing her of witchcraft in the child’s death and is seeking asylum.

Ms Owie, 33, said: “I have been threatened that I will be killed if I go back. I have been told I am a witch and murdered our daughter.” Ms Owie also claims she was treated “like an animal” at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, in Bedford, where failed asylum seekers are held before removal. Her cause has been taken up by West Ham MP Lyn Brown as well as members of the Ascension Parish Church in Custom House, east London, which has been providing Ms Owie with accommodation and support for two years. Rev Chris Hanson, the vicar of the church, took the case to the Home Office last week and said the community was praying that she would be allowed to stay. “Cynthia’s case is one in a thousand,” he said. “She has gone about trying to stay in this country in a God-honouring way. I am hopeful that the Home Office will understand her exceptional circumstances. When the baby was discovered as being very ill, she was accused of witchcraft. People out in Nigeria believe she brought on this illness and we believe if she is returned to Nigeria she would be killed.

If Owie’s plea is granted it could set a new precedent for asylum seekers to the West. Would more individuals from places like Kenya, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia try to seek asylum to escape jail, abuse, or death? More importantly, would a stream of asylum seekers affected by witch-hunts and panics force Western governments to become more proactive in using their diplomatic muscle to end the worst abuses? What do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” and are instead at our doorsteps begging to be spared?

Metaphysical Store Vandalized in Alaska: A Pagan-owned shop in Soldotna, Alaska was vandalized with a large wooden cross last week, the first time such an act has taken place in the small town.

“An Alaska store owner says a wooden cross wrapped to the store sign in Soldotna was an unwelcome act of vandalism that goes against her pagan and spiritual beliefs. The Peninsula Clarion reported 45-year-old Rondell Gonzalez arrived Thursday at her store, the Pye’ Wackets on the Kenai Spur Highway, and found a makeshift cross about 7 feet tall attached to her business sign with plastic food wrap. Gonzalez says she believes in spiritualism rather than organized religion. She also said her father fought and died in Vietnam for religious and personal freedoms.”

The Peninsula Clarion interviewed Gonzalez, who called the action “pathetic”, and expressed surprise that the cross wasn’t on fire. You can find out more about Pye’Wackets at their Witchvox listing. The question now is if this was an isolated prank, pulled by bored teenagers, or if it signals something more sinister.

Sarah Palin’s Christianity: Speaking of Alaska and witch-hunts, religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman points to an emerging debate between former governor Sarah Palin and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend about the nature of religion within the realm of politics. It seems that Palin, in her new book “America By Heart”, criticizes John F. Kennedy for his famous speech about his Catholicism. This has lead Townsend, a niece of JFK, to pen an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing Palin’s views.

“Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy’s speech had “succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.” Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it “defensive . . . in tone and content” and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an “unequivocal divorce of the two.” Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.”

While I doubt Palin would blatantly call for a religion test to high office, her allies in C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation, who regularly engage in spiritual warfare against Pagans, and helped nurture her career, certainly would. The fact that two of the Republican front-runner for 2012 presidential elections, Palin and Mike Huckabee, have ties to Christian groups and figures (like David Barton, for instance) who would deny Pagans their basic constitutional protections is chilling. The more we insist on an unofficial religious tests in campaigns, the closer we get to real ones.

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

This past Friday in Asheville, North Carolina was the second annual Blessings on the River: an Oshun Veneration & Concert. Held in concert with rites performed at Asheville’s sister city of Osogbo, Nigeria, proceeds from donations during the veneration benefited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. The event was sponsored by the Zamani Refuge African Culture Center, with event altars constructed by Mother Grove Goddess Temple. Valeria Osunyemi Watson-Doost from the Zamani Refuge, herself a priestess of Oshun, has posted a four-part video series from the event on Youtube.

Here are the links for part 2, part 3, and part 4. You can also watch footage from the inaugural event last year.

This looks like an excellent example of how a US-based Goddess/Pagan community can participate in an event for the benefit of indigenous pre-Christian religions in far-flung parts of the globe. Local writer Byron Ballard, a member of the Mother Grove Goddess Temple, and blogger for the Asheville Citizen-Times, noted that the event was “a terrific opportunity to connect with people in our community who practice a beautiful spirituality”. I imagine that participants in Asheville and Osogbo have both been enriched by this experience, and that practitioners of Yoruba Traditional Religion have achieved a kind of outreach and understanding rarely found in the United States.

As the modern Paganism movement become an increasingly international phenomenon, we are going to get more chances like this to interact, share, and make alliances with indigenous faiths and revived Paganisms across the globe. Outreach efforts to European indigenous faiths, African traditional religions (and African diasporic faiths), and indigenous faiths in the Americas, Asia, and the Middle East may allow advances we couldn’t achieve alone. I will be tracking this phenomenon in the months to come.