Archives For Nigeria

Let’s start off your weekend with a few quick notes.

Another Fortunetelling Law Overturned: The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech and cannot be outlawed by local ordinances. The ruling stems from a long legal battle by Montgomery County resident Nick Nefedro, who has been mentioned at this blog before, and his win may be the most devastating blow yet to laws targeting fortunetelling.

“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum,” the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote in a 24-page opinion. “People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

Previous cases that overturned anti-fortunetelling ordinances often did so on religious grounds, but this case didn’t pursue a religious angle, and I thought it would suffer because of it; however, the appeal to freedom of speech seems to have been convincing. As a result, a much broader precedent has been reached, one that may be replicated in similar court battles. It remains to be seen if Montgomery County will now try to appeal to a Federal court. Nefedro was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland in this case, here’s an excerpt from their press release concerned the decision.

“This case has never been just about fortunetellers, but about the fundamental right to free speech,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “While individual fortunetellers can be punished if they fraudulently exploit their customers, banning all fortunetelling is overbroad and unconstitutional. It is not the role of government to decide that broad categories of speech can be banned merely because it finds them distasteful or disagreeable.”

Here’s hoping lawmakers across the country are paying attention to this decision.

When Will Ali Sibat Be Released? Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, is still rotting in a cell, and his wife wants to know when he’ll be released.

“The wife of a Lebanese TV psychic convicted in Saudi Arabia on charges of witchcraft appealed for her husband’s release on Friday, just months after he escaped beheading in the kingdom. Samira Rahmoon, 46, said Lebanese officials promised her in April that her husband would soon come home, two years after Saudi religious police arrested him during a pilgrimage there … “We are lost,” said Rahmoon, clutching a cracked frame holding a photograph of her husband, 49-year-old Ali Sibat, during a small protest outside the prime minister’s office in Beirut.”

So far there is no word on when, or if, Sibat will be released from custody. Recently there have been signs that Saudi citizens are getting fed up with power plays by the local religious police, who have been locked in a political struggle with the country’s (relatively) more moderate monarchy. This battle has often seen members of other faiths, even if they are citizens of other countries, drawn into their machinations.

Curses on Trafficking: Benin (not to be confused with the modern day country of the Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey), monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa has called on Vodun and other indigenous religious practitioners in Nigeria to place curses on those who would participate in human trafficking and kidnapping.

“The fight against kidnapping and related crimes took a fresh turn in Benin City, the Edo state capital on Thursday, as voodoo priests, herbalists and traditional worshippers came out in large numbers to invoke the wrath of the gods and place curses on persons behind the acts. The Benin monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa at a meeting with the traditional stakeholders last week, directed them to set aside this Thursday (yesterday) for the men in the kingdom to place curses on kidnappers, while the women would take their turn to perform the similar exercise tomorrow, Saturday.”

Human trafficking in Nigeria is a rampant problem, with even important officials taking part in the practice. This move by Omo N’Oba Erediauwa is canny since many accounts of have surfaced of Nigerian women and children being threatened into silence and slavery by Vodun curses and vows. If news of this public show of opposition by indigenous religious leaders spreads, it may counter-act some of the power these modern-day slavers hold over their victims.

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

Top Story: The company Serpentine Music & Media, founded by author and dream expert Anne Hill back in 1992, has officially ceased its role as distributor of Pagan-created and Pagan-themed music. Originally created as a way to help Starhawk and Reclaiming distribute a collection of songs and chants that Hill had helped produce, it grew into an essential resource boasting a catalog of 350 items at its peak, while establishing the ever-nebulous “pagan music” genre tag. In a letter to customers, Hill describes recent changes in the music industry as a prime motivator for her decision.

“It is no secret that the music industry has been suffering for several years now. During that time, I have changed the business model for Serpentine Music to adjust for reduced sales due to MP3 downloads, pirated music, and other factors. This year, however, sales have dropped yet again, while I have had new and exciting opportunities opening up in different areas.”

Serpentine Music & Media will continue to distribute albums the company had a direct hand in producing, most notably “Circle Round and Sing,” “The Best of Pagan Song,” and “The Music of Gwydion.” The company will also continue on a venue for Hill’s self-published books like “What To Do When Dreams Go Bad: A Practical Guide to Nightmares”. Serpentine is now in the process of liquidating its remaining stock.

As someone with a deep interest in Pagan music, I think it’s safe to say that this shift represents the end of an era. Serpentine was one of the last active (explicitly) Pagan music distributors surviving from the 1990s, and its contributions towards building a modern audience for, and general awareness of, music made by and for modern Pagans can’t be understated. Serpentine was also one of the few distributors that were adventurous enough to dip its toes into goth and non-folk/circle-chant genres at a time when the generational gulf of musical taste within our community seemed pretty vast. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds of Pagan and Pagan-friendly musical artists operating around the globe, many of whom use the Internet to market directly to their fans. While this situation has created a wealth of riches for the adventurous music fan, it hasn’t created a atmosphere where such a specialized niche distribution company could thrive as it once did. I salute Anne Hill for her contributions to Pagan music, and wish her the best on her future endeavors.

Some Scandinavians Not Overly Fond of Wicca: Helsingin Sanomat reports that plans to republish the young-adult “Sweep” series of books by Cate Tiernan in Finland, Sweden, and Norway have been derailed after it was discovered that Wicca plays a central role in the novels.

“Christian Democratic Party MP Leena Rauhala submitted a written question to the government on Friday, stating the view that the books should not be published in Finland. Rauhala mentioned content of the book, including drug use, nudity, smoking, alcohol, and strong language.  The publisher had removed references to tobacco and alcohol, as well as the strongest language from the translation. As for drug use, the publisher said that the books portrayed illegal drugs in a negative light. The Wicca religion proved to be the deciding factor in the matter. “We do not want to promote any individual religion or political ideology in the books that we target toward children”, says the publisher’s CEO Jens Otto Hansen. He said that the publisher was not familiar with Wicca. “I only learned on Monday morning that such a thing as Wicca exists.”  Hansen sees the case as an “industrial accident” for the publisher.”

Interestingly the publisher has no problem promoting Twilight-related events in Sweden, so Mormon vampires are OK, but witches are beyond the pale. Guess a little unwelcome political controversy can make all the difference. Whether tweens and teens in Finland, Sweden, and Norway will someday get to join America, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and France in following the adventures of “blood witch” Morgan Rowlands remains to be seen.

The (Legal) Poly Marriage Debate Begins In Earnest: Way back in 2006, and then again in 2007, I said that our community would have to seriously confront the reality of Pagan polyamorous families (30% of poly families identify as Pagan according to one survey) coming into the spotlight and eventually seeking legal recognition. Now a case in Canada might be the one to break this issue wide open, and yes, Pagan religion is mentioned.

“Maridas explained all of this [her poly lifestyle] in an affidavit filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court. It was one of six filed by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which is intervening in the case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law is valid. While others — such as Surreybased Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who also filed an affidavit Tuesday — contend that they have a religious right to practise polygamy, the polyamorists say that for them it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And what they have to say in their affidavits about how they live offers a glimpse of just how far some Canadian families diverge from the tradition of Mom-Dad-kids or the more recent “traditional” families of two Moms or two Dads and kids. And this peek behind normally closed bedroom doors is a hint of what’s to come in November, when Chief Justice Robert Bauman begins hearing the case.”

If polygamy becomes legal in Canada, will we see a repeat of the early steps of the Gay Marriage movement, with groups crossing the border to find some semblance of legal recognition? How will Pagan groups established or operating in Canada react to such a legal reality? Even if this challenge to polygamy laws fails, Pagan groups in Canada and America need to be ready for the culture-war blow-back  and to decide where they stand on the issue. The time where we could just not mention it for the sake of political expediency is quickly fading.

Prison Ministry in Michigan: Crossroads Tabernacle Church, an affiliate of the ATC located in Southeast Michigan, has announced that Founding High Priest Robert Keefer has been appointed to serve on the Michigan Department of Corrections Chaplain’s Advisory Council.  The first time that Wiccan clergy has been appointed to this position in the state.

“For his two-year term,  Robert will meet with clergy from other faiths and lend his expertise in Wiccan spirituality to advise the Department of Corrections on requests made by inmates and staff, work to ensure equal access to materials and worship space as appropriate for all Pagan and other Earth-Based religions, as well as make it possible for other Pagans to volunteer as faith group leaders in Michigan’s correctional facilities.”

This is an important positive breakthrough, and I congratulate Robert Keefer on his appointment. May it lead to similar advances throughout our country, and cast a light on how needed such clergy are in our prisons.

Witch-Child Protectors Launch Their Own Propaganda Campaign: I’ve mentioned before about how Nigerian witch-hunters like Helen Ukpabio have created a media industry with propagandistic “expository”  horror films featuring witchcraft possessed children, while selling non-fiction religious titles like “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft” that make assertions about the reality of child witches. Now Stepping Stones Nigeria, one of the few groups working to protect children accused of witchcraft, is fighting back. They’ve partnered with acclaimed Nollywood director Teco Benson to create their own film entitled “The Fake Prophet”.

Stepping Stones hopes the film will be a corrective to the spate of Nollywood films that peddle in the myth of child witches, and create a public debate over the prevailing belief that such “witches” exist. The premiere of the film is taking place at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London on July 24th. For more information about the event and the film, you can contact Justine Atkinson with Stepping Stones Nigeria. Will fighting propaganda with propaganda work? I suppose we’ll have to see.

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

The New York Times spotlights controversial Nigerian Pentecostal preacher Helen Ukpabio as a documentary about her, “Saving Africa’s Witch Children”, airs in America for the first time. I’ve mentioned Ukpabio on this blog before, and like some other “witch-hunters” in Africa, is receiving direct support from American churches.

“Visiting Houston last week to lead a four-night revival for a local church, Ms. Ukpabio, 41, had no idea that “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” which brought protesters out to greet her in London, was about to be shown in the United States. But she was eager to defend herself.”

In Nigeria, Ukpabio is a media industry, creating propagandistic “expository”  horror films featuring witchcraft possessed children, while selling non-fiction religious titles like “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft” that make assertions about the reality of child witches.

“Evangelist Helen Ukpabio has written many books and produced many home videos, all chillingly pointing to and reinforcing the belief that children can be and are indeed witches. She has produced so much misinformation that it is genuinely doubtful if posterity can forgive this lady. Her books have sold in millions, likewise her tainted home movies. In a particular book titled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft”, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her dangerous mindset by her inflammatory guidance to diagnosing witchcraft. On pages 76 to 83 of this book, Mrs Ukpabio affirmed that children under two years of age who “scream at night, cries, show sudden deterioration in health, show attitude of fear or who fail to feed well” are witches. For children over two years of age, witchcraft can be diagnosed when such kids are “unusually bold, tell lies, steals, becomes very stubborn, crafty, suddenly droop from good to poor performance at school, hates school, are destructive at home…, sleep much in the day time, suddenly stammer when asked questions with excessive blinking of the eyelids, ….”. In this book, Mrs Ukpabio exposed her antisocial mindset in readily diagnosing witchcraft for every manifestation of poverty and social rebellion in children.”

In short, she is a major part of the industry that is benefiting from the vilifying and abuse of innocent children. Ukpabio defends herself by saying that Western criticism is anti-African prejudice, while African criticism is a mere “scam”. Yet if she truly believed that organizations like Stepping Stones Nigeria were only a money-grabbing “419″ scam, why have/allow her followers to disrupt their meetings, attack them in the press, and bringing litigation against them? Seems like a lot of trouble for a group that is simply trying to milk Westerners of their dough.

Ukpabio and her ilk who are touring American (primarily Pentecostal) churches, benefiting from their largess, and co-mingling with our own home-grown prayer warriors, should be worrisome.  Because hysteria is an easily exportable commodity, and this cross-pollination seems to encourage some troubling behavior from some very prominent people here at home. What happens when the witch-hunters over there become increasingly popular over here? Anti-witch hysteria in the “third world” isn’t hermetically sealed up there, this is an international epidemic that could have far-reaching implications for those of us who identify as the very thing they vilify.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Nigerian newspaper NEXT runs an editorial by Tam Fiofori that reminds us that the Pentecostal fervor in Africa that is feeding the horrific witch-hunts against women, children, and the elderly, is also waging a larger cultural war that brands indigenous and tribal-inspired art as demon-possessed.

“Sometimes the righteous attitudes of ardent followers of the ‘new religion’ border on the ridiculous. Take the case of artist Tony Akinbola who is doing a wonderful job of creatively rebranding Calabar through indigenous-related monumental art. When he put up his work of huge Ikom monoliths as a monumental tribute to artists who about a century ago demonstrated that they could portray vivid human facial expressions on stone carvings, ironically, members of the same Pentecostal faith he belongs to, saw the huge monoliths as an affront celebrating devil-worship. Soon after the monumental monoliths were put up at a strategic roundabout in Calabar, members of his faith held a prayer session around the monumental art piece “casting and binding the demons” supposedly inhabiting the monoliths.”

Fiofori points out that by contrast the local Catholic church is actually quite tolerant of indigenous themes in art and culture being incorporated into a Christian context, but not the “new religion” of Pentecostal Christianity, and as it spreads it is destroying the artistic culture of the countries it infects.

“Aino Oni-Okpaku – member of the Board of Trustees of the Ben Enwonwu Foundation and a Swedish-born Nigerian art-lover and owner of the Quintessence outfit in Falomo Ikoyi – has depressing stories of how the ‘new religion’ has literarily poisoned the minds of Nigerians towards their traditional and contemporary arts. She tells of a collector who had bought an artwork from an exhibition at the Quintessence Gallery and had gone on to prominently display the artwork in his office for pleasure and inspiration. His wife visited his office, saw the artwork, took it away in anger and burnt it because it was demonic…”

This newly instilled anti-traditionalism also marred an art show held in honor of the recently passed Suzanne Wenger, the Austrian-born iconic Yoruba traditional religion devotee who helped win protection for the Osun-Osogbo sacred grove. With many refusing to enter on the grounds that the pieces were “demonic”.

Sadly there seems to be little to stop this trend at the moment, the popular “Nollywood” film industry has regularly made traditional African religions the enemy, and some local indigenous religious leaders have bleak outlooks concerning the future.

“Christianity has destroyed our culture. The people have lost faith in our ancient gods and values. The pastors go to church in the morning and preach Christianity, and in the evening they come to me and speak with their forefathers. Christianity cannot compete with our ancestors. Your God is impotent against Shango, the god of thunder and lightning. That’s why the Christian pastors in Nigeria all die so young. Oh well, that’s how things are nowadays. Nothing’s free in life except death.”

The issue of art and culture may seem trivial in the face of an international epidemic of witch hunts, but in many cases that is where the poison of intolerance enters the cultural system. If you believe that all manifestations of your traditional culture and religion are actually demon-haunted and evil, it changes the way you think and feel. We overlook the plight of artists, storytellers, and writers in these situations because they (understandably) don’t have the same human dimension as the now-ongoing horrific tragedies often perpetrated in the name of the “new religion”, but the more culture is remade, the more permanent the damage done, and the more remote the chances of reversal.

I’ve written before about how witchcraft persecutions have become an international problem, how that fanaticism is slowly being exported to the “civilized” West and is cross-pollinating with the first-world churches that support them, but that hardly prepares one for the shock and horror of knowing that these (often American-funded) Christian churches are directly responsible for the death, mutilation, and exile of children.

“His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him — Mount Zion Lighthouse. A month later, he died. Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files. Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” “It is an outrage what they are allowing to take place in the name of Christianity,” said Gary Foxcroft, head of nonprofit Stepping Stones Nigeria.”

Many of these witch-hunting pastors belong to churches that are members of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) who say they can’t police their membership, though they can find it within themselves to collect membership dues. Indeed, the persecution of children for witchcraft is so “mainstream” in places like Nigeria that even the popular mega-pastors admit to horrid abuses.

“Helen Ukpabio is one of the few evangelists publicly linked to the denunciation of child witches. She heads the enormous Liberty Gospel church in Calabar … Ukpabio makes and distributes popular books and DVDs on witchcraft; in one film, a group of child witches pull out a man’s eyeballs. In another book, she advises that 60 percent of the inability to bear children is caused by witchcraft … “Witchcraft is real,” Ukpabio insisted, before denouncing the physical abuse of children. Ukpabio says she performs non-abusive exorcisms for freeHowever, she then acknowledged that she had seen a pastor from the Apostolic Church break a girl’s jaw during an exorcism. Ukpabio said she prayed over her that night and cast out the demon. She did not respond to questions on whether she took the girl to hospital or complained about the injury to church authorities.” and was not aware of or responsible for any misinterpretation of her materials. “I don’t know about that,” she declared.

Ukpabio is very much like the “spiritual warriors” here in America, except that her accusations of witchcraft and demonic possession fuel a trend of death and sorrow.

“Pastor Joe Ita is the preacher at Liberty Gospel Church in nearby Eket … There are nearly 60 branches of Liberty Gospel across the Niger Delta. It was started by a local woman, mother-of-two Helen Ukpabio … Many people in this area credit the popular evangelical DVDs she produces and stars in with helping to spread the child witch belief. Ita denies charging for exorcisms but acknowledges his congregation is poor and has to work hard to scrape up the donations the church expects. ‘To give more than you can afford is blessed. We are the only ones who really know the secrets of witches. Parents don’t come here with the intention of abandoning their children, but when a child is a witch then you have to say “what is that there? Not your child.” The parents come to us when they see manifestations. But the secret is that, even if you abandon your child, the curse is still upon you, even if you kill your child the curse stays. So you have to come here to be delivered afterwards as well,’ he explains patiently.”

The plight of “child witches’” is well known now, so where is the outrage and orchestrated refusal to send money to witch-hunting churches? Where is the Pentecostal-led movement to reverse this trend and isolate people like Helen Ukpabio? It seems almost non-existent, instead, acknowledged witch-hunters have been feted in America, giving blessings to prominent politicians. As for Ukpabio, she is no longer isolated to West Africa, and has a church in Rome. How far will this madness spread before the hundreds of church-bodies who have a stake in Africa do something?

“Please stop the pastors who hurt us,” said Jerry quietly, touching the scars on his face. “I believe in God and God knows I am not a witch.”

For those who want to help the witch-children, two good organizations to send money to are Stepping Stones Nigeria and CRARN (Child’s Right and Rehabilitation Network). We can also urge the press to continue to ask difficult questions of American churches that support witch-hunters but plead ignorance.

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 10, 2009 — 5 Comments

Just a few quick items to enrich your day. We start off with a Wall Street Journal editorial from Eric Rassbach at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on why he decided to defend Jose Merced’s right to sacrifice goats in his home.

“It is a small victory for religious freedom in this country, not just for Mr. Merced, but for everyone who believes the human conscience is a precious gift to be protected. Of course, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or others may want to convince Mr. Merced that his beliefs are in error, and the same religious liberty will protect their right to try to persuade him. That’s the point: Persuasion, not state coercion, is the way all of us should engage our fellow citizens as they seek to obey the “still small voice” of conscience. So ask not why I defend goat sacrifice. Ask me how you can too.”

You can read my full coverage of this case, here. As I’ve said before, this case could set a nationwide precedent allowing for legalized ritualized animal sacrifice in an large number of settings, including within some modern Pagan communities. Expect this issue to remain “hot” as litigation and local laws clash over what is allowed.

The Nigerian newspaper Next has an article about Americans training in Yoruba. Next also provides a gallery of images, and an interview with the keeper of Oshun’s sacred lantern. I would be interested to learn just how many American pilgrims are making the trek to Nigeria in order to be initiated into Yoruba, and to participate in the rites at the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. Is there a new resurgence of African American interest (and American interest in general) in Yoruba? If young Haitian-Americans are turning to Vodou, perhaps there is an even wider trend of traditional African religions being adopted here in the US?

In a final note, for those wanting to further explore the conflicts and issues brought up in yesterday’s post, you can read reactions from the  South African Pagan Council and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance concerning MP Adrian Williams’s stance on anti-witchcraft laws in the country.

“Mpumalanga ANC MP Adrian Williams has accused the South African Pagan Rights Alliance of being arrogant in pursuing the reclamation of the terms Witch and Witchcraft. SAPRA rejects the allegation of arrogance and notes that reclamation of loaded terminology has long been a recognized method of educating the broader public and fighting for the rights of unrecognized minorities. While Mr Williams self-identifies as Pagan, it should be noted that he has no mandate to speak on behalf of all the Witches or Witchcraft practitioners in South Africa, many of whom have already expressed a desire to reclaim the terminology.”

It certainly seems like Mr. Williams has few friends among South African Pagan organizations, is his view an isolated one? Or are there other Pagans who take the same stance on issues of identifying as a “Witch” in South Africa? As always, South African Pagans are welcome to comment here, though let’s keep things civil.

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

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

Thinking of holding a Pagan conference at a resort on the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean? You might want to think twice. It seems the mere rumour of a “witchcraft conference” caused a huge controversy.

“The State-owned Radio St. Lucia first alerted listeners about the supposed meeting, when it claimed that witches from around the world were gathering here for the conference that would also involve members of the island’s elite. The radio station said that the conference had created “a media sensation” and that a local pastor, Anderson Cato of the Stream of Power Tabernacle, had condemned the authorities for allowing the gathering. “I think we have to consider what we allow ourselves to be exposed to as a people. There is a God and there are certain things that he is pleased with and others he can’t be pleased with.  In the Bible it is clear that God has spoken against witchcraft, sorcerery, adultery and sin,” Cato said. President of the St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) Anthony Bowen said while he was unaware of such a conference, the “witches” were within their right if they decided to meet in St. Lucia.”

The rumour-mill and finger-pointing caused loads of political strife and angry denials. So if you’re thinking of going to St. Lucia, you might want to tuck in that Pentacle/Hammer/Awen/etc necklace.

Canadian paper The Star lists Wicca, witchcraft, and Sybil Leek as selling-points for visiting the recently created New Forest National Park in Britain.

“It’s common knowledge that the forest is still home to Hedgewitches, women who continue their Wicca practices in a solitary way. Witches’ spells, the best-sellers in the local witchcraft shop, are made by local Hedgewitches. There was a time when Sybil Leek, a past resident of Burley and a well-known “white witch” of the 1950s, incurred the wrath of the locals when she started dressing like the more sinister variety of witch, which made her, uh, unwelcome with the superstitious locals. She moved to America where she had a long and successful career as an occult writer and restaurant owner.”

What, no mention of Dorothy Clutterbuck and the (in)famous New Forest Coven? The British tourism industry should put together a comprehensive “history of modern Witchcraft” tour ASAP.

A woman from Louisiana visits Portland, Oregon and finds that it isn’t so bad. Of special note in her sojourn in “Hippie Land” is an encounter with a Wiccan on a bus.

“…a pagan/Wiccan evangelist on the bus. He started his pitch with “Do you like my rose quartz?” while brandishing a crystal worn around his neck. He then told a young woman on the bus that his quartz held special “mother goddess powers” and asked if she believed in the mother goddess. The answer? A very awkward “kinda.” Can’t really argue with that.”

Wiccans! How exotic! How unlike the South! Well, except for the hundreds of Pagans from Louisiana, not to mention the thousands of Pagans living in the Southern states. In fact, the entire column seems less about Portland, and more about her defensive excuses for not recycling, and how bums in Louisiana know their place.

Should an unsanctioned Santeria ritual in a cemetary get you ten years in prison? A woman in Massachusetts sacrificed a rooster at an old grave and then set it on fire, prompting a call to the police. The Eagle-Tribune lays out exactly what she could face if prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“Officer Ariel Montas was sent to the scene and after an investigation arrested Portalatina, charging her with malicious damage to property over $250, animal cruelty, willful and malicious killing or poisoning of an animal, willful destruction of a gravestone and setting a fire in the open without the permission of the Fire Department. The malicious damage to property charge carries a penalty of up to five years in state prison, two and a half years in the house of correction, and a fine of not more than three times the value of the damaged property. The charges of animal cruelty, willful and malicious killing of an animal, and willful destruction of a gravestone each carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, two and a half years in the house of correction, and up to $5,000 in fines.”

Sacrifice a rooster, lose years of your life in prison? Yet another reason why we need a sane set of regulations and guidelines for those who want to engage in animal sacrifice.

In a final note, we take a look at the dark side of magic and religion. Authorities in Spain have broken up a Nigerian human trafficking ring that used Vodou to intimidate women in prostitution.

“The traffickers lured their victims with promises of a better life in Europe and took them to a voodoo priest before departure, the police said in a statement. The traffickers then smuggled them to Spain, where they told the victims they had to become prostitutes to repay a hefty debt for their journey or face the wrath of voodoo spirits. Musikilu Mojeed, a journalist for the Nigerian online newspaper 234Next.com who has written about voodoo and human trafficking, said voodoo, known in Nigeria as juju, was a fairly common tool of intimidation used by traffickers. Women were taken to a voodoo shrine and made to swear before a priest that they would never reveal the identities of the traffickers, he said. The priests took pieces of fingernails or hair from the women as part of the ritual.”

A reminder that pre-Christian, alternative, or minority religions are also capable of committing abuse and instilling terror. No faith is immune from human weakness or evil intentions.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 14, 2009 — 3 Comments

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

It looks like crazy and criminal Pagans in the courtroom come in threes. First there was the horrific occult-tinged child murders perpetrated by Lawrence Harris, then the crazy attempted murder ring-leader  Terisa “Red Phoenix” Davidson, and now a jury is beginning deliberations in the case of Kathleen Hilton. Hilton, a Wiccan grandmother, allegedly set fire to her son’s estranged girlfriend’s apartment building, killing five occupants.

Hilton has been behind bars since her arrest shortly after the tragic fire. During the trial, she testified to hearing voices. To refute such claims, the state introduced testimony from forensic psychologist Tali Walters, who was appointed by the court to determine if Hilton was competent to stand trial. Less than a month after the fire, Walters interviewed Hilton on three occasions at Taunton State Hospital. At trial, Walters recalled Hilton talking extensively about witchcraft and her spiritual beliefs in Wicca. Hilton also mentioned during those interviews that she had communicated with a tribal council of dead Native Americans, Walters said. Despite these assertions, Walters concluded that Hilton was not suffering psychosis or a mental illness.

What is interesting about this tragic case from a legal standpoint is that it asserts that adherence to Wicca or belief in spirit communications doesn’t equate to a psychosis or a mental illness. If Pagans, Wiccan, and occult believers aren’t crazy for the purposes of prosecutions, that could mean that they can’t be considered crazy in custody cases or as witnesses.

Psychics aren’t the only ones experiencing a slight uptick in business. The Palm Beach Post has an article about a local Botanica that is seeing increased business in this economic downturn.

For those believers, Vegueria so far is doing a better job of quelling fears than the complicated solutions debated by the U.S. Congress. “People have always come here with their economic troubles,” says Vegueria’s wife and business partner, Raquel, 54. “But now it’s even more so. A lot of people are out of work. He does what he can to listen to them, calm them, give them hope.” She says her husband is doing more pro-bono consulting these days. “Some can hardly afford to pay anything,” says Raquel. “They pay when they can.” The Veguerias are not alone. Other Santeria practitioners say the percentage of believers wanting to discuss economic travails has increased.

But can this slightly larger influx of money into psychic and occult services counteract a larger economic collapse? Esoteric answers are often a last resort for a scared general populace, and when that money also runs out I can’t imagine the psychics, practitioners of Santeria, or Pagans will be any better off. In fact, if this recession goes on for too long it may become very dangerous to be a Witch.

The Nigerian newspaper Punch looks at the growing number of mentally ill people in Osogbo and wonders if it is connected to creativity or native spiritual beliefs, a view that is strongly refuted by a local Ifa scholar.

Does the high level of creativity in Osogbo account for the unusually high number of mentally ill people? World acclaimed Ifa scholar, Ifayemi Elebuibon, does not believe so. Elebuibon said three factors were responsible for madness. Elebuibon, the Awise of Osogbo, who delivers papers in American and European universities on Ifa divinity, said mental illness could be contracted through heredity, evil attack and drug abuse. Tracing the traditional genealogy of madness, Elebuibon said, the Alara and Ajero royal families were the first to be beset with madness in Yoruba cultural worldview. According to him, “Mental illness is becoming rampant because people have departed from the ways of our forebears. We used to have intermediaries before marriages were consummated but now a man sees a woman on the road and off they go into marriage. Nobody cares to investigate the families of the spouse or the intending husband in order to know what kind of family their son or daughter is getting married to. Some families have hereditary mental illness.”

The piece goes on to look at more common factors in causing a increasingly visible mentally ill population: poverty,  hard drug-use, and a lack of social support systems. I’m glad to see this paper refuting the more romantic ideas of mentall illness. There is nothing more tragic than a society that treats depression, “heroic melancholy” and madness as “creative” or “holy” conditions.

For those of you who enjoyed my mention of the “Goddess on Earth” show yesterday, you might also want to check out another woman-centric New York gallery showing in March entitled “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists”.

Dabora Gallery and Phantasmaphile’s Pam Grossman are proud to usher in the spring season with the group show “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists,” on view from March 14th through April 12th, 2009. It features fourteen of the most vital and visionary women artists working in the US today. In literal terms, a fata morgana is a mirage or illusion, a waking reverie, a shimmering of the mind. Named for the enchantress Morgan le Fay, these tricks of perception conjure up a sense of glimpsing into another world, whether it be the expanses of an ethereal terrain, or the twilit depths of the psyche. The artists of “Fata Morgana: The New Female Fantasists” deftly utilize the semiotics of mysticism, fantasy, and the subconscious in their work, thereby guiding the viewer through heretofore uncharted realms – alternately shadowy or luminous, but always inventive.

You can check out a couple images from the show, here. You might also be interested in some of the artist’s web sites: Carrie Ann Baade, Lori Field, Katy Horan, Tina Imel, and Susan Jamison. It almost makes me want to be in New York. Almost.

In a final note, today is the feast of St. Valentine aka St. Valentine’s Day. Normally I would list the many and sundry media articles that detail the pre-Christian origins of this seemingly Sainted day, but I’ll concentrate on Lupercalia tomorrow (the actual day of its observance). In reality, St. Valentine’s Day most likely isn’t the holiday created to replace Lupercalia. When Lupercalia observances were suppressed by Pope Gelasius I in 494, the pre-existing Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple (which in the Julian calendar fell on the same day as Lupercalia) was promoted in Rome as the purification of the Virgin Mary (later called Candlemas). Since the month of February and Lupercalia were seen as times of purification by the Romans, the new emphasis on Mary’s purification makes perfect sense. The Feast of St. Valentine, established two years later by Gelasius doesn’t seem to have much to do with the replacement of Lupercalia. If you want to blame someone for equating love with St. Valentine’s Day, you’ll most likely have to blame Geoffrey Chaucer (who hath a blog). In any case may you all have a happy (and by this point thoroughly secularized) Valentine’s Day celebration with the romantic partner(s) of your choice.

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

A Couple Quick Items

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 15, 2009 — 5 Comments

Just a couple quick news items for this morning. First, news has come that the 94-yr-old artist Suzanne Wenger (aka Adunni Olorisa), a convert to Yoruba and tireless defender of traditional religion in Nigeria, has passed away.

The Osun Grove in Osogbo had become a world-class tourism site under her supervision, and had been listed in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s World Heritage List in 2005. The Ataoja of Osogbo, His Royal Majesty, Oba Jimoh Oyewale Matanmi, said Suzanne Wenger lived a fulfilled life and arrangements have been made for her burial, saying the burial rites had begun.  The Jaguna of Osogbo, second in command to the Ataoja, said Adunni Olorisa, had said that no tomb should be built for her saying “She said she wouldn’t want any white people to turn her tomb into a tourist attraction. She has laid a solid foundation for the arts and culture in Osun State. Her works will never perish,”

I linked to a BBC profile of Ms. Wenger from September of last year (which I highly endorse reading). It is of no doubt that she’ll be feted in Nigeria for her work in establishing the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove as a World Heritage site, and for her ardent and deep connection to Yoruba and the goddess Osun. May she rest in the otherworld, and return to us again.

In sad news of an entirely different variety, a local Texas paper reports on a fringe “spiritual warfare” Christian group that’s making a map of prayer “targets” in their area. Needless to say, anything even vaguely Pagan-sounding or sheltering is making the hit-list prayer map.

The Wildcat Bluff Nature Center is on the prayer map. Repent Amarillo Director David Grisham says since they have a “Earth Circle” they are connected to a pagan group with the same name.  “These things are linked pagans are earth-based religions along with Wicca and other forms of witchcraft are earth-based religions and earth circles are part of that,” Grisham said.  But Wildcat Bluff Nature Center Supervisor Rhoda Breeden says they are completely wrong. “There aren’t any pagan rituals or ceremonies that happen out here so I was really surprised that they were falsely identifying us,” Breeden said. The 806 coffee shop and bar is also on the list. Repent Amarillo says they’re praying for the pagan groups that meet there but employees like Matthew Domzalski, a barista at The 806, says its not his place to discriminate.

This Christian malicious magic-cult is recruiting “soldiers” and intercessory prayer “warriors” to undertake “missions” (that are sometimes “undercover”) to (spiritually) tear down the “demonic strongholds” of Pagan worship. Let’s hope this all stays in the purview of prayer, and doesn’t inspire some of these soldiers to go further. The language of militancy can sometimes blur the distinctions between spiritual action and physical action.