Archives For NPR

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

Byron Ballard

Byron Ballard

This month, author and Witch Byron Ballard found herself the center piece of a mainstream news story titled, “Meet the Appalachian spell-catcher.” Local journalist Dale Neal published his article in Asheville’s Citizen-Times, the main paper for the region.

Neal wrote, “In her travels, Ballard found many people put off at first by the idea of a pagan priestess … But when she started talking about folk remedies, or bringing out Mason jars of rabbit tobacco or mica pieces, they recognized a common spirit. ‘Oh my grandmother used to do that,’ was a common theme.”

The article focuses on Ballard’s practice, her research and her new book Asfidity and Mad-Stones: A Further Ramble through Hillfolks’ Hoodoo. It captures her love of folk magic, the region and, what Neal called, “an overlooked piece of homegrown culture.”

In Other News…

  • Also making it into the media was our own writer Terence P. Ward, who was quoted by NPR in its own discussion about the use of Daesh and other names within media. He told NPR, “as a reporter covering the ‘Pagan, Heathen, and polytheist communities, I am privy to reports of people being questioned by law enforcement due to being known worshipers of the goddess Isis.’ “
  • In another mainstream story involving Pagans, The Guardian picked up on the brewing controversy over Alex Mar’s book Witches in America.The article titled, “Serious researcher or ‘Spiritual Tourist: How Alex Mar riled American pagans’ quotes a number of Pagan bloggers and points to various posts about the book. The writer also interviewed Alex Mar about the controversy and includes some of her reactions. We will have more on this story in the coming days.
  • And in another mainstream article examining the greater Pagan community, writer Jaya Saxena discusses the problem of sexism within Witchcraft practice. In the article titled “There’s a Sexism Problem in the Modern Witchcraft Community,” Saxena wrote, “low-level misogyny can still be a problem in these circles, in largely the same unconscious ways it exists in the rest of society.” Quoting from a number of practicing Witches both male and female, Saxena notes a number of places where problems can arise and how that is handled. She also mentions the issues that can arise for transgender Witches, saying that some groups are now “challenging the gender binary” constructions in terms of religious practice.
  • Speaking of the transgender community, in a story out of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, a local elementary school banned the reading and discussion of a children’s book called I am Jazz.The book tells the story of a transgender child and is written by transgender teen Jazz Jennings. The facility, Mt. Horeb Primary Center, cancelled the reading after The Liberty Council, a Christian legal advocacy group, threatened a lawsuit. Author Alex Bledsoe‘s son attends the school, and he has been indirectly involved in the situation. Bledsoe said, “As a writer, I’m bothered when any book is censored. The list of historically censored books is also a list of some of our greatest literature. As a parent, I have no issue with allowing other parents to opt out their children, but don’t try to force your beliefs on the rest of us. A concerned parent has the right to say, ‘My child won’t,’ but not to say, ‘Your child won’t.’ That’s simply bullying, and any school system that gives into it loses the moral right to tell its students that bullying is wrong.” There will be a scheduled reading and discussion of the book at the local library today.


  • In Tennessee, a Wiccan mother is claiming that her children are not being allowed to practice Wicca while in foster care. Anna Wood said her two children, each in a different home, are being forced to practice Christianity and denied the right to learn Wicca.  She claimed that her daughter was even baptized without her knowledge and her son’s books have been destroyed. According to the article, the Department of Child Services has denied any evidence of discrimination. Wood said that she is “seriously considering a lawsuit.”
  • Moving over to Australia, Victoria’s local news source The Age reported that Robin Fletcher, who “claimed his [Wiccan] religion endorses sex between children and adults,” was denied his request for more relaxed supervision. The judge said that Fletcher still poses a “unacceptable risk of committing a relevant offence.” This was based on letters found to men in Ghana describing what he was planning to do upon being released next summer and his desire to initiate young children into his religious practice. The Department of Justice is currently deciding whether it will extend its request for Fletcher’s supervision past the current end date June 2016.
  • Back in the Unites States, New York’s Rockland County Sheriff’s Department has said that a “suspicious,” “ritualistic,” package was left at the County Courthouse on the day before Thanksgiving. According to local media reports, “The bomb squad did rule that the package was a likely Santeria artifact and it was knowingly left at the building to create panic and fear.” But, in the end, there was no disruption to the court schedule. No further reports or corrections were available.

And one final note… 


bucklandIt was announced on Aug. 4 that author Raymond Buckland had suffered a “large heart attack” and was battling pneumonia.The brief announcement explained, “[Buckland] was life-flighted to a main hospital [where] he was in incubation for three days.” He also developed a case of pneumonia.

After a week long stay in the hospital, Buckland was able to return to his home and is reportedly getting stronger every day. His spirits are up and his strength is returning as he fights off the illness. Buckland’s family and close friends expressed their thanks for the healing energy, well wishes and prayers being sent his way.

Raymond Buckland is the author of over fifty published books and is the founder of the Seax Wicca Tradition. He arrived in the United States in 1962, and published his first book A Pocket Guide to the Supernatural, in 1969. His most well-known work is arguably the big blue Buckland’s Complete Guide to Witchcraft, originally published in 1986. More recently, Buckland has been working on fiction. His most recent novel, Dead for a Spell, is the second in a series called “A Bram Stoker Mystery.”

Buckland is expected to make full recovery, and his family has said that he will be returning personal messages when he is able. They will be posting health updates on his Facebook page.

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Covenant of the GoddessCovenant of the Goddess (CoG) will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend in sunny Ontario, California. CoG was founded in 1975 by “a number of Wiccan elders from diverse traditions, all sharing the idea of forming a religious organization for all practitioners of Witchcraft.” The bylaws were ratified in the summer of that year, and the organization was registered as a nonprofit in California by October 31. CoG has been continuously operating ever since, making it one of the oldest Wiccan and Witchcraft organizations in the United States.

Today, CoG has expanded its reach outside of California, with local councils and members living in all regions of the country. First Officer Kasha said, “40 years is an exciting-and daunting-landmark … So much has changed since 1975, but part of the struggle remains. I honor those who founded this organization, some of whom remain active members, for their vision and tenacity. I’m excited to see where the next few decades will take us.”

The 40th anniversary MerryMeet celebration is being hosted by Touchstone Local Council based out of San Bernardino. MerryMeet is the organization’s annual conference, and this year’s theme is “Celebrating Our Voices.” As is typical, the event includes workshops, vendors, and the official business meeting called Grand Council. But this year’s conference is special, as it marks the anniversary. Part of that celebration will include a “History” panel, where various elders and longtime members sharing stories from the organization’s early days and beyond. Touchstone Local Council has the full schedule of events posted on its website.

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mythopoeticIn June we reported that author Sarah Avery was selected to be finalist for the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award in the category of adult fiction. The award is administered by the Mythopoeic Society, and given to “the fantasy novel, multi-volume novel, or single-author story collection for adults published during the previous year that best exemplifies ‘the spirit of the Inklings.‘ ”

During the recent MythCon46 held in Colorado, it was announced that Avery had won the 2015 award. The winning book, Tales from the Rugosa Coven, consists of a collection of novellas and is published by Dark Quest Books. In a blog post written just after receiving the honor, Avery said, “Every time I tried to write acceptance remarks just in case, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails to the finalists who aren’t here … Fortunately, Dora insisted that I should prepare some remarks, because you never know.” As it turned out, she needed those words. During MythCon, Avery was presented with the Aslan Trophy by author and former winner Jo Walton. Congratulations to Sarah Avery!

In Other News:

  • Activist and Witch David Salisbury will be making an appearance on ABC’s evening news magazine 20/20. Salisbury was interviewed last week concerning the death of Cecil the Lion. Salisbury said, “When I got the call asking for the interview, everything happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to be nervous about it. I knew I had to immediately go into extra research mode to make sure everything I wanted to say was accurate and up to date. On the day of the interview, I found the correspondent Deborah Roberts to be warm and friendly, which helped put me at ease and act naturally.” Producers said that the report will most likely air this coming week. However, at that time, they were still waiting to capture more footage and interviews in Africa, and could not confirm the exact air date. They said that the decision to air would be made last minute, and advised interested viewers to look for updates on the 20/20 website.
  • Deepta Roy Chakraverti has written and published her first book called Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters. As noted by the Hindustan Times, the non-fiction work describes Chakraverti’s “experiences in the realm of the supernatural and the practice of Wicca.” She is the daughter of India’s well-known Wiccan Priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, and was raised with and around her mother’s practice. Ipsita, herself, wrote the book’s introduction, while the rest of the content is from Deepta’s own experiences with the “spirit realm” over the years.
  • As we reported last fall, money was raised to honor Margot Adler with a bench in New York City’s Central Park. Over $11,000 was donated; enough to dedicate both a bench and a tree through the Park’s Women’s Committee. The location of Margot’s bench was specifically selected to be near the two that she had previously dedicated to her husband and mother in law. Due to construction in that area, the dedication didn’t officially happen until spring 2015. If you are in Central Park, you can visit Margot’s bench (#09067) and her tree, a Kwanzaan Cherry growing alongside the reservoir next to light post #9323. Both are just inside the 93rd Street entrance on the west side of the park. Now, if you happen to be in Washington D.C., you can also visit a Margot Adler memorial bench and tree. This site, shown in the photo below, is located in front of NPR’s D.C. headquarters at 1111 North Capitol St NE.
margot bench

[Courtesy Sylvia Poggioli, NPR]

  • Pagans are helping to raise money for Raul Mamani’s trip to the upcoming Parliament of the World Religions in Salt Lake City. According to the fundraising page, Mamani “is a native Jujuy of Argentina. He lives in the far northwest, where Argentina borders Chile and Bolivia. He has been at the heart of indigenous organizing.” Over the years, Mamani has been working with interfaith representatives of CoG and with the United Religions Initiative. As the campaign page explains, in 2009 the Spirituality & the Earth Cooperation Circle raised money to help Mamani attend the Melbourne Parliament. As it turned out, “he was the only indigenous representative from South America …his voice was crucial to the sharing that took place in that gathering.” The 2015 fundraising campaign will help allow Mamani to return to the Paraliament again.
  • Amaranth, a new “eclectic” marketplace, is now up and running after Etsy’s policy changes negatively affected metaphysical shops and the sale of magical items. The site went live on June 26 with the intention on serving “displaced members of Etsy.” As described by the owners, “The site supports international selling, multiple payment gateways and several familiar to Etsy user functions for listing and creating markets. Policies and categories are still being made on an as need basis.” Dedicated to metaphysical, magical, spiritual, Pagan, Occult and similar communities, Amaranth is crafting a marketplace model that will allow it to be owned and operated by the sellers and buyers. Owners say, “It is not about us.” At this point, Amaranth Marketplace is still growing and tweaking its systems. But they hope, in the end, to simply provide “a stable, honest, environment with a staff that can understand needs and not judge.”

That’s it 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.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.'” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.


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

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

I’ve written at some length on the Christian movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a group that’s been getting increased media scrutiny lately due to their proximity to presidential candidates like Texas governor Rick Perry. Some may believe I’m over-stating their influence, or that I’m being somewhat paranoid in my coverage,  so it’s always a good thing to have relatively level-headed media outlets to compare your own findings/suspicions with. Back in August the NPR interview program “Fresh Air” interviewed Rachel Tabachnick of Talk To Action, a leading researcher into this movement, and promised to follow-up interview with a NAR member for rebuttal/response. Today that promise is fulfilled as the show interviews C. Peter Wagner, one of key architects and Apostles of this movement. It is Wagner who articulated the movement’s battle against the “Queen of Heaven,” and penned several books on the subject of spiritual warfare.

While the audio and transcript isn’t up yet (though it will be up later today), they have posted some highlights from the interview that touch on some of the most controversial statements and beliefs held by New Apostolic Reformation members.

“The sun goddess [Amaterasu] is not a very nice lady. The sun goddess is a power of darkness, which is headed up by the kingdom of Satan. And so the sun goddess wants natural disasters to come to Japan.”

“An apostle, a friend of mine in Nepal, once told me that every Christian believer in Nepal that he knows of has been delivered from demons. That their former Hindu religion had implanted or the demons had gained access and that in order to become Christian believers, the demons had to be cast out. Of course, we have many examples in the Bible of the same thing.”

“What [Pastor] Thomas [Muthee] was probably doing, and he and I are friends also, what he was probably doing was speculating that there would be some people who practiced witchcraft and other forms of the occult who would try and take Sarah Palin down through certain rituals or curses or other techniques that witches have and try to destroy her through those things. And I think Thomas was praying a shield of protection around Sarah so that she would not be affected by them.”

There’s more, and probably much more in the interview itself, so I urge everyone interested in this subject to check it out. Wagner does try to soft-peddle accusations of theocratic ambitions, and the intentions of  the upcoming “DC40” prayer event. He also claims that they “respect all religions” (even Pagan religions?). I’ll let you decide whether this is still a movement you find problematic, or if you’ve been convinced that they have no untoward designs towards the rights of non-Christians.

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

NAR on Fresh Air: I’ve written at some length on the Christian movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a group that’s been getting increased media scrutiny lately due to their proximity to presidential candidates like Texas governor Rick Perry. However, as the recent blowback over the term “Dominionist” proves, there’s quite a bit people don’t know about this increasingly connected religio-political network of apostles and prophets. A key figure in studying the origins and activities of NAR is Rachel Tabachnick of Talk To Action, who was interviewed yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air.

“On Wednesday’s Fresh Air, Rachel Tabachnick, who researches the political impact of the religious right, joins Terry Gross for a discussion about the growing movement and its influence and connections in the political world. Tabachnick says the movement currently works with a variety of politicians and has a presence in all 50 states. It also has very strong opinions about the direction it wants the country to take. For the past several years, she says, the NAR has run a campaign to reclaim what it calls the “seven mountains of culture” from demonic influence. The “mountains” are arts and entertainment; business; family; government; media; religion; and education.”

If you’re looking for NAR 101, I would suggest listening to this program, or reading the full transcript. Tabachnick has also supplied a supplemental post of relevant informational links at Talk To Action. At the end of the interview host Terry Gross mentions that the program reached out to several NAR figures for an interview, though none said they could fit it into their schedules. However, Mike Bickle (famous for calling Oprah a forerunner of the Antichrist) of the International House of Prayer has agreed to come on the show in the near future.

What Makes A Tribe: Religion Clause points to a Christian Science Monitor article on the plight of unrecognized Native American tribes in the United States, and how their lack of legal status inhibits the free practice of their traditional rites, and silences their voices when it comes to redress for wrongs done to them.

“The profiles of some federally recognized American Indian tribes have grown in recent decades as they parlayed their sovereign status to create profitable ventures such as gambling enterprises. But there are many other tribes that – never having had a reservation or simply falling through the cracks of Indian policy – are unrecognized by the United States. Scholars estimate that more than 250,000 of the 5 million who identify themselves as American Indians belong to about 300 unrecognized tribes, making them almost invisible to federal Indian law.”

The article notes that unrecognized tribes wouldn’t be able to file for a grievance under the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples, due to a position paper issued by the United States government saying they wouldn’t include them, and that the process to becoming recognized is largely viewed as a bureaucratic nightmare, with almost impossibly high bars of entry.

“Anthropologists and tribal members also argue that the requirement to show “continuous and distinct community” since 1900 is unrealistic given US history. “These people went through massacres, dislocations, and suffered all these horrible atrocities, and then the government demands, ‘Show us your continuous community.’ It’s absurd,” says Les Field, an anthropologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.”

For tribes like the Winnemem Wintu in Northern California, who aren’t recognized despite clear documentation by the United States government that they do, indeed, exist, recognition could mean the difference between preservation of their identity or total eradication. Their difficulties in simply holding their rites is only the tip of the iceberg, as plans to raise the Shasta Dam would flood their traditional sacred places. It’s clear that the voices of unrecognized tribes aren’t being heard, and that the process to being heard is no guarantee of success. It should be the duty of the entire interfaith community, particularly those who care about the preservation of sacred lands, to raise up their own voices and put pressure on the federal government to do more.

When a Daycare Becomes a Christian Daycare: The WaukeePatch in Iowa reports on a long-running daycare, and the changes that happened when the church that was renting space to them took over.

A Waukee church is being criticized by angry parents for forcing child-care staffers to adhere to Christian principles, banning non-Christians, sexually-active singles, male-female roommates and practicing homosexuals from employment. […] Employees wanting to remain needed to reapply for their positions and agree to the new guidelines. These new guidelines were spelled out in a Christian Lifestyle Agreement included with employment applications. The agreement states that “every employee accept and follow a lifestyle commitment based upon Biblical principles.”

At least one employee wouldn’t be able to reapply for her job since she’s a lesbian. Parents were given no warning of the switch-over. Shocking as this may be, this move doesn’t seem too surprising considering the fact that Point of Grace church is now run by a pastor, Jeff Mullen, who is markedly anti-gay and recently hosted Michele Bachmann during an Iowa campaign stop. Now that the daycare formerly known as “Happy Time” is a religiously-run organization, what Point of Grace is doing is now perfectly legal. This may not be an issue in isolation, but what happens when an entire community is run this way?  What happens is that tacitly enforced “no-go” areas for non-Christians are created.  I’m not attacking Point of Grace for running a religious organization they way they want to run it, but I do think this is a good example of what can happen when a community’s social safety net is placed in the hands of the dominant religious body.

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

Top Story: In the second part of a six-part series on the geopolitical ramifications of global warming in the Arctic, NPR’s Morning Edition focuses on Russia’s aggressive push to claim waterways and resources becoming available as the Arctic ice melts. One group that is particularly concerned over the rush to claim the Arctic is the indigenous Saami people, a group native to the Kola Peninsula of Russia. NPR interviews traditional singer Nadezhda Lyashenko, who discusses the environmental consequences of this rush to exploit one of the few remaining untouched regions on our planet.

Nadezhda Lyashenko. Photo: David Greene/NPR

The indigenous people of this region bore much of the brunt. The Saami tribe, for one, has lived centuries in Russia’s northwest, near the Norwegian border. Saami people were forcibly collectivized on farms under Stalin. Nadezhda Lyashenko, the Saami woman singing traditional tribal music here, can recount the horror stories. Her grandfather, a reindeer shepherd, was shot in 1937, accused of being a spy after he crossed into Finland chasing a reindeer herd. After decades of relative peace, Lyashenko says, trouble seems to be returning to her native Arctic lands. She sees Russia and other world powers in a race for oil and gas, ignoring the potential impact to a part of the Earth that’s been rarely touched. “The Arctic is just so fragile,” she says. “This time, it’s a research boat going out there. It’s like the prick of a needle, and the land will heal. But if they go with knives, with spears, they could break everything. And then what?”

The Saami and other indigenous peoples living in or near the Arctic, on the front lines of global climate change, could have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Sadly, the rights and concerns of the Saami are often ignored, or greeted with hostility by those who want economic development at any cost. For those who identify with the indigenous peoples and culture of Europe, the plight and position of the Saami should be of great concern. The trend of indigenous rights being undermined needs to be halted and reversed.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, finally saw a limited release in art-house theaters at the beginning of the Summer season. The film, despite doing very well in Europe, and getting generally positive reviews from American critics, has failed to draw a big audience or expand beyond its very limited release schedule. In These Times wonders why a film rife with conflicts that should resonate with American audiences has instead fallen flat.

“[Rachel Weisz’s] star turn as Hypatia, a scholar and astronomer of pagan background who preaches tolerance and brotherhood in late fourth-century Alexandria while scientifically probing the secrets of the solar system, is apparently not the stuff that draws Americans to the box office … highly prized internationally and Spain’s highest grossing film in 2009; yet it struggled for distribution in the United States before its release here on May 28. With a female intellectual as its hero and Christian fanatics as its villains, Agora’s limited American appeal is perhaps understandable.

Is it as simple as that? Christian villains and an intellectual hero? If so, Dan Brown’s thrillers (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons) wouldn’t have drawn hundreds of millions at the box-office. I think the answer is more complex than that. It is partially the fault of a timid distribution market, afraid of courting controversy (or at least the wrong kind of controversy), which allowed the film to wait in limbo for months. I also think the nature of the “Christian villains” is significant. It isn’t a few elites pulling strings and hatching evil plans, “Agora” certainly has those but it also shows Christian mobs killing pagans and Jews. It holds up a piece of history that many would like to forget, when the persecuted minority, now risen to power, started inflicting its own evils on the wider world.

The article ends with a note that “Agora” is “a warning of what happens when a single religious authority seizes total state power”, so it’s little wonder it’s not drawing crowds from the demographics who think we are indeed a “Christian nation”, and yearn for the primacy of Christian morality. So I fear I’ll have to wait for the DVD to see this film with the message a bit too prickly for mass public consumption.

A Biography of Sybil Leek: The Orlando Sentinel’s religion blog reports that a biography of Sybil Leek, one of the world’s most famous Witches, is being published. Leek was the prototype “media” Witch, appearing on Johnny Carson and in hundreds of other television programs and newspaper articles.

“Christine Jones, 73, of Satellite Beach,  says she wrote Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows as a tribute to the woman she says was a teacher and a warm and gentle friend. “She was like Mother Earth,” Jones said. Leek was one of the most famous practitioners of Wicca, a pagan faith sometimes known as Witchcraft or Craft. She made hundreds of television appearances in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s and wrote dozens of books, including Diary of a Witch. She even reportedly was an astrologer for former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Leek died in 1982 in Melbourne Beach. Jones said she met Leek in the 1970s, after an out-of-body experience led her to contact Leek for help understanding what had happened to her. After moving to Florida in 1977, Jones, then a nurse, studied one-on-one with Leek — the last such student, Jones said. The biography, which Jones said took her several years to write, is a personal look at a woman who was simultaneously larger than life and “so normal.”

You can pre-order the book at Pendraig Publishing. I suspect you’ll also be able to order it through Amazon soon enough as well. Biographies are a rare thing within our communities, so I’ll always welcome one more.

Equal Reactions to An Atheist Prime Minister? Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars looks at religious reactions to the ascension of a female atheist, Julia Gillard, to Australia’s highest office. In his mind the rantings of Christian fire-breather Danny Nalliah (who I’ve mentioned here before) are equal to a rather more peaceful reaction by local Wiccans.

Pastor Danny Nalliah of the Catch the Fire Ministries. He claims that a godless Gillard is out to ”destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage,” outlaw worship altogether and turn Australia into another ”Communist China” … Melbourne witch and high priestess Lizzy Rose and her coven will invite Ms Gillard’s energy into their magic circle to speak about ”her intentions of where she is taking the country”. Ms Rose says her divinations ”will prove to us whether Julia is going to govern through ego or through her heart space”. If Ms Gillard, an avowed atheist, passes the ”heart-space” test, Ms Rose says she’ll get the endorsement of her Order of Wisdom, Learning and Light. ”We’re not trying to recruit her against her will,” she says. ”We see her as a high priestess anyway, regardless of her atheism.”

Now, I can see that an atheist might think both are equally loony. But Brayton goes on to call the Wiccans “creepy” and “every bit as bad as the egregious stupidity being offered by the fundamentalist Christians”. Really? Every bit as bad? One thinks Gillard is a devil who wants to impose Communist rule, and the other wants to speak to her energy body in a circle and honors her as a priestess, and those reactions are equatable? I mean, I get that he thinks all religion is crazy, but these reactions are not coming from the same place, or have the same intentions. In all honesty I think Lizzy Rose might have chosen to keep that ritual to herself, but she is harming no-one and is certainly not the provocateur that Nalliah is. To equate them is silly at best, and at worst drives wedges between atheists and other religious minorities that might find common cause.

Restoring Native Lands: The latest issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating feature on how several Native American Tribes are reversing years of environmental abuse on their ancestral homes, restoring the lands that were once taken from them.

“In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana became the first in the nation to set aside tribal land—92,000 acres of the Flathead Reservation’s mountains and meadows—as wilderness. Since then, the Nez Perce have acquired 16,286 acres of ancestral lands in northeast Oregon that they will manage solely to benefit fish and wildlife. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in northeastern Montana are working to bring back bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. In Minnesota the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, have restored a ravaged walleye population at Red Lake. And on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona the threatened Apache trout is finding a new home, and the forest is now managed with ecology, not just lumber, in mind.”

There has been much talk lately on how Pagans can be leaders and agents of change regarding our current environmental problems, perhaps the quiet good stewardship of these tribal nations can become a model for our own modest lands. An ethic of responsibility and interconnectedness.

Revival of Folk Religion in China? NPR has been running a series on religion in China, and today’s segment on All Things Considered is supposed to cover the revival of folk religions in that country. Here’s a small bit about that subject in the introductory segment from July 18th.

Across China, religious belief has blossomed and flourished — far outpacing the government’s framework to control it — with a profusion of charismatic movements and a revival in traditional Chinese religions. Two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious in the 2006 survey said they were Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of folk gods such as the Dragon King or the God of Fortune. Another popular goddess is Mazu, who is believed to protect sailors. Although she is included in the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons, she — and many other indigenous popular gods — falls outside China’s five official religions. However, the worship of Mazu recently has been reclassified as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice, making it acceptable even for Communist Party members. Academics say that model is being used elsewhere in China for other indigenous folk religions. There are also government attempts to support traditional Chinese practices such as ancestor worship, by changing the public holidays. In 2009, the government declared the Qingming Festival — the traditional day for sweeping graves — a public holiday for the first time, allowing much larger numbers of people to sweep their ancestral graves. “Now the government supports us,” says Shao Longshan, his cheeks still tear-stained after bowing deeply in front of the grave of his late wife, Zhu Jiefen, at a cemetery on the outskirts of Shanghai during the Qingming Festival in early April. “Not only does this let the people who are alive remember those who have gone, but [it allows us to] keep the Chinese traditions and culture.”

So be sure to tune in to your local NPR station and give a listen. The transcript will most likely be up tomorrow, here. What will a revival of indigenous religion in China mean for the future? A simple counter-balance, along with Buddhism and Taoism, to the growing influence of Christianity? Or will their be a new political consciousness among those who adhere to these deities? Will these believers form new ties outside of China with Pagan, Hindu, or indigenous groups?

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

Yesterday the NPR interview program Fresh Air interviewed actress/comedienne Samantha Bee of The Daily Show fame on the release of her new memoir “I Know I Am, But What Are You?”, which includes tales of growing up with a Wiccan mom while harboring a crush on Jesus Christ.

“Ms. BEE: And she found it really repellant. My father is just a complete atheist and my mother is into Wicca. So she decided that it was – she felt compelled to introduce me to some other stuff, so she made me go to like a Wiccan mass, which was just horrible for me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: Just terrifying.

GROSS: We should explain that Wiccan means more of a kind of contemporary, kind of feminist-spiritual approach to witchcraft.

Ms. BEE: Mm-hmm. Yes. Yes. It was very important to her. It has always been very important to her. But to me it was just satanic, because I just thought it was. It was just the people sort of looked vaguely – it was just too counterculture for me. But she, you know, she made me go and attend some rituals and it was terrifying. I found it just terrifying.

GROSS: You know, I’ve known people who have been into Wicca but I’ve never really known the child of somebody who’s been into it and I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be the child of somebody who has beliefs that are considered like far out of the mainstream like that.

Ms. BEE: Well, when I – I kind of felt sorry for my mother when I was growing up because I was so into Jesus. I thought oh, this poor lamb of God. She doesn’t understand. She just doesn’t get it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BEE: But now, I mean, you know, I’m proud of my mom. She stuck with it. You know, lots of people don’t stick with it, but she’s always had her little, her, you know, oh that was so, oh her little amulets. That’s terrible. But she’s always had her rituals and the things that she does. It’s really an important part of her life. And so I respect the fact that she stuck with something.

Now, it’s not for me. It’s not for my husband, but she loves it and so, I wouldn’t say that it’s – it’s not horrible or terrifying. It’s not very intrusive when you’re growing up. It’s the most unobtrusive religious practice imaginable. It’s very not in your face. It’s kind of a private thing and people gather on the wrong side of the tracks to practice, whatever it is that they’re doing. Being a child of Wicca has not affected me negatively. And you get to know a lot about plants.”

There’s more at the official transcript, including discussion of the term “warlock” and whether “witchcraft” is the appropriate term to use. You can listen to the program, here. What’s interesting about the interview, besides the fact that Fresh Air host Terry Gross “knows people who have been into Wicca” yet considers modern Paganism “far out of the mainstream”, is the fact that it drives home that modern Paganism is a multi-generational faith. Bee’s mother probably came to Wicca in the 1980s, when books like “The Spiral Dance” and “Drawing Down the Moon” were making waves, and Bee was a teenager, now Bee is 40 (only four years older than myself) with children of her own. Unlike Bee, it’s very likely that many adult children of the 1970s-80s Pagan converts have retained and cherished some sort of Pagan identity, a notion that flies in the face of critics who like to portray Paganism as either a refuge of 60s-era feminists or goth teenagers.

Thanks to Chas Clifton for the heads-up on this story. Oh, and if Samantha Bee’s mom is reading The Wild Hunt, I’d love to interview you about the difficulties in raising a teen with a crush on Jesus! Just drop me a line!