Archives For On Faith

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.

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

George W. Bush speaking at a Christian Coalition gathering. (William Philpott/Getty Images)

  • Is the Religious Right finished? Damon Linker argues the case that it is. Quote: “Its decline since 2005 can be traced to numerous causes: The right’s widespread disappointment with the legacy of the Bush years across a range of areas, including fiscal, foreign, and social policy; the shift of the national GOP toward economic libertarianism in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, the election of Barack Obama, the rise of the Tea Party, and the passage of health care reform; and finally, a dramatic and rapid shift in the culture, especially among the young, away from politicized religion and toward the acceptance of gay marriage.” Meanwhile, Forbes says “not so fast” on the end of the Religious Right stuff.
  • Religion News Service reports on the rise of green burials, and how the move makes different religious believers feel more in tune with their faith. “The Green Burial Council has certified nearly 400 providers in 46 states. Some of them have religious orientations. And even some that are not certified consider themselves already green because their faiths have for millennia taken an ecologically friendly approach to death.” It should be noted that there are several Pagans involved in the green burial movement, including Circle Sanctuary’s Circle Cemetery.
  • A mask an American Indian curandero prescribed to a client was seized at the Arizona border due to it being marked with chicken blood and feathers. Quote: “Officers say the mask was deemed suspicious and seized because of the blood and feathers. They say the mask contained materials of a prohibitive nature that have the potential to transmit avian diseases. The mask was turned over to officials in Customs and Border Protection’s agriculture division. It ultimately was incinerated.” The statue looks pretty familiar, don’t you think?
  • The bad news is you might not be psychic, the good news is that your brain might be smarter than you think. Here’s a link to the study the video references.
  • The Guardian is up to bat reviewing Ronald Hutton’s “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “One of the austere pleasures of Pagan Britain lies in its frequent reminders that every age invents its own past, and that ‘it is impossible to determine with any precision the nature of the religious beliefs and rites of the prehistoric British’.” The reviewer, sadly, takes some petty rhetorical swipes at Pagan religions, something Hutton himself would never do.

  • PRI’s The World spotlights Haitian artist Erol Josué, who works to preserve his Vodou faith. Quote: “Last year, he took a government job as head of Haiti’s National Ethnology Office. He’s on a mission to get Haitians to realize that they need to embrace their vodou heritage — whether they agree or not. [...] ‘Vodou has never been a religion of conquest,” he says. “We don’t raise awareness to convert people to vodou, but to educate them about the importance of the national identity, the importance of respecting the sites, of respecting the patrimony.'”
  • There were/are plenty of pious pagans, and Christians can learn a lot from them. Quote: “Paganism tends to have a bad name, and surely there is reason for this. At the same time, there is a tradition, especially among Christians, of honoring and imitating the greatness of pagans. For one thing, many pagans were profoundly religious, even pious people. We seriously misjudge at least some of our ancient forebears if we do not see the extent to which their life centered on the divine.”
  • In the UK, sometimes your neighbors will call emergency services if you’re too noisy about the Witchcraft. Quote: “A second call came from Holsworthy in July 2012 from a woman who was ‘convinced that her neighbours are in a witches coven type set up as she sees them night and day running around outside screaming in tongues.’ A third Holsworthy caller rang police in August 2012 accusing a man in Southampton of using witchcraft.” So be cool on the screaming folks, it scares people.
  • Civil rights activist Eliyahu Federman calls the resurgence of exorcisms in the Catholic Church “alarming.” Quote: “The Catholic Church attributes the rise in demonic cases to people dabbling in paganism, Ouija boards and black magic, but my sneaking suspicion is that mental health issues, along with the rise of fiction horror movie fantasies, are a more likely cause. [...] Legitimizing exorcisms makes a mockery of religion and poses a threat to society.”
  • OnFaith, once part of The Washington Post, has left the paper, and is now part of FaithStreet. Quote: “We will continue to publish some daily news and opinion pieces from top writers and other folks whose perspectives need to be heard. But we have lots of other ideas, and we hope to get to do all of them in time. Our first new initiative is to publish Weekly Issues—to have one topic per week and publish a mixture of stories, essays, videos, illustrations and more on that topic.” Another competitor in the religion portal world? Will there be Pagans?
  • An international group of Dharma teachers have issued a statement on climate change. Quote: “When we come together to celebrate our love for the natural world and all of the beings that inhabit it, and when we take a stand to counter the forces of craving, aversion, and delusion, we reclaim our own inner stability and strength and live closer to the truth, closer to the Dharma. Together, we can seek to ensure that our descendants and fellow species inherit a livable planet. Individually and collectively, we will be honoring the great legacy of the Dharma and fulfill our heart’s deepest wish to serve and protect all life.”
  • How do you get the “nones” to vote for you? Quote: “The other side of religious nonaffiliation, and what politicians often neglect, is that for spiritual voters the sacred strongly persists. Reading them narrowly as atheists or secularists misses out on the political rewards that come from constituents feeling seen and understood. This sacred is various, but it coheres for many in its resistance to religious enclosure and its support of certain progressive values. Politicians fire up religious blocs through careful attunement to religious values. Better attunement to spiritual values will help inspire spiritual voters.”

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.

Author, activist, and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has been attending several Occupy gatherings in California and writing about those experiences at her blog. In addition, she has also written about Occupy Wall Street for the Washington Post’s On Faith section.

Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland

“At its essence, the message of the Occupations is simply this: “Here in the face of power we will sit and create a new society, in which you do count. Your voice carries weight, your contributions have value, whoever you may be. We care for one another, and we say that love and care are the true foundations for the society we want to live in. We’ll stand with the poor and sleep with the homeless if that’s what it takes to get justice. We’ll build a new world.” The Occupy movement is not overtly religious, like the Tea Party. The 99 percent includes people of all religious faiths, and people who have none. But I believe its core message and ethic is profoundly spiritual, even prophetic.”

Starhawk goes on to say that the Occupy movement “renews my faith in the human spirit, in our creativity, our craving for justice, our determination to root our world in love.” As mentioned above, you can read her ongoing reports from the various Occupy gatherings in California at her personal blog.

For more on Pagan reactions to the Occupy movement, check out these reports from PNC-Bay Area and PNC-Minnesota. You may also enjoy these recent blog posts from Alison Leigh Lilly, T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Gus diZerega.

I have a new piece up at the Washington Post’s On Faith section examining the importance of the recent video Pagan media press conference with Republican presidential candidate, and former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson.

Screenshot of the Johnson-Pagan Media Conference

Screenshot of the Johnson-Pagan Media Conference

Here’s a short excerpt:

“What does it all mean? I think it represents two opportunities. First, there’s an opportunity for politicians to realize that America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage. Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”

I hope you’ll head over and read the whole thing, and leave your thoughts in the comments section. This “town hall” has gotten far more attention than I thought it would, getting noticed by congressional paper The Hill, snarked about at Wonkette, New York Magazine, and Gawker, and reported on by New Mexico newspapers. This may not be the kind of attention Johnson hoped for, but I do think that his choice to do this will have resonance far beyond his campaign, and could start to change the way politicians view religious minorities.

Top Story: A local Nevada television station is reporting that Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, had her truck vandalized. The Stewart’s were at the heart of a campaign to grant Wiccan soldiers the right to have the pentacle engraved on their military tombstone or marker after ten years of stonewalling by the VA. While the act is attributed to local vandals, the report does explore the possibility that the brick thrown at her truck was connected to anti-Pagan sentiment.

But there’s another more remote, but more disturbing possibility: Roberta Stewart’s very public dispute with the Veteran’s Administration following her husband’s death. Although the Army recognized Patrick Stewart’s religion, it took a lawsuit against the V-A and government intervention to get the Wiccan faith’s symbol, a pentacle, placed on his marker at the veterans cemetery in Fernley. She won that fight, but the marker was vandalized shortly after it was installed. Roberta has continued to be a vocal advocate for religious tolerance and slain soldiers’ families. It’s a stance that still stirs strong emotions in some. She still gets angry emails. She doubts her truck was targeted for that reason, but can’t help but wonder. “We still get things where people don’t believe that we have the right to practice religious freedom, so it could have. I can’t be the one to answer that, but i would hope not.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who worked closely with Roberta Stewart during the Veteran Pentacle Campaign, issued the following statement on her official Facebook Pagan.

“Please send healing, strength, and protection to Roberta Stewart, the courageous Wiccan Afghanistan War Widow who was with me on the front-lines of the successful quest to the get US Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Pentacle to the list of emblems that can be included on the grave markers they issue to honor deceased veterans.”

While this vandalism is terrible, I do hope that it truly was random, as evidence suggests, and not motivated by religious hatred. My best wishes go out to Roberta Stewart, may she have all the strength and healing she needs, and may the perpetrators be caught.

In Other News:

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

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Texas Governor, and possible GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry has endorsed ‘The Response’ a prayer event scheduled for August 6 in Texas. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” Perry wrote on the event’s official Web site. Perry’s critics are concerned about his distinctly Christian approach to public prayer as well as his association, through ‘The Response,’ with several problematic pastors, among them John Hagee, controversial for his comments on Israel, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, and C. Peter Wagner, who has suggested that the Catholic veneration of saints is an evil practice.Should politicians be judged by the religious company they keep?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

We would be foolish to ignore how a politician’s religious beliefs, and which religious figures they rely on for support, shapes their policy decisions. It is especially dangerous for religious minorities who have been rhetorical and practical targets of politically active conservative Christian leaders to pretend that people like Rick Perry won’t be beholding to them should he run for, and subsequently become, president. Due to the unique “bully pulpit” power possessed by our Commander in Chief even comments made before a politician becomes president can later be interpreted into policy by his administration. There is a strong indication this happened during the presidency of George W. Bush, who famously remarked in 1999 that “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it.” In this case “it” was allowing Pagan soldiers to freely practice their religion at Fort Hood in Texas, but nearly a decade later the Washington Post reported on a case involving grave markers for fallen Pagan soldiers where Barry Lynn of Americans United said that discovery documents showed “references to Bush’s remarks … in memos and e-mails within the VA.” In Lynn’s opinion “the president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level.” In short, rhetoric, especially when you go on to lead the world’s most powerful nation, does matter, as does the rhetoric of those who have played king-maker during the election.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

Top Story: The planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” has officially launched its Kickstarter fundraising campaign (complete with fundraising pitch video featuring Starhawk). They are looking to raise $60,000 dollars in 60 days. There has been just over $10,000 dollars pledged in the first two days. The money will be used to make a professional pitch video to the major film studios.

“Now we’re asking for your support.  What will we do with the money?  You’ve seen in the video some of the brilliant artists who inspire us, and who want to work with us.  With your help, we’ll be able to create the next phase; designs for sets and costumes, visuals of key scenes, and storyboards for the action.  We can secure the rights to the music and art we need, and do those dull but oh-so-necessary things like finalizing contracts, budgets and financial plans.  To ensure that we are able to continue to develop the strongest possible project, we estimate that we’ll need about double our Kickstarter campaign goal of $60,000, and we’re certain that with your help, along with the tremendous support we’ve been receiving from our entire community, we can do it.”

The official website for the film is here.  They are also encouraging folks to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter. If this succeeds it will be the largest sum of money collectively raised on the Internet for a campaign originating with modern Pagans. Doubling what was raised earlier this year for Japan relief. I’ll have more on this project soon, hopefully including an interview with Starhawk about the proposed film.

Interview with Iceland’s Allsherjargoði: Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried at The Norse Mythology Blog interviews Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, chief priest of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið. In the interview they discuss art, mythology, working with Sigur Rós, and the question of pre-Christian survivals (among other things).

KS – Do you see contemporary Ásatrú in Iceland as a continuation of a living tradition that goes back to ancient times, as a recreation and revival of a practice that had ended, as a descendent of 19th century nationalist romantic mysticism, as a post-war rejection of modernity, or as a post-1960s counterculture movement?

HÖH – I think, probably, I would say “yes” to all those things. The influence of this seems to resonate with Icelanders. The poems never really went away, and they’ve been treasured ever since they were handed down orally and written down. I’m pretty certain that the people in the learned places of Oddi and Reykholt and [elsewhere] were reading Ovid and Roman mythology, and they realized, “My god, we have this thinghere which is a living and vibrant thing, and this is what my great-grandfather believed in,” and stuff like that. I think it never really went away.

It was said – after the conversion in 1000 or 999 – that you could not worship the old gods except in secrecy. That was part of the truce. People carried on secret worship for at least two centuries. I don’t think it ever really went away. To illustrate that, I met this old man in the shop yesterday. He came up to me and shook my hand, and he told me that – when he was confirmed in the early 1920s – his grandmother came to him and gave him a book with the Eddic poems and said, “You should read that, because this is what we also believe.” She thought, “Christianity is okay, but you should not forget your roots.” Ha! I think that’s really a telling story.

The whole thing is worth a read, and that’s only part one! Check out the entire blog, which is chock-full of interesting interviews, including one with Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir of the Ásatrúarfélagið.

A Wiccaning at PSG: Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota has posted a brief report and pictures of a Wiccaning that took place earlier this week at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois.


“Rev. Fox blessed the child with element of earth, air, water, fire, and spirit and gifted Arden with a feather found on site.  Arden enjoyed the first half of the ceremony, especially when Fox played peek-a-boo with him.  But as the sun came out, so did some tears.  Rev. Fox noted that was just what Arden should expect from  life, times of laughter and times of tears.  The parents, Kidril and Twitch, then gave their baby his first drum and gave him their blessings.  The community was then invited to grant Arden blessings such as friendship, comfort, peace, and love.”

I realize that a Wiccaning (or ‘saining’) at a festival isn’t the biggest news, but I don’t feel enough attention is paid to our faiths outside of big events or inadvertent scandals. Depictions of modern Pagans living their faith, going through life’s many transitions, can be an important tool for outreach and understanding. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Kidril, Twitch, and Arden for agreeing to share this moment with the world.

My Take on Religious Exemptions: My latest panelist response for the Washington Post’s On Faith section is now up. This time I tackled the issue of religious exemptions in New York’s proposed gay marriage bill.

“Often overlooked in this wrangling over exemptions are religious groups that fully support equal rights and protections for all American citizens, even the gay ones. Gay marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial among modern Pagan faiths. Druid group Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF)has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender,” while Pagan scholar Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion,”underlines that sentiment by proclaiming that “freedom has to be the highest Pagan goal and virtue.” Gay marriage has been endorsed by notable Pagan leaders like my fellow co-panelist Starhawk, along with leading Pagan organizations like Covenant of the Goddess (COG) and Cherry Hill Seminary. Yet, despite this, few seem unconcerned that one religious moral view concerning marriage is allowed to override another. The simple fact is that certain Christian and Catholic groups are used to getting their way, and it matters little to them if a moral world-view they endorse overrules the world-views of other religious groups. So the more exemptions granted, the more we’re tacitly saying a socially conservative Judeo-Christian approach to these issues is the de facto “religious” perspective.”

You can read my entire response, here. You can responses from the entire panel, here.

In Other News:

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

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

“The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,” former President Jimmy Carter said last week. Many traditions teach that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women. Those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions in their religious communities. What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

If the goddesses are suppressed, if they are erased from history, reduced to lesser roles, or turned into demons, then there is no divinity that reflects the female experience. Instead of being the originators of life, subduers of injustice, and the source of all sovereignty, women are instead bearers of the “original sin.” No sane philosopher or theologian can claim this doesn’t change the very nature of a culture, or the way we perceive gender. Imagine for a moment how different the ever-raging debate over legal access to abortion, or even contraception, whether for or against, would be if women were seen as the final holy arbiters in the matter of creating life. I can only guess we’d see something very different from the parade of old white male politicians exclaiming about “moral” issues and threatening basic health care for women in the process. Once you open your mind to that first exercise in a world with goddesses it’s hard not to think of dozens, hundreds, more. Female priests and feminine divine pronouns would hardly skim the surface.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

I have a special editorial up at the Washington Post’s On Faith section about the religiously-motivated firing of Pagans, and the case of Carole A. Smith, who was seemingly fired from the TSA for her adherence to Wicca.

What happened to Carole A. Smith is, sadly, all too common a story for many pagans. Smith, a TSA agent in Albany, NY, endured bizarre claims, indifferent superiors, workplace harassment, and finally, termination.

Like many pagans, she wasn’t officially fired for being a pagan, but was subject to a “death from a thousand cuts,” where every minor slip-up is obsessively cataloged until a legally acceptable threshold for dismissal is reached. This was starkly conveyed when msnbc.com revealed an email exchange between two of Smith’s supervisors: the first read, “Hammer Time,” with the response, “Not yet – not enough.” Because Smith works at the TSA, a government agency, her story is now making headlines, and her chances of proper legal recourse are increased because of it.

I’d like to thank the Washington Post for allowing me to present a Pagan perspective on this important story, and I hope you’ll head over, read it, and share it with others.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will begin holding hearings Thursday on “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has characterized the hearings as “a witch hunt.” Are they?

King also has said he believes the “self-radicalization” of American Muslims represents“a very small minority” of the overall community. What are the potential consequences of singling out one religious group?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

As a member of a religious minority, I understand the peril in being labeled as the dangerous “other”. Too far outside the accepted mainstream to fully enjoy the rights and protections of “normal” citizens. At this moment there are Pagans in the “broom” closet because they know their children will be taken away should they speak publicly about their beliefs. There are Pagans in American prisons being denied basic access to religious counsel or materials. For too long even Pagan soldiers were denied the dignity of an emblem on their gravestones. Things are far better now for my family of faiths than 10, 20, or 30 years ago, but I’m old enough to remember the moral “satanic” panics of the 1980s, and how easy it would be for things to slip down that road again should some instigating incident turn public opinion against us. When I see hearings so transparently showy, so obviously about garnering political favor and throwing red meat to their voting base, my first thought is always: who’s next.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts. Also, since I didn’t post about it here, do check out my response from last week dealing with abortion.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Former Arkansas governor and 2012 presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee found himself in hot water this week after he called Islam the “antithesis of the gospel of Christ” and said that churches that share worship space with Muslims are caving to a religion “that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated.”

In an analysis of how Islam may shape campaign politics, Politico’s Bryon Tau wrote: “As Republican candidates define their national security stands in the 2012 elections, conservative discomfort with Islam in America will be a feature of the debate.”

Should Islam be debated on the campaign trail? Are religious issues in danger of being exploited?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

My modest proposal: if we cannot leave religion off the stump, cannot resist hobnobbing at the pulpit, and glad-handing at the megachurch, then let us at least expand the parameters. How wonderful would it be if inherently pluralistic faith groupings like Hinduism, Buddhism, or modern Paganism were also allowed to ask questions on the same national podium that Christians now claim as their own? What if we allowed indigenous voices to ask moral questions of our prospective leaders instead of ceding that honor to the Rick Warrens of this world? If Muslims are to be so central to some political careers, to electoral futures, why not have each of these men of power sit down with a panel of Muslim leaders and academics to discuss their views? For surely, if a belief cannot withstand honest and open questioning, then it is worthless as guiding political policy.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.