Archives For OTO

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.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973′s “The Wicker Man” and 2012′s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.’” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.’” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.’” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

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.

The Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a fraternal and religious organization which boasts magician and philosopher Aleister Crowley as its most famous member, and subsequently are legal caretakers of much of Crowley’s intellectual property, recently made several important announcements concerning one of Crowley’s most important co-creations: The Thoth Tarot. The Thoth deck was a joint effort of Crowley and the artist Lady Frieda Harris, and is one of the most influential tarot decks of our modern age. The deck drew from many of Crowley’s magical theories, and incorporated substantial changes from the dominant Rider-Waite deck. In their April 10th news release, the O.T.O. announced that Lady Harris’ tarot art, which has recently been restored by a conservation specialist at the Warburg Institute (which own the original paintings), will be given a major showing at the Venice Biennale.

"Adjustment" by Lady Frieda Harris

“Adjustment” by Lady Frieda Harris

“The Biennale is the first time so many Thoth paintings will be on public display for such a length of time—about 5 months. Attendance at the last Biennale approached 400,000, so this will introduce the Thoth Tarot to a large, new and sophisticated audience. [...]  The nine paintings included are: Atu VIII – Adjustment, 1940, Atu XII – The Hanged Man, 1938–40, Atu XV – The Devil, 1938–40, Atu XVI – The Tower (or: War), 1939, Atu XVIII – The Moon, 1938–40, Atu XIX – The Sun, 1938, Queen of Wands, 1938–40, Ace of Cups, 1940, Queen of Cups, 1938–40.” 

This is amazing news for those who’ve longed to see Lady Frieda Harris’ work in person, but perhaps the even bigger news is that the O.T.O. has also announced that it will be litigating against U.S. Games over their publication of the Thoth tarot deck.

“O.T.O. is filing suit in U.S. Federal Court against U.S. Games Systems, and perhaps others, over the Thoth Tarot Deck. Years ago O.T.O. licensed the Thoth Tarot to AGMüller (whose assets are now part of Königsfurt Urania, a division of Carta Mundi, the world’s largest card producer). In an attempt (clearly misguided in retrospect) to “make room” in the deal for U.S. Games, who had long published the deck under an arrangement with Samuel Weiser dating from the days when the deck was public domain in the U.S.A., we set up the deal to let U.S. Games continue in North America, supplied with the decks by AGMüller, with U.S. Games executing a separate license with O.T.O.—the U.S. copyright to the Thoth Tarot had by then been restored, in 1996. We concluded our contract with AGMüller for world distribution less North America. The “set-aside” of North America to accomodate U.S. Games gave rise to a last-minute clause in our contract with AGMüller that allowed AGMüller to ship decks to U.S. Games royalty unpaid—it being understood that U.S. Games would take care of its royalty obligations for North American English sales through the separate contract that they were expected to conclude with O.T.O. To my surprise and dismay U.S. Games then refused to sign the contract—or even discuss the contract any longer; and this was the contract that O.T.O. had negotiated hard with AGMüller to get for U.S. Games. Sadly, this loophole in our AGMüller contract has been exploited ever since, to the detriment of both copyright owners of theThoth Tarot. The grand total paid to the copyright owners for North American English language deck sales (by far the largest market in the world) has been exactly zero.”

If I understand this correctly, the allegation is that U.S. Games is exploiting a contract loophole to avoid paying royalties due the O.T.O., and doing so under the pretense that they don’t have to since they’ve never signed a contract. If this is accurate, then it would make two very popular tarot decks that U.S. Games is enriching itself with on uncertain legal footing. As I reported back in December of 2012, U.S. Games claims to have sole control over the Rider-Waite tarot deck despite A.E. Waite’s works entering the public domain in much of the world starting in 2013. In that case, U.S. Games is claiming Rider-Waite artist Pamela Coleman Smith as a full co-creator despite evidence that points to her paintings being done as “work-for-hire.”

"The Lovers" by Lady Frieda  Harris

“The Lovers” by Lady Frieda Harris

“Starting in 2013 the primary question will rest on what rights, if any, deck illustrator Pamela Colman Smith had to the work. Were they work for hire, or is Smith to be considered a co-author, blocking the deck from entering the public domain? In the past U.S. Games itself has acknowledged that their copyright claims rest with Waite, and that it all ends in 2012 [...] However, a 2008 interview (published in 2010) with U.S. Games founder Stuart Kaplan makes it very plain that the company has changed course and now believes their rights extend until 70 years after the 1951 death of Smith.”

In the case of the Rider-Waite deck, U.S. Games is betting that no one will have the time or resources to commit to a major legal challenge before their time finally runs out in 2021 and the original deck unarguably enters the public domain, but it’s a different story with the O.T.O. who have already fought and won legal battles relating to their control over the Thoth deck.

“OTO filed suit in US Federal Court in Southern California against Focus Features, NBC Universal and Vivendi for copyright infringement in connection with the appropriation of images from the Thoth Tarot cards to promote the Woody Allen film “Scoop,” where they were used on the poster, DVD packaging and in the press kits. The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Under the terms of the agreement, the details of the settlement are confidential. This was a significant legal case, since OTO took on the world’s largest media conglomerate, represented by the best law firm in Hollywood. We have long taken on corporations many times our size before, e.g. Simon and Schuster, Doubleday and Harper and Row, but NBC Universal Vivendi is many, many times larger and more powerful than all these combined.”

Further, the O.T.O. seems completely unafraid of U.S. Game’s litigious muscle saying they are “prepared thoroughly for the case, both legally and financially,” that they “fully expect a typical American-style defense strategy that seeks to pit their considerable financial resources against ours” and are “confident of winning.”

To say it will be interesting to see what happens next is a vast understatement. Though some may not realize it, the market for tarot, divination, novelty, and gaming cards is huge, and U.S. Games has been making millions of dollars over the past several decades thanks to its control over popular decks like the Rider-Waite and the Thoth. If the O.T.O.’s confidence in their case bears out, it could mean a new American publisher for the Thoth deck, the deck going out of print in America for an undetermined period, or possibly a large settlement from U.S. Games (or some combination of these). Further, this case could raise troubling ethical issues relating to how U.S. Games has been doing business, issues which might concern authors and artists contracted with the company.

I have contacted U.S. Games for an official statement or response to the O.T.O.’s allegations, and will print that here once/if I receive anything. The Wild Hunt will continue to follow this story as it develops.

ADDENDUM: Stuart Kaplan, founder of U.S. Games, sent me the following statement in reply to my queries.

“U. S. Games Systems is a distributor of the Crowley decks which are published by AGMuller who we understand holds a license from OTO. AGMuller no longer publishes the extra Magus cards, and they are not available. U.S. Games Systems has not received any filing of litigation. The company has not done anything wrong and it will vigorously defend against any lawsuit.”

Yesterday Michael Staley at Starfire Publishing announced to the public that British occultist and writer Kenneth Grant passed away on January 15th.

“Kenneth Grant died on 15th January 2011 after a period of illness. Our condolences go first and foremost to his family, whose privacy is something which we all wish to respect at this difficult time.

Kenneth Grant had an extraordinary life, and his work has a remarkable depth and breadth of magical and mystical insight. In particular, his monumental series of Typhonian Trilogies is creative, innovatory and inspiring, extending across thirty years from the publication of the opening volume The Magical Revival in 1972, to the appearance of the final volume The Ninth Arch in 2002. This is a substantial body of work, constituting a solid foundation for further development, widening and deepening in the years to come; his work will continue.”


Portrait of Kenneth Grant by Austin Osman Spare.

Grant had a long and passionate interest in the practice of magic. He studied and corresponded directly with Aleister Crowley, and subsequently devoted a large potion of his life and writings to Thelema and the the Ordo Templi Orientis. Grant and his wife Steffi also had a personal and working relationship with artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare. By the 1950s, Grant had fallen out with Karl Germer, Outer Head of the Order (OHO) of Ordo Templi Orientis, which sparked a schism and the foundation of The Typhonian Order (aka the Typhonian Ordo Templi Orientis). Over the subsequent decades these two groups would battle over legitimacy and the use the name “O.T.O” until very recently, when Grant’s order lost the right to use the name.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this tension over succession, Grant was a hugely influential writer, thinker, and magician. At the news of his death yesterday, tributes from all corners of the magickal/occult world started to pour out.

“Rest well, occultist Kenneth Grant. May the next leg of the journey be as interesting as your time on earth.”T. Thorn Coyle

“Kenneth Grant was a most significant author to many of us young magicians in the 1970′s. He revived Austin Spare through his books and articles in Man Myth and Magic and deserves to be remembered for that and his kindness to the artist during his life. His remarkable magical partnership with Steffi Grant is without parallel. His life spanned contact with the Old Guard occultists and he spoke the language of the modernist magician. He was a generous correspondent and kind to me and others in our interactions with him. I shall miss him.” - Geraldine Beskin, The Atlantis Bookshop.

“Kenneth Grant’s occultism was not the fervent, dry adherence of the ideologue. Rather, he fashioned a deeply personal, fantastical, dynamic, and intricate system of magic woven together from syncretic elements of Tantra, Voudon, Gnosticism, Surrealism, fiction and a variety of other exotic threads. Building on the foundations of Crowley’s work, Grant expanded the current understanding of the meaning and implications of the “Law of Thelema”. Much like the mystic William Blake, Grant forged his own path beyond esoteric speculation, writing first-hand accounts of what he perceived to exist outside of the range of mundane experience.”Scott Spencer, Coilhouse

“Grant left a powerful and irreparable stamp on the practice of ceremonial magick and occultism, and those who practice chaos magick, emulate the practices of Austin Spare, seek to integrate ATR beliefs and practices into their western occultism and magick, develop a system of magick based on the Necronomicon and the Chthulhu mythos, practice lefthand tantra, or who seek a deeper understanding and appreciation of the writings of Crowley, owe him a great debt of gratitude. Grant seemed to leave no stone unturned, and he managed to forge together the dispirit threads of post modern occultism, science fiction and fantasy, horror fiction, exotic ethnic traditions and obscure antiquities, producing a blend of dark occultism and Lefthand Path practices. If you have even the faintest attraction to the dark side of occultism and magick, then Grant is likely your spiritual godfather, whether or not you have read his books.”Frater Barrabbas

For more on the life and influence of Kenneth Grant, I would recommend checking out artist and researcher Scott Spencer’s obituary for Coilhouse, and the Fulgur publishing house biography. Many of Grant’s works can be purchased through Starfire Publishing.

My best wishes and condolences to Grant’s friends and family. I wish Kenneth Grant well as he begins the next leg of his journey.

Top Story: In northern New York state Krista Marie Goley is charged with manslaughter in the stabbing death of her boyfriend Timothy C. Rolland. While there is no evidence that Goley’s religion had anything to do with the stabbing, it’s brought up in a negative light by Watertown Daily Times reporter David Shampine and the victim’s family.

“We had warned Tim to get out of that relationship,” Mrs. Rolland said. “He told us she is bipolar, and she was a Wiccan. He was staring at the devil in the face.” On Ms. Goley’s MySpace page, she lists her religion as “Wiccan,” and for an occupation, she lists, “US ARMY 88M/ Wiccan.” The background of the MySpace page is covered with images of pentacles, a five-pointed star often used as a symbol of Wicca, which is a neopagan religion that utilizes witchcraft.

The question is why did the reporter think Goley’s religion is pertinent in this case? There’s been no sign that the murder was religiously motivated, or that it had ritualistic overtones. You could have just as easily listed the fact that she likes to play Pokemon or that she likes the “Resident Evil” movie. No Wiccan text of any sort I’ve ever read has advocated for murder, so the inclusion of Wicca (which “utilizes witchcraft”) in this article just muddies the water for the purposes of some cheap sensationalism. One wonders if the Watertown Daily Times would have made of point of mentioning her faith if she was Catholic or  a Lutheran. Reporting on a perpetrators religion should involve some pertinent reason for doing so, or else you’re simply stirring the pot because you have nothing else to say.

Glenn Beck, Inclusivity, and Minority Religions: In the wake of Glenn Beck’s religious rally many are trying to figure out what it all means (here are three Pagan reactions over at Pagan+Politics). Over at the Washtington Post’s On Faith site, Hindu American Foundation co-founder Aseem Shukla blasts the “false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events” like Beck’s rally.

“…a persistent insistence on Christian-only exceptionalism and a national Christian primacy is raising alarm bells for others. I have argued before that a religious litmus test most certainly exists in this country-and the litmus paper only reads two colors: Christian or the other. Indian Americans recently elected to national office, such as Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley were forced to prove that they as converts, they were even more Christian than most Christians, and President Obama’s Muslim heritage has been bandied about as a scarlet letter that somehow renders him suspect or unfit to govern. We have experienced before the false inclusivity of supposedly ecumenical events of the far right. There may have been a rabbi or imam at the Beck event, but the overall theme was very much “we are a Christian nation” drumbeat, and Hindus have experienced rejection before when they asked to participate in events such as the National Day of Prayer. This is the paradox of religion in the public square: it means very different things to different people.”

Leaving aside the political implications of Beck’s rally, the event was, in the words of conservative commentator Ross Douthat, “a long festival of affirmation for middle-class, white Christians.” In addition, the prominent inclusion of figures like John “America has become a pagan society” Hagee and David Barton of Wallbuilders (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) make it very clear who’s actually welcome in Beck’s quest to restore honor. So long as those who actively work to deny us our rights are under his big tent, I can’t take seriously any argument that religious minorities are truly welcome.

Anti-Pagan Pastor in Porn Scandal: Australian Christian social crusader the Reverend Fred Nile, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, has been caught in an Internet porn-viewing scandal.

“The controversy began with the issuance of a report by the Department of Parliamentary Services, which had conducted an internet history audit of government computers that said Nile’s office had accessed adult websites approximately 200,000 times. Coming on the heels of a similar revelation that resulted in the resignation of New South Wales Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay, the news has sent shockwaves through the government. Thursday, in response to the growing scandal, Nile held a press conference during which he denied ever viewing pornography, but admitted that he had instructed his staff to research the issue for legislation that he said he was considering introducing.”

Nile is taking a sort of “didn’t inhale” defense, saying the sites were never actually viewed, just accessed (200,000 times) for research into legislation. Sex Party president Fiona Patten says that Nile just needs to “get over his guilt and shame” concerning viewing porn on the Internet. For those who don’t live in Australia, Nile is sort of the equivalent to Pat Robertson there. He’s taken many socially conservative stances, including opposing legal Pagan weddings.

Christian Democrat Party leader and anti-pagan campaigner Reverend Fred Nile said: “(Handfasting) can’t be in any way acknowledged by the state and should not be listed as a genuine wedding. Our party will do what it can to stop pagan weddings and witchcraft or Wicca activities.”

If this scandal means the political and social downfall of Nile, I’m sure there aren’t too many Pagans down under who will be complaining about it.

The OTO Showing Pagan Pride in Utah: The Salt Lake Tribune does your typical “meet the Pagans” story with a couple twists. First, the piece profiles a local OTO/Thelemic group Ordo Gnostic Templar (I couldn’t find a listing for them, but they could be a newer group) along with several colorful pictures, and secondly, it seems the paper used Patheos.com as an information resource.

“More than a million Americans now practice some form of Wicca, or traditional witchcraft, Ceremonial Magick, Hermeticism, Shamanism, Asatru (German/Nordic religion), African religion such as Voodoo and Shamanism, according to patheos.com, a multifaith website.”

It’s nice when a paper steps a bit outside of the Wiccan box to show how diverse modern Paganism truly is, and prints generally solid information. Now if only more such articles would follow suit. We’ll soon be entering the Halloween/Samhain season, and that usually means a small flood of “meet the Pagans” articles, here’s hoping this piece is a good harbinger of coverage to come.

The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity: OpEdNews features the latest investigative installment from Georgianne Nienaber and Mac McKinney on post-earthquake Haiti, this one featuring a look at Vodou religion and the history of Vodou in the country.

At this point the discussion segued into the reality of Haitian Vodou until, rather suddenly and casually, Raymond revealed that he himself was a Vodou houngan, or priest, and that he belonged to a Haitian religious society called The Order of Light for the Establishment of Global Fraternity, actually an almost Masonic, even Theosophical title invoking one of the key words from the motto of the French Revolution of 1789: “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity”, hardly what most people, prone to all the stereotyped caricatures of Voodoo in pop culture, would expect.

Raymond, acutely aware of the gross and fraudulent Hollywood image of Voodoo as nothing but zombies, black magic, curses and human sacrifices, went to considerable length expounding that this is indeed a absurd misrepresentation of real Vodou religion. He did point out, though, that there are two streams of Vodou as it is practiced in Haiti, what he calls the Vodou of the Peristyle, and the Vodou of the Temple.

I wasn’t aware that Vodouisants split themselves into “peristyle” and “temple” varieties, could any of my Haitian Vodou-connected readers confirm this for me? Is such a distinction common? In any case, the essay makes for fascinating reading.

That’s all I have for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for a Pagan community news round-up, and have a great day!

Asatru Fight Misconceptions: Just a few quick notes for you today, starting with a look at depictions of Asatru in the media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a spotlight on the racist criminal organization European Kindred, mentions the religious split between Asatru and Christian Identity within its ranks.

One of the law enforcement officers in the audience asked [EK founder David] Kennedy about a rumored split between EK members along religious lines. Kennedy replied that as far as he knew, the rumors were false. “Most of the guys in EK are into Asatrú [a neo-pagan faith that is not fundamentally racist, but is practiced by some racists], but then we also have guys who are into Christian Identity [an anti-Semitic theology based on a bizarre reading of the Bible], so it varies,” Kennedy said. “Overall it’s about brotherhood. It’s about blood, not religion.” The ex-gang leader paused for a moment before correcting himself. “Well, actually, the dope comes first. The meth. Then the brotherhood. That’s the reality.”

See that nice little qualifier there about Asatru not being “fundamentally racist”? It wasn’t always like that. The descriptor initially said “a racist neo-pagan faith”, but was changed after several Asatruar, including David Carron of Ravencast, and a few African American adherents, wrote in to protest the SPLC’s definition. Too bad it most likely wasn’t changed in the print version of The Intelligence Report, a publication that is “offered free to law enforcement, journalists, scholars and community activists”. One wonders what the SPLC will do to enlighten the police officers, journalists, and activists that only read the print version that Asatru isn’t “fundamentally racist”. What should the South Dakota man trying to educate people about his new-found faith in Asatru say when someone tells him the SPLC think he’s a racist?

Funeral for an Irish Thelemite, Metal Musician, and Drug Dealer: The Belfast Telegraph keeps it classy in their report on the funeral for Jason Barriskill, an influential metal musician in Ireland who was also an active Thelemite, and apparently, a drug dealer as well.

“A pagan rocker died at his drug-den farmhouse after a witchcraft ritual went nightmarishly wrong. Junkie Jason Barriskill — who worked in the Tayto Castle food lab — was found slumped at his isolated home in Tandragee, Co Armagh, a fortnight ago.”

After a ritual went “nightmarishly wrong”? Really? All the other press says it was a heart attack. Is the Belfast Telegraph a tabloid? Even if he was a drug-dealer, is it normal to dub a dead man “Junkie Jason”? What is certain is that he was indeed a Thelemite, and an “occult funeral”, as the Belfast Telegraph would put it, was indeed held.

“It was also great that one of the Priestesses from the Ard Macha Grove of EGC (which Jason founded many years ago) helped to officiate at the formal service. The Grove celebrated his ‘Greater Feast’ that night, with many friends and colleagues. It was a beautiful ceremony and was nice to give him a full send off in the traditions of Thelema-of which he was a dedicated magician for many years. One of the most moving aspects of the ceremony was a time for everyone to share their stories of the man. Much like what has happened on here.”

I really wish I had access to the rest of the article so I could see if the paper has any basis for its claim that he was killed by a ritual that went “nightmarishly wrong”. If any of my Irish readers have seen the full article, please clue me in. As it stands, even if he was a criminal, or simply harboring criminals, this is sensationalism at its worst.

The Vodou Blame-Game: It seems the religious blame-game in earthquake-ravaged Haiti is still going strong, with various Christian sects accusing Vodou as incurring God’s wrath.

“Their cult, a form of west African polytheism that came to Haiti with the slave trade, is being blamed by some followers of the rapidly growing Christian denominations – evangelicals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists – as the cause of God’s anger in smiting their country. “They say we’re the ones who caused the earthquake. But we know ourselves that we didn’t cause the quake, because it was a natural catastrophe,” said Willer Jassaint, one of the priests, or houngans, leading the Voodoo ceremony.”

The piece goes one to reference the Cite Soleil incident, though no other major religious skirmishes have broken out since then, and local Houngans and Mambos are planning more public rituals for the dead, despite these new tensions.

“Back in the Voodoo shed, as the chanting and dancing and rum-fuelled flames faded, the houngans somberly laid out their plans for bigger, more public ceremonies in the days to come. They owe the spirits of the dead that release, they say – and they owe themselves that show of defiance. “We have to maintain our religion now… Because our religion is our soul, it’s part of us,” Jassaint said.”

I suppose we’ll soon find out if Cite Soleil was a truly isolated incident, or if we’ll see more Christian-spurred violence in the near future. Hopefully, as the rebuilding continues, and the government stabilizes, the tensions we see now will subside to pre-earthquake levels.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 10, 2009 — 8 Comments

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

The city of Euless has had its request for a rehearing in federal appeals court over the matter of animal sacrifice rejected.

“A federal appeals court has rejected Euless’ request for a rehearing on a decision that paves the way for a Santeria priest to resume sacrificing animals in his home during religious ceremonies. Jose Merced sued Euless, saying his First Amendment religious freedoms were violated when the city banned him from slaughtering goats in 2006. The city contended that such sacrifices jeopardized public health and violated slaughterhouse and animal-cruelty ordinances.”

Short of an appeal to the Supreme Court, which Euless seems to be considering, this case is done. If it does go to the Supreme Court, and Merced wins again, it could affect animal slaughter laws across the country. Clearing the way for religions like Santeria to sacrifice animals at their rites largely free from the threat of arrest or harassment. To read all my coverage of this case, click here.

At The Nation Max Blumenthal publishes an excerpt from his forthcoming book that concerns the tragic case of Matthew Murray, a deeply disturbed young man who took a gun to a Youth With A Mission missionary training center and opened fire, killing four, then himself. Blumenthal tells how Murray grew up indoctrinated and abused by his charismatic Pentecostal parents, and how his attempts to break free of their programming led him first to the teachings of Aleister Crowley, then to drug abuse, and ultimately to a complete breakdown that led to the tragic shootings.

“Murray had been indoctrinated so thoroughly into charismatic Pentecostal culture, however, that even while he railed against his religious upbringing, he could not abandon his ingrained attraction to religiosity. So instead of fleeing hardcore Christian culture for secular humanism, a natural position for jaded skeptics like him, he traded his former faith for Crowley’s occultism. Crowley’s philosophy of sex “magick,” narcotic hallucination, and self-degradation (he allegedly ordered his followers to have oral sex with goats and drink the blood of cats) was forged in reaction to his parents’ Puritanism and, in fact, was first practiced in English boarding schools, where homosexual experimentation was practically de rigueur. Crowley became Murray’s new lodestar. Like Jesus, who was so impressed by the ardor of a pagan Roman centurion whom he met that he remarked, “I have not found such great faith, even in Israel,” Murray yearned for spiritual practice in its purest form. Now he practiced Crowley’s faux faith as fervently as his parents wished he had worshipped their neo-evangelical macho Christ. But the occult only led Murray into a confusing new world of cheap thrills.”

I find it interesting that Blumenthal, in damning extremist Christianity, feels the need to misrepresent Aleister Crowley, and by implication, to insult anyone who leaves Christianity for an occult practice instead of the “natural” choice of secular humanism. He ultimately blames an abusive Christian upbringing for Murray’s descent into madness, and rightfully criticizes attempts of Christian apologists to paint this as an “occult” or “Satanic” attack, but couldn’t avoid his own preconceived notions concerning what the O.T.O. and the philosophies of Aleister Crowley are truly about. In his failure to hide his disdain for an occult practice he doesn’t understand, to paint it as a sign of illness, he sounds more like the Christians he criticizes than he would most likely care to admit.

SF Gate’s In Marin blog profies Cerridwen Fallingstar on the publication of her new book “White as Bone Red as Blood, The Fox Sorceress”, a book that is “based” on Fallingstar’s past life in 12th century Japan.

“The first book, which was released in 1990, was based on Cerridwen’s past life as a Scottish witch in 16th-century Scotland.   It took a full fifteen years before she released her current book, White as Bone, a compelling read about a sorceress in the royal palace in Japan during the mid-1100s. Why so long? Cerridwen says it takes a long time to cultivate the memories and even longer to do the research.  She says she is able to enter a trance, summon the memories and put them to tape. After transcribing them, she’ll research them by conventional means; by reading as much as she can find on that particular time in history, and by visiting the locales.”

Will this new book find favor within the Pagan community? Are past-life accounts still popular, or have we grown more skeptical of such things in the twenty years since Fallingstar’s last book? I guess we’ll find out. In the meantime, if you want to find out more about Cerridwen Fallingstar and order a copy of the book, click here.

The Odinist group that was kicked out of a public park in Bakersfield, California say they are filing a lawsuit with the ACLU against the North of the River Parks and Recreation Department.

“Roger Perez, NOR public relations director, said, “I believe there was a claim that the religion was being disrespected, and we take those types of claims seriously. But in our internal investigation, that wasn’t believed to have been said, was not said, by our deputy. And unfortunately, I think it just got blown out of proportion.” But the Odinists were not satisfied. They began the process to file a civil lawsuit with the ACLU which is considering whether to take the case.”

So it looks like this one will most likely be going to court. The KERO 23 story also includes the two 911 calls from neighbors that brought the police to the scene, one of which sounds confused about what exactly is going on, and another that alleges they were shouting “white power” to non-white passerby. The Odinist group has denied that they are a racist organization.

In a final note, with Autumn on its way we are quickly approaching the Halloween/Samhain season, and that means reality television programs are skulking about Salem looking for a willing Witchy participant. This time the  snarky fashion show “What Not to Wear” (on the increasingly misnamed TLC network) has its sights set on Salem shop co-owner Leanne Marrama.

“TV fashion gurus Stacy London and Clinton Kelly were in Salem filming an episode of their show, in which they stage weekly style interventions on a victim of bad fashion. Leanne Marrama, a member of Salem’s witch community, was in their sights yesterday. Dressed in a black gown with wide lacy sleeves, a black corset, black combat boots and a black purse with a skull, Marrama is set for a complete fashion, hair and makeup makeover.”

Also in the program will be Marrama’s friend and business associate Christian Day. While I’m sure many Pagans in New England have at times wished the more flamboyant Salem Witches would get a makeover, I don’t think this is what they had in mind. Shows like this aren’t laughing with us, they are producing content so that people can laugh at us (not to mention imposing a more rigid idea of “normalcy” concerning dress and appearance).

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

The Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), an esoteric fraternal order which is perhaps best known for its associations with former leader and primary ritualist/liturgist Aleister Crowley, has recently achieved two major legal victories. The more important of the two regards trademark control over the terms “OTO” and “O.T.O.” in the UK.

“I am happy to report that OTO has prevailed against Starfire Publishing Ltd.’s opposition to our trademarks for “OTO” and “O.T.O.” in the United Kingdom. In her decision of June 8, Anna Carbone, the Appointed Person hearing OTO’s appeal, found in favor of OTO, overturning a previous decision in favor of Starfire. OTO’s registrations of the marks “OTO” and “O.T.O.” are now proceeding normally in the UK, joining our previous registrations of “Ordo Templi Orientis” and the OTO Lamen. Under UK law, there can be no further appeal of a decision by an Appointed Person, in either the Trademark Registry or High Court.”

What does this decision mean? Joined with the international order’s trademark control in the United States (and the rest of the world), it means that a variety of splinter groups using the term “OTO” (or variations thereof) must now cease or risk legal action. The OTO’s official press release specifically names British occultist Kenneth Grant’s “Typhonian” Ordo Templi Orientis in its warning to groups started by expelled or resigned members.

“This litigation was not one we initiated — these were proceedings brought against us by Starfire acting on behalf of Kenneth Grant’s spurious OTO organization, with support from organizations led or founded by other expelled or resigned OTO members, such as Albion OTO and OTO Foundation. These groups would be well advised to find another name. We were merely filing a routine maintenance trademark. Now, having provoked us, they can reasonably expect enforcement proceedings from us if they do not stop appropriating our name, initials and lamen.”

Since judges have ruled that “OTO” is the name of a private organization, and not a descriptive term for a religion, these groups will have to follow in the footsteps of other fraternal organizations and pick news names.

The second decision (actually a settlement), this time in America, also reinforced the main OTO body’s control over its assets and intellectual property. Specifically, the images of Crowley’s Thoth tarot deck.

“OTO filed suit in US Federal Court in Southern California against Focus Features, NBC Universal and Vivendi for copyright infringement in connection with the appropriation of images from the Thoth Tarot cards to promote the Woody Allen film “Scoop,” where they were used on the poster, DVD packaging and in the press kits. The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Under the terms of the agreement, the details of the settlement are confidential. This was a significant legal case, since OTO took on the world’s largest media conglomerate, represented by the best law firm in Hollywood. We have long taken on corporations many times our size before, e.g. Simon and Schuster, Doubleday and Harper and Row, but NBC Universal Vivendi is many, many times larger and more powerful than all these combined.”

These cases reinforce the fact that O.T.O. Worldwide is not only in complete control of its name and image, but it has also proved that it has the muscle and will to defend its claims. It would be virtually impossible at this point for another organization to legally claim rights to the “OTO” name or legacy. So would-be “true” OTO orders beware, a lawyer might soon be giving you a visit.

Updates on Past Stories

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 29, 2008 — 1 Comment

Psychic Wars in Livingston: It looks like a legal battle over a religiously-motivated Livingston Parish ordinance banning fortune telling will be headed to court. Despite being warned by their lawyer that they would most likely lose a lawsuit, the Parish Council decided to not address the issue at their most recent meeting, much to the dismay of some Parish residents.

“Taxpayers might question the council’s insistence on spending public money to fight a lawsuit on an issue that has no purpose other than to pacify a particular religious group. The council’s attorney, Blayne Honeycutt, has advised that it probably would lose the Wiccan suit if it persists in defending the ordinance. When no member of the council would offer a motion to repeal the soothsaying ordinance, Honeycutt advised the council it needs to hire special counsel to handle such a case. Parish government, which has a history of being strapped for funds, could be putting that money to proper uses on roads, drainage, water and sewage rather than waging war for or against particular religious groups. Instead, the council will spend money it says is in short supply defending a lawsuit against a problem its attorney told council members apparently doesn’t even exist in the parish.”

The Parish is being sued by local businessman and Wiccan Cliff Eakin, who wishes to offer fortune-telling and divination services at his store, Gryphon’s Nest Gifts. Eakin maintains that the ordinance is an attempt to promote Christianity over Paganism.

Thelemites Fight Pedophillia Charges: Australian couple Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine have been released from prison after apologizing to a judge for defying an order to remove material from their website that groundlessly implicated a local O.T.O. organization in an underground pedophile ring. The couple served two months of a nine-month sentence for contempt of court.

“Yesterday both apologised to Judge Harbison and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and undertook not to repeat, or help anyone else to publish, the vilifying material about the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO). But David Leggatt, for the OTO, complained that the vilification had a “grapevine effect”. It had been removed from the pair’s website, Gaiaguys.net, in December, but soon appeared on Adam Dodson’s site. Simon Moglia, for Mr Devine and Ms Legg, said they had not helped the new website. He said they at first saw their non-compliance as individuals standing for their beliefs. But when they realised that resisting the tribunal encouraged others to disobey the law, they closed down their website.”

While the OTO in Australia have certainly won this battle, they may find themselves pestered by dozens (if not hundreds) of conspiracy theorists who see Legg and Devine as martyrs in the quest for “the truth”. The original actionable paper written by Dr Reina Michaelson inflated in importance and virally spread across the Internet.

Fighting For (Christian) Religious Expression: Arizona joins Oklahoma in trying to pass a “student religious expression” law similar to the one recently passed by Texas.

“On Wednesday, the Arizona House Education Committee narrowly approved, and sent on to the full House of Representatives, HB 2713, a bill that would prohibit public schools from discriminating against students on the basis of their religious belief or expression. It permits students to engage in prayer and religious activity on an equal basis with other activities, but does not permit the school to require participation in religious activities. It includes provisions prohibiting banning of religious attire and jewelry when similar secular items are permitted and another section that prohibits discrimination for or against a student in grading coursework in which the student expresses a religious viewpoint or religious content.”

While these laws may sound innocuous enough to some, they ultimately benefit the religious majority, a point driven home by the Texas House’s own research organization who stated: “the bill could serve as a tool to proselytize the majority religious view”. These proposed laws claim to protect a student’s freedom to express religious viewpoints, but I fear they instead encourage a hostile environment towards religious minorities, dis-empower teachers from keeping order in their classrooms, and give Christian students a sense of immunity from consequences. I encourage Pagan groups in in Arizona (and Oklahoma) to send a message to their representatives ensuring them that Pagans, Witches, and Heathens oppose this legislation, but will gladly use their new “rights” as often and as loudly as possible if it is enacted.

Updates on Past Stories

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 21, 2008 — 4 Comments

Thelemites Fight Pedophillia Charges: An Australian couple who posted unsubstantiated accusations of pedophilia and ritual abuse within the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) chapter in Melbourne, Australia have been sentenced to nine months in prison. The prison stay was ordered after Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine defied a court order to take down the material, and declined to appear at hearings.

“Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine posted on their website claims that an occult group, the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), was really a pedophile ring in Victoria, and that its activities included hosting parties at which naked children served as waiters and members had sex with and murdered children … [Judge Marilyn Harbison] said the material was gross, insulting and bizarre in asserting that the OTO tortured and killed children and animals and consumed their organs in blood rituals. It also said OTO members were criminally corrupt, spoke of a culture of corruption at the highest levels of government, and identified politicians as taking part. Judge Harbison said she had to signal to the broader community that tribunal orders were not to be ignored and that breaching the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act was a serious issue.”

The offending site in question was finally taken down in January by the hosting provider. Legg and Devine now have to decide if they will apologize to the judge and hope that their sentence is commuted, or if they will appeal their case to the Supreme Court.

The First Wiccan Multi-Millionaire: A local ABC News affiliate checks in with Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett, a Wiccan who won an estimated 33 million dollars in the Mega Millions drawing back in September of 2007. According to the report, Bartlett is keeping the promises he made back when he first realized he won the lottery.

“After Dundalk’s Bunky Bartlett hit the Mega Millions jackpot in 2007, he said he planned to help a new age gift shop expand. He also said he would continue teaching people about his Wiccan beliefs. Bartlett has been true to his word. The Mystical Voyage store in Nottingham used to occupy 2500 square feet of space. When the expanded store opens next month, it will occupy 6500 square feet — enough space for several new holistic healing rooms, and a large yoga studio.”

Bartlett continues to teach classes on Wicca at the store, as he did before the lottery win. No further word yet about the proposed Willow Springs Sanctuary and Community Center that was announced back in November.

Wicca in India: In the past I have reported on Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, a famous adherent of Wicca in India. Chakraverti, a social activist, started a “Wiccan Brigade” to stem witchcraft killings and female infanticide through a campaign of education and re-framing the practice of “witchcraft” in India. While we have heard no reports on how successful these initiatives have been, it does look like Wicca and other western Pagan imports are gaining popularity in certain Indian cities.

“New age therapies and healing through a host of skills, including hypnosis, tarot reading, astrology and witchcraft are being accepted by a majority of people in Chandigarh, the twin capital of Punjab and Haryana … Claiming to be India’s first Shaman Witch, Renu Mathur helps remove all negative energy surrounding a person through prayer and meditation. She claims that she receives the energy from Gods and Goddesses as also from the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. ‘Although this may not seem like a straight fight against superstition because what I am doing is very logical like the use of colours, use of fire, use of crystals all of which has been validated by everybody in all fields. This is just a concentrated form of using them and invocations of a Wiccan or a person like me used has a very scientific oath -’Do what will not harm anyone’. We cannot harm anyone. If we even think of doing so we lose our energies,’ said Renu.”

It should be interesting to see what the continued co-mingling of Hinduism and Indian culture with modern Paganism will produce. These cross-cultural interactions seem to hint at the promise of a post-Christian future, where theological “sisters” like Hinduism and modern Paganism can enrich one another over the longer term.

Speaking of India, today is the beginning of the Pongala Mahotsavam, a ten-day festival in honor of Bhagavathi (the mother goddess of the Malayali Hindus). Held in Thiruvananthapuram, it is the largest religious gathering for women in the world.

“Women in thousands have started pouring in to participate in Friday’s ‘Pongala’ festival at Attukal temple, famed as ‘Women’s Sabarimala’ for attracting one of the world’s biggest female congregations. The Attukal Bhagavati temple here had entered the Guinness Book two years back as a unique religious event that draws over a million women on a single day. The whole city would turn into a sea of women as sun rises on Friday with the road, pavements and by-lanes about an area of six km around being occupied by devotees with the earthen pots placed on brick hearths in front of them to prepare the ‘prasadam’ (sweetened pudding). The ritual consists of preparation of the prasadam of rice, jaggery, coconut and spices, to be offered to the Goddess to invoke her blessings for peace and prosperity.”

An estimated 2.5 million women are expected to participate this year, breaking all previous attendance records for the festival (1.7 million in 2007, and 1.5 million in 2006).

A year ago I blogged about a legal battle involving the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) chapter in Melbourne, Australia and a paper written by Dr Reina Michaelson, founder of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program. Michaelson had written a paper in which she implicated the O.T.O. as part of a Satanic child-abusing underground network. The O.T.O. took her to court and eventually reached a settlement in which Michaelson agreed to withdraw the paper and all false claims concerning the organization (check out the disclaimer at the bottom of this page).

“Phillips Fox ultimately succeeded in showing the document had no factual basis, with CSAPP and the original author being forced to formerly withdraw their allegations. Lovett said both PILCH and the client were very pleased with the settlement, arrived at in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, human rights division last week.”

But the troubles didn’t end here. The Michaelson paper, along with loads of conspiratorial rantings concerning the O.T.O. and child abuse made it onto the web site of Vivienne Legg and Dyson Devine. The Melbourne O.T.O. took them to court as well, and in July a judge ordered them to take the material down. They refused, and contempt proceedings went forward.

“On 27 July 2007 Legg and Devine were found guilty of religious vilification and ordered to remove the offensive materials from their website. They failed to do this and contempt proceedings were initiated. To ensure their appearance before the Tribunal four police officers from Victoria travelled more than 1500 kilometres to New South Wales where Legg and Devine live, and brought them to Melbourne. Released on bail overnight with orders to appear the next day, they failed to take the opportunity provided by VCAT to comply with the Tribunal’s orders and on the morning of Wednesday 28 November 2007 Judge Harbison found that their contempt was deliberate. She sentenced Legg and Devine to nine months imprisonment with no minimum period.”

Both of these cases were heard under the Religious and Racial Tolerance Act of 2001, a somewhat controversial measure that outlaws “vilification” of religious (and racial) groups (it should be noted that Australian law concerning the concept of “Free Speech” is entirely different than in the U.S.). Most of the controversy of this new act lays within the definitions of “vilification” versus criticism or “telling the truth”. While this has tripped up previous high-profile cases brought under this act, in this case, the writings concerned show unrestrained vilification and outright fabricataions concerning a religious order.

“From everything that I have been told by Mick, the cult appears to be the Order Templis Orientus (Illuminati), operating in Australia … As a child Mick was forced to attend blood-rituals, where animals and small children were sacrificed and their blood and organs consumed. Mick was required to clean up the blood after these rituals. The children and babies were street children or were taken from orphanages, so that they could not be traced and no-one would know, or care, if they went missing. The rituals were spoken in Latin and were clearly satanic. The rituals took place at various locations, including Goldtown. Mick and other children would be driven to the rituals in the boots of cars.”

Though the American-hosted site remains up, this is a clear win for the O.T.O. in Australia. It remains to be seen if the site will ultimately be taken down (to avoid further jail time for contempt), or if Legg and Devine will try to set themselves up as martyrs in their cause. At the very least it has surely given pause to the practitioners of Satanic Panic, who routinely slander and vilify new religious movements as “fronts” for their imaginary baby-killing cults.