Archives For Pagan News of Note

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!

Top Story: Though still small religious minorities throughout the world, contemporary Pagan groups have increasingly involved themselves in charitable campaigns, and created charities of their own. In Kansas City, Missouri Gaia Community, a Pagan Unitarian-Universalist congregation, raised a half-ton of food at the 2011 God Auction, which was donated to Harvesters Community Food Nework. It was estimated that the food raised was enough to provide for 795 meals.

Food raised by Gaia Community

“…one of the reasons we schedule this fund raiser in the summer is we know it’s a time when donations to Harvesters tend to be low, while demand for food is high with children out of school.” – David Reynolds, Gaia Community member

You can read more about Gaia Community’s efforts by downloading the press release for the event, or visiting their website. While Gaia Community raised food for an already existing charity, in Australia the Community Church of Inclusive Wicca Inc. (CCIWI) has started their own food pantry, which was just granted full tax deductibility status. The first Wiccan group, though not the first Pagan group, to achieve this. Founder Amethyst Treleven said that she was “very proud” to have her charity receive “the same recognition as other religious based charities which have traditionally been Christian organised.” CCIWI’s food pantry was founded so that Pagans in need could find aid without feeling pressured to “accept the faith of that charitable body,” and won’t have to “compromise their spiritual and religious beliefs.”

Those are just two examples of how Pagans are helping each other, and reaching out to help the communities we live in. Every year Pagans collect tons of food for charity though the annual Pagan Pride days, while several Pagan organizations engage in outreach, fundraising, and volunteer efforts. Back in 2003 Jim Towey, then-Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives, questioned the charitable instincts of Pagan groups. Since then Pagans in the United States, and around the world, have worked to show that though small in number, we have a true commitment to charity and helping others.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: The harassment of Pagans by intolerant neighbors isn’t anything new, but it’s rare to hear on-the-record confirmation of that hostility from prominent citizens. The Sunday Mercury reports on the plight of Albion and Raven, owners of the The Whispering Witch in Alcester, a small market town in England. Opened 15 months ago, Albion and Raven claim to have gotten threatening letters, and even had a bundle of wood stacked in front of the shop’s door one morning, seemingly to imply that they should be burned. After talking to the couple, The Sunday Mercury interviews a local Baptist Reverend, and a member of the church who’s a former mayor of Alcester, and they seem to corroborate the hostility, though stop short of endorsing harassment.

Reverend Alistair Aird, from Alcester Baptist Church, condemned those behind the attacks but added: “My impression is that people in the town don’t feel that this is the kind of thing they want in Alcester. [...] Councillor Chris Gough, a former Mayor of Alcester and deacon at Alcester Baptist Church, added: “I’m aware that they are being frowned upon. Instinctively, it is not the sort of thing we want to see in the town. As a church-goer, I think we probably feel strongly about anyone who puts themselves forward as a witch in any form.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that encourages an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. The faint condemnations of “if it is happening then it is the wrong thing to do” from Rev. Aird all but telegraphs that he won’t put any pressure on his flock to practice tolerance, allowing these activities to flourish. As for Albion and Raven, they say that  “Paganism is a recognised religion and we are here to stay.” Hopefully the press attention will spur some movement on this case, and bring out some local allies who might not have known that this was happening.

Pagans and the Pledge: Should local governments in the United States start with the Pledge of Allegiance? That’s the issue in Columbia, Missouri where the city council has voted to start each meeting with the loyalty oath. Looking for a number of perspectives, reporter Rudi Keller asks Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini, who’s a Hellenic reconstructionist, for her take.

“I modify it a little,” said Centralia Alderwoman Jessica Orsini. “I say, ‘Under the gods’ because I am a Hellenic Reconstructionist, a polytheist. That means I follow the old Greek religion.”

Keller notes that saying personally modified versions of the pledge hasn’t always been tolerated, she quotes associate law professor Douglas Abrams who explains that “as far as loyalty oaths are concerned, there are many examples of American history where we become scared and demand overt statements of loyalty from minority groups.” What happens if religious minorities who alter the loyalty oath to their liking aren’t tolerated by locals? Or what about groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses who are barred from pledging to any power other than their God?  The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that “compulsory unification of opinion” violates the First Amendment, but what’s legal and what’s tolerated can be two very different things.

National Ancestor Shrine Opens in Paganistan: Cara Schultz at PNC-Minnesota reports that Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center in St. Paul, Minnesota, has erected a national public ancestor shrine and sacred spirit altar.

“People talked a lot about having a shrine like this,” said Teisha Magee, executive director of the Sacred Paths Center. “An altar where anyone could come and light a candle, burn incense, put up a name plaque, or otherwise honor those who have passed the veil. Three of our members—Volkhvy, Ciaran Benson, and CJ Stone—came together with one mind and created exactly that.” [...] “The shrine is open to everyone,” said Ms. Magee. “We aren’t checking your Pagan credentials at the door. Candles and incense are available on the altar. Some folks like to leave flowers, food, or other offerings. For a small donation, Sacred Paths Center will inscribe an oaken plaque to go on the shrine. It’s like a small headstone, you get to choose the text and you can include a special message. There’s a plaque request form on the Sacred Paths Center’s website.”

You can learn more about the memorial altar/shrine, here. I find it interesting that two of the major contributors to this project are individuals who bridge modern Paganism and Japanese Shinto. Is Shinto and “Neo-Shinto” growing in popularity among Pagans? If so, will it result in more shrine-oriented projects like this one? In any case, congratulations to Sacred Paths Center on this achievement.

In the Wake of James Arthur Ray: While the ongoing legal maneuvers continue in the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths case, Native Americans continue to try and make their perspectives on the misuse and appropriation of their sacred ceremonies known. One telling exchange happened between Ray and Diné (Navajo) medicine man Leland Grass during the last days of the initial trial.

Aware that many Native Americans, individually and through organizations, were incensed over his transformation and commercial use of their traditions and practices, particularly the tradition of the sweat lodge, Ray approached Grass humbly during a break and offered his hand. Grass shook it, nodded and the two spoke quietly for a time. “He told me he learned his lesson,” Grass said later. “I said ‘no, you have a lot more to learn.’”

Meanwhile, a juror has broken silence and talked with the press about the trial that convicted Ray of three counts of negligent homicide. It seems the jury didn’t buy the pesticides defense, though he also noted that prosecution didn’t do a good job of proving the more serious charge of manslaughter. Once the sentence for Ray’s conviction is finally handed down, you can bet there will be more appeals and legal wrangling to come.

How is Paganism Good for America? That’s the question posed by Star Foster at the Patheos Pagan Portal. I gave my own short response, which you can read at the portal’s Pantheon blog.

“No theology is perfect, but I believe polytheism, the belief in a multiplicity of the divine, is uniquely suited towards preparing the United States for its future. In his book “The Deities Are Many: A Polytheistic Theology,” York University Professor Emeritus of Humanities Jordan Paper concludes that “polytheism at best is a very positive human experience and is never less than benign. We do not find the angst, let alone the doubts, that many experience with regard to their relationship with the divine in the monotheistic traditions.” As America slowly moves into a post-Christian era, a nation where both immigrant and home-grown religious minorities are growing, and an ever-larger percentage (currently 15%) of our fellow citizens claim to specific religion at all, only a theology that can embrace the full tapestry of human belief will be able to change and thrive with these often tumultuous times. Modern Pagans are pioneers into this future, and have already encountered and accepted a multiplicity of belief systems, finding ways to not only coexist, but to create vibrant communities that encourage participation and engagement.”

You can read the whole thing, here. You can also check out Star Foster’s response to the question. If you want to weigh in on this issue, leave a comment here, or email Star Foster to submit a longer response.

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

Top Story: The Religion News Service is featuring a story (alternate link) on the 50th anniversary of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and whether the shrinking (162,800 members, down 1,400 from last year) creedless denomination can endure for another fifty years.

“For 50 years the UUA has conducted a virtually unprecedented experiment: advancing a religion without doctrine, hoping that welcoming communities and shared political causes, not creeds, will draw people to their pews. Leaders say its no-religious-questions-asked style positions the UUA to capitalize on liberalizing trends in American religion. But as the UUA turns 50 this year, some members argue that a “midlife” identity crisis is hampering outreach and hindering growth. In trying to be all things to everyone, they say, the association risks becoming nothing to anybody.”

Modern Pagans are a vibrant part of the modern UUA, and the article by Daniel Burke starts off the piece with a Pagan member of the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore leading a service.

“A recent Sunday service at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore ended with an apology. Laurel Mendes explained that religious doctrine had been duly scrubbed from the hymns in the congregation’s Sunday program. But Mendes, a neo-pagan lay member who led the service, feared that a reference to God in “Once to Every Soul and Nation” might upset the humanists in the pews.”

While I’m pleased to see UU Pagans get noticed, I’m less happy with the fact that Burke seems to use this moment to underscore how far the UUA has drifted from its Christian roots. As for the future of the UUA, Burke cites an internal document from 2005 that says the denomination needs to create boundaries, to overcome its “reluctance to proclaim religious tenets.” Current UUA president Rev. Peter Morales sees “amazing opportunity” in the growing number of “nones,” people who don’t claim adherence to any particular faith, the “spiritual but not religious” demographic, but can outreach of this sort compensate for reports that the UUA is losing 85% of its children?

For many years the UUA has served as a haven and home for Pagans, especially in towns and cities that lack an established Pagan community. Many Pagans have fond feelings towards the UUA despite some institutional bumps in the road recently, with some prominent Pagans, like Margot Adler and Isaac Bonewits, having played significant roles within the Unitarian-Universalist sphere. But if those predicting the disappearance of the UUA are correct, if the next 50 years will see their slow fade-out from American life, then modern Pagans invested in the benefits of this denominational body will have to tackle the question of what the UUA provides us, whether we can replicate it independently of the UUA if need be, and what role groups like CUUPs and independent UU Pagans will play in the near future.

In Other News:

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

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!

Top Stories:

San Francisco Peaks Update: I have written at some length concerning the battle over a ski resort on the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona creating snow from treated wastewater, what a coalition of local indigenous groups and Tribal Nations see as a desecration that would be like putting death on the mountain.” It seemed to me like Arizona politicians didn’t believe there could be sacred land in their state. Now Indian Country follows up on this story with the latest insult to the beliefs of Native Americans living in Arizona.

“The Forest Service has scheduled a meeting to hear Hopi Tribe objections to wastewater-enabled snowmaking for a ski resort on Arizona’s San Francisco Peaks at the same time it has approved the start of construction on the snowmaking’s infrastructure. A former Hopi Tribal chairman and the grassroots group of which he is a part of hope an upcoming meeting on the San Francisco Peaks (Nuvatuqui) will provide a voice for tribal members who oppose the use of wastewater for the snowmaking at a resort on mountains sacred to a number of area tribes. But at about the same time the Forest Service planned the May 31 “listening session” with Hopi tribal members it also authorized construction to begin on a pipeline to convey the wastewater used to make the artificial snow.”

An emergency injunction appeal to construction was denied, despite there being an active appeal on environmental grounds underway. The “listening session” with the Hopi Tribe will be the only forum at this point that includes Native voices, it looks like Coconino National Forest supervisor M. Earl Stewart won’t be much different from former supervisor Nora B. Rasure, who doesn’t see any issue with desecrating a sacred mountain for the purpose of a prolonged skiing season. As indigenous leaders tell the United Nations that respecting their beliefs will help preserve the environment, the Forest Service in Coconino has seemingly decided that money and politics trump everything else.

Pagans on Wikipedia: Over at PNC-Minnesota (and reprinted at Patheos.com) Cara Schulz writes an editorial concerning a snowballing trend of Wikipedia deleting Pagan-oriented articles. She cites the a policy of goal-post shifting regarding what sources are deemed acceptable. For instance, the Pagan Newswire Collective doesn’t meet guidelines, nor do the published writings of Pagan academics.

“PNC has staff with formal journalism degrees, experience working as a reporters, producers, and editors in mainstream media, and PNC-Minnesota follows an editorial process similar to most any other newsroom in the country.   Yet PNC-Minnesota is dismissed as  “a self-published group blog which isn’t going to meet guidelines for reliable sources.” Discounting sources is a common theme in the Paganistan deletion discussion.  A paper by Dr. Murphy Pizza, an anthropologist who spent five years studying the Paganistan community, is also considered not a reliable source because she is a Pagan. I’m assuming this same standard would then apply to The Pomegranate:  The International Journal of Pagan Studies, Chas Clifton’s book “Her Hidden Children:  The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America,” and is probably the reason Ronald Hutton will not publicly say he is a Pagan.”

Schulz wonders if there’s a double-standard going on where papers and articles published by Christian academics are accepted as reliable sources on Christian articles or if the work of environmentalist-minded scholars pass muster on climate-related articles. I personally think that much of this problem can be solved by having a more engaged team of Pagan-friendly editors at Wikipedia who are willing to go to bat for these articles, and work to constantly improve them, not just when items are flagged for deletion. The rest of the problem will only be solved once we take our media seriously, and move collectively forward in building institutions and reputations that pass muster.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: Chas Clifton gives us a heads up that the preliminary schedule of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions for this year’s American Academy of Religion (AAR) Annual Meeting are now up. Taking place this November in San Francisco, California, the AAR’s Annual Meeting is the world’s largest gathering of religious studies scholars. This year the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group will explore themes of “West Coast Pagan Practices and Ideas,” “Pagan Analysis and Critique of ‘Religion’,” and “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” which is being run in partnership with the Religion and Ecology Group.

The joint session with the Religion and Ecology Group, “Elemental Theology and Feminist Earth Practices,” will feature a panel discussion with groundbreaking feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk. In addition, other sessions will see paper presentations from Helen Berger, Christopher W. Chase, and Christine Kraemer (a department chair at Cherry Hill Seminary) among others. All that is in addition to the thousands of other presentations on just about every facet of religious experience you can think of. I will be there this November to cover the event, and hope to bring you special reporting, interviews, and access to a gathering few outside the world of religion studies experience.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: The Guardian reports that Bolivia, one of the countries hardest hit by global climate change, is planning to pass a law that would enshrine a list of rights held by nature. Called “The Law of Mother Earth” (la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra), it seeks to establish “a new relationship between man and nature” according to Vice-President Alvaro García Linera.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

The Guardian notes that the law is partially inspired by an “Andean spiritual world view,” resurgent since the election of Evo Morales, the first fully indigenous president of Bolivia. In addition, Bolivia is pushing to have similar rights enshrined by the United Nations as well, just in time for Earth Day (aka International Mother Earth Day).

The UN debate begins two days before the UN’s recognition April 22 of the second International Mother Earth Day — another Morales-led initiative. Canadian activist Maude Barlow is among global environmentalists backing the drive with a book the group will launch in New York during the UN debate: Nature Has Rights. “It’s going to have huge resonance around the world,” Barlow said of the campaign. “It’s going to start first with these southern countries trying to protect their land and their people from exploitation, but I think it will be grabbed onto by communities in our countries, for example, fighting the tarsands in Alberta.”

The Bolivian initiative already has backing from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, though it doesn’t seem likely many highly industrialized 1st-world nations will be joining up any time soon. Will climate crisis start to turn more countries towards an ethos of “wild law”? If it does, Bolivia will seem prescient. You can read the entirely of the new law (in Spanish), here (accurate translations welcome from anyone who has free time on their hands).

The Danger of Feminine Pronouns in Prayers: The New York Times reports that the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine in her 2007 book “Quest For the Living God,” issuing a 21-page critique (plus introductory remarks) and recommending the book not be taught in Catholic universities due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God.

The passages drawing the harshest admonishment, however, concerned Sister Johnson’s proposal that feminine as well as masculine imagery be used in prayers referring to God, a recommendation that has been debated and rejected by the bishops before. Still, the book persisted, “all-male images of God are hierarchical images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement.” Wrong, the bishops said: If the Gospels use masculine imagery, it is because divine revelation would have it that way. [...] Dr. Tilley, the Fordham theology chairman, described that argument as “approaching the incoherent.”

This fear of non-male pronouns isn’t isolated to the United States Bishops, baptisms using gender-neutral formulas for the Trinity were ruled invalid back in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the organization formerly known as the Inquisition), and in the “Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church” the current Pope opined that “I am, in fact, convinced that what feminism promotes in its radical form is no longer the Christianity that we know; it is another religion.” In short, calling God “she” or “her” (or even “it” I suppose) is tantamount to neo-paganism. Let’s not forget the PR fiasco that was the investigation of American religious sisters. As the New York Times piece puts it, the Catholic Church wants to put “the study of the male and female aspects of God [...] substantially off-limits.” It seems the risk of a Christian Goddess (other than Mary) emerging is too great to tolerate having students even think about God as a woman.

Marketing the Gods: With the Marvel Comics-inspired “Thor” movie coming out soon, religion e-zine Killing the Buddha features an essay by Eric Scott (a Wiccan and second-generation Pagan) about encountering Mjolnir at Wal-Mart.

“The truth is, I looked at the toys in my hands and I saw the result of millions of dollars of development and thousands of hours of manpower, put into something bearing the name of a god, my god, and it had nothing to do with me. Their Thor was a god forgotten by all except the few quiet geeks who read his adventures in Journey into Mystery andThe Mighty Thor for forty years. It wasn’t that they meant to upset or unsettle me; they simply realized that people like me were too few to matter. It’s impossible to think of a story about Jesus like this, not written to pander to or irritate Christians, but simply not considering them at all.”

I’ve praised Eric’s writing at this blog before, so let me simply say that the whole essay is worth a read. He also has a short story, “Reaching for Da’at”, up now at Caper Literary Journal.

The Danger of Vodou in Haiti: Two recent article look at anti-Vodou violence and hysteria in Haiti, a phenomenon that is responsible for killing over 40 Vodouisants that we know of. First, the Independent in Ireland gives an outsiders narrative, showing the fear that comes when tragedy is blamed on an innocent through accusations of “voodoo”.

“When cholera killed Dieufort Joesph’s neighbour last year, the 25-year-old feared for his young family’s safety. But the threat didn’t come from the disease. It came from the panic that spread through the narrow streets of Gonaives in north-western Haiti. Within days the rumours began — Mr Joesph had used voodoo to kill the girl. The quietly spoken market porter explained that for some of his neighbours, this meant he and his family must themselves be killed.”

Joseph, who hopes to move to new housing soon, acknowledges that the shack he currently lives in will most likely be burned down due to the accusations of malefic magic. Meanwhile, Haiti Libre reports on the first anniversary of the Haitian group “Religions for Peace,” formed in part to help counteract anti-Vodou violence.

Euvonie George Augustin, a great servant to the Confederation of voodoo and representative of the voodoo within “Religions for Peace”, explained that these attitudes “are the result of a lack of civic and religious education”. For her, the intolerance is a major source of violent behavior and calls on all Haitians to unite to change society, adding that “the next government must be able to rely on the participation of all sectors of the national life to be able to transform its campaign promises into reality.”

It seems that many eyes will be on incoming president Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly to help quell religious violence in Haiti, but will Protestant missionaries engaged in a zero-sum game of conversion allow him to turn down the anti-Vodou rhetoric?

When Will the AFA Be Accountable? Right Wing Watch wonders at what point the American Family Association will take responsibility for the increasingly extreme statements from Bryan Fischer, their Director of Issues Analysis, radio host, and blogger.

“So we know that when Fischer says that Native Americans deserved to be wiped out, African Americans rut like rabbits, and Muslims need to convert to Christianity, he absolutely believes it, even if the AFA later changes it. [...] The AFA cannot place a disclaimer on Fischer’s bigoted rantings claiming that his views do not reflect the views of the AFA and, at the same time, keep editing his posts in an effort to distance the organization from his bigotry … especially not when they are also giving him two hours a day to spout that same bigotry on their radio program. The AFA either needs to own up and take responsibility for the relentless steam of bigotry that pours from the organization’s Director of Issue Analysis and most prominent spokesperson or cut ties with him altogether … because, frankly, the only way the AFA can legitimately claim that Fischer’s bigotry does not reflect the views of the AFA is if the organization actually stops giving him the platforms from which to spew that bigotry.”

Fischer, for those who haven’t been keeping track, claims the Establishment Clause only applies to Christians, that Native Americans are mired in alcoholism and poverty because they won’t all become Christians, and believes the environmental movement is a stalking horse for Paganism. I’m not exaggerating when I say that those are some of the milder opinions he seems to hold. I’m curious at what point does conservative Christian rhetoric cross a line to where even supporters turn away? Perhaps Right Wing Watch will finally find the answer.

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

Top Story: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, who recently scored a major judicial win in their ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, is seeing the fight extended further as Catskill appeals the decision to let the case go forward.

As we reported in February, Judge Pulver’s decision was a big victory for the self-described witches of the Maetreum, who argue that the town treated them differently from other religious groups when it placed their Palenville property on the tax rolls [...] Despite the appeal, Judge Pulver, who held a preliminary conference in the case yesterday, has set a date for a bench trial. Pulver will hear evidence in the case and rule on it himself on July 20.”

Here’s a statement from the Maetreum of Cybele on the town’s appeal.

“We learned this past weekend that the Town of Catskill appealed the Judge’s decision to the New York Appellate Court. We believe this is their last ditch effort to avoid having to legally grant our exemption for 2011 as the deadline for them to decide on that is fast approaching and the decision left no grounds for denial since the Board of Assessment Review refused the invitation to tour our property last year meaning they have no direct knowledge of how we use our property, literally the only wiggle room they had.”

This is an issue that Catskill is going to fight to the bitter end, and is breaking their budget in the process. While they continue to fight for pennies from the Maetreum, mega-retailer Wal-Mart seems to have no trouble getting a big tax break. I guess it’s about priorities.

Heathens Gather Near Paganistan: PNC-Minnesota interviews Brody Derks of  Volkshof  Kindred about Heathenry and the upcoming Northern Folk Gathering near the Twin Cities in June.

“June 10-12, we have this event, the Northern Folk Gathering, it used to be called the Midwest Thing, but we have changed the name. Registration includes three days and two nights of cabin camping. We have open activities, and a Saturday night feast. It is at St Croix State Park at the boot camp. This is just outside the Twin Cities. We having folk coming in from Kansas, Michigan, and other parts of the country.

It has a few different aspects. It is a gathering of tribes. The Chieftains do gather and and have meetings. We are part of an alliance of people, tribes, of the Midwest. We come together and make decisions that influence the road that Heathenry takes in the Midwest. There is also a lot of workshops, information about Anglo-Saxon cultureKari Tauring will be presenting song and Stav. There will also be events for the children. We have plenty of children centered events, and we very much welcome children.”

Derks also talks about why they don’t use the term “Pagan,” and his time as president of the University of Minnesota Pagan Society.

Analyzing Satanism’s (Alleged) Rise: TheoFantastique interviews Jesper Aagaard Peterson, a Research Fellow at the Dept. of Archaeology and Religious Studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who studies modern Satanism, about the recent rise in exorcisms and claims of explosive growth among Satanic groups.

“Regarding the rise of Satanism, that depends on how you define it. The article you mention calls it a “surge” and a “revival”. It is true that the 1990s and early 2000s saw an increase of interest in Satanism alongside Witchcraft, Neopaganism, and other religious currents with roots in esotericism and occultism. This has to do with the general re-enchantment of the West in the past 50 years (an enchantment that never really went away, actually, but that is another story), which has developed in dialogue with popular media. It is also true that Satanism is more visible and more accessible because of the Internet, and that it flourishes on the de-regulated arenas the Internet provides. On the other hand, membership figures are hard to come by, and should be seen in relation to degrees of affiliation – a majority of witches or Satanists are tourists or dabblers, and only a small minority affiliate with a group and/or develop a long-term engagement. It is likely that more people are attracted to Satanism than before, and they are more visible today, but actual members still amount to thousands and not millions. In any case, where I differ from the article’s conclusion is in the effect of mediated religion on susceptible youth. Watching a movie, accessing a website or participating in a discussion forum does not automatically make you a Satanist, and it certainly does not make you possessed.”

The conversation here was sparked by a Daily Telegraph article about a six-day conference being held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University in Rome. According to organizers and exorcists there’s been a “revival” of Satanism and that “the rise of Satanism has been dangerously underestimated in recent years.” For all my exorcism-revival coverage, click here.

The Shrine That Survived: CNN reports on Buddhist/Shinto shrine at Otsuchi that survived the tsunami and a fire.

Stories about indigenous faith traditions from Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami have been somewhat rare, so I’m glad to see this story emerge. Strangely, this story was posted to CNN’s Belief Blog for a short time, but was then removed. I’m not saying there were any nefarious motives, but I do wonder why that happened. Internal turf battle? Editorial decision? As for whether this was divine intervention, I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

Reconstructed and Engaged: Over at Patheos.com, the PNC’s own Cara Schulz writes about Hellenismos and why a reconstructed ancient religion makes the most sense to her.

“But this is how we see it – why reinvent the wheel when you can put some air in the one you’re given and get back on the spiritual path? There were reasons why our ancestors interacted with deities in the way that they did. Because it worked. It’s spiritually fulfilling. It makes sense. It allows for a deeper connection with deities and the world around you. It has meaning and depth and beauty. It is timeless. It vibrates in our very souls. But the key is to regularly engage in rituals, observances and practices. To adhere as close to what the ancients did, in order to learn from their wisdom and experience, and then to translate that into a slightly more modern form that is still ‘true’ to its origins.”

Cara also links to a video of a wedding ceremony conducted by Hellenic Pagans in Greece. Showing how ancient traditions give a depth of meaning to these important milestones of life.

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

Top Story: msnbc.com reports on a Wiccan from Albany, New York, who claims she was harassed, treated differently, and ultimately fired from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) because of her faith.

Immediately after the complaint about casting spells, Smith’s personnel file started to bulge with disciplinary actions. A training coordinator wrote her up for having a negative attitude. A supervisor warned her for not properly checking a boarding pass. She was eight minutes late to work. She was accused of insubordinate behavior for yelling at supervisors when they told her she’d have to work a 16-hour shift because she was the only woman on duty to pat down female passengers. On April 2, the personnel specialist at Albany, Robert Farrow, sent Johansson an e-mail about Smith. It read, in full, “Hammer Time.” Johansson replied, “Not yet … not enough.”

The evidence obtained by msnbc.com is damning, and it’s very clear that she would have won her initial Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint had she hired a lawyer instead of representing herself, a problem she intends to correct on appeal. The article also interviews Selena Fox about how Wiccans and Pagans are experiencing more acceptance, and more harassment, as we become increasingly visible. Carole A. Smith experienced what many Pagans experience when their religion becomes an issue, group harassment, indifference or hostility from superiors, and  the ever-common inflating of small infractions to justify a firing. There’s more to this story, including whistle-blowing, anti-Union sentiments, and sexism, I recommend reading (and watching) the entire report. I’ll be sure to keep my eyes open for updates.

The First Amendment is Only For Christians (Revisited): I’ve discussed at some length the troubling belief held by some conservative Christians, most notably pseudo-historian David Barton, that the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution only applies to Christians. But Michele Bachmann’s history teacher isn’t the only prominent conservative Christian to push this theory, talk radio host Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, recently held forth on the topic while invoking fear of an encroaching Islam.

“Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”

Fischer, it should be noted, recently came to our attention when he wrote a disturbingly ugly editorial about Native Americans (naturally, he was the victim). Fischer is also on the “Green Dragon” fear train. The problem is that Fischer, Barton, and other would-be Christian historians that are building a case to deny us equal protections are flat-out wrong. The Founding Fathers knew quite well that religious freedom also meant freedom for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Pagans. Dave Hill does an excellent job of debunking the pernicious idea that the First Amendment was only meant to protect Christians, and digs up some amazing quotes from the debates that were held at the time.

“The exclusion of religious tests is by many thought dangerous and impolitic. They suppose that if there be no religious test required, pagans, deists, and Mahometans might obtain offices among us, and that the senators and representatives might all be pagans. Every person employed by the general and state governments is to take an oath to support the former. Some are desirous to know how and by whom they are to swear, since no religious tests are required–whether they are to swear by Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Proserpine, or Pluto.” – Rev. Henry Abbot, 1788.

The idea that the Free Exercise Clause doesn’t apply to non-Christians is dangerous, ahistorical, and stupid. That people like Barton and Fischer are preaching this lie weakens the very foundations they claim to protect. The fact is that the Founders were educated and far-sighted men who understood quite well what they were constructing and its implications. These revisionists would make them all into short-sighted dolts.

The Odds Catholics Prefer When Talking to Pagans? Recently Star Foster from Patheos.com went on a Catholic television program to talk about Paganism, and found herself defending our faiths against a disdainful and ill-informed panel.

“I feel I was a bit rude, because I insisted on saying something meaningful, and a bit flustered, stuttering and off-kilter, because I didn’t expect the attitude, ignorance or topic I was surprised with. I didn’t represent Paganism to the best of my ability, and looking back, probably shouldn’t have agreed to come on the show. I should have said Pagans as a rule don’t teach minors, and if they do it’s only with parents present. I should have emphasized community and service more. I shouldn’t have let them get so personal with their questions. I should have emphasized that Pagans leave Christianity because they find the doctrine faulty and irrelevant, not only because they feel alienated or disconnected.

I’m also a bit concerned that they edited out some parts of the interview, especially where the Msgr. Harrington and I had some interesting exchanges regarding whether Pagans were “making it all up.” I know editing happens and I don’t feel I was edited to look bad, but that some of the more interesting exchanges were removed. What I said really didn’t jive with some folks on the show and some of that discomfort has been removed.”

It seem that the program’s name, “In The Arena”, is quite apt. Attack, heap scorn, and edit out the bits that aren’t convenient. More kangaroo court than informational religion program, really. Still, despite the four-to-one odds, I think Star did as good as can be expected. We also learned an important lesson about entering that particular lion’s den.

Returning to Salem’s Psychic Boom: Fox News has picked up a local story about the licensing of psychics in Salem, Massachusetts, with some wondering if there’s now too many practitioners since regulations were relaxed.

Laurie “Lorelei” Stathopoulos owns Crow Haven Corner, a business dubbed “Salem’s first witch shop.” She conducts readings in a cozy back room and believes the city council needs to keep a close eye on the growing number of psychics. “I agree with Christian [Day] as far as the free trade but I also was one of the biggest advocates of keeping Salem quaint and small and magical and the more people we let in could hurt that name,” said Stathopoulos. “Just like having a Chanel bag, you want the real thing. You don’t want the run-of-the-mill or a knock off bag.”

The article also interviews Salem shop owner and promoter Christian Day, City Councilor Joan Lovely (who floated the idea of new caps), and Barbara Szafranski, a long time opponent of relaxing regulations. For more on this issue, see my post from January, which actually goes into more detail on some of the players and history surrounding regulation in Salem. My interview last year with Christian Day regarding laws and regulations affecting psychics may also be informational.

Around the World: Vietnam recently celebrated the Goddess of Mercy Festival, Buddhists prepare temporary mass graves in Japan, families pray to their gods in Myanmar (Burma) after an earthquake shakes the country, and are the Kalasha the “happiest people in Pakistan”?

“Gul Sayed, 25, sports a grin a mile wide as she hugs me, a lone foreigner in her home. She is a member of the Kalasha, a peace-loving pagan tribe living in the remote villages that lie between Northern Pakistan’s Chitral Valley and the Afghan border. She’s dressed in a black robe embroidered with rainbow threads, a beaded headdress adorned with cowrie shells and colorful necklaces. Rumour has it the blue-eyed, fair-skinned Kalasha are the descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great. But unlike their putative bellicose ancestors, the country’s smallest minority group — numbering around 3,000 — prefers to make love, not war. Proud of their warm, caring, crime-free culture, these could just be the happiest people in Pakistan.

The Kalash people, like Hindus, are adherents to an Indo-European polytheistic faith. After the troubles they have experienced lately with the Taliban, I’m happy to learn that the Kalasha continue to thrive.

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