Archives For paranormal

Welcome to the working week! I hope you’re all having as good a Monday as possible. Let’s start off with an important update on a previously reported story, and then move on to some Pagan news of note.

Haitian Government Reassures Vodouisants in Wake of Constitutional Changes: Last week I reported on the newly-amended Haitian constitution, and an assertion from Euvonie Auguste, head of the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou (KNVA), that it removes legal protections for Vodou practitioners.

Haitian Vodou Ceremony (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty).

Haitian Vodou Ceremony (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty).

“Voodoo would be no longer protected by the Constitution amended. The Priestess Euvonie Auguste, Head of the National Confederation of voodoo in Haiti, deplores the abrogation of Article 297 of the Constitution which, accrding to her protected the sector voodoo against all forms of discrimination. Recall that Article 297 abrogated amongst other things the Decree-Law of 5 September 1935 on superstitious beliefs that restricted arbitrarily the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. Given this new constitutional situation, the priestess Euvonie Augustus, stated that now, the vodoo practitioners will have to use their own means to protect themselves from any attacks against them.

At the time I cast some doubt on this assertion, noting that Haitian President Michel Martelly wants to build a tourism industry around Vodou, making a new crackdown on the faith unlikely. Now, Joël Turenne, Director of Legal Affairs of the Directorate General of Ministry of Religious Affairs, who apparently was stunned by these accusations, has released a statement denying that Vodou is in any way unprotected or endangered by the new constitution.

“…with stupefaction the apprehensions of Voodoo sector concerning the abrogation of Article 297 of the amended Constitution” brings to the attention of all concerned, that “the constitutional amendment is and can not be prejudicial in any way, nor to the functioning of voodoo, or the rights of its adherents”. Especially, he specifies that “the presidential decree of April 4, 2003 make of the Voodoo a religion recognized which should in no way be confused with a superstitious practice.”

The Director went on to claim that the infamous 1935 anti-Vodou law concerning superstitious practices is not applicable under the law as it has “never been promulgated.” This sentiment was echoed by American Haitian Vodou practioner Mambo Racine, who noted that the “definition of Vodou as a “superstitious practice” has gone out the window, that’s why the amendment regarding the prohibition of “superstitious practices” promoted during the long-ago regime of Haitian President Stenio Vincent is no longer needed.”  It remains to be seen if this clarification from the government will mollify the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou. I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

Witchtalk Talks to A Witch Queen: Karagan Griffith’s Witchtalk interviewed Maxine Sanders on the most recent episode, and you can now listen to it on Youtube.

“Maxine was initiated into the Circle of Witchcraft in 1964. The High Priest of that Coven was Alex Sanders, known throughout the world as ‘King of the Witches’. Maxine and Alex were Handfasted in 1965, and legally married in 1968. The Sanders became household names during the sixties and seventies, dramatically bringing Witchcraft, its practices and reality into global consciousness.”

Sanders released a autobiography entitled “Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders ‘Witch Queen'” back in 2007, and truly is an important figure in the history of modern Paganism. This interview is a must-listen, so share widely!

In Other News:

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

Famed ghost-hunter, paranormal investigator, and popularizer of Pagan faiths Hans Holzer passed away on Sunday at the age of 89. While most will remember him for his ghost-hunting and investigations into the Amityville house (the subject of several films), he also played a key role in the spread of Witchcraft/Wicca and other Pagan faiths in America during the 1970s. With books like “The New Pagans”, “The Truth About Witchcraft”, and “Confessions of a Witch”, Holzer responded to a need that the still nascent Pagan publishing industry couldn’t fill.

“For all their inadequacies, books such as Holzer’s … offer a snapshot of Pagan history circa 1970. It may be a blurry snapshot, but it is one of very few from the period. In addition, Holzer was correct when he suggested that his books would serve people seeking Pagan groups and teachers. Even today, in the age of e-mail and the World Wide Web, with the explosive growth of American Paganism from the low thousands in the early 1970s to estimates of close to a million in 2000 and growing rapidly, the majority are still solitary practitioners. More than one contemporary Pagan has described how important a book such as ‘The New Pagans’ could be when there was nothing else to go by.”Chas Clifton, Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006)

Though he participated in many Pagan groups over the years, and was made a Wiccan high priest according to the New York Times obituary, Holzer never really abandoned his Protestant Christian roots. Though his view of religion and Christianity ended up being a bit too heretical for his local pastor.

“He considers himself an Evangelical Protestant and used to attend St. Bartholomew in Manhattan twice a year – on Christmas and Easter. But he has since stopped going – he’s been at odds with the minister. “My minister at St. Bart’s, I don’t like,” he said. “And it’s mutual.” He laughed. “Why is that?” I asked. “They were running a seminar on world religions – they had a rabbi there, they had an Imam there – it was a discussion group,” he said. “Since I’m a professional lecturer, I offered to add the view of parapsychology. And he [the minister] turned it down with a note saying, ‘How can you compare that with what we’re doing?’ And I didn’t think that was very nice. You have to understand, where I’m coming from, if it weren’t for parapsychology, religion wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.”

While many modern Pagans barely know Holzer outside of his books on paranormal phenomena, he played a key role in making Wicca/Witchcraft the world religion it is today. As a writer Holzer certainly veered into sensationalist flights of fancy over the years, but he also connected hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people with Pagan teachers. Holzer also cleared a path in the publishing world that eventually allowed Pagan authors like Margot Adler to write serious examinations of what we now call the “Pagan community”. We owe him recognition and thanks for the work he did on our behalf. May his spirit enjoy his journeys on the other side.

The mainstream religious press, who are currently congregating in Washington, are exploring the just-released data from the National Baylor Religion Survey on Americans’ Beliefs and Practices.

“Do Americans really believe in Santa Claus? Does God directly speak to people? Should the Bible be taken literally, word-for-word? These, along with other in-depth questions relating to religion, belief in the supernatural, and the voice of God, comprised the new wave of the National Baylor Religion Survey on Americans’ Beliefs and Practices.”

This survey, which polled 1,648 people (the Pew Forum, in contrast, surveyed 35,000 people), claims to hold some startling new information about what Americans believe, including the fact that liberal religionists are more likely to believe in the “paranormal”.

“The survey, which has a margin of error of four percentage points, also revealed that theological liberals are more apt to believe in the paranormal and the occult – haunted houses, UFOs, communicating with the dead and astrology – than do conservatives. Women (35 percent), blacks (41 percent), those younger than 30 (40 percent), Democrats (40 percent) and singles who are cohabitating (49 percent) were more likely to believe, the survey said.”

This point was used as a journalistic “gotcha” by M.Z. Hemingway to infer that the liberal-leaning United Church of Christ (Obama’s former denomination) was less “rational” than the conservative Assemblies of God (Sarah Palin’s former denomination).

“Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.”

Of course measuring “paranormal” and “occult” belief all depends on what you consider paranormal. For example, the ethic of spiritual warfare, which is common in many AoG churches, would certainly be considered an “occult” practice in any non-Christian context. In fact, many religious beliefs sanctified by various Christian denominations would be considered taboo if it was done by a circle of Wiccans instead of a church full of “believers”.

Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this particular slant in the data. After all, Baylor is a conservative Southern Baptist college, and the survey questions are heavily skewed towards Christian modes of belief. Hence, the “big story” (so far) from the Baylor survey is that Americans love their guardian angels!

“The guardian angel encounter figures were “the big shocker” in the report, says Christopher Bader, director of the Baylor survey that covered a range of religious issues, parts of which are being released Thursday in a book titled What Americans Really Believe. In the case of angels, however, the question is a little stronger than just belief. Says Bader, “If you ask whether people believe in guardian angels, a lot of people will say, ‘sure.’ But this is different. It’s experiential. It means that lots of Americans are having these lived supernatural experiences.”

Belief that mystical entities are floating around protecting you? Sounds pretty occult to me.

That religious editorial page/”conversation” that is the Washington Post’s “On Faith”, has asked its distinguished panel of experts to weigh in on a Gallup poll from 2005 that claims 3 in 4 Americans believe in at least one paranormal phenomena. So what does this hodge-podge of religious leaders, scholars, activists, and pundits have to say? Starhawk, the token Pagan panelist*, says that the “paranormal” is pretty darn “normal”.

“What is ‘normal’ is for people to have dreams, intuitions, hunches, flashes of inspiration, incidents of serendipity, and moments of deep connection that can’t be measured or predicted. The Wiccan and Pagan traditions train people to value and use our intuition and to awaken those states of awareness that go beyond the narrow band of what our culture recognizes. We develop tools for entering—and coming back from—altered states of awareness, and for discerning whether something is a true vision or a paranoid fantasy. Our rituals and ceremonies are designed to bring us into those deep states of connection.”

Next on the “On Faith” hit parade, you have the one-two punch of atheist Susan Jacoby who bemoans the deluded “junk thought” of the supernatural, and the “hucksters” who spread belief in paranormal events, while Charles “Chuck” Colson brings the standard warnings about “black magic”.

“We are made for contact with an unseen, spiritual realm. But if there are not responsible religious guidelines, this curiosity often leads into darker realms … The Christian teaching is that we can understand the supernatural only through the One who created both nature and that which is beyond nature, that we will one day understand it completely when we live in God’s presence. We are taught in the meantime to avoid things like the paranormal, which too easily fall into the realm of black magic.”

A bit more sensible is the Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who reminds readers that one person’s “paranormal” could very well be another persons religion.

“One person’s “paranormal” is another person’s religion. The first term is the one we use when we choose to be dismissive or pejorative in our description of a supposedly supernatural experience, or one that goes beyond the doctrines of the faith we follow, and the latter is what we call roughly the same experience which has gained acceptance from a critical mass of people, or those who control a particular religious system.”

The rest of the responses all fall somewhere between the pro-“paranormal” stance of Starhawk, the tolerance of Rabbi Hirshfield, and the skepticism/distrust of Jacoby and Colson. I would like to think that this look at paranormal belief belies a new willingness to explore issues important to religious minorities, but I fear not. No doubt they’ll go back to pissing off Catholics next week.

* Speaking of Wiccans and Pagans, that Gallup polls says that only 21% of Americans believe in the existence of Witches. So our PR folks have really got to get on the ball here.