Archives For philosophy

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.

Still from 1973's "The Wicker Man".

Still from 1973’s “The Wicker Man”.

  • With the new “final cut” of the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man debuting in British theaters, a number of outlets are running new reviews, and the Guardian runs down how the film was made. Quote: “Christopher Lee was the obvious choice for Lord Summerisle. He had a patrician air, and this wonderful voice for incantations to the gods. Casting Howie was much harder. Michael York turned it down, David Hemmings had other fish to fry. Edward Woodward had always played counter-establishment parts on TV, but actors are always pleased to be cast against their image. He understood the script perfectly and grew into the uptightness of the role beautifully – the consummate actor.” Here are a selection of recent reviews: The Guardian, The Scotsman,  WhatCulture!, The Hollywood Reporter, The Arts Desk, and Salon.com.
  • At The Atlantic, Benson Daitz writes about how he oversaw a Santeria-style exorcism for prison inmate, and why that was the right decision. Quote: “Ron placed a large brown grocery bag on the floor, from which he produced a beautiful king conch shell. We all walked into the exam room, and standing in front of Jose’s staring face, Ron lifted the conch shell above his head and smashed it into a hundred pieces on the floor. Then he picked up a sharp piece of shell, gripped Jose’s left wrist, and cut an X into his forearm, blood oozing out from the pattern. Then, with another piece of shell, he cut a matching X into his own left forearm. Jose did not flinch. Facing Jose, Ron bound their cut arms together, palm-to-palm, with a red bandana. They spent the night in the clinic like that, tied together.”
  • At Aeon Magazine, Nigel Warburton argues that conversation, not isolation, is essential to breakthroughs and innovations in philosophy. Quote: “Western philosophy has its origins in conversation, in face-to-face discussions about reality, our place in the cosmos, and how we should live. It began with a sense of mystery, wonder, and confusion, and the powerful desire to get beyond mere appearances to find truth or, if not that, at least some kind of wisdom or balance […] Besides, why would a thinker cast seeds on barren soil? Surely it is better to sow then where they’re likely to grow, to share your ideas in the way most suited to the audience, to adapt what you say to whoever is in front of you.”
  • Guardian religion editor Andrew Brown poses the question: How do religions die? Quote: “Perhaps it is easier to think in terms of gods dying, rather than religions. And if we were to classify religions as involving different forms of worship, then you could certainly think that the extinction of worship towards a particular deity would count as the extinction of that religion. Certainly we can be sure that the religion of the Aztecs is dead with their gods, along with hundreds of thousands of others we can no longer reconstruct, and all the pre-literate ones whose existence we remain quite unaware of. Robert Bellah has a nice passage on this ‘Perhaps the end of Mesopotamian Civilization was marked, not by the last cuneiform document to be produced, but by the last prayer to be uttered to Marduk or Assur, but of that we have no record.'” Considering how many Pagans are devoted to reviving and reconstructing belief systems thought lost, this seems like a provocative question.
  • At the Religion in American History blog, John L. Crow takes a look at African-American esoteric religion. Quote: “One of the most significant African American religious tradition to fully incorporate a large variety of esoteric components, including portions from the Moorish Temple, is Dr. Malachi Zador (Dwight) York’s United Nuwaubian Nation. Operating for over 40 years, the Nuwaubian’s have an active presence in America, Canada, and the U.K. They have established temples and bookstores in a variety of cities, recruited tens of thousands of members, and yet, to date, there is only one monograph about them, The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control (Ashgate 2010) by Susan Palmer, and one significant essay in the JAAR, by Julius H. Bailey in 2006. Most other references in academic literature to the Nuwaubians are in passing, and usually only related to its incorporation of UFO and aliens in its religious teachings. Yet, UFOs only scratches the surface of how involved with esotericism the Nuwaubians are.” Fascinating stuff.
John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

John Constantine. Art by Andrea Sorrentino.

  • The occult comic character John Constintine, who was once dramatized on screen by Keanu Reeves, is in development for a television series at NBC. Quote: “NBC has ordered a script from Warner Bros. TV that’s based upon the DC Comics anti-hero John Constantine, an enigmatic and irreverent con man-turned-reluctant supernatural detective who is thrust into the role of defending citizens against dark forces.” I would like to take this opportunity to implore the writers to mine the early Jamie Delano years for material, instead of the crasser, and in my mind inferior (though more popular), Garth Ennis years.
  • Shoma Chaudhury writes about the role of women in India, and how they are trapped between the image of “slut” and Goddess. Quote: “The hopeful story about India is located elsewhere. The success of these women has a deeper foundation. Crucially, unlike almost every other democracy in the world – unlike either the US or UK – equal rights for women were enshrined in the very conception of the nation. Unlike First World countries, where women had to fight elemental battles for something as basic as suffrage rights, the Indian Constitution recognised equal rights for women from the very moment of India’s birth. No matter how imperfect the practice therefore, what we have as moral ammunition, are sublime articles of faith. It would’ve been wondrous if these articles of faith had worked as a miracle cure. But pitted against centuries-old social attitudes, they function rather as slow oxygen in the system. This oxygenation, however, should not be underestimated.” I think a crucial point here is that goddess worship, and legal rights, aren’t enough. That cultural attitudes must also change in order for women to be truly empowered.
  • Two accused “witches” in Zimbabwe are claiming in court that they are actresses hired by a local “prophet” to drum up business. It seems like it was a big con-job, one that authorities initially fell for. Quote: “A police source said: ‘His plan was to see people flocking to his so-called shrine – so spiritually powerful witches couldn’t fly over it. It was all a grand set-up.’ Police and prosecutors will face uncomfortable questions over how they took the women’s story at face value – even going to the extent of presenting them in court as witches.” Where-ever there’s a moral panic, there will be someone wanting to profit from it.
  • The Weekly Standard looks at the enduring popularity of supernatural fiction. Quote: “Nothing human is alien to supernatural fiction. Transgressive by definition, it ventures into the dark corners within all of us, probing our sexuality, religious beliefs, and family relationships, uncovering shameful yearnings and anxieties, questioning the meaning of life and death, even speculating about the nature of the cosmos. It’s no surprise that almost every canonical writer one can think of has occasionally, or more than occasionally, dabbled in ghostly fiction: Charles Dickens, Henry James, Somerset Maugham, Elizabeth Bowen, John Cheever, even Russell Kirk, to name just a few outstanding examples. The genre’s best stories are, after all, more than divertissements. They are works of art that make us think about who and what we are.”
  • Druid Ci Cyfarth poses the question: What can a Pagan learn from the Five Pillars of Islam?  Quote: “In this article and the next, I’ll be looking at my understanding of each of the Five Pillars of Islam, considering what the practices of modern Pagans might have in common with Islam, and thinking about how Islam might inspire us to explore new elements of our paths we may not have considered.” Here’s part two of the two-part series.

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

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

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

  • Is Bolivia imposing an animist/indigenous worldview on Christians? That’s the charge some Christian groups are making in the wake of a new law which oversees the recognition of religious groups in the country. Quote: “They want to control the activities of the evangelical churches,” Agustín Aguilera, president of ANDEB, told the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. “Article 15 (of the law) would force all religious organizations to carry out our activities within the parameters of the ‘horizon of good living,’ which is based on the [ethnic] Aymara worldview. This is an imposition of a cultural and spiritual worldview totally foreign to ours.” It should be noted that the ethos of “Living Well,” while originating in indigenous thought, does not force a particular theology. Since Christianity Today is so concerned with people being forced to conform to religious philosophies not of their choosing, I’m sure they’ll speak out against a monarch in Nigeria who converted to Christianity and is now jettisoning traditional practices beloved by the locals. Right? Any day now…
  • Sociologist Robert Bartholomew says there’s a “sudden upsurge” in cases of mass psychogenic illness, better known in the common parlance as “mass hysteria” Worse, Bartholomew says that it can now spread via social media, which is bad news for those trying to prevent another “Satanic Panic,” or plain-old witch-hunt for that matter. Quote: “In a paper titled “Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Social Network: is it changing the pattern of outbreaks?” Bartholomew writes, ‘Local priests, who were inevitably summoned to exorcise the ‘demons’, faced a daunting task given the widespread belief in witchcraft, but they were fortunate in one regard: they did not have to contend with mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook.’ However, the old and the new are more intertwined than one might expect. Two separate strangers messaged Thera through Facebook saying she needed an exorcism.”
  • Greek Jews live in fear of the Golden Dawn, an extremist political party that’s been on the rise in the wake of austerity and fiscal crisis. Their words and actions are getting increasingly reminiscent of another European political party that arose during a time of fiscal crisis.  Quote: “In Athens on July 24, another song was heard — a Greek version of a Horst Wessel song, a Nazi anthem. The Golden Dawn Party blasted it outside its headquarters while handing out free food to “Greeks only.” Golden Dawn says it wants to “clean” Greece of foreigners. Its black-shirted supporters attack poor South Asian and African migrants, claiming they’re all in Greece illegally. The violence scares Orietta Treveza, a Greek-Jewish educator who has three young daughters. ‘It’s very scary because we think that we are next,’ she says. ‘It’s not going to end with the immigrants.'” For those wondering, the party did/does embrace nationalistic pseudo-pagan trappings, but has also realized the populist potential of catering to Greek Orthodoxy. Like most fascists, belief and tradition are simply avenues to power.
  • Satanic Panic bottom-feeder Bob Larson and his troupe of teenage exorcists have hit London, and the results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Quote: “Savannah seriously weighed in on why London is full of dark forces, explaining, ‘I think it’s been centuries in the making, but I believe it all kind of came to a pinnacle, a peak, with the Harry Potter books that have come out, and the Harry Potter rage that swept across England.’ Her sister Tess agreed, commenting, ‘The spells and things that you’re reading in the Harry Potter books? Those aren’t just something that are made up– those are actual spells. Those are things that came from witchcraft books.'” There’s the fruit of reality television for you, anything so long as it draws attention. Oh, and there’s going to be new Harry Potter soon, so I guess Satan wins again?
  • A United Nations housing expert has criticized a new “bedroom tax” in the UK, so naturally the Daily Fail accuses her of being a Marxist Witch. Quote: “Her lengthy CV lists countless qualifications, civic achievements, books and publications – but Raquel Rolnik makes no mention of dabbling in witchcraft. Yet the architect and urban planner appears to be an avid follower of Candomble, an African-Brazilian religion that originated during the slave trade. The academic, brought up a Marxist, actually offered an animal sacrifice to Karl Marx…” This is yet another reason why Pagans should not support or link to this tabloid.
An image from the "Abused Goddesses" campaign against domestic violence.

An image from the “Abused Goddesses” campaign against domestic violence.

  • A lot of attention has been paid recently to the “Abused Goddesses” awareness campaign against domestic violence, which features representations of Hindu goddesses that carry bruises and cuts from beatings. However, reactions from Hindus have been somewhat mixed. Praneta Jha of the Hindustan Times says that “trapping women into images of a supposed ideal is one of the oldest strategies of patriarchy – and if we do not fit the image, it is deemed alright to ‘punish’ and violate us.” Sayantani DasGupta at The Feminist Wire notes that “these images of Hindu goddesses looking sorrowful and downtrodden undermine culturally located sources of female power – however ‘contradictory’.” Lakshmi Chaudhry calls it a “giant step backward for womankind,” and USF professor Vamsee Juluri adds that “there has been such a great deal of misrepresentation, if not outright malicious propaganda, about Hinduism, that the campaign already seems to many Hindus to be a perpetuation of that, rather than a sincere attempt to address the real problem of domestic violence.” Finally, Suhag A. Shukla says that “what will be the ultimate test of the success of this campaign, however, is if it is able to stop the first of many abusers from letting his raised hand meet its intended target.”
  • Does philosophy have a problem with women? Katy Waldman at Slate.com ponders: “Taken one by one, the various explanations for philosophy’s woman problem are like Zeno’s arrow, inching ever closer to a target they can’t quite hit.”
  • In Israel, the tradition of participating in the kaparot ritual using a live chicken has caused debate after MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid called the practice “deplorable” and “pagan.” Quote: “The ritual involves circling a live chicken over one’s head three times and symbolically transferring one’s sins to the animal. The chicken is then slaughtered and eaten. Many have the practice of donating the chicken’s meat to the poor […] Lipman urged Jews to perform the kaparot ritual with money or with flowers instead, as many currently do.”
  • Mitch Horowitz writes about how the occult brought cremation to America. Quote: “Cremation was introduced to America in the 1870s by a retired Civil War colonel, Henry Steel Olcott. As a Union Army staff colonel and military investigator, Olcott had amassed a distinguished record, which included routing out fraud among defense contractors and making some of the first arrests in the Lincoln assassination. In his post-military life as a lawyer and journalist, Olcott developed a deep interest in the esoteric and paranormal — which drove his fascination with the then-exotic rite of burning the dead.”
  • Definition of a slow news day: these leaves and overgrowth on power lines look somewhat like a witch! Wow! Really? Let’s get that spread around as quickly as possible.

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.

Just some quick updates on stories previously discussed here on The Wild Hunt.

More Discussion on Exorcism and Demonic Influences: Last week I took issue with Patheos Catholic columnist Fr. Dwight Longenecker, who made the argument that Aurora, Colorado killer James Holmes may have been demonically possessed. Now, Religion News Service has picked up the story, bringing this controversial view to a much wider audience.

“Longenecker dismissed the range of explanations for what might have motivated Holmes — a bad childhood, mental illness, social awkwardness, extreme political or religious views, or exposure to violent video games or to the Batman movie that was showing when he allegedly opened fire. The real culprit, he says, was spiritual, and malign.”

Meanwhile, other Catholics, like  About.com’s Scott P. Richert, are doubling down on the demonic “infestation” scenario, referencing Ouija board use in the 1973 film “The Exorcist” as an accurate portrayal of how possession begins.

Troubling Expansion of the Ministerial Exception? At the beginning of this year I wrote about the Supreme Court of the United State’s decision in in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissionwhich centered on the question of whether an employee of a religious organization could be fired without recourse to anti-discrimination laws if they were ordained within said faith. The ruling established that a ministerial exception from federal discrimination laws does exist. Now, Religion Clause reports on two linked ruling from the Kentucky Court of Appeals that says the exception applies even when faculty at a seminary aren’t even of the same religion.

“Because Kant’s primary duties involved teaching religious-themed courses at a seminary, his position was one that prepared students for Christian ministry…. Given his position as a faculty member teaching at a seminary, Kant’s personal views are not determinative of the function he served. Rather, we review the function of his position: teaching future Christian ministers primarily on Judeo-Christian subjects and culture. Kant’s personal faith and beliefs do not clash with the actuality that the classes he taught at LTS were for the purpose of preparing future church leaders of the Christian faith.”

So a Jew can be considered a “minister” of a Christian seminary, so long as his role supports the institution’s goals. One wonders how this interpretation could be abused by organizations who want to evade litigation over a firing. More on this particular story, here.

The Olympics and Religion (and those dualistic Greeks): I recently linked to two articles that looked at the ancient (pagan) history of the Olympic games, now underway in London. Now, USA Today spotlights an editorial by Pastor Henry Brinton that also looks at religion and the games, specifically the Christians history of the modern games, and how “muscular Christianity” saved us from the dualism of the ancient Greeks.

“Ancient Greeks are partially to blame. While they provided the inspiration for the modern Games, they also created a dualistic philosophy that included antagonism between the physical and spiritual. Christians embraced this approach for many years, until muscular Christianity came along and people began to reclaim the ancient biblical truth that human beings are created with a unity of flesh and spirit. […] As for the Olympics, perhaps the opening ceremonies should have had a celebration of religions as well as a parade of nations. Most of the world’s great faiths honor both body and spirit, and encourage health and vitality. This would correct the error made by the ancient Greeks, and would pay tribute to the religious leaders who made the modern Olympics possible. It could even inspire a few religious people to get off the couch and into the gym.”

I wish I could stamp a giant “citation needed” on these claims, because it sounds like revisionist triumphalism to me. Ancient Greeks may have believed in a physical world and a world of spirit, but that didn’t create an antagonism between the two realities. It sounds to me like Christians blaming Greek philosophy for their own shortcomings in how they adopted and adapted pagan thought. I’ll leave it to my philosophy and ancient Greece buffs to let me know if my suspicions are correct, or if Greek dualism really did create this antagonism Brinton claims.

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

Welcome to the latest installment of Unleash the Hounds, in which I round up articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans. Before we get started I wanted to give an update on the Pagan journalism crowdfunding experiment I launched on March 21st. The very excellent news is that not only have I reached my fundraising goal of $1850 dollars to send The Wild Hunt to Chicago in November so that I can cover the American Academy of Religion’s 2012 Annual Meeting, but I’ve surpassed that goal by hundreds of dollars. All in less than a week! Thank you! Your enthusiastic response not only means I’ll be covering the AAR’s Annual Meeting, but that we have a head start on the next crowdfunding assignment (all monies raised beyond the goal will be rolled over into the next campaign).

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

http://www.indiegogo.com/thewildhunt-AAR

Once the month-long campaign officially ends I’ll update my affiliates page with all those who chose to become underwriters, and update all who’ve donated on other promised perks. Considering the success of this initial go, I think it’s fair to say that I’ll be using this model to fund other assignments. The big question now is, where would you like me to go, and how often do you think I should hold a crowdfunding assignment campaign? I welcome your feedback, and once we have some solid ideas for events you’d like to see me at, we can even hold a poll to gauge reader interest. Some initial ideas for future assignments include the Esoteric Book Conference in Seattle, and Paganicon in Minnesota. Make your voices heard, and if there’s enough demand, we’ll try to fund them one at a time. Ultimately, I would like to build this up and work towards funding a trip to the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Belgium.

So again, thank you to my generous supporters. You made this happen. Now then, let’s unleash the hounds, shall we?

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

PNC Managing Editor, Cara Schulz with Presidential candidate Gov. Gary Johnson

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

A few quick news notes for you today.

Trademarking the Gods: Video game company Nintendo just received permission from the Japanese Patent Office to trademark the name “Amaterasu” in relation to video games.

And you thought it was bad when Nintendo filed to trademark the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong.” The Japanese Patent Office recently revealed that Nintendo trademarked the kanji “Amaterasu” as well as the katakana form in relation to video games. “Amaterasu” certainly seems to refer to the Shinto goddess, but the full name for the deity is Amaterasu Omikami. This name was not trademarked, as it’s unlikely that the Japanese Patent Office would allow Nintendo to copyright an actual god or goddess.

While this may seem like no big deal to some, it could set a troubling precedent. If corporations and private businesses start grabbing trademarks to the names of deities within different contexts, what will that mean for the religions that worship and revere those figures? This is especially true as video games, art, and social interactions start to blur within contexts like Second Life. If someone can trademark a god’s name in one context, there’s little to stop them from doing it in others.

The Birth of Freedom: City Journal features an essay by Andre Glucksmann concerning the birth of the idea of freedom, and the differences between the “epic freedom” of Hegel or Marx and the “tragic freedom” of Athens and Socrates. Glucksmann notes that polytheism creates a more “radical” idea of freedom than most monotheistic conceptions.

With the Athenians, however—and this is an important difference—the gods are as imperfect as human beings, and the divine words are consequently doubtful and impure. In this sense, the Greek experience seems more radical than that of the monotheisms, since it presupposes no adherence to a unique word that would dominate the thought and freedom of men and women. For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being.

Glucksmann also credits ancient Greek thinkers with providing the framework for the separation of church and state, and our modern ideas of “human rights.” The whole text is worth a look.

Telltale Signs of Santeria? What happens when you mix “occult experts” with animal parts? You get assertions that the dead animals are a “telltale sign” of Santeria.

“Don Rimer, who spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer and now provides training in the fields of ritual crimes and the occult, said the decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria. Followers brought the faith with them to the New World when they were taken from Africa during the slave trade, first establishing themselves in the Caribbean region, he said. Santeria is a blend of ancient African religion and Catholicism, Rimer said. A Utah state agency alerted Rimer to the Park City cases, he said. Rimer, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said the circumstances of the Park City discoveries resemble those of Santeria practices elsewhere. Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.”

Yes, you read that right. The expert was Don Rimer, who also happens to be an expert on Paganism, Satanic crime, and vampires. One wonders where he gets the time to become so knowledgeable when he’s so busy traveling the country giving talks. No doubt Rimer thinks his influence was positive because he asserted that animal sacrifice was legal and the alleged practitioners of Santeria meant no harm, but instead he verified the for many the idea that leaving dead bodies lying around is a normal practice for Santeria (instead of acknowledging that there could be other explanations).

A few quick news notes to start your Monday.

Will a Ghanaian Witch-Burning Turn the Tide? Last week a 72-year-old woman in Ghana was accused of being a witch, tortured, doused with kerosene, and lit on fire. This is nothing new; the United Nations and various NGOs have been talking about the global epidemic of witch-killings and witch-hunts for some time now. But will this latest gruesome case spark a change in Ghana? It could just be an illusion created by international press attention, but there seems to be widespread revulsion and outcry over this case, and those forced to live in “witch camps” are agitating for justice.

“Inmates of the alleged witches camp at Kukuo numbering about 700 in the Nanumba South District of the Northern Region have threatened to go on a naked demonstration if government fails to punish the murderers of 72 year old Grandma Ama Hemmar, who was allegedly murdered at Tema Community 15 under the pretence of alleged witchcraft.”

Could we finally be seeing the collective cry of “enough” from the people of Ghana? Has this madness finally begun to run its course? There are some promising signs, like a massive decrease in hungry people, and a growing influx of oil money, that could diminish the social pressures that help fuel these moral panics. As members of communities that have been caught in the crossfire of moral panics against “Satanism” and “the occult”  we should take special interest in seeing these injustices ended, and ensuring their madness isn’t allowed to spread. For those looking for a way to directly aid women and children in Ghana, please check out WISE (Women Initiative for Self Empowerment).

Problems with The Power: Mark Vernon at Religion Dispatches reviews Rhonda “The Secret” Byrne’s latest New Thought opus “The Secret: The Power”. While Vernon points out that the “Law of Attraction” is nothing new, Byrne’s version relies on a “relentless optimism” that doesn’t encompass tragedy as anything but a failure of vision, ignoring the uncontrollable “absurdities” of life.

“…there are critical differences between Stoicism and The Power, for the ancients were wise to life’s tragedies too. Some things do, apparently, go badly. (They could hardly think otherwise, living during that long period of history in which death was associated with the young, not the old.) So, their instruction was to ‘go with the flow’ even when that is hard to stomach. Theirs is not a relentless optimism, expecting everything, like Byrne’s. Rather, the Stoics advocated expecting nothing, but working at everything. Be lightened by life’s absurdities too, they recommended. That way you won’t be disappointed when you don’t, apparently, make progress. You’ll be able to maintain your trust in the logos.”

In the end, the problem with “The Secret” is that it’s only half a philosophy, encouraging gain through positive attitudes while empowering dangerous “teachers” who rake in millions. A “smile or die” world that leaves no place for the millions placed in inhuman conditions by environmental, social, and political causes beyond their control.

As Pagans, one of our greatest gifts to the world can be to reject The Secret’s “moral callousness” and replace it with encompassing philosophies of life that don’t blame your brain for every tragedy.

Polyamorists Ask to Not Be Criminalized: As the Canadian polygamy trial moves forward, which I’ve covered here for several months, the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) asks the BC Supreme Court to stop breaking up loving families.

By criminalizing consensual polyamorists along with patriarchal polygamists, the BC and federal governments will break up loving families, a Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) lawyer said on Nov 25. “The attorneys general have lost their moral compass,” John Ince told a BC Supreme Court reference on the constitutionality of Section 293 of the Criminal Code. A British Columbia court began hearings Nov 22 to determine whether Canada’s law prohibiting polygamy violates basic human rights. The polyamorists maintain Section 293 infringes on their constitutional rights of association, religion, equality and the life, liberty and security of the person as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. A subsection of the law prohibits any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship.”

Polyamorists are justifiably worried that they will be lumped in with patriarchal, and sometimes abusive, forms of polygamy. Nor has the government been forthcoming on whether it would prosecute polyamorist families should this effort to decriminalize polygamy fail. This creates a tense situation for the many Pagan poly families living in Canada, forcing their life choices underground for fear of persecution. Hearings are just beginning on this case, and I’ll keep you posted on its progress.

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

A few quick news notes for you on this Wednesday.

Cracking the Plato Code: Science historian Dr Jay Kennedy of the University of Manchester claims to have cracked “The Plato Code”, the long-disputed messages that the great Greek philosopher Plato was supposed to have encoded in his writings.

“Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a ‘harmony of the spheres’. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.

The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion.”

Kennedy calls his discoveries “amazing”, and that it was “like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself”. You can read a quick introduction to his work and findings, here. You can find downloads of his drafts, here. I’m almost certain a book is being written as we speak. I’m also sure that Dan Brown is furiously scribbling notes somewhere and finding a way to work the Catholic Church into the story.

The Endurance of Arthur: Oxford University Press features a short essay by Helen Cooper, Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College, on the literary history, and enduring popularity of the Arthurian mythos. Cooper discusses how the  “most successful commercial brand in the history of English literature” has changed with the times to include feminist and “New Age” themes.

“The first wave of Arthurian novels tended to follow Malory’s version of the story but filled in the omissions, supplying in particular details of the love affair between Lancelot and Guinevere. Others recounted sections of Arthur’s life that Malory had passed over, not least his childhood. Current fashions tend to be for feminist and New Age versions, with Morgan le Fay as the most powerful character, or the Grail as the key to all pagan mythologies. (The Grail, for the record, was never regarded in the Middle Ages as anything but a fiction: its elevation towards Dan Brown status began only a century or so ago.) Malory’s genius is to have produced a work that sets the gold standard for Arthurian writing – for all its spareness of style, its phrases stay in your mind, and it can still make you cry – but it does so by inviting the infinite play of the imagination.”

The shifting role of Morgan le Fay is in my mind perhaps the most significant change in the modern adaptations, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon” (originally published in 1980)  may be just as ground-breaking and influential within modern Paganism as Starhawk’s “The Spiral Dance” and Margot Adler’s “Drawing Down the Moon”. Morgan’s shift from villain to antiheroine or protagonist continues in modern adaptations like the “Merlin” television series. There are currently two Arthurian films in development (one a remake of Boorman’s “Excalibur”), so the legend continues.

Can You Join My Club? SCOTUS Says Yes: A recent SCOTUS decision in the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, where the US Supreme Court ruled that colleges could make rules concerning open membership in religious clubs that accept college resources, is making waves.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s cautious opinion, roundly condemned by the dissenters as an exercise in “political correctness,” did not make much new law.  The bottom line: state college leaders may reserve official status on campus to groups that admit all comers, provided that the policy genuinely seeks and promotes that aim and does not single out any group because of what it believes.”

While that decision pleased Americans United, others, notably Ed Brayton of Dispatches From the Culture Wars and Mark D. Roberts at Beliefnet, saw some troubling ramifications (more reactions here). An interview with Dean Leo Martinez makes it clear that the policy, as it stands, would force groups to (in theory) admit their sworn enemies as members.

O’BRIEN: A black group would have to admit white supremacists?

MARTINEZ: It would.

O’BRIEN: Even if it means a black student organization is going to have to admit members of the Ku Klux Klan?

MARTINEZ: Yes.

O’BRIEN: You can see where that might cause some consternation?

MARTINEZ: Well, there’s a Spanish saying to the effect that “the thinnest of tortillas still has two sides,” and the other side of that is that with any other regime we would be forced, using public money, to subsidize the discriminatory practices of a particular group.

This issue is far from over, and this decision was actually quite narrow, which means that new court cases will happen to determine if the policy is truly being applied fairly to all college groups. One wonders if there is an official Pagan group at Hastings, and how they would feel about admitting certain Christians for membership. Will this have a chilling effect on faith-based groups? How will it affect religious minorities who don’t have the resources of the larger faiths? What do you think? A good decision, or one that may have a lot of unintended consequences?

As I’ve mentioned before, many social theorists and theologians believe that Western culture has gone through a period of “disenchantment” in the post-Enlightenment era and the resulting rise of secular government, perhaps culminating in the “death of God” theology so popular in the 1960s. But while many were pondering the “death” of God, some started to notice a new “re-enchantment” (one that includes the magic-embracing Pagans) coming to fill the void left by this newly minted “post-Christian” era. But is “re-enchantment” necessarily a rebellion against secularism and reason? Keir Martin of The Guardian doesn’t think so.

“However, what both Weber’s analysis of disenchantment and counter-claims as to the importance of contemporary re-enchantment often share is a tendency to make an easy association between religion and enchantment on the one hand and secular rationalism/scientific atheism and disenchantment on the other. In fact there is a long history of occasions when very modernist secular events seemed highly enchanted to many of those participating in them. Wordsworth’s response to the French Revolution, containing a reference to “reason” as the “prime enchantress” of the earth, being but one famous example. Likewise, organised religion can often be experienced as profoundly disenchanting, as the work of generations of writers, from James Joyce to Jeanette Winterson testifies.”

In short, the old binary of religious=enchantment and secular=disenchantment may be too reductive in today’s world, in fact, as one recent academic collection of essays argues, the new forces re-enchanment have no problem with “secular rationalism”.

“…enchantment continues to be understood as anti-rational and quasi-mystical, a source of cognitive deception and affective indulgence … modernity produces an entirely new array of strategies, compatible with secular rationality, for re-enchanting a disenchanted world. We perceive this as being an exciting new trend in current conceptualizations of Western modernity…”

To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendenat spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religioun and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.

Two bloggers at The American Conservative mull over a recent article in Free Inquiry (not available online) by Canadian academic Shadia Drury. In “Against Grand Narratives”, Drury, according to TAC blogger Leon Hadar, argues for a rejection of linear monotheist grand narratives and a return to a “pagan” worldview.

…she [Drury] argues that “Since the triumph of Christianity over the pagan civilizations of Greece and Rome, the West has suffered from the inability to affirm life in the world without an overarching purpose to give it meaning and make it worthwhile.” The Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Muslim provided such grand narratives as part of an effort to “destroy the pagan view of life as an endless cycle” and replacing it with “the cyclical view of history with a linear view that has a magical beginning, an arduous middle, and a very splendid finale.” … Drury promises to explain in her next piece “why grand narratives must be transcended in favor of a return to pagan sobriety.”

While this argument fascinates Hadar, a noted critic of the neoconservative grand narrative, Jack Ross at TAC’s Post Right blog begs to differ that Judiac monotheism should be lumped in with Drury’s criticisms.

“As a practicing Jew following the examples of Isaac Mayer Wise and Will Herberg, I have to take exception to cavalierly lumping Judaism into this mix.  As Philip Rieff argued, against the cant of both “Athens and Jerusalem” and “Judeo-Christian values”, the greatness of Hebraic civilization was that it placed man squarely under the authority of death, the most powerful reproach imaginable to immanentizing the eschaton. Even in the case of Zionism, it is narrowly nationalist in the extreme and therefore can not be considered “world redemptive” in any sense.  As such, it is exuberantly pagan, as yesterday’s blood-and-soil oration by Netanyahu should make abundantly clear. In the ideal, therefore, Judaism stands for rationalism over paganism and for humility before the infinite over the redemption of the world by man.”

What I find fascinating here is that two noted conservative thinkers are willing to (critically) entertain the idea that we might be better off with a cyclic pagan sobriety than a triumphalist Christian narrative. Now, it is to be certain that neither Leon Hadar or Jack Ross are considered part of the conservative mainstream, but if the conservative mainstream is currently being defined by Gingrich, Huckabee, Limbaugh, and Cheney, perhaps on the sidelines (or “underground” if you prefer) is the best place for them to be. In the meantime, I think I might track down this essay by Drury.

Since I first posted about Pagan podcasters Deò and Mandy, and their transition to atheism, a remarkably vibrant and thoughtful discussion has emerged in the comments section (Nearing 100 comments!). I urge you to take a moment and check it out if you haven’t already. However, my blog is hardly the only one exploring this topic and the issues it raises, here are just some of the posts from some fellow Pagan bloggers, authors, and pundits.

From MetaPagan: Spirituality, Identity and Community (by Yvonne Aburrow).

But is a religious label really about beliefs, or about participating in community, and sharing values and practices? Is it about doing something for the wider community? Or about a quest to understand the world and know how to live in it well? When does identifying with a label become membership in the group? Where and how does membership end? If you were accused of practising your religion in a court of law, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Perhaps religion is really a convincing narrative that helps to confer meaning on the world and our place in it. Even if it isn’t literally true, it’s symbolically true and internally consistent.

From The North West Passage: The Passing of Deo’s Shadow (by Brendan Myers)

I have to admit this affected me greatly, and not just because I was a guest on the show four times. Deo is a friend and a fellow philosopher. Before I moved to Hamilton, I was living only 20 kilometers away from him. He is also a remarkably generous, friendly, fun and kind person. I was dearly glad of someone in the community who has the same background and knowledge in philosophy as I do, with whom I can talk about such things. His departure from the community, therefore, hit me hard. His reasons for leaving it were sound and rational. It made me wonder if I have given much of my adult life to a community that doesn’t care about philosophers, and if I, too, have become merely a spokesperson for a tradition that is ultimately a dead end.

From Letter From Hardscrabble Creek: Pagans are not a Community nor a Tribe — Not Yet (by Chas Clifton)

What we have is a network, not a community nor a tribe. Maybe in a few generations that will change, who knows? (For you anthro and sociology majors, it is the Gemeinschaft / Gesellschaft issue, no?) Everytime I hear someone going on about “the Pagan community,” I say to myself, “Not yet.” Not when you can walk in and walk out so easily.

From Cernunnos’ Path: On the Threshold Between One Life Path and Another (by Mahud)

I have no idea where my path will lead (who knows, perhaps back to Christianity. I’m open minded enough to consider that a valid possibility), but I’m going to take it slow and not rush into this ritual or that magical practice or suddenly start worshipping a pantheon of Deities, just to fit in with the wide world of Paganism. Whether I stay or go, I’ll always have a piece of the Pagan community with me. But the way things are going now, I’ll be sticking around for some time yet.

From Chrysalis: Where Can We Grow From Here? (by Pax)

Well, it seems to me that the Pagan community could really stand to do a lot of work and soul searching on issues of Pride and Community.  I say this as a Pagan and Gay man who has often seen parallels and contrasts between his two subcultural communities. Why do we seem to have so much trouble coming together across lines of faith or Tradition to build community on the local, regional, and national levels?

And that seems to only be the beginning, I’m sure there are even more posts I’m missing out on. If you have commented on the transition to atheism by Deò and Mandy, or the issues it (and subsequent blog commentary) raises in your own blog/journal feel free to share a link in the comments (you can also consider this a “fresh” thread to discuss the topic if you feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of comments on the original post).