Archives For Phyllis Curott

On Thursday, April 3, 2014, two Pagans were inducted into the Martin Luther King, Jr. International College of Ministries and Laity at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Andras Corban-Arthen and Phyllis Curott were given this honorary designation for their ongoing efforts in the interfaith movement namely for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion. The special ceremony was one part of a much larger event celebrating Karen Armstrong’s Charter of Compassion.

downloadIn 2008 Karen Armstrong, author and fellow at the Society of Literature, received a $100,000 TED prize for her global messages of peace and compassion. Dr. Armstrong took that money and launched a campaign called the “Charter for Compassion” which would embody her message and grow a movement. The Charter is described as:

a cooperative effort to restore no only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems.

In February 2014 the city council of Atlanta joined the movement by unanimously voting to become a “Compassionate City.” The declaration was the result of a grassroots effort by a group called Compassionate Atlanta. The local movement garnered a number of supporters including The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions and the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel at Morehouse College.

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter

Dr. Lawrence Carter, the dean of the Chapel at Morehouse, happens to also be a Parliament trustee. As Andras explains:

Through his involvement on our Board, Dr. Carter, who has been Dean of the MLK Chapel since its inception, felt that it would be significant for the Chapel to recognize the longstanding interfaith efforts of the Parliament, so he proposed that the current trustees be inducted as honorary ministers. 

Dr. Carter scheduled the “investiture ceremony” to coincide with Atlanta’s “Celebration of Compassion” and the honoring of Dr. Karen Armstrong. All events were held on Morehouse College’s campus in downtown Atlanta.

Prior to Thursday’s ceremonies, Andras and Phyllis met with local Pagans and Interfaith representatives to discuss “Pagans in the Parliament.” This talk was held north of the city in Sandy Springs at The Phoenix and Dragon, a local metaphysical bookstore and Charter for Compassion Partner.

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

Phyllis Curott and Andras Corban-Arthen at Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore, Atlanta

After a digital slide-show highlighting the 20 years of Pagan involvement in the Parliament, the elders discussed the positive effects that global interfaith work has had on Paganism in general.  Lydia M. N. Crabtree, author with Immanion Press was one of those in attendance. She said:

It was interesting to see where much of interreligious tolerance for Paganism has come from. Without Phyllis Curott, Andras Corban-Arthen and many other, often unnamed and unrecognized leaders, working on a global level, interreligious work done by Pagans at the local level would be a pothole-riddled road to try and travel upon.

10152674_850351721648798_1602302713_n

Then on Thursday morning, Andras and Phyllis gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr International Chapel for their induction ceremony. Andras says:

I feel deeply honored and also overwhelmed, since MLK was my childhood hero, someone I’ve looked to for inspiration all of my life. It’s truly a humbling experience to walk down the photo-lined halls of the Martin Luther King Memorial Chapel, seeing all the faces of the remarkable women and men who put their lives on the line in the struggle for civil rights.

As part of its interfaith programming the Chapel has been “conferring honorary inductions” to those people whose work is “congruent with the principles set forth by Gandhi, King and Ikeda,” as Andras explains.  He and Phyllis became the first two Pagans, of any tradition, to receive this honor. Andras adds:

To have two of us welcomed into the ranks of a storied Southern Baptist institution; to sit on a stage along with Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Jains, Catholics, Indigenous, Hindus, Sikhs, and Bahá’ís while the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta stirred up the audience with all the zeal of an old-time black preacher; to be treated not just with openness and respect, but with actual deference by everyone at Morehouse — it really brought home just how far we’ve come. That scene would not have taken place as recently as 20 years ago, when the Parliament, much to its credit, first let us in the door.

Later that evening at the same Chapel, Compassionate Atlanta held its own reception and ceremony to honor Karen Armstrong and her work. Mr. Ajit Jumar of the consul General of India, Mr. Martin Luther King III, son of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mr. Shigeo Hasegawa, Vice President of Soko Gakkai International presented Dr. Armstrong with three different peace awards and an honorary degree. In addition, they unveiled a commissioned painting of her which will hang in the King Center Hall of Fame Gallery.

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Andras Corban-Arthen at the Celebration of Compassion

Sitting on the stage during the evening ceremonies were both Andras and Phyllis as trustees of the Parliament. Andras says:

It’s not every day that I get to share a stage with both the son of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi — a fascinating, educational, inspirational and productive visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta! 

Several local pagans attended the event including Eibhlean, Priestess and member of the Interfaith Community Initiative in Atlanta. She says:

Dr. Armstrong was engaging and thought provoking as she cited example after example of the existence of Compassion as a core tenet in religious faiths around the world. She ended her presentation with a statement that we could move closer to God by opening ourselves to seeing the Divine in everyone’s eyes – most especially in those who have caused us the most heartache. Compassion is not comfortable – it is standing in integrity and strength to embrace the world in its entirety. It was an honor and a joy to feel that embrace include me as a Witch and Druid.

Compassionate Atlanta has a complete overview of the entire event including photos, music samples and prayers read.  Want to know if your city is Compassionate? Go to the Charter for Compassion to see which cities have signed up for Dr. Armstrong’s “Compassionate City Initiative” and which local venues are Compassion Partners.  

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Karen Armstrong at Compassionate Seattle (Photo Credit: Seamus Rainheart via Flickr)

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Raven Grimassi

Raven Grimassi

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re in the midst of Pagan Pride Day season, and sometimes certain folks aren’t too fond of Pagans gathering and expressing pride in their faith(s). Author and lecturer Raven Grimassi was at the Piedmont Pagan Pride event in North Carolina this past weekend, which experienced some disruptions at the hands of local Christians. Quote: “It was the first event for the Park and a group of Fundamentalists Christians descended. They prayed over us, and spent some time wandering amidst the crowds holding Bibles in the air while shouting ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘Glory be to God’. One came up to me and tried to convert me, and two came to one of my talks to heckle and be confrontational. I always warm myself in these moments as the love pours out as only they can deliver it.” According to Grimassi, local police acknowledged that the Christians were attempting to disrupt the event, and praised the Pagans on their restraint. Commenting further, Grimassi said that the “New Testament gives Christians a mandate to convert others, and from that perspective I understand their passion to do so. I just wish that Jesus had added to the text: ‘Oh, and don’t be an a**hole about it’”

worldwide heathen census asatru norse mythology blog norsemythDr. Karl E. H. Seigfried of The Norse Mythology Blog has launched The Worldwide Heathen Census 2013, which “seeks to establish an approximate number of adherents through an anonymous survey with only one item: a pull-down menu where the respondent selects his or her home country. It is hoped that the anonymous nature of this census will attract responses from heathens who may not want to put their name on an official form from a governmental agency or research institution.” According to Dr. Seigfried, the census was in part sparked by frustration over Heathens being “mostly invisible in major surveys of religious affiliation,” and seeks to remedy that. The census is anonymous, and asks that only individuals who “self-identify as a heathen and heathenry is your primary expression of faith and religion” or if “your core religious identity is as someone who practices any variation of Germanic paganism” participate.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Pagan author Phyllis Curott, who currently serves as Vice Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religion’s Board of Trustees, is quoted in a public statement from that organization, defending their decision to back out of sponsorship of an event honoring the legacy of Swami Vivekananda, who represented Hinduism at the very first parliament in 1893. According to Curott, “as an interfaith body, the Parliament simply cannot co-sponsor an event with political parties, organizations, or individuals” and that “as an interfaith body, the Parliament also cannot co-sponsor an event with an organization that does not respect the independent nature of Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist communities.” The political organization in question is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, currently backing the candidacy of Narendra Modi for Prime Minister. Modi self-describes as a Hindu Nationalist, and is banned from traveling to the United States due to his controversial role in anti-Muslim retaliation riots. In addition, a keynote speaker at the event, Dr. Subramanian Swamy, was removed from teaching at Harvard after he wrote a highly controversial op-ed regarding how Hindus should respond to Muslim terrorism. This statement from the Council was in response to the Hindu American Foundation’s criticism of the move, claiming the interfaith organization “turned its back on the Hindu community and drew its own fault lines defining politics and religion.” Sadly, it seems that by trying to extricate itself from the political fray of these issues by removing co-sponsorship, they have instead sunk deeper into an ongoing and divisive debate.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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

CPWR Logo.

CPWR Logo.

While final negotiations and discussions with lawyers are still underway, it appears that the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has successfully raised enough money by their deadline to save the organization from a sudden fiscal crisis. As the Religion News Service reports, modern Pagans played a large role in making that happen.

“With the help of pagans, Jains and people of a range of other faiths, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has raised more than $144,000 in two weeks using a crowdsourcing campaign in a desperate bid to survive a financial crisis [...]  Two pagan groups alone raised more than $16,000. A Jain board member raised $6,300. [...] As of Tuesday (April 16), the council had raised more than $144,000 of the $150,000 it needed, and had received permission from a donor to use additional funds from an operational grant, if necessary, to make the final debt repayment.”

Phyllis Curott, founder of the Temple of Ara, and recently elected to serve as the Vice-Chair for the Parliament’s Board of Trustees, posted a bittersweet note of thanks and joy, as this achievement comes during a time of tragedy.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

“Sorrow in the midst of Joy – how frequently and sadly that fact is a fact of life. This morning I wanted to shout with joy Thank YOU to everyone who has helped save the Parliament. Because though we still have to raise funds, we HAVE saved the Parliament and the Pagan community around the world has played a tremendous role in that success. But instead of shouting w/ joy, this morning I am saying Thank You as a prayer of deep gratitude for the kindness, goodness, and hope that your generosity expresses and because it is the light that overcomes the darkness that caused the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, the deaths and injuries suffered. So this morning, I offer prayers of gratitude, prayers of healing, prayers of peace.”

At the Parliament’s official blog, a missive posted earlier this week by Board Chair Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, and Interim Executive Director Dr. Mary Nelson, specifically singles out Pagans for their part in this relief effort.

Board of Trustees Chairperson Imam Malik Mujahid with Board Emereti Andras Arben-Corthen in Guadalajara, Mexico. In February 2013, the Board met to explore future Interfaith efforts in Mexico.

Board of Trustees Chairperson Imam Malik Mujahid with Board Emereti Andras Corban-Arthen (of the EarthSpirit Community) in Guadalajara, Mexico. In February 2013, the Board met to explore future Interfaith efforts in Mexico.

“Plans for moving forward have jumpstarted with relief efforts from Baha’i, Hindu, Jain, Sikh, Native, Unitarian, Jewish, Humanist, Christian, Pagan, Muslim, Buddhist and Spiritual communities.”

As I said at the beginning of this emergency campaign, this was a moment for the global Pagan community to distinguish itself, to solidify its place as part of the global interfaith movement.

“Supporting the Parliament of the World’s Religions at this time has practical and symbolic value. The Parliament helps bring our religions to the global stage, gives us a voice in which we can interact with other faith leaders, and helps us speak out on issues of importance to us. Supporting the Parliament also shows that we can, and will, lend support to the organizations that involve and support us. It shows that we are ready to walk on the world stage. [...] Let’s send a message, image if the headlines read: Pagans save the Parliament of the World’s Religions. That is a headline I’d love to write, and I suspect, that many of you would love to read.”

While we didn’t single-handedly save the Parliament, we were instrumental in doing so, and now the world knows it. Notable Pagans from across the world spoke up to mobilize their communities, including Margot Adler, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, and representatives from Covenant of the Goddess, the Pagan FederationPagan Federation InternationalPagan Pride Italia, and more, added their voices to a chorus of Pagans who realized the importance of this moment. We have earned the headline, for Pagans have indeed helped save the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The work now is to build on this success and make sure we are engaged on the world stage, making sure that Pagan voices are heard on issues that matter to us, and the Parliament is a vital part of that. Congratulations to all who made this happen.

In recent weeks I have stressed the importance of national and international interfaith efforts by modern Pagans, how this form of outreach can bring attention to issues we face and build important alliances in the global faith community. One of our most important achievements in this area has been with the Parliament of the World’s Religions,  where the modern conception of “interfaith” was born in 1893. It was at the revived 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago that modern Paganism effectively “came out” to the global interfaith movement, and where we established ourselves as faiths to be taken seriously.

“The Pagan presence at the Parliament was historic. The fact that this Parliament included Pagan group sponsors, speakers, and delegates in the first place was noteworthy, since Nature religions were excluded from the first Parliament. At this Parliament, however, there was inclusion, respect, and support. In addition to Wiccans and other Pagans, there were those from a variety of traditional Nature wisdom paths, including Winnebago, Navajo, Hopi, Yoruba, Maya, Santeria, Lakota, Cheyenne, and others. Pagan and Native American participation received widespread positive media attention. Some reporters commented that just as the first Parliament served to introduce Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions to the realm of religions in the West, this Parliament served to bring Pagan and Native American spiritualities more fully into the community of the world’s religions.”

In the 20 years since that parliament, modern Pagans have made important contributions to the global interfaith movement, and since 2002 three modern Pagans: Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and Andras Corban-Arthen have served on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees. Yesterday, these Pagans came forward to fundraise on the Parliament’s behalf, noting that the organization is in peril due to circumstances beyond its control. Andras Corban-Arthen, founder and spiritual director of the EarthSpirit Community, and Parliament board emeritus, sent the following out to various email lists and social networking sites.

Andras Corban-Arthen (center) with Parliament board trustees in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Andras Corban-Arthen (center) with Parliament board trustees in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“The Parliament of the World’s Religions has been promoting peace, understanding and respect among all peoples, religions and nations for a very long time. The Parliament gave birth to the interfaith movement in 1893, and through the vehicle of interreligious dialogue, has spread its message to many thousands of people all over the globe.

For those of us who are pagan, or who follow any of the Earth-centered spiritual paths, the Parliament has provided a welcoming place where we could openly share our practices within the community of the world’s religions: pagans from five continents have been featured presenters & performers at the Parliaments in Chicago (1993), Cape Town (1999), Barcelona (2004) and Melbourne (2009), and at the World Interreligious Encounter in Monterrey, Mexico (2007). Since 2002, three pagans — Angie Buchanan, Phyllis Curott, and myself — have also served on the Parliament’s Board of Trustees. The Parliament was the first major interfaith organization to give our community a seat at the table.

Now the Parliament needs our help — it faces an unexpectedly immediate, one-time financial challenge, which threatens its very existence. We need to raise $150,000 by 12 April, and the many world-wide religious communities which participate in the Parliament are already mobilizing to help us reach this goal.

This is the time for the pagan movement to show its support for this organization which has welcomed and supported us for so long, and in so many ways. Please give what you can: your contribution, no matter how small, can make a big difference!”

Phyllis Curott, founder of the Temple of Ara, and recently elected to serve as the Vice-Chair for the Parliament, posted an appeal as well, giving some background into how this fiscal trouble came about.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

Phyllis Curott (third from left) at an interfaith gathering.

“The Parliament incurred a large and burdensome debt as the consequence of an unexpected drop in the attendance of the 2004 Barcelona Parliament due to a terrorist attack in Madrid weeks earlier. As a result, there was insufficient income to cover the expenses of the event. While we have been paying it off slowly, a Spanish arbitrator ruled against the Parliament and despite our efforts to challenge the award, a US Court has now ruled that the Spanish arbitration award is binding and the balance of the debt is due immediately. In anticipation that we might lose, we started raising funds last Fall, and have raised about half the amount needed. We expected to have several more months to raise the rest, but the remaining balance is now due immediately. We need to raise $150,000 and have until April 12th to do so [...] This is the time for the pagan movement to show its support for this organization which has welcomed and supported us for so long, and in so many ways. Please give what you can: your contribution, no matter how small, can make a big difference!”

This is the most recent setback for the organization that organizes the parliaments, which had recently announced that the 2014 Parliament of the World’s Religions will not be happening in Brussels due to the ongoing economic hardships in Europe, and that they are seeking a new home for the gathering. So the continued fiscal health for this organization is precarious if they can’t raise the money necessary to pay off this debt. Pagans involved with the parliament are hoping our community can raise $25,000 of the total $150,000 amount needed and have started a page at causevox.com for those who want to help. 

“Imagine a world without the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Imagine that tens of thousands of global citizens didn’t attend the South Africa Parliament in 1999 to see how the interfaith movement helped end apartheid. Imagine the indigenous tribes in Australia who long stood outside their societies still waiting to be heard until their voices were the core of the Melbourne Parliament in 2009.”

Supporting the Parliament of the World’s Religions at this time has practical and symbolic value. The Parliament helps bring our religions to the global stage, gives us a voice in which we can interact with other faith leaders, and helps us speak out on issues of importance to us. Supporting the Parliament also shows that we can, and will, lend support to the organizations that involve and support us. It shows that we are ready to walk on the world stage. As modern Pagan religions increasingly become world religions we will need spaces where we can dialog and make alliances, where we can reach out, and if need be, speak truth to power about injustices done to us. As recent events have shown, our reach is longer now than ever, so too must be our responsibility and sense of global purpose. Ensuring that the Parliament of the World’s Religions survives ultimately serves our needs, and we should strive to see that it does.

If just 25,000 of the estimated million American Pagans gave a dollar to this campaign, it would already have reached the goal set for it. That, in my mind, would be a dollar well spent. If just a mere fraction of the global Pagan community gave a little, we could erase this debt ourselves. Let’s send a message, image if the headlines read: Pagans save the Parliament of the World’s Religions. That is a headline I’d love to write, and I suspect, that many of you would love to read.

Here’s the link to donate: http://parliamentofreligions.causevox.com/pagans

Yesterday a neo-Nazi by the name of Wade Michael Page walked into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and opened fire, killing six, and wounding at least three others, before being shot and killed by police at the scene. The shocking incident brought up past trauma for the American Sikh community, which has faced over 700 reported bias attacks since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. To the ignorant, Sikhs, with their beards and turbans, fit the stereotype of “Arab-ness” in the post-9/11 era and found themselves literally caught in the crossfire as American extremists decided to “retaliate” against Islam. The World Sikh Council – America Region, released a statement yesterday urging everyone to pray for the victims and their families, and thanking the first responders. The organization called this “a troubling day, not only for Sikh-Americans, but also for all Americans,” and promised to launch an investigation into understanding how this terrible incident happened.

Sikh Temple of Wisconsin

“In the coming days, along with Sikh advocacy organizations, we will be working with public officials, and law enforcement authorities, to understand the events of today and to help the community in whatever way we can. The Council will also be providing support mediums for our interreligious partners and the public as we sort out this situation. This shooting comes on the heels of another tragedy, as our country continues to recover from the senseless shootings in Aurora, Colorado.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, himself a Sikh, expressed “that this senseless act of violence should be targeted at a place of religious worship is particularly painful,” calling the shooting “dastardly.” Also weighing in was Jathedar Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh, the current religious head of Sri Akaal Takhat Sahib, the supreme religious authority of the Sikhs, who opined that “this is a security lapse on the part of the U.S. government,” and called on American Sikhs to enact stricter security measures at their temples.

Meanwhile, American Dharmic and Pagan organizations have been issuing statements of prayer, condolence, and support in this time of tragedy. The Hindu American Foundation issued a statement saying they “join all Americans in shared shock, disbelief, and outrage” at the killings.

“Dharma traditions–the Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains and Hindus–hold non-violence and peaceful co-existence as paramount values. It is a cruel irony that Sikhs, donning the turban as among proud symbols of a spiritual mandate to serve humanity as defenders of dharma against all onslaughts, find themselves sought out and victimized by ignorant assailants on too many occasions. We call on all Americans today to join Sikhs in mourning a senseless attack and to take this opportunity to not only learn about the sublime teachings of Sikh gurus, the Sikh faith, and the meanings of its external symbols, but also join hands to ensure that the gurudwaras remain sanctuaries of joyous worship and celebrated sharing of langar, or community meals, for generations to come.”

Another prominent American Hindu, Universal Society of Hinduism president Rajan Zed, pointed out that that “Sikhs had made lot of contributions to America and the world. Various faith and inter-faith groups nationwide should join hands to express support to the Sikh community and to spread the message of peace, love and harmony at grassroots level.” He is calling on all Hindus to say prayers for the victims and their families.

Within the Pagan community, learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary issued a statement calling for reflection and silence within their community to mark this tragic and senseless eruption of violence.

“As Pagans, we are particularly sensitive to the violation of sacred space and disregard for human life which occurred.  Furthermore, we cherish the pursuit of ongoing education as an antidote to the violence bred in ignorance and misunderstanding.  We call on each member of our seminary community as well as our supporters and friends to set aside a moment of contemplative silence today in memory of those who lost their lives, and in support of all who are suffering because of this tragedy.  In addition, we recommend that you seek ways to express support for Sikhs in your own community.”

Phyllis Curott a noted Pagan who serves as a trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, said she was “deeply saddened by the terrible shooting at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.”

“There is so much hatred and fear in this country, in this world – and so much work for us to do to heal and transform it. Today, prayers and offerings of peace to my Sikh brothers and sisters, especially those whom I know and work with at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and to all in their community who suffer and grieve. Please join me in these offerings.”

Other Pagans who have made public statements include author of Temple of Witchcraft co-founder Christopher Penczak, who sent “magick and love and prayers to the victims and mourners of the Sikh Temple attack,” noting that  “at one time I almost joined a Sikh group,” and T. Thorn Coyle, who posted: “May Guru Har Krishan dispel your sorrow. We stand by your side.”  Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, which is also based in Wisconsin, offered “healing, protection, peace, condolences, [and] other support to all those impacted by the shootings today at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.” 

As fellow Patheos contributor Star Foster said earlier this morning, I want us to be better than this. That such hate and fear runs rampant can wound the very soul with its meaninglessness. I also want to echo Teo Bishop,  who hopes that “our collective response to the temple shooting tragedy be one of compassion.” At this moment of crisis and tragedy, we should stand together, firm in the notion that religious minorities in this country are, in the words of our President, “a part of our broader American family.” The Dharmic and Pagan family of faiths have deep and interweaving ties, and this moment should be a catalyst for greater outreach, interaction, and mutual support. Today we stand in unity with the Sikh community, you have our prayers, and our support.

ADDENDUM: Thorn Coyle adds: “Solar Cross Temple gave $100 to help the Sikhs of Milwaukee with medical bills incurred by the temple shooting. The officer wounded will also get some assistance. Can you help?” 

The campaign has already raised over 46 thousand dollars, and are now trying to hit a new goal of 75 thousand.

Top Story: Circle Cemetery, located at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve, just north of Barneveld, Wisconsin, has become America’s first National Pagan natural burial ground and contemporary Green cemetery to be platted and recorded in Wisconsin.


Selena Fox at a memorial for Marion Weinstein.

“For its first fifteen years, Circle Cemetery took the form of an area on a ridge top where cremains were placed and Green funerals were conducted.  In 2005, Selena, along with her husband Dr. Dennis Carpenter, Circle Sanctuary church attorney Chip Brown and others in the Circle Sanctuary Community began the legal process of permitting body burials and expanding the size of the cemetery to 20 acres.  Circle Sanctuary minister Rev. Nora Cedarwind Young of Washington State assisted with Green cemetery platting research. In Spring of 2010, Selena, Dennis, and Chip took the expanded cemetery proposal before local government officials through a series of meetings.  Circle Cemetery zoning was approved by the Town of Brigham Zoning Committee on April 20, by the Brigham Town Board on May 4, and the Iowa County Zoning and Planning Committee on May 26.  On June 15, Circle Cemetery’s plat was approved by the Iowa County Board, and the following day the remaining official signatures were added to the plat and the plat was recorded, completing the process.”

While there are other Pagan sites that allow for cremains, this is the first Pagan-run cemetery in the United States that will also allow for full (non-cremated) body burials. Circle Cemetery currently  holds the cremains of seventeen Pagans. Celebrations for this development are planned at this year’s Pagan Spirit Gathering Summer Solstice festivities in Missouri and at the Solstice Full Moon evening at Circle Sanctuary Nature Preserve in Wisconsin.

If you are interested in supporting Circle Cemetery fiscally, you can donate here. For inquires relating to arrangements for cremains placement, body burials, and memorial markers, you can contact Selena Fox.

A Pagan Buddha Killer: The long-running religion e-zine Killing the Buddha features an essay by Eric Scott about growing up in a Pagan family, and gathering the children of his parent’s coven years later to celebrate Lughnasadh.

“We sat in the den of the house in the suburbs, chewing on scalloped potatoes and roast beef, and wondered what to do. We longed for the mystery we felt when we were young. We longed for the magic that turned TV rooms into temples. We longed to feel something again at the moment the scimitar carved the mystical from the mundane. We talked, and we frowned, and we decided that next year, we would take the festival of Lughnasadh.”

An excellent look at growing up Pagan in a Pagan family; I recommend reading the entire thing. Also worth checking out is his piece Hrafspa, which also appears at Patheos.com.

Andrew and the Archdruid: Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic references a recent essay by John Michael Greer (Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America) that talks about peak oil (a favorite topic of Greer’s) and the revitalization movements that will emerge as the reality of peak oil sinks in.

“The optional features [of revitalization movements] range all over the map from the harmless to the horrific. A focus on purification, for example, is one common optional feature, but purification can mean a great many things. In the Native American revitalization movements of the twentieth century, for example, it usually meant abstaining from alcohol and other toxic products of white culture, and did a great deal to help First Nations communities begin to recover from the ghastly experiences of the previous century. In the European revitalization movements that sprang up in the wake of the Black Death, by contrast, it usually meant getting rid of Jews and other social outsiders who were blamed for spreading the plague, and helped lay the foundation for the witch hunting mania of the following centuries.

It seems uncomfortably likely to me that such movements could be set in motion by the emergence of peak oil as a publicly acknowledged crisis. Tendencies in that direction are already welded firmly in place in popular culture across the industrial world. The Sarah Palin supporters who turned “Drill, baby, drill” into their mantra du jour are engaging in incantation, to be sure, but there’s more to the slogan than a comfortable thoughtstopper; a great many of the people who mouth it believe with all their heart that all we have to do is drill enough wells and we can have all the petroleum we want, and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get those wells drilled. That plan of action can’t deliver the goods; they might as well be out there with the cargo cults, building mock airfields on isolated Pacific islands hoping to bring back the DC-3s full of K-rations and cheap trade goods that landed on a hundred archipelagoes during the Second World War. Still, that’s not something they are likely to grasp any time soon; mere reason has essentially no power against a nascent revitalization movement.”

In a follow-up essay, Greer discusses ritual and magical thinking within revitalization movements, and drives home the point that the time of brighter futures is rapidly drawing to a close (you may also want to look at his essay explaining why magic won’t solve our problems).

URI at 10: Don Frew at the Covenant of the Goddess (COG) Interfaith Reports blog discusses the United Religions Initiative, COG’s history of participation in the interfaith organization, and its upcoming tenth anniversary on June 26th. Frew makes a request for a the Pagan community to take part in a joint working of protection for the URI so that its work can continue.

“Every year, my coven celebrates Samhain.  Our ceremony usually includes a trance journey to the island of the Dead to speak with the ancestors.  I often encounter recently passed interfaith friends on the shore.  A few years ago, right after his death, I encountered Gary Smith [an NA/Oneida URI representative] on the shore.  He was intent upon impressing upon me that that the protective work we did at the founding of the URI wasn’t a one-time thing; that such work needed to be done on a regular basis, especially on the anniversary of the URI’s founding: June 26.

I have tried to live up to this, and have shared Gary’s message with those folks in interfaith who wouldn’t be too taken aback by messages from the dead about magical protection rituals.  On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the URI’s founding, I feel moved to share Gary’s message with the wider Neopagan / Pagan / Indigenous community who might read this blog and invite you to share – in whatever way your path does so – in the magical / spiritual protection of the URI, that its work “to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” might continue to grow and prosper.  So mote it be!”

The United Religions Initiative is one of few modern interfaith organizations that had modern Pagans involved from the very start, and has done a lot to spread awareness of our faiths, and to build bridges with indigenous groups around the world. So protecting it for another ten years seems like an excellent idea. For information about the official 10th anniversary celebration in Amman, Jordan, click here.

Pagans on Godspeed: The Progressive Radio Network show Godspeed has had a run of Pagan guests recently. On 05/30 they interviewed Galina Krasskova, on 06/06 they interviewed Phyllis Curott, and this week they’ve interviewed Pagan scholar Sabina Magliocco author of “Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America”.

“In this hour, topics include: Italy and regional folklore; ‘Strega Nona’ or Grandmother Witch; religious festivals in Europe as economic and political opportunities; how they changed when the economy changed; how the role of women also changed; the “old religion” and old ways of healing; a brief history of Wicca in England; the rise of Wicca in Europe and the U.S.; core beliefs of Wicca; alignment with the natural world and cycles; conflict with Roman Catholic clergy; Neo-pagans in America; Harry Potter – reaching out to reconnect with our magical, mystical being; individual and group worship; holidays and festivals; the importance of folklore — why is it a continuing inspiration and guide.”

All the shows seem available for download, so load up your mp3-player and enjoy!

That’s all I have for now, I’ll be leaving for PSG tomorrow, so stay tuned for the coming week’s line-up of guest-posters!

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 22, 2009 — 3 Comments

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

Let’s start off with the latest news in the ongoing James A. Ray sweat-lodge death saga. The AP has an interview with one of the survivors, and it isn’t good news for Ray or his lawyers.

“More than 50 followers of spiritual guru James Arthur Ray had just endured five strenuous days of fasting, sleep-deprivation and mind-altering breathing exercises when he led them into a sweat lodge ceremony … When participants exhibited weakness, Ray urged them to push past it and chided those who wanted to leave, she said. “I can’t get her to move. I can’t get her to wake up,” Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray’s response: “Leave her alone, she’ll be dealt with in the next round.” … Looking back, she said it’s easy to see how so many people were overcome. No one was well-hydrated, the sweat lodge was poorly ventilated, no safety tips were provided and appropriate medical care wasn’t available, she said.”

To put it simply, Ray is in big big trouble. Despite that, his spokesman is actually arguing that since some had “amazing experiences,” he shouldn’t be arrested for negligent homicide immediately. Meanwhile, as the faux-Native American spirituality of the ceremony has been confirmed (“he led the group in chants and prayers in a Native American tongue”), American Indians in Arizona are “appalled” by the demeaning commercialization of their rites. Somehow I don’t think Ray will ever be invited back on Oprah again, do you?

Speaking of Oprah, that titan of promoting the New Age flavor-of-the-month will be having a rather unexpected guest on her show in November. That’s right, not a dream! Not an imaginary story! Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah “blessed by Muthee” Palin will be on Oprah to promote her new book!

“Oprah Winfrey, on a campaign to climb back from last season’s ratings slump, will attempt to kiss and make up with conservative viewers on Nov. 16 when she has Sarah Palin on her syndicated talk show. You may have noticed that the appearance by the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate is happening smack dab in the middle of the November ratings derby. It’s also the day before Palin’s new book, “Going Rogue: An American Life” is scheduled to hit bookstores.”

I guess we’ll finally learn what the world’s most famous New Ager and an infamous politician with deep ties to extremist anti-Pagan forms of Christianity have in common. Maybe they’re both fans of Jenny McCarthy? But seriously folks, I guess this proves that money, fame, and power trump all ideological barriers in the end.

Moving away from Oprah, Palin, and Ray, let’s revisit another story that has been extensively covered on this blog. The legal battles, and subsequent victory, of Santero Jose Merced to practice animal sacrifice in his home. The Dallas Observer checks in with Merced after the legal dust has settled and he’s once more able to perform his rites.

“It’s been nearly three and a half years since he stopped the ritual slaughter of four-legged animals in his home to pursue litigation against the city over his right to do so. With a decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in his favor and against the city’s health and safety concerns, Merced, a flight attendant, will resume his full religious practices tonight.”

Merced speaks at length about the struggles with his fellow Santeros/Santeras over issues of secrecy and support, his long battle with neighbors, police, and politicians, and becoming “the face of Santería in North Texas”. It’s engrossing reading, and you should take the time to read the whole thing.

Two years after two Pagans, the Rev. Angie Buchanan, director of Gaia’s Womb, and the Rev. Andras Corban-Arthen, a director of the EarthSpirit Community, were elected to the executive council of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a third joins them. Priestess, author, and attorney, Phyllis Curott.

“…it is my honor and privilege to announce the newest member of the Board of Trustees for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions; Pagan Priestess, Author, Attorney, and dear friend — Ms. Phyllis Curott. This makes the third Pagan to join the largest, oldest and one of the most well respected Interfaith organizations in the world; Myself in 2002, Andras Corban-Arthen, in 2006, and now Phyllis. The current Chair, a Lutheran minister, made the statement that he believed “Paganism to be the most misunderstood religion on the planet”.”

In addition, Buchanan and Corban-Arthen are planning to meet with leaders from the Greek Orthodox Church to create a new understanding after the Greek Orthodox walked out of the 1993 Chicago meeting due to the presense of Pagans. Considering the Greek Orthodox view of the Pagans in their own back yard, we’ll see if this brings any success. Buchanan, Corban-Arthen, and Curott are all planning on attending the December Paliament gathering in Melbourne, Australia along with several other Pagan representatives, including Margot Adler, Thorn Coyle, and Patrick McCollum.

In a final note, the East Bay Express spotlights a new documentary “Power Trip: Theatrically Berkeley” by Emio Tomeoni that explores what happens when various forms of spirituality and ideology mix with local politics.

“These and other scenes in Tomeoni’s new documentary Power Trip: Theatrically Berkeley reveal what happens when matters of the body and soul mix with politics. In the film, which will screen at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive (2575 Bancroft Way, Berkeley) on Monday, October 26, tree-sitters and other dreamers anguish over pollution, civilization, and human alienation from plant and animal spirits. And their agendas drown each other out.”

Sounds like an excellent study, and I can’t wait to Netflix-it.

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

After last weeks reports/rumors from City Hall News and the Village Voice that Theodish political candidate Dan Halloran was going to be replaced by his party with a conservative Democrat in the race for a seat on New York’s City Council, it seemed only a matter of time before he “voluntarily” stepped down. But a flurry of reports since Monday seem to assert that attempts to replace Halloran were either untrue or inviable, and the New York Republicans will be standing by their man.

“Queens Republicans are vehemently denying published reports that they are going to replace Dan Halloran as their candidate for the District 19 City Council seat …“The Queens County Republican Party has not for even a moment entertained a substitution of our candidate,” said Vince Tabone, Queens executive vice chairman and spokesperson for the Halloran campaign. “What we have done is stand firmly with Dan Halloran and called on Congressman [Gary] Ackerman and his staffer Kevin Kim to renounce the vile, repugnant attacks on Dan Halloran’s faith and heritage,” he continued.”

Lisa Derrick at La Figa corrals several of the reports refuting claims that Halloran is stepping down, and interviews another Pagan lawyer from New York, author Phyllis Curott.

“Attitudes have certainly changed–the Republican Party apparently already knew he was Pagan! They’re defending his religious freedom, advocating religious tolerance and condemning a religious test for office as repugnant. Marvelous. Quite a change from Jesse Helm’s introducing legislation to take away the tax-exempt status of Wiccan religious institutions.”

Meanwhile, Chris Bragg at City Hall News, who had a hand in reporting the rumors that the GOP was looking to replace Halloran, now claims that behind-the-scenes efforts to replace Halloran with conservative Democrat Paul Vallone have failed.

“Ending conversations and speculation about whether Paul Vallone would run as a Republican in the race to replace Council Member Tony Avella, Vallone will endorse Democratic candidate Kevin Kim this afternoon, according to Kim’s campaign. The endorsement will take place at 4 p.m. at Kim’s campaign headquarters in Bayside … The endorsement comes after a day of negotiations between leaders of the Queens Democratic Party, the Kim campaign and the Vallone family … Over the past week, Queens Republicans have engaged in talks with Vallone about the replacing embattled Republican candidate Dan Halloran, whose belief in a pre-Christian pagan religion were disclosed in a Sept. 17 article in the Queens Tribune.”

Whether Curott is correct and attitudes within the (New York) GOP have changed, or if the party simply couldn’t replace Halloran in way that didn’t look bad for them, it looks like Halloran will remain the Republican (and Libertarian, Independence, and Conservative) candidate for District 19 city council. Now, onto the race! I can’t wait to see the polling for this one.

Recently, religious authorities in Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman, Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, to death for the crime of “witchcraft”. The “proof” for these acts were completely happenstance, attributing sorcerous causes to everyday occurrences, and her “confession” (since recanted) coerced through a string of beatings by the Mutaween (religious police). Lawyer, author, and activist Phyllis Curott has organized an interfaith response to this injustice, and I was lucky enough to be able to conduct a short interview with her regarding this case. What the facts are, what we can do, and why this issue should be important to modern Pagans.

Phyllis Curott

How did you hear about the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali?

Because I’m an a attorney who’s been active for about 25 years in the courts and media as an advocate for the rights of Wiccans, Pagans and others, I have “clipping” services that update me every day about events involving Witches, Witchcraft and related matters, particularly incidents of discrimination or persecution. Human Rights Watch sent their letter about FAWZA FALIH to King Abdullah on February 14th and the story was picked up by two important media outlets, CNN and the BBC, and the online services.

I read the HRW legal analysis of her case and was appalled. Her persecution, arrest by the military police, beating and torture, “trial,” the whole thing was a grotesque travesty of justice. I kept imagining – feeling — how frightened she must feel alone in prison waiting to die. After I finished crying, I got angry. I had to do something. I drafted an email asking people to join me in signing a letter that would be sent to King Abdullah, calling for her immediate pardon and release. I sent it to Our Freedom, and to clergy who’d become friends through Interfaith work.

I’ve always hoped that when we needed it, the Interfaith community would support us, and that’s what happened. It’s very moving to me to look at the list of the first twenty signators – the President of the World Muslim Congress, followed by a Rabbi who is the editor of Tikkun magazine, an Apache spiritual leader followed by several Christian ministers, Hindus, Jains, a Druid, a Wiccan and others. And now in one week we’ve gotten over 7000 signatures from people all over the world, from every faith tradition imaginable, and from people who are not religious.

Can you give us a little background on how this happened to her?

I would like to have more information. But, thanks to Human Rights Watch, this is what we know: She was arrested by the religious police in the northern town of Quraiyat in Saudi Arabia, May 4 2005. They held her and interrogated her for 35 days at the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV). In her appeal she said that she was beaten during her interrogation and she named an official of the governorate. She said that she lost consciousness during one beating and was treated at the hospital where other female prisoners bandaged her wounds. Human Rights Watch spoke to a relative who was allowed to visit her for the first time after about 20 days in CPVPV detention, after her hospital treatment, and saw marks from beatings on her back. So there’s evidence that her confession was coerced.

The judges in the Quraiyat court did not define the meaning of “witchcraft.” Instead they cited a variety of alleged actions, “intentions,” and “tools” for “witchcraft.” The court cited the claim of a man who said that he became impotent after being “bewitched.” And a divorced woman reportedly returned to her ex-husband during the month predicted by Fawza, who also supposedly “cast the spell.” The court record reveals that the “witchcraft” accusations were substantiated solely on the basis of statements by individuals who believed they had been “bewitched,” and by “strange” objects reportedly found in Fawza’s home and on a tree nearby – some noxious smelling stuff, two robes, one with money tied into knots in the robe.

She was never given the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law or fact. Fawza confessed, but it was coerced. She’s illiterate and she says that her confession was not read to her and that she was forced to fingerprint because she couldn’t sign it. Her family wasn’t allowed to see her, she was denied access to her attorney, was not allowed to be present during most of the “trial” against her, couldn’t confront witnesses. The appeal court overturned the lower court’s decision because she had retracted her confession. But the judges in Quraiyat, reached a new verdict of June 6, 2007 and sentenced Fawza to death on a “discretionary” basis, in the name of “public interest” and to “preserve the creed and the souls and property of this country.” Having exhausted her appeals, she is now awaiting execution by beheading. There is no date set, it could happen at any time, unless the King pardons her. That is why there is such urgency.

In addition to Saudi Arabia, Iran is now attempting to change its penal code to allow executions for witchcraft. How common do you feel cases like this are in the Middle East? Is this a new trend, or have we simply not been paying attention?

I don’t know if it’s a new trend or an old custom. Either way, we need to pay attention. Last year, in Saudi Arabia an Egyptian pharmacist was convicted of “sorcery” for supposedly trying to separate a couple, and he was beheaded in November 2007. The effort to change the Iranian penal code is very disturbing. The European Union has sent a letter protesting, but they’ll probably be ignored.

We have to pay careful attention, we have to be vocal, organized, politically astute and connected, and quick to respond when we hear of any of these cases. At some point we may need to replace ad hoc activism with solid ongoing organization. The widescale repression of women, out of which this incident arises, has to be challenged. Unlike the ending of apartheid, the global community has failed in its moral responsibility. We need to be the voice of its conscience. That is one of the most important roles of new religious faiths – to reinvigorate and transform what has become dead and deadly.

But I am very concerned about what comes next for a historical reason. I realized while working on my next book that the feminine divine was expunged from the old Hebrew traditions and priestesses were killed around 1300 – 1400 years into the development of the Hebrew religion. Around 1300 years into Christianity, the Witchcraze began. It is now about 1300 years into the development of Islam, which began in the 700s. It seems that at this particular point in their development, all three of the monotheistic male-dominated religions go through a phase of authoritarian fundamentalism, violent misogyny and very bloody repression of women. I’m afraid that we may be witnessing that now in the fundamentalist Islamic states. It is, however, offset by progressive, educated elements within those countries and within Islam, and a broader sense of human rights in the world that surrounds them. That is where hope, and change, comes from.

Why do you feel this is case should be important to the modern Pagan community?

But for a few hundred years of history or a bit of geography or a few more years of fundamentalist political influence in this country, what is happening to Fawza could be happening to any one of us. The fact that she is illiterate, that she is a simple woman in a remote part of the world who is facing this terror all alone makes her the most important person in t
he world. She is the measure of our humanity, our compassion, our decency, our commitment to our spirituality. We’re all connected. Her suffering is ours, her pain is ours. I felt and I had to do something. There are endless differences in our community, but I believe that we are all united in a divine power that is present in the world. If we live in a sacred world, we must behave in a sacred manner. Whether we are Wiccans, or Christians, or Muslims we are all children of the Earth, of the Sacred. We are kin, we are connected.

And there’s another reason. I don’t think that Fawza was practicing anything resembling what most of us now call Wicca and Witchcraft. If she was doing anything, which is not clear, it may have been some kind of old traditional folk magic. It doesn’t matter – she is sentenced to die by beheading for Witchcraft. That is the word many of us use to identify ourselves. That word means that she is a member of our community. And we are not a community if we don’t take care of each other. We may not be able to save Fawza, but we must try.

Should the worldwide problem of witch-killings and persecutions in places like the Middle East, Africa, and India be a Pagan issue?

Yes, I believe it is. We are all connected. But it is a huge problem and I’m realistic about what we can and can’t accomplish. I’m also an optimist and an activist and if we don’t try to change things, nothing will change. Look at this movement we’re all a part of – it’s huge, it’s growing, it’s public, we have legal clergy and legal rights. That was not the case 30 years ago. It was a struggle, a battle to achieve a lot of those things. I know, I was part of those fights. And we’re still fighting – the pentacle case is the most recent example. But when we fight, we win.

I get articles about killings from the African and Indian press almost every day. People – so often women – are singled out and murdered just because of an accusation of Witchcraft. We know what that means. That is part of our history. I think we need to respond to that dangerous persecution wherever it arises. It has to be stopped before it spreads. But it may be years before our community is large enough, has enough resources and enough presence in the global community to affect these situations. Working to save Fawza can teach us how to be effective the next time something like this happens — we’ll have better skills, better organization, better contacts, more wisdom.

You have been instrumental in building an interfaith coalition to put moral pressure on Saudi Arabia, how have other faith communities and religious leaders responded to this crisis?

They’ve been wonderful. Granted, the people I approached were people I knew, had close relationships with, had worked with. And they in turn reached out to people with whom they had relationships. They are very courageous and compassionate and I have such gratitude and respect for all of them. To me they are the proof that at the heart of all faiths is the common aspiration to live in the most compassionate, loving, kind and generous way, because that is what divinity is truly about, no matter what face it wears or name it’s called. Now all sorts of clergy and people from all over the globe are signing the petition. Amazing, wonderful. It’s so inspiring, it gives me hope that we can have a future where all faith traditions not only live together in peace, but in community.

Have Muslim groups been receptive to your efforts?

The first person who responded to my letter was Mike Ghouse, the President of the World Muslim Congress. He worked so hard on this, helping to draft the letter to the King, emailing Muslim organizations, contacting friends of his and other faith organizations. Sheila Musaji, Editor of The American Muslim, was also among the first to sign. There are many Muslim organizations on the petition. We got great support from IranDokht, an online newsletter with more than 450,000 readers.

Mike is now drafting a letter to the King specifically from Muslim organizations, which can say things in a way that will be very meaningful and helpful for Fawza. And it will be very important in the press in Saudi Arabia and in the region, which could be hugely helpful.

What can American Pagans concerned about this case do aside from signing your petition, should we contact our elected officials? Send letters to the Saudi Arabian embassy?

I’m so glad you asked. First, please sign the petition:

http://www.petitiononline.com/AIDFAWZA/petition.html

And send the link to as many people and organizations as you can. This is so important because the more signatures we have, the more press coverage the story is like to get and the more pressure there is on the politicians and the King. Next, write to your Senators. A sample letter and links to the Senators is posted in the story on Fawza on the front page of WitchVox.

Send the letter to the Saudi Embassies in Washington and in New York.

Send the letter to Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, secretary general of the Supreme Commission of Tourism of Saudi Arabia, who is very concerned about Saudi Arabia’s image.

Send the letter to the State Department asking them to negotiate for Fawza’s freedom.

Contact your local press, write a letter to the editor, ask the religion writer to do a story about the case, ask the radio and tv station to cover her story. Write Bill Maher and Steven Colbert and Keith Oberman and Nikolas Kristoff at the NYTimes and the various hosts on AirAmerica and ask them to cover the story.

If we do manage to help save Fawza Falih, what can we do to help ensure such a tragic turn of events doesn’t happen again? It seems unlikely that major law reform will be coming to places like Saudi Arabia (or Iran) any time soon.

If we help to save Fawza, I hope people will see that when we stand up and fight for what’s right, when we work together as a community, when we reach out to others to help us, when we’re willing to sacrifice some time and energy to help someone, we can make a difference. No, we’re not going to change the Saudi or the Iranian legal system. And we can’t ensure that this never happens again. But if it happens again, we can do everything we can to help, perhaps we can change things one case at a time. That’s everything.

And maybe, gradually, over time we’ll educate people – that’s one reason I do Interfaith work. By supporting those who are seeking to change things from within, the culture will also change. Change is a law of nature. And we can participate in a global effort to end the abuse and legal enslavement of women. It took years to change apartheid. But it WAS changed because people with vision worked for change. And a little magic won’t hurt either. Just don’t do it in a fundamentalist country.