Archives For Prison

[Heathen Chinese is one of our talented monthly columnists. Monthly he brings you insight and analysis about issues coming from within or affecting our collective communities. If you enjoy his work, consider donating to our fall fund drive today. It is your dollars and your support that make it possible for Heathen Chinese and our columnists to continue their dedicated work, and for us to bring on more talented monthly voices. Please donate today and share the campaign! Thank you.]

befunky-design2

2016 marks the eightieth anniversary of the beginning of the Spanish Civil War and the Spanish Revolution. When Franco led his fascist forces against the Second Spanish Republic in July 1936, anarchist militias simultaneously fought the fascists and seized large swathes of Southern and Eastern Spain, overthrowing local authorities and collectivizing wealth. One of the most passionate and dedicated of these militias, the Iron Column, was formed largely of liberated prisoners and included women within its ranks.

iron_column_poster

While the Iron Column fought the fascists on the front lines, however, their supposed comrades were stabbing them in the back. The syndicalists of the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) joined the Republican government in September 1936, with three CNT members taking positions as ministers. In March 1937, the Iron Column, previously organized along egalitarian lines, was ordered to submit to incorporation into the Republican Army and accept the leadership of Republican officers hostile to their revolutionary ambitions. One of the “uncontrollables” of the Iron Column published a denunciation of this betrayal, entitled “A Day Mournful and Overcast,” in Nosotros, the daily newspaper of the Column.

The uncontrollable introduced himself as “an escaped convict from San Miguel de los Reyes, that sinister prison, which the monarchy set up in order to bury alive those who, because they weren’t cowards, would never submit to the infamous laws dictated by the powerful against the oppressed.” He had been imprisoned at the age of twenty-three “for revolting against the humiliations to which an entire village had been subjected. In short for killing a political boss.”

In this detail of his life story, he closely resembles the Chinese warrior Guan Yu, who was later deified as Guan Di and is closely associated with loyalty and righteousness. In the Ming Dynasty novel Romance of Three Kingdoms, Guan Yu explains why he left his hometown, for “there was a man from a wealthy family who was acting like a big shot and bullying everybody, I ended up killing him. I had to become a fugitive, and have been living the life of an itinerant mercenary for the past five or six years.” Like Guan Yu, the uncontrollable rebelled and fought back against injustice in his home village, and suffered the consequences for his action: he was imprisoned for eleven years before anarchists opened the gates of the penitentiary. The word “rebel,” incidentally, comes from the Latin prefix re- (opposite, against, or again) added to bellare (to wage war): thus, it literally means “to fight back.”

The uncontrollable joined the militia that had liberated him, and, like Spartacus and his fellow rebels stripping weapons from the Roman legions they defeated (Life of Crassus 9.1), he armed himself with a rifle seized from a slain fascist. While fighting the fascists, the Iron Column also “changed the mode of life in the villages through which we passed – annihilating the brutal political bosses who had robbed and tormented the peasants and placing their wealth in the hands of the only ones who knew how to create it: the workers.” The methodology and members of Iron Column, however, were denounced by their enemies:

We have been treated like outlaws, and accused of being “uncontrollable”, because we did not subordinate the rhythm of our lives, which we desired and still desire to be free, to the stupid whims of those who, occupying a seat in some ministry or on some committee, sottishly and arrogantly regarded themselves as the masters of men.

The reference to those “occupying a seat in some ministry” clearly referred to the supposedly anarchist-syndicalist CNT, for it was not only fascists but also anti-fascists who condemned the Iron Column: “Not only the fascists considered us dangerous, because we treated them as they deserved, but in addition those who call themselves anti-fascists, shouting their anti-fascism until they are hoarse, have viewed us in the same light.” And the uncontrollable knew exactly what kind of people love to shout their anti-fascism until they are hoarse: “people who wish to be regarded as leaders.”

Lucia Sanchez Saornil, one of the founders of Mujeres Libres. [Public Domain]

Lucia Sanchez Saornil, one of the founders of Mujeres Libres, an anarchist women’s organization that maintained independence from the CNT. The process of militarization re-established the gender roles that Mujeres Libres sought to destroy. [Public Domain]

We can distinguish, then, between two types of anti-fascism. On the one hand, there is a purported anti-fascism proclaimed by aspiring politicians: one that defends the State, that participates in Popular Fronts, and that demands militaristic unity and obedience from all other factions. And it is not only liberals and Stalinists who espouse this type of anti-fascism, but also Socialists, union organizers, and even so-called “anarchists.” On the other hand, there is the anti-fascism practiced by the uncontrollables: one that is liberatory, that changes the mode and rhythm of every day life, and that refuses both to submit to authoritarianism and to enforce it in turn. The Heathen and Polytheist milieus have seen too much of the former type of anti-fascism and too little of the latter.

The uncontrollable is a pariah. And moreover, the uncontrollable is a mystic seeking to “penetrate the obscurity of the fields and the mystery of things” at night while fighting the fascists by day:

On some nights, on those dark nights when armed and alert I would try to penetrate the obscurity of the fields and the mystery of things, I rose from behind my parapet as if in a dream, not to awaken my numbed limbs, which having been tempered in pain are like steel, but to grip more furiously my rifle, feeling a desire to fire not merely at the enemy sheltered barely a hundred yards way, but at the other concealed at my side, the one calling me comrade, all the while selling my interests in most sordid a manner, for no sale is more cowardly than one nourished by treason.

On those nights, the uncontrollable was possessed by the urge to run wild and destroy all that sought to grind him and his comrades down:

And I would feel a desire to laugh and to weep, and to run through the fields, shouting and tearing throats open with my iron fingers, just as I had torn open the throat of that filthy political boss, and to smash this wretched world into smithereens, a world in which it is hard to find a loving hand to wipe away one’s sweat and to stop the blood flowing from one’s wounds on returning from the battlefield, tired and wounded.

There is an ancient Greek word for this kind of hands-on dismemberment: σπαραγμός. Sparagmos is associated in literature with the Dionysiac cults, which contained many women and slaves, just as the Iron Column was comprised of ex-prisoners. Euripides wrote in Bakkhai that the mainads needed no weapons but their hands to hunt their prey:

They, with hands that bore no weapon of steel, attacked our cattle as they browsed. Then wouldst thou have seen Agave mastering some sleek lowing calf, while others rent the heifers limb from limb. Before thy eyes there would have been hurling of ribs and hoofs this way and that; and strips of flesh, all blood-bedabbled, dripped as they hung from the pine-branches. Wild bulls, that glared but now with rage along their horns, found themselves tripped up, dragged down to earth by countless maidens’ hands. The flesh upon their limbs was stripped there from quicker than thou couldst have closed thy royal eye-lids.

But it is not only destruction that characterizes the Dionysian spirit, but “the wildly irrepressible desires we carry in our hearts to be free like the eagles on the highest mountain peaks, like the lions in the jungle.”

Dionysos mosaic [Ancient Images / Flickr]

Dionysos mosaic [Ancient Images / Flickr]

The uncontrollable wrote that precisely in his moments of despair, he would find renewed enthusiasm in his dreams:

I would abandon myself joyfully to dreams of adventure, beholding with heated imagination a world that I knew not in life but in desire, a world that no man has known in life but that many of us have known in dreams. And dreaming, time would fly by, and my body would stand weariness at bay, and I would redouble my enthusiasm, and become bold, and go out on reconnaissance at dawn to find out the enemy’s position, and…. All of this in order to change life, to stamp a different rhythm onto this life of ours; all of this because men could be brothers and I among them; all of this because joy that surges forth even once from our breasts must surge out of the earth, because the Revolution, this Revolution that has been the guiding light and watchword of the Iron Column, could soon be tangible reality.

The word “enthusiasm” also comes from ancient Greek: ἐνθουσιασμός denotes the condition in which a god (θεός) is inside (ἐν) a person. Compare the previous quote with a passage from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy:

Under the magic of the Dionysian, not only does the bond between man and man lock itself in place once more, but also nature itself, now matter how alienated, hostile, or subjugated, rejoices again in her festival of reconciliation with her prodigal son, man. The earth freely offers up her gifts, and the beasts of prey from the rocks and the desert approach in peace. The wagon of Dionysus is covered with flowers and wreaths. Under his yoke stride panthers and tigers.

If someone were to transform Beethoven’s Ode to Joy into a painting and not restrain his imagination when millions of people sink dramatically into the dust, then we could come close to the Dionysian. Now is the slave a free man, now all the stiff, hostile barriers break apart, those things which necessity and arbitrary power or “saucy fashion” have established between men. Now, with the gospel of world harmony, every man feels himself not only united with his neighbor, reconciled and fused together, but also as if the veil of Maja has been ripped apart, with only scraps fluttering around before the mysterious original unity. Singing and dancing, man expresses himself as a member of a higher unity. He has forgotten how to walk and talk and is on the verge of flying up into the air as he dances. The enchantment speaks out in his gestures.

In both of these texts, we find sympathetic magic between the joy of the earth and the liberation of humans, the possibility of universal camaraderie between human and human, and a dreamlike transcendence that becomes incarnate within material reality.

Dionysian methodologies of warfare cannot be described as “non-violent,” but they supersede the linearity of rigid militarization by striking where unexpected, by changing the very time and space within which the “battle” is waged. Euripides’s mainads first and foremost caused disruption by abandoning the οἶκος (oikos), the household centered around slavery and gender roles, whence we derive the word “economy:” management of the οἶκος.

But when pursued, they fought “with the thyrsus, which they hurled, caused many a wound and put their foes to utter rout, women chasing men, by some god’s intervention. Then they returned to the place whence they had started, even to the springs the god had made to spout for them; and there washed off the blood, while serpents with their tongues were licking clean each gout from their cheeks.”

Another individual known for having snakes coil about his face, the Thracian gladiator Spartacus, whose wife was a prophetess, also won a battle by a Dionysian miracle. Spartacus and his fellow runaway slaves, who were primarily of Thracian and Gaulish origin, were besieged on top of Mount Vesuvius:

But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below.

Descending on these ladders of wild vines, the rebels caught the Roman legion by surprise and defeated them in battle. Like the Iron Column, they were supported by the locals: “they were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry.” The escaped slaves and shepherds of Vesuvius were literally anti-fascists: Roman officials were preceded by lictors carrying fasces as symbols of their political authority.

Death of Spartacus, Hermann Vogel. [Public Domain]

The pro-Dionysian spirit of the Iron Column has resurfaced lately. In June 2016, Neo-Nazis and anti-fascists fought with sticks and knives at the California state capitol in Sacramento, resulting in hospitalizations on both sides for blunt force trauma and stab wounds. In September 2016, prisoners revolted at Holmes Correctional Institution in Florida and at Turbeville C.I. in North Carolina, and hunger strikes and work stoppages have proliferated in prisons across the nation. Prisoners in Greece and in Mexico have acted in solidarity. In Holman Correctional Facility in Alabama, the prison guards themselves went on strike, not in solidarity (obviously), but due to “increasingly dangerous conditions and fears that they may be killed while on duty.” The warden at Holman was stabbed during a queer-led riot in March and subsequently quit, and a guard was stabbed and killed on September 1.

Michael Kimble, a black gay anarchist incarcerated at Holman, writes that prisoners’ struggle will not always be non-violent, echoing the Iron Column in his uncontrollability: “If your solidarity and support is predicated on prisoners being ‘non-violent,’ we don’t want or need it, because you are trying to control us.”

The Iron Column’s revolutionary war against fascism and prisons and the society that produces both is alive and well. And it is once again being fought by partisans, by people who desire first and foremost to change their own lives, “to stamp a different rhythm onto this life of ours.” Ill Will Editions writes that the concept of the “partisan” is “best understood not as a splitting of a totality into competing parts or factions each defined via mutually contested claims over the management of the whole, but rather as the intensification of asymmetrical differences that were already there within the way we live.”

The Polytheist and Heathen milieus are plagued by “people who wish to be regarded as leaders” of movements, who wish to claim “management of the whole.” Some of them wish to maintain the supposedly apolitical nature of the whole, others to defend the whole against the very real threat of fascist infiltration. Both positions accept and reify the continued existence of the πόλις (polis), which exists only in contrast to actual communities and traditions. My position is not apolitical, but anti-political.

Mujeres Libres wrote, “To be an anti-fascist is too little; one is an anti-fascist because one is already something else.” Like their syndicalist predecessors who became Ministers, those who claim to be anti-fascist because they are aspiring managers do not seek the “different rhythm” of life that I seek. The uncontrollables of the Iron Column speak from their mass graves, warning us never to trust these would-be politicians:

History, which records the good and evil that men do, will one day speak. And History will say that the Iron Column was perhaps the only column in Spain that had a clear vision of what our Revolution ought to be. It will also say that of all columns, ours offered the greatest resistance to militarization, and that there were times when because of that resistance, it was completely abandoned to its fate, at the front awaiting battle, as if six thousand men, hardened by war and ready for victory or death, should be abandoned to the enemy to be devoured.

History will say so many, many things, and so many, many figures who think themselves glorious will find themselves execrated and damned!

Donate to The Wild Hunt!

  *   *   *
The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Column: Black August

Heathen Chinese —  August 20, 2016 — 2 Comments

The dog days of summer are here, marked by the rising of the star Sirius in the morning sky, “the star they give the name of Orion’s Dog, which is brightest among the stars, and yet is wrought as a sign of evil and brings on the great fever for unfortunate mortals.”¹ On August 13, Sylville Smith was killed by a Milwaukee police officer. In the following two nights, eight businesses and numerous cars were burned, rocks and bottles were thrown at the police, and guns were fired on multiple occasions, resulting in at least one hospitalization. Meanwhile, the FBI’s National Gang Intelligence Center has alleged that the Black Guerilla Family (BGF) prison gang may be planning “to kill correctional officers and Aryan Brotherhood gang members” in commemoration of Black August.

george jackson

George Jackson 

Black August originated in the 1970s following the August 7, 1970 deaths of Jonathan Jackson, James McClain and William Christmas during a prisoner liberation and hostage-taking at the Marin County Courthouse and the August 21, 1971 death of George Jackson during a prison rebellion in San Quentin.

Prisoners participating in Black August “wore black armbands on their left arm and studied revolutionary works, focusing on the works of George Jackson. The brothers did not listen to the radio or watch television in August. Additionally, they didn’t eat or drink anything from sun-up to sundown; and loud and boastful behavior was not allowed. The brothers did not support the prison’s canteen. The use of drugs and alcoholic beverages was prohibited and the brothers held daily exercises.”

Black August also commemorates numerous other significant moments in black history including but not limited to the Haitian Revolution, which began on August 21, 1791 and was preceded by the Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, the slave rebellions led by Gabriel Prosser on August 30, 1800 and by Nat Turner on August 21, 1831, the founding of the Underground Railroad on August 2, 1850 and the Watts rebellions in August, 1965. In their article on Black August, the Malcolm X Grassroots movement writes, “if we stand tall, it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.” Like a flowering branch nourished by roots wrapped around the decaying bodies of the dead, the visible manifestations of revolt are supported by a vast invisible network of spirits and subterranean traditions.

A New Birth, At Once Into Life and Into Death

In his study of “The Traditional Chinese Mourning Categories,” anthropologist David K. Jordan notes that mourning is characterized by two indicators: “distinctive mourning clothing” and the requirement to “avoid normal activities, sometimes even subsistence activities.” We see the same two indicators in the black armbands worn by prisoners during Black August, and in their avoidance of a wide range of “normal activities,” including fasting.

The need to mourn the deaths of George and Jonathan Jackson was also seen clearly by both James Baldwin and Jean Genet. The friendship of the two writers and their writings about the Jacksons are analyzed in Bædan: journal of queer time travel. In No Name in the Street, Baldwin compared the grief of Georgia Jackson, Jonathan and George’s mother, to that of the Virgin Mary:

George Jackson has joined his beloved baby brother, Jon, in the royal fellowship of death. And one may say that Mrs. Georgia Jackson and the alleged mother of God have, at last, found something in common. Now, it is the Virgin, the alabaster Mary, who must embrace the despised black mother whose children are also the issue of the Holy Ghost.²

Jean Genet also wrote about Georgia Jackson, but in his “half-waking dream” that he experienced “a few hours after [George] Jackson’s death,” George and Jonathan were reborn from a different womb:

Jonathan and George violently came out of the prison, a stony womb, on waves of blood. […] It was not their mother who gave birth to them that night, for she was there, upright, impassive but alert, looking on. If it was a new birth, at once into life and into death, who but History was delivering the two black men covered, as with every birth, in blood.³

In a strange parallel, Baldwin declared that “an old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives.” He prophesied that “there will be bloody holding actions all over the world, for years to come: but the Western party is over, and the white man’s sun has set.” We are still seeing the “bloody holding actions” today, and we have indeed proven to be “exceedingly clumsy midwives,” but these struggles are nothing new.

Haitian_revolution

Haitian Revolution. Battle of Snake Gully, 1802 [Public Domain]

Dance Groups or Associations Which Foster an Esprit de Corps

The Vodou ceremony at Bois Caïman on August 14, 1791 also served as a kind of bloody Caesarean birth, for the Haitian Revolution began exactly one week later. The ceremony was first written about by Antoine Dalmas, a French doctor who fled to the United States and then wrote a report in 1794 based upon the interrogation of prisoners. That Dalmas’ portrayal of the ritual is unsympathetic is an understatement that should go without saying, but nonetheless, it is the first written account of the ceremony:

[They] celebrated a sort of feast or sacrifice in the middle of a wooded untilled plot on the Choiseul plantation, called le Caïman, where a very large number of Negroes assembled. An entirely black pig, surrounded by fetishes (fétiches), loaded with offerings each more bizarre than the other was the holocaust offered to the all-powerful spirit (génie) of the black race. The religious rituals that the negroes conducted while cutting its throat, the avidity with which they drank of his blood, the value they set in possessing a few of his bristles, a sort of talisman which, according to them, was to render them invulnerable, all serve to characterize Africans. That such an ignorant and besotted caste would make the superstitious rituals of an absurd and sanguinary religion serve as a prelude to the most frightful crimes was to be expected.4

Later accounts, such as that of the French abolitionist Civique de Gastine in 1819, would add further details such as the renunciation of Christianity as “the religion of their masters” and a collective oath “to perish rather than return to slavery,” but these writers were much further removed from the actual events in Haiti in 1791. It is, however, telling that “the second Haitian president, Alexandre Pétion, in 1814 prohibited the gathering of ‘all dance groups…or associations which foster an esprit de corps.’5 In other words, it is indisputable that subaltern religious organizations were seen as a threat by those who gained power after the revolution, which speaks to their significance and power during the revolution itself.

A quick survey of cross-cultural and historical comparisons shows that rituals intended to grant invulnerability were also associated with the Chinese Boxer Rebellion, Chinese spirit mediums in general, the Native American Ghost Dance, and the mainads of Dionysos written about in Euripides’s Bakkhai: against the mainads, “sharpened weapons drew no blood at all.”6 While Euripides was a playwright and may be accused of poetic license, the historical record shows that Dionysian worship was seen as a serious threat in Rome. Like Pétion in 1814 CE, the Roman Senate in 186 BCE banned all Bacchic cults not approved by the praetor urbanus, declaring that “henceforth they shall not form conspiracies among themselves, stir up any disorder, make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges; no one shall observe the sacred rites either in public or private or outside the city, unless he comes to the praetor urbanus.”

The fear of conspiracies, disorder and oaths is obvious in the senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, and even more so in Livy. Just like Dalmas’s claim that Bois Caïman was a “prelude to the most frightful crimes,” Livy associated the Bacchic rites with criminality and violence:

With the added liberation of darkness, absolutely every crime and vice was performed there. The men had more sex with each other than with the women. Anyone who was less prepared for disgrace and slow to commit crimes was offered up as a sacrifice. To consider nothing wrong was the principal tenet of their religio. Men, as if insane, prophesied with wild convulsions of their bodies, married women in the dress of the Bacchants with streaming hair ran down to the Tiber carrying burning torches, which they dipped into the water and brought out still alight.

Like Dalmas, Livy was clearly an unsympathetic narrator, but the disapproval and disgust of these reactionary writers merely goes to show how seriously “dance groups or associations which foster an esprit de corps” have historically frightened the ruling classes.

Mainad. Kylix, 490–480 BCE, Vulci, Italy. [Public Domain]

Mainad. Kylix, 490–480 BCE, Vulci, Italy [Public Domain]

The Chaplains Corps of the War on Slavery

Rebelliously-inclined religious organizations were present in the Antebellum Southern United States as well, some of which are written about in Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford’s Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South. For example, one of the leaders in Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion testified at his trial that he was sent to recruit the “outlandish people” who were “supposed to deal with witches and wizards,”7 and thereby recruit the sorcerers as well.

Furthermore, the early black nationalist Martin Delany (1812–1885) wrote of a council of conjure men and women known as “the Head” located within the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. The Head performed rituals in a cave in the swamp, where they also kept a large sacred serpent. The Head played a major role in the initiation of new conjure men and women: “in order to be ordained as conjure men or women, non-maroons were forced to (at least temporarily) escape their bondage and find the council.”8 This initiatory escape, even if temporary, served to forge ties between the maroons in the swamps and the rebels on the plantations.

The Head was involved in numerous slave insurrections and “considered themselves to be the chaplains corps of the war on slavery. The Head deeply revered the memory of Nat Turner, and claimed to have been associated with his effort. As young conjure men they had fought alongside General Gabriel and took pride in that action forty years later.”9 By venerating the ancestors of the struggle and keeping their memories alive, the Head contributed to future revolts as well.

Shirley and Stafford argue that the maroon communities that were rooted in the Great Dismal Swamp were crucial to the exceptionally high number of large uprisings that broke out in the Tidewater region of Virginia and North Carolina, and that diverse and syncretic spiritual practices were an inherent and central part of maroon social organization.10 Like the Eolh-sedge of the Anglo-Saxon rune poem, the maroon community “is mostly to be found in a marsh; it grows in the water and makes a ghastly wound, covering with blood every warrior who touches it.”

Nat Turner. [Public Domain]

Nat Turner [Public Domain]

Let the Crops Rot, Betray the Whites

These are but a few of the stories and ancestors invoked by Black August. And even after August 31, the memory of previous uprisings guides the struggles of the present. On September 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising, prisoners are calling for a general strike of prison labor across the United States:

Slavery is alive and well in the prison system, but by the end of this year, it won’t be anymore. This is a call to end slavery in America. This call goes directly to the slaves themselves. We are not making demands or requests of our captors, we are calling ourselves to action. To every prisoner in every state and federal institution across this land, we call on you to stop being a slave, to let the crops rot in the plantation fields, to go on strike and cease reproducing the institutions of your confinement.

This is a call for a nation-wide prisoner work stoppage to end prison slavery, starting on September 9th, 2016. They cannot run these facilities without us.

While the prisoners address their fellow prisoners directly, solidarity actions proliferate outside the walls of the prisons. But the conditions of imprisonment extend beyond the facilities themselves, as Milwaukee demonstrates clearly. Jean Genet’s words after the death of George Jackson ring as true today as they did in 1971:

We must look closely…at all imprisoned blacks—whether in jail or the ghetto—who are in danger at every moment of being assassinated like George and Jonathan Jackson or of being wasted away by the white world. In fact, we must learn to betray the whites that we are.11

Genet, despite declaring George and Jonathan “two black Gemini,” eschewed the language of mythology and instead called this task a “human labor directed against the dense and sparkling mythology of the white world.” Nonetheless, I maintain that the war is waged on all fronts simultaneously, and that the spiritual realms are inseparable from the social and the material.

Footnotes

  1. Homer, Iliad 22.29-31, translated by Richmond Lattimore.
  2. Quoted in Bædan 110.
  3. Quoted in Bædan 111.
  4. Quoted in Elizabeth McAlister, “From Slave Revolt to a Blood Pact with Satan: The Evangelical Rewriting of Haitian History” 9.
  5. Ibid 8.
  6. Euripides, Bakkhai, translated by Anne Carson 40.
  7. Quoted in Dixie Be Damned 43.
  8. Ibid 44.
  9. Hugo Leaming, quoted in Dixie Be Damned 44.
  10. Ibid 21.
  11. Quoted in Bædan 111.

  *   *   *

This column was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.

The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

Jean Genet’s text “The Criminal Child,” previously unavailable in English, was translated and published in December 2015. An anonymous commentary on the text, included as an afterword within the same pamphlet, reads “The Criminal Child” as an intricately coded set of instructions for magical initiation and ordeal.

criminal_child“The Criminal Child” was originally written in 1948 as a speech to be read on a radio show in order to address reforms to France’s youth prisons that had been proposed at the time. It was rejected and never read on the air. When Genet published the censored text the following year, he wrote in his introduction, “I would have liked to make the voice of the criminal audible. Not his plaint; rather his song of glory.” 1

Genet, who had spent two and a half years as a teenager imprisoned in France’s notorious Mettray penal colony (punctuated by a brief but glorious escape), clearly intended to prove himself the exception to Nietzsche’s observations that “the criminal is often enough not equal to his deed: he extenuates and maligns it,” and that “the advocates of a criminal are seldom artists enough to turn the beautiful terribleness of the deed to the advantage of the doer.” 2

Though perhaps expected to be supportive of prison reforms due to his own past experience, Genet instead recalled that he and his fellow delinquents took pride in the harshness of their treatment, and were ashamed to admit to light sentences: “It’s with a sort of shame that the child confesses that they have just acquitted him or that they have condemned him to a light sentence. He wishes for rigor. He demands it.” 3  From my own teenage years, I can corroborate this worldview.

Of course, Genet never claimed that all incarcerated youth share this adversarial attitude. As an adult and a well-respected writer, he (re)visited a youth prison where the director pointed out to him a “scout team he formed to reward the most docile children.” Scathingly, Genet wrote that these were not the “chosen” of whom he spoke:

Looking at those twelve kids, it was clear that none of them was chosen, elected, so as to take on some audacious expedition, even an entirely imaginary one. But I knew that in the interior of the Penitentiary, in spite of the educators, there existed groups, gangs really, where the bond, what made them stick together, was friendship, audacity, ruse, insolence, a taste for laziness, an air about the forehead at once somber and joyful—this taste for adventure against the rules of the Good.5

For this latter category of youth, Genet argued that imprisonment is an ordeal: “Their demand is that the ordeal be terrible—so as, perhaps, to exhaust an impatient need for heroism.” 6 The youth prison is imagined to be a “corner of the world from which you don’t come back.” 7 And this premonition conceals an underlying, occult truth: “In fact, you didn’t come back. When you came back, you were someone else. You had come across a blazing fire.” 8

His Unique Magical System

“Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,’ ” the exegetical essay published alongside Genet’s text, treats Genet as a sorcerer: “Here Genet details some of the workings of his own internal cosmology, the rites and methods of his unique magical system.” 9

Genet’s system of “criminal rites” offers initiation “not into an order, but into an adventure;” nonetheless, like any initiatory system, it is “ineffable to the uninitiated, but shared between himself and other youthful offenders.” 10

The author(s) of “Notes” fill five pages with their distillation of Genet’s occultism. I cannot quote them in their entirety here, so I must pour these words through yet another alembic:

The youth prison is Genet’s fountain of memory, but each of us has our own clandestine world into which we were initiated as youth. It was there in those spaces that we learned magic as a force of liberation, self-creation, and world-building. Though our childhoods are gone, we can access that space again in remembrance and invocation.11

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

Mercury, Barcelona [Photo Credit: Ed Uthman / Flickr]

This space is what Genet called “the nocturnal part of man, which you cannot explore, which you cannot enter unless you are armed, unless you are coated, embalmed, unless you are covered with all the ornaments of language.” 12 Genet’s “ritual work prepares the initiate to enter this nocturnal space.” 13

Drawing heavily upon Genet’s novel Miracle of the Rose, “Notes” observes that this “nocturnal heaven” is populated “with spirits, demons, deities, ancestors, and figures from his past with blue eagles carved across their chests, youths who stand ‘the way Mercury is depicted.‘” 14 You know the look.

And how does one arm oneself to enter this “nocturnal heaven?” The same prison director who introduced Genet to the “scout team” of “the most docile children” also showed him a collection of improvised knives, but patronizingly confided in Genet that he didn’t really believe in the need to confiscate the knives: they were made of tin, and therefore harmless.

In his mind, Genet could only laugh at the jailer’s obliviousness—confiscating the knives was indeed pointless, but they were far from harmless, and would only be replaced by more dangerous weapons:

Did he not know that, the more it deviates from its practical destination, the more the object is transformed, becoming a symbol? […] What is the point of taking it from him? The child will choose another object to signify murder, something apparently more benign, and if someone doesn’t take that as well, he’ll keep in himself, preciously, the more precise image of the weapon.15

Armed with symbols, the initiate must “pay attention to signs and signs and sigils carved and painted onto walls—M.A.V. (Mort aux vaches), B.A.A.D.M. (Bonjour aux amis du malheur)—and read these as you’d read inscriptions on the walls of an ancient temple.” 16 “Notes” instructs the initiate to build a temple within as well: “Build your inner temple here and consecrate it to ‘amorous passion.’ In this temple you can now face your ordeal.”17

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

[Photo Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

“Notes” recalls the eponymous flowers of Miracle of the Rose—in which Harcamone, convicted of murdering a prison guard, transformed “his chains into a garland of roses, one of which Genet clipped and concealed”—and further explicates the term “ordeal” by quoting Raven Kaldera:

Take the rose into your hands, and squeeze the thorns until your hands bleed, even as you smell the scent of Aphrodite. When you can understand why there is no contradiction there, the first step of the path will be open to you.18

To Insult the Insulters

If mysteries can only be understood through experience, why write of them at all? Sannion, of the Starry Bull tradition of Bacchic Orphism, writes that “There are two ways to keep a religious secret concealed: the first is to never talk about it at all and the second is to talk about it all the time.” Like the Starry Bull tradition, Genet opted for the latter approach.

Genet’s primary objective, of course, was to speak directly to the initiated:

This whole time I haven’t been speaking to the educators, but to the guilty […] I ask them to never be embarrassed by what they do, to keep intact inside themselves the revolt that has made them so beautiful. There are no remedies, I hope, for heroism.” 19

Once his speech was censored from the radio, he despaired of reaching his target audience, but decided to publish anyway: “I speak in the void and in the darkness; but even if it were just for myself, I would still want to insult the insulters.” 20 

For the uninitiated, Genet’s counsel is as harsh as it sounds: “Refuse all pity to the kids who don’t want any.” 21 He is explicitly and unapologetically hostile to mainstream society: “Let a poet, who is also an enemy, speak to you as a poet, and as an enemy.” 22 Even Edmund White, Genet’s biographer, found his “poetry” in “The Criminal Child” difficult to translate: “since for Genet crime itself is beautiful, he supports the cruelty of the unreformed prison system because it turns youngsters into hardened criminals.” 23 But that’s not quite right:

“Supports”White’s word—doesn’t quite fit here. Genet is explicitly in his enmity toward this society, its prisons surely included. He sees the prison as an obstacle to be overcome in a path of criminal becoming, a path of individuation.

This is the folly of trying to read him as “the political Genet.” To say that Genet supports (or doesn’t) any given state policy enmeshes his words in a political mode unbefitting the text at hand. Genet neither supports the prison nor desires to reform it. He seeks to escape it […] 24

Flammarion

[Credit: Public Domain / Wikimedia]

Blinded by Their Brilliance

In Miracle of the Rose, Genet compared religion to prison, but his comparison was based upon the possibility that the bounded space of the finite (as opposed to the infinite) can lead to a “minute” exploration of the heart:

Abhorring the infinite, religions imprison us in a universe as limited as the universe of prison–but as unlimited, for our hope in it lights up perspectives just as sudden, reveals gardens just as fresh, characters just as monstrous, deserts, fountains; and our more ardent love, drawing greater richness from the heart, projects them on the thick walls; and this heart is sometimes explored so minutely that a secret chamber is breached an allows a ray to slip through, to alight on the door of a cell and to show God.25

Similarly, Genet wrote that prisoners “sentenced to death for life” (i.e. those serving life imprisonment) become hardened and brilliant in their captivity:

Living in so restricted a universe, they thus had the boldness to live in it as passionately as they lived in your world of freedom, and as a result of being contained in a narrower frame their lives became so intense, so hard, that anyone–journalists, wardens, inspectors–who so much as glanced at them was blinded by their brilliance.26

One recalls, of course, that Zeus’s name is etymologically derived from Proto-Indo-European *dewos, meaning “god,” is cognate with Latin deus and Sanskrit deva, and ultimately comes from the root *dyeu- meaning “to gleam, to shine.” The “deities” are “the shining ones.” And so the “shining ones” among the living are touched by gods as well.

Indeed, Genet canonized the prisoners he wrote of as saints:

The audacity to live (and to live with all one’s might) within that world whose only outlet is death has the beauty of the great maledictions, for it is worthy of what was done in the course of all the ages by the Mankind that had been expelled from Heaven. And this, in effect, is saintliness, which is to live according to Heaven, in spite of God.27

Genet hated Sartre’s biography of him (Saint Genet) and said of it, “In all my books I strip myself, but at the same time I disguise myself with words, choices, attitudes, magic. Sartre stripped me without mercy. He wrote about me in the present tense.” The “words, choices, attitudes, magic” that Genet spoke of are surely the same “ornaments of language” required to explore the “nocturnal part of man.” Sartre stripped Genet of his magic, perhaps because he was afraid of being blinded by it. We honor him for it.

The Ekklesía Antínoou honors Jean Genet as a Sanctus, especially on his birthday (December 19) and the date of his death (April 15). Similarly, Brennos Agrocunos has declared David Bowie to be “Saint Bowie, Patron Saint of Enchanted Misfits.” And at the shrine of Jesús Malverde (the unofficial “Santo de los Narcos”) in Culiacán, Sinaloa, women who have never met Joaquín Guzmán Loera (A.K.A. El Chapo, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and two-time prison escapee) pray fervently on his behalf: “I ask God to take care of him wherever he is, to take care of his sons, his wife.”

In “The Criminal Child,” Genet expressed the ethic of veneration in simple but elegant terms:

I don’t know of any other criterion for the beauty of an act, an object, or an entity, than the song it arouses in me, which I translate into words so as to communicate it to you: this is lyricism. If my song is lovely, if it has upset you, will you dare say that he who inspired it is vile?

You can say that there have always been words charged with expressing the haughtiest attitudes, and that I would have recourse to them so that the least appears haughty. But I can respond that my emotion calls for precisely these words and that they come naturally to serve it.28

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Jean Genet, 1983. [Photo Credit: International Progress Organization / Wikimedia]

Genet also castigated mainstream French society for its hypocrisy: “Your literature, your fine arts, your after-dinner entertainment all celebrate crime. The talent of your poets has glorified the criminal who, in life, you hate. So deal with the fact that, for our part, we despise your poets and your artists.” 29

TV shows and films portray outlaws as protagonists, but “those who were their more or less exact models suffered for real. […] You know nothing of heroism in its true nature, in the flesh, how it suffers in the same everyday way that you do. True greatness brushes past you. You ignore it, and prefer a fake.”30

Endnotes

  1. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” v.
  2. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4, Aphorisms 109 and 110.
  3. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 3.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid., 4.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 37.
  10. Ibid., 37-39.
  11. Ibid., 41-42.
  12. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 12.
  13. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 46.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 10-11.
  16. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 40. “Mort aux vaches” is translated as “death to cops,” “Bonjour aux amis de malheur” as “Greetings to friends of misfortune.”
  17. Ibid., 42.
  18. Raven Kaldera, qtd. in “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 43-44.
  19. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 14-15.
  20. Ibid., 25.
  21. Ibid., 16.
  22. Ibid.
  23. “Notes on ‘The Criminal Child,'” 45.
  24. Ibid. Emphasis added.
  25. Jean Genet, Miracle of the Rose, 43.
  26. Ibid., 42-43.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Jean Genet, “The Criminal Child,” 13.
  29. Ibid., 20.
  30. Ibid., 21-22.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – On the morning Feb. 10, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments in the case of Dennis Walker v. Matthew Cates. Walker is an inmate at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. His claim, which was originally filed in 2011, is that prison administrators violated his religious rights by forcing him to have a “non-Aryan” cellmate.

As noted in the case text from a 2011 court document, Walker “is an Aryan Christian/Odinist, ethnically white without gang affiliation.” In 2008, he was assigned a “non-Aryan Muslim” cellmate. When he resisted, Walker was disciplined. After further complaints in 2009, the administration reclassified him to be celled with only his own race. But that action was later “rescinded” per the 2008 California Integrated House Program, which prohibits segregation.

As a result, Walker, together with prisoner Robert Glover, filed a complaint against the state. The court asked the men to file their complaints separately. They did, and in July 2011, Glover’s case was dismissed. However, according to one source, it is still hung up in the system somewhere. However, Walker continued on with new arguments being heard yesterday in a motion from the defendants to dismiss the case.

According to Walker’s assigned attorney Elliot Wong, he claims that he was “denied the setting under which he performs a quintessential religious exercise, namely a solitary religious ritual, in which he prays to his gods, and subsequently being punished for refusing to yield to his religious beliefs. The religious ritual in this case is referred to as a spiritual circle of Odinist Warding, which is a ritual in which he prays to his gods and communicates with his gods. According to his sincerely held religious beliefs, he draws and activates this circle within his cell and he believes that this circle may be open or breached, by what he believes is spiritual pollution that emanates from individuals of another race.”

Almost immediately, the judges move to the heart of the issue. Is Walker’s request to be celled with only white inmates based on a “sincerely held religious belief” or simply based on racism? As the judge notes, the original filings did not include any mention of this ritual or other specific religious requirements. Wong did admit that these details were left out, but could be included in a new amendment.

The original filing states in part:

the application of the IHP violates plaintiff’s right to the free exercise of his religion protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment, his Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection and due process, and his Fifth Amendment right to due process. (FAC at 5-6).Plaintiff seeks damages, as well as declaratory and injunctive relief.

As the attending judges note, there was no mention of the ritual. In these original documents, Walker did not address, in concrete terms, the “substantial burden” placed on his free exercise of religion by the presence of “alien spiritual pollution,” as noted in yesterday’s hearing.

After some discussion, Judge Sidney Thomas said, “I gather from the answers to the questions that [Walker] is not willing to amend his complaint to say that he can perform the ritual outside his cell and perform be housed with a non-white inmate.” Wong answered, “I believe that would be correct.”

Rev. Patrick McCollum, who has worked closely with the California prison system for years, said, “In this case, the inmate can still practice his religion in a number of venues besides his cell even if he had an inmate of color in his cell, so his religious rights are not being violated, at least not under the spirit of the law. Also, there is a long history of non-white participation in Nordic religions which has a been around for over a thousand years, and there are Odinist groups in a number of prisons that already welcome people of color, so the racial argument is shaky to begin with. That is not to say that the inmate’s beliefs are not sincere, it’s just that they don’t meet the standard required by law.”

Judge Thomas said, “We are not going to segregate our prisons.” However, this was only a hearing; no final decision was made and no further dates given.

While the specifics of the Walker v. Cates case are focused on race, the situation goes to the heart of a very recent dialog on the boundaries of religious freedom within a defined social structure. It is struggle that is currently plaguing courts and lawmakers. At what point does society substantially burden religious freedom? And, at what point does religious freedom substantially burden society?

In Georgia, Rep. Sam Teasley just proposed to a new RFRA to protect the “rights of people of faith.” In opposition to this bill, a county commissioner  was quoted as saying, “If, for example, a Wiccan believes their religion does not allow them to render any payment to any entity but God, do they have to pay their taxes?” While the tax comment is outlandish, there are many related issues, such as the recent debate over the allowing inmates to have facial hair, when required by their religion.

In terms of Walker v. Cates case, Ryan Smith, co-Founder of Heathens United Against Racism, noted, “The real key point made in this case by the defendant is that the plaintiff has to show these desires are motivated by genuine religious belief and not some other motive.” The plaintiff does have the burden of proof. As noted by the judges in the hearing, Walker has not provided any such proof. In addition, as detailed in the 2011 case text, “[Walker] failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before bringing the instant action recommdations [sic] noted.” In other words, if his concerns were purely based on the practice of religious rites, he had other options.”

McCollum explained, “In current practice in correctional facilities, only a small amount of time is allocated to religious practices for all faiths. This is based on past court rulings that religion must be accommodated by the least restrictive means, while at the same time balancing the manageable operation of the institution. If the Odinist is given a short period of worship time of equal duration to that of other faiths that would be meeting the standard set by law and not violating his rights.”

But Smith doesn’t believe that Walker’s claims are religious at all. He said,”[It is] definitely something but it isn’t religion from where I sit and its history is not religious in nature. I don’t think this case being dismissed would be a problem for the vast majority of Pagan inmates as what the plaintiff is asking for here is not justified by religion but by bigotry and based on what I understand of the issue is seeking an exemption that has never been applied in a religious context.”

McCollum added that he doesn’t believe that the Odinist can win this case. He said, “If the court were to rule in the inmate’s favor to segregate him from other races or faiths for religious reasons, they would also have to segregate the Jews, some Christian traditions, and a number of other faith groups under the same arguments, as many teach in their doctrines or practices, separation by faith or ethnicity also.”

As Judge Thomas said, “We can’t do that.”

Conversations are on-going; for this particular situation and others. Politicians and individuals are continually challenging the boundaries of our rights to practice religion or not. At the same time, the courts wrestle with the test used to determine a “sincerely held” religious belief and how it should be upheld, ignored or negotiated within the established laws and regulations of society.

Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history. – Pagan Chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum

A Wiccan man serving time at MCI-Norfolk since 1987 for a  triple murder is suing the Massachusetts Department of Corrections for allegedly infringing on his religious rights. Daniel LaPlante says prison officials are interfering with his ability to practice the Wiccan religion by preventing him from obtaining specific ritual oils, herbs, teas, medallions, and a variety of cakes for his faith. He also says they are preventing him from practicing his faith in the “time, place and manner” that the Wiccan religion requires.

302262792_4a44441de8_o

Wiccan Altar [Photo Credit: Angie Armstrong/Flickr]

Without those items, LaPlante claims he won’t be able to stay in the Coven Communal Wicca Group, which meets weekly in the prison. LaPlante also maintains he also needs to be able to worship during certain moon phases, such as new and full moons.

In 2013, LaPlante’s attempt to sue the DOC failed. In recent weeks, both LaPlante and the Department of Corrections (DOC) have filed motions for summary judgment, asking the judge to end the lawsuit by ruling in their favor. There is no date set when Judge William G. Young will make a decision.

Prison officials do admit that they haven’t provided some of the items, but quickly add that many items on LaPlante’s list are considered contraband. They also say that they are following guidelines in the DOC’s Religious Services Handbook, which is used to evaluate inmate religious requests for commonly practiced religions. Wicca is included in the handbook.

The Wild Hunt spoke with Pagan Chaplain and activist Rev. Patrick McCollum about the case, and what it means for the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Rev. McCollum trains state and federal prison religion directors each year, and he says accommodating Wiccan and Pagan practices is the number one request.

Patrick McCollum [Courtesy Photo]

Patrick McCollum [Courtesy Photo]

We first asked Rev. McCollum how important are things such as candles, incense, and teas to the practice of the Wiccan religion. He responded:

As you know, there are many different traditions under the category of Wicca. To many of them, especially the earlier traditions, things like candles and incense and observances of the phases of the moon are critical to their practice. For example in my tradition, access to actual fire, water, earth, and incense, are fundamental to any working or ritual. And as for ritual teas, that practice is common among many in the Wiccan community. Also, medallions and ritual oils play a big part.

However within a prison context, the question as to whether or not these things are required or supported by our practices is irrelevant. Under RULUIPA, which is the law of the land regarding religious practices in correctional institutions, prisons are required by law to provide all of these items to Pagan inmates if requested unless they specifically create a threat to the safety and security of the institution. The majority of the items requested in this case cannot be seen as creating a security risk, as they have been approved previously in other contexts in the past. Therefore the state should be trying to find a reasonable way to accommodate them.

In the end, one needs to recognize that while it’s possible that the inmate is pushing volume-wise for more than might be reasonable, his actual requests are clearly within reason under the law. Unfortunately, the case will not be whether he should get ten kinds of cake, but rather whether it is legitimate to ask for cake as a part of Wiccan ritual. If the court rules against him, it will be taking away the rights of all Pagans in Massachusetts prisons to celebrate the ceremony of cakes and ale which is a fundamental Wiccan practice with a long history.

When asked if he felt prisons have become more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years, he said they were nationally. He added:

There is no question that prisons are becoming far more accommodating to Pagan religious practices in recent years. Twenty years ago when I first started challenging prison systems for discriminating against Wiccans and Pagans, prisons wouldn’t allow Pagan religious practices period! Now the prison systems in almost every state in the U.S. have designated Pagan religion programs or have procedural manuals on how to accommodate them. I have attended services in prisons in various states across the country where candles, incense, May Poles, BOS, Thor’s hammers, chalices, and even Athames [cardboard or wooden replicas] are common. Also outdoor ritual space and even small bonfires.

While things are getting better across the nation, Rev. McCollum sees this particular case in Massachusetts a continuation of a long standing policy to restrict the religious rights of Pagan prisoners. Yet even there, he sees some progress.  He said:

I advised the Massachusetts DOC on the basic requirements of Wiccan practices at least 15 years ago, and they took the position that they would fight every request, legitimate or not. This case, no matter how frivolous it may seem, is really just the end result of many years of religious discrimination coming to a head.

This case like many others, will likely never see the light of day on the real issues presented. Instead, the state will seek to get it thrown out on technicalities so that they are not forced to comply with the law.

To give credit, Massachusetts has made some progress in this area and have established some Pagan accommodations, but they are generally about ten years behind everyone else in the country on accommodating Pagans.

Rev. McCollum wanted to caution Pagans outside the prison system on how they can unintentionally set these hard fought gains backwards. He said:

Some in our community take the position that nothing is really necessary to practice our faith in prison other than our personal connection with magic. We need to be careful in making that assessment, especially when speaking for others (especially those in prisons). It’s important to remember that all that is necessary to practice Protestant Christianity according to the very definition of Protestant, is the person and a Bible! They do not require Sunday services or Bible classes or a chaplain or minister, or all of the other paraphernalia that they have been given to accommodate them. It is only when Pagans or other minority faiths ask to be accommodated equally, that denials persist.

The Wild Hunt will continue to follow this story and report as things change.

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

Holt-v.-Hobbs-Infograph1

  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

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.

  • Will Marianne Williamson become the first New Age guru elected to Congress? Williamson, who rocketed to fame with the publication of “A Return to Love” in 1992, is challenging Democrat Henry Waxman in California’s 33rd Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives. Quote: “In these first days of her unlikely campaign, Ms. Williamson is making the case that an injection of her brand of spirituality is what American politics needs. ‘America has swerved from its ethical center,’ she said. ‘Most of us want to feel that we can have a progressive conversation and contextualize it morally. To me, drone use is a moral issue.'” Unseating the popular Waxman may be difficult, and Democratic operatives are skeptical that she’ll succeed. Still, Williamson’s candidacy does introduce an interesting dynamic of spiritual progressive “Left-Coast” superstars deciding to take an active interest in political matters.
  • The Hopi Tribe has filed suit against a Paris auction house, hoping to stop the sale of sacred Katsinam masks. French laws are far more permissive about such sales, and doesn’t have the regulations that the United States has regarding indigenous sacred items. Quote: “Advocates for the Hopis argue that selling the sacred Katsinam masks as commercial art is illegal because the masks are like tombs and represent their ancestors’ spirits. The tribe nurtures and feed the masks as if they are the living dead. The objects are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange.” This is not the first time such a sale has transpired, and the Hopis hope this new round of court battles will provide a different outcome.
  • The Guardian reports that the Vatican and Bodleian libraries have launched an online archive of ancient religious texts. Included in those texts will be several works of interest to my readers. Quote: “The works to be digitised include the small but staggering collection of Greek manuscripts in the Vatican, including ancient texts of works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates.” 
  • I maybe be downright chilly towards the antics of New Age gurus, but early New Age music? That’s another thing entirely. Quote: “Forget everything you think you hate about New Age music. I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1999 is a stunning compilation of beautiful, chill, complex, psychedelic, trancy, spacey, and surprisingly deep music that was self-published and self-distributed, mostly on cassette tapes in a 1970s and early-1980s heyday of experimentalism.” Like Disco, commercial plunder ruined the genre, but both are having their proper place in history restored.
  • Televangelist Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died on November 30th. During his life Crouch was dogged by accusations of fiscal impropriety and plagiarism, among other things. The Los Angeles Times has a thorough obituary for the curious.
Lance Reddick

Lance Reddick

  • Actor Lance Reddick, famous for his work with the show Fringe, is joining the cast of American Horror Story: Coven as the loa Papa Legba, who oversees communication, and acts as the intermediary between our world and the word of spirits and powers (as such he is uniquely honored within Haitian Vodou). There’s just one problem, he’s being decribed as, quote, “voodoo Satan” by the producers. Quote: “The character, described as Coven‘s version of ‘voodoo Satan,’ plays a pivotal role in the life of Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and will be an important figure in the series’ remaining four episodes. Show co-creator Ryan Murphy teased Legba’s involvement in our recent EW AHS: Coven cover story: ‘You find out that’s how come Marie Laveau looks so good — because she sold her soul!'” So, that’s problematic, to put it nicely. I imagine practitioners of Vodou who are already unhappy with how their faith is being portrayed won’t be especially pleased by this new turn of events. I will be following up on this story soon.
  • Brooke McGowan of the Tea Party News Network is apparently concerned that Wiccans are making God, like, really, really, angry. Quote: “In this nation we have turned away from the God of the Bible and we’ve told him he’s simply not welcome here,” McGowan said. “We have welcomed pluralism, atheism, secular humanism, Wicca and even Islam.” What a charmer! I bet she’s fun at parties.
  • The Fayette County jail in Pennsylvania will now allow Wiccan services for inmates thanks to the efforts of Kathryn Jones. Quote: “Kathryn Jones of Uniontown told the board Wednesday she has ’15 years’ leadership as a Wiccan.’ […] Jones said she had been permitted to conduct services in the prison chapel in the past, but recent requests have been denied. ‘I’ve asked for months for a visit in the chapel,’ Jones said. […] Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Zapotosky, county commissioners who serve on the prison board, said Jones’ requests are to be granted, provided her requested times do not interfere with previously scheduled uses of the room.” Sometimes, activism can be a simple as not going away.
  • Here’s the first official trailer for Pompeii, out in February. Quote: “The film stars Kit Harington as an enslaved Celtic gladiator named Milo who falls in love with a noblewoman (Emily Browning) on the eve of a massive volcanic eruption that destroys Pompeii, an event that also brings him face-to-face with the man who slaughtered his family years earlier.”

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.

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. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the over 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

Pagan prison chaplain Patrick McCollum has penned an open reaction letter in response to a New York Times article about a Southern Baptist Bible college located inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In the letter, McCollum cautions fellow prison chaplains against celebrating this move unless they’d want to see a similar setup for a Wiccan seminary, and ends with the advice he’d give the warden in Louisiana if asked. Quote: “I support the good work of the seminary, and I would encourage the warden or other wardens, if they want to move in this direction, and if it were found that such programs were Constitutional ( which I seriously doubt) to invite minority faiths to have the same support and advantages they are offering the Bible college.  I would also caution the current seminary to review their objectives and adjust them to bring service to all and a good general education, without including conversion as a component.  If inmates feel moved after seeing the good work done by the seminary to convert, more power to them. While there is a serious question as to whether the situation described is Constitutional at all, the more important question is, is it ethical? Is it okay to submit confined inmates who cannot escape or move out of range of this program and who know up front that signing up for it will put them in good favor with the warden and staff and make their prison stay more comfortable and even give them status.” Religious education in prison is an ongoing issue, one that Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has decided to explore with their new Pagan Life Academy.

1391905_10151682113826724_2043938403_nWriter, occultist, and musician Lon Milo DuQuette will be releasing a new album, “Gentle Heretic,” on October 31st. Downloads of the new songs are already available at CD Baby. Quote: “After a twenty five year hiatus from the music business and the recording studio, Lon Milo DuQuette is in the midst of a burst of musical creativity. Eighteen months after his 2012 debut on Ninety Three Records, DuQuette has wrapped production on “Gentle Heretic”, his third collection of original material. While “Heretic” maintains the wit and stylistic traditions established in his first two Ninety Three works (“I’m Baba Lon” and “Baba Lon II”), DuQuette has sharpened his satirical pen on some tracks, pulling few punches politically or philosophically. A prolific author and expert in Western Hermeticism, the Aleister Crowley disciple’s new disc tweaks the beaks of the one percent, pokes fun at the proselytizers – there’s even a scathing salvo served on a certain December holiday. Mixed in with these messages are some delightful frolics covering everything from reincarnation to a quantum theory of courtship. The final forty-one seconds might be described as the acoustic equivalent of a YouTube cat video.” You can find out more about this release at Ninety Three Records.

banner4Pandora’s Kharis, a charity circle run by Hellenic Polytheists, was recently launched. The new group, sponsored by Elaion, aims to raise money for “charities and causes which align with our ideals, our Gods and our communities.” Quote: “Pandora’s Kharis is a movement which arose from within the Hellenistic Polytheistic community, and sponsored by Hellenistic Polytheistic organization Elaion. Its goal is to come together as Hellenists–followers of the ancient Hellenic (Greek) Gods–and collect funds monthly to support a worthy cause, decided upon by vote from the members of the group. Donations will be collected throughout the month and provided to the organization on the Noumenia; the religious beginning of the new month, which coincides with the return of the moon after it’s just gone through its dark phase. It is a time of hope and promise, and Pandora’s remaining gift after the amphora was opened was exactly that. As such, she has been elected to represent what we stand for: to keep an open eye of wonder towards the world, to see the good in it, and to offer hope to those in need.” In an editorial for Witches & Pagans, Terence P. Ward praised the formation of Pandora’s Kharis, noting that “perhaps even more exciting — at least from a business perspective — is that the idea is easily replicated.  Wiccans, Heathens, polytraditional solitaries all could create their own groups for amplifying the power of their giving.  By narrowing the focus from the incredibly broad and often contradictory beliefs of Pagans down to the ethics and values of a particular subset of the Paganiverse, we are likely to see more public giving by Pagans.” More information can be found at the organization’s new web site.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A new London-based shop based around traditional conjure work, London Conjure, was launched this week. The enterprise was founded by Katelan Foisy (“La Gitana”), who is based in New York City, and Sister Enable, based in the UK. Quote: “Though much of their work is based on Romany “Gypsy” Magic passed down from generation to generation and traditional Hoodoo conjure work, they also work with spirits used in Haitian Vodou, Santeria or other enlightened spirits depending on what will work best to achieve their clients’ objectives.” You can learn more about the founders, here. You can also read a Q&A with Katelan Foisy.
  • A new book of commentaries on Aleister Crowley’s The Book of the Law“Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law,” has been published. Quote: “Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on the Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Webb provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magical perspectives, including commentary from Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought.”
  • At PNC-Minnesota, Lisa Spiral Besnett covers the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota. Quote: “This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year. Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.”
  • Cosette, in Australia, gives an update on the Pagan/New Age event in Wedderburn, which experienced opposition from local Christian groups. Quote: “It sounds to me like there was a lot of interest in the New Age festival and that’s what people really went out there for. What Tonkin and other Christians like her fail to realize is that there’s a church on every corner and a Bible in every motel room, library, and book shop. Christianity is the dominant and privileged religion in Australia; finding information about it and other Christians is easy. Finding Witches, Wiccans, good resources, and a supportive Pagan or New Age spiritual community is much harder, and made all the more difficult by people like Tonkin who seek to defame alternative religions, and frighten those seeking them while attempting to silence those who practice them.”
  • Issue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine was released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.”

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

Yesterday, Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary announced the launch of a new program, Pagan Life Academy, a series of low-cost lessons designed to bring Pagan values, ethics, and ritual to incarcerated Pagans. In explaining the rationale behind this new initiative, Executive Director Holli Emore said that “the prison experience can be a cauldron of transformation for many” and that they “hope that the newly-launched Pagan Life Academy will inspire others to design additional lessons and contribute to the series.”

Holli S. Emore

Holli S. Emore

“For years and years, incarcerated Pagans across the country have been writing CHS to ask, no plead, for instructional materials.  About three years ago I was talking to Patrick McCollum about prison ministry and he suggested that one of the best things we could do as a learning institution was to create a set of lessons.  He advised that they should be printed to mail and be very low cost (most inmates work, but make only cents per hour and must buy most of their own toiletries).  Meanwhile, the letters continued to come. 

Several of our faculty raised their hand when I inquired about interest in working on such a project.  This would be a labor of love, and it would mean learning about culture and systems largely unfamiliar to most of us.  Several times we thought we were close to releasing a series, then were advised by someone closer to the penal systems to make changes.  We are greatly indebted to Selina Rifkin, who created the concept for eight written lessons and wrote each of them, and who formally transferred her copyright to CHS as a gift.  We also owe deep gratitude to Candace Kant, who began the process initially, to Annie Finch, who contributed a number of ritual chants, and, especially, to Wendy Griffin, who spent many hours as editor and advisor.  Thank you, all, for your caring, and for contributing your talent to this growing, though out of sight, need in our community.”

Each lesson and ritual costs $5, and is structured around the 8-spoked Wiccan/Pagan “wheel of the year.” Though the lessons are written so that they can be adapted to as wide a range of Pagan traditions as possible.

Academy-300x82

“Contemporary Paganism is really a family of religions, the most popular of which are Asatru or Heathenry, Druidry, feminist Goddess worship, Wicca, non-Wiccan forms of religious witchcraft and reconstructionism (the attempted recreation of ancient religions such as those of Greece and Egypt). Of these Wicca is the largest. Because there may be different kinds of Pagans in any prison, we have attempted to create a Pan-Pagan prison program that includes elements from these traditions and emphasizes some of the values they have in common.”

Pagan activist and chaplain Patrick McCollum, who has done extensive work advocating for Pagan inmates, said the initiative was “very much needed” and that Cherry Hill Seminary was, quote, “changing the world and also making history.” Chaplain Sandra Harris, who was awarded Cherry Hill Seminary’s first Masters of Divinity, added that this was a “great step forward in Pagan prison ministry.”

“I know that there are many, many Pagans all over the United States serving time that we’re not aware of, and [who] could really use some support. And without a Pagan volunteer, they probably aren’t going to get any from their prison. And I think that our Pagan values are good values to share with people in the prison setting, too.”Holly O’Brien, Pagan chaplain and Cherry Hill Seminary Student

Many professional chaplains within the American prison industry feel that the number of Pagans behind bars is growing. As that growth occurs, the need to find ways of accommodating their spiritual needs without the impressive infrastructure of Catholic and Protestant Christian faith traditions can be an ongoing challenge. These materials are a step towards finding ways of getting materials to Pagan inmates in a cheap and effective way. Here’s a list of the existing Pagan Life Academy materials.

Pagan Life Academy

“These first eight lessons are the beginning of a dynamic, growing and changing response to the needs of Pagan inmates.  If you are inspired to create additional lessons which may increase the breadth and depth of the Pagan Life Academy, we welcome submissions.  Note that the Pagan Life Academy is our gift to the community, with no payments or royalties going to writers.  Cherry Hill Seminary reserves the right to edit copy as needed, or to decline use of a submission.”

Contact information, and more details, can be found at the Pagan Life Academy page.

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.