Archives For prostitution

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.

  • Moonhenge in Cambridgeshire was recently dedicated and blessed by local Pagans. Quote: “For Jo-Ann Childs, a druid from ­Huntingdon, the experience was ­particularly spiritual because she said she had dreamed about the henge during a trance three weeks before the artist Derek Massey’s design appeared in The Hunts Post. She said: ‘It was exactly what I saw in my dream – tonight is a dream come true.’ Ms Childs, 72, a retired anaesthetic technician, has been a druid for many years. She explained that by blessing the site, druids hope it will be a sacred place for everybody, no matter what their religion.” Moonhenge is a wooden replica of Stonehenge built in honor of the land owner’s late wife, and featuring 19 outer trees representing a lunar cycle. BBC News notes that there’s a bit of bother over planning permissions, though nothing too dire it seems.
  • The Christian obsession with witchcraft continues unabated, with spiritual warfare peddler Landon “The Rev” Schott‘s new book entitled “Jezebel: The Witch Is Back” that will “equip and empower you to wage spiritual warfare aggressively” against “Jezebel’s diabolical characteristics and behaviors.” Quote: “Her assault will continue until all of God’s people are dead or defeated. Jezebel’s bloodlust for death and destruction will only be stopped when met with spiritual violence.” This is hardly the first book about the “Jezebel spirit,” she’s practically a household name among certain Christians (see here, here, here, and here). So what happens when you explain away everything from depression to simple illness to witchcraft? Do you start looking for scapegoats when your “spiritual violence” isn’t enough anymore to keep things as Christian and stable as you would like? Make no mistake, we’re considered a “symptom” of Jezebel’s reign.
  • For some time now I’ve been covering the Phoenix Goddess Temple saga. Were the practitioners devout tantric healers, or was it merely a front for a prostitution ring? Now, two years after the temple was raided and shut down by police, founder Tracy Elise will be headed to trial in October, and will be representing herself. Quote: “According to court paperwork, Tracy Elise has fired her attorney and has chosen to represent herself in court. Two years ago, police raided Elise’s church, known as the Phoenix Goddess Temple. Investigators claimed it was a house of prostitution, but parishioners said they were just practicing their religion.” For the curious, Elise has a Youtube channel where she outlines some of her beliefs. We will be covering this story as it continues to develop.
  • The trial of psychic matriarch Rose Marks continues, with gripping testimony back and forth over how successful her services were, and whether she was merely conning people for lucrative pay-outs. Quote: “Walker said she became unhappy, though the psychics felt they’d had successes: Walker’s husband had returned to live with her before he died; no child had been born; and Walker’s legal team had negotiated an initial payment from the estate to Walker.” My previous reporting on this story can be found here, and here.
  • Bloomberg, Salon.com, and Discovery all write about the deteriorating water supply in Caracas, Venezuela. While Bloomberg largely focuses on the political and structural failures that are causing the unsafe water, the others seem to focus in on Santeria practitioners dumping dead animals into local reservoirs (which the processing plants are unable to filter toxins from). Quote: “Witch doctors regularly dump animal sacrifices into the reservoir meant to quench the thirst, clean the dishes and wash the clothes of 750,000 Venezuelans, reported Bloomberg. As a result, citizens of one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden cities in the world, Caracas, Venezuela, can’t even take a drink of water from the tap safely. The 60-year old water treatment plant at the reservoir lacks the ability to filter out the toxins from the putrefying carcasses.” None of these articles seem very balanced to me. The problem isn’t the dumping per-se, if it is indeed as pervasive as claimed, the problem is a decaying infrastructure, law enforcement, and a political system in turmoil. The bad water is a symptom of a problem far larger than dead animals.

  • Self-help “Secret”-peddler James Arthur Ray, currently free on parole after serving two years for negligent homicide in three 2009 sweat-lodge ceremony deaths, has decided to drop his conviction appeal. According to the Associated Press, Ray “wants to avoid the possibility of a retrial and resentencing.” Quote: “I wish to ensure the prompt, complete and definitive termination of these criminal proceedings by dismissing this appeal and allowing the conviction and sentence to stand undisturbed.” In other words, the appeal to his not-that-harsh sentence considering 3 people died was generating a lot of criticism, and he feared that being sent back to prison was a real possibility if a new trial went forward. So perhaps this is the end of the James Arthur Ray saga? Let’s hope he sinks into a quiet and isolated retirement.
  • BBC News Scotland has the tragic story of how one abused girl’s testimony was manipulated into what would be known as the South Ronaldsay child abuse scandal in 1991. Quote: “The tiny Orkney island of South Ronaldsay became the centre of a worldwide media storm in 1991 when nine children were removed from four families following allegations of satanic sexual abuse. Two decades on, Esther, who was the child at the centre of the scandal, believes none of it would have happened if she had spoken out at the time.” Esther has published a new book entitled “If Only I Had Told.”
  • Interfaith activist Andrew Luisi says that Indian culture teaches us plurality. Quote: “India has taught me that there are endless paths to reach the same destination. Hindus believe in many deities, but ultimately and regardless of the deity they choose to worship, they believe that they will be lead to the same truth. To this point, Hindus believe that they are worshipping the manifestation of the deity in the specific image that they are performing the puja, or religious ritual, to. It is not as if each Hindu believes that the image is the deity because most understand that divine power is greater than any one physical figure; divinity is present anywhere in the world and at any time.”
  • The Revealer interviews Ronald L. Grimes, ritual theorist, and author of “Deeply into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage.” Quote: “His book “Deeply Into the Bone: Re-Inventing Rites of Passage“ (University of California Press, 2000), for example, mixes personal accounts of the ways people have performed rites of “hatching, matching, and dispatching” with theoretical approaches to those rites. Through his detailed explanations, Grimes also makes arguments for why rites of passage matter, not just as an academic discipline, but for our lived lives. These passages are difficult, when fully comprehended, and it takes performance, imagination, and community to work through them. Crucially, they have to be updated, changed, and “re-invented” to continue to have impact.”
  • Paganism is resurgent, and thus, people are throwing away babies. Modern Catholic thought in action folks.
  • Matt Hedstrom at the Christian Century admits that a “come-one, come-all” open prayer policy would unfairly favor Christianity, but can’t bring himself to endorse either “ceremonial deism” or complete elimination of opening invocations. Quote: “As Stephen Prothero recently reminded me, many evangelicals and fundamentalists actually supported—for this very reason—the landmark 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v. Vitale, which banned school-sponsored prayer. Fundamentalist leader Carl McIntire made this point clearly: ‘Prayer itself without the name of Jesus Christ’—whom the prayer in question did not name—’was not non-denominational prayer—it was simply a pagan prayer.’ McIntire continued: ‘No Government agency or power in the United States can be used to establish a religion.’ Prayer without Jesus represented a religious orientation, one McIntire found objectionable.” Again, this is why the Supreme Court’s decision in Town of Greece v. Galloway is so important.

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

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

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

Chico Goddess Temple entrance.

  • Is the Chico Goddess Temple doomed? According to the Chico News and Review, noise complaints for an illegal festival held four years ago has led to a much larger struggle to survive and gain the permits needed to stay open. Owner Robert Seals thinks that hostility to Goddess religion might underlay the resistance he’s encountered in obtaining the permits he needs. Quote: “This is nothing new, worship of the Goddess, but it goes up against a lot of fundamental religions.” You can learn more about this struggle, and the upcoming appeal hearing, here.

That’s it for now! Happy Friday the 13th! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I have some updates on recent stories covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Phoenix Goddess Temple Arrests: Since my report on Thursday, this story has hit the national and international newswires. It is now revealed that charges include prostitution, pandering, and conspiracy. Most reports I’ve read seem pretty confident that this was nothing but a brothel with a veneer of spirituality painted on as a legal smokescreen. I’ve never seen so many scare quotes being used in a mainstream newswire report before.

Phoenix Goddess Temple members. Photo by Jamie Peachey.

“During a Wednesday search of the Phoenix temple and two church-related sites in nearby Sedona, police seized evidence showing that “male and female ‘practitioners’ working at the Temple were performing sexual acts in exchange for monetary ‘donations,’ all on the pretense of providing ‘neo tantric’ healing therapies,” Phoenix police said.”

We’ve also learned more about the raids on the affiliated Sedona Temple, and the undercover operations that were underway for six months. In addition, some of those arrested have spoken with journalists, insisting that they are not engaged in prostitution.

During an interview with CBS 5 News, three of the women talked while in handcuffs. “I call myself a shaman. I believe in earth-based healing,” said Holly Alsop. After a six month investigation, Phoenix Police have 18 people behind bars accused of running a prostitution ring at the Phoenix Goddess Temple. When interviewed Friday, the women would not specifically say what the healing practices were, but when they were asked if any of them had sexual intercourse at the church, they had one very clear answer. “No, no. Absolutely not,” said Amanda Twitty. “Absolutely not. Everything we do is healing,” said Holly Alsop, and “No,” said Jamie Baker. “We’re not a brothel, we’re a church,” said Baker.

Whatever our suspicions in this matter, it’s now up to a judge or jury to decide if the evidence gathered by undercover officers is indeed enough to convict them of operating a prostitution ring. Whatever the truth of the matter, this should be an interesting test of how far religious protections can extend. We’ll keep you posted on further developments.

More on Santa Muerte: It seems I wasn’t the only one to have a problem with Tim Stanley’s vicious editorial in the Telegraph, George Conger at Get Religion dissects the assertions made about the Santa Muerte folk religion and finds them wanting.

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“The Telegraph’s argument is: Some illegal aliens from Mexico are devotees of the Santa Muerte cult. Americans do not like illegal immigration from Mexico. Therefore, fears of Santa Muerte lie behind opposition to illegal Mexican immigration. Sorry.  This won’t do. The bottom line: Correlation does not imply causation. […] to support the claim that American perceptions of Mexican migration to the U.S. are influenced by fears of this cult needs evidence.”

Another UK paper, the Guardian, came out with a much more sympathetic and thoughtful piece on Santa Muerte just yesterday, in what can only be seen as a counter-point to Stanley’s hysteria.

“To one side of the shrine was a candle shop. We decided to buy a candle to put on the shrine as most of the people in the queue were holding candles. I had read earlier that each colour of candle carried with it a meaning: red for love, white for luck and black for protection. We bought a white candle each and went back to the end of the line. The man before us in the queue wore a black singlet, exposing his enlarged biceps which were covered in tattoos; his wrists and neck were draped in gold chains. We observed him carefully when he arrived at the shrine. First he lit a black candle and placed it down in front of him beneath the altar. Then he got down on his knees and crossed himself. With his eyes closed, he began to utter a prayer under his breath. Finally, he stood up and lit a cigarette. He took one puff and left the rest on the ashtray as an offering.”

Also giving a far more balanced look into Santa Muerte is Texas newspaper The Monitor, who notes the rise of altars and spiritual aspects to the drug trade, but gain perspective from anthropologist Antonio Zavaleta. Zavaleta observes that this trend is less about an increase in believers and more about “a relocation of them.”

NAR’s Respect For Other Religions: New Apostolic Reformation guiding light C. Peter Wagner has been on something of a public relations blitz lately, ever since his movement has come under public scrutiny due to its ties with Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry. Most recently, Wagner was interviewed by Voice of America, where he insists that NAR has respect for other religions, and operates “within religious pluralism.”

C. Peter Wagner. Image courtesy of skywaymedia.

“We don’t believe in taking over a nation. But we believe in exerting as much influence in every one of the mountains to see the values of the Kingdom of God within a democratic society, within religious pluralism,”

Rachel Tabachnick at Talk To Action does a thorough debunking of Wagner’s claims that NAR isn’t seeking dominion, and values pluralism, and Right Wing Watch joins in as well. RWW points out that Wagner admits to his movement’s growing political influence in the VoA interview.

“I think they’re right that the influence is growing and the influence was very strong in The Response meeting. But what I see in the media is that critics of conservative candidates like Rick Perry are accusing him of doing something bad by his friendship with people in the NAR. I don’t know if Rick Perry would consider himself as a part of the NAR but he had some people on the platform and in the audience who were part of the NAR. But I don’t think there is anything worse about being part of the NAR then being part of the Southern Baptists or being part of the Catholic Church or being part of any other segment of Christianity.”

As I’ve pointed out again and again, my bottom line is how their growing influence will affect religious minorities in the United States. NAR leaders have, time and time again, expressed their hostility to Pagan and occult belief systems, and any politician who willingly associates with them should be questioned regarding how much of their agenda they support.

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

The Phoenix Goddess Temple in Arizona, a neo-tantric religious organization that defines itself as “a sacred place to know the secret inner wisdom of the Cosmic Mother,” was raided by police on Wednesday. Eleven women and five men were taken in for questioning, and made to do a “perp walk” for the cameras, but police would not say, exactly, what the raid was looking for.

“CBS 5 News has also learned this was part of a long term investigation that spanned from the Valley to Sedona. Police served three additional search warrants in the Sedona area and detained several more people for questioning at those locations. […] [Sgt. Steve] Martos would not confirm the nature of the investigation, saying investigators would be working well into the night and more details would be available tomorrow.”

It was revealed that police also raided Sedona Goddess Temple, an affiliate of the Phoenix Goddess Temple. It’s plainly obvious that this is a raid looking for proof of prostitution, though previous sting operations have turned up empty-handed. Why else do a highly publicized raid and perp-walk? So far, there are no reports of actual charges being made, and Phoenix Goddess Temple has released no statement regarding these events. If Phoenix Goddess Temple was simply a house of prostitution with a veneer of religion painted over it, wouldn’t they have been closed down by now? Earlier this year the Phoenix New Times called the temple’s activities “New Age prostitution,” though the men and women at the temple insist that they are engaged in a higher calling.

But despite the obvious eyebrow-raisers at the temple, [Temple founder Tracy] Elise says she’s doing nothing wrong. “The temple is really a church for us,” she says. “We open ourselves with love as an empty channel, and that’s the authority by which I heal. I don’t get my credentials on the ground level. I get my calling and I am under the jurisdiction of the most high.”

Even if no charges are brought from this current investigation, the writing is on the wall. It’s obvious the police are looking for any excuse to shut these temples down. The question now is, should they be able to? Even if some sessions end in “happy endings” aren’t their activities protected by law so long as they don’t directly charge money for sex? If they took this matter to court, would they be able win broader protections since they are religiously sincere in their activities? How should the broader Pagan community engage with sacred sexuality practitioners?

A few quick news notes and updates for you on this Sunday.

Sacred Sex Workers Speak Out: Vice Magazine/VBS Television recently launched a series called “Prostitutes of God” about sex workers dedicated to the goddess Yellamma in India, the devadasis. While the documentary presented a picture of exploitation, slavery, and disease, the women interviewed claim their stories were mangled, that Vice outed a HIV+ woman and implied that she was spreading the disease, and that they were not allowed to view the product before it aired. Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (‘Prostitutes’ Freedom from Injustice’) or “VAMP” (part of SANGRAM) has released an open letter listing their charges against Vice and film-maker Sarah Harris, and produced a Youtube video where the women speak out.

“In the age of the Internet, women in countries far away who used to be the objects of white people’s gaze with no right of reply now have access to the representations that are made of them, and the technological means to answer back. A naive westerner may seize the headlines, but there’s now scope for there to be a debate and to bring those who in the past would have remained voiceless victims into that debate to represent themselves. It is a great opportunity to put the record straight. While VAMP continues to explore possible legal and other actions to redress the violations detailed above, we ask that you upload the VAMP film in the comments section on your website. This would go some way toward not only allowing voice to the women of Sangli, but also providing much-needed debate on sensitive issues like sex work, livelihoods, choice and religion.”

This issue has been taken up across the feminist blogosphere, including Bitch Magazine, Feministing, RH Reality Check, and Waking Vixen. In addition, Mumbai-based filmmaker Paromita Vohra criticizes Harris for not doing the “hard work of questioning your assumptions” in making this film series. So far neither Vice nor Harris has responded to the allegations made against them, though they have (without comment) removed the clip outing sex worker Belavva’s HIV status without her consent. As many have pointed out in the links above, the days when 1st-world Western documentary makers can swoop in and make judgments about a culture without feedback or rebuttal are coming to an end. Perhaps this galvanizing moment will change the way the subject is handled and reported on in the future.

More on Patrick McCollum’s Court Appearance: The Lady Liberty League has posted an update on Patrick McCollum’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals appearance.

“[David] Kiernan [Patrick’s lawyer] pointed out that special accommodation of the Abrahamic faiths has dominated the State’s religious accommodation policies for over 50 years, and that the only reason the Native Americans have been included is because they sued. I think it is time for the State of California to recognize the diversity of religion in the United States and its duty to accommodate religion in an unbiased manner. The State has a duty to the people of California and the United States to uphold the Constitution, not to serve as the advocates for preferred faiths or as the promoters of preferred theologies.”

You can find links to listen or download the October 7th oral arguments, here. You can find a summary of what this case is about, here. You can read all of my coverage of Patrick McCollum and his activities, here. For those who want to give aid and support to Patrick during this case, check out the Lady Liberty League’s support page. You can be sure that I’ll keep you informed as this moves forward.

Those Darn Pagan Vampires: An Arizona couple have allegedly stabbed a transient man after he refused to let them suck his blood on a second occasion. That man, Robert Maley, claims Aaron Homer and Amanda Williamson were into “vampire stuff and paganism”.

“Police said they were called to a home at 625 N. Alma School Road, where they found Homer and Williamson with a lot of blood in the apartment, as well as a trail of blood leaving the apartment. Initial statements by Homer indicated Williamson had been attacked by the unidentified person, police said, and that she stabbed him in self-defense. After being confronted by police, Homer admitted to stabbing the other man because he was making fun of Homer and Williamson’s religion, according to police.

Of course we have no clue if the couple were actually “Pagan” or what kind of “rituals” they were performing, or even how serious their attributed vampiric identity is. Already some news outlets are saying that “the vampire trend has taken a dangerous turn”, as though this couple were somehow on an even keel until they read Twilight, and then decided to stab a homeless man. This is one of those stories were more information was needed before speculation should have started.

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

I want to direct your attention to a heart-wrenching New Yorker piece about women within the devadasi system (essentially sacred prostitutes) in India who are increasingly ravaged by HIV/AIDS, loss of social standing, and poverty. These women are dedicated/married to Yellamma, patron goddess of the down-trodden, and protector of prostitutes.

“Yellamma never wanted it to be like this,” Rani said. “The goddess is sitting silently,” Kaveri said. “We don’t know what feelings she has about us. Who really knows what she is thinking?” “No,” Rani said, firmly shaking her head. “The goddess looks after us. When we are in distress, she comes to us. Sometimes in our dreams. Sometimes in the form of one of her children.” “It is not the goddess’s doing.” “The world has made it like this.” “The world, and the disease.” “The goddess dries our tears,” Rani said. “If you come to her with a pure heart, she will take away your sadness and your sorrows. What more can she do?”

While the devadasi are given more respect than “common” prostitutes, and are often invited to give their blessings to weddings and other festivals, they still live in poverty, are usually sold into the practice as children, and are often abandoned by their family if they can no longer contribute fiscally due to illness.

“Later, I asked one of the project managers of an N.G.O. working in Belgaum about AIDS and how the devadasis’ families reacted. ‘It’s terrible,’ she said. ‘The families are happy to live off them and use the money they earn. But as soon as they become infected, or at least become bedridden and sick, they are dumped in a ditch—sometimes literally. Just abandoned.'”

William Dalrymple’s haunting piece paints a picture of sacred prostitution that is anything but sacred. In trying to address this problem, some have tried to introduce “de-initiation” ceremonies, unbinding them from what the women see as their unchangeable fate. Others have attacked the system itself as an upper-class method of control, while government agencies have tried to enforce dedication prohibition through education campaigns. Until these women are given a better life through social and legal reforms, one can only hope that their goddess will give them the comfort and protection they pray for.