Archives For ritual abuse

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Two recent news stories reminded the United States of something many would like to believe never happened, the systematic imprisonment of hundreds of innocent people for “Satanic” ritual abuse. Four women, known collectively as the San Antonio 4, were released from prison last month, as it became increasingly clear that their case had more to do with a vindictive homophobic relative than ritual sexual abuse.

The San Antonio 4

The San Antonio 4

“He had evidence that the father of the child accusers had been angry with one of the women (in part because she was gay) and pressured his young daughters to bring false accusations. The case closely resembled that of the Kellers, with bizarre, improbable accusations and intimations of Satanism. [...] In late 2010, the first big investigative article about the women came out in the San Antonio Express-News. Days later, the NCRJ received a call from one of the accusers, who by then was in her 20s. Tearfully, she said that when she was 7, her father had forced her to lie about being raped by the women. She didn’t remember that happening. But he’d threatened that if she didn’t say it had, he would beat her and she’d be jailed.  [...] Last month, three of the four – Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh – were released from prison pending later review by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Co-defendant Anna Vasquez was already out on restrictive parole, but has now had those restrictions rescinded. The process is being repeated for the Kellers.”

Then, Frances and Dan Keller of Austin. Texas, were released from prison this week as their 20-year-old case continued to fall apart under scrutiny.

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

“The Kellers were among hundreds of child-care workers across the nation who, in the Eighties and Nineties, were accused of being part of a network of Satan worshippers who abused children taken to day care. In 2008, the Chronicle began a reinvestigation of the case against Fran and Dan Keller. We discovered that Austin Police and prosecutors were embarrassingly credulous in their belief that the children had been abused in all manner of unbelievable – often literally impossible – ways, despite the fact that there was scant evidence to suggest any crime had ever occurred at all.”

While this long-overdue justice is welcome, what’s chilling is that we just don’t know how many more innocent people are still rotting away in jail cells, accused of unspeakable acts and quickly locked away during a time of moral panic.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

“No registry exists of old ritual abuse cases. People still in prison may be discovered by chance, as the San Antonio women were. Or they may never be found. That’s a chilling possibility. Equally chilling is the temptation to believe the panic is over. It’s not. While satanic abuse cases are rare or even passé, the NCRJ hears persistently of less dramatic but common scenarios. Incest, arson, shaken babies – sloppy, unscientific investigations into such accusations can and do railroad many innocent people.”

2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the “Satanic Panics” emerging into our culture, and we’re still trying to heal, to find real justice, and move forward. Indeed, despite the high-profile release of the West Memphis 3, and other victims who’ve managed to draw media attention, we are still wrestling with a justice system littered with individuals who stand by their old convictions. People are still arrested and thrown into jail on evidence that could be called questionable at best, so long as it sounds “Satanic” and diabolic enough. Meanwhile, true believers lay in wait, champing at the bit to put more imaginary “Satanists” behind bars.

“[Judy] Byington is an authority on Satanists, and as a clinical social worker she spent years helping others heal from wounds so deep most would shrink from the task. With the permission of her clients, she has written about one woman’s experience of growing up within a coven and surviving. The book is called “Twenty-Two Faces.” “This is a huge breaking story validating the existence of human sacrifices of children in our society,” Byington said. [...] They have secret combinations. They live in duplicity. They torture and sacrifice the innocent. They give birth in secret so the babies they sacrifice have no birth certificate record. They take the time to learn speaking Latin backwards from what is called the Black Bible.”

In the current light of day people like Byington sound like lunatics, but we have to remember that thousands of people once took this very, very, seriously. That mainstream news outlets treated the accusations as though they had merit.

So yes, we laugh when we read sites like Right Wing Watch, where fringe Christian religious leaders say that same-sex marriage will lead to the Satanic killing of Christians, but we forget that moral panics are panics, they aren’t rational. Small eruptions of hysteria on a variety of topics happen every day, but we don’t know which one will erupt at the right time, and at the right place, to trigger some atavistic impulse in our society. To lead us down a path of madness, where we destroy the innocent to keep us safe from an invisible danger. The Salem Witch Trials didn’t need ergot poisoning, because many of us saw the phenomenon play out in our lifetimes. The legacy of the Satanic Panic is still ongoing, it isn’t a closed subject, because people are still being made to suffer for its sins. Let’s hope these recent moves towards justice, these prisoners freed, will bring us all closer to the light of reason.

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

The Temple of Witchcraft Wins Zoning Permission: The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, after encountering some resistance from neighbors to expand and make improvements to their new building in Salem, New Hampshire, has received unanimous approval from the local Planning Board.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

“The Temple of Witchcraft has received final approval to expand its operations on North Policy Street, despite opposition from neighbors. The Planning Board voted unanimously last week to grant the nonprofit organization the permission it needs to relocate from 2 Main St. to a two-story building at 49 N. Policy St.”

Opponents insisted this was only about traffic and noise, and not about Witchcraft, though one neighbor did question if the Temple of Witchcraft was “truly a religious organization deserving of a zoning exemption.” Still, this is a win, and I congratulate the temple on their new home.

UK Witches in Sexually Abusive Coven Found Guilty: Peter Petrauske and Jack Kemp have been convicted of being involved in a pedophile ring that used the trappings of Wicca to lure in young girls in order to sexually abuse them. Their abuse, which involved “a number of young victims, the youngest aged somewhere between three and five,” was also linked to murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim.

peter petrauske

Peter Petrauske

“Petrauske was said to be the “high priest” of a witches’ coven in St Ives, Cornwall, and ordered the girls to carry out his sick fantasies. The court heard Kemp videoed the abuse, but also took part in the assaults, along with friends Solheim and Stan Pirie – a notorious paedophile who died in jail following his conviction for sex abuse in the mid-2000s. The duo’s victims gave harrowing evidence from behind a screen during the three-week trial. They said they were then abused by their tormentors, before being given money and sweets to buy their silence.”

As I said when I first reported on this, “those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.” I can only hope the victims find some measure of closure with their conviction.

More on the Pagan Federation Charity Fight: Third Sector Magazine reports on the Pagan Federation’s fight for charity status in England and Wales after being recently denied for not meeting “all the essential characteristics of a religion for the purposes of charity law.”

Pagan Federation

“The commission’s decision is interesting, says Emma Moody, head of charities at the commercial law firm Dickinson Dees, because it has said in the past that it is not the regulator of religion. But it is now saying, she says, that the Pagan Federation is not a religion because it does not meet its requirements.”

The Wild Hunt recently interviewed  The Pagan Federation’s president, Chris Crowley, about the matter, and he said that the organization will “not give up and keep hammering away” until it is recognized as a charitable Pagan organization. We’ll keep you updated as this story progresses.

Charles Jaynes Denied Religious Name Change: Charles Jaynes, convicted in 1997 of participating in the abduction, molestation, and murder of 10-year-old Jeffrey Curley, went before a judge this past November wanting to change his name to “Manasseh Invictus Auric Thutmose V” in what he claimed was a necessary step in his growth within the Wiccan religion. Now, the judge has denied that request, stating “that allowing the Petitioner’s petition for change of name is inconsistent with public interests.”

Charles Jaynes

Charles Jaynes

The decision also states tht due to Jaynes’ history of using aliases, concealing his identity and eluding criminal prosecution, “an allowance of the Petitioner’s change of name petition jeopardizes public safety.”

As I said previously, this case points to how badly we need effective, and supported, Pagan chaplaincy in our prison system (and better information about Paganism available in general). Perhaps this name-change request might still have gone forward, but it may not have had the label “Wicca” put on it in the process. Be sure to read the very insightful comments on this issue at my original post.

That’s all I have for now, 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.

  • Jeet-Kei Leung, a researcher into ”transformational festival culture,” heads up a new web documentary series entitled “The Bloom” about these events. The first episode is due in February, but you can watch this 9-minute preview video now, featuring some familiar faces (and places) and plenty of Pagan-friendly themes. Quote: “Amidst the global crisis of a dysfunctional old paradigm, a new renaissance of human culture is underway [...] THE BLOOM tells the vibrant, compelling and colorful story of a cultural renaissance in progress with the artistic sensibility and inspired creativity from which the culture has been birthed.”
  • Art dealer and museum curator Carine Fabius writes about Baron Samedi, Haiti’s Lord of Death and Sexuality, and why the Haitian people love him. Quote: “I also reminded people that the Baron isn’t just the Spirit of Death. As many of the numerous works featuring larger-than-life phalli imply, he is also the Spirit of Sexuality, the extension of which is life. The Baron is death in charge of life; he is a guide and source of comfort during difficult times, and the one who takes life away. He may be unpredictable but he is God’s ultimate helper.”
  • Yesterday was a unique calendrical event: 12-12-12, which of course means that someone had to do something stupid, like carve a pentagram into his 6-year-old-son’s back. Quote: “According to CBS DFW, Brent Troy Bartel of Richland Hills, Texas, told a 911 dispatcher early Wednesday that he had carved the religious symbol — often used as a symbol of faith by Neopagans — on his 6-year-old child because ‘it’s a holy day.'” The star, or pentagram, is a symbol used by many faiths, philosophies, and traditions, and this has nothing to do with modern Paganism. Bartel is now in custody, the boy is in stable condition, and with his mother.
  • The Cornwall “Paganism Sex Case” (as dubbed by the BBC), which I’ve covered here previously, has now been turned over to a jury for a verdict. Quote: “Prosecutor Jason Beal said the duo had “used the cloak of paganism” to commit the offences. He said Mr Kemp had “put up a number of explanations” for him being linked with the case, but they were nothing more than “diversions” or “red herrings”.” During the course of the hearing, murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim was also accused of being part of their group (Solheim was murdered by a former lover).
  • The male lead in Bollywood film Ek Thi Daayan, Emraan Khan, is apparently talking to real-live Wiccans to better research for the supernatural witchcraft-themed film. Quote: “The actor didn’t know that many practitioners of the Wiccan craft reside in Mumbai, in fact, he didn’t even know that certain forms of witchcraft are practiced till today [...] the actor is making the rounds of the plush residences in Mumbai where Wiccans stay and practise their craft. Emraan visits them diligently, to find out more about their customs and philosophies. Friends of the actor say his research has made quite an impression on him.” So now you know where Wiccans live in India, the “plush residences” of Mumbai!
  • With a new film treatment of “On the Road” on its way, Scott Staton at the New Yorker considers Neal Cassady as a sort of American “muse and demigod,” a holy fool, “the consummate hipster-savant.” Quote: “He presented an extreme embodiment of American freedom to close friends who were determined to become writers, and in being thus grafted onto their work, he became an unlikely literary legend.”

  • Singer, songwriter, and visual artist Phildel sent me a link to her new video “Storm Song,” saying that it’s “a celebration of the natural world,” and that she has “always enjoyed a strong spiritual connection to nature.”I think many folks here will enjoy the song, and the imagery in the video. Her debut album “The Disappearance of the Girl” is set for release in January 2013.
  • “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson says that “West of Memphis,” the documentary on the West Memphis 3 that he produced with partner Fran Walsh, was one he “never intended to make,” but that “it turned out to be the most important one they’ve ever made.” Quote: “Their support turned into funding of scientific research and, when they felt they needed to present the evidence to the public, they eventually decided to make a documentary on their findings. They asked Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) to direct.” For all of my coverage of the West Memphis 3, click here.
  • The Baltic Crusades were pretty terrible it turns out: “The Baltic Crusades left major ecological and cultural scars on medieval pagan villages, and new archaeological evidence shows the campaign caused deforestation, pushed species to extinction and may have even ended a pagan practice of eating dogs.” I guess it was good for the wild dogs, but still. Pretty bad.
  • More and more people are starting to notice that the “religiously unaffiliated” are becoming an important voting demographic. Quote: “The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show. Their overwhelming support of Obama proved crucial in a number of swing states where the president lost both the Catholic and Protestant vote by single and low-double digits, but won the “nones” by capturing 70-plus percent of their votes.” Maybe it’s time to tone down the Christian culture war stuff?

That’s it for now! My best wishes to everyone heading to Between The Worlds! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

The United Kingdom’s Department of Education has released a national action plan for dealing with cases of witchcraft and occult-related abuse of children within religious communities. This comes after several high-profile cases of murder and abuse of children related to anti-witchcraft rituals, most prominently the murder of Kristy Bamu, who died while being tortured under the auspices of an “exorcism” at his sister’s home.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi's flat.

Blood-spattered bathroom tiles at Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi’s flat.

During sentencing, Judge David Paget said the murder had a “sadistic element”, adding it was “prolonged torture involving mental and physical suffering being inflicted before death”. He added that the ordeal the children were subjected to “almost passes belief”. However, he accepted Bikubi’s defence that he had brain damage and had believed that Kristy was a witch. But Judge Paget added: “The belief in witchcraft, however genuine, cannot excuse an assault to another person, let alone the killing of another human being.”

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton told the BBC that “abuse linked to faith or belief in spirits, witchcraft or possession is a horrific crime, condemned by people of all cultures, communities and faiths,” while Andrew Flanagan of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) goes out of his way to note that this isn’t a problem within communities that actually believe in and practice witchcraft or magic as part of their religious faith.

The vast majority of people in communities where witchcraft is practised are horrified by these acts and take no part in this atrocious behaviour. So we must not be afraid to raise this issue so the offenders can be exposed.”

Despite the desperate and craven attempts by some in the media to wrongly conflate modern Paganism with this issue, this is a largely a phenomenon that is nurtured within a Christian context, a point that has many ministers in the UK deeply concerned. In fact some, like Debbie Ariyo, director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, wants explicit laws against branding children as witches.

Debbie Ariyo, the director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, described the action plan as the first step taken by any government to seriously tackle ritualised child abuse, but said it was not going far enough. She called on the government to make it illegal to brand a child a witch. “We would have liked to see the government go further but we believe this action plan will go a long way to encouraging voluntary agencies to take concrete steps to fight this type of abuse,” she said.

Ariyo has previously noted that the spread of anti-witchcraft and sorcery violence in the UK is centered in Pentecostal Churches, not indigenous, revived, or reconstructed pre-Christian belief systems.

Debbie Ariyo, executive director of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse(Afruca), who added that a boom in pentecostal churches was leading to more children being accused of witchcraft. “This is not a problem with all pastors or all churches, but the branding of children as witches is not abating. It is a growing problem. There are so many children suffering in silence.”

This new initiative joins recent moves by British police to better spot sorcery/witchcraft-related abuse cases, and has so-far been widely praised as an important step forward on an issue that many believe is under-reported to law enforcement. Modern Pagans, practitioners of African indigenous faiths living in the UK, and other occult-oriented communities should take a proactive stance on involving themselves in assisting the government, and pushing for laws that criminalize the abuse of children because of occult-oriented religious beliefs. Not only because it’s a good idea, but because our input will be important to make sure future laws and regulation thread the needle between protecting children while safeguarding the rights of those interested in religious Witchcraft or occult practices.

For more on this new action plan by the government, here’s the executive summary, and here’s the full plan. We will be following this story as it continues to develop.

On Thursday, Religion Dispatches featured a guest editorial from Joseph Laycock, religion scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism.” Laycock examined the most recent crackpot theory from crackpot conspiracy theory king David Icke, he of the “reptoid hypothesis.” In short, the opening ceremony of the London Olympics were part of a brainwashing Satanic conspiracy, and in turn a rallying cry to the spiritual warriors, the “experts in evil” skilled in rooting out these hidden conspiracies. While Icke is largely a figure of fun, a comical nut who sees evil vortexes and reptoid hybrids under his couch, Laycock reminds us that this is no laughing matter.

“While the theories can be entertaining, when too much momentum forms behind them they have historically resulted in moral panic and the persecution of innocent people. The Satanic Panic that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s is constantly threatening to return.

“Constantly threatening to return.” Is this true? Could the madness that were the Satanic Panics really manifest itself again, in an almost identical fashion? It’s hard to believe, until you start looking for the signs.

[Judy] Byington is an authority on Satanists, and as a clinical social worker she spent years helping others heal from wounds so deep most would shrink from the task. With the permission of her clients, she has written about one woman’s experience of growing up within a coven and surviving. The book is called “Twenty-Two Faces.” “This is a huge breaking story validating the existence of human sacrifices of children in our society,” Byington said. [...] They have secret combinations. They live in duplicity. They torture and sacrifice the innocent. They give birth in secret so the babies they sacrifice have no birth certificate record. They take the time to learn speaking Latin backwards from what is called the Black Bible.”

That’s not an archive story from the mid-1980s, that’s from a paper in Utah, dated July 28th of this year. Those of us old enough to remember the moral “Satanic” panic of the 1980s and 90s will find the narrative put forth in “Twenty-Two Faces” eerily familiar.

“As the only known survivor-intended-victim of a human sacrificial ceremony, Jenny Hill is living proof that ritual abuse is, in fact, a reality. With great courage and in open defiance of her sadistic abusers, Jenny wishes her story told. The ending will shock you.Referring to journals written throughout childhood, Jenny Hill and her multiple personalities document how as a five year-old, she overcomes trauma by turning to prayer while utilizing her alter states to compartmentalize abuse at the hands of a master mind-control programmer from Nazi Germany. After suffering deaths of a high school sweetheart, plus her only girlfriend, she somehow completes Army medic training, receives a nursing degree, prepares for a church mission and becomes a mother. Simultaneously led by sex-addict Head Alter J.J., intrepid alters assume frequent control, engaging in larceny and prostitution. With her children, her lifeline, the increasingly desperate nurse escapes a drugged-out pimping husband, blacks out in a job interview, comes to nine days later as an inpatient headed for the Utah State Psychiatric Hospital and only then learns what her life has really been.”

It really is as if someone took the 1980 book phenomenon “Michelle Remembers” and used it as a guide.

“The book documents Smith’s memory of events recovered during therapy, documenting the many satanic rituals she believed that she was forced to attend (Pazder stated that Smith was abused by “the Church of Satan,” which he states is a worldwide organization predating the Christian church). The first alleged ritual attended by Smith took place in 1954 when she was five years old, and the final one documented in the book was an 81-day ritual in 1955 that summoned the devil himself and involved the intervention of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Michael the Archangel, who removed the scars received by Smith throughout the year of abuse and removed memories of the events “until the time was right”. During the rites, Smith was allegedly tortured, locked in cages, sexually assaulted, forced to take part in various rituals, witnessed several murders and was rubbed with the blood and body parts of various murdered babies and adults.”

Unlike Icke, this is no joke. This is the very tinder that ruined the lives of thousands of innocent people as they were accused of being a part of underground Satanic abuse organizations. We often forget how pervasive anti-Satanic propaganda was back then, with many journalists and talk-show hosts (even Oprah) diving right into the hysteria. The West Memphis 3, released almost a year ago, were probably the most well-known victims of this panic. Jessie Misskelley’s former defense attorney Dan Stidham, in an interview with John Morehead, painted a picture of the Satanic hysteria that surrounded the trial.

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

We are still dealing with the fallout of this era, with a dedicated core of true believers keeping the fires burning, all that has to happen is for the right/wrong set of circumstances to line up, and it all erupts again. Indeed, this time it could be worse, since it’s far easier to do “research” and even the usually reserved Catholic church is ramping up the rhetoric about demon possessions, exorcisms, and even underground Satanic cults.

Peg Aloi: Do you believe there are a lot of satanic cults out there?

Father Gary Thomas: There are probably more than we think. In fact, I pray over a woman right now who is a satanic cult survivor.

PA: I need to ask this. Speaking as someone who has done extensive research on the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare in the 1990s: Do you think it’s possible your parishioner’s experiences are false, or that she may be lying, or delusional? Because despite many, many horrific accusations of abuse and murder and various other atrocities by satanic cults over the years, most of them by alleged “survivors” who claim to be former cult members, the FBI, after years of investigation, never found a single shred of evidence to suggest there is or ever has been an underground network of satanic cults in the United States. 

FGT: I don’t believe that she’s lying. She had been seeing a priest in our diocese for a while and her memories stated to surface, and that’s how we learned of her involvement in the cult. But if even half of what she’s saying is true, and I have not found any reason to doubt it, in her system, if anyone exposes the group, they’ll be killed. There is a whole culture in terms of what these people tell their members.

It’s a tinder box, all it needs is a match. Will they target Witches and Pagans? Adherents of Santeria or Palo? Those who venerate Santa Muerte? It’s impossible to say, as it will depend on how the panic manifests, but any group that gets confused with “Satanists” are fair game in such a scenario. It is for this reason that more Pagans need to engage in serious ecumenical, intrafaith, and interfaith work,  and move into more proactive advocacy and anti-defamation initiatives. This advocacy shouldn’t be from small start-ups on Facebook, but from the dominant organizations within our movement, the groups that have built networks and connections over the span of 20 or 30 years. We need to be ready in case an incident that none of us could foresee sparks an ugly backlash against us or our allies. We need to be ready in case our society panics.

Since February, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the fall of John Friend, founder of the Anusara yoga school, since allegations emerged of sexual, legal, and fiscal improprieties. Of those improprieties was the allegation that Friend ran a Wiccan coven, named the “Blazing Solar Flames,” as a pretext for sexual liaisons with Anusara students.

John Friend (photo: Dan Winters via NYmag.com)

John Friend (photo: Dan Winters via NYmag.com)

“John has been the head of a wiccan “coven” that claims to use sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices. John engaged in sexual relations with women in the coven unbeknownst to his girlfriend, Anusara teacher Christy Nones. The Coven has caused rifts in the marriages…”

Up till now, details have been scant on the subject, though Friend has spoken in detail about how Wicca and Paganism are compatible with Anusara teachings. Yesterday, The Daily Beast ran an exclusive interview with a member of Friend’s coven, spelling out exactly what happened between “Grand Magus” Friend and the all-female members he ran.

John wanted us to do the ritual in sexy underwear and kiss each other on the mouth, tongue-y kissing,” said ‘Melissa,’ a former member of the coven who asked that her real name not be used. [...]  Friend suggested to the other coven members that sexually charged rituals would heighten everyone’s senses and therefore raise more energy, according to Melissa. “It was certainly never the way that I had experienced Wicca,” Melissa told The Daily Beast, but she was initially open to the experience, in part because of her intimate relationship with Friend and because of her confidence in him as a leader and teacher. “A teacher’s voice is so deeply engrained in your brain, and you implicitly trust them because that’s what helps you do great things in your practice,” she said.

Melissa details all the hallmarks of a sexually abusive ritual/religious experience, “steamrolling peer pressure,” grooming and titles of authority undercut by the abuser’s constant reiteration of his ultimate authority (“…he was always going to be the [Grand Magus]. It was his clubhouse…”), and inflated, grandiose, visions of a shared purpose (“…Blazing Solar Flames were meant to serve as a ‘battery’ for Anusara…”). It’s little wonder that Melissa broke out in tears during an all-day “ritual” sensual massage involving Friend and two other female coven members. Melissa also tells The Daily Beast that Friend was having sex with her, and one other coven member, though sexual penetration never happened inside ritual space.

From the beginning I’ve been concerned that little attention was being paid to the Wiccan aspect of this scandal, with some in the yoga community making jokes about becoming Wiccan to help them find “a little more action on the mat.” All the while, it was clear that reporters would eventually expand into investigating Friend’s coven as other avenues of investigation dried up. Now the stark ugliness of Friends manipulations, his perversion of Wicca’s ethics, are laid bare. We are now faced with with a man who, if the all the allegations made here are true, engaged in the sexual abuse of his students, who misused sacred space for his own physical gratification, and has now sullied the reputation of Wicca in as public a way as could be imagined.

“We shared a love of Wicca, which is grounded on doing that which enhances Nature, affirms the Goodness of Life, and fosters love. We shared our love for Anusara yoga, which is a philosophy and practice that is totally aligned with Wicca on every level. With this common ground of wanting to bring more Light and Love into the world you and I started a small circle to use our knowledge and power to manifest our elevated intentions. Tiffany joined us in this auspicious and sacred endeavor. As part of our rituals you and I both agreed that we would use sexual/sensual energy in a positive and sacred way to help build the efficacy of our practices, which is a common element of most Wiccan circles, as you know.”John Friend, in a letter to Laura Miller

What Friend did in the “Blazing Solar Flames” was not Wicca, though it wore its trappings and mouthed its words. Our faith is not “like something out of Hustler or Penthouse,” we don’t encourage cheating, or pressuring coven members to engage in fantasy lingerie shows that culminate in the sexual gratification of the “Grand Magus” while calling them power-raising rituals. Wiccan covens may engage in sexual rites under certain controlled circumstances, but no mainstream Wiccan tradition or organization that I know of encourages what allegedly happened here. Those individuals and groups who do engage in such behavior are almost always ostracized.

As this sad and painful scandal continues to unravel, let me reiterate that I think this should be a wake-up call for national Wiccan organizations, an opportunity to engage with myths versus the reality of how our traditions work. If we allow this aspect to simply get lost in the larger narrative about Friend’s downfall, it only allows misconceptions to grow. To cultivate the idea that maybe we are OK with non-transparent sex covens centered around a powerful leader. This is not the time to hope it “blows over,” but a time for our leaders to engage in powerful outreach on what Wicca is, what its ethics are, and what our stance is on Friend’s behavior. If we don’t, we run the risk of others doing it for us, quietly, with whispers, insinuations, and misinterpretations.

Local media in Ohio are reporting on the arrest of Daniel Hess and live-in girlfriend Lacey Day for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old family member. NBC affiliate WTAP noted that Hess and Day admitted to the sexual acts, and that according to police deputies the victim seemed to be there willingly. Hess allegedly told police that the sexual acts were part of the Wiccan faith.

“We’ve been conducting the investigation for about the last two weeks. It came to our attention through another public service agency within the county,” said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks. Upon his arrest, Hess maintained the assault was a result of his religious beliefs, according to the sheriff. “The guy sort of alluded to the fact the reason he did it was his belief in Wicca,” Mincks explained. [...]  Regardless of what religious belief a practitioner has, it does not justify the assault of a child, say officials with Washington County Children Services. “It doesn’t matter what kind of religion it is. In America, in Ohio, in Washington County, it is illegal to sexually abuse a child,” said Alice Stewart, intake assessment supervisor with Washington County Children Services.

Sheriff Mincks went on to say that Hess “indicated and justified, or tried to justify what he had done by his belief in Wicca which is a form of witchcraft, or the practice of witchcraft.”

There are a lot of different issues to unpack here. First, let’s reiterate that no mainstream Wiccan organization condones this behavior. No Wiccan group that I know of, whether eclectic or traditional, engages in sexual threesomes with under-aged family members as part of its rites. No matter how precocious or willing that family member was, the law in Ohio clearly states that 16 is the age of consent, and no coven that I’ve encountered encourages breaking the law in order to engage in sexual acts with a minor. Further, if we accept that these sexual encounters were indeed a part of their religious practice, Hess and Day could be charged with a third degree felony.

“However, the preceding statute, Section 2907.03, specifies that sexual conduct between anyone under 18 and a teacher, administrator, or coach of the school they attend, a cleric, or other person in authority, is punishable as a felony of the third degree. 2907.03 Sexual battery. (A) No person shall engage in sexual conduct with another, not the spouse of the offender, when any of the following apply: [...] The other person is a minor, the offender is a cleric, and the other person is a member of, or attends, the church or congregation served by the cleric.”

So, if this truly was a Wiccan ceremony of their design, the consequences for Hess and Day could be far more severe than if the incidents had been purely secular in nature. No doubt more details, and explanations, will arise during the trial.

To close, as I did during the John Friend scandal, I want to reiterate my call for Wiccan and Pagan organizations to be more proactive, and use painful moments like these as times of clarification and outreach.

“Wicca’s roots, its core, is in sacred union. Many over the years, both detractors and adherents, have called it a “sex cult” or a “fertility religion.” This can lead to some taking liberties that ignore our ethical base, our commitment to sacred trust, our belief that “as above” is at one with what’s “below.” It can lead to people like Friend misusing the currents of both Wicca and yoga for his own gratification. [...] This is not the time to hope it “blows over,” but a time for our leaders to engage in powerful outreach on what Wicca is, what its ethics are, and what our stance is on Friend’s behavior. If we don’t, we run the risk of others doing it for us, quietly, with whispers, insinuations, and misinterpretations.”

This call to outreach isn’t for the sake of media outlets in Ohio, but for the young people who may be out there being “groomed” as we speak to believe their route to power, to control, to acceptance, comes through sexual activity with a coven, grove, circle, or kindred leader. Those who blur the boundaries of power and responsibility to engage in sexual gratification with minors are repugnant, and we have a special responsibility to speak out against those who sully the names of our sacred traditions, who twist the psyches of those they hold spiritual authority over. I hope this latest incident act spurs us into reiterating what our sexual ethics are in a manner that leaves no excuse to those who would twist or abuse the decentralized non-hierarchical nature of our faiths and community for their own purposes.

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.

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.

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.

Top Story: There has been a noticeable increase in anti-Native rhetoric from conservative media outlets lately, some of it a result from a blessing given by Dr. Carlos Gonzales at a memorial service for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona, and some of it a by-product of anti-Obama administration attacks. Now things are seeming to get far more personal in nature, starting with a disturbingly ugly editorial from talk radio host, and Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer.

“In all the discussions about the European settlement of the New World, one feature has been conspicuously absent: the role that the superstition, savagery and sexual immorality of native Americans played in making them morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil [...] Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

This isn’t first time Fischer has displayed his profoundly anti-Native feelings to the world, but this may be the most starkly ugly display of Christian triumphalism and revisionism I’ve seen in a long while. Do I even need to add that Fischer is also part of the “Green Dragon” hysteria, or would that be redundant? As ugly as this editorial is, some will argue that it’s one isolated extremist, shouting to his avid followers. I would even be moved by that argument if I hadn’t also seen the plan by Kentucky Republican Senator Rand Paul to cut the federal budget by, in essence, breaking all remaining treaties with Native American tribal nations.

“Check out the proposal introduced in Congress Jan. 25 by the newly elected senator. It calls for the elimination of funding to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the Department of the Interior agency that oversees a variety of Indian programs. That’s not all. The senator, who is a medical doctor (an eye surgeon, although seemingly myopic), also proposes trimming almost half of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service (IHS) budget this year. Republicans and Democrats don’t tend to agree on much, but one thing they have agreed on over the years is that IHS has been dramatically underfunded. Like them or not, the BIA and IHS are the main agencies of the federal government that have worked with and for Indians, carrying out federal trust responsibility and treaty obligations called for in the U.S. Constitution.”

Right now American Indians are debating whether Paul simply doesn’t understand the complex issue of (Constitutionally recognized) treaty obligations in a fervor to cut the budget, or if he’s actively trying to limit the power and influence of Native Americans within the federal government. So far Paul has not responded to reporters looking for clarification. Whatever his true motives, this move, coming during a particularly venomous stream of anti-Native sentiment (or simple indifference to Native issues), risks alienating American Indians from conservative political movements for the foreseeable future. This didn’t have to be the case, as many Republicans have been, and are, friendly to Native issues. Some feel that Native Americans are being caught in the crossfire of rising anti-immigration hostility, but whatever the reason, the alienating effects of recent events could have long-term ramifications.

Romanian Fortune-Telling Laws Getting Tougher? I’ve given quite a bit of attention to the recent issue of Romania’s “witch tax,” and the mixed reaction it’s been getting from Romanian witches and fortune-tellers. Now the government has introduced a new bill that would fine, and even imprison, fortune tellers that give bad predictions.

“Witches argue they shouldn’t be blamed for the failure of their tools. “They can’t condemn witches, they should condemn the cards,” Queen Witch Bratara Buzea told The Associated Press by telephone. Critics say the proposal is a ruse to deflect public attention from the country’s many problems. In 2009, Romania needed a euro20 billion ($27.31 billion) International Monetary Fund-led bailout loan to pay salaries and pensions when its economy contracted more than 7 percent. Last year, the economy shrank again. However, this year a slight recovery of 1.5 percent growth is forecast.”

The bill would also bar fortune tellers from practicing near schools and churches. One wonders if this new law would also apply to financial analysts, weather forecasters, and other professionals who make predictions in exchange for money. If this bill passes, how long before a witch is fined or imprisoned? What would it mean for the European Union? This goes far beyond protection from outright fraud, and into restricting speech and commerce.

Alleged Pedophile Cult Cited Crowley: The British press is swarming over the trial of alleged cult leader Colin Batley, who is accused of intimidating an underage teenage girl (and four other complainants) into becoming the sexual plaything of his inner circle. According to the prosecution, Batley and the group would wear robes and read from the Thelemic sacred text The Book of the Law, penned by influential occultist Aleister Crowley.

He claimed Batley would preach from a text, The Book of the Law, written in Cairo by English occultist and magician Aleister Crowley and warned about the consequences of failing to do what they were told. He described Batley as “evil and manipulative” and claimed he used the cult to justify his sexual behaviour. The prosecutor said of Batley: “He is the principal. He and the others became entwined. It became much more than that, a cult. The usual restraints went out of the window. Some took part in wife swapping.” The jury heard how the five defendants moved from London to the seaside village of Kidwelly, near Carmarthen in the 1990s.

Batley claims he “gave up” trying to read Crowley, and that he’s a devout Mormon who’s innocent of the charges against him. The trial so far has included selective readings from the Liber AL, including: “Sex with anyone is not just permissible but to be encouraged. Prostitution is to be admired.” With the main defendant claiming to know nothing of Crowley’s work, it seems unlikely an expert on the text will be brought forward to provide context. Prosecution also claims that all the women in the alleged cult had matching tattoos. As you can imagine, the tabloids are having a field day with this story, I can only hope that justice is done to those harmed. I will keep you updated as more details emerge.

Yoga Is For All: The Times of India reports that the Indian government, in order to stop unscrupulous Yoga gurus from copyrighting various asanas (body positions) and practices, have documented 1,300 asanas and are uploading them to a public database for all to use and study.

“Nine well known yoga institutions in India have helped with the documentation. “The data will be up online in the next two months. In the first phase, we have videographed 250 ‘asanas’ — the most popular ones. Chances of misappropriation with them are higher. So if somebody wants to teach yoga, he does not have to fight copyright issues. He can just refer to the TKDL [Traditional Knowledge Digital Library].”

One of the main culprits in copyrighting and profiting from traditional Yoga positions is Bikram Choudhury, whose Bikram Yoga system has become very popular in the West. Choudhury has been famously litigious, and has become famously wealthy as a result. According the the Times of India, the US patent office alone has issued over 200 yoga-related copyrights. Now, many of these copyrights risk being undermined by Yoga’s birthplace, as practitioners and teachers can reference the TKDL as their source. This move may also have the added benefit of asserting the essential Hindu and Indian character of Yoga, something American Hindu activists have been concerned about.

The Wicker Tree Trailer: Dread Central has gotten their hands on the full official trailer of Robin Hardy’s upcoming “spiritual sequel” to The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree. Warning, it’s slightly NSFW (that’s “not safe for work” for those playing at home) due to some brief flashes of nudity.

There’s still no release date, but hopefully that information will be released soon. You can read all of my “Wicker Tree” coverage, here.

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