Archives For Robin Hardy

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.

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

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.

On Monday morning the film production and distribution company StudioCanal announced, via director Robin Hardy, that they have acquired an existing film print of 1973 cult film “The Wicker Man,” long missing, and are restoring the film, converting it to Blu-Ray format, and overseeing a short theatrical run in the Fall. For devotees of the film, which includes myself, this is exciting news. Up until now, the only versions of the film you could easily get were the mangled “Theatrical Version” (aka the “short” version) which is what usually pops up on streaming services and DVD, and “The Extended Version” (aka the director’s cut/the “long” version) which was included in the two-disc edition released in 2006 (and earlier VHS releases). The problem with the previously released extended version was that it melded film-quality material from the short version with NTSC tape of the additional footage, creating rather glaring differences in video (and audio) quality. Better than nothing, surely, but hardly optimal.

Robin Hardy

Robin Hardy

“I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal has been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut, working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago […] this version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theaters before, has never been released on Blu-Ray before. This version of The Wicker Man will be known, optimistically, as the ‘Final Cut.'”Robin Hardy, director of “The Wicker Man”

So what does this all mean? It most likely means some version of the extended “director’s” cut, but with top-notch audio/video quality (for a definitive run-down of the various “Wicker Man” versions out there, see this site). What it most likely doesn’t mean is a return of material from the original filming that never made it into any version of the film. So not the completists dream, the Platonic ideal of “The Wicker Man,” but still, exciting news. This “Final Cut,” according to SFX Magazine, “will be released in selected cinemas on 27 September, and will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on 14 October.”

Still from "The Wicker Man."

Still from “The Wicker Man.”

For modern Pagans, “The Wicker Man” can be a divisive film. Many Pagans, especially those who saw it in American theaters in 1979 when it was re-released in it’s “middle” cut version and became a cult sensation, love the way Summerisle was portrayed: a village of happy, fun-loving, musical, Pagans. A depiction that cut deep into the psyche of many Pagans longing for a society and culture that reflected their ideals. However, there has always been a vocal minority of Pagans who detest the film due to the small fact that the fun-loving Pagans perform a human sacrifice at the end, thus undercutting all the smiley-faced folk songs and revels. While I was not quite old enough to see “The Wicker Man” in the cinema, I was part of a coven that provided my first viewing of the film, and I’ll admit I fell in instant love. A Pagan thriller-musical-procedural that invited deeper questions about belief.

 

1979 re-release era poster.

1979 re-release era poster.

I have long felt that there are no “heroes” or “villains” in the piece, but two world views in crisis clashing with tragic results. The sting is in undercutting our expectations for both the Christian policeman “hero” and the, in theory, villainous Pagan village. Over the course of the film we find that the hero is a stuffy, priggish, and deeply flawed man who has a hard time separating his duties as a Christian from his duties as a police officer (indeed he sees them as one and the same, which in turn helps lead him to his doom). Likewise, the Pagan villagers, who would be portrayed as creepy and devious in a true b-movie picture, are shown to be rather wholesome and moral, at least within the context of their worldview (something truly unexpected for a thriller feature from the early 1970s). You find yourself quickly rooting for them, and against the traditional hero. Robin Hardy and screenwriter Anthony Shaffer were smart enough to give an ending that, in a sense, gives everyone what they “want” within a religious context.

Sergeant Neil Howie: No matter what you do, you can’t change the fact that I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ. I believe in the life eternal, as promised to us by our Lord, Jesus Christ! Lord Summerisle: That is good, for believing what you do, we confer upon you a rare gift, these days – a martyr’s death. You will not only have life eternal, but you will sit with the saints among the elect. Come. It is time to keep your appointment with the Wicker man.”

The Wicker Man is the first truly excellent film to be made in a post Pagan revival world. It plays with the same sources and mythic themes that the actual Pagan community used in reconstructing their own faiths, and as such strikes at something honest almost by accident. It struck at a moment when the idea of a “Pagan Community” was still forming and in flux. This was before “Drawing Down the Moon,” before “The Spiral Dance,” and well before the Internet. If you view it in this context, you can understand why “The Wicker Man” was so beloved for its portrayal of a Pagan village, because it gave a vision of “us” as a community. Something that was, and largely still is, rare on the big screen (I’d argue the 1980s television series “Robin of Sherwood” is important for similar reasons). So despite the sacrifice at the end, it has been deeply embraced, and continues to be heralded. Even today, a new generation are sharing images and animated gifs of the film on Tumblr, celebrating the Pagan imagery.

One hopes this “final cut” will finally enable a mass audience to see the film as it was meant to be seen, and in high quality, taking its place in a pantheon of provocative 1970s films that explore the tensions between the dominant Christian paradigm, and a religious/cultural “other.” I have no doubt that come October, there will be many, many gatherings and parties to re-introduce this film, and one can only hope it will come to a movie theater near me in September. I don’t know about you, but I plan to keep my appointment with “The Wicker Man.”

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! I may not be near a computer for much of today as I’ll be visiting one of Oregon’s sacred sites, so please forgive me if I don’t respond to comments or emails in a timely fashion. 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!

It’s no secret that we here at The Wild Hunt are big fans of the 1973 cult film The Wicker Man, and are very much looking forward to writer/director Robin Hardy’s recently completed “spiritual sequel” The Wicker Tree; so I was pleased to hear that Hardy screened a 12-minute teaser of the film this Sunday at the Abertoir Horror Festival in Aberystwyth.

Robin Hardy will show a 12-minute promo of The Wicker Tree at the Abertoir Horror Festival in Aberystwyth on Sunday 14 November. The new film features a cameo by Christopher Lee who starred as Lord Summerisle in the original Wicker Man … “I am happy with this film because it is in the same genre as The Wicker Man, although it is not a sequel. There are lots of songs, sex, comedy and something terrible happens when you least expect it.”

Two interesting tidbits from the BBC piece is that Hardy was motived by the (unintentionally, awfully) comedic Nicolas Cage-starring 2006 remake to return to working on a follow-up to The Wicker Man (“That film took the original plot and threw away the rest of what made the original film work.”), and that he’s already at work on the third film in the “Wicker trilogy”.

“Mr Hardy has just finished writing a script for what he describes as ‘the third film in the Wicker trilogy’, The Wrath of the Gods, which he intends to start filming next year.”

The Wicker Tree is due to be released in 2011, but will it draw crowds? The Guardian thinks the original is one of the best horror films of all time, and it still receives generous critical praise, not to mention the ever-renewing cult fanbase, so there should be enough excitement for the film to give it a decent chance at wider success. If so, here’s hoping the 88-year-old Hardy is spry enough to finish the third film! We will, naturally, keep you updated on release dates and other related news items. Now to see if the Daily Mail will rage at the BBC for being too Pagan friendly because it covered this film.

A few quick news notes and updates for your Sunday.

First Livingston Parish Event Goes Smoothly: The first of two Pagan events being held at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Livingston Parish, Louisiana, seems to have happened without any trouble despite rumors of Christian protests and some rather one-sided local journalism.

“Saturday’s event, which turned from fundraiser to private gathering, was organized by a Wiccan group and offered speakers, workshops and other activities. “We’re sharing our love and peace,” said Valli Harry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans. For Rhye Gray, a high priest of Spiritwheel Coven, a Wiccan for 22 years and Baton Rouge resident, the gathering aimed to raise consciousness “for our community to connect to one another and to have a positive experience with one another.” The gathering also was designed to raise community awareness “that we are very much like others,” Rhye Gray said.”

Saturday’s event, initially a fundraiser for the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), was moved to the Gryphon’s Nest Campground in the wake of local opposition to a festival at the site planned for later this month. In addition to area Pagans, the event also drew members of other minority faiths, who came to show solidarity and seek community.

“Mukunda Datta, of Baton Rouge, a practicing Hindu, decided to attend Saturday’s gathering after reading about it in the newspaper. He said he was hoping to find “some like-minded individuals at the event.” “When I moved here from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, everyone thought I was some kind of demon or something,” Datta said. “Now, they all love me. They know that I’m not a threat.” His advice for others who may be skeptical of the pagan religion was simple: “Be open and don’t close your mind off before you find out. There’s a lot to offer in all of the traditions,” Datta said.”

This all seems like a hopeful sign that the larger festival set for Memorial Day weekend will happen without incident. I’ll keep you posted of any further developments.

The Goddess of English: Dalits in the village of Bankagaon near Lakhimpur Khiri in India, inspired by stories of social and financial advancement, have decided to start worshiping the English language as a goddess and are erecting a temple in her honor.

“April 30, the day Bankagaon’s dalits pledged to learn the English language as well as worship it as a goddess. It was the day they laid the foundations of a temple dedicated to “English, the Dalit Goddess”. One of those listening to Gangania was Chandra Bhan Prasad, a self-taught Dalit social psychologist who thought up the idea of worshipping English as a goddess … The dalits’ new appreciation of English highlights the new class divide in modern India — between a minority of the English-speaking elite and others. For dalits, the medium is the message. Prasad says Indians have figured out that English is the password that can open the doors to a better life … the message of the English Goddess is simple: “Come to me, I will empower you.” That is why the temple ceremony was an all-dalit affair. The premises of a dalit-run school are being used for the temple.”

For those not familiar with India’s caste/class system, the Dalits are members of several caste groups that were once labeled as “untouchable”. While the caste system was formally outlawed in India’s constitution, these groups still face prejudice, discrimination, and barriers to social and fiscal advancement. In the past, Dalits have performed mass conversions to Buddhism or Christianity as a method to transcend the specter of untouchability.  Will worshiping the English Goddess, and learning her language, bring them the advancement they seek?

Robin Hardy and The Wicker Tree: Fangoria Magazine has a new feature up focusing on writer/director Robin Hardy and the upcoming film “The Wicker Tree”, a spiritual sequel of sorts to the 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”.

“It had been in my mind to do another movie,” Hardy says, “and when they made the Nicolas Cage version, I thought they missed the point of the first film completely. I say point, but I mean points, really. They just used the plot and threw away all the atmosphere and charm, the things which lulled you into a sense of this being a marvelous, fun kind of community, and then wham!—at the end you get the nasty surprise of how wicked people can be en masse when they feel they’ve got a good reason. And that made me want to do the other one that had been in my mind for a few years. Since I’d already written the book, COWBOYS FOR CHRIST, I decided to make a movie of it.”

Still no word on when the film will be coming out, but I’m definitely looking forward to it, especially since Christopher Lee is heavily rumored to be appearing as Lord Summerisle in a cameo.

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

Top Story: We start with the ongoing James Arthur Ray controversy. The “Secret”-selling guru was arrested and charged with three counts of manslaughter last week, this came in the wake of a long investigation into the deaths of three participants at a “spiritual warrior” sweat lodge ceremony led by Ray in October. Now, after Ray’s lawyer appeared on Larry King (a fan of Ray and “The Secret”), the prosecution is seeking a gag-order on further press appearances. The idea is to stop Ray’s supporters from using the bully pulpit of popular media to pollute possible jury pools, but the Don’t Pay To Pray blog points out that this will also restrict all information about the trial from the public (including damning interviews with sweat-lodge participants).

“After James Arthur Ray’s attorneys plastered their faces all over the media, on Good Morning America and Larry King Live, in a transparent attempt to influence a potential jury, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, has requested a “gag order” hearing. A gag order is a judge’s order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case. The intent is usually to prevent prejudice due to pre-trial publicity which would influence potential jurors. Based on the “freedom of the press” provision of the First Amendment, the court cannot constitutionally restrict the media from printing or broadcasting information about the case. The prosecutor’s tool to stop a case from being tried in the press is a gag order on the participants under the court’s control. While the Gag Order would stop James Ray’s attorney’s from trying the case in the media, it would also stop the public from having access to any information from Yavapai county staff regarding any aspect of this case with the exception of the scheduling of hearings.”

Don’t Pay To Pray is also concerned that a jury trial in Sedona would result in “a jury composed of several people who conduct the same type of plastic sweat lodges that Ray did.” These concerns are echoed by Johnny P. Flynn, a Potawatomi Indian and  faculty member in the Department of Religious Studies at IUPUI, who says that Native religion will end up being put on trial by various non-Native “experts”.

“I am not a psychic or an attorney, but my experiences through the years with American Indian religious issues tell me this: even though James Ray will be sitting at the defense table, it will be our religious practices on trial in that courtroom. And it will be experts who will argue both sides of the case … In following the Ray story over the past few months, I am amazed at the number of non-Indian sweat lodge experts the media has been able to locate. Few Indians if any have been interviewed … James Ray’s defense might be compelled to bring in experts to argue that he did the ceremony the right way—and to insist that occasional and “unforeseen” death is one of the by-products of American Indian religious practices … The prosecution would then be compelled to bring in their “experts” to argue that a non-Indian, who allegedly learned to do this ceremony from “shamans” all over the world, did the sweat lodge the wrong way. Ray would be guilty of manslaughter by way of “malpractice” even if he is an “expert” on the sweat lodge.”

For the moment, Ray still sits in jail, while his lawyers appeal the 5 million dollar bail, and lawyers on both sides position themselves for the coming trial. If the gag order goes through, news on this issue could dry up until the trial starts. But I suspect there will still be plenty to talk about, like the James Ray true believers who are organizing prayer conference calls on his behalf, or the Native American (and guru-debunking) activists who are using services like Twitter to network and share information. It still remains to be see what reverberations will be felt in the larger New Age community, or if it will be business as usual after a short period of making noises about “accountability”. You can bet I’ll continue to keep you posted as things develop.

In Other News:

Stonehenge’s Modernist Box: Britain’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment is protesting the approved design for Stonehenge’s new visitor center, saying it would detract from the landmark, and that the new “twee” footpaths are more appropriate for an “urban garden”.

“We question whether, in this landscape of scale and huge horizons and with a very robust end point that has stood for centuries and centuries, this is the right design approach?” said Diane Haigh, CABE’s director of design review. “You need to feel you are approaching Stonehenge. You want the sense you are walking over Salisbury Plain towards the stones.”

This is quickly becoming a big issue for Britain. The new center was supposed to be a compromise on the scrapped plans to build a tunnel that would reroute traffic away from the site. With the looming influx of Olympics visitors, pressure is mounting to get the site ready for the spotlight. It remains to be seen if CABE’s objections will now slow that process down. You can see a concept photo of the proposed center, here.

Kupala not Valentine: A right-wing nationalist Polish group called Niklot (named after a famous Slavic pagan) is protesting the celebration of Valentine’s Day, saying that Slavic Poles should celebrate Kupala Day instead.

“Niklot claims that Poles should observe the Kupala Day, a Slavic fertility holiday traditionally celebrated on 23-24 June. On Kupala Day young men would jump over the flames of bonfires and girls would float wreaths of flowers often lit with candles on rivers, attempting to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river.”

You can read more about Kupala and Kupala Day at Wikipedia. The Helsinki Federation for Human Rights is calling for city officials to oppose the group, who have been putting up posters that say “F**k Off Valentines”, claiming Niklot promotes racism and fascism. Niklot spokesman Ireneusz Woszczyk disputes these claims, saying the group is only interested in tradition. Could one of our experts on Slavic Paganism weigh in on this? Is this group extremist? Or are they misunderstood reconstructionists?

Haitian Vodou Leaders Lend the UN a Hand: United Nations officials in Haiti are asking for help from the estimated 60,000 voodoo priests and priestesses in that country to perform a census of the dead and injured.

“…in postquake Haiti, the practitioners of voodoo have taken on a more practical role, enlisted by the government to help count the dead, tend to the injured, and soothe the psychologically damaged. “One must understand that Haiti is voodoo,’’ said Max Beauvoir, 75, the “pope’’ of Haitian voodoo and a former biochemical engineer who once worked for Digital Equipment in Maynard, Mass. “Helping Haitians is nothing else but helping ourselves.’’ To make use of that resource, the United Nations has reached out to the vast and influential network of about 60,000 voodoo priests in Haiti, Beauvoir said. And the priests, firmly entrenched in their displaced communities, are eager to lend a hand.”

The article also interviews Vodou “pope” Max Beauvoir, and discusses how Haiti’s Houngans and Mambos are helping a traumatized nation regain its footing. Whatever the future may hold for Haiti, it seems very likely that Vodou will be an ongoing and important part of that future.

The Wicker Tree: In a final note, director Robin Hardy’s long-awaited sequel/re-imagining of 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”, “The Wicker Tree”, finally has its own web site!

Looks nice! No word on a release date other than “2010”, but you can sign up for updates. For all of my previous coverage of “The Wicker Tree”, click here.

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

Some big-screen news for those with Pagan views! We start off with an update on “The Wicker Tree”, the currently-shooting spiritual companion/sequel to the 1973 cult-classic “The Wicker Man”. On Halloween in New York, a special screening of “The Wicker Man” was held (along with a cool concert featuring Silver Summit), and director Robin Hardy was on hand to talk about the cult-classic and screen ten minutes of footage from the new film. Lucky for us all, Dread Central was there and files a report.

“Next, he introduced a 10-minute (rough cut, the sound was incomplete) clip of The Wicker Tree (2010), which follows The Wicker Man in “style” and slightly in story. The clip was not a 10-minute chunk but rather snippets of various scenes in the film. Beth (Brittania Nicol) is a born-again Christian music star with a haughty Britney Spears past and a cowboy boyfriend, Steve (Henry Garrett). Both are missionaries sent by their reverend to bring the “Lord’s love” to Scotland. During their trip, Beth’s beau takes a dip in some sacred springs with a voluptuous libertine only to find himself in another scene cornered by the strange townsfolk singing and out for blood.”

Sounds like fun! Lets hope it holds a candle to the original movie, and doesn’t fall in the horribleness of the ill-advised 2006 remake. They also seem to all-but-confirm that Sir Christopher Lee will be making a cameo as Lord Summerisle, linking the two films together into the same shared universe. Needless to say I await more news of the film, including its release date.

Turning from fictional Pagans looking for a sacrifice to a famous pagan trying to escape Christian mobs, we look at the status of the film “Agora”, which centers on the life (and death) of Neoplatonist pagan philosopher Hypatia. The film, while winning critical accolades, has experienced trouble in finding an American distributor, and was encountering protests in places like Spain due to its “anti-Christian” tone. Well, it seems that the film has been a smash-hit in Europe, and it’s looking like Sony may put in a bid for American distribution.

“Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group is considering a bid for U.S. distribution rights to Alejandro Amenabar’s ancient historical epic “Agora,” starring Rachel Weisz. “Agora’s” boffo performance at the Spanish B.O. in recent weeks has sparked renewed interest in the film, which is being shopped domestically by John Sloss’ Cinetic Media and overseas by Focus Features Intl. … Bowing in Spain on Oct. 9, “Agora” scored the highest opening of the year, and to date has cumed $25 million dollars. It’s topped the box office there over the past four weekends, and even bested the debut of Michael Jackson topliner “This Is It,” from Sony, during the Oct. 30-Nov. 1 frame. Pre-AFM, other territories Focus Intl. had sold include France, Germany, Scandinavia and Greece. Rights have been sold for Taiwan and Thailand as well.”

Director Alejandro Amenabar is apparently also willing to cut 20 minutes from the film in order to make it run a tidy two hours, further tempting the bean-counters at Sony (and Fox, who are also expressing interest). Could we be lucky enough to see a winter release here in America? Or possibly early Spring? We’ll keep our eyes open.

Finally, the long-awaited (well, by some of us) remake of “Clash of the Titans” has released a trailer!

I know it, like the original, completely mangles Greek myth, but I have to admit that I had a little geek-tingle from the younger Jason who watched the original like a million times on cable when I was a kid. I also kind of hope they keep the symphonic metal soundtrack they utilize in the trailer, I mean, it’s not historical anyway, so let’s go all out! “Clash of the Titans” is due out in March.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 9, 2009 — 2 Comments

I’m back from the wilds of Florida! Before I begin my lengthy Pagan-news catch-up, I’d like to thank the folks at the Florida Pagan Gathering who were excellent hosts, and all the folks who attended my talks, they made my first time at such a gathering a truly memorable one. As time allows, I hope to write further about my experiences there, but for now it’s down to brass tacks!

We start off with the horrible tragedy that occurred when U.S. Army major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on a military processing center at Fort Hood in Texas, killing 13 people and wounding several more. For an in-depth analysis of the various religious angles in this story, I urge all of you to check out the recent posts at Get Religion dealing with the matter, meanwhile I’d like to briefly explore a Pagan angle that has emerged since the incident. As many of you may know, Fort Hood is famous within our communities for its large and active Pagan population (more than 150 live in and around Fort Hood). It is the Fort Hood Pagans who weathered a storm of controversy that prompted George W. Bush to famously opine back in 1999 that “witchcraft isn’t a religion”. So when I heard of the shooting in Florida my first instinct was to ask after the safety of our Pagan troops, luckily a reliable source assured me that none were harmed during the incident. But while no Pagan soldiers or their families were hurt or killed in the rampage, the loss and shock following such an event can often be crippling, so Circle Sanctuary has stepped up to offer counseling to local Pagans stressed by the tragedy.

“A team of Pagan spiritual counselors has been formed by Circle Sanctuary to provide free telephone counseling support this month for Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Pantheists, and other Nature religion practitioners distressed by the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas this past Thursday … Circle Sanctuary formed this Pagan counseling support team as part of its services to Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, and other Pagans in the US Military. This special response team consists of sixteen Pagan leaders from across the nation who are among those doing various forms of Pagan ministry through Circle Sanctuary. The team is collaborating with other Pagan leaders in the Fort Hood area in providing help. Circle Sanctuary is offering free Pagan oriented counseling by telephone to supplement grief counseling resources at Fort Hood. Circle Sanctuary’s Fort Hood Tragedy response counseling services are for Pagans in and around Fort Hood as well as for Pagans at other US military installations and elsewhere who have been adversely impacted by the Fort Hood shootings. The counseling work being offered is specific to distress resulting from the Fort Hood shootings and will be offered throughout the month on November.”

You can find contact information for the support team, here. I’m glad to see a national Pagan organization willing to jump into action in times of hardship and need, blessings on Circle Sanctuary for this quick response. You can be sure that if any further Pagan angles emerge to this story I’ll do my best to bring them to your attention.

Let’s turn to the ongoing reverberations caused by Republican Heathen Dan Halloran getting elected to the New York City Council. Double X blog the XX Factor claims that Paganism was the real winner that night, while the New York Times analyzes the demographics of Halloran’s win. Meanwhile, a blog called “Queens Crap” unearths a document that pretty convincingly proves that Democratic opponent Kevin Kim was indeed trying to use Halloran’s religion against him in the race.

“…not only is it a new low, but making it appear that the church mailed these out to voters could have serious consequences for both the church and the candidate. It puts the church’s 501c3 in jeopardy and opens up the possibility that Kim could be prosecuted for mail fraud. Federal postal rules prohibit printing an address other than your own on a piece of mail bearing your prepaid postage stamp.”

You can read the document, here. While accusations of mud-slinging came from both camps, it appeared that Kim participated to a larger scale, and that the (overwhelming Democratic) voters of that district, sick of the mud-slinging, decided to send a message. Again, more proof that we may be seeing religion-fatigue on the part of voters? Making Paganism not so much the political liability some may think it to be? As for Halloran, we continue to look forward to paying close attention to his career.

Did you realize it’s been ten years since Ronald Hutton’s “Triumph of the Moon” was first published and changed the way we look at Pagan scholarship and the history of Wicca? To celebrate that anniversary Hidden Publishing has released a collection of essays entitled “Ten Years of Triumph of the Moon”.

“Ten years on from the groundbreaking Triumph of the Moon: A history of Modern Pagan Witchcraft by Professor Ronald Hutton, a selection of worldwide scholars, some ‘big names; some newer in the field, with nearly two centuries of hands-on pagan research experience between them, present a collection of researches inspired by, deriving from or just celebrating the immense impact of that seminal book. The topics cover many historical periods, many academic disciplines and it provides a wealth of information of use to academic scholar and interested freelance reader alike. Includes an extended essay by Ronald Hutton on the history of such scholarship, the state of it today and some of his thoughts for the future.”

The collection includes essays from Sabina “Witching Culture” Magliocco, Caroline Tully, Henrik “Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation” Bogdan, Phillip Bernhardt-House, and Ronald Hutton himself. Sounds like a must-have to me!

Turning to film, Fangoria interviews Robin Hardy about the upcoming sequel/companion to “The Wicker Man”, now entitled “The Wicker Tree”, and currently filming.

“It isn’t a sequel or a prequel, it’s another film in the same vein,” he says. “What I’m interested in saying is that this approach still works. The way THE WICKER MAN was constructed and the way most horror films today are constructed are totally different, and I believe it was a quite interesting alternative. It makes the film more intriguing. You can have more things in it than just horror.”

Hardy goes into some depth about how modern gore-fest “horror” movies aren’t really all that scary, and how the build-up of suspense along with the use of music and humor can often lead to a more successful film. I’m sure the folks raking in the dough from the ultra-low-budget film “Paranormal Activity” agree.

Showing how complex the issues can be when an increasingly global modern Paganism meets the current global epidemic of witch-killings, the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has put out a press release criticizing the International Humanist and Ethical Union’s recommendation to the UN that law suppressing the practice of witchcraft be enacted.

“The call for the “fight against the twin evils of those practising witchcraft and those claiming to find and cure witches in Africa”, encourages not only the suppression of those using the excuse of so-called “witchcraft” to commit criminal acts, it also has the unfortunate effect of encouraging African governments to suppress Witchcraft as identified by actual self-identified adherents of the Craft and Religion of Witchcraft. Many South Africans already openly identify themselves as Witches. Witches are already a visible and recognizable religious minority in Southern Africa. We have our own religious council, represented on various interfaith bodies, and we have our own government appointed religious marriage officers. A blanket and unqualified call for the suppression of “Witchcraft” in Africa is a call for the suppression of religious belief, something our own constitution protects under freedom of religion and association clauses in our Bill of Rights.”

SAPRA points out that the most witchcraft-murders in South Africa are against alleged practitioners, not perpetrated by them. That “muti” murders, when carried out, aren’t done by “witches”, but instead by traditional herbalists, and that blanket statements of the “twin evils” only encourages laws that will outlaw Wicca alongside African conceptions of witchcraft. One can certainly understand why a humanist organization might equally damn these two separate phenomena as one madness, but I wonder if other NGOs and officials are striving to “equalize” muti murders with the mainly Christian-led network of anti-witchcraft forces in order to not offend the politically and fiscally powerful churches. It may be a mater that needs closer investigation.

In a final note, I received word that on October 28th scholar Owen S. Rachleff passed away due to complications from Parkinsons. Rachleff wrote a scathingly critical work in the early 1970s on the occult and modern Pagan movement entitled “The Occult Conceit”, which won him the ire of many Pagans and occultists at the time. Quotes like the following in this 1972 article  of  Time Magazine didn’t help much either.

“Most occultniks,” says Rachleff, “are either frauds of the intellectual and/or financial variety, or disturbed individuals who frequently mistake psychosis for psychic phenomena.”

Despite his dim view of occult practitioners, he was willing to engage with them and  went on a nationally syndicated radio program in December 1973 with practicing Witch Leo Martello. This was, according to author Michael Lloyd, very likely the first nationally broadcast debate on the subject of Witchcraft and the occult between a skeptic and a practicing Witch. It no doubt helped spread word of modern Paganism, and exposed many to its ideas and concepts. So while Rachleff was a skeptic and a critic, he also played a vital part in our history in America.

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