Archives For Romani

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

S.J. Tucker

S.J. Tucker

Early this morning Pagan singer-songwriter S.J. Tucker posted a public note on Facebook announcing that she would no longer use the word “Gypsy” in songs, or in reference to her lifestyle, due to growing awareness of the word’s misuse, and history as a racial pejorative. Quote: “I am breaking up with the word Gypsy. It does not mean what I and many other poor fools wish it did. I am so very sorry.  I have done wrong, and I repent of my ignorance. […] I want you all to know that I am not doing this to get attention.  I am not doing this to gain any increase in public opinion, number of likes/subscribers/followers/what-have-you.  I am doing this because I feel that it’s right, and I should have done it years ago.” Tucker will be re-recording four songs that use the term, using different lyrics, and has suspended sales of those songs until that process is done. Here’s a recent NPR piece on why the term is hurtful to the Romani people. Quote: “The word “gypsy” itself is an “exonym” — a term imposed upon an ethnic group by outsiders. When the Roma people moved westward from India towards the European continent, they were mistaken to be Egyptian because of their features and dark skin. […] The effort to substitute the word “Roma” for the far better-known term “Gypsy” may strike some as futile, but few other groups carry the burden of such heavy stereotypes with so little reprieve.”

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas

Rev. Kirk Thomas, Archdruid of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, yesterday posted a response on what a Druid’s response to ecological calamity should be. It was in reply to someone who is concerned about the Fukashima Daiichi Nuclear power plant disaster, but the message is universal in scope. Quote: “We, as devout Pagans, are not helpless. Our everyday actions can either help or hurt the Earth. It’s up to us. The Clergy Council discussed this issue recently, and agreed that we feel the Earth Mother’s pain and that additional steps should be taken to remedy it, as best we can. Druidry is a religion of ‘doing’. As such, it’s not enough to sit and wring our hands when the Earth Herself is at stake.” Rev. Thomas goes on to suggest a two-pronged response to environmental concerns, involving living in a religious “reciprocity with the Earth,” and involving yourself in activism. Quote: “As Druids it behooves us to join and support environmental organizations, to volunteer in the field, and to give of our time and money. Many of these folks work at the front lines of the movement, and know the ins and outs of the situation. By supporting them we support the Mother.” Thomas also pointed back to the ADF’s founding vision document, written by founder Isaac Bonewits.

Patrick speaking at the International Conference on Spiritual Paradigm for Surmounting Global Management Crisis.

Patrick McCollum

Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum recently had the honor to spend the holidays at the Royal Windsor estate on the Welsh-English border, and posts an update to his foundation’s web site detailing his time there, and how it intersects with his work towards social justice. Quote: “During my stay with the Windsors, I had the delightful opportunity to attend several special holiday parties filled with English nobility, and made several important contacts and partnerships for projects going forward.  One such partnership was with a Member of Parliament, the Honorable MP Bill Cash. Raising the status and rights of women, especially in third world countries, is one of the key goals of the Patrick McCollum Foundation and it is my firm belief that we shall never achieve world peace until all women have full equality and equal opportunity worldwide. In any case, MP Cash has proposed a revolutionary bill to the English Parliament to elevate the status of women, and I am joining him going forward in that effort.” McCollum also references and upcoming trip to India, where he says he’ll “meet with officials and world spiritual leaders to address the issues surrounding child marriage worldwide, and the status of widows in India, to lay the groundwork for several programs that I am putting together.”

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • Tomorrow (January 3rd) is the last day to apply for a scholarship to Cherry Hill Seminary. Quote: “Thanks to the generosity of donors who gave nearly $4,300 during a fall drive, the “Bow Tie Campaign,” Cherry Hill Seminary will award: 1 master’s class to each of 2 different students, 1 certificate class to each of 2 different students, 1 Rhizomes package of 5 classes to 1 student or group (plus, 1 full Pagan Life Academy series to a previously-selected recipient.)”
  • Be sure to check out the Yule 2013 edition of ACTION, the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN). Featuring interviews with publisher Anne Newkirk Niven, Heathen elder Diana Paxson, CUUPs co-president David Pollard, and more!
  • Goddess-centered news site Medusa Coils is changing they way it conducts coverage. Quote: “I will attempt to give you notice of larger events related to Goddess and other spiritual feminisms–no matter where in the world they are being held. […] I would like to have more coverage on this blog of what is going on at the increasing number of Goddess temples, “houses,” etc., worldwide that meet in specific physical/geographical places.”
  • Chas Clifton notes that Denver’s Isis Books got some local press coverage, and gives a bit of background. Quote: “‘Makeshift Egyptian temple’ is not quite right, though. The building used to be a mortuary with columns out front (where the limos used to pull up) that lent themselves to an Egyptian-inspired paint scheme. The store started in Denver on East Colfax Avenue, not far from Hubcap Annie’s, the used hubcap store, which gives you a sense of the neighborhood.”
  • In honor of their Facebook page reaching 100,000 ‘likes,’ Witches & Pagans Magazine is giving away a free download of issue #21 of the periodical. The offer is good through January 6th. It’s the “garden” issue of that sways you in any particular direction.

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

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Tuesday.

Margot Alder on Witchcraft, Cults, and Space Travel: Margot Adler, NPR correspondent and author of the seminal 1979 book “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America”, talks to the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado about her life and work in advance of her presentations at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Of special interest to my Pagan readers will be the story of how she landed the book deal that eventually lead to “Drawing Down the Moon.”

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

“That happened by a complete fluke, way back in 1974. I had sort of a loser boyfriend. He took me to meet his literary agent in a pub. The woman asked me, ‘What do you do?’ I’ve probably had less than a dozen psychic experiences, but I heard a voice in my head say, ‘You are standing on a nexus point in the universe. What you do now will change your life forever.’ Because of that voice, I said, ‘I’m involved in witchcraft.’ Her eyes got really big. She said, ‘Call me in two weeks.’ She had just left an agency and was looking for clients. She showed me how to write a book proposal. I’d never thought of writing a book. The written word scared me because it’s so eternal.”

She also talks about where she agrees with Newt Gingrich (space travel), the most interesting stories she’s been covering for NPR lately, and “looking at religion from completely outside ourselves.” The Conference on World Affairs is currently underway, and continues through Friday. Her two presentations are “What is a Cult,” and “The Lure of Interstellar Travel,” both being given today.

A Step Forward for Marijuana as a Sacrament: In what could a groundbreaking ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a lower court ruling against the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, allowing an action to prevent enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against them to go forward.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, right, with members of the Oklevueha Native American Church.

“Plaintiffs need not allege a threat of future prosecution because the statute has already been enforced against them. When the Government seized Plaintiffs’ marijuana pursuant to the CSA, a definite and concrete dispute regarding the lawfulness of that seizure came into existence.”

The court also ruled that the church does not need to apply to the DEA first for an exemption, though it did rule in the government’s favor by saying the seized marijuana doesn’t have to be returned or compensated for. You can read more about this case, here, and here. So far, there have been only two instances where entheogens used in a religious context have been able to win legal protection (peyote for Native American ceremonial purposes, and  ayahuasca by the União do Vegetal). If the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) is able to take this to the Supreme Court and win a religious exemption, and injunction against future prosecution, it could throw open the door to religious groups using marijuana as a sacrament. The Rastafari are an obvious example, but any group that is able to show a sincere use may also be able win exemptions. In my mind, legal entheogens are an inevitable eventuality of these cases, the question is not “if” but “when.”

How Far Does Free Speech and Religious Freedom Stretch in Cases of Alleged Fraud? Speaking of possibly momentous instances of litigation, last year several members of the Roma Gypsy Marks family were charged by the federal government with operating an “advance fee scheme,” allegedly bilking more than a dozen victims out of over 40 million dollars. One of the clients/victims was famous romance author Jude Deveraux, who paid the family $20 million over 17 years, saying she was threatened by the family, and was near suicide before law enforcement stepped in. Now, the Marks’ defense team is saying their actions were/are protected religious practices, and that fortune-telling is protected speech.

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

The federal investigation was code-named "Crystal Ball."

“Lawyers have argued in court papers that the family members had a constitutionally protected right to practice fortunetelling and spiritual healing because it is a part of their religious belief system and fortunetelling is legally considered to be free speech. […] Attorney Michael Gottlieb, who wrote the 24-page legal document about religious rights, argued that his client, Nancy Marks, 42, of Fort Lauderdale and New York City, did nothing but try to help people, in line with her personal spiritual beliefs. […] “Nancy Marks’ conduct is rooted in her religion and spirituality,” Gottlieb wrote. “Based upon this prosecution, the defendant has lost her livelihood and has been unable to make a living using her historical religious and spiritual gifts.” […] The legal argument spells out some widely-held Romani beliefs but also draws comparisons with legal rulings about the rights of people who are Amish, Wiccans, Krishnas, Mormons, Catholics and Jews.”

Leaving aside the issue of the Marks’ guilt or innocence, the ultimate verdict in this case could have far-sweeping ramifications, especially if judges consider the religion question. Whether or not fortune telling can be a protected religious practice is still very much up in air, judicially speaking. In 2010 the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortune telling and related services are protected speech, and in 2008 a federal judge tossed out a fortune telling ban in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. However, in a 2011 case, a Virginia judge ruled that divination wasn’t the same thing as religious counselling. The case here, involving the federal government, could set nationwide precedent for where the line gets drawn between exploitation and religious freedom. So this is one to keep your eyes on. For more on the extended Marks clan, check out the documentary “American Gypsy.”

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

The mainstream media, and various popular blogs, have had a lot of fun with the news that Romania would start taxing the practice of witchcraft. Most treatments (including mine) focused on the anger of various Romanian witches, as though they were some sort of mystical European analog to our own anti-tax activists.  So it’s admirable to see The New Republic trying to dig a little deeper than the newswires to find out why witchcraft is being taxed now, and what its ramifications might be.

“But, to start, how did witchcraft—subject throughout continental Europe to persecution and prosecution from roughly 1400 to 1800—become business as (not-so) usual in Romania in the first place? The answer might have something to do with the level of superstition that persists even in modern-day Romania. In 2009, following the presidential elections, the leader of the Social Democrats—a man who had previously served as the ambassador to Washington and was expected to make a strong showing at the polls—blamed his surprising demise on an occult attack. In 2010, after the release of a nationwide study, the English-language Romanian newspaper Nine O’clock wrote that fortune-telling and evil-eye precautions play a large role in many Romanians’ lives, and that three-quarters of the population “believes” in horoscopes. And lawmakers reportedly backed down from a similar act to tax witches last September out of fears that they would be cursed. Meanwhile, people claiming to be witches have capitalized on public superstition. The exact scale of the witchcraft economy in Romania is difficult to gauge, but, ten years ago,the BBC reported on “Romanian witches’ roaring trade,” and business seems to have boomed in the meantime.”

Writer Chloe Schama ventures into the possibility that this new tax may mask some latent (and not so latent) anti-Roma feelings in Romania, and she quotes Romanian-born poet/writer Andrei Codrescu, who sees it as “a cheap populist, nationalist move.” Schama also touches on those Romanian witches who see this as a positive development, one that will validate their profession in the eyes of the law.

“From my point of view, this law adopted now is very good and I’m very happy because the Romanian government considered that our magic skills, which are recognized and accepted worldwide, are now authorized in Romania too.” – Mihela Minca, Romanian Witch, interviewed by NPR

Where I part company from The New Republic is the closing paragraph, where Schama talks with Brian Pavlac, author of “Witch Hunts in the Western World: Persecution and Punishment from the Inquisition through the Salem Trials”, who opines that this move of validation and recognition might carry unintended negative consequences. These hypothetical consequences aren’t really dealt with, other than a somewhat snarky closing line about vampire hunters (a topic touched on in a recent issue of Harpers). I don’t see validating or legalizing fortune telling or witchcraft as something that is inherently irrational or backward. Instead, I think placing these activities and professions into the light of day will dispel some of their worst excesses, and force a greater accountability to those who practice these arts.

Witch-hunts and persecutions happen when we allow disinformation and marginalization to prosper.  Removing some of the mystery and secrecy might damage the potency of some Romanian witches, but I also think it will help inoculate the populace against moral panics. While I disagree with the closing of this essay, I do give credit to The New Republic for taking this story (for the most part) seriously, and looking beyond the “News of the Weird” angle.

Here I thought that the rather bad “Witch” episode of CBS’s show The Mentalist was an isolated quirk, but now it seems like it’s a part of a larger campaign to piss off minority faiths and assorted ethnic groups. Not content with making fun of Wicca, the CBS show Criminal Minds (which I personally enjoy) recently dabbled in some rather awful stereotypes involving a  (possibly faux) Romani/Gypsy family. Author Elizabeth Bear, also a fan of the show, gives a pained overview of the episode for Tor.com.

The first time I watched this ep, I was wincing at the racist implications of a Romani family murdering families and kidnapping girl-children as child brides, being such an obvious and painful stereotype. It was only on the second time through that I caught on that we were talking about a case of cultural appropriation, aided by Rossi’s flat statement that Romani do not act this way. I’m still not entirely soothed by it, and I have to think a while longer about whether I think the deconstruction works. In any case, the narrative gets a little muddled, and that troubled me, and it’s not always entirely clear what they think they’re saying and about whom they are saying it. Especially since in many ways it’s a good episode, otherwise, but I’m having a hard time seeing past my gut-level reaction.

At least Criminal Minds put a disclaimer into the script, if only the wacky Witch Mentalist episode had thought to do that. Now fellow Pagan blogger Peg Aloi alerts me that a third CBS show, the very popular NCIS, is getting into the act.

The previews for next week’s new episode of NCIS show an episode dealing with satanism and the occult, complete with one victim who has a huge pentagram tattooed on his back. Because this show is both smart and funny, I hope they’ll deal with this topic in a less offensive way than The Mentalist did last week.

I think we may have hit some sort of occult-horror trifecta here. Witches! Gypsies! And now, Satanists! Do bad/exploitive television episodes come in threes or something? I’m still holding out hope that NCIS will buck the trend, after all, the show includes a positive goth character, so maybe the Satanic thing is a red herring, a misdirection from the true nature of the killer. One can only hope.