Archives For Russia

Russian Republic Legalizes Neo-Pagan Faith 

Russia, more often making headlines for repression of minority faiths, recently recognized the neo-Pagan faith Aar Aiyy as an official “religious organization” in the Siberian Russian Republic of Sakha. Religions with this special designation receive greater protections and privileges in Russia than those who are merely religious groups.

Map courtesy of Geo Currents. Sakha (Yakutia) would be the world’s eighth largest country by area if it were independent.

i Map courtesy of Geo Currents. Sakha (Yakutia) would be the world’s eighth largest country by area if it were independent.

Aar Aiyy appears to be a modern neo-Pagan revival of the indigenous shamanistic religion Tengrism. Tengrism flourished among the Turkic-speaking population of the Siberian Yakuts, the Turks, Huns, Mongolians, and Hungarians. In Siberia the religion waned in the 1600′s when Russian Orthodox Christians moved into the area. When Siberia was under Soviet control, all religions were suppressed but folk practices managed to survive into present time.

Aar Aiyy, meaning “belief in higher deities,” holds that there is one supreme God but also many spirits and other divine beings. Practitioners believe there are three worlds – the heavens, the world we know on earth, and the underworld.

According to a phone interview with Avgustina Yakovleva by the Moscow Times, adherents of Aar Aiyy have been working towards official recognition for 18 years.

Under Russian law, religions fall in one of three categories: a group, and organization, or a central organization. Central organizations are large religions that exist all over Russia such as the Orthodox church. Organizations are those who are stable in number, but may only exist in one location. Groups are informal, tiny and are not concentrated in one area. Unlike groups, both types of organizations are formally recognized and protected by Russian law. They also receive special privileges such as the ability to own land and build a place of worship, the use of public buildings for activities, the ability to form charitable groups and have centers for education, and the right to print and distribute information.

The road to moving from a group to an organization is difficult and takes a minimum of 15 years. Here are some of the requirements to form a religious organization:

  • At least 10 citizens to found the organization who all live in the same town or rural area
  • An application for registration
  • A list of those who form the religious organization with an indication of their citizenship, their home address, and date of birth
  • The charter of the religious organization
  • Minutes of the constituent meeting which founded it
  • A document issued by an organ of the local government and confirming that the said religious group has existed over the course of no less than fifteen years on the relevant territory
  • Information on its basic creed and related practice, including the history of how the religion arose and a history of the said association. The forms and methods of its activity, its attitudes toward the family and marriage, toward education, particulars of its attitude toward the health of its followers, restrictions on the organization’s members and clergy as regards to their rights and duties as citizens
  • A document confirming the location (legal address) of the of the newly formed religious organization

Even if a group completes all the steps, they can still be denied official recognition and protection. If authorities don’t believe the group is truly religious in nature, one of the founders is deemed incompetent, or the religion’s beliefs and practices are seen as incompatible with Russian law.

Siberian Fisherman Catches a God

According to The Siberian Times, “Nikolay Tarasov was fishing in a river near his home in Tisul, in the Kemerovo region of Siberia, when he caught something unexpected and very old.

“Me and a friend were walking on the river bank with nets, when suddenly it got stuck with something,” he said. “I found the object, freed the net and was about to throw it back in the water – but at the last second I looked at it more closely,” he said. “And I saw a face. I stopped and washed the thing in the river – and realized it wasn’t a stone of an unusual shape, as I thought earlier – but a statuette.”

The figure turned out to be a carved figure over 4,000 years old. The bronze age figure was originally carved in horn, but fossilized. According to Marina Banschikove, the director of the Tisul History Museum, the find is especially exciting as, “The only things we have dated approximately to the same age are a stone necklace and two charms in the shapes of a bear and a bird.”

Museum officials believe the figurine is that of a God from either the Okunev or Samus cultures. The figurine has almond shaped eyes and a large mouth with full lips. On the back side of the head there is plaited hair with wave like lines. Below the hair there are lines which look like fish scales.

Figureine of a bronze age God. Photo credit - Siberian Times

Figureine of a bronze age God.
Photo credit – Siberian Times

The Samus culture existed around the 2nd millenia BCE in the western region of Siberia. They were known for living in half-dug-out dwellings and built monuments filled with ceramics, cast bronze armament and tools, and carved figurines.

The Okunevs lived around the same time, but were found in southern Siberia. The Okunevs created stone slab burial structures. They made lavishly decorated juglike and conical vessels and worked in bronze and copper. They were prolific stone carvers.

 

The Maiden stone. Photo credit - Pagan Federation International

The Maiden stone. Photo credit – Pagan Federation International

On May 3, for the second time in two years, two stones long associated with pagan worship, were vandalized. The stones are located in Kolomenskoye Park in Moscow. Vandals spray painted “This is sin!” and “Idolatry” on the two stones. Area Pagans, who came together to clean the stones, suspect radical Christians for the vandalism. Police and Kolomenskoye Park officials are investigating the crime.

History of the stones
According to Gwiddon, National Coordinator for Pagan Federation International Russia, the two stones have a long history of worship. “The two stones in question, known among the simple folks as the Goose stone and the Maiden (Devichiy) stone, have been brought over by advancing glaciers tens of thousands of years ago from up north and deposited in the Golosov Ovrag [river] when the glaciers finally melted around 12 thousand years ago.” Gwiddon says that there’s archaeological evidence of worship at these stones going as far back five thousand years.

Gwiddon also states that the veneration of these stones has continued to this day, “The trees all around the stones are all covered with ribbon offerings. There is always food left out as offerings as well. People collect water from the nearby brook, considering it holy water.” He says the main reason most people visit the stones is because the stones are said to have healing powers. The Goose stone is alleged to cure illnesses specific to men while the Maiden stone cures infertility and any sort of women’s health concern. The majority of those who currently leave offers or visit the stones for healing are thought to be Christians, although are Pagans do hold special reverence for the stone.

Just over 20 years ago, the Moscow municipal government categorized the stones as “Natural objects under Special Protection”, which carries the same level of protection under the law as a natural preserve or a national park.

The stone being vandalized in 2012, photo from Bozhya Volya social media

Stones repeatedly vandalized
In the summer of 2012, the two stones were vandalized with the phrases “This is sin!” painted on the Goose stone, and “Idolatry is sin” on the Maiden stone. A group of radical young Christians, under the leadership of a man named Enteo, took pictures of the vandalized stones and posted them on the Russian social network VK, which is similar to Facebook. No criminal charges were laid by the administration of Kolomenskoye Park, whose care the stones are under. Shortly after the stones were washed clean by several Pagan activists.

Enteo is the founder of a group called, Bozhya Volya (Will of God), a group suspected of engaging in vandalism and violent acts against political and human rights groups, Pussy Riot supporters, homosexuals, abortion clinics and artists. In 2013 the group petitioned to close a Moscow metaphysical supplies store. The attempt was unsuccessful.

screenshot of enteo's post

Post by Enteo: Time and date: May 2, 2014 at 21:32 (9:32 pm Moscow time) TRANSLATION: “Dear friends. Tomorrow (Saturday) at 12:30 pm, make sure that you will follow us on a missionary act. We will visit the chief pagan temple in Moscow – idolatory rocks in the Velesov bank in Kolomenskoye Park. Thousands of people visit them daily, pray to them, take energy from them, and leave them offerings. The paint markings put on them two years ago have already vanished We once spent an entire summer there, preaching – this is an excellent place, there is a devil inside that stone. Father Valentine will be there with us. We will meet at the entrance to Kolomenskoye subway station opposite the movie theater.”

On May 2, 2014 Enteo posted on his VK page a call for everyone to gather in Kolomenskoye Park, as the “paint markings put on them two years ago have already vanished.” The post, as translated by Gwiddon, mentions there are demons in the stones, and that he will be accompanied by a priest. Photos of the 2012 vandalism of stones accompanied the post.

The next day the two stones were vandalized again. “This is sin!” was painted on the Goose stone and “Idolatry” was painted on the Maiden stone. Later that evening, Enteo posted on his social media account that someone vandalized the stones, but claims he doesn’t know who is responsible.

Tensions escalate
The Kolomenskoye Park administration, on May 5, claimed that protection of the stones is not under its jurisdiction and that vandalism against natural parks is handled by another government body, Rospprirodnadzor. The Park said it may reassess becoming involved if it receives written statements from citizens along with materials showing who is responsible for vandalizing the stones. This response, along with no mainstream media reports, caused some Pagan concern that an official investigation into the incident would not be forthcoming.

By May 6 eight different Pagan groups decided to clean up the stones, but the groups didn’t appear interested in cooperating with each other. One group set May 10 as the date for Pagans to gather and clean up the stones. Hours later, Enteo posted on social media that Bozhya Volya should gather at the stones on May 10 to stop the Pagans and he also called on all Christians to desecrate all pagan holy sites. These posts were passed around Russian Pagan groups and social media sites. One of the Pagan groups with more nationalistic leanings was especially angered, and concerns surfaced about the potential for a violent clash between nationalist Pagans and the radical Christian group.

Pagan community rallies
Some Pagan groups and individuals didn’t wait for organizing efforts. By the evening of May 6, the paint was mostly scrubbed off. On May 7, another large group of Pagans and eco-activists did a more thorough cleaning of the rocks and and documented the efforts.

Russian Pagans cleaning the stones on May 7th

Russian Pagans cleaning the stones on May 7th, photo credit Pagan Federation Internation

By May 8, with the need for cleaning the rocks over, the May 10 scheduled cleaning event hosted by Pagans was canceled and tensions reduced. Bozhya Volya has since switched their focus to joining other Orthodox activists in a boycott of the Polish metal group “Behemoth,” which they believe promotes Satanism. Due to the boycott, three Russian cities have canceled Behemoth concerts.

Gwiddon says the act of vandalism, and the conversations in the community about what would be a proper reaction, has brought the fragmented Pagan community closer together, “If anything, this act of vandalism served to solidify the local Pagan community, as literally 2500 people all over Russia actively voiced their disapproval of this act.”

On May 16, the administration of Kolomenskoye Park reported the act of vandalism to the police and they are working together to investigate the crime. Gwiddon says this is a much better response than what happened after the stones were vandalized in 2012.

Police and park officials are presently investigating, but have not made any arrests. The maximum punishment for mishandling the stones is an administrative fine of the equivalent of $100, unless vandalism is proven. Vandalism, in Russia, carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

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.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

A young Nepalese girl dressed as a Kumari/living goddess. Photo: Narendra Shrestha.

  • Does the presence of goddesses within a faith mean better treatment for women within a culture? A Guardian article complicates the notion. Quote: “Goddesses are worshipped merely as a ritual but in reality, women are generally never seen as their earthly representations,” [Usha Vishwakarma] says. “It is not inspiration or motivation that we look for. Sheer frustration from being ill-treated by men and unsympathetic responses from family drive us to rebel and make conditions better for ourselves.”
  • Scholar Wendy Doniger says India banning her book “The Hindus: An Alternative History” had her “in high spirits.” Quote: “But I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book ‘filthy and dirty.’ Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. ‘The Hindus’ isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.”
  • At HuffPo, Parth Parihar discusses “Hinduism and the eco-activist vacuum.” Quote: “What could be more adharmic than incentivizing the creation of fossil fuel infrastructure that only makes oil a more economically viable means of energy production, thereby impeding progress on combating global climate change?”
  • The head of the British Veterinary Association is advocating that animals slaughtered in Kosher and Halal butchering be stunned first, spurring charges of misinformation and limiting religious rights. Quote: “But Mr Arkush, who is the vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the Jewish slaughtering practice was a ‘humane act designed to bring about the animals’ end very quickly’. He said that Mr Blackwell’s remarks were ‘completely misleading’ and criticised him for ‘speaking in a way that inflamed prejudice’.”
  • The Straight Dope covers the topic of penis-stealing sorcerers. Quote: “The result of this delusional drama can be pretty ugly. About 20 witches accused of penis theft were lynched in Nigeria in 2001, and 12 in Ghana in 2002. One survey counted 56 separate cases between 1997 and 2003, with at least 36 suspected thieves murdered. In a 2008 outbreak in Congo, urgent messages went out by radio to avoid strangers wearing gold rings in taxis, leading police to put 13 suspected sorcerers into protective custody to prevent lynchings.”
  • Tablet Magazine explores the forbidden books of Jewish magic. Quote: “If most historical Judaisms have taken a transcendental approach to the magic taboo, the transgression-consummation dyad accounts for the simultaneous attraction and repulsion to magic one finds in so many Jewish sources. The highly charged polarity is responsible for producing myriad expressions of anxiety, the tracing of which may shed light on familiar facets of Jewish culture. The binary status of magic gave rise to contested formulations of its cultural position among rabbinic authorities. Was magic the most profound degradation of the spirit, or the highest actualization of human potential?”
  • Police in Siberia managed to stop an attempted witch-burning before it was too late. Quote: “In an unexpected incident worthy of the Spanish inquisition, a couple in eastern Siberia decided their acquaintance was a witch and attempted to burn her alive, though police stopped the impromptu auto-da-fe. The rescue came not a moment too soon, as the couple were at that moment forcing the alleged witch headfirst into a burning stove in an abandoned building, Zabaikalsky Region police said Thursday.”
  • From the “what could possibly go wrong” files, Oklahoma House passes “Merry Christmas” bill that would protect using religious expressions in public schools. Quote: “There is a war on Christians and Christmas, and anyone who would deny that is not paying close enough attention,” Cleveland said in a December 2013 press release. “This bill will create a layer of protection for our public school teachers and staff to freely discuss and celebrate Christmas without worrying about offending someone.” Don’t worry though, the proposed law calls for Christianity to share the stage with at least ONE other faith and/or secular expression. Diversity!
  • A new book from a 20-year devotee alleges widespread corruption, nepotism, and abuse in the empire of “Hugging Saint” Mata “Amma” Amrithanandamayi. Quote: “An Australian woman, who served Mata Amrithanandamayi for two decades, has exposed in her memoir the “hugging saint’s” ashram as a murky world of physical, sexual and mental torture, promiscuity power-madness and intolerance.” The organization’s response? She’s crazy and depressed (no, really, that’s their response).
  • Slate.com mentions Santeria and Vodou elements in the hit HBO show “True Detective.” Quote: “Voodoo and Santeria have long inspired the authors who dabbled in cosmic horror. Louisiana Voodoo (otherwise known as “Hoodoo”), which draws upon African and European folk traditions alike, derives much of its occult resonance from such practices as vengeance by proxy (voodoo dolls), suspended animation (zombification), and gris-gris (talismans, not unlike the knocked-together fetish sculptures that Hart and Cohle discover at the scene of Dora Lange’s murder). The particular appeal of Louisiana Voodoo to cosmic-horror writers like Lovecraft and those who have followed in his footsteps comes not only from its supernaturalism, but from its cultural otherness as well.”

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 Tuesday, May 21, the Russian Federation’s State Duma overwhelmingly approved the second reading of the controversial “anti-blasphemy” legislation.  In the revised edition, the law would make it illegal to “intentionally or to publicly offend religious sensibilities” or “desecrate religious sites and paraphernalia.”  The former is punishable by a one-year prison sentence and the latter up to three. The Duma will hear a third and final reading in the next week.  If approved, it goes to President Putin for a final signature.

Although the second reading was passed with a landslide vote of 304 to 4, the proposed law has caused considerable controversy. Proponents, like United Russia party member Mikhail Markelov, stress that the law is necessary to protect the religious freedom and only “punish public acts that obviously go out of their way to insult a religion.”

However, opponents are not convinced. Fair Russia party member Sergey Mironov said “We are still not sure that it can be stretched to indict many Russians, even those who did not set out to offend anyone.”  Legal adviser Henry Reznik called the law “legally meaningless” or “rubber band.”  It could stretch to meet the needs of those in power.  Human Rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva  called it “another repressive law.”

A recently released report by the United States state department supports the opponents’ fears, noting that in other countries “the laws are frequently used to repress dissent, to harass political opponents, and to settle personal vendettas.” (Myers, The New York Times, May 20, 2013)  The Russian Foreign Ministry publicly dismissed the U.S. report’s claims.

The Russian “anti-blasphemy” legislation was born out of the 2012 arrest of the activist/punk band Pussy Riot.  Their story was featured on March 24 2013 on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

In summary, five members of Pussy Riot entered the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, stood up on the pulpit, and performed a punk-style hymn that prayed for the overthrow of Vladamir Putin. Three of the women were arrested, charged with “hooliganism” and given a two year sentence. One has since been released and the other two remain in jail today.

When the women were detained, the State struggled to find a law by which to charge them.  After digging up the “hooligan” charge, Putin’s administration felt that Russia needed better laws to deal with religion-specific cases. Currently, there are no punishments written into the Criminal Code to handle such situations.

Russians have had a long history of cultural and political secularism. Under Soviet rule, religious practice was significantly suppressed – even the Russian Orthodoxy. In the late 1980s, Gorbachev relaxed that strangle-hold and many citizens had hopes of experiencing greater spiritual freedom.

Geraldine Fagan

Geraldine Fagan

However, Russia retained that strong sense of secular nationalism.  As journalist Geraldine Fagan tells The Economist, 80-90% of the current Russian population identifies as Russian Orthodox but only 2-3% actually attend Church. Many identify out of loyalty to Russian culture, country and tradition rather than out of any honest expression of religiosity.

Russia’s relationship with religion has indeed shifted but not necessarily in the way predicted. Fagan said:

[the] hopes that the end of Communism would herald an era of religious freedom in Russia were short-lived.  [Today] Religious minorities face a tough lot.

The four majority religions are Russian Orthodoxy, Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism. Any religious organizations that affiliate with these faiths can register for state benefits and protections if they meet a set of criteria.  For example, the organization must be in existence for a set period of time and not have distinct western origins.  Organizations over 100 years old qualify as part of Russian heritage.

If such an organization lies outside of the major religions, the group must undergo evaluation by a public, non-profit state-selected panel of experts comprised mostly of conservative Russian Orthodox practitioners. Gwiddon, the National Coordinator for the Pagan Federation International –  Russia explains:

There is no way to appeal a ruling or to present a defense. Quite often, the panel experts have very limited knowledge of the religion they’re discussing and use clerical rhetoric and the Bible, as the reasoning behind their decisions. 

Although not speaking about Paganism, Geraldine Fagan echoes the same concerns for all minority faiths in Russia. The current trends in religious law appear to favor the political and social position of the Russian Orthodox Church. As Fagan suggests, it’s more an expression of Russian nationalism than spiritualism.

pf_web1

What does all this mean for Russian Pagans? As noted by Gwiddon, the Russian Pagan community, a very diverse community itself, is rarely a target for bigotry and harassment. He remarked:

Most Russians never think about Paganism, apart, perhaps from reading a few juicy stories about skinny-dipping on Kupalo night… The perception of most people of paganism is rather positive. They view it as a form of folk tradition, village customs, etc. … Upon hearing about paganism the majority of Russians tend to shrug it off and say “okay, whatever floats your boat”.  [Although] there is a tiny minority of fundamentalist Christian activists, who actively tried campaigning against pagans, but their efforts always end up in failure.

Are Pagans concerned that they may lose that relatively comfortable social position if the anti-blasphemy laws pass and cause the predictable rise in religious tension?  Or, could these new laws strengthen their ability to fight those rare cases of discrimination?  The Pagan Federation International – Russia has been closely following the case. Gwiddon says that most Pagans believe the law to be a mixed blessing:

This proposed bill will not change much either in the perception of Paganism in the public’s eye, nor in the attitude of Pagans towards the society. No one is going to go back into the closet, on the contrary, there are some Pagans, who feel, that this is a good opportunity to claim protection of pagan beliefs and practices…

[The situation is complex.]  One positive [result coming out of] this new bill is that several pagan organizations decided to officially register with the local authorities in order to enable the creation of a state-registered religious organizations some time down the road.  If a Pagan belongs to a registered religious group, it will be more difficult for the authorities to argue that their beliefs are not a religion. Moscow House of Wiccans, a public Wiccan group in Moscow, recently filed notices of registration with Moscow authorities, for example.  

[In general] Pagans are not thrilled about the new bill since the existing legislation covers any actual damages against persons and property quite well.  [But] Pagans are taking a wait-and-see approach as to how this legislation is going to be used. [They] do not see the bill as a significant threat. Things will stay pretty much as they are, although it may become more difficult to offer constructive criticism of the Church.

300px-Christ_the_Savior_Cathedral_Moscow

Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow

The current Russian administration is following in a long history of heralding Russian tradition and culture above all. In that light, supporting the Russian Orthodox Church is no different than the support given to any Russian folk tradition – even those of a magickal nature. If used responsibly, these “anti-blasphemy” laws could open the door to a greater recognition of religion and spirituality in Russian life. Pagans could benefit from its protection. However, at the same time, the Russian Federation could be dangerously close to blurring the lines between religion and government. Moreover, if the Church does become more powerful, will there be a steady increase in religious discrimination against non-Christians – in particularly Russian Pagans?

As Gwiddon said, we can only wait and see.

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.

"Psychostasia" by Daemonia Nymphe

“Psychostasia” by Daemonia Nymphe

  • The great Greek Pagan band Daemonia Nymphe have announced that their new album, “Psychostasia,” will be officially released on May 10th.  Quote: “Six years after ‘Krataia Asterope’ (2007) and many Live dates in Europe, the Greeks led by the duet Spyros Giasafakis & Evi Stergiou are back with their new album ‘Psychostasia’ (the “weighing” of souls by Gods). Since its origins the band uses instruments recreated from the Greek Antiquity [...] ‘Psychostasia’ takes us into the journey of a Life, the journey of a Soul. It starts with Zephiros (the god of Wind), then comes ‘Pnoe’ the breath that animates each thing … During the trip, we will meet Gaia, the forces of Nature, the moon dances for Selene and Eros, to finish into Hypnos’s dreams.” You can order and hear samples of the new album at Prikosnovenie.
  • The reality television program “Wife Swap” aired another episode featuring a Pagan family last night, but according to participant Arana Fireheart, the process from his standpoint was not exploitive. Quote: “[The casting director] reassured me that we would be given the chance to present ourselves as a normal happy family that just happen to be Witches and I trusted that he would keep his word.” So did anyone watch it? How was it? Let us know in the comments. I think it’s fair to say that the show hasn’t the best track record regarding Pagan families, so I’m interested to see if things have evolved
  • Stonehenge is looking for a part-time Solstice manager, which has gotten a bit of press attention. One of the qualifications is an ability to maintain good relations with Druid groups and other “stakeholders” who access the stones for special events. Quote: “As English Heritage’s Tim Reeve told the BBC, one of the General Manager’s subsidiary jobs will be to liaise with neo-druid leaders, helping to oversee arrangements for the ceremonies that those leaders conduct to celebrate the summer and winter solstices. The General Manager will work to guarantee, essentially, that the rocks of the 21st century remain as faithful as possible to the rocks of prehistory. It’s ‘important,’ Reeve notes, ‘to ensure we keep the dignity of the stones.’” You guys are lucky I’m not a UK citizen, or I’d have this thing locked up. 
  • A retired Russian Orthodox bishop has been deposed after it was revealed that he was giving psychic counseling at a New Age center in Russia. It seems a fair cop. The Orthodox news site that reported on the incident is in English, but the lingo, acronyms, and haughty triumphalism make it nearly indecipherable to the casual reader (I suppose some could argue the same about my site, though I try to remain accessible). 
  • This story is supposed to be satire, but I can actually imagine certain Heathens saying something like what’s quoted in the “article.” Quote: “It’s an insult to our religion, it is bad enough they turned our God of Thunder into a blond pretty boy in a unitard, but the lack of bloodshed makes a mockery of our beliefs.” You laugh now, just wait until they turn The Morrigan into a superhero character… oh, wait.
Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

  • In a move that should surprise no one, the Vatican has made it clear that they really, really, don’t like Santa Muerte. Quote: “The Mexican offensive against Santa Muerte (Saint Death) launched by former president, Felipe Calderon, has now gone global. In an interview last week with a Peruvian Catholic news site (Aciprensa), the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as “sinister and infernal.” The Italian prelate, whom Vatican watcher John Allen recently called “the most interesting man in the Church” and even profiled as a candidate for the papacy, called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death.” Chances that this will hinder the religious movement? I’d wager they are slim to none. 
  • The interfaith ceremony that took place after the Boston bombing attack excluded humanists and atheists. Quote: “We made it exceedingly easy for the Governor’s staff to find us and include us, but they chose not to do so. The exclusion of non-theists today no doubt deepened the hurt the people in the non-theist community are feeling. What principle was served by our exclusion, I don’t begin to understand.”
  • Come visit scenic Cornwall, we’ve got a really, really, big Celtic Cross. Quote: “We hope it will become an iconic landmark, our version of the Angel of the North, so people don’t just pass by Saltash, but go in.” Also, King Arthur was conceived there, but that’s not exactly a roadside attraction. 
  • Speaking of Stonehenge, here’s a new theory about it. Quote: “…the site, which was occupied continuously for 3,000 years, had evidence of burning, thousands of flint tool fragments and bones of wild aurochs, a type of extinct giant cow. That suggests the area near Stonehenge may have been an auroch migration route that became an ancient feasting site, drawing people together from across different cultures in the region, wrote lead researcher David Jacques of the Open University in the United Kingdom.”
  • My pal Cara Schulz (who also happens to be a Hellenic Pagan), is holding a Kickstarter for a cool-sounding luxury camping book, and in honor of reaching $1,500 of the $4,500 goal she shares a drink recipe on Youtube called the “Blue Gem.” With Summer festival season almost here, maybe we could all use this book? 

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.

Coilhouse Issue #6

Coilhouse Issue #6

  • Excellent alternative culture magazine and blog Coilhouse is shutting down, though the creators are promising that this is a mere hiatus and that Coilhouse will return in some form in the future. Quote: “We can’t tell you what exactly is coming next, or when; we just know we have no intention of quitting. Potential directions that Coilhouse may move in somewhere down the line: books, apps, limited edition print/art objects, video, fashion collaborations. Smaller, more manageable one-shot projects that don’t break our backs. But first, we will have to re-strategize our business and production plans. Nothing is set in stone at the moment because, simply put, we need a break. We need to rest.” For now, they’ve made the six print issues of Coilhouse magazine available as free PDF downloads, a token of affection to fans and supporters. I highly recommend checking them out. 
  • Is the famous Celtic warrior-queen Boudicca buried beneath a McDonalds restaurant? It is rumored to be so. Quote: “Dr Mike Heyworth, the director of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), said that experts are on the hunt for her burial place, at one point rumoured to be near what is now a McDonald’s restaurant in Birmingham, and he wouldn’t be surprised if she was unearthed in the next few years. There are contradictory but persistent tales (with “no element of truth”, according to the Museum of London) that she lies beneath either platform eight, nine or 10 at King’s Cross Station.” The big question is: what happens to her resting place once the bones are found? 
  • No, Easter was not originally the celebration of Ishtar. Let’s all be more critical of Facebook image memes, OK? 
  • At the Huffington Post Grove Harris discusses composting as a Springtime spiritual exercise. Quote: “Composting is in many ways one of the most spiritual of practices. It is the process that will feed the next cycle of life, which will take endings and serve new beginnings. It is powerfully renewing on many levels, and offers deep metaphoric guidance.”
  • Enforced celibacy doesn’t really work all that often, no matter what the religion/ideology is. The country of Bhutan is distributing condoms to Buddhist monasteries to stem the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Quote: “Warning signs of risky behavior among monks first appeared in 2009, when a report on risks and vulnerabilities of adolescents revealed that monks were engaging in “thigh sex” (in which a man uses another man’s clenched thighs for intercourse), according to the state-owned Kuensel daily.” So remember, use protection, make it available, no matter what the official rules are. 
The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

The Joy of Sexus by Vicki León.

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

Before we move too far into the future, let’s pause a moment to talk about Halloween. Not the spiritual vigil of Samhain or seasonal harvest celebrations.  Let’s discuss the wholly secular, American and Canadian holiday of Halloween, complete with candy, costumes and PVC pumpkins.

Vintage Halloween Pumpkin Men

Vintage Plastic Halloween Pumpkin Men by riptheskull

It’s fair to say that Halloween has a somewhat uneasy place in the family of North American holidays.  On the one hand, we, as Pagans, fully embrace the festivities. It is the one calendar event that openly clings to its Pagan origins. When else can you buy a pentacle in TJ Maxx?   But, on the other hand, the celebration mocks its own spiritual roots, something that we hold very dear.

We aren’t alone in our unsettled attempts to navigate through the Halloween season.  American religious and community leaders repeatedly attempt to ban the holiday.  Why?  The list is endless including concerns over the overindulgence in candy, the potential dangers of trick-or-treating, the increased popularity of over-sexualized or violently graphic costumes and, of course, its Pagan origins. But the majority of folks really just want an excuse to party. Halloween provides a unique canvas that can only be topped by the decadent bacchanalia that is Mardi Gras. (The Atlantic, 10-30-12)

Japanese McDonalds Costumes

Ronald McDonalds Girls
Photo courtesy of Japan-Talk.com

More recently, the Halloween debate has been getting larger – much larger. Over the past two decades, our secular holiday has been spreading across the globe, seizing the imaginations of youth cultures on every continent. The holiday has hitched a ride with missionaries, English language teachers and ex-pats. It’s being promoted by imported American cultural commodities like internationally-based Theme Parks, McDonald’s stores, Coca Cola products and Hollywood movies.  And, of course, the ever-increasing accessibility to the internet only fuels the proverbial fire.

In some regions, Halloween has been readily incorporated into long-established fall cultural traditions. In the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, Halloween finds itself at its ancestral birthplace. Today, the newly-imported version has mixed with surviving local customs associated with, among others, Guy Fawkes Day.  As noted by English writer, Chris Bitcher:

“Trick or treat has now actually become a bona fide tradition in the UK ….Fireworks were our autumnal treat of choice and for a good little while we fought off any competitor to it. But then we gave that up and decided to embrace both.” (Your Canterbury)

Disneyland Honk Kong on Halloween

Disneyland Honk Kong
During Halloween

Across the globe in China, Hong Kong and Japan, people have been enthusiastically adopting the holiday. Lisa Morton, award-winning writer of Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween, and noted Halloween authority, attributes this acceptance to the presence of two Disney Theme Parks  (Tokyo and Hong Kong), Hollywood horror movies and a fascination with American pop-culture. During my own discussion with her, Lisa added, “In Japan, there is a love of festivals and affection for costuming or “cosplay,” which is associated with anime and manga.”  In mainland China, Halloween is slowly replacing Yue Laan or “ Hungry Ghost Festivals,” during which people appease and entertain ancestral ghosts.  To fuel and solidify this cultural shift, China will be getting its very own “Haunted Mansion” at Shanghai Disneyland in 2015.

On the contrary, in continental Europe, Halloween has been receiving a less than welcome reception. In Oct 2012, the Polish Archbishop Andzej Dzięga, was quoted on Polskie Radio, as saying, “This kind of fun, tempting children [with] candy, poses the real possibility of great spiritual damage, even destroying spiritual life.” He warned against the “promotion of paganism” and a “culture of death.”  In 2003, CNN.com reported that France’s Catholics are trying everything to fend off a Halloween celebration they say is an “ungodly U.S. import.”

More recently, in Russia, the war over Halloween rages on. ABC Online reports that one Russian Education Ministry official called the holiday, a destructive influence “on young people’s morals and mental health.” The Moscow city schools banned Halloween celebrations claiming that they were concerned about, “rituals of Satanically-oriented religious sects and… the promotion of the cult of death.”  In the same article, an unamed Russian psychologist warned:

Halloween poses a great danger to children and their mental health, suggesting it could make young people more likely to commit suicide.”(ABC Online)

Despite this heavily Christian rhetoric, the resistance is not entirely about religion.  In our discussion, Lisa explained that, “While it is difficult to fully separate the expression of nationalism from religious tradition, many European countries, like France and Slovenia, have strong anti-American undercurrents.”  Religious fervor may, in fact, be serving nationalist interests.  Lisa said, in the end, she “believes the protests are far more about nationalism than religion.”

This is expressed in an article by Paul Wood, an Englishman living in Bucharest:

Just as the North American grey squirrel has made the red squirrel almost extinct so has the North American Hallowe’en taken over with extraordinary swiftness, extinguishing older, weaker traditions. This too is life, I suppose, but it is part of the process by which the whole world is becoming plastic. (Romania Insider)

Despite the rejection, Halloween is still growing, albeit very slowly, deep within European youth cultures.  In Italy, Halloween is called La Notte delle Streghe or “Night of the Witches.”  In Romania, home of the Carpathian Mountains, the local economy is profiting from world’s fascination with Count Dracula. What a better way to spend Halloween than in Transylvania on a “real Dracula Halloween tour” complete with a four-course dinner and prizes!

Now, let’s move into the Southern Hemisphere where Halloween faces a new obstacle. Simply put, the harvest-based holiday does not apply. In this part of the world, October 31st marks the middle of Spring, not Fall.  Over the summer, I was reminded of this fact when wishing an Australian friend, “Joyous Lughnasah.” She responded with an equally joyful, “Happy Imbolc.”

2671887 eeda9c5cIn the Southern Hemisphere, traditional festivals continue to be celebrated in accordance with appropriate seasonal shifts with no noticeable attempt to transplant Halloween to May.  However, youth cultures have been showing a small amount of interest in an October-based Halloween celebration, particularly in the English-speaking countries of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.  If for no other reason, the Northern holiday offers a chance to party and dabble in the macabre – even if it’s completely devoid of its seasonal aspects.

What about the Americas?  As noted above, the countries in the Southern Hemisphere do not recognize Halloween chiefly due to geographical complications.  However, the closer you get to the U.S., the more our secular Halloween has influenced local October traditions.  In Costa Rica, for example, locals “have taken this “foreign” holiday and used it to revive an ancient Costa Rican custom: Dia de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense or Masquerade Day,” reports the Costa Rican News.

Closer to home, in Mexico, the famous and mystical celebration of Dias de los Muertos is, now, often called Dias de las Brujas or “Day of the Witches.”  Halloween practices have been woven in to this largely religious holiday.  As expected, there has been backlash from Mexican nationalists and religious leaders.  However, Mexico is just too close to the U.S. to prevent the blending of two very similar October holidays. And that continues to happen in both directions.

Just as Halloween has infiltrated Mexican culture, elements of Dias de los Muertos are now showing up within U.S. Halloween celebrations.  In an interview, Lisa Morton explained:

Last year I saw my first piece of major Dias de los Muertos American retailing – the Russell Stover candy company released several themed candy bars… That’s probably a sign that Dias de los Muertos is starting to be accepted into the American mainstream. It’s certainly very popular in those areas of the U.S. with large Latino populations.  More people seem to be joining in large-scale Dias de los Muertos celebrations in America every year.

Dias de los Muertos Candy

Dias de los Muertos Candy
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Morton

There are some areas of the world in which Halloween has yet to find a home for reasons already listed. These areas include the Islamic Middle East, the heavily Christian areas of sub-Saharan Africa, Israel, India and parts of South East Asia.  I’ll go out on a limb and add Antarctica to that list – just to complete the geography lesson.

What does all this mean for Pagans? First of all, in every article for or against Halloween, a discourse emerges surrounding the origins the holiday.  In many of these reports, the author includes a reasonable account of Halloween’s Celtic origins and Samhain-based traditions. Modern Pagan language is, unwittingly, hitching a ride on Halloween’s broomstick.

With the growing public interest in Halloween, we may find ourselves more able to openly join in the global conversation and, at the same time, deal with our own reservations. Maybe we should embrace the evolving holiday, “seize the spotlight” and become the stewards of Halloween worldwide?  After all, the U.S. media loves interviewing witches in October.  Or, we could completely renounce the secular holiday and its derogatory effigies. We could join others in protest with slogans like “We’re a culture. Not a costume.”

Regardless of our personal feelings about the secular celebration, Halloween continues to gain popularity worldwide, year after year.  As a result, every October when the veil thins, a brand-new door opens for us providing a unique opportunity for a teachable moment.  Now, we can say that both the ancestors and the world are listening.

 

Trick or Treat: The History of Halloween

Note about Lisa Morton: Trick or Treat:  A History of Halloween. This book is an historical and cultural survay of Halloween’s evolution from early Celtic traditions and lore through the ages and across the globe. It is a good read for history junkies, like myself, or students of comparative culture. Within her detailed work, Lisa did reach out to consult Wiccans, world-wide, and gave a decent nod to the modern-day Pagan spiritual celebrations of Samhain or Halloween. 

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! Happy 2012 everyone! 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.

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.