Archives For Russia

Top Story: In the second part of a six-part series on the geopolitical ramifications of global warming in the Arctic, NPR’s Morning Edition focuses on Russia’s aggressive push to claim waterways and resources becoming available as the Arctic ice melts. One group that is particularly concerned over the rush to claim the Arctic is the indigenous Saami people, a group native to the Kola Peninsula of Russia. NPR interviews traditional singer Nadezhda Lyashenko, who discusses the environmental consequences of this rush to exploit one of the few remaining untouched regions on our planet.

Nadezhda Lyashenko. Photo: David Greene/NPR

The indigenous people of this region bore much of the brunt. The Saami tribe, for one, has lived centuries in Russia’s northwest, near the Norwegian border. Saami people were forcibly collectivized on farms under Stalin. Nadezhda Lyashenko, the Saami woman singing traditional tribal music here, can recount the horror stories. Her grandfather, a reindeer shepherd, was shot in 1937, accused of being a spy after he crossed into Finland chasing a reindeer herd. After decades of relative peace, Lyashenko says, trouble seems to be returning to her native Arctic lands. She sees Russia and other world powers in a race for oil and gas, ignoring the potential impact to a part of the Earth that’s been rarely touched. “The Arctic is just so fragile,” she says. “This time, it’s a research boat going out there. It’s like the prick of a needle, and the land will heal. But if they go with knives, with spears, they could break everything. And then what?”

The Saami and other indigenous peoples living in or near the Arctic, on the front lines of global climate change, could have much to teach us, if we are willing to listen. Sadly, the rights and concerns of the Saami are often ignored, or greeted with hostility by those who want economic development at any cost. For those who identify with the indigenous peoples and culture of Europe, the plight and position of the Saami should be of great concern. The trend of indigenous rights being undermined needs to be halted and reversed.

In Other News:

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

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

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: The Awl investigates allegations that millions of dollars in United States government funding to Christian NGOs, specifically Samaritan’s Purse, is being used to directly fund aggressive and shameful missions to “evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

“…our research into the hush-hush tag team efforts of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Samaritan’s Purse found millions of USAID dollars going to Samaritan’s Purse aid stations in Haiti. Their mission: a coordinated effort by BGEA chaplains to evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

Reporter Abe Sauer notes that Franklin Graham (president of Samaritan’s Purse), son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, is especially fixated and obsessed with eliminating Vodou in Haiti.

“…in the case of Samaritan’s Purse, whose Haiti work is being heavily funded by the taxpayer-funded USAID, it could be to “take back their country from voodoo, despair, and sin,” one of the charity’s stated goals for the “Festival of Hope.” As Graham said of Haiti in his address at the Festival, “…the biggest need is the spiritual need.” (Graham and his crew are especially obsessed with the elimination of voodoo, as it comes up again and again in Purse literature. A recent personal update on work in Haiti from Franklin Graham himself reads, “Through our partnership, the three original churches have been able to establish 28 more—including one in a village that was infamous for voodoo….”) Video of the heavily promoted fundraising event has been erased from the Samaritan’s Purse website as a result of our questions to USAID.”

They note that Samaritan’s Purse, working hand-in-hand with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), is able to benefit from government funds by skirting along on paper-thin technicalities, confirmed by USAID officials, but who seem to lack the political will to do anything about it. This is a stark confirmation of several isolated reports and allegations regarding the activity of missionaries in Haiti. It’s bad enough that some Christian groups are taking advantage of the chaos in Haiti in order to win souls, but now it seems we’re paying for it as well.

No Pagan Drivers for Lowery: Former Democratic state Representative John Lowery is being taken to court by Eugene Keeler after he was allegedly fired from Premier Well Services (owned by Lowery) for being a Pagan only hours after being hired. Keeler has the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and is being heard by a judge who’s dealt with Lowery before.

The EEOC case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, which could be interesting. When Wright ruled that a winter solstice display could be put up on the state capitol grounds — along with the traditional nativity scene — Lowery led the Arkansas Legislative Council denouncement of her decision, saying, “When this is allowed to happen in high places by people in authority societies become chaotic, economies collapse and nations are taken over by other nations.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette interviewed Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League about the case, though the article is behind a paywall if you want to read it. It should be interesting to see what happens in this case, hopefully it will be reported more widely, and more accessibly, than it has so far.

Do Religious Symbols Count Even If You’re a Racist? The Jewish Chronicle notes that a jailed racist, convicted of inciting racial hatred in the UK, had his Thor’s hammer pendant confiscated because it had “fascist meaning and neo-Nazi overtones.” After a complaint, it seems that Michael Heaton, an Odinist, had the pendant returned. The piece closes with a quote from a CST (Community Security Trust) spokesperson that seems to imply that, in their opinion, Odinism doesn’t meet the “relevant criteria” for equal treatment as a religion.

A CST spokesman said: “Norse and Odinist symbolism features extensively in Nazi and Pagan circles. Legislation on religious rights can make questions such as this a complex matter. But you might well question if this kind of symbolism should meet the relevant criteria.”

While I personally believe that Heaton is a vile, foul, sad, criminal, his odious beliefs don’t wipe away his rights under the law. To call into question whether genuine religious symbols appropriated by racists are still valid is to glide down a slippery slope that would eventually ban all religious symbols. Also, for an organization like the CST, who are watchdogs against antisemitism, to conflate Nazism and Paganism in such a casual way is troubling, to say the least.

The Boundaries of Civil Religion: Former Wild Hunt guest contributor Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, writes an essay for the USC blog The Scoop about the recent memorial for the victims of the Tucson shooting, and reactions (or non-reaction in some cases) sparked by the opening invocation of Dr. Carlos Gonzales.

The media response–or rather the general lack thereof–was telling. Those motivated to comment publicly on the blessing were mainly conservatives troubled by its implications. For example, Brit Hume of Fox News was baffled, saying, “By the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I’m sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, it was most peculiar.”  TheWashington Examiner went much further and called it a “a stark statement of  pantheistic paganism” and “a blatant violation of church and state.”

Glossing over the apparent hypocrisy–the biblical references in Obama’s eulogy did not seem to touch off a similar nerve–perhaps Gonzales’ invocation can be read as a vague nod to a loose, politically correct “spirituality” appealing to the so-called “liberal elite.” Yet the left wing of the blogosphere also had little to say about Gonzales’ invocation. (There was some insightful discussion from this vantage point taking place on a popular and intelligent Pagan blog called the Wildhunt.)

Gilmore notes that many American aren’t used to being taken outside “a generic and lightweight form of ceremonial deism,” as was done by Gonzales’ Native blessing. A transgression that may have sparked the absurd over-reaction is some quarters. She also touches on the “othering” of religious minorities in the United States, such as was done in this case, and that mainstream journalism has done a poor job in enlightening the public to their worldviews. The whole essay is worth a read, and you should check it out.

Seeing the Future in Russia: The AFP reports on the popularity of doing fortune telling in Russia between Christmas and Epiphany, and why that tradition endures to this day.

Psychologist Svetlana Fyodorova puts the faith in fortune-telling down to Russians’ close links to their pagan past. “Russians love fortune-telling because it frees their subconscious,” she told AFP. “As compared to Europe, in Russia Christianity is young and the traces of a pagan traditions can still be felt here,” she said.

Something that no doubt worries the Russian Orthodox Church, who are increasingly testing the waters of social control now that they are ascendant once more. With signs of a crack-down against religious minorities intensifying, those who look for signs in the wax, or throw shoes out the window, should be careful.

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

As we reach the close of 2010, it is time to stop for a moment and take stock of the previous year. When you look at (and for) news stories regarding modern Paganism (and related topics) every day of the year, you can sometimes lose focus on the larger picture. So it can be a helpful thing to look at the broad strokes, the bigger themes, the events and developments that will have lasting impact on the modern Pagan movement. What follows are my picks for the top ten stories from this past year involving or affecting modern Pagans.

10. The Crackdown on Minority Religions in Russia: A woefully underreported story in the mainstream media, but one that could have vast ramifications for modern Pagans, is the slow-moving oppression of minority faiths in Russia. As the government, in seemingly increasing collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church, use laws against extremism and “cults” to intimidate and oppress competing faiths, the future of indigenous and neopagan faiths in Russia seems endangered.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

These laws were originally written to address “doomsday cults” in Russia, but are increasingly being used on largely benign faiths, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the the Mari people. These developments should concern anyone who values freedom of religion, and especially those concerned with the growth and preservation of Paganism across the globe. It should also act as a warning to those who would start writing and supporting laws that would oversee the free expression of faith.

09. Psychic Services & The Law: I’ve been reporting on run-ins between local governments and those who provide various psychic/fortune telling services for a long time, but this year the topic seemed to garner wider press attention. Both Time Magazine and the BBC looked at a growing trend of stricter regulations against psychics being enforced by local governments, and in response to this attention I interviewed professional psychics and tarot readers like Christian Day, Mary K. Greer and Rachel Pollack.

“I don’t believe in specific laws and regulations for fortune tellers that go beyond the standard business laws of any community. It has been found that laws prohibiting fraud cover most cases of abuse perfectly adequately and far better than regulations that discriminate unfairly against this particular profession, especially when they assume criminal behavior where none has been shown by the individual. It has been proved over and over again that discriminatory regulations are created by special interest groups and that they are unfair and almost always unconstitutional.”Mary K. Greer

Spurred by a variety of impulses, some religious, some not, towns and cities created subcultural “red light districts”, stood by total bans, and argued over whether psychic services could be classified as “spiritual counseling”, while in Canada, obscure laws against “witchcraft” were used to pursue fraud cases. We also saw a big win as the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech, setting a precedent that could affect laws across the country. Expect this issue to continue to make news, and involve members of our community in 2011.

08. The James Arthur Ray Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: While the tragic events that took three lives happened at the end of 2009, 2010 saw the arrest and ongoing drama unfold in the case of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who is accused of negligent homicide after a sweat lodge ceremony went horribly wrong.

This event has had repercussion through many different communities, some Native American activists and commentators are concerned their beliefs are going to be put on trial to exonerate Ray, and in one instance have even considered regulating Native practices to prevent such occurrences from repeating. In the New Age hub of Sedona, business is down, and some are blaming the “negative energy” of the sweat lodge deaths, though few think practices will dramatically alter in the long term. Meanwhile, Ray and his lawyers continue to try to suppress damaging evidence as the trial looms ever closer. What the longterm ramifications of this event will be for Ray, Native Americans, the New Age market, and the modern Pagans who cross-pollinate with these affected communities remains to be seen.

07. WM3 and the ghosts of Satanic Panic: While the horrors of the mid-1980s moral panic over “Satanic” cults, a phenomenon that imprisoned dozens and ruined the lives of hundreds more, has most devolved into “did that really happen” gallows humor, 2010 reminded us that there’s a lot of unfinished business from that era. The most high-profile instance is the case of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.), long considered by many to be victims of panic-fueled miscarriage of justice, the three men recently won the right to new evidentiary hearings, providing them their best chance yet of overturning their convictions.

“The court also pointed out Thursday that Circuit Judge David Burnett erred repeatedly in the case, including dismissing requests to consider DNA and other exculpatory evidence without a hearing. Burnett has been the focus of activists’ campaigns because of his pro-prosecution stances. He will not hear the new case because he was recently elected to the state legislature. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has also fought against a new hearing.”

This case has long drawn the attention of modern Pagans since prosecutors used Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca to help convince a jury, with no physical evidence and a coerced confession from the mentally challenged Misskelley, that they were to blame for the murder of three boys. As a society, we are still dealing with the fallout of “Satanic Ritual Abuse” panic, and many of those who participated enjoy high-profile careers to this day.We need to not only right the wrongs of yesterday, but remain vigilant that such a panic doesn’t emerge again.

06. The Passing of Isaac Bonewits: 2010 was a heavy year for deaths within the Pagan community, but the passage of seminal Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits in August shook our communities, and brought forward an unique communal outpouring of grief and tribute rarely seen.


Isaac Bonewits, photo by Ava Francesca, from the ADF website.

A true Pagan polymath, Bonewits seemed to drink deeply of modern Paganism in all its myriad forms.He’s been an initiate into Santeria, religious Witchcraft (both orthodox and heterodox), various magic(k)al traditions, and fraternal Druidism. A man of letters, he wrote many celebrated books, andmany more influential essays. Many of the phrases and terminology we now use on a regular basis had their genesis with Isaac Bonewits. His Advanced Bonewits’ Cult Danger Evaluation Frame (ABCDEF)has been used by Federal law enforcement and foreign governments to evaluate religious minorities, and he’s been a visionary in predicting the growing pains our movement would encounter.

Perhaps his greatest gift and legacy to the Pagan movement will be the founding of Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF), a Druid fellowship that from the outset anticipated the ramifications of our growing numbers, and the strove to meet the challenges that would bring. […] His role in founding the ADF alone has earned him a place in history.

Bonewits was a giant among us, and his passing has left us without one of our most intelligent and forward-looking leaders just as many of his visions for the future were coming to fruition. We can only hope that his legacy and example will endure.

Tomorrow I will post the top five Pagan stories for 2010. In the meantime, I invite you to check out the top religion stories from some different perspectives. Here are the Religion Newswriters Association’s picks, Terry Mattingly’s (of Get Religion fame) picks, the top spiritual trends according to Charisma Magazine, the top picks from Christianity Today, and Time Magazine’s top religion story picks.

Two articles from the Reuters newswire yesterday struck me as highlighting the difference in perceptions between religious groups who hold power, and those that don’t. First, Pope Benedict XVI, in a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, took time to place special emphasis on the “hostility and prejudice” towards Christians in Europe.

“… he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places. […] The Pope put what the Vatican has termed “aggressive secularism”, such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism. […] “It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

That Benedict would put gay marriage on the same plane as terrorism says a lot about how much a post-Christian Europe, specifically a post-Catholic Europe, scares him. Confusing a slip from utter social dominance with persecution and prejudice. Meanwhile, in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, in alliance with the government, is using laws against “extremism” to target religious minorities.

When armed Russian security officers forced their way into Alexander Kalistratov’s home, he hardly imagined they were after his books. The local leader of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia now faces up to two years in prison if found guilty this week of inciting religious hatred for distributing literature about his beliefs. […] In the case against Kalistratov, activists say local authorities are really aiming at cracking down on groups that are frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nor are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only group to feel the sting of this deepening collusion between church and state, Pagan groups in Russia, including the Mari Traditional Faith, are increasingly finding themselves accused of extremism for even mild criticisms of Christianity.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

One can only wonder what Benedict thinks of his Orthodox counterparts in Russia, does he envy them their power? Does he wish he could “suggest” raids on “secularists” and religious minorities that displease him? Does he long for a time when heads of state hung on his words and depended on the Church for social control? It seems obvious to those who are religious minorities that his attack on secularism is really an attack on the freedoms of non-Christians to live without the shadow of the Catholic Church hanging over every aspect of their lives. Why else would he care about crosses in the public square, or if gay couple were allowed to marry? “Christianophobia” is about control, the kind of control the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be enjoying once again in post-Soviet Russia.

Global Voices points to an Open Democracy report from last month on how Mari Traditional Faith (the indigenous belief system of the Mari people in the Republic of Mari El) is facing a renewed form of “anti-religion” in Russia.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

There are growing claims that Russia’s controversial anti-extremism law is being used to persecute and suppress religious minorities in the formerly communist nation (with even more restrictive anti-religious passages being proposed). Some fear that a Russian government and Russian Orthodox alliance is partially to blame for growing tensions and hostilities towards resurgent forms of Paganism in Russia. A Mari text mildly critical of Christianity and Islam being labeled as “extremist”, along with several other incidents, paints a grim picture. Some have even considered seeking asylum in the West.

Vitaly Tanakov, the controversial author of “A Priest Speaks” labeled “extremist” for writing lines like: “you have felled a tree, you have destroyed a living being”, is now looking outside of Russia for help to fight these persecutions, and wants to reach out to other Pagan and indigenous faith traditions.

A first step, proposes Tanakov, would be an international symposium of peoples true to the Old Religion. He would certainly invite the Native Americans, and is somewhat impressed by the Druids’ ceremonies at Stonehenge, “although they don’t yet know what they’re doing, it’s just improvisation.” Mari El’s most notorious kart squints knowingly: “With our unbroken traditions, we have something to tell them.”

One wonders if there’s a Mari representative at the ongoing World Congress of Ethnic Religions in Italy? Can indigenous traditions and revived Paganisms truly gather in a global symposium outside the purview and sponsorship of large events like the Parliament of the World’s Religions? Can cultural and theological differences be overcome in order to work on a shared political agenda? These remain open questions, but I’ve seen a new and fragile openness from all sides towards dialog on areas of mutual interest, hopefully it can bear fruit for all sides.

For more on the Mari people and their traditional religion, check out the MariUver blog (particularly this post).

Often those on the road to spiritual enlightenment and wisdom will undertake peak experiences of various natures to further them on their respective paths. When done properly, and safely, they can offer new perspectives and insights that can change the participants lives. When done improperly, injury and death can occur. The Moscow News provides another cautionary tale from a man looking to reenact an ancient Slavic burial ritual.

“Planning to recreate an ancient Slavonic ritual, the deceased took a hosepipe with him for the underground vigil and believed he would be perfectly safe and able to breathe freely until he was released half an hour later … Unfortunately, Interfax reported, this historical re-enactment was destined to end in tragedy when the weight of the soil above him crushed the victim’s neck, chest and abdomen, leading to asphyxiation.”

So remember, don’t count on Fortuna to always be with you when attempting a dangerous rite of passage or ritual. There’s a reason India has banned the practice of live burial, and why most modern variations of live burial rituals come with several safeguards against suffocation.

Many of our revered wise men and women from history have undergone tests of their endurance and faith, events that could have killed them. But what history doesn’t speak of are the thousands more who attempt their feats and never survive to pass on the wisdom gained from the experience. So be wise, remember that redundancy and safety go hand-in-hand, and also remember that many of the most significant spiritual/religious breakthroughs come when one is merely sitting.

The Russian news service RT reports on efforts by the Russian government to change the laws in order to rein in “damaging cults”.

“There are about 80 or 90 cults which are well known and active in at least several provinces of Russia. But if we are talking about local cults that act within one town, or one province or one area of a town, then those can be counted in the thousands,” says cult expert Aleksandr Dvorkin.

But while the law seems aimed at news-making apocalyptic “doomsday” cults and groups that use aggressive missionary techniques, many fear that the changes, if enacted, will eventually be used to crack down on any faith that doesn’t meet with the approval of a post-Communist government that’s entering into an ever tighter symbiosis with the  Russian Orthodox Church.

“The Moscow Patriarchate, the policy-making body of the Russian Orthodox Church, now acts as President Putin’s agent in extending his control over all sectors of society. And since Dmitri Medvedev, Putin’s anointed successor, is also a practising member of the Orthodox Church, no change in that relationship seems imminent.”

As tensions mount between Russian Pagan groups and the Russian Orthodox Church, would these laws, if passed, be used to crack down on all Pagans, using the pretext of a violent and criminal minority to restrict them? It raises the serious question: who’s a cult in Russia? Who, exactly, would get to make that distinction?

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 21, 2009 — 3 Comments
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I have a few news items to start off your Saturday, beginning with a story that’s spread like wildfire through the political and religious blogospheres gaining mainstream coverage, and its all about prayer. Specifically its about “imprecatory prayer”, the Christian equivalent to malefic “black” magic (you’re basically asking God to kill, maim, or trouble some person). While there have been a few high-profile imprecatory prayer stories popping up lately, the most recent centers on a meme and line of merchandise urging people to “pray” for President Barack Obama, invoking the biblical Psalm 109:8 “let his days be few; and let another take his office”. It seems rather harmless as imprecatory prayers go until you read the rest of the psalm in question.

“It was, most likely, intended as a joke.  But it isn’t really very funny.  Especially since the next verse reads, “May his children be orphans, and his wife a widow.”  The passage goes on the same way–asking God to pulverize this poor fellow–that he lose all his worldly goods, that his orphans be abandoned, that his father be remembered as a sinner, and finally, that “his memory be cut off from the earth.” Thus, the “Prayer for Obama,” does more than anticipate that he leaves office; it entreats God to destroy the president.”

Supporters and opponents of this prayer are battling it out at Cafe Press, with stores being removed and reinstated. Meanwhile, pundits are split on whether this is harmless fun, or yet another sign that far-right Christianity is coming unglued and “trawling for assassins”. How should Pagans and occultists, many of whom believe in the power of magic and intention, react to these sort of stories? Harmless? Or the beginning of a particularly nasty egregore?

Turning from prayer to more material conflicts over belief, Chas Clifton reports on a Russian Orthodox priest who was recently murdered in his church. 34-year-old Daniil Sysoyev was missionary who bragged of converting 80 Muslims personally, and wrote several books critical of Islam, gaining many death-threats in the process. But while this seems a rather open-and-shut case of a Russian Muslim taking revenge against a firebrand converter of Muslims, authorities are also looking at other groups, like Russian Pagans.

“Sysoyev also worked with former members of religious sects and wrote a book on Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovahs’ Witnesses. He also spoke out against nationalists and Stalinists, whom he criticized on his blog for ignoring the murder of innocent people.”

None of the articles specifically mentions Pagans when they mention “various religious sects”, but the ABC article links the phrase to another report they did on Russian Pagans, so they must know something we don’t. Clifton points out that Russian Pagans do come into direct conflict with the Russian Orthodoxy and “are more likely to have their own line of “blood and soil” rhetoric and to claim that they represent the true spirituality of their people”. All that said, I’m siding with Occam’s razor on this one, so the Russian Pagans and hard-liner Stalinists most likely have little to worry about during the investigation.

In a final note, it looks like “Agora”, which centers on the life (and death) of Neoplatonist pagan philosopher Hypatia, has finally found an American distributor and will hit theaters in early 2010.

“Alejandro Amenabar’s intellectual epic that had sat without a U.S. buyer for six months, has found a stateside home. Newmarket Films has picked up U.S. rights to the Rachel Weisz starrer and is prepping a release for the first half of 2010.”

Distribution deals finally materialized after the film starting doing far better than expected in European markets. So we’ll finally get a chance to see “Agora” on the big screen, anyone want to place bets on if/when it will gain American protesters?