Archives For SAPC

Top Story: Neighbors of Betty Marquez in Tracy, California, are upset that the practitioner of Santeria is holding religious gatherings and performing animal sacrifice at her home. Marquez, who is quick to point out that the animals are slaughtered humanely, and eaten afterwards, says she feels as if she is being harassed, while at least one neighbor is eager to prove he isn’t prejudiced by saying something that sounds pretty prejudiced.

“We used to spend a lot of time in our yard, and now there’s bongos and loud singing, and we just don’t feel good about it anymore,” he said. “We’re not prejudiced. We’re very fair. Take that stuff outside of town.”

Meanwhile, another neighbor has contacted PETA (People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals) who called the cops on their behalf, and is “staying in contact with authorities” concerning the matter.

“Of course we’re against religious sacrifice,” Martin Merserau said. “We’re against animal abuse in many forms, whether you’re dragging a knife across the throat of an animal for quote-unquote religious purposes or not.”

PETA, perhaps feeling that their racist, sexist, sizeist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and transphobic campaigns haven’t been going far enough, they now feel the need to attack minority religions as well by getting involved in a local spat. Never mind the sheer hypocrisy of calling animal sacrifice “abuse”, while they “humanely” euthanize thousands of healthy unwanted animals, and have even had employees charged with illegal disposal of animal corpses. I guess context is king. All I know is that I’ve been a vegan for years, and I’ve never supported this group. As for Marquez, considering the recent win for Jose Merced in court, it’s going to be increasingly hard to enforce animal slaughter laws against Santeria practitioners.

More Fodder for Sharkey’s Ever-Hungry Ego: Joseph Laycock, author of  “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism”, decides to give more attention to Jonathon ‘The Impaler’ Sharkey for an essay at Religion Dispatches. Why? To make the point that Sharkey’s buffoonish extremism now seems almost normal in today’s ultra-polarized political landscape.

“The Impaler” arose during the Bush Administration, seeking popular appeal by promising to kill an unpopular president. And while he has continued this strategy during the Obama era, sadly he no longer seems nearly as crazed and peripheral next to the extreme fringes of the Tea Party movement. Simply put, violent rhetoric has become more acceptable. Progressives have criticized Sarah Palin for a political “hit list” on her Facebook page that features gun crosshairs over the home states of targeted Democrats. Sharkey and Palin are in effect both catering to the same sentiment. While Palin has never called for the impalement of Harry Reid, her supporters might not take offense if she did.

I suppose I see the point he’s trying to make, but I object to giving this criminal, who has shown a pattern of having inappropriate, and sometimes threatening, interactions with young girls, any more media-driven oxygen. I almost didn’t comment on this story because I want nothing more than to see Sharkey fade off into obscurity until he’s finally imprisoned for stepping too far over the line. Of course he’s calling for Witch-hunts! He is desperate for our attention, because without it, he’ll be forced to face the life he’s created for himself. So barring some truly newsworthy event involving Sharkey, the topic will no longer come up at this blog, and I urge everyone in the Pagan and Vampire communities to follow suit. As for Laycock, check out the interview with him about modern Vampirism at the always-excellent TheoFantastique blog.

Starhawk and Social Justice: In the wake of the Glenn Beck/Jim Wallis spat, author, activist, and On Faith panelist Starhawk weighs in on “social justice” in the context of modern Paganism.

“While Pagans do not have a set creed or unified code of beliefs, our traditions hold in common the understanding that we are all deeply interconnected, all part of the sacred weave of the world. The Goddess is immanent in this world and in all human beings, and part of our service to the sacred is to honor one another and take care of one another, to fairly share nature’s bounty and to succor one another in facing the hardships of life. We must create justice in this world, not wait for redress of grievances in the next. No one person or group has the right to commandeer nature’s resources, which are the underpinnings of all wealth. Generosity, justice and fairness are old Pagan virtues…”

I’m personally all for social justice, but then I’ve never been all that offended when people called me a socialist because of it. Which I suppose makes me one the 36% of Americans who have a favorable opinion towards the ideology. Not that social justice has to be equated with socialism, but I’m not the one blurring those lines in order to score political points.

South African Pagans and Inclusion: The Richmark Sentinel focuses on South African Pagan Council’s (SAPC) quest for representation at the country’s national multi-faith organizations.

The South African Pagan Council says its being ignored by the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM), National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF) and National Interfaith Leaders Council (NILC) … Asatruar Charles van Bergen, the representative of the South African Pagan Council (SAPC) tasked with negotiating the inclusion of Pagan religious leaders to both the NILC and its forerunner the National Religious Leaders Forum (NRLF), thinks South Africa is not achieving its stated intention to facilitate cooperative inter-religious participation. “Organizations such as Home Affairs and SARS have been forced to abide by the laws pertaining to such things, but other than that an active policy of passive-aggressive exclusion of Pagans is the status quo countrywide.”

Why does the SAPC want a voice in predominately socially conservative and anti-pagan multi-faith organizations? To remind the leaders of the dominant faiths in South Africa that other opinions exist and should be respected.

“I believe the SAPC’s presence on both the NILC and the NRLF will ensure that religious policies and dialogue maintain respect for the rights of minorities who do not necessarily agree with the conservative views and positions expressed by members of these organizations. We’d like the right to participate and contribute constructively to our Nation’s spiritual and moral values.”

The SAPC is currently involved in supporting the 30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts campaign, and is one of three legally recognized Pagan organization in South Africa (along with The South African Pagan Rights Alliance and the Correllian Nativist Tradition S.A.). I wish them luck in trying to change opinions concerning modern Paganism in South Africa.

Ongoing Tensions in Haiti: Reporters from the Miami Herald look at the ongoing tensions and deteriorating relations between faiths in post-earthquake Haiti, and mention that a human rights lawyer went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights last month, calling for an investigation into anti-Vodou attacks.

Last month, Mario Joseph, a Haitian human rights lawyer, went before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking an investigation of attacks against Vodouists after several were stoned by Evangelical pastors in the Cité Soleil slum. “In other zones of the country,” he told the commission, “particularly in the commune of Verrettes in the Artibonite, literal witch hunts have been launched against priests and practitioners of this religion.”

This news of “literal witch hunts” is deeply troubling, and there seems to be no real investigation of this by the press, many of whom have moved on now that the initial disaster is over with. In the chaos, with international eyes turned elsewhere, and the government still powerless, is there a quiet campaign of violence and intimidation against Vodou practitioners under way?

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

Top Story: Well, that didn’t take long. While many have been pleased with the Air Force Academy’s recent turn towards accommodation for minority faiths in the wake of accusations that an aggressive and pervasive evangelical Christianity was creating a hostile environment for non-Christians, it seems that some aren’t so sanguine regarding recent changes. With national headlines touting a newly installed stone circle for Pagan cadets, some enterprising Christians decided it needed a finishing touch.

“The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions. But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there. “We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.”

While Weinstein is criticizing academy leadership for not informing cadets of the incident, he has praised Lt. Gen. Mike Gould for “acting swiftly and decisively” to ensure it doesn’t happen again. As for the act of “desecration” itself, one could argue that since the circle hasn’t been officially dedicated yet (that happens in March), there was nothing to desecrate. But like cheap gifts, it’s the thought that counts. One could only imagine the outpouring of rage had some anonymous Pagans placed a pentacle or Thor’s hammer inside the Christian chapel.

In Other News:

Patrick McCollum v. California: For some more background concerning the ongoing legal battle to win equal treatment for minority faiths in California, check out AREN’s just-posted interview with Patrick McCollum. In it, McCollum addresses many of the questions that have been emerged since this case has gained wider attention.

“Well, first let me say that I do have a legal right to bring this case forward, and that there’s lots of precedent to support that argument. That’s why I am before the 9th circuit court of appeals. Secondly, let me clear the record, the Pagan prisoners also brought this case forward in conjunction with me, and have been Plaintiffs in the case all along. The judge at the District Court level ruled that neither I nor the Pagan inmates had the right to bring it forward, go figure! What’s even more important to note, is that the State’s attorney general’s office, has made the argument that religion in California is two-tiered, and that the five state faiths (the first tiered faiths) are afforded all of the equal rights and protections granted under the Constitution, but that all other faiths including Pagans, are second tier … and are only afforded lesser rights, similar to one another. It is this concept that Pagans and other minority faiths are somehow less endowed, that I am fighting to overcome.”

I’d also like to note that I have contacted the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for an official comment on these latest developments, and have yet to receive any word back.

In a somewhat related note, I’d also like to mention that Patrick McCollum, on Imbolc, was installed to the Executive Board of Directors of a United Nations NGO, Children Of The Earth.

“This organization focuses on international youth utilizing spirituality as a tool, to bring about positive change in approaching many of the world’s problems. There are chapters across the world. While the Executive Board is composed of a small number of people, I feel honored and humbled to be included in the company of such distinguished individuals as a State Senator, the Speech Writer for Dr. Martin Luther King, and other similarly situated persons.”

Congratulations to Patrick! You can find out more about Children of the Earth at their web site.

African Pagans Against Witch Hunts: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance & South African Pagan Council are gearing up  for the 3rd annual “30 days of advocacy against Witch-hunts in Africa” from 29 March to 27 April 2010.

“The 2010 campaign is aimed at petitioning the African Union General Assembly and the Pan-African Parliament, to address the ongoing witchcraft hysteria in Africa, through constructive and humane programmes that seek to entrench and strengthen human rights and human dignity, instead of seeking to suppress witchcraft or ignore ongoing human rights abuses within member countries.”

Supporters of their campaign can sign a petition, or join the Facebook group. Further plans and actions will be announced closer to the start of the campaign. You can contact TouchStone Advocacy for more information on how to help.

Vodouisants Plan Memorial in Haiti: Max Beauvoir, Augustin St. Clou, and other Vodou leaders in Haiti are planning a national memorial service, funeral rites for the estimated 150,000 dead, and a week of scheduled mourning.

A week of mourning is scheduled to begin as early as next week with a service in front of the destroyed presidential palace. The event will include a traditional voodoo funeral rite for the more than 150,000 people who died in last month’s earthquake, said Max Beauvoir, the supreme priest of Haitian voodoo. Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders have also been invited to participate. “We want to honour all those who disappeared, but we also want to make it a celebration of life, so that the people can regain their strength,” Beauvoir told Canwest News Service in a phone interview Tuesday evening. “Because life must go on.”

While Vodou practitioners try to move past this tragedy and begin rebuilding, mainstream media seems increasingly fascinated with this oft-misunderstood faith. National Geographic interviews Wade “The Serpent and the Rainbow” Davis about Vodou, misconceptions, and Pat Robertson. He also anticipates the very memorial service now being planned.

“All people in all cultures honor the dead, and the fact that the sheer scale of the disaster has precluded the possibility of proper ritual burials will be a source of concern and sadness to all Haitians. Perhaps in time some of this grief may be released in a ceremony of national remembrance that will honor all who have been lost. For now the rest of us, the entire global community, must do everything we can to support the living and facilitate the rebirth of a nation that has given so much to the world.”

While some continue to peddle misinformation and lies about this faith, a strong pro-Vodou voice is emerging, and we may find a Vodou in post-earthquake Haiti that is unafraid to confront its critics or exist in the public eye.

Skip Having Breakfast With The Family: A growing number of voices are urging President Obama to either boycott the National Prayer Breakfast, or to use that opportunity to criticize the sponsoring group The Family/The Fellowship, for their support of Uganda’s notorious “kill the gays” bill.

You can read more about “The Family” and their theocratic agenda in my interview with journalist Jeff Sharlet, here. So far it seems unlikely that Obama will snub the prayer breakfast, which has been attended by every president since Eisenhower, but there is a faint hope that he will criticize the sponsors. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.

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

Top Story: While the mainstream media has been generally focused on controversial statements from Harry Reid in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s “Game Change,” a new book about the 2008 presidential election, there are some other surprising revelations to be found. For instance, did you know that Rielle Hunter, who famously had an affair with presidential candidate John Edwards (and most likely bore his child), was (allegedly) Pagan?

“There was nothing legit, however, about Hunter’s behavior. It was freaky, wildly inappropriate, and all too visible. She flirted outlandishly with every man she met. She spouted New Age babble, rambled on about astrology and reincarnation, and announced to people she had just met, “I’m a witch.” But mostly, she fixated on Edwards. She told him that he had “the power to change the world,” that “the people will follow you.” She told him that he could be as great a leader as Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. She told him, “You’re so real. You just need to get your staff out of your way.” She reinforced everything he already believed, told him everything he wanted to hear.”

Not exactly the kind of revelation of modern Pagan involvement in national politics one hopes for. Then again, if you believe everything in the book excerpt about the Edwards campaign, Hunter was hardly the most crazy element in that bizarre love triangle. Hunter’s life seems to have always skirted fame and notoriety, but when her moment in the sun finally arrived it was ultimately as an infamous footnote in a historic presidential election.

In Other News: The particularly brutal murder of an elderly woman in South Africa has some calling once again for laws banning the practice of witchcraft in the country. Columnist Michael Trapido argues that the infringements on free expression such a law would create are a small price to pay for greater safety.

“So until such time as someone can put forward a better suggestion for protecting people accused of witchcraft — and not the current law which makes it an offence to call someone a witch — legislation to make it a criminal offence to be a witch seems to be the only answer. In tandem that anyone now possessed of this legal channel to accuse witches, who practices self-help, be given the stiffest possible sentences available to a court faced with that charge. Denying some form of religious freedom is very ugly but what happened to an 81-year-old woman and many others like her is far uglier.”

So in the course of attempting to stop witchcraft-related murders, Trapido would support a law that is so broadly worded that it essentially bans non-violent religions like Wicca. That, I suppose, wouldn’t be such a large issue except for the fact that there is a thriving Pagan community in South Africa. I’m told that the South African Pagan Rights Alliance will be releasing a statement on the matter soon, but they have made their position regarding witchcraft bans quite clear before.

“Witchcraft in South Africa is a recognized Pagan religion. Most Pagans in South Africa self-define as Witches – as adherents of the religion of Witchcraft. Every South African citizen has the right to freedom of religion and belief, including the right to proselytize their religious beliefs should they choose to do so. This constitutional right includes not only the right of religious communities to define themselves and their own religion, but also to challenge anything they may perceive as harmful to themselves and their religious communities.”

Further, the South African Pagan Council is a recognized Religious Organization with SA Home Affairs and SA Revenue Services. So to enact the “solution” of banning “witchcraft” they would have to knowingly outlaw a religion they have previously acknowledged as deserving legal recognition. These murders are horrible, but the solution is education, aid, and enforcement of existing laws, not arbitrary (and discriminatory) new laws. I fear Ben Franklin would be rolling in his grave at Trapido’s “ugly” solution. I think the country of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu can do far better than reactionary attempts to outlaw a belief in hopes it will solve the problem.

A group of lawyers, scholars, activists, and religious leaders from the across the political spectrum have collaborated on a new statement encapsulating the current understandings of Church-State law and freedom of expression in America.

“As the role of religion in public life continues to spark intense political debate and high-profile court cases, a group of diverse leaders from religious and secular organizations has issued the most comprehensive joint statement of current law to date on legal issues dividing church and state. Muslim, Jewish, Sikh and Christian leaders from the evangelical, mainline and Catholic traditions joined with civil liberties leaders to draft Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law, released Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C.”

A project of the Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, the statement should be required reading for anyone concerned about legal decisions made regarding religious expression in America. You can download the 34-page PDF file, here. Almost all of the legal issues facing Pagans today in our schools, prisons, military, and the workplace are touched on in the document. Don’t miss out!

Kathy Nance gives us an update on the ceremonial rattles created by Pagan artist Julee Higginbotham for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. After being blessed and distributed by the Pagans at the Parliament, they ended up being gifted to several key spiritual/religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama.

And each was blessed at Pagan prayer circles in St. Louis, Melbourne Pagan events, and the Parliament itself. At each circle, the hope that the gifts would convey messages of love and unity were repeated. On the next to last day of the event, before coffee and breakfast, came word that the Dalai Lama’s personal secretary was on his way down to pick up a shaker. River, a Pagan from Missouri, handed over the gift. It was wrapped in cloth and twine used at the Pagan Peace Ritual. “The shakers passed through hundreds of hands with blessings for world peace and for understanding between different yet similar religions,” River said. “We were all tremendously moved that we were able to give one to the Dalai Lama.”

In addition to the Dalai Lama, shakers were gifted to His Majesty Robert Daagbo Hounoun, world wide leader of the Vodun Hwendo faith Professor “Auntie” Joy Murphy Wandin, AO Senior Woman of the Wurundjeri People, and “Uncle Bob” Randall, Yankunytjatjara Elder and Traditional Owner of Uluru (Ayers Rock). According to Parliament Board of Trustees member Angie Buchanan, the shakers “opened many doors” between Pagan delegates and indigenous communities across the world.

In a final note, famous Los Angeles Buddhist/New Age/metaphysical bookstore Bodhi Tree is closing down. LA Daily reports that the close came about due to rising costs, rising taxes, and a widely dispersed market.

“Books on Wicca and Astrology and Native American shamanism used to be tough to find. But now every Borders and Barnes & Noble carries a significant selection of religious, spiritual and New Age literature. And what can’t be bought at a bricks and mortar shop can undoubtedly be found online at Amazon. For cheap.”

Where once Pagans, New Agers, occultists, and Buddhists would often be forced to shop at the only place in town that carried “their” kind of books, thanks to the Internet it’s easier than ever to get a hold of material that you find interesting. Indeed, the “community” created around these stores were almost always due to necessity, not a shared theology, practice, or even politics. It was inevitable that as these groups grew into their own, and materials became easier to obtain, the “New Age store” would suffer as a consequence. While there is a part of me that has a somewhat romanticized view of that era, catching only the tail-end of it in the 1990s, I also wouldn’t trade that time for what we have now.

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 10, 2009 — 5 Comments

Just a few quick items to enrich your day. We start off with a Wall Street Journal editorial from Eric Rassbach at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on why he decided to defend Jose Merced’s right to sacrifice goats in his home.

“It is a small victory for religious freedom in this country, not just for Mr. Merced, but for everyone who believes the human conscience is a precious gift to be protected. Of course, Christians, Jews, Muslims, or others may want to convince Mr. Merced that his beliefs are in error, and the same religious liberty will protect their right to try to persuade him. That’s the point: Persuasion, not state coercion, is the way all of us should engage our fellow citizens as they seek to obey the “still small voice” of conscience. So ask not why I defend goat sacrifice. Ask me how you can too.”

You can read my full coverage of this case, here. As I’ve said before, this case could set a nationwide precedent allowing for legalized ritualized animal sacrifice in an large number of settings, including within some modern Pagan communities. Expect this issue to remain “hot” as litigation and local laws clash over what is allowed.

The Nigerian newspaper Next has an article about Americans training in Yoruba. Next also provides a gallery of images, and an interview with the keeper of Oshun’s sacred lantern. I would be interested to learn just how many American pilgrims are making the trek to Nigeria in order to be initiated into Yoruba, and to participate in the rites at the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. Is there a new resurgence of African American interest (and American interest in general) in Yoruba? If young Haitian-Americans are turning to Vodou, perhaps there is an even wider trend of traditional African religions being adopted here in the US?

In a final note, for those wanting to further explore the conflicts and issues brought up in yesterday’s post, you can read reactions from the  South African Pagan Council and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance concerning MP Adrian Williams’s stance on anti-witchcraft laws in the country.

“Mpumalanga ANC MP Adrian Williams has accused the South African Pagan Rights Alliance of being arrogant in pursuing the reclamation of the terms Witch and Witchcraft. SAPRA rejects the allegation of arrogance and notes that reclamation of loaded terminology has long been a recognized method of educating the broader public and fighting for the rights of unrecognized minorities. While Mr Williams self-identifies as Pagan, it should be noted that he has no mandate to speak on behalf of all the Witches or Witchcraft practitioners in South Africa, many of whom have already expressed a desire to reclaim the terminology.”

It certainly seems like Mr. Williams has few friends among South African Pagan organizations, is his view an isolated one? Or are there other Pagans who take the same stance on issues of identifying as a “Witch” in South Africa? As always, South African Pagans are welcome to comment here, though let’s keep things civil.

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