Archives For SAPRA

On April 6 South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) held a 35th anniversary event to commemorate the death of freedom fighter Solomon Malanghu. Several national politicians spoke including President Jacob Zuma. The event turned “surreal,” as described by The Cape Times, when the National Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula labeled opposition party members “witches.”

The ANC is currently the controlling party of South Africa’s national government. However the country’s provinces are independently run. While the ANC maintains control over most of these provinces, its opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is the controlling force in the West Cape. The two parties regularly engage in heated political debates, street conflicts, marches and rallies.

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: Government ZA Flickr]

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: GCIS]

The anniversary event was held in a community center in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town which is located in the DA-controlled West Cape. Speaking to ANC supporters, Minister Mbalula took a direct shot at the opposing party when he said:

This thing of witchcraft is when a witch does nothing for the people but they still get re-elected. This is what we find ourselves in here in the Western Cape. We are being governed by witches. (As quoted by The Cape Times)

Later in the speech Mbalula adds:

These witches are oppressing us, they are trampling on us. Where are the tokoloshes and the (sangomas) so that we can chase these witches away? It is witchcraft to let people live with feces inside their own homes and have no proper toilets. This is the same province where farmworkers are not paid with money but in the dop system … It is the same place where our people are called refugees. What do you call that? Witchcraft … (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Witchcraft accusations are a serious business in sub-Sahara Africa. As described in this Daily news report, a lost grandmother can be accused of witchcraft and consequently in danger of being physically assaulted. Through his words Mbalula called up a deep-seated cultural fear surrounding occult practice.

In the weeks prior to Mbalula’s speech, the DA had publicly challenged President’s Zuma’s fiscal policies and accused him of corruption. In response the ANC demanded a legal retraction. Mbalula’s witchcraft accusations may have been a direct response to the DA’s claims.  All of this is happening only a month prior to general elections.

As explained in an opinion piece published by mainstream media site eNCA, a South African 24 hour television news station:

The ruling party seems to have deployed the Minister of Sports and Recreation to bring inflammatory and incendiary ideas and practices from the fringes into mainstream political debate… This was a role played by the party’s Youth League leaders not so long ago: making statements so provocative that the party elite could maintain a safe distance from any fallout yet benefit without necessarily disavowing or disciplining the errant figures. 

Mbalula’s speech may not have been completely a party play. He has a history of publicly lashing out. In a recent interview he called the South African media “losers” for criticizing his plans to shape South African athletics. In a tweet he likened his dreams to that of Hitler’s.

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When soccer fans booed President Zuma, Mbalula called these fans “wolves and hooligans” whose “plans, infused in Satanism at best, will never succeed in the future because their plans are nothing else but filled with evil.”

Minister Mbalula appears to have a propensity for using inflammatory language. However in the case of his witchcraft accusations, the words are more than just offensive.They are illegal as defined in the Witchcraft Supression Act of 1957 & 1970. Making this point is South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) director Damon Leff,

We remind the Minister and the ANC provincial secretary that according to Act 3 of 1957, accusations of witchcraft are punishable by a fine of up to R400,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years. Accusations of witchcraft amount to incitement to violence in South Africa. ANC members therefore contravene the electoral act by inciting violence (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Leff was interviewed about this subject by Talk Radio Host Kieno Kammies:


SAPRA has called on the ANC and the national government to apologize and condemn the ongoing, dangerous witch accusations. Since this call-to-action there has been no response from either party.  

These recent political events happen to coincide with SAPRA’s yearly “30 Days of Advocacy” campaign to raise awareness for and end the notorious witch-hunts in the country. SAPRA and other similar organizations have been regularly engaged in a cultural struggle and daily conversation with media, law enforcement and government.

30daysIn early 2014 the South African Police Occult Crime Unit revealed that “occult” related crimes were rising. In reaction:

[Unit] investigators [will be] doing awareness workshops that are being presented at various schools, churches, police stations …  A network of prayer groups from different church denominations where establish to assist with the problems.

In a press release SAPRA noted that the Unit has designated the warning signs of Occult “dabblers” as:

Personality changes including rebelliousness, boredom, low self-worthiness, difficulty relating to peers, a change in friends, secretiveness, a drop in academic performance, loss of interest in extra-curricular activities, avoidance of their family, drug and alcohol use, and withdrawal from their family religious heritage and a lack of church attendance … an unusual interest in books, films and videos with an occult theme…body markings, including the Pentagram 

In February SAPRA protested by lodging “a formal charge of hate speech against the SAPS Occult Crime Unit and its members, with the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, and the South African Human Rights Commission.”

Fortunately all of SAPRA’s work isn’t defensive. Just today Leff announced that SAPRA is being consulted in the amending of the country’s Witchcraft Suppression Act. The final paper will be submitted directly to the Law Reform Commission by May 30. It is SAPRA’s hope that the Commission will make some distinctions in Witchcraft practices that will support South African Pagans and curb the destructive witch-hunts.

In the meantime charges of witchcraft continue even at the highest level of public politics. The eNCA’s opinion piece concludes:

We can ill afford to either tolerate or entrench vilifying political speechifying which deploys tropes designed to provoke communities into moral panics. In March it was Satanism; in April it was witchcraft. What will May bring? …As for the appropriateness of calling people witches at a memorial for Solomon Mahlangu, one recalls the words of Joseph Welch from the United States’ anti-communist ‘witch-hunts’ during the 1950s: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

While SAPRA will continue to wait for an apology from Mbalula and the ANC, it is not expecting to receive one.  The organization will be focusing its energy on the Commission’s reform work. A full article and update on that effort will be published in Penton Media’s Minority Review blog near the end of April.

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.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

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.

Robin Hood's Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

Robin Hood’s Grave. Photo: Nigel Homer, CC

  • What’s it like being a Pagan in Wyoming? Pretty hard, apparently, as locals attending a Pagan Pride Day event in Laramie discuss being closeted and how “people are not so nice here.” Quote: “They’re closeted,” said Jo-Ann Aelfwine of Laramie, who has been practicing paganism for 50 years. Wyoming is a conservative state, and people aren’t always open to differences, Aelfwine said. “We have to worry about things like losing your job, having your kids taken away from you,” she said.”
  • The Kirklees estate in West Yorkshire, believed to be the final resting place of the legendary Robin Hood, is up for sale and the British Psychic and Occult Society want to turn it into a tourist destination. Quote: [David Farrant, president of the British Psychic and Occult Society said] “The special place the tomb holds in the hearts of many local people is heartened by tales of ghostly sightings and chilling experiences from those who have made the pilgrimage to the grave, defying the vicious brambles, dense canopies of twisted trees, and watchful gamekeepers and guard dogs.” Personally, I think the legend of Robin Hood deserves more dignity than to be turned into some sort of ghost-walk, but what do I know? Maybe this will be a positive thing.
  • The Senate heard testimony on domestic hate crimes this week, a move that comes in the wake of the Wisconsin Sikh temple massacre from August. Testimony focused on how violence and hate crimes committed against Sikhs have gone unnoticed and un-tracked by the government. Quote:  “I have filmed, chronicled, combated hate crimes against this community for 11 years,” Valerie Kaur, a Sikh filmmaker and community activist, said in testimony at the hearing. “In the aftermath of Oak Creek, reporters came up to me and asked me, ‘How many hate crimes have there been? How many hate murders have there been?’ ” Kaur said. “And I couldn’t tell them … because the government currently does not track hate crimes against Sikhs at all.” You can read more about the inciting incident, and Pagan reactions to it, here.
  • Will Witches replace vampires and zombies? Maybe!
  • South African Pagans are challenging plans by the South African Police Service to start training specialists in “occult-related crimes” saying they could lead to religious minorities to be targeted by those looking for a scapegoat. Quote from the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA):  “This newly envisioned scope of investigation must be viewed with suspicion and be of concern to anyone engaged in the practice of Witchcraft, Traditional African religion, and other Occult spiritualities (including Satanism). Given the already evident bias expressed by ex-members of ORC and new members of provincial Religious Crimes Units against Witchcraft, SAPRA believes the new mandate potentially threatens religious minorities who may be scapegoated on the basis of belief alone.” Considering how “occult experts” have been used to smear occult and Pagan traditions in other countries, I think their skepticism and worry are well founded.

  • Check out a new Pagan-y (and human-sacrifice-y) video from Swedish folk act First Aid Kit. “Wolf” is off of their new album The Lion’s Roar.
  • Fashion house Paul Frank shows you how to respond after you’ve been accused of offensively appropriating Native and indigenous imagery. Quote: “It is embarrassing to reveal that, say, you don’t employ anyone who might have the perspective to point out to you that a “pow-wow” is not an okay thing to do, or that a news organization airs information it found on Google without verifying it. But cauterizing those wounds and explaining how you’ve worked backwards to make sure you don’t make the errors again is a short-term pain it’s worth enduring.”
  • The Gary Johnson campaign seemed to have enjoyed my piece about them yesterday. Quote: “Thanks to Cara Schulz for help organizing and promoting tomorrow’s event. This isn’t the first time Ms. Schulz has helped the campaign. Last year she help put together a press conference with the governor and lesser-known religionists and non-religionists. She truly is the type of individual thinker for which the campaign wishes to provide a Big Tent. Here’s the story of the “pagan” vote.” 
  • Texas Gov. Rick Perry: Satan’s nemesis!
  • John Morehead deconstructs hater Janet Mefferd. Quote: “…we live in a post-Christendom America. Surveys indicate that while Evangelicalism is still numerically large and influential, it has lost ground, both in terms of membership, and in terms of credibility within among young people, and on the outside as well, where both groups see it as judgmental and oppressive. Engaging others in a post-Christendom environment means that we can no longer assume either a monoculture, or a pluralistic culture with non-Christians who will sit quietly on the sidelines while hope to exclude them and describe them as a toxic fume creeping under the door of America’s political process.” More on Mefferd, here.
  • Hey, it’s September 21st, where’s Jason post about the Fall Equinox? Check your nearest observatory, it’s not till tomorrow!

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.

Pagan voices is a new spotlight on recent quotations from figures within the Pagan community. These voices may appear in the burgeoning Pagan media, or from a mainstream outlet, but all showcase our wisdom, thought processes, and evolution  in the public eye. Is there a Pagan voice you’d like to see highlighted? Drop me a line with a link to the story, post, or audio.

“Covered in Light is a Sisterhood of Pagan/Polytheist self-identified women who have chosen, or are called, to cover their hair as part of their religious observance. In no way are we oppressed, objectified, suppressed, or made to feel like a second class citizen. The covering of our hair is a sacred act of devotion to our chosen Deities and therefore is approached with devotion and reverence. We welcome all women from all walks of life to join our Sisterhood if they feel led to do so. Trans-women and women of other faiths who are Pagan/Polytheist friendly and who embrace the Divine Mother are also welcome amongst us with open arms.”Cora Post, from Covered In Light. They are sponsoring the First Annual International Covered in Light Day on September 21st, 2012.

Michael Lloyd

Michael Lloyd

“It is important to recognize that most large gatherings which are billed as “national” events generally pull the bulk of their attendees from the region in which the event is being held. And there is anecdotal evidence to show that, when such a gathering is moved farther afield due to a necessary change in venue, the area from which attendees are drawn likewise tends to shift to focus on the new geographic center. When Julian Hill and I created the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering in 2002, we initially foresaw it as a regional gathering for gay and bi men residing within a 500 mile radius of Columbus, Ohio. However, in the first year we had attracted someone from Texas, and inquiries from as far afield as Mexico and France. By the second year we had people attend from as far away as Washington State. After 10 years we’ve pulled people from Hawaii, as well as from Ontario and Manitoba, Canada. And yet the bulk of the attendees have remained within the 500 mile radius that we had initially targeted. This is due primarily to the economics and practicality of transporting camping gear, ritual accoutrements, and fabulous costumes cross-country. Therefore, I believe that most events–even those with large draws from farther afield–are already essentially regional in nature.” – Michael Lloyd, a co-founder and former co-facilitator (2002-2011) of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering, an annual spiritual retreat for men who love men. He’s author of the forthcoming book “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life and Times of Eddie Buczynski.” Lloyd was responding to a series on the Talking About Ritual Magick blog that asked if Pagan festivals are doomed to an inevitable decline.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

Aidan Kelly in younger days.

“However, there is more to the Craft than just being a newly respectable religion for middle-class intellectuals. Tell me, you initiates, did you come to the Craft in order to supposedly work magic by reading a script? In order to take a politically correct attitude toward ecology and the environment? Or were you lured in by the Goddess, by the archetype of Aradia as the rebel against corruption and oppression? Or did you find the Craft because you were sick of being lied to by the established churches? If your primary allegiance is to searching out truth, as mine is, then you are a sixth type of Witch, for which there is not yet an established term.” – Aidan Kelly, exploring “What is a Witch?”

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

Frater Barrabbas (left) with fellow magician Tony Mierzwicki.

“Large regional festivals and conventions probably face a limited future, and will not be likely to persist in the decades ahead, what with the impact of limited resources and the necessity to adapt to changing times. Large gatherings may be more likely to occur once a decade, if at all. Local organizations and events are much more sustainable and these will likely persist and flourish in the future. Yet the most profound kind of gathering will be the intensive retreat, called Witch Camp by some, and perhaps spawning many variations in the future, each established for different regional areas and different traditions, practices and beliefs. It is my opinion that the future of our spiritual movement will be shaped not by social gatherings or even by individual groups or covens, but by intensive retreats that will give a level of spiritual authenticity to our beliefs and practices which normal activities and engagements fail to offer.” - Frater Barrabbas, “Are Pagan Festivals Dead? – Part 3″

“The [Witchcraft Suppression] Act makes possessing knowledge, or professing to possess knowledge of ‘witchcraft’ illegal, and by its title, seeks to suppress witchcraft. It also prohibits divination, a practice shared by both traditional healers who identify as iZangoma, and Pagans who identify as witches. [...]  Traditional beliefs do not assume that a witch may be innocent of such accusation because it is believed that such criminal acts are in keeping with the nature of the practice of Witchcraft. The alliance has advocated against witch hunts and accusations of witchcraft since 2007. Our annual campaign focuses on research, advocacy and education. We believe that accusations of witchcraft cannot be legislated away.” - Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliances (SAPRA), speaking to The Citizen on South Africa’s Witchcraft Suppression Act.

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

Iris Firemoon with David Salisbury

“Obesity in the Pagan community is a part of the larger issue of health.  And health is not just about weight.  It is about treating our bodies as sacred.  It’s about what we put into our bodies and making sure that they are in the best condition possible for the long haul.  It’s about putting things into our bodies that were created by nature or the gods, not by putting synthetic replicas into our bodies as a substitute. It’s something that not only Pagans struggle with, but health is a consideration for all humans.  When we are at the height of our possible health (which is different for all of us because of genetics, injury, etc.), we improve the quality of our life.  We reduce disease.  We prolong life.  We feel better for longer.  I strongly believe that our bodies respond better to invasions and prevent disease when they are in optimal condition.  We are better vessls for divine work.  We are better able to serve.  We are better able to participate.”Iris Firemoon, responding to a conversation started by Peter Dybing on obesity within the modern Pagan movement.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

“We have started the NPCCA [National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association] as an affiliate program, a product of our existing organization, Mill Creek Seminary, and have just begun the first in a three phase development plan. Phase one will focus on membership development and organizational growth. We are proud to announce that the NPCCA is now accepting applications for membership from Pagans who actively engage in prison ministry, provide some form of religious service within the field of corrections, or have a strong religious organizations which have a prison ministry program  or who are interested in participating, contributing or supporting Pagan chaplaincy.”Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe), on the formation of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

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

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

Sacred Paths Center Announces Closure: Sacred Paths Center, a Pagan community center serving the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (aka “Paganistan”), sent out an email today announcing their imminent closure. Executive Director Teisha Magee cited a lack of money, resources, and volunteers as reasons for this decision.

“After much heartache, soul-searching and tears, it has become clear that Sacred Paths Center cannot continue. Our expenses are too high in this location and we are just not getting enough money coming through the door. All of our resources are tapped, and our volunteers are worn out.”

This decision comes in the wake of a rocky 2011, one that featured an emergency fundraising campaign, and being temporarily closed  pending internal and external financial audits. It seems that Sacred Paths Center wasn’t able to overcome the many obstacles towards long-term sustainability, and it raises serious questions for other communities looking to follow in their footsteps. Stay tuned to PNC-Minnesota for further follow-ups on this story.

Maetreum of Cybele Denied Tax Exemption for 2012: The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, in an ongoing tax battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, has been denied religious property tax exemption yet again, even though they meet all federal and state qualifications. In a public statement, Rev Cathryn Platine of the Maetreum of Cybele noted that the town has spent an estimated quarter of a million dollars to deny their exemptions.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

The Maetreum of Cybele's building.

“Despite the fact that the Town of Catskill offered no credible theory in court for their continued denial of exemption, I was just informed that the Maetreum of Cybele has been denied property tax exemption for 2012 meaning another entire round in this ongoing drama. The wheels of justice turn very slowly in Greene County, New York. The actual trial was split between two days last November and December but the final arguments in our court case still have not been submitted at this time. They are supposed to be due in about two weeks and then we will have to await the Judge’s actual decision after that. In the meantime we will once again have to go to the Board of Review hearing later in May and almost certainly be denied again and have to file yet another lawsuit against Catskill. Despite claims to the press for several years that Catskill did not question our legitimacy as a religion, the entirety of their case was exactly that we were not a legitimate religion under the IRS guidelines. Again despite the IRS recognition we are. We proved in court we met every one of the IRS “fourteen points” for determining what is or isn’t a church.”

As I’ve mentioned before, the law in this case seems pretty clearly on the side of the Maetreum of Cybele, but Catskill is going to wage a scorched earth legal campaign in hopes the Pagans run out of money and energy first. Acting Catskill Town Supervisor Patrick Walsh stated in 2011 that the town was already too deep into the case to give up and that significant dollars could be saved by preventing exemptions for illegitimate religions.” We’ll keep you updated on further developments. For those wanting to an make a tax-deductible donation to their $10,000+ legal bill, you can do so directly via paypal to: centralhouse@gallae.com. Or you can contact them through their website.

SAPRA’s Annual Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts Comes to a Close: With the issue of witch-hunts, witch-killings, and dangerous exorcisms very much in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the work of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), under the banner of ‘Touchstone Advocacy,’ has been doing since 2008 to raise awareness with their “30 Days of Advocacy Against Witch-Hunts” campaign, this year held from March 29th – April 27th. In 2011, the campaign won support from a government commission, and they continue to work to protect victims of witch-hunts while combating laws that seek to criminalize “witchcraft” as a solution.

“Since 2008 the South African Pagan Rights Alliance has repeatedly appealed to all Commissions for Human Rights internationally to encourage all governments to: a. halt the persecution of suspected or accused witches, b. uphold and strengthen a culture of human rights for all equally, c. respond appropriately and humanely to incidences of accusations of witchcraft, d. make the eradication of violence against suspected witches an international priority, e. train local police to manage witchcraft accusations and violent witch-hunts in a way that affirms the dignity and humanity of those accused of practising witchcraft, f. create victim support units to facilitate reintegration and conciliation of those accused, g. adopt comprehensive public education and awareness programmes aimed at eradicating the real causes of witchcraft accusations, and h. reform legislation that currently seeks to suppress witchcraft or criminalize accused witches.”

You can receive year-round updates on their campaign at their Facebook group page.

In other community news:

- At Lewelllyn, author and magician Donald Michael Kraig (“Modern Magick”“The Resurrection Murders”) has announced that he’s writing a book about his long friendship with Scott Cunningham, the seminal Wiccan writer who authored the paradigm-shifting “Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.” Quote: “I hope you get an idea of who Scott Cunningham was. Many of the anecdotes and stories have never been published before. The stories and his magical methods pepper chapters on his theories and methods of performing natural magic, his approach to The Goddess and Wicca, and his love for the land, people and magic of Hawaii.”

- San Jose State University will be running a Pagan Studies conference semi-concurrently with the 2013 PantheaCon. Organized by Lee Gilmore (SJSU), author “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man,” and Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College), “Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium” seeks to, quote, “focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world.” You can read the full announcement and call for papers at Chas Clifton’s blog.

- PNC-Washington DC covers the recently held 2012 Ecumenicon, an interfaith conference that was founded in 1987, and features significant Pagan and esoteric involvement. Quote: “The group that would ultimately found Ecumenicon realized that there was a hunger for actual religious education as it applied across all religions and particularly to alternative religions.  Ecumenicon comprises an ecumenical conference and ecumenical ministry, for those who seek such a path.”

- Is Pagan Spirit Gathering’s current home in Illinois in danger? PNC-Minnesota reports that a group of local citizens are petitioning to have Stonehouse Park rezoned back to agricultural use only (more on this here), complaining of noise and drug-use (none of the complaints are about PSG, but to other, non-Pagan events). PSG/Circle organizer Sharon Stewart is working with local officials, and hopes to obtain a special permit if the worst should happen. We’ll keep you posted on this as news develops.

- PNC culture blog The Juggler has an interview up with Pagan author Christopher Penczak (“The Inner Temple of Witchcraft”“The Outer Temple of Witchcraft”), talking to him about his career and teachings. Quote: “I think if you focus on your intention in the ritual, and then think which of these paths support that overall vision, you’ll be doing great. Avoid the “Everything but the kitchen sink mentality.” Every ritual doesn’t need every path. I think determining if it is inhibitory or exhibitory is the first step, then which paths will help in that method?”

That’s all I have for now, have a happy May 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: A high school industrial arts teacher in Iowa has been put on temporary leave in the wake of a controversy concerning a student who was told to stop building a Wiccan altar in shop class. Dale Halferty of Guthrie Center High School claims he was simply enforcing the separation of Church and State, and that he had prevented a Christian from building a cross previously, but school officials claim that neither of those actions actually line up with guidelines regarding religious expression at school.

“His viewpoint: “We as Christians don’t get to have our say during school time, so why should he?” School officials say Christians actually do get to express themselves in the same way. More than one school policy, as well as state and federal law, prohibit discrimination against students who express religious beliefs through school assignments. Superintendent Steve Smith and Principal Garold Thomas said they placed Halferty on leave while they conferred with the school’s attorney to decide what to do.”

In other words, Halferty was imposing his distorted idea of what the guidelines were on his students, and he makes his feelings about Wicca quite plain, calling it “terrible for our kids” because it will lead to a “dark and violent life”.  He also has the bizarre belief that school tax dollars are meant to “save” kids from Pagan religion. Meanwhile, thanks to this incident, a backlash against the Wiccan student has materialized, with 70 of the 185 students signing a petition saying they don’t want witchcraft practiced at their school.

“Both [Superintendent Steve] Smith and [Principal Garold] Thomas said the incident has become emotional for the high school’s 185 students: Almost 70 signed a petition late last week saying they didn’t want witchcraft practiced at the school.”I think it’s fear based on some of the old ideas people had about witchcraft,” Smith said. “It’s fear and a lack of knowledge about the unknown.” Neither Smith nor school officials identified the student at the center of the controversy, and the boy’s father declined a request made through Thomas to be interviewed. Smith acknowledged that some people have expressed fears about satanism or sacrifices.”

Locals are now engaged in hand-wringing over the school’s excessive tolerance, and the bare-bones story, without the context of Halferty’s unique views on religion at school, has hit the Associated Press wires. So expect a lot more commentary and furor over this situation in the near future. As for the high school senior, what chance does he now have for finishing out his school year without harassment and intimidation? When the student body has become a mob against him, can things truly return to normal?

Checking in With the Third Wave: AlterNet takes a broad look at the New Apostolic Reformation, aka the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, a protestant Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian hybrid led by “Convening Apostle” C. Peter Wagner. The movement became (in)famous in recent years thanks to politician/pundit Sarah Palin’s long membership and association with the group, which places a heavy emphasis on spiritual warfare, and brags about killing and maiming Catholics and Pagans with their prayer. Now reporter Bill Berkowitz probes NAR’s deep influence with ultra-conservative politicians like Michele Bachmann (involved in anti-Pagan groups), Sam Brownback, and Jim DeMint, and their role in initiatives like California’s Proposition 8.

“In the days leading up to the historic vote on health-care reform in the Senate, Apostle Lou Engle led the Family Research Council’s “Prayercast” against health-care reform, a Webcast featuring Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kans.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Earlier in the year, Engle, who leads the group TheCall, prayed over Newt Gingrich at a Virginia event called Rediscovering God in America. In 2008, Engle, at an event he staged at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, advocated acts of Christian martyrdom to end abortion and same-sex marriage. This “apostle” claims LGBT people are possessed by demons.”

You may remember that I covered that “Rediscovering God in America” event, it’s the one where Newt Gingrich claimed America was “surrounded by paganism”. Berkowitz goes on to interview Rachel Tabachnick, who writes for Talk2Action, and who has done a remarkable amount of research into the NAR/Third Wave movement. Here’s her follow-up commentary on Berkowitz’s article/interview, and a resource directory of the NAR/Third Wave movement. As I’ve intimated here before, this movement is rabidly anti-Pagan, and would have no compunctions about using their political and fiscal muscle against us. Their rise to power is deeply troubling, because unlike the “Moral Majority” or “Religious Right” of ages past their agenda isn’t limited to enacting conservative social policy, but instead calls for the aggressive spiritual destruction of all who they see as enemies (and anyone who worships the “Queen of Heaven” is considered their enemy). So let’s keep our eyes open, and be aware  of who your elected representatives are associating themselves with.

War of Words in South Africa: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) has lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission against allegedly libelous statements made by Traditional Healers Organization national coordinator Phephisile Maseko.

“Maseko’s repeated allegation that muthi murderers are “witches” practicing “witchcraft” remains untrue and defamatory. This Alliance demands that the South African Human Rights Commission (1.) properly investigates repeated libelous allegations made by Phephisile Maseko against South African Witches, (2.) makes a ruling regarding the innocence of self-identified Witches with regard to allegations made by Maseko that we are responsible for the commission of muthi murders, and (3.) instructs the Traditional Healers Organization national coordinator to cease making libelous statements against South African Witches.”

However, Maseko is unmoved by SAPRA’s position concerning the use of the word “witch”, saying their complaint amounts to little more than white privilege.

“Let’s be honest here — a witch is a witch and everybody in the country knows that. Publicly calling yourself a witch in South Africa smacks of white privilege. In a village or township, you’d be dead even before completing your proclamation. Sapra must accept that we speak different languages and live in different areas”

This latest development seems to be driving a wedge between South Africa’s traditional healers and South Africa’s Pagan community. Despite my sympathies towards the Pagans in South Africa, it is rather plain that Maseko and SAPRA are using the term “witch” in very different contexts, and that the two sides are talking past each other. While I don’t agree with South African Parliament member, and out Pagan, Adrian Williams that they should abandon the term “witch” in order to foster better relations with traditional healers, there must be some sort of understanding that can be reached between the two communities regarding terminology. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.

How to Become the Last Great Pagan: Cristiana Sogno, Ph.D., assistant professor of classics at Fordham University explains how 4th century Roman statesman Quintus Aurelius Symmachus became known as the “last great pagan”.

“As it turns out, that dubious moniker was foisted on Symmachus by allies of his most prominent rival, St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, according to Cristiana Sogno, Ph.D., assistant professor of classics at Fordham. In her presentation on Jan. 27, “How Did Symmachus Become the Last Great Pagan?” Sogno explained that Symmachus was the victim of a classic political tactic—victors extolling the strength of their opponents to make their own accomplishments seem even greater. The seeds of the nickname were sown in a report, or relatio, issued in 384 A.D. to the 12-year-old Western emperor, Valentinian II, in which Symmachus mounted a defense of the traditional religion of Rome. “There can be little doubt that the relatio is a beautifully constructed speech, and by far the most appealing piece of writing produced by Symmachus. Its compelling plea for religious toleration—in contrast with the almost fanatical intolerance that transpires from St. Ambrose—makes the text closer to the sensibilities of 21st century readers,” she said. The problem, Sogno said, is that Symmachus never published it.”

So there you are, posthumous praise from Christians looking to make their own victories more impressive hoisted a humble statesman and man of letters into lasting prominence. Luckily we are now living in an age where the term “last great pagan” is increasingly outdated. We can argue as to who among our growing numbers are truly “great”, but we most likely won’t have to worry about there being a “last” great pagan thinker any time soon.

The Horror of Pagan Felt: Behold! The Muppet Wicker Man Comic.

Funny yet deeply disturbing at the same time.

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!

(Pagan) News of Note

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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