Archives For Saudi Arabia

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.

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

The looted Malawi Museum. Photo: Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper / AP

  • Alongside the horrific human cost, a sad casualty in the ongoing violence and turmoil in Egypt has been the looting of the Malawi Museum in the southern Nile River city of Minya. Quote: “Among the stolen antiquities was a statue of the daughter of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled during the 18th dynasty. Archaeologist Monica Hanna described it as a ‘masterpiece.’ Other looted items included gold and bronze Greco-Roman coins, pottery and bronze-detailed sculptures of animals sacred to Thoth.” Over 1000 pieces were stolen, and when Hanna tried to confront the looters, telling them that, quote, “this is property of the Egyptian people and you are destroying it,” the looters responded that they were upset by her lack of veil and that the thievery was in retaliation for military killings. This is yet another blow to Egypt’s legacy and tourism industry, one which is/was a huge part of the country’s income. The longer that industry is disrupted, the longer it will take for the country to financially recover from the current crisis.
  • In 1951 the Witchcraft Act of 1735 in Britain was repealed and replaced with a law against fraudulent mediums. It was this action, fought for by Spiritualists and other interested parties, that allowed religious Witchcraft, Wicca, to enter into the public eye. However, British law was passed on to many of its former colonies, including in Australia, where the Northern Territory is finally getting around to repealing the Witchcraft Act. Quote: “Attorney-General John Elferink said he ‘laughed out loud’ when he stumbled across the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which punishes people with up to one year in prison. If convicted, prisoners can then expect to be hauled out every three months and taken to the town market place to be publicly humiliated in the pillory – a wooden block with holes to trap the offender’s head and hands. Mr Elferink said the Witchcraft Act was one of many outdated laws the Government planned to repeal.” Luckily, not many people even knew the law was still on the books, and so was never abused by modern-day Puritans looking for a legal foothold.
  • I linked to this Atlantic Magazine story earlier this week, but in case you missed it, their look at the runaway religious police of Saudi Arabia and their pursuit of “witches” and “sorcerers” is worth reading. Quote: “The Saudi government’s obsession with the criminalization of the dark arts reached a new level in 2009, when it created and formalized a special “Anti-Witchcraft Unit” to educate the public about the evils of sorcery, investigate alleged witches, neutralize their cursed paraphernalia, and disarm their spells. Saudi citizens are also urged to use a hotline on the CPVPV website to report any magical misdeeds to local officials, according to the Jerusalem Post.” I have reported several times on Saudi Arabia’s infamous witch-hunters, and the innocent men and women caught up in their dragnet. No one is safe, not even well-known Muslim television personalities from neighboring countries. As a revolutionary sentiments run through the Middle East, the need for social control may only heighten the number of people imprisoned, tortured, or killed for the crime of witchcraft.
  • Speaking of witch-hunts, historian Tracy Borman has a new book looking at a case of three women killed for witchcraft during the Jacobean period in England, and how powerful men pulled strings to make the tragedy happen. Reviewer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst notes that “one of the most terrifying things about the whole process was its randomness.” Quote: “Anyone could be accused by a neighbour with a grudge, and in small village communities, where memories were long and tongues as sharp as scythes, the witch-finder could easily be employed as a form of human pest control. Equally terrifying was the regular use of physical examinations as a cover for sadistic sexual exploitation, or simply to suck up to King James, whose dark obsession with witchcraft meant he rapidly became ‘one of the leading authorities on the subject’.” The book is out at the end of August in the UK.
  • Miami New Times spotlights Selene Perfumeria, a company the manufactures perfumes and baths stocked in many botanicas across Florida. Quote: “If you’ve ever wondered where these occult objects found in the Magic City’s bodegas and botanicas start their lives, Selene is one major source. Fragrances are widely used in Santeria, a syncretic religion that came to Miami by way of West Africa and then Cuba [...] one mark of how widespread Santeria has become in Miami is how many of Selene’s products have found their way into local grocery stores. Although Selene makes some pretty malevolent mixtures, only the posi-potions make it to Publix. Grocery shoppers won’t find their ‘Law Stay Away’ mix near the sub counter, but you can still purchase ’7 African Powers’ (the bottle does not specify which powers are included for $5.49).” Personally, I can think of a few instances where “Law Stay Away” potion would be quite positive.
Nathan Salas

Nathan Salas

  • Two people meet on a Wiccan bulletin board, one of them is unhappy, allegedly in a verbally abusive and neglectful home, so the other buys two plane tickets and flies her to California so she can start over. There’s just one problem: the alleged rescuer is 27, and the rescued girl is only 14. Quote: “The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office arrested 27-year-old Nathan Salas for child concealment. They say an online relationship with the teen led Salas to pick up the girl on the East Coast and fly with her to Sacramento, where deputies were waiting. Authorities in Connecticut reached out the Merced County Sheriff’s Department with information about a flight the two may have boarded to California. Deputies in Merced then reached out to the Sacramento airport, leading Sacramento County deputies to arrest Salas at the airport. The suspect was taken into custody just after getting off his inbound flight. ‘At that exact moment, it hit home that no matter how good of intentions I had, this was the biggest mistake I had ever made in my entire life,’ Salas said from jail.” I suppose this is a good time to remind folks that if you encounter a minor in trouble, the best recourse is to contact the local child protection agency or other locally based crisis resources.
  • H.P. Lovecraft fan? Today is NecronomiCon in Rhode Island. In honor of the event The Revealer looks at religion in the works of Lovecraft. Quote: “Lovecraft’s concept of religion – the use of “religious experience,” and “subjective ecstasies,” gives away the game. Whether he was a direct reader of William James or not, Lovecraft inherited a number of assumptions from the phenomenology of religion – most notably, the elevation of private experience as religion’s principle building block. Lovecraft’s experience is, however, more guardedly sensual, hence his dismissal of Christian “feelings” in favor of his own pagan “sight.” Ultimately, Lovecraft rejects his visions of Pan as the work of imagination – a kind of waking dream.” More on the convention can be found at the Washington Post.
  • Oral arguments in the appeal by self-help guru James Arthur Ray to have his negligent homicide convictions for the deaths of three people in a 2009 sweat lodge overturned have been set for September 11th. Quote: “Ray’s attorneys have called into question some jury instructions and the conduct of prosecutors in Yavapai County. In a cross-appeal, the attorney general’s office says jurors should have been told that Ray had a duty to aid participants in distress and to avoid putting them at an unreasonable risk of harm.” Ray is currently free on parole after serving two years in prison.
  • The New York Review of Books laments the decline of used book stores, and writer Charles Simic recalls a fond experience at a used metaphysical book store. Quote: “Years ago, in a store in New York that specialized in Alchemy, Eastern Religions, Theosophy, Mysticism, Magic, and Witchcraft, I remember coming across a book called How to Become Invisible that I realized would make a perfect birthday present for a friend who was on the run from a collection agency trying to repossess his car. It cost fifteen cents, which struck me as a pretty steep price considering the quality of the contents.” If you’d like some more grim book-selling news, here’s the latest on Barnes & Noble.
  • TLC, the cable network formerly known as The Learning Channel, has a show called “Breaking Amish” about Amish and Mennonite young adults adjusting to the outside world. One of the young women on that show apparently practices “witchcraft” and claims to have had sex with Satanic beings (or perhaps Old Scratch himself). Quote: “‘I’ve been involved in witchcraft for quite a few years — probably most of my life. My connection to the spirit world is actually really, really scary to some people,’ she [Betsy] says in the sneak peek before explaining that “the demons” have been coming back around her since she’s been in LA. But then, she takes it a step further. ‘I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, like, having sex with something. Like, literally in your sleep, and you wake up like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ You have sex with, um … Satan.’” Yes, a lot of this is probably faked up for television, but I’m still concerned that TLC seems to have no trouble selling sensationalism (and Satan) to get ratings.

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

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

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Anusara Yoga founder John Friend.

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

Kenneth Anger. Photograph: Linda Nylind

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.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. This week, I unleash the special yuletide holiday hounds (they’re like the regular hounds, but with festive accessories) and bring you a collection of links that leans towards matters seasonal.

That’s all I have for now, I hope all my readers have had/will have a festive holiday season, whatever your faith or tradition.

Today I have some updates and new developments in stories previously covered here at The Wild Hunt.

Georgia School Harassment Case: Last week I reported on an official joint statement sent out by the North Georgia SolitariesDogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the GoddessLady Liberty League, and its parent organization, Circle Sanctuary, on the difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school (as originally reported by the Atlanta IMC). Now, that coalition, The Turner Family Support Task Force, has sent out an update calling for ongoing spiritual and fiscal support.

“Please send your prayers, your energy, and your personal messages through the Facebook page. They are being read by the Turners throughout each day. And, secondly, if you would like to contribute funds to help alleviate the financial burdens that have been placed on the family, please make your donations via the Pagan Assistance Fund, operated by the North Georgia Solitaries through the Church of the Spiral Tree. Donations are tax-deductible and will be used to offset a variety of expenses such as gas, child care, home-schooling supplies, and other related family expenses as they arise.”

The task force is hoping their efforts will lead to “a peaceful resolution and a future of fair and equal treatment in the school and school system.” My contact within the task force says that there will be more news on this front soon, so stay tuned!

Saudi Arabia’s Sorcery Beheading: On Monday, news broke that Saudi Arabia had executed yet another person for the crime of “sorcery,” bringing the estimated total of state-backed executions to 79, a massive increase from the previous year. Amnesty International called the beheading Amina bint Abdul Halim bin Salem Nasser “deeply shocking,” while the BBC reports that it is the country’s religious police force (the Mutaween) who are pushing for executions.

“The London-based newspaper, al-Hayat, quoted a member of the religious police as saying that she was in her 60s and had tricked people into giving her money, claiming that she could cure their illnesses. [...] Amnesty says that Saudi Arabia does not actually define sorcery as a capital offence. However, some of its conservative clerics have urged the strongest possible punishments against fortune-tellers and faith healers as a threat to Islam.”

The Wild Hunt has spent quite a bit of time reporting on Saudi Arabia’s harsh laws against fortune telling, sorcery, and witchcraft. There was the case of Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, and finally freed. Also significant is the case of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali, which drew the public attention of Pagan and international interfaith figure Phyllis Curott, a Trustee of the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, serving on its Executive Committee. In many cases, like Fawza Falih’s, we never learn their ultimate fate. This trend of executing fortune tellers and “sorcerers” is troubling, not only because Saudi Arabia is ostensibly our ally, but because there are modern Pagans living in the Middle East, and having to live under the threat of death for witchcraft in the 21st century is a scandal to any who believe in progress and human rights.

Peruvian Shaman Slayings: Back in October I reported on the murder of fourteen shamans in Peru, allegedly ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claimed these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect. Now, progressive news site Truthout brings us an update on the story, alleging that more than mere religious animus is behind these murders.

Alberto Pizango, Peru’s top indigenous leader and president of the country’s most powerful indigenous organization, the Interethnic Development Association of the Peruvian Rainforest (known by its Spanish acronym, AIDESEP) paints a more complex picture of the case, blaming cash and pressure from legal and illegal industries in the Amazon who poach natural resources from indigenous lands. ”What is happening now in my community is organized crime,” said Pizango, himself a Shawi medico who studied for seven years under a master shaman.

Pizango goes on to tell how traditions are being distorted to support the murder of shamans who oppose the growing criminal enterprises in Peru, or their political allies. noting that “when the people come out to defend their territorial rights, their rights to their natural resources, then the mayor has the perfect criminal organization to shut them up, accuse them, say that someone was killed because he was a brujo.” At this point the death-count is now estimated at 20, and the government investigation into these charges are still ongoing. No arrests or public statements have been made. For ongoing updates see the Alianza Arkana news blog.

Dan Halloran Responds (by Proxy): I’ve been waiting to hear Dan Halloran’s response to the divisive Village Voice piece that I feel unfairly sensationalized his Heathen faith, and dinged by religion journalism criticism site Get Religion for its unnecessary mocking tone.” Now, it seems a response was sent out this past Thursday, albeit indirectly through Halloran’s spokesman Steve Stites in an email to the Queens Tribune.

“The liberal press, such as the Voice, based in downtown Manhattan, and knowing zilch about Northeast Queens, have stooped to some pretty creative new lows in trying to bash the Councilman,” Stites wrote in a furious email. “It makes you wonder why they’re so afraid of him, or so fascinated by him. My guess is that the left-wing press doesn’t like the Councilman because he’s outspoken, effective and conservative, and he doesn’t play by their rules of political correctness and go-along get-along politics.”

Voice staff writer Steven Thrasher defended his piece, saying he wrote it “because it made such a good story—a politician with a faith unlike any other,” and that comparing Heathens with Civil War reenactors was meant to be a compliment. Sadly, neither Halloran or Stites have directly addressed the religious content of Thrasher’s article, nor do I expect them to any time soon.

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

Top Story: Solar Cross, a non-profit religious organization dedicated to pan-magical practice, worship, education, research and outreach, co-founded by T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Robert Russell, has announced the official launch of their organization’s e-publishing venture.

“Solar Cross is pleased to announce the official launch of our e-publishing venture with the release of the formerly out of print Magick of Qabalah. This is the first in a line of magickal, esoteric, and Pagan books to be issued from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press imprints. We are committed to bringing forth both original and out of print books as well as shorter works on practice and craft.”

Their first release is “The Magick of Qabalah” by British author Kala Trobe and is currently available via Amazon, with more platforms to be rolled out shortly. Future releases from the LVX/NOX and Sunna Press e-publishing imprints include works by  T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, and Shen-tat. With the large number of Pagan and occult works that are out of print, this is an exciting and useful first step in using the power of digital publishing to rescue lost classics and important developmental works in the history of our communities. I’m hoping this is the start of a far larger trend.

In Other News:

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

Top Story: Today is Veteran’s Day, and we here at The Wild Hunt would like to give our thanks to all military personnel and their families for their service and sacrifices. Today is also an excellent time to think of the modern Pagans and Heathens currently serving in the military and offer them our support. A great way to do that is to support Operation Circle Care.

“For the fourth year in a row, Circle Sanctuary is honoring and supporting active duty Pagan service members through Operation Circle Care. This year, we are widening our focus and sending Yuletide care packages to active duty Pagan troops serving in any overseas theater of operation, including Germany, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, or on board Navy ships. The success of this program is due to the generous support and donations from Pagan community members from many paths and places. With your continued support, it is our goal to honor and remember each and every Pagan US military service member we can with a special personalized gift for Yule, just as we have in years past.”

Operation Circle Care is looking for contacts, donated items, and funds to help in this project. You can find details at their web site. If you know of similar efforts in other countries, or other Pagan organizations that are organizing care packages or other services, please let me know in the comments.

A Warrior’s Conscientious Objection: On a somewhat related note, we turn to the issue of conscientious objection to war. Up till now its been largely treated by the US government as an all-or-nothing enterprise, you either had to be a pacifist who objected to all conflict (like Quakers or some Pagans), or you were signed up to follow orders no matter what (lest risking dishonorable discharge or even a tribunal). But now a coalition of religious leaders and veterans are calling for the right to morally object to individual conflicts.

“In a report issued Wednesday (Nov. 10), the Truth Commission on Conscience in War called on the military to revise its rules to include “selective conscientious objection,” and urged religious leaders to address issues of conscience during wartime … The report states that current rules about conscientious objection requires an objection to “war in any form,” creating a conflict for those who may have specific moral objections to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. ”It denies freedom of religious practice and the exercise of moral conscience to those serving in the military who object to a particular war based on the moral criteria of just war, which the military itself teaches and upholds as important,” the report reads. The report notes that military rules dating to the time of the Vietnam draft leave no legal basis for objection for someone who believes “participation implicates them in an immoral war or in war crimes.”

Such a change would be very much in keeping with many Pagan and Heathen ideas of warrior ethics and culture. Allowing participation in honorable or just conflicts while also leaving room for non-participation in situations that they feel could violate their personal/religious/cultural code of honor. Whether the military would ever be open to such a change is an open question. For those who want more information about this initiative, check out the Truth Commission on Conscience in War’s web site.

The Fate of Ali Sibat: When we last checked in with Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, was still in a cell awaiting some word of his ultimate fate. Now news has come that a Saudi court has formally rejected his death sentence and that he be deported after a new trial.

“Saudi Arabia’s high court has rejected the execution sentence of a Lebanese man convicted of sorcery and recommended that he be deported after a new trial, a newspaper reported Thursday. The Supreme Court in Riyadh said that the death sentence for Ali Sabat was not warranted because he had not harmed anyone and had no prior offences in the country, Okaz said. The court said his case should be sent back to a lower court in Medina to be retried and recommended that Sabat, who has spent 30 months in Saudi prison since his May 2008 arrest, be deported, Okaz said.”

How long this process will take remains to be seen, but it does look like this long nightmare is finally ending for Sibat. Sadly the same can’t be said for other men and women being held in Saudi Arabia for crimes of “sorcery”, like Sudanese citizen Abdul Hamid al-Fakki, or Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali. One can only hope that discontent with the religious police grows, and we see an end to this madness.

The Further Unintended Consequences of Oklahoma’s Anti-Sharia Amendment: I’ve already discussed some of the problems with the recent anti-Sharia amendment passed by Oklahoma voters, but now even more voices are emerging to discuss the unintended consequences of this move to theoretically protect us from “creeping Sharia” law. First, the Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released an official memo on October 20 opposing the amendment, saying it could affect the “damage the sovereignty of all Oklahoma tribes.”

SQ 755, as written, prohibits an Oklahoma state court from applying any law but Oklahoma or U. S. law to settle a dispute. Further, the proposed constitutional amendment inhibits state courts from looking to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures for a decision. The language of this proposed amendment starkly reminds us that some Oklahoma lawmakers forgot that our nation and state were built on the principles, blood, and backs of “other nations and cultures,” namely, our tribes. It also ignores that Oklahoma tribes have become valuable economic partners with the State that it cannot afford to ignore or exclude.

If SQ 755 is approved, the lack of specific tribal law language could easily be interpreted by a state judge to leave no room to refer to a tribe’s law to determine the existence of a valid waiver of a tribe’s sovereign immunity, for example. Thus, SQ 755 has the potential to provide state court judges with yet another opportunity to further erode tribal sovereignty. A state court judge could rely on the amendment’s absence of recognition of any tribal law to avoid or disavow its application. Tribes and tribal members should be aware of this glaring omission for Oklahoma courts to look to and apply our tribal laws when appropriate, and vote on this question accordingly.

In addition to possibly damaging tribal sovereignty in the name of fighting Muslim theocracy the amendment is getting knocked about by the majority of commentators at the center-right politics site Politico. A judge has granted a temporary block to the amendment while the court battles commence.

Medicine Man Confidentiality: A murder trial in Canada is testing whether minority faiths and cultures are afforded the same privileges as the dominant religious traditions. Minneconjou historian Donovin Sprague claims that confidentiality between a medicine man and their clients is a well understood concept in that culture and should be respected.

Sprague said he based his opinions on his own traditional upbringing and knowledge of tribal culture, as well as on his discussions with spiritual leaders Arvol Looking Horse, Rick Two Dogs and Wilmer Mesteth. Seventh Circuit Judge Jack Delaney tried to pin Sprague down on just how far that commitment to confidentiality would go. If a child were found murdered in a traditional camp and someone confessed to a medicine man, he asked, would the medicine man still maintain confidentiality? “Traditionally … I don’t think it would be revealed,” Sprague said, but he was quick to say that one medicine man might not operate in the same way as another medicine man would. “There wasn’t like a written set of rules governing what we’re talking about here, really. … He would use his discretion what he wanted to do.”

The trial involves John Graham, who is charged with the 1975 rape and murder of Annie Mae Aquash. The motion on whether confidentiality would stand has not been ruled on yet. Whichever way the judge decides could have lasting ramifications on indigenous and minority religions in Canada, and how far confidentiality between a spiritual/religious leader and their client can go.

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

Let’s start off your weekend with a few quick notes.

Another Fortunetelling Law Overturned: The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled that fortunetelling and other psychic services are protected speech and cannot be outlawed by local ordinances. The ruling stems from a long legal battle by Montgomery County resident Nick Nefedro, who has been mentioned at this blog before, and his win may be the most devastating blow yet to laws targeting fortunetelling.

“Fortunetelling may be pure entertainment, it may give individuals some insight into the future or it may be hokum,” the Maryland Court of Appeals wrote in a 24-page opinion. “People who purchase fortunetelling services may or may not believe in its value. Fortunetellers may sometimes deceive their customers. We need not, however, pass judgment on the validity or the value of the speech that fortunetelling entails.”

Previous cases that overturned anti-fortunetelling ordinances often did so on religious grounds, but this case didn’t pursue a religious angle, and I thought it would suffer because of it; however, the appeal to freedom of speech seems to have been convincing. As a result, a much broader precedent has been reached, one that may be replicated in similar court battles. It remains to be seen if Montgomery County will now try to appeal to a Federal court. Nefedro was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland in this case, here’s an excerpt from their press release concerned the decision.

“This case has never been just about fortunetellers, but about the fundamental right to free speech,” said Ajmel Quereshi, an attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “While individual fortunetellers can be punished if they fraudulently exploit their customers, banning all fortunetelling is overbroad and unconstitutional. It is not the role of government to decide that broad categories of speech can be banned merely because it finds them distasteful or disagreeable.”

Here’s hoping lawmakers across the country are paying attention to this decision.

When Will Ali Sibat Be Released? Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who was nearly executed for the crime of sorcery in Saudi Arabia but given a last-minute reprieve due to protests and political maneuvering, is still rotting in a cell, and his wife wants to know when he’ll be released.

“The wife of a Lebanese TV psychic convicted in Saudi Arabia on charges of witchcraft appealed for her husband’s release on Friday, just months after he escaped beheading in the kingdom. Samira Rahmoon, 46, said Lebanese officials promised her in April that her husband would soon come home, two years after Saudi religious police arrested him during a pilgrimage there … ”We are lost,” said Rahmoon, clutching a cracked frame holding a photograph of her husband, 49-year-old Ali Sibat, during a small protest outside the prime minister’s office in Beirut.”

So far there is no word on when, or if, Sibat will be released from custody. Recently there have been signs that Saudi citizens are getting fed up with power plays by the local religious police, who have been locked in a political struggle with the country’s (relatively) more moderate monarchy. This battle has often seen members of other faiths, even if they are citizens of other countries, drawn into their machinations.

Curses on Trafficking: Benin (not to be confused with the modern day country of the Republic of Benin, formerly known as Dahomey), monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa has called on Vodun and other indigenous religious practitioners in Nigeria to place curses on those who would participate in human trafficking and kidnapping.

“The fight against kidnapping and related crimes took a fresh turn in Benin City, the Edo state capital on Thursday, as voodoo priests, herbalists and traditional worshippers came out in large numbers to invoke the wrath of the gods and place curses on persons behind the acts. The Benin monarch Omo N’Oba Erediauwa at a meeting with the traditional stakeholders last week, directed them to set aside this Thursday (yesterday) for the men in the kingdom to place curses on kidnappers, while the women would take their turn to perform the similar exercise tomorrow, Saturday.”

Human trafficking in Nigeria is a rampant problem, with even important officials taking part in the practice. This move by Omo N’Oba Erediauwa is canny since many accounts of have surfaced of Nigerian women and children being threatened into silence and slavery by Vodun curses and vows. If news of this public show of opposition by indigenous religious leaders spreads, it may counter-act some of the power these modern-day slavers hold over their victims.

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

Top Story: A Louisiana Senate panel has approved Senate Bill 606, the Preservation of Religious Freedom Act, to go forward for debate, and ultimately a vote, on the full Senate floor. The bill, which seeks to protect religious freedom by holding government bodies to a higher standard regarding religious expression than current Supreme Court precedent, has been backed by the conservative Christian Louisiana Family Forum (affiliated with Focus on the Family). It has also found support from the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans (LAW), who testified in support of the bill.

“Valli Henry, president of the Louisiana Alliance of Wiccans, said the legislation “bolstered our hope of spreading Wicca and paganism throughout Louisiana.” Henry’s group recently came under attack as it planned a pagan festival in Livingston Parish.”

LAW’s support for this new law comes despite the Louisiana Law Institute issuing a report saying there was no evidence that the new regulations would be needed, and opposition from groups like the Capital City Alliance (CCA), who say the new ordinance would further enshrine anti-gay-marriage laws within the state.

“Ted Baldwin, who helped establish the Metropolitan Community Church, said the legislation discriminates against those whose religious beliefs may differ from those who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. The legislation specifically states that nothing in it “shall be construed to authorize any relationship, marital or otherwise” that would violate a state constitutional provision under which no marriage other than that between a man and a woman is valid in Louisiana. “It specifically says freedom is for some, but not freedom for all,” said Baldwin, a  Republican State Central Committee member.”

Since many Wiccan and Pagan groups support having their gay marriage rites legally recognized, I found it surprising that LAW would uncritically support this measure. Is this an effort to show that they are “family friendly” to the conservative Christian opponents who have been giving them trouble lately? Is LAW an explicitly socially conservative organization, or did they not think the anti-gay-marriage clause in the proposed law was problematic? What is known is that many of the “religious freedom” and “religious expression” laws backed by conservative Christians in this country are designed to privilege the majority, not protect the rights of religious minorities.

Wiccan Child Abuser Sent Back to Prison: The Guelph Mercury in Canada reports that Kenneth James McMurray, who had been released on supervision after serving a four-year sentence, was sentenced to anther three years in jail after threatening to kill his parole officer. McMurray was initially sent to prison for leading a “sex-cult” that abused underage boys.

“The supervision order was imposed by Guelph Justice Norman Douglas in 1999, after McMurray pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault. Court heard he led a group said to be based on the Wiccan religion, and forced his young followers to engage in sex acts with each other and with him in the basement of his parents’ home. The boys, aged 14 to 16, were plied with marijuana and beaten if they questioned McMurray, who they believed was a supreme spiritual being who could harm them at will.”

Yet another reason why I’m hoping we can continue to work civilly and constructively towards a joint community statement against sexual abuse. Here’s hoping that Mr. McMurray will never again be in a position to exploit and abuse boys.

Is Saudi Arabia Fed Up With the Religious Police? News that a Saudi woman beat up a member of that country’s infamous religious police has been igniting the newswires and blogosphere.

“When a Saudi religious policeman sauntered about an amusement park in the eastern Saudi Arabian city of Al-Mubarraz looking for unmarried couples illegally socializing, he probably wasn’t expecting much opposition. But when he approached a young, 20-something couple meandering through the park together, he received an unprecedented whooping. A member of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Saudi religious police known locally as the Hai’a, asked the couple to confirm their identities and relationship to one another, as it is a crime in Saudi Arabia for unmarried men and women to mix. For unknown reasons, the young man collapsed upon being questioned by the cop. According to the Saudi daily Okaz, the woman then allegedly laid into the religious policeman, punching him repeatedly, and leaving him to be taken to the hospital with bruises across his body and face.”

According to human rights groups the Internet and local media have been damaging the once fearsome reputation of this religious militia, and many Saudi citizens are getting fed up with the force, who are currently engaged in a political struggle with the (relatively) more moderate Saudi King Abdullah. It is the religious police who have been the force behind the imprisonment and death sentence for alleged sorcerers and witches, including Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, who, while spared the death penalty, is still in a Saudi prison. I can only hope this is a harbinger of a popular uprising against the Mutaween in that country.

The Earth Goddess Comes to Mexico City: The largest monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli ever discovered is going on public display for the first time in Mexico City for an exhibition on Aztec emperor Moctezuma II.

“The largest known monolith of Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli will go on show for the first time next month in Mexico City, the National Institute of Anthropology and History has said. The giant stone was found during renovations almost four years ago on a house near the Templo Mayor, the most famous Aztec temple in the heart of the Mexican capital, an INAH statement said. Weighing 12 metric tonnes and measuring 4.19 meters (13.7 feet) by 3.62 meters (11.8 feet), the monolith is “the only Mexican sculptural piece that conserves its original colors,” the statement said.”

According to some accounts Tlaltecuhtli was a fearsome goddess indeed, and seems to hold some similar characteristics to the primordial  Babylonian goddess Tiamat.

Destroying the Cemetery to Take the Bus: In a final note, the New York Times has published a photo-essay on the destruction of  a cemetery in Pétionville, Haiti, which was spared the ravages of the recent earthquake, but not the plans for a new bus station.

“Undamaged by the earthquake that struck in January, the cemetery was crowded with brightly painted mausoleums decked out with metal flower wreaths. Names carved in marble marked the final resting place of many families, buried over a long period of time. A cross to Baron Samedi, the voodoo spirit of death, stood in a corner where people would bring him coffee and cigarettes in exchange for a favor. Until bulldozers came and demolished the whole cemetery. Where there was once a small, beautiful memorial, there is now a pile of rubble; another victim of Haiti’s earthquake, this time at human hands. People who had lost so much already were at a loss as to how to stop the demolition, if they even knew about it.”

Some, like artist Magda Magloire were lucky enough to receive enough advance warning and save the remains of her brother, Stivenson Magloire, a famous Haitian painter, and their mother, Louisiane St. Fleurant, the godmother of the Saint-Soleil movement in Haitian art. This is a surprising act of desecration in Haiti, where the ancestors and grave-sites are revered.

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

Word has come that Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat will not be executed in Saudi Arabia for the crime of sorcery.  Sibat, who was seized by Saudi Arabia’s religious police in 2008 while returning from the holy city of Mecca, was accused of sorcery and sentenced to death for making televised predictions about the future in Lebanon.

“May al-Khansa told The Associated Press that the Saudi ambassador in Beirut informed the Lebanese justice minister that the execution of Ali Sibat would not take place. “He confirmed to me that there will be no execution,” al-Khansa said about her conversation with Ibrahim Najjar, Lebanon’s justice minister. She refused to go into details but said “matters are going in the right direction. We have faith in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system,” she added, noting that Sibat’s actions are not considered a crime in Lebanon.”

This development comes after ongoing international media attention to Sibat’s case, spurred in part by campaigns from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But what may have ultimately saved Sibat’s life were behind the scenes negotiations between the Saudi and Lebanese governments, spurred by outrage in Lebanon over the situation.

“In Lebanon they have rallied behind Sabat, calling on politicians to take a stronger stance. On Thursday, protesters gathered in front of the Saudi embassy in Beirut where they reenacted a mock hanging to protest Sabat’s sentence.”[Saudis] come to our country and literally do whatever they want, thinking that Lebanon is theirs [thanks] to our dear politicians!!” one commenter wrote on a popular online political forum. “What kind of country is Lebanon…. They can’t step in to stop this injustice?” Lebanese Justice Minister Ibrahim Najjar told Agence France-Presse that he had asked Saudi authorities to reconsider the severity of the sentence, adding that the same conviction in Lebanon is a misdemeanor punishable by a few months in jail. Though Sabat’s “mother should rest assured” for now, Najjar said…”

What happens next is unknown, but for the moment, we can take some solace in the fact that Sibat has been spared the death penalty, and hope that this means he will soon be reunited with his wife and family.

For my full coverage of this story, including the revelation that there’s a Pagan community in Lebanon, click here.