Archives For secularism

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.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

  • Esquire Magazine thinks we are living in a “pagan” age, and that Pope Francis is the perfect Catholic Pontiff for these times. Quote: “The paganism of 300 and Pompeii reflects that world in its representation of a paganism of pure might; it shows the savagery of mere materialism. Another brand of entertainment shares this criticism: that oldest practitioner of show business, the Catholic Church. Pope Francis fully deserves the adulation that has been showered on him, because he is one of the rare public figures of our moment who is adequately humble and adequately in touch with reality to know the limits of his own power and the institution he controls.”
  • But wait, the recent Frontline special on the Vatican shows that Catholicism has a lot of beams to take out of their collective eyes before they start picking at the “pagan” specks in ours. Quote: “The list of problems facing the Catholic Church is long. Among the scandals Pope Francis inherited nearly one year ago are the clergy sex abuse crisis, allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank and the fallout from VatiLeaks, to name just a few. Given the challenges, where should reform even begin? Moreover, how much change can truly be expected?” If you want to make your religion’s problems seem small and relatively easy to manage, do check this out.
  • Peter Foster at The Telegraph argues that America is becoming secular far quicker than we might think, and that the seemingly once decline-proof evangelical Christians are starting to buckle (demographically speaking). Quote: “After several decades of doubt over the data, says Chaves, it is now clear beyond reasonable doubt that America is secularizing, but that doesn’t answer a much trickier – and more interesting question: how far, and how fast? America still feels highly religious on the surface, but is it possible that attitudes to religion in the US could undergo a sudden shift – as they have, say, on gay marriage – or is religion so fundamental to the US that any change will continue to be incremental?”
  • Ron Fournier at National Journal asks: Is “religious liberty” the new straw man? Quote: “To be clear, I worry about infringements on personal liberties under Presidents Obama and Bush, and I consider religious freedom a cornerstone of American democracy. I empathize with the views of Perkins and others, but I am suspicious when people use religion to marginalize others. Like Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast, I hear echoes of the segregated South.”
  • At Bustle, Emma Cueto explains why she converted from Catholicism to Wicca. Quote: “Like most things in my life, Wicca first started with books. The first time I came across a Wiccan book in Borders I was a preteen in Catholic school. Where most kids my age were rebelling against their parents, I was more ambitious: I rebelled against God.  I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice was wondering, What would piss off the Catholic Church most? Paganism seemed like a solid idea.”
Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • The Revealer shares notes from New York’s occult revival. Quote: “There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz.”
  • Climate Change science, it’s “almost like witchcraft.” Quote: “Climate change, and January’s record-setting heat, probably had nothing to do with increased CO2 emissions, CNBC’s Joe Kernen said Thursday morning. According to Kernen, the better explanation is that it’s just inexplicable. ‘It’s almost like witchcraft,’ Kernen said. ‘In the middle ages it was witchcraft. You would have attributed adverse weather events to witchcraft. Now we just have CO2 at this point.’” Thank goodness we put these people on television!
  • So, the “Satanic” stories that have cropped up recently? Turns out that Catholic exorcists think it’s a sure sign of increasing demon activity! Quote: “Father Lampert said there are around 50 trained exorcists in the United States. He acknowledged that reports of demonic activity seem to be increasing.” There’s an old adage about hammers, nails, and a surfeit of other tools that I think might be applicable here.
  • The Kalash tribe in remote Pakistan has been threatened with death by the Taliban, though the Pakistan military is trying to downplay fears. You can learn more about these “Lost Children of Alexander,” in a recent Huffington Post article. Quote: “High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistani border lived an ancient people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great’s troops. While the neighboring Pakistanis were dark-skinned Muslims, this isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshiped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most importantly, they produced wine much like the Greeks of antiquity did. This in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.”
  • At HuffPo, Erin Donley isn’t down with all the “goddess” talk. Quote: “When an adult woman calls me Goddess, her intention is to include me and to instantly elevate me to the same status as she. ‘Welcome to the Goddess Club where you’ve already arrived at the highest honor possible. And we all get along because we’re all Goddesses.’ No thanks, sister! That crushes my motivation. It suffocates my individuality and makes me wonder how much greater I could be if I played with the boys.”
  • Is South Africa gripped in a Satanic Panic? There are lots of troubling signs pointing to yes. Quote: “Occult-related crimes are on the increase across Gauteng, and now police are warning parents to be on the lookout for the telltale signs that their children are dabbling in the dark arts.”

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.

The Voynich manuscript.

The Voynich manuscript.

  • A professor from the University of Bedfordshire claims to have made significant progress in translating the mysterious Voynich manuscript. Quote: “An award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world. Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach. The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text. 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.” So what’s it about? Bax says it “is probably a treatise on nature.” More on the manuscript here.
  • The Houston Chronicle profiles its local Santeria community. Quote: “Disciples fill Faizah Perry’s sunny suburban Houston home for a day of worship as chanting emanates from a sheet-curtained side room in which she divines the future and enacts other secret rituals. Perry, a priestess, feels a deep spiritual connection to a saint-like “patron” called Ogun and predicts events channeling other spirits using sacred seashells. Her faith is called Santeria, a religion grounded in African beliefs that were transported to the New World aboard slave ships and melded with Christian beliefs in Cuba. By at least one survey now a decade old, there were about 22,000 Santeria practitioners active in the United States.”
  • Catholic magazine America wrings its hands over secularization in the United States and what that means for religious liberty. Quote: “To be blunt: Religious people who hold traditional values are in the way of what many powerful people want. We are in the way of widespread acceptance of abortion, unrestricted embryonic stem cell research and experimentation with fetal tissue. We are in the way of doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia and the mercy-killing of genetically defective infants. We are in the way of new reproductive technologies, which will become more important as our society makes sex more sterile. We are in the way of gay rights and the redefinition of marriage. We are in the way of the nones and the engaged progressives and their larger goal of deconstructing traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed in accord with their vision of the future.” Will someone get me my smelling salts? I think I might swoon with worry.
  • A woman has filed suit against the hotel chain W Hotels, claiming she was dismissed after employee rumors emerged that she practiced Vodou and witchcraft. Quote: “The plaintiff claims shortly before her termination, employees spread rumors about Hall being much older than she looks and that she is a practitioner of evil witchcraft. Hall is of Haitian descent and believes these rumors linked her to discriminatory narratives of Voodoo. Hall accuses the W of denying her equal opportunity based on age and national origin.”
  • The Christian “singer” Carman, who famously penned a song slandering Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits, says that his terminal cancer is cured. Quote: “Less than a year after announcing his diagnosis with myeloma, an incurable form of cancer, Carman Licciardello now says he’s cancer-free. ‘They took tests (and there will be more) P.E.T., MRI, Bone biopsies ect [sic] and could find NO trace of Cancer,’ the former CCM star wrote on his Facebook page.” No doubt Carman will use this extension of life to make amends towards those he has wronged.

  • Philebrity showcases a short clip from a longer forthcoming documentary on Harry’s Occult Shop. Quote: “The clip above, which according to the Vimeo page is part of a longer (though still short) documentary on the legendary South Street shop, might be the first and likely last look inside the shop for many of you. And on this day-off for some and unproductive day for others, it’s just what you’ll need to kick-start your daydreaming at your desk.” The shop itself, sadly, seems to have gone online only (I think this is how it exists now).
  • Here’s another profile of New Age star Marrianne Williamson’s run for Congress, this time in the Weekly Standard. Quote: “In fact, at the moment, there is only one candidate running anything approaching a real campaign. Well, maybe “campaign” is the wrong word. It’s more a vision quest. If you live in Waxman’s district, Marianne Williamson doesn’t just want to represent you. She wants to save your soul.”
  • Meanwhile, Diane Winston at Religion Dispatches defends her congressional run, saying there’s nothing “woo” about her. Quote: “Williamson’s appeal is not based on what she wants to do but on why she is doing it. Since the 1970s, she said, the American left has abandoned the spiritual impulse that fueled movements for abolition, labor reform, women’s rights, civil rights and pacifism. For Williamson the spiritual impulse, the “self-actualization of the individual,” leads to a life of love and a beloved community embodied by a society that seeks the best for its citizens and their planet.”
  • The occult history of the television set. Quote: “The origin of the television set was heavily shrouded in both spiritualism and the occult, writes author Stefan Andriopoulos in his new book Ghostly Apparitions. In fact, as its very name implies, the television was first conceived as a technical device for seeing at a distance: like thetelephone (speaking at a distance) and telescope (viewing at a distance), the television was intended as an almost magical box through which we could watch distant events unfold, a kind of technological crystal ball.”
  • The Phoenix Business Journal looks at the rise and fall of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who was recently released from prison for negligent homicide in a deadly sweat lodge ceremony gone wrong. Quote: “I lost everything tangible, and ended up millions of dollars in debt,” he wrote. “I never thought I would be in this position. In the blink of an eye I lost my life savings, my business that took 20 years to build, my home, and my reputation. All gone in one fatal swoop. Four banks dropped me like a bad habit; they wouldn’t even allow me to have a checking account with them post the accident. My book publishers wouldn’t return my call.” You can read all of my coverage of Ray, here.

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.

Nina Davuluri

Nina Davuluri

meet

  • Sometimes the tourist-attraction witch business is so good you decide to go solo, at least that seems to be the case with the latest Wookey Hole witch, Sunny Van der Pas, who wants to launch her own clothing line. Quote: “Actress Sunny Van der Pas is leaving her role after two years to launch her own clothing line based upon her costumes. But now directors at the popular tourist attraction need a little magic of their own to find a replacement witch in time for Halloween. [...] The attraction employs a witch pro rata, largely over the summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas, They are expected to live in the site’s caves during busy periods and to teach witchcraft and magic. The role normally attracts thousands of applicants, who then compete in for the post X Factor style auditions.” For the uninitiated, the Wookey Hole cave system in the UK (about 20 miles from Bath) has become something like the British version of Salem here (except even more tourist-y).
  • NPR highlights Candomblé in Brazil, spurred by a recent survey that saw an uptick in adherents. Quote: “Sitting among the faithful here is Marcilio Costa, who is the commercial officer at a foreign consulate in Sao Paulo. He became an initiate a year and a half ago, and he says he’s open about it. ‘Among Brazilians, yes. People understand better now. … All my friends know my religion, every single one of them,’ Costa says. ‘I don’t hide from no one.’”
  • The Paris Review interviews poet Gregory Orr, who opines on the nature of myths. Quote: “The beautiful thing about myths is that you’re never telling a myth, you’re retelling it. People already know the story. You don’t have to create a narrative structure, and you don’t have to figure out where it ends. As a lyric poet, you can take the moments of greatest intensity in the myth, or the moments that interest you most, or the ways of looking at the story that you think would be most fun to rethink—you don’t have to do the whole story. You want to know what human mystery can be revealed by retelling it. D. H. Lawrence said that myths are symbols of inexhaustible human mysteries. You can tell them a hundred, a thousand times, and you’ll never exhaust the mystery that’s coded into that story. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I believe it.” 
  • The Secular Student Alliance has launched the “Secular Safe Zones” program at high schools and colleges. Quote: “The program enlists ‘allies’ like Schmidt among faculty, administrators, counselors and others on college and high school campuses who are trained in the needs of nonreligious — or ‘secular’ — students. So far, there are Secular Safe Zone allies at 26 college and high school campuses in 14 states, including California, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Florida and New York.” This is based off of similar LGBTQ efforts, and you have to wonder how long it will be before various religious groups launch their own “safe zone” programs.
  • Blah, blah, blah, Christian persecution in the United States, blah, blah, blah, Obama is a pagan, blah blah blah. Quote: “As Barber explained, the Obama administration is the “modern-day equivalent” of ancient Rome, demanding that citizens must worship Caesar in the form of progressiveism.”

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

I rarely agree with American Conservative opinion columnist Rod Dreher, not because he’s a “crunchy conservative,” but because his views on religion are so skewed by his evangelical-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian worldview that he often comes off (perhaps inadvertently) as the worst sort of smug, triumphalist, man-of-God. The kind of guy who blames Haiti’s condition on Vodou, right after it’s rocked by a massive natural disaster and humanitarian crisis.

Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.

The kind of guy who calls Santeria savage demon worship (just like Vodou), who spreads unproven smears against liberal Catholics involving the taint of Vodou and polytheism, who joined the hilarious-in-retrospect freak-out over Hollywood “pantheism” (ie “Avatar” made a lot of money), and who never misses an opportunity to be “funny” regarding the beliefs of modern Pagans (it’s humorless and like Dungeons & Dragons). However, adversity makes for strange bedfellows and all that, there is stuff going down, a Pope has resigned, and the secular “nones” are rising!

Cue the grudging “I guess Pagans aren’t SO bad” re-evaluation: 

“Personally, I find paganism far more attractive than atheism, because pagans, however mistaken their understanding (from a Christian point of view) nevertheless share with Christians a recognition that there is Something There beyond ourselves, and the material world. I can have (have had) a fruitful, engaging discussion with my friend and commenter Franklin Evans, a pagan, in a way that I just can’t with friends who have no spiritual or religious beliefs, or a sense of the numinous.

My guess, and it’s only that, is that some pagans will fall away from the practice of their faith for the same reason many Christians are: because it doesn’t make sense in our scientistic, materialistic, consumerist world. At the same time, I think that paganism stands to gain overall from the unchristening of the West. If you look at the Asatru site, this neopagan religion speaks to longings that are deep within all of us, and cannot be suppressed forever.”

Yes, in the beauty contest of belief we’re pretty homely, but at lest we’re better looking than the atheists. So, go team Paganism? Yay? Here’s the thing though, while it’s inevitable that some Pagans will leave our umbrella for other pastures in our post-Christian future, modern Paganism as a movement has no trouble embracing both “hard” polytheists and, well, Pagan humanists. Most of the faiths under our umbrella have been fine with all sorts of conceptions of the divine, because our movement isn’t centered on a single correct belief. We, and I use that “we” very loosely here, are not all that threatened by atheism, humanism, or other post-theism “isms.” Our conditions of solidarity are practical, political (in the sense of fighting for our shared rights), social, and festival-based. So it’s amazingly common to see Pagan ecumenical gatherings where polytheists and atheists participate in the same rituals. When transformative (sacred/secular) phenomena like Burning Man appear, we are generally of the “what took you guys so long” school than the “does this threaten us” school.

The “spiritual but not religious” people are, for the most part, just fine with Pagans, are are the nones. As I’ve said before, I think their growth provides fertile ground for Pagan faiths, something Dreher also agrees with. Where he truly goes wrong in his analysis is in holding any one group up as representative of the movement as a whole. Paganism, polytheism, indigenous religions, syncretic diasporic faiths, Dharmic religions, these systems endured the rise of monotheism (and sometimes even thrived) because these faiths are, for the most part, decentralized, free of a binding “Pope” hierarchy, and able to change in ways Catholicism and other top-down systems can’t. Yes, monotheism can, for a time, be brutally effective in spreading and changing culture, but that success has to tie itself to the same colonial/militaristic power structure that early Christians condemned. When that power is slowly removed, a million green religious shoots appear in the paved-over theological parking lot.

Even if the Pagan umbrella crumbles some day and our faiths go our separate ways, it will not ultimately impede the growth of this religious phenomena. Some day we may be so popular that “umbrellas” may no longer be necessary, but the religious shift we are harbingers of will endure so long as we are not actively suppressed. Dreher sees the future as a battle between “something” (theism) and “nothing” (atheism)  and thus includes Pagans in team “theism”; but modern Pagans (and our allies) know that this is a false separation. There is no dualistic battle between “something” and “nothing” and our faiths aren’t playing that game. We don’t “fight” conceptions of the liminal that we don’t agree with, we either let them be (so long as they let us be) or find ways to simply include them. Modern Paganism, and similar religious movements are far more complex, and rich, than I think Dreher can imagine, and we are far more ready for the future than perhaps even we are ready to acknowledge.

As for Dreher, I’m sure he’d make a lovely neighbor, as Chas Clifton attests, and I hope he continues to travel the road he seems to have embarked on. Maybe he’ll find that all the demons he sees are placed there by a worldview invested in seeing our faiths as demonic, that the future to fear is not the growth of atheists, or Pagans, but what the dominant monotheisms might do to retain their power and influence.

Three personages who’ve had an impact on our interconnected communities passed away recently: one a noted Native American activist, one a noted figure within the occult community, and the last a noted skeptic of the paranormal and “the father of secular humanism.” All three should be honored and remembered for their contributions, for what is remembered lives.

10 22 12 Russell Means full 600Russell Means (1939 – 2012): Activist, author, and actor Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux who participated in the famous 1964 Alcatraz occupation, and would go on to become a prominent leader within the American Indian Movement (AIM) passed away on Monday from cancer. Means was a spokesman for, and involved with the occupation of, Wounded Knee and from that period of activism he would go on to run for political office, work with the United Nations, and involve himself in American Indian and indigenous issues. The Indian Country Today Media Network has a article up highlighting his many accomplishments, while the New York Times calls hims the best-known Indian since Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse.

“[Means] styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”

Throughout his life Means was an ardent critic of the “cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples today,” and embraced the religion and spirituality of his people. You can read more remembrances and tributes, here.

2156David Godwin (19xx – 2012): Author and magician Donald Michael Kraig shares that news that David Godwin, “a longtime student of the cabala, occult lore, and magick,” and author of the influential “Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to Cabalistic Magic,” passed away on October 16th. According to Kraig, Godwin performed “two massive services” for the occult community: indexing Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn”, and the publication of his aforementioned Cabalistic encyclopedia.

“Following Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia there came a flood of occult books that expanded on what went before and even pointed in new directions. I can’t think of any that pointed back to David’s book, saying, “without GCE what I’m presenting wouldn’t be here.” This wasn’t done out of spite, but out of a lack of recognition of not just the content of David’s book, but of the disruptive nature of the book for all of occultism. And that disruption has changed us all in positive ways.”

In addition to his encyclopedia and indexing work, Godwin was on FATE magazine’s editorial staff for more than a decade, edited books on the supernatural, and wrote a history of Greek magic. To again quote Kraig: “In the later part of his life, David became deeply involved in Freemasonry. So may the Great Architect of the Universe watch over you and guide you to rest and recuperation before we are lucky enough to experience your essence once again.”

Obit Kurtz.JPEG 0cbd1Paul Kurtz (1925 – 2012): You might call Paul Kurtz, who passed away on Saturday, a patron saint of the “nones.” Called a father of secular humanism Kurtz was a “giant” within the movement according to Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). A precursor to the more militant atheists of the present era, Kurtz essentially helped found the modern skepticism and paranormal debunking movements. Kurtz also worked to develop secular alternatives to religion, something he called “eupraxsophy.”

“A compilation of Kurtz essays published by Bupp in June describes Kurtz’s theory of eupraxsophy, which he first envisioned in 1988 as a secular moral alternative to religion that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths. At a January UNESCO conference in Paris, Kurtz spoke on “neo-humanism” and the positives of unbelief. Kurtz wasn’t anti-religious, Bupp said, but nonreligious. “Neo-humanists do not believe in God, yet they wish to do good. But if this moral outlook is to prevail, then neo-humanisms need to concentrate on improving the things of this world rather than simply combating the illusions of supernaturalism,” Kurtz said at the conference.”

If you look at modern Pagan religions we have both absorbed, and rebelled, against the secular humanism that men like Kurtz helped develop. Indeed, debates still rage today within our ranks over humanistic forms of modern Paganism, belief vs practice, and supernaturalism vs. skepticism. However, unlike other faiths, modern Pagan religions have been able to absorb these tensions in ways more top-down belief systems have not. As religions that deal with magic, the supernatural, and powers undefinable, we too deal with the challenges of secular humanism.

May all these spirits be remembered, may their wisdom and work endure, and may they return to us again.

According to Jacques Berlinerblau, associate professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, more biblical verses have been invoked by presidents and presidential candidates in the past four years than they have in the previous two or three decades. Berlinerblau posits that our society may be forgetting how to be secular, or what “secularism” even means, and has written a new book entitled “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom” in order to address the issue.

“Weary of religious conservatives urging “defense of marriage” and atheist polemicists decrying the crimes of religion? Sick of pundits who want only to recast American life in their own image? Americans are stuck in an all-or-nothing landscape for religion in public life. What are reasonable citizens to do? Seen as godless by the religious and weak by the atheists, secularism mostly has been misunderstood. In How to Be Secular, Berlinerblau argues for a return to America’s hard-won secular tradition; the best way to protect religious diversity and freedom lies in keeping an eye on the encroachment of each into the other.”

Berlinerblau notes that the concept of secularism has been blurred from both sides, with conservative Christians and atheists both defining the term as equivalent to atheism. This wasn’t always so, as “secular” was a label anyone could apply to themselves, in many different contexts.

“Why must so-called secular organizations be focused exclusively on nonbelievers? After all, just a few decades back, in secularism’s mild separationist golden age, all sorts of religious believers could have been categorized as secularists. The term could refer to a Baptist, a Jew, a progressive Catholic, a Unitarian, and so on. Also, there were secular identities that didn’t make any reference to a person’s religious belief or lack thereof. A secularist might just as likely have been a public school teacher, a journalist, a civil rights activist, a professor, a Hollywood mogul, a civil libertarian, a pornographer, and so forth. From the 1940s to the 1980s all of the aforementioned groups mobilized on behalf of secular causes, the most prominent being separation of church and state.”

With secularism so out of fashion in the United States we risk, according to the author, the very “soil in which democracy is planted.” This erosion of secularism could be especially harmful to religious minorities within the United States, including Pagans. There’s been a noticeable trend towards “religious freedom” initiatives that directly favor the majority faith, while purporting to bring freedom to all people of faith.

“The problem with these attempts to codify “religious freedom” into law is that almost always benefits the majority at the expense of the minority. I have seen time and time again, in a number of different circumstances, when laws and policies that are supposed to be viewpoint neutral end up empowering one expression of faith in the public square. That’s bad when it involves adults struggling over the issue, but it becomes pernicious when we use our children as proxies in a fight over the nature of religious freedom and secularism within our country. It shows just how desperate and anxious sections of our  Christian majority have become.”

We’re in a weird place right now when it comes to religion, the Christian character of our nation has been softening, and smaller faiths (and people of no faith) have been expanding, but our politics and culture are dominated by a Christian narrative (more than 3/4 of Americans identify as Christian). A robust secularism could be the answer to mollifying some of the tensions inherent in the demographic shifts currently underway, but only if we understand what secularism is, and what it can be. A new coalition for a strong secularism, the separation of Church and State, must be built from moderates in the dominant religions, agnostics, non-theists, and the many religious minorities who rely on secularism to protect their rights and freedoms.

“To ensure the future of secularism and its “virtues of moderation and tolerance,” millions more Americans must declare themselves secularists, including followers of liberal faiths and religious minorities.”From the Kirkus Review of “How To Be Secular.”

I have yet to read Jacques Berlinerblau‘s book, but I think it addresses an important topic for our interconnected communities, and I look forward to doing so.

Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not.

Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo. No one will be forced to confront, as Brian Jay Stanley was, their own prejudices or assumptions.

“Before college I was a skeptic and rationalist toward every religion except my own, Christianity. Like most of humanity, I had believed the religion I’d heard first, and on its authority dismissed all the religions I’d heard second. Seeing Muslims wearing turbans or Hindus bindis, I thought the oddity of their customs proved the error of their beliefs. Studying all faiths in one class in college, however, I saw my religion from the outside and realized that the rites of my Sundays — warbling choirs and smocked babies dipped in silver fonts and bread as the body of Christ — were as curious as what I had disparaged as myths. In class discussions I sometimes unwittingly revealed assumptions that I thought were axioms, and would read surprise in the eyes of a Hare Krishna or Bahai. My notion of normal was an accident of my birth and upbringing. Whomever I saw as strange saw me as strange. I had raised a doubtful brow at Buddhists bowing to golden statues, even as I prayed weekly to a crucified first-century Jew, not realizing that either all religions are bizarre or none is.”

As Jeffrey Weiss at RealClearReligion notes, the slow demographic shift away from institutional faiths, the rise of “nones,” those claiming to particular religion, have yet to be eagerly courted by either party, particularly the Republicans.

“Where religion came up in Tampa last week, at least among the best-known and prime-time speakers, it was mostly in reference to a fairly specific notion of God. The speakers used language most familiar to a particular reading of Christianity. To be fair, much of the language would also have been familiar in the mid-1700s, as America’s founders crafted their exquisite balance of freedoms and responsibilities. But today, as many as one American in five belongs to the religious “Nones,” depending on the polls you read. That’s a huge leap from a couple of decades ago. And members of this group are far more likely to describe themselves as political independents than people who say they ascribe to any particular religion. They may have been more turned off than inspired by the way the Republicans wove religion and politics together.”

This isn’t a uniquely Republican problem, as the Democrats aren’t exactly eager to give non-Christians a prime-time voice. Both seek to keep Christians in their base, while hoping their policy stances will appeal to non-Christians who will overlook all the monotheistic God talk. Change, it seems, happens in frustratingly small increments. No one is forced to deal with people who don’t have the slightest similarity to us,” even within the “big tent” of our national parties, and that’s a shame. That said, CNN believes the Democratic convention will be less “faith-y” (ie less Christian) than four years ago, but it’s all speculation at this point.

Happening in the shadow of the “values voter” election of 2004, the 2008 Democratic convention was something of a faith fest, especially when it came to evangelicals. Convention roles went to the Rev. Joel Hunter, a megapastor from Florida, and best-selling Christian author Don Miller. This year, some religious activists are quietly wondering if the convention will come off as more secular. Hunter, who remains close to Obama, is skipping Charlotte. “There’s no reason for me to be there,” he told us. “My relationship with the president is pastoral and not political.”

Let me be clear, this is not a “both parties are the same” argument, I think there are clear and definable differences in policy between the Democrats and Republicans. I trust my readers are intelligent enough to discern where their interests lie in those matters, as The Wild Hunt doesn’t endorse candidates. However, both parties do have a “religion” problem, and it isn’t the problem of appealing to Christians of various inclinations.

The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Christian adherents as percentage of state population (2010).

Both parties need to embrace the “communion of strangers,” and realize that pluralism is the core value regarding religion in America. Both parties need to either embrace the full tapestry of faith in their conventions, or they need to stop pandering to religious groups entirely. That isn’t so strange a notion, as it wasn’t until our modern era that faith became so politicized that we injected it into the very fabric of partisan politics. Of course, it used to be a given that we were all Christians, and that all “others” lived here by our sufferance. Still, one direction or another needs to be taken, or the parties will soon find themselves catering to ever-smaller slices of the demographic pie until it will a case of change or die. My hope is that secularism can stop being a dirty word, and we can simply get down to the business of rationally hashing out our policy differences without invoking divine backing to bolster an argument. If not now, then soon.

At past Faerieworlds, Friday is usually seen as the least busy of the three-day event. People have to work, it’s a shorter day, and many are still arriving. However, this year seemed far, far, larger, and the energy level was high, making me think that we’ll see record-breaking attendances on Saturday and Sunday. Like all opening Fridays at Faerieworlds, it started with a ceremony/ritual led by Emilio and Kelly from Woodland, with help from S.J. Tucker. They did a Lammas invocation, including offerings of fruits and grains, with Donovan and his wife as special guests of honor. Then, a giant spiral dance was led by a local priestess while the musicians played.

That kicked off a day of amazing music, headlined by the transcendent Persian fusion ensemble Niyaz, featuring the amazing vocals of Azam Ali. However, I think that the performance by Soriah with Ashkelon Sain is one that truly surprised a lot of people, and created hundreds of new fans. The shamanic throat-singing ensemble, by the end of their set, had entranced the audience, and I feel confident this won’t be the last time they’ll play at Faerieworlds.

Soriah with Ashkelon Sain and Lucretia*Renee

Soriah with Ashkelon Sain and Lucretia*Renee

Check out my A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast tomorrow for an exclusive post-show interview with Soriah and Ashkelon Sain. Today at Faerieworlds I’m hoping to conduct an interview with S.J. Tucker for The Wild Hunt, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, here are some Pagan news links to peruse while I’m away with the faeries.

That’s it for now, back to the Realm for me!

The imposing cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California was dedicated to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in 1954. For decades it was known as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” and was the site of Christian services (and may even have been a reminder of Christian triumphalism to area Jews). After initial litigation was filed in the late 1980s against the cross standing on public lands, it was dubbed a veteran’s memorial, and expensive “improvements” were made to stress this new role. Why was a Christian cross, obviously erected for religious purposes, suddenly named a war memorial? In hopes of magically transforming it from a religious icon into a secular memorial symbol. A tactic that initially worked.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

The Mount Soledad Cross.

Litigation over the 43-foot-tall Mt. Soledad cross has been under way for nearly 20 years. Several federal courts have ruled against its display on city property. In an effort to save the cross, the federal government acquired the land underneath the cross in 2006. Legal action proceeded against the federal government’s ownership of the towering religious symbol. In July of 2008, U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the cross “communicates the primarily non-religious messages of military service, death and sacrifice” and can remain on public property.

How can a Christian cross communicate a non-religious message of military service, death, and sacrifice to non-Christian soldiers? The answer is it can’t, it’s a purely political ploy to exploit American patriotism in order to “secularize” a religious symbol so that it can remain standing despite complaints from atheists, agnostics, religious minorities, and church-state separation activists. Here’s Supreme Court Justice Scalia showcasing how the argument typically goes.

Mr. Eliasberg said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by “the predominant symbol of Christianity,” one that “signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins.” Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, “The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead.” “What would you have them erect?” Justice Scalia asked. “Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?” Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. “There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew,” he said, to laughter in the courtroom. Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. “I don’t think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead,” he said. “I think that’s an outrageous conclusion.”

 

You see, there are a lot of Christian crosses on the graves of dead soldiers, because there are a lot of Christians, ergo, it must be a common symbol of “the resting place of the dead” (repeat sentence until your rhetorical opponent grows tired). In 2010 the Supreme Court took a step towards secularizing the cross with its decision in Salazar v. Buono, which challenged the constitutionality of a eight-foot Christian cross war memorial situated on public lands in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Justice Kennedy acknowledged that the cross is “a Christian symbol,” but this particular cross didn’t mean to send “a Christian message” (how, I’m not entirely sure, but this was a mess of a decision, with six separate opinions filed), and thus was constitutional. Only Justice John Paul Stevens, a wartime veteran, had the courage to call a Christian cross a Christian cross.

“The nation should memorialize the service of those who fought and died in World War I … But it cannot do so lawfully by continued endorsement of a starkly sectarian message.”

However, while there was some secularizing wiggle room in Salazar v. Buono, that wasn’t the case with the Soledad cross. In the beginning of 2011 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the memorial was unconstitutional, citing its long history of being a sectarian religious symbol.

“Much lore surrounds the Cross and its history. But the record is our guide and, indeed, except for how they characterize the evidence, the parties essentially agree about the history. A cross was first erected on Mount Soledad in 1913. That cross was replaced in the 1920s and then blew down in1952. The present Cross was dedicated in 1954 “as a reminder of God’s promise to man of everlasting life and of those persons who gave their lives for our freedom . . . .” The primary objective in erecting a Cross on the site was to construct “a permanent handsome cast concrete cross,” but also “to create a park worthy of this magnificent view, and worthy to be a setting for the symbol of Christianity.” For most of its history, the Cross served as a site for annual Easter services. Only after the legal controversy began in the late 1980s was a plaque added designating the site as a war memorial, along with substantial physical revisions honoring veterans. It was not until the late 1990s that veterans’ organizations began holding regular memorial services at the site.

That ruling was appealed, and on Monday, the Supreme Court denied certiorari, leaving the 9th Circuit’s decision in place. Which means one of two things has to happen. Either the cross has to be taken down, or the memorial has to be modified so as to pass constitutional muster. A process that will necessitate even more litigation. Supporters of the cross are already calling for the Department of Justice to raise the issue, as allowed in the 9th Circuit’s decision.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), in urging the Department of Justice to continue the legal fight, said the government should preserve “such a historic memorial that pays tribute to the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans.”

Notice that cross supporters now completely ignore the history of this monument, invoking veterans to cloud the issue, despite the fact that it this challenge was brought by the Jewish War Veterans, who obviously don’t feel a large Christian cross pays tribute to their sacrifice. In addition, I somehow doubt these cross secularizers are going to stand in our corner when someone tries to erect a “secular” Wiccan or Asatru war dead memorial. Nor would anyone try to argue for a “secular” Jewish star of David, or “secular” Muslim crescent (particularly not the latter in our current climate). They would argue that these symbols are sectarian, and could not represent them. It’s all part of the hypocrisy that comes with the privilege of being the overwhelming majority.

To many Christians their immense privilege seems invisible. They don’t understand how much of our society panders to their unspoken power. The churches on every corner, the holidays and celebrations structured around Christian dates, the pandering of politicians, the ceremonial deism that acts as a placeholder for state-sponsored religion. Even our vernacular is colored by Christianity: “God bless you,” “we’ll pray for you,” “I’m in heaven,” or even “go to hell.”  Yet despite this, many Christians, particularly conservative Christians, have a major investment in seeing themselves as part of a persecuted minority. This was reinforced for me in the comments section of a recent post at the journalism commentary site Get Religion. There, I was informed that Michele Bachmann was part of a religious minority, and that due to mainstream media criticism “one has to speculate that perhaps Christians are a small minority in the United States.”

Eventually, like the memorial crosses erected in Utah, this Soledad cross will have to be removed. We can no longer claim to be a secular, pluralistic nation while winking at those who crave a “Christian Nation.” The time of pretending the cross isn’t the cross, or that monuments to the 10 commandments are religiously neutral, are quickly coming to an end. Public spaces will either have to accommodate all the other faiths that inhabit this country, or leave such expressions to the private sphere. While Christians may not think twice about a “secular” cross, it’s not a luxury many non-Christians have.