Archives For shamanism

Modern shaman and best-selling author S. Kelley Harrell’s new book, “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism,” out May 30 from Soul Rocks Books, is a light-hearted and informative handbook introducing shamanism to today’s young adults and beginning seekers. Author and journalist Beth Winegarner’s latest book, “The Columbine Effect: How Five Teen Pastimes Got Caught in The Crossfire and Why Teens Are Taking Them Back,” addresses how certain interests — including alternative spiritualities like shamanism, neopaganism and others — have been unfairly blamed for teen violence. Kelley and Beth got together for a chat about alternative faiths, cultural misperceptions and the importance of trusting youth as they find their own paths.

Teen_ShamanismBeth: I know practitioners within Santeria and Palo Mayombe who say that those paths are gaining in popularity among teens. Are you seeing anything similar with shamanism? Do you think more teens are feeling the call? Why does this book make sense at this particular time?

Kelley: I do see this is the case with modern shamanism. It makes sense to put this book out now because so many young people aren’t satisfied with the status quo of religious paths, lifestyles, gender issues, philosophies, and even career concerns, in general. Their processes and options are very different, even from when we were that age. There are so many conflicting messages in media, that having a supportive, yet, disciplined way to examine the unseen and engage with it, connect it back to mundane life, is very grounding.  Young people are looking for ways to bring personal meaning more into everything they do. That’s what rebellion is about. Expressing that need in a compassionately supported context ultimately benefits us all.

A key thing I see that’s different about young people, now, compared to older generations, is a lack of fear, which manifests in a couple of important ways. First, they aren’t afraid of intuitive or even supernatural experiences. They express being a great deal more capable to accept them for what they are. Even when they don’t have an understanding of what those experiences are, they don’t run from them. There’s a greater willingness to just accept that life is bigger without having to define that what means. Likewise, teens, today, aren’t afraid to diverge from their elders’ philosophies and viewpoints. While they may not wave that difference around, they recognize that they approach life differently, and seem more able to express compassion for difference, period. It’s when they are not shown compassion for the difference that shadow becomes a factor.

Side note, but I’m also tired of information on paths such as shamanism coming from outside the shamanic community. The broad resources that flit through media read copied and pasted from some 1970s text book. There is a real need to see the path as alive and evolving, and in seeing it as such, a possibility for personal connection to the unseen.

Beth: I hadn’t thought about the possibility that younger generations might be more open to supernatural experiences without being scared of them. I wonder if that’s a product of growing up in a more agnostic, or even atheist society, rather than being raised in more dedicated religious households and not being so exposed to the idea that anything outside the church is scary. One of the things I noted when I was researching “The Columbine Effect” is that kids — even young kids — have a very clear idea of what they’re comfortable with and what’s too scary or out of bounds. So even if they’re less afraid of things that might make their parents or especially grandparents uncomfortable, they still show a propensity for defining boundaries for their exploration.

Those findings connect with something I noticed in “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism.” In the beginning of the book, you say that we often don’t think of children as wise. Where do you think that idea comes from, and why is it wrong?

Kelley: I think it comes from old virtues around control and a general need to see children as creatures to be shaped, rather than allowed to unfold. That ideology hasn’t worked for myself or anyone I’ve worked with. I find so many wounds around suppressing the wisdom of childhood. What’s wrong about that is obviously that it denies the intrinsic value of the child, though it also creates a rut in which adults become stuck and don’t grow. The education system in the US is a great example of that. Instead of realizing that forcing all kids down the same curriculum the same way doesn’t work, we keep finding ways to narrow the system. It’s a pattern of, “This is how we’ve always done it, ” rather than allowing individuality and creating ways to meet needs more openly.

TCE-frontcover-med copyBeth: I think that probably leads to something else I found in my research, which is that many kids explore a pagan or other alternative path in part because they become so disillusioned with the church or even with a lack of spirituality in the household, and they crave something that helps them create meaning in their lives and maybe also validates those kinds of supernatural experiences you mentioned earlier. Whether it’s neopaganism, Thelema, or chaos magic, these inquiries can turn into meaningful and sincere spiritual paths for teens. It might start out as rebellion but it turns into something else.

That said, many assume that kids who explore a non Judeo/Christian/Islamic path are only “dabbling” or “rebelling,” that children aren’t capable of seriously following a spiritual path they weren’t raised in. But what’s interesting among shamans, even modern shamans, is that the “call” often comes in childhood, doesn’t it? What makes shamanism different in this respect?

Kelley: It does come in childhood. I think shamanism is different in this respect because we are all born animists, which is realizing that all things are innately alive. Children pretend their stuffed animals talk to them. Plants, rocks, cars — everything is a companion to be interacted with, that contributes to the child’s understanding of life. We come in wired for that experience, then as we age into a social system larger than our immediate family–becoming school-aged–we are taught to shun that perspective. We’re taught that imagining livelihood is bad and displays immaturity, possibly lower intellect, or emotional problems. In that light, the connection between judgement of mental state and the unseen starts very early in life, as well. Our natural way of sensing and engaging life is quickly redacted.

Beth: You also write about the line between shamanic experience and what we might consider schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’ve written a great deal about youth violence being linked to paganism, Satanism, the occult, etc., when in reality we need to look more at violent kids’ mental health and state of mind. How can parents, and culture at large, get better at telling the difference between a child who is experiencing visions or trance-journeys and one who is experiencing delusions induced by illness?

Kelley: In anyone, of any age, the difference between invoking trance and delusions is control. If a young person can control the unseen experiences s/he is having, that isn’t mental illness. If s/he can change the dialogue between self and spirit guides, that isn’t delusion. Control is the key component of trance work — moving into trance at will, directing what happens within, and leaving trance when desired — these are the intended, willed choices that a shaman makes. Someone who can’t control going into trance, who feels victimized or controlled by the experiences within trance, or can’t make trance stop, is experiencing a state of being that could be considered a mental or biochemical condition.

What do you think is the cultural motivation to assign ‘spiritual’ deviation to a youth’s errant behaviour , rather than explore it as the result of mental illness? How does this emphasis shape our view of young people, and these spiritual paths?

Beth: Well, keep in mind that until a few hundred years ago, we didn’t have much of a concept of mental illness at all; the feelings and behaviors we now recognize as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even neurological issues like epilepsy and migraines, used to be explained in terms of demons and possession. And I think that when it comes to kids, the same social impulses that lead us to assume children can’t be wise or capable of their own agency have also given us the idea that kids aren’t capable of being very mentally ill, that it’s something only adults suffer from seriously. For example, a lot of people don’t think teenagers are capable of being sociopaths, but in Dave Cullen’s book on the Columbine High School shootings, he makes a very strong case for the argument that Eric Harris was a sociopath.

So, if you don’t believe kids are capable of being so ill that they’re likely to commit violence, it’s easier to look for other causes when they become violent. And if they happened to be exploring an alternative spirituality at the time, it’ll seem like an obvious culprit.

Of course, one of the reasons those explanations can make sense to people is that they don’t actually understand pagans or Satanists or occultists all that well. They’re relying on what they’ve heard on TV news or horror films, which is far from accurate. It’s like what you said about relying on the wrong sources of information about shamanism earlier. Instead, people who have a teenager exploring an alternative faith need to read and talk with legitimate sources. I talk about that a lot in “The Columbine Effect,” along with the ways various minority faiths and paths are misunderstood by society at large. So, what are some of the misconceptions people have about shamans and shamanism? Are those perceptions harmful to the practice?

Kelley: This is a personal button. The overlap of New Age ideology and earth-based paths hasn’t always been a service to shamanism. Out of the New Age movement, a lot fluffy, everything-is-always-good perspectives emerged, regarding shamanism. One of those is the idea that all mentally ill people are shamans, which is erroneously based on some nebulous tenet that tribal cultures revere the mentally ill as wisdomkeepers. This is always contrasted with the derision of the mentally ill in the west, which is virtually incontestable.

Every person contributes valuable intuitive insights, regardless of mental state. Everyone. No one is elite and special in that regard. The thing is, tribal spiritual leaders know the difference between someone who is mentally ill, and someone to whom they can completely turn over the spiritual reins of the tribe.  Someone who can’t control their ecstatic experience isn’t acting in the role of shaman, and that is the difference. Being able to go into trance doesn’t make you a shaman. Having a spirit guide doesn’t make you a shaman. Just having visions or interaction with spirits doesn’t make you a shaman. Being able to bring those experiences back and shape them into some improved, manifest state for the community makes you a shaman. It’s not the technique, but the role. This has been a steep learning curve in the modern path.

How can practitioners of minority faiths bring awareness of their paths to wider society in a way that is non-threatening, yet informative? What I see is compartmentalization of faiths. Practitioners/Leaders of faiths are out there, writing, speaking, engaging in their own community. They don’t step out, often with good reason, based on maltreatment by the larger community. Rarely does wider society venture in to fact check, let alone learn more. How does that education happen?

Beth: That’s an excellent question. As you point out, many don’t want to speak out in the larger community because they could face backlash. It’s already tough to walk an unorthodox path, which means many people don’t want to go the extra mile of being an ambassador for their faith. And in some cases, as with chaos magic and Satanism, I found that there was a vocal faction who decidedly didn’t want to work toward more societal acceptance. They enjoyed being seen as evil and scary by outsiders to their faith and weren’t interested in anyone accepting and tolerating them.

Fortunately, I think there are at least a few out there — writers, journalists and people who are willing to make themselves available to the press as sources — who are helping bridge the gap between spiritual communities who maybe don’t want to be their own ambassadors, and a culture who otherwise wouldn’t make the effort. Sometimes, this can unfortunately come across as one of those “Gosh, isn’t this weird/fascinating/cool” feature stories, but not always. For example, when the so-called “Craigslist killer,” Miranda Barbour, claimed she belonged to a Satanic cult, both the Satanic Church and the Satanic Temple — the ones who are designing the Oklahoma monument — were quick to talk with major news outlets and say, “This woman has nothing to do with us and we don’t kill people.” That’s exactly what we need more of, and it’s great that the Church of Satan Peter Gilmore, who comes across as a calm, diplomatic and sensible representative for a church that still has many of negative stereotypes to dispel. With time, more groups are learning that a spokesperson like Gilmore is a real asset, and I think that will help a lot.

Learn more about Kelley’s work and writing at Soul Intent Arts.

Unleash the Hounds is one of my longest running, and popular, features at The Wild Hunt. It is, in essence, a link roundup. A place where I find stories in the mainstream media concerning Paganism, occult practices, indigenous religions, and other topics of interest to our interconnected communities. The birth of this series came out of necessity, as more stuff is being written now than I could possible write about in-depth week-to-week. If you enjoy this feature, please take some time to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive, so we can continue to bring you this, and other features, for another year. Thank you to everyone who helped us raise over $4000 dollars in the first few days of our drive, let’s keep the momentum going, and be sure to spread the word! Now, on to the links!

  •  A House Oversight Committee hearing this Wednesday got so intense, that Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) decided to inject a little levity by asking Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram if she was a witch. Quote: “A Democratic Congressman mocked the GOP’s effort to demonize an IRS official during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday by asking her if she was a witch consorting with the devil. The official, Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram, said in response to questioning from Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) that she has never worked with the devil, could not fly, and was not responsible for perverting the youth ‘in Salem or anywhere else.'” One can only imagine what would have happened had the answer been: “yes, I am a Witch, one of the many New England traditional covens.” Whatever the case, satire is a tricky thing these days.
  • Speaking of witches and witchcraft, they are so very, very, hot right now (in pop-culture). Just ask CNN“So, maybe they’re a kind of gendered response to the suave, seductive male vampire figure. Or maybe it’s just cyclical, and all of the childhood fans of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ and ‘Charmed’ are writing for TV now! [...] The featured supernatural characters on those shows are usually men, too (not exclusively, but overwhelmingly). These new witch characters are giving women more power and agency to control their destinies, instead of just being objects of desire in need of saving, which is a nice change.” The article notes that “Hollywood now can’t seem to get enough of witches.”
  • Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the story of Jesus? Probably not. But here’s a documentary claiming exactly that! Quote: “On October 19 Atwill will present some provocative new findings in London. Atwill’s thesis is that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats who fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. Per Atwill: ‘The Caesars committed a crime against consciousness. They reached into the minds of their subjects and planted false concepts to make them easier to control.’ Atwill claims to have iron-clad proof of his claims.” Hey, remember all those religions that disappeared after various individuals debunked them? Yeah, me neither.
  • Fox News reports on the witchcraft tourist trade in Nicaragua. Quote: “Americans get dressed up for Halloween, take kids trick or treating, and tell tales about ghosts and witches. But in Nicaragua, some locals and curious tourists seek out real, live witches—or brujos, who claim to be able to cast spells on people and cure all sorts of ailments, including impotency, male pattern baldness and more.” The reporter spends a lot of time trying to see if the local witches will reveal secrets or do malefic magic for him. They seem, understandably, hesitant to indulge him.
  • Hammer Films has purchased the film rights to Jeanette Winterson’s novella “The Daylight Gate”, about one of England’s most infamous witch-trials. Quote: “I was interested to take the Hammer novella commission to write a good story around the notorious Pendle witch trials of 1612. Now I am intrigued and excited to see what new form these ghosts can inhabit. Stories from the past are always present; it is our imaginations that make it so.” The pop-culture witch trend continues…
A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • A Flavorwire, Michele Dean can’t wait for pop-culture to embrace witchcraft once more. Quote: “In the 1990s, when I was a teenager, witches were everywhere. Today people often reference the Fairuza Balk/Neve Campbell movie The Craft as though it were the driver of that trend in the culture. But it actually came awfully late in my experience of fellow young-nerd-women who retreated into Wicca and Paganism as a way of coping with social ostracization. They weren’t the ordinary-looking witches of Charmed or even Buffy, but people who enjoyed wearing velvet chokers and thanking the Goddess and drawing Celtic runes. It was very often very silly, I agree, and there were certainly paths that even my extremely socially disenfranchised self declined to follow them down. But while their actual powers were a matter of dispute, just the practice and ritual seemed to be enough to give them a measure of much-needed self-respect.” A message to my fellow Witches out there, prepare for a new deluge. Seriously.
  • The Huffington Post interviews Incan Shaman Elena Radford. Quote: “That’s what a shaman does — tune into the energy of the environment: mountains, animals, plants, people in the past, and energies from other worlds. These skills that come through the heart allow a shaman to communicate with these different realities.” 
  • Oh, and did I mention that the New York Times has also chimed in about the pop-culture resurgence of the witch? Quote: “There’s something very beautiful about witch stories — the full moon, the mystery, the chants — but it’s also a way to explore female power [...] To me, witch stories are really female versions of superhero stories. They’re fantasies. And there’s something very potent about those fantasies. On one level, this is a fun yarn about women learning to use these supernatural gifts, but it’s also a metaphor for things that we all need to do in our lives, in our adulthood, to own who we really are and feel comfortable with it. To not be afraid to use our gifts.” Also, Glamour is totally on board with the return of witches.
  • Dangerous Minds (almost) attends a Gnostic Mass. They do not eat the Cakes of Light. Quote: “This is a special, invitational Gnostic Mass, and a couple, like me, are invitees (though presumably bona fide neophytes rather than tremulous hacks). At least one seems a little nervous, while the OTO initiates—mostly middle aged men with either long hair or none, each with unusually pale blue eyes—inspect us with that slightly salacious curiosity with which people on one side of an experience examine those at its verge. In the pub Adrian had referred to magick as ‘psychological transgression.’ I can see what he means! The atmosphere is a distinct mixture of the religious and the illicit—as if we were all here for an afternoon of metaphysical dogging.”
  • There’s a new edition of Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” out, you can read an excerpt at Tor.com. Quote: “This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’ vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explored the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry. This new edition has been prepared by Grevel Lindop, who has written an illuminating introduction. The text of the book incorporates all of Graves’s final revisions, his replies to two of the original reviewers, and a long essay in which he describes the months of inspiration in which The White Goddess was written.”

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. Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

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.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

  • South Korea, one of the most Christian countries in Asia, is witnessing a revival of interest in its indigenous shamanistic practices, with local mudangs (priests or priestesses) being consulted by politicians and featuring on popular television shows. Sociology professor Shin Kwang-yeong thinks the popularity is due to Koreans dealing with the “strong uncertainties” of their modern existence, with many crediting shamanism with bringing healing and piece of mind to their lives. Quote:  “I felt something from my heart. This ritual has everything in there – happiness, sadness, anger and fun [...] Sometimes tears pour out from my heart. Sometimes it’s just fun when everyone is dancing and bowing. And, it’s healing.”
  • Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, admitted to having inappropriate sexual relations with at least one woman back in 2011. Now, a Jane Doe is filing suit against Euteneuer, alleging that the priest sexually abused and assaulted her, using his position as an exorcist as a means to force sexual contact. This spiritual/physical rape of the Jane Doe has caused the Catholic church to recall him for counselling and remove his “priestly faculties,” meaning he can no longer perform mass or other sacred rites.
  • There’s a deep connection between synthesizer music and the occult, Klint Finley explores it for Boing Boing. Quote: “You can find traces of the occult throughout the history of electronic music. The occult obsessed Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo built his own mechanical instruments around 1917. The famous Moog synthesizer made an early appearance in Mick Jagger’s soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s occult film Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. And in the late 1970s Throbbing Gristle built their own electronic instruments for their occult sound experiments, setting the stage for many of the occult themed industrial bands who followed. The witch house genre keeps this tradition alive today.”
  • The Border House looks at the controversy surrounding the upcoming game SMITE, and the protests from Hindu activist Rajan Zed over the depiction and ability to control their gods and goddesses, most notably Kali, in the game. The Border House also calls out the “pornification” of Kali. Quote: “This is truly disgusting. Not only is a faith appropriated, but it is done so in a way which turns a widely revered deity into a male sexual fantasy. A goddess in non-sexual nudity is somehow less preferable to a caricature in which she is put in a costume for the male gaze. Whether you agree with Rajan Zed or not about controlling Hindu deities as combat tools is not the issue. The cultural imperialistic mindset which allows a westerner to pornify symbols of Hinduism and yet think he has the right to lecture a Hindu about the religion, this is the issue.”
  • Associated Press reporter Christopher Torchia says that ancient Greek myths lend valuable context to the country’s current fiscal and political crisis. Quote: “Greek mythology is full of examples of how mortals should find the middle way in order to live a happy life, or as it said on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Nothing in Excess,’” Peter Meineck, associate professor of classics at New York University, wrote in an email. He noted that, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, “the first divine agent that caused creation was Eros — the spirit of erotic drive or the impulse to create anything.”
  • Tammy Trotter-Bazzle, a Pagan priestess living in South Carolina, shares her experience advising the pastoral staff at AnMed Health after a Pagan patience was admitted. Quote: “I feel blessed and honored to have had that opportunity. At the end of a day, good was done for the greater good. Pagan patients will be better understood at AnMed. And that was, after all, the reason for this class; to help the patient. I, along with many of the local Pagan community, are happy to see this step forward.”
  • A majority percentage of Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, non-Christian faiths, and unaffiliated religious believers favor same-sex marriage rights. Yet we are told that we must “protect” the conservative Christian viewpoint on marriage by denying all other faiths and traditions the ability to perform legal same-sex rites. How is this about religious freedom again?
  • Is polyamory ready for its close-up? A Showtime reality program is on its way, featuring neo-tantra practitioner and “bliss coach” Kamala Devi. Will Paganism make an appearance? Are we ready for the questions if and when it does?

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’m out of town today, attending a doctor’s appointment in Ashland, Oregon, so I don’t have the time to do my usual exploration and analysis of news of interest to the Pagan community. Instead, I’d like to offer some links from across the Pagan media world that have drawn my attention. So enjoy, I’m hoping to hit the Oregon vortex on my way home!

That’s all I have for now, have a great day, I’ll be back tomorrow.

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.

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!

Last week the government of Peru issued a statement saying that fourteen shamans in the country’s north-eastern region have been killed in the span of twenty months. The provincial prosecutor’s office alleges that these killings were ordered by Alfredo Torres, the mayor of Balsa Puerto, and carried out by his brother. Author and indigenous leader Roger Rumrrill claims these killings are part of a wider witch-hunt by the brothers, who are members of an unnamed protestant Christian sect.

“The provincial prosecutor’s office said that the murders were allegedly ordered by the mayor of Balsa Puerto, Alfredo Torres, and carried out by his brother, Augusto, locally known as “the witch hunter.” Only seven bodies have been found, however —either shot, stabbed or hacked with machetes. The seven other shamans have been reported missing. Rogger Rumrill, a leading researcher on Amazonian issues, said the murders are related to “protestant sects” that Torres and his brother belong to, the daily said. “For these protestant sects, the shamans are people possessed by demons, so they have to be killed,” Rumrill said.”

Torres denies these allegations, saying the shamans, all 14 of them, were killed by vengeful families unhappy with their services.

“For many years they have practiced the ancient custom of killing the witches, making them responsible for the death of some family member who was receiving treatment from the shaman.”

The shamans, all from the Shaui community, were planning to start an association to share knowledge. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has called for supporters to contact Peruvian authorities, asking them to act in addressing these atrocities, and to prevent further murders. Things have been tense, to say the least, between indigenous communities and the Peruvian government, but that has shifted somewhat as the South American “pink tide” sweeps through Peru, bringing center-left politician Ollanta Humala to power. While Humala is no Evo Morales, the fact that the government is making these allegations seems to be a positive sign that some sort of investigation is underway. What we don’t know is how much religion, specifically these “protestant sects,” are involved. While I won’t rule out religiously-motivated violence, I think the political implications of the shamans forming an association could also have something to do with it.

We’ll keep you posted as any further updates come our way. My thanks to Andras Corban-Arthen for bringing this to my attention.

ADDENDUM: The Guardian confirms that the Peruvian government is sending a team of investigators. Quote Gregor MacLennan at the NGO Amazon Watch: “The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities.” Also, this blog post gives some excellent background on the killings.

“One of those who must die, however, survived. Inuma Bautista, apu shawi community of Paradise, was ambushed, but survived a machete attack that cost him an arm and left deep scars on the body. That was probably the beginning of the media scandal. After recovering from the wounds, gave a testimony Inuma which directly accuses Augusto Torres, brother of Mayor Balsapuerto as one of those who wanted to kill him. Similarly, one of the alleged gunmen, Solomon Napo, appeared in a video, confessing his involvement in the death of Mariano Apuela. Among his statements, the figure having been hired by Torres brother to commit the act in exchange for five thousand nuevos soles, which were not delivered.”

More on this as I find it.

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.

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.

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.