Archives For Texas

For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.

“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.

The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.

sidebar ft hood historyDesignated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”

Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.

DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.

DFGL Michele Morris

DFGL Michele Morris

Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.

DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.

ft hood open circle

Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.

Circle Sanctuary offers assistance

Rev. Selena Fox

Rev. Selena Fox

Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.

Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”

Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.

In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.

How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.”  She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.

A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”

Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”

[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.

Two years ago a North Carolina newspaper published a Letter to the Editor that read:

My problem with the Pagan or Wiccan groups is in whether they qualify as a religion.  Most religions in the world espouse doing good.  We see food pantries, homeless shelters, free clinics and hospitals started and manned by religious entities….I’ve never seen a Pagan hospital or food pantry or homeless shelter.  I would call Pagans evil, but maybe I could more easily support that they have no socially redeeming value. – J. Bromley

At that time I created a solid list of “good works” that served to demonstrate Pagan involvement in tremendous acts of service. Some of these projects were Pagan community specific (i.e. Operation Circle Care) and some served the larger population (i.e. Doctors Without Borders).

I’d like to resurrect this topic and share the stories of two Pagans who engage in dynamic acts of service that benefit far more than just themselves. Here are two different men on two different continents who have both made a passionate commitment to protecting the Earth and its vital resources.

Adam Burling

Adam Burling

Paganism, Deep Ecology and Environmental Activism

For over twenty years, Adam Burling, a Pantheist Pagan, has been an advocate for the environment in his home country of Australia. He began his career working in one of Sydney’s merchant banks. But he quickly became disillusioned with the financial industry. Looking around he felt “empty” seeing no “real community or passion.”

Finally Adam quit and fell in with a crowd of surfers, skaters and musicians. Some of them were also environmental activists who volunteered for The Australian Wildnerness Society, a group that works to protect native forests. He signed up.

Adam remembers his first mass protest:

[There was] a real sense of community…music, songs, laughter even in the face of so much horror and destruction of nature. Not long after that I decided to dedicate my life to working for the Earth and its creatures (including us humans).

Adam continued to volunteer for The Wildnerness Society living mostly off his inner desire to act. He recalls, “In the face of the destruction of what [was] occurring I felt compelled to do nothing else.” Then after years on the front-lines, he finally got an office job in the campaign headquarters of the Tasmanian Green Party working for Bob Brown.  His passion “to act” turned into a career. Now Adam is the media coordinator for Sea Shepherd, an international organization that “takes a stand against poachers, whalers and [ocean] polluters.”

While the fight to save Earth’s eco-systems may seem insurmountable at times, Adam remains undaunted. He wrote:

Starhawk on her visit to Tasmania said to me that all wild places are facing some threat.  They call to us for help…I feel honoured that I have heard that call and have chosen to act accordingly.

Adam Burling

Adam Burling

In his own home town, Adam with a group of 17 others were successful in stopping the clear cutting of 1000 acres of native forest and fending off a corporate lawsuit. This is a small local victory but one that Adam holds close.

Since the beginning Adam has grounded his work within his strongly held Pagan beliefs and the philosophy of Deep Ecology. He has studied both the Reclaiming Tradition and the works of T. Thorn Coyle.  He adds:

Paganism has provided me with a specific world view that supports my work. It puts everything more into perspective. Like John Seed says we are the rain forest defending itself. When you start to view activism as such it shifts something inside of you, it is no longer just reactionary. It is pro-active and it a movement for all life including humanity.

Air, Water, Earth: Stopping Injection Drilling

On the other side of the world, a retired engineer has been aggressively working to curb air and water pollution in the small towns of East Texas near the Sabine National Forest. Lord Sez, a long-time Wiccan practitioner, explains,

I do not like anyone who sends poison into the air.  With good technology the emissions can be eliminated and the air kept clean.  But that would cost more money. Most of the [emission] permits are granted with no public hearing. It is permit by rule. The plant owners do not live close to [the plants] and, [as for] the families that do live close….too bad.

Several years ago, Lord Sez identified a growing problem caused by a local chemical plant built only 900 feet from his home. Over time, he and his neighbors noticed an increasing incidence of illness, strange “smells, loss of taste … and floating gas clouds around the plant.”  They also observed an increasing amount of dead grass and fewer and fewer birds.

With his engineering background Lord Sez was able to take his own air and water quality test samples to validate his suspicions. He also dug up documents proving that the company falsified several sworn records. After rallying local landowners, he presented his case to the Texas Commission on Environmental Equality.  As a result, the chemical plant is being fined with further investigations to come.

Lord Sez remarks, “I am not a good neighbor for a plant or well that produces pollution”  Over the same period of time, the Texas Railroad commission approved the drilling of a Injection well in the Sabine National Forest, near Pendleton Harbor and Toledo Bend lake. The injection well was to be used to store oil and gas waste and was to be dug only 400 feet from a fresh water drinking source.

Injection Well Courtesy of Flickr's kqedquest

Injection Well
Courtesy of Flickr’s kqedquest

The project wasn’t made public until after ETX solutions LLC, the drilling company, began clearing the forest for construction. Upon learning of the project, Lord Sez immediately began an extensive investigation. With the help of others, he was able to halt construction by creating enough noise to scare away investors. The drill project has since been abandoned.

Lord Sez will continue his work and already has another project lined up. He gave me permission to share the details of his story in the hopes that it will inspire others to act. But he emphatically states that, although he is Wiccan, his environmental work is not at all about religion.  For him, it is about the safety, health and the quality of life within in his community for all living things. He says:

I get angry [knowing] that a family [could] gather for a holiday meal with the windows open and everyone [could] sick from the stink in the air. 

He doesn’t care what holiday that might be. Some acts of service transcend theology.

These stories are certainly not the only ones. Many Pagans are dedicating their time, money, and careers to protecting the Earth and its eco-systems. In addition, there are Pagans performing many, many other “good works” that contribute positively to our greater societies. I look forward to hearing more of these stories. Maybe one day I’ll even be able to report on the opening of a Pagan-run hospital.

An Aside:  Remember little Duncan Lawrence, the North Georgia March of Dimes ambassador.  He and 50 other team members managed to raise over $18,000 dollars to date and the pledging is still open. Tom, his father and Druid Elder, estimate that they will raise another 2-3,000 before the donation period ends. Now that is socially relevant.

IMG_5336ed

Druid Elder, Tom Lawrence and son Duncan at March of Dimes Walk 2013.

 

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

A Fundraiser for Kyrja Withers: Since Florida Pagan and children’s author Kyrja Withers had her home shot at this past March, followed by a chemical bottle-bomb attack, which required Withers’ daughter to seek medical care after inhaling fumes, the Lady Liberty League, Everglades Moon Local Council of COG, and other local Pagan community members have been mobilizing to assist Withers. At the behest of Lady Liberty League, their household is now raising funds to install security measures to protect against future attacks.

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

Kyrja Withers (Photo: Tampa Bay Times)

“Lady Liberty League [...] has provided a variety of resources to my husband, Randy, and I during this time.  They also provided a comprehensive on-site Threat Assessment Report of our home in an effort to de-escalate the situation and provide long-term safety for our family. We are seeking assistance to comply with the security measures recommended by Lady Liberty League.  The bulk of the funding received will be to purchase the security cameras necessary to provide surveillence of our unique, colorful home.  The cameras would provide visible deterents to those who would seek to further harass and intimidate us, as well as a means to secure evidence should additional incidents occur.”

They are seeking to raise $1,100 dollars, and have already raised nearly half of their goal. For those seeking to concretely help in this situation this seems to be a pragmatic and sensible way to do so. The Lady Liberty League asks that those who are interested in contributing suggestions of resources, ideas for strategies, and volunteering security consulting and other help” to send them an e-mail, or comment at the organization’s Facebook page.  A focus image has also been provided for those who want to do magical/prayer work for Kyrja and her family. We will update you here with further developments.

Emergency Pagan Conclave Called in California: The Wild Hunt has received a notice that an emergency conclave is being called for Sunday, May 5th in Oakland, California to discuss proposed regulations by the California Department of Corrections (CDCR) relating to religious items allowed by incarcerated Pagans. The call is being put forth by The Pagan Alliance and House of Danu.

Central California Women's Facility (CCWF)

Central California Women’s Facility (CCWF)

“The California Department of Corrections (CDCR) has issued proposed regulations that threaten the ability of Pagans who are incarcerated to possess many of the religious items customary for the religious practices of our people. The proposed list excludes items out of ignorance, or for convenience, without regard to the required legal standard permitting personal religious items. Public comment on the proposed regulations ends May 7, 2013 at 5:00p.m.

The last great struggle for religious freedom in this country may very well be in the California prisons. At this historic Conclave. Dr. Barbara McGraw will give a presentation on the history of abuse endured by Pagan inmates, and there will be a panel of Pagan chaplain volunteers to share their experiences. Each of you will be given a guide showing how you can help the people of your tradition within the scope of any budget or time availability. We ask that each tradition send one or more representatives to the Conclave.”

Details on location, time, and how to participate can be found at this Facebook event listing. The proposed changes to what inmate religious property will be allowed can be found, here. The rights of Pagan prisoners has been an ongoing area of coverage at The Wild Hunt, and we’ll have more on this as the story develops.

Houston Pagan Conference: The first Pagan conference in the Houston, Texas area in over 30 years is being held May 18th  at the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands. I reporter earlier on the fundraiser to get this event started.

“There has not been a conference for Pagans in the Houston area for over 30 years. Now is the time to change that. The Houston metropolitan area has a wonderful, rich, and vast Pagan community which should be celebrated. The Houston Pagan Conference was started to not only bring this community together but to also bring forth ideas and discussions on various aspects of faith and practice.”

Guest of honor will be author Raven Grimassi. In addition, OBOD Druid, CUUPs Vice President, and Patheos blogger, John Beckett will be in attendance, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about how the event went. Congratulations to the Houston-area Pagan community on getting organized!

In Other Community News:

 

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

A bright and ongoing success story in the Pagan community has been the utilization of crowd-funding sites like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter to collectively raise funds for important projects. Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her book “The Fifth Sacred Thing” made. Peter Dybing helped raise $30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders in the wake of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami. Pagan singer-songwriter SJ Tucker was amazed when a Kickstarter campaign for Tricky Pixie’s European tour more than doubled their initial goal in a matter of hours (and kept on growing). In addition, several smaller initiatives have managed to collectively raise thousands for Pagan projects: The readers of The Wild Hunt funded the proposed budget of this site for a year, Chicago-based Pagan/magical performance troupe Terra Mysterium raised funds for their new show “The Alembic,”and the Goddess community funded a documentary film in honor of Merlin Stone.

Crowdfunding sites allow an easy mechanism for fundraising in communities that may have social networks and organizations, but not the robust money-raising infrastructure of already-established mainstream institutions. This is a place modern Paganism is in today, and more and more of us are turning to these sites as a solution to our “money problem.” There are hundreds of thousands of Pagans out there, millions around the world, and they desire to see our projects and initiatives advance just as much as any other faith community. So here are some Pagan Fundraising Initiatives that you might want to contribute to.

Days Left in Parliament Fundraiser: There are only four days left in an urgent campaign to save the Parliament of the World’s Religions as it faces an unexpected one-time sudden financial crisis. I’ve written about this campaign before, and why Pagans should be invested in it, but now the deadline is looming and Pagan supporters are rallying to make sure this interfaith resource survives.

“We have 4 days left. Over the last two weeks, thanks to the generosity of many of you, the global Pagan community has raised $13,500 to help carry the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) into the future and save it from immediate closure! For more than 20 years, the Parliament has welcomed and supported the global Pagan movement. If you want to see our work with the Parliament continue, we need your support NOW [...] Here’s the good news: with the help of Pagans, $230,000 has been raised. The Parliament needs to raise $45,000 more — but we have only 4 days to do it.”

If you want to donate as part of the Pagan community, you can do so here. As I’ve said before, ensuring that the Parliament of the World’s Religions survives ultimately serves our needs, and we should strive to see that it does. I have no doubt that the global interfaith community will rally in time to save the Parliament, and I would like to make sure that Pagan involvement in this organization’s survival is a dominant theme.

Hexenfest 2013: In 2012 Sharon Knight and Winter of the band Pandemonaeon, along with fashion designer Anaar, held the very first Hexenfest, an attempt to build an arts festival in the Bay Area of California that appeals to fans of mythic music and dance. This year, the event will be held in Alameda, California, featuring performances from Arcane Dimension and Pandemonaeon, dance performances from Morpheus Ravenna and Anaar, a fashion show, and DJing by DJ Skellington.  However, since this is a new event still establishing itself, they need community support to make it happen. So they are throwing a quick IndieGoGo campaign to cover expenses beforehand.

“We are Sharon Knight, Winter, and Anaar. Two musicians and a fashion designer/ belly dancer inspired by myth, magick, and the realms of faerie. All three of us tour the country as performing artists. We found it strange that, although the Bay Area has a thriving Pagan community, it has produced relatively few music or art festivals. So we decided to create one, right here in our home town. Hexenfest is an annual festival of music, art and dance with roots in the Pagan community. At Hexenfest, you’ll find talented artists whose work reflects themes based in myth, legend, folkloric tradition, earth spirituality, fairytale and the like.  We’re drawn to the darkly exotic—the Forbidden Forest as opposed to the Enchanted Wood. “

Their goals are relatively modest, and you can get tickets and VIP treatment for donating. While there are many Pagan events that feature musical acts, and cultural events that are certainly Pagan-friendly, there are relatively few Pagan events that solely concentrate on music and art that originates from within our interconnected communities. This is an excellent opportunity for folks in the Bay Area to build something of lasting value. You can find out more at the event’s official Facebook page, or simply head to their IndieGoGo campaign site.

Houston Pagan Conference: Another regional-focused fundraiser comes from Texas where the Houston-based group Blackberry Circle are hoping to throw a Pagan conference “to not only bring this community together but to also bring forth ideas and discussions on various aspects of faith and practice.”

“This 2013 Pagan Conference is for those interested in the pagan approach to magic as an integral path to the divine. This will be the first pagan conference in the Gulf Coast area in over 30 years and is sponsored by Blackberry Circle, an eclectic Wiccan teaching coven located in Southeast Texas. Please donate to help ensure this conference is not only a success this year, but for years to come.”

For those who’ve wanted a Pagan conference experience like PantheaCon, ConVocation, or PaganiCon but have trouble leaving their geographic region, this seems like a good development for the Gulf Coast region. The planned event is to be held in May, further details are pending, though the organizers encourage people with questions to contact them. You can find the campaign at GoFundMe, where they hope to raise $3,500.

In Other Pagan Fundraising Initiatives News:

Those are the highlighted campaigns for this edition. Please send me word of your crowdfunding campaigns, and I may spotlight them on a future edition of this ongoing feature. Let’s all work together to promote important projects within our community, and destroy the notion that we can’t or won’t fund projects that are important to us. If you can’t donate, the best way to help is to share these campaigns to your social networks, exposing them to as many people as possible. Thanks for reading, and thank you for supporting Pagan community!

This past Friday I linked to a story, and subsequent follow-ups, concerning a Santa Muerte statue placed in a cemetery in San Benito, Texas. The San Benito News went to Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, whom they called a “renowned expert on the occult,” for context and he said that the statue was “probably a spell to harm or kill someone.”  This prompted a response from Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” who said that there was no evidence that this statue was placed there to harm or kill anyone. Ultimately, someone went and destroyed the statue before authorities could remove it, and I dinged the reporters for going with the “death spell” angle without seeking alternate perspectives. 

Seen on Wednesday is all that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Photo: San Benito News)

All that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Photo: San Benito News)

“I think there’s a lesson here, primarily for the journalists who went with the “death spell” angle without finding a second opinion.”

Since then, San Benito News Managing Editor Michael Rodriguez has publicly and privately defended his paper’s coverage, sending The Wild Hunt (and I assume others) an explanation for why they only got one source, and why he trusted Dr. Zavaleta’s input. Quote: “If there are those who would discredit Dr. Zavaleta’s conclusions based on his religious practice, then by the same token I should dismiss their remarks as biased [...] the original article was not an attempt to spark an argument about religious freedoms but merely to present the concerns of a community, the actions of a city administration in response to such concerns, and the opinion of a doctor/professor/published author with expertise in this field.”

The paper then went on to do the right thing (in my opinion) and interview both Dr. Zavaleta and Dr. Chesnut about the statue, its purpose, and how it should have been dealt with.

Dr. Chestnut: The destruction of the statue was most likely perpetrated by an individual or group who had seen the media coverage featuring a local anthropologist who asserted that the effigy had been placed in the cemetery as part of a black magic hex intended to kill someone. I seriously doubt that it was the owner of the statue who destroyed it, but without the presence of cameras in the cemetery we can’t be certain. I imagine the perpetrator(s) smashed the effigy instead of burning it because they were in a hurry. You would need to ask the anthropologist why he specifically recommended burning the image, but I would imagine he did because of the historical use of fire in Christianity as an agent of destructive purification. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, had “heretics” and “witches” burned at the stake on a regular basis.

Dr. Zavaleta: There are no accidents or haphazard events in this world of U.S.-Mexico witchcraft (brujeria). Therefore the statue was placed in the cemetery deliberately and for a specific act of witchcraft. I doubt that its destruction could ever be a random act. First of all it was not committed by the person who put it there in the first place. That is out of the question. Secondly, no passerby destroyed it either. The most probable explanation for its destruction is by a person of religious faith who felt it so offensive that they had to take action. Within the context of the believer, the fact that the statue was not burned but broken up does not in any way negate the effect, in other words it’s still active. Just as it was created ritually it would have to be destroyed by fire ritually in order to nullify its intended effect.”

At this point I’d like to add a few things, first, I’d like to commend Michael Rodriguez for actually being responsive and communicating with me privately, and for posting an explanation/defense of his paper’s reporting. I don’t necessarily agree with his reasoning, or his conclusions, but I admire the fact that he took our concerns seriously enough to respond. Most papers don’t bother, and being accountable to your audience is good journalism. Secondly, I’d like to talk briefly about Dr. Zavaleta and “renowned” occult experts.

I don’t doubt that Dr. Zavaleta is well-educated, nor do I doubt that he’s made a study of Brujeria. Let’s accept that right off that bat. However, when I read that someone is a “renowned expert on the occult” and that he has, quote, “aided authorities from all over the country in identifying and understanding ritualistic crimes,” alarm bells go off. First off, most “occult experts” aren’t actually experts in all forms of the occult (a broad term indeed), and many of them have a religio-political agenda. Our community (and many of our allies) have had years of trouble from “occult experts” who misrepresent occult beliefs, and Pagan faiths, viewing everything through a single lens of interpretation. Often, this lens will be informed by a conservative Christian worldview, and driven by a sensationalist idea of what “magic” and “ritual” are. One “occult expert” helped put three innocent teenagers in prison for nearly twenty years.

Finally, Dr. Zavaleta wasn’t simply acting as a scholar, offering conjecture based on his research. He made assertions that came from his role as an “occult expert” and that should have set off red flags for any journalist covering minority religions in America, especially minority religions that utilize magic.

“Someone, a man or woman, is doing witchcraft for pay,” Zavaleta said. “Somebody has paid the witch; they don’t do it for free and it (witchcraft) could easily go for a couple thousand dollars. So it definitely needs to be removed. The city should remove it, and that should be the end of it.” Actually, Zavaleta said the best course of action may even be to burn the sculpture.

Scholars don’t tell you to burn a sculpture, they don’t make definitive statements about the origin of the statue without verifying it. “Occult experts” with agendas do that. This is why I think the initial story needed more than one perspective, and why I’m glad they went and published a follow-up.

The Wild Hunt is partially an exercise in advocacy journalism. I make no bones about the fact that I have a pro-Pagan point of view, but papers that want to service an entire town, or city, can’t afford such a bias. This time, the assertions about “death spells” led someone to smash the Santa Muerte statue instead of letting the authorities deal with it, but next time it could lead to something worse. It could lead to accusations towards a community member, it could lead to mistrust and fear, and it could lead to the wrong people getting accused of a crime. So I hope the next time something ritualistic, something outside the ordinary happens, local journalists reach further afield for everyone’s sake.

ADDENDUM: Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut weighs in on this story at The Huffington Post. Quote: “Given the depiction of the folk saint by the media, at times reinforced by my fellow academics, it is not surprising that the presence of her Grim Reapress image in the cemetery quickly ignited a firestorm of controversy. For those in San Benito who already viewed the Bony Lady (one of her common monikers) as malevolent the unsubstantiated allegation of murderous sorcery made by a well-known anthropologist in the region simply reinforced their opinion and apparently emboldened at least one to deliver a mortal blow to Saint Death in the graveyard.”

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.

  • NPR does a Samhain-inspired spotlight on New York City’s Lady Rhea, owner of Magickal Realms in the Bronx, and a spiritual mother to many influential Pagans, including Phyllis Curott. Quote: “I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen. My age, I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me Pagan Mother. Call them up and I’ll say hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.” For more in this series, check out Faith in the Five Boroughs.
  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but did you know that by simply hoarding rose quartz or buying a lucky cat statue you can instantly block him? It’s true according to Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia: “When paganism and the occult contaminate the faith, the relationship with God is blocked and we can end up saying to ourselves that God is not interested in us, personally and as a nation [not knowing that] His blessings and protection… would not be able to fully enter into our lives.” So remember, God’s blessing, kinda easy to block (darn free will).
  • The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has made it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft,though activists point out that Christian churches will also have to be reigned in if real changes are to be made in this problem. Quote:  “But some say churches in the impoverished state where unemployment is rampant, must also be reigned in. Some activists cite the churches as the source of the belief that children are sorcerers or witches.” For more on this problem, visit  Stepping Stones Nigeria, an organization that is fighting against the branding of children as witches.
  • Meanwhile, four women were arrested for practicing witchcraft in the United Arab Emirates. According to a news report they were caught in the midst of practicing sorcery, and that “a large number of substances and herbs including detergents and bodily fluids” were confiscated. Quote: “Colonel Salem Sultan Al Darmaki, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Ras Al Khaimah police, said that the case details date back to when they received information from an Arab lady reporting that four women were practicing sorcery from their flat.” Lucky for them the UAE doesn’t kill women for sorcery like Saudi Arabia does, but it still presents a chilling portrait of what fundamentalism run amuck looks like.

INDIA TREES PAINTING

  • Artists in the Indian state of Bihar are painting trees and bushes with images of Hindu deities in hopes it will stop locals from cutting them down. Forest cover for the state is under 7%, which worsens effects of floods and extreme weather.  Quote: “The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork. Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.” 
  • Amy Wilentz, author of the forthcoming “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” gives some perspective on zombies in the New York Times. Quote: “There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.” This is a seriously great read – don’t miss it.
  • Salem Witch Richard Ravish, who passed away earlier this year, is remembered by his friends, loved ones, and co-religionists, during the annual walk to Gallows Hill in Salem. Quote: “I am doing a widow’s walk,” Ravish’s wife of 31 years said before the ceremony. “I’ve never done it before. This is the first year that the high priest … my partner, is not here to walk the circle with me. So I want to walk the circle round in a special walk.”
  • Science thinks we all might be a little bit psychic, albeit not in the bending spoons, having visions, sense. Quote: “What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.” 
  • Reasons why I’m glad to be a Pagan: Christian alternatives to Halloween. Plus, here’s some bonus Halloween season “exwitch” stuff, if you’re into that.
  • Samhain at the joint Lackland military base: “Cammen is among a curious multiplication of Wiccans at Lackland. Hundreds of basic military trainees have chosen to study witchcraft at the base. ”When we come over here on a Sunday, often times, there are 300 to 400 (trainees),” Tony Gatlin said.”
  •  Texas schools love Jesus, and litigation. Imagine how the handful of non-Christian students feel when Christian prayers are blasted throughout the school on their speaker system. Do you think they feel empowered to share their own faith, or are they instead pushed deeper into the “broom closet”? This is why a strong separation of church and state is necessary.

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

On April 30th a very rare, non-albino, white buffalo calf was found dead, slaughtered by unknown individuals. The calf’s mother was also killed, poisoned by whoever killed the calf. The calf, Lightning Medicine Cloud, born at the Lakota Ranch in Greenville Texas, was considered sacred, and a reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the perpetrators.

Lightning Medicine Cloud

Lightning Medicine Cloud

“There’s now a $45,000 reward for information leading to those responsible for the death of a white buffalo, “considered sacred by its Lakota Sioux owner,” and its mother near Greenville, Texas, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Crime Time blog. The size of the reward has gone up ninefold in recent days and is likely headed higher, the blog adds. Donations have been coming in from around the nation.”

White buffalo are sacred in several Native American religions, and their killing can trigger outrage in Indian Country, even though breeding programs and knowledge of genetics makes them easier to create. Lightning Medicine Cloud was especially rare because the calf was naturally occurring, a one-in-ten-million event. At the Lakota Ranch’s website, an information page tries to convey the spiritual importance of a buffalo calf like Lightning Medicine Cloud.

The Native Americans see the birth of a white buffalo calf as the most significant of prophetic signs, equivalent to the weeping statues, bleeding icons, and crosses of light that are becoming prevalent within the Christian churches today. Where the Christian faithful who visit these signs see them as a renewal of God’s ongoing relationship with humanity, so do the Native Americans see the white buffalo calf as the sign to begin life’s sacred hoop.

“The arrival of the white buffalo is like the second coming of Christ,” says Floyd Hand Looks For Buffalo, an Oglala Medicine Man from Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “It will bring about purity of mind, body, and spirit and ;unify all nations—black, red, yellow, and white.” He sees the birth of a white calf as an omen because they happen in the most unexpected places and often among the poorest people in the nation. The birth of the sacred white buffalo provides those within the Native American community with a sense of hope and an indication that good times are to come.

What happens when an omen of unity and prosperity is slaughtered?  Lakota Buffalo Ranch owner Arby Little Soldier, a descendant of Sitting Bull, says that his death would strengthen, not weaken, the calf’s purpose.

“He was the hope of all nations,” he said. “You have taken the inner spirituality. You tried to stop what we’re bringing back to ya’ll, but you just opened the doors to release the message to all people.”

We as a people crave stories that seem mythic, constantly searching for sign, omens, and portents in our daily lives. So it isn’t too unexpected that the killing of Lightning Medicine Cloud would spark a response in the mainstream media. The question now is what do we do now that attention is focused on this incident? I would argue that if you are horrified by this action, if you felt some kinship and understanding as to the importance of this animal, then you should funnel that outrage and sadness into paying more ongoing attention to Native American and indigenous issues here in America, and worldwide. Too often, the concerns and struggles in Indian Country are ignored, a specialty news item covered only on specialty news sites. If we are to help bring about the unity promised by Lightning Medicine Cloud, then the practice of solidarity might be a good start.

For example, we could examine the “gutting” of environmental review in Canada, a move opposed by Canadian aboriginals and environmentalists. We could ask why the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives opposes Native American protections in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill (even though 1 in 3 Native women will be raped during their lives and 2 in 5 women in Native communities will suffer domestic violence), or why the simple question of restoration of lands is regularly blown out of proportion every time it’s mentioned. Yet, for many of us, the connection isn’t there between our concern for the slaughter of a white buffalo calf, and the struggles of the peoples, the tribal nations, from where the context to understand that creature’s sacredness originates.

I would ask that anyone who wants to “do something,” who searched for some action to take, start with educating themselves on Native issues. Read sites like Indianz.com, News From Indian Country, and  the Indian Country Today Media Network. Listen to shows like Native America Calling, or  read blogs like Turtle Talk and First Peoples. If we Pagans would like to form alliances with practitioners of Native religions on issues of common concern, we should start by understanding what issues concern them. The death of Lightning Medicine Cloud, tragic as it is, presents an opportunity, a door we can open, towards deepening our understanding, and becoming the allies we imagine ourselves to be.

The idea of the United States as a pluralistic, secular, society where no single religious expression is enshrined has always gotten push-back, and experienced robust dissent over the years. To many, America is a “Christian” nation (sometimes a “Judeo-Christian” nation), and all others live here under their sufferance. The Rev. Dennis Terry’s recent comments at a Rick Santorum presidential rally typify the more vituperative side of this particular sentiment.

“I don’t care what the naysayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. There is only one God. There is only one God, and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words. I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or we can’t no longer pray in public. Listen to me. If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out! [...] We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Terry clearly articulates a popular view among conservative Christians concerning religious freedom. To these Christians, government-enforced secularism isn’t a neutral ethos, but a method of attacking their faith and limiting their free expression. In the minds of these Christians “religious freedom” means, in this time of demographic dominance, the right to let the majority dictate the religious norms of a society. Any deviance from that, in limiting prayer in schools, or sectarian prayer at government meetings, is a persecution of their church. To combat this “war on religion” (ie religion = Christianity) a variety of laws have been passed at the state level in order to “protect” the religious freedom of the overwhelming majority. A recent example is the new Florida law enabling students to give “inspirational messages” at school events.

“SB 98 states that its purpose “is to provide students with the opportunity for formal or ceremonious observance of an occasion or event.” Although “prayer” is never used in the bill, opponents claim it allows religious messages to be delivered in public schools. They also question allowing students to have an unrestrained venue to air their opinions at a school event.”

Such measures are almost always worded carefully to avoid legal challenge, though the wink-wink, nudge-nudge subtext is that it will allow majority Christian schools to have de facto sectarian Christian prayer so long as it’s a student willing to say it. As Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, put it: “legislators are clearly inviting Florida school boards to plunge into a legal swamp.” It’s a swamp that Tennessee seems ready to plunge into as well.

“The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden was approved by the House Education Committee on a voice vote. The companion bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. Holt said he proposed the legislation after talking with a concerned school board member in his district. He said the proposal would allow school districts to develop a so-called “student speaker policy” for school officials to follow.”

Here’s the thing though, while such laws almost always privilege the majority religion, it also opens the door to expressions of non-Christian religion within public schools (at least if the law if applied fairly).  Prayers to Jesus are all well and good, but what happens when a Wiccan gives an “inspirational” message?

Rep. Richard Montgomery, a Sevierville Republican and chairman of the House Education Committee, said he likes the idea of the bill, but believes it’s going to cause an uproar when a student decides to discuss a not-so-popular religion, such as Wicca. ”You might have 1 percent that actually believe that way, and 99 percent don’t believe that way,” he said. “You’re going to have an uproar out of this world in a lot of communities.”

This sentiment was echoed by David Barkey, Religious Freedom Counsel for The Anti-Defamation League, when asked for comment on the new Florida law.

Protesters in Pensacola support highschool educators on September 17, 2009. The educators are on federal trial following the ACLU charge that they prayed in school. (Photo: Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com)

Protesters in Pensacola support highschool educators on September 17, 2009. The educators are on federal trial following the ACLU charge that they prayed in school. (Photo: Cheryl Casey / Shutterstock.com)

“Our public schools are for all children regardless of their religion. But this law could require children as young as five to observe prayers to Allah, Buddha, Jesus or other faiths contrary to their religious upbringing at mandatory student assemblies. It is completely contrary to our public schools’ inclusive nature, and the law will only serve to divide students, schools and communities along religious or other lines. In America, the question of one’s religion or faith is extremely personal and private. It is not a question that is put to the discretion of government or other people. To ensure all children’s religious freedom, we urge school districts not to implement this imprudent law.”

Despite these warnings, student “religious liberties” laws have already been passed in Arizona and Texas, places where the majority feels confident that these laws will act as proselytization tools of the majority faith. Think I’m overstating this? Don’t listen to me, listen to the Texas House Research Organization’s own analysis of the then-pending bill.

“The bill could serve as a tool to proselytize the majority religious view, Christianity, in Texas schools. The United States is a nation made up of people of many faiths. Children are required to attend school and should be permitted to do so without someone else’s religion being imposed on them … A school should be a religion-free zone – leaving religion for homes, places of worship, and individual hearts.”

In truth, the “a Wiccan might be allowed to invoke the Goddess publicly” scenario is more a gambit than a true threat. It can occasionally work to stymie Christian overreach into the public sphere, but in many other cases, those lone non-Christian students who speak out face incredible intimidation and threats. In most cases the tyranny of the majority, once unconstrained by the law, proceeds to do its level best to silence all dissenting voices through threats, intimidation, violence, or simply peer pressure. That said, this new wave of “student expression” laws aren’t, legally speaking, bullet-proof. There’s a new legal precedent being built that looks not just at the openness and neutrality of a law’s language, but how well it maintains a balance of religious and philosophical viewpoints.

Rhode Island teen Jessica Ahlquist, who was bullied and threatened out of her school after successfully challenging a Christian mural.

Rhode Island teen Jessica Ahlquist, who was bullied and threatened out of her school after successfully challenging a Christian mural.

“…legislative prayer must strive to be nondenominational so long as that is reasonably possible — itshould send a signal of welcome rather than exclusion. Itshould not reject the tenets of other faiths in favor of just one.Infrequent references to specific deities, standing alone, donot suffice to make out a constitutional case. But legislativeprayers that go further — prayers in a particular venue that repeatedly suggest the government has put its weight behinda particular faith — transgress the boundaries of the Establishment Clause. Faith is as deeply important as it is deeply personal, and the government should not appear to suggestthat some faiths have it wrong and others got it right.”

While that decision looked at legislative prayer, it isn’t so far a stretch to see that precedent being applied to government-funded public schools as well. If a school enacts a policy under a student free expression law, and the vast majority of “inspirational messages” are endorsing one single sectarian message, it could be seen a an official endorsement of religion, even if the teachers and administrators never utter a word. That gives adherents to minority faiths some hope, but as challenges work their way through the courts, we still face the very real situation of schools in several states where Christian expressions of faith are going to receive pride of place, marginalizing Pagan students.

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.

The Fox affiliate in Houston, Texas reports on the case of Sylvia Ruiz, a mother of three who’s currently in divorce proceedings, and is having custody of her children challenged on religious grounds.

Sylvia Ruiz

Sylvia Ruiz

“Silvia accuses family court of scrutinizing her more because of her religious choice. That’s why, without notice, she fired her attorney on the spot, asked Judge Robert Newey to recuse himself, and tried to fire her children’s attorney. ”I’ve been a good mother and they have nothing to put on me, some spot on my name as a mother,” she said. [...]  Sylvia has a Wiccan shop and make-shift temple in the back of their Spring Branch home. Martin took us inside and there were pentagrams, oils, powders, bones and an assortment of items I couldn’t describe. ”Crazy people come here to see her and my kids are here and that’s what I don’t like,” he said.”

Martin Ruiz says that Sylvia conducts nude rituals, and that he doesn’t want his children exposed to that. Sylvia, in turn, accuses Martin of being an absentee parent who has barely spent any time with his family. You can watch the entire video report, embedded below.

I’ve written in depth about the tendency for one’s Pagan religion being used against a parent in custody cases, painting Wicca and other faiths as exotic and dangerous belief systems that might corrupt young children. The mere accusation of adherence to Wicca or modern Paganism is sometimes enough to affect a custody case. In my interview last year with Texas resident Jen Lepp, founder of the Pagan-owned Internet hosting company DrakNet (now owned by A Small Orange), she made it clear that the company’s move to “de-Pagan” itself came because of pressures resulting from a custody case.

“The fourth year I owned DrakNet, my husband and I got a divorce, and the following year (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into), we entered into a highly acrimonious custody battle. The suit stated outright in it’s initial filing that the basis was the fact that I was Pagan. I hired an attorney who dismissed it as a concern, stating my religion could not be used against me. While I have no doubt the attorney believed that when he told me, he was wrong and his objection was overruled. The county this lawsuit was in was extremely right-leaning, and the Judge in the case relieved me of custody temporarily while my beliefs and their affect on my ability to parent was investigated. Those I knew in the community did offer to rush to my defense, have protests on the courthouse lawn, call the press, and make the case into a circus, but I strongly felt then, as I do now, that a child cannot choose to be at the center of a public controversy. Though I was very, very careful in my answers not to establish any precedent or disclaim or lie about anything I was in the final trial, once I fought back and defended myself and won, I chose not to tempt fate a second time and I left Paganism so that it could not be used against me again.”

Lepp’s experience is in no way unique, and Pagan parents heading back into the closet for the benefit of their children has become a widely acknowledged phenomenon in our interlocking communities. While there have been some promising rulings recently on the issue of religion in custody cases, Pagan parents still often face an uphill struggle when one parent decides to make an issue of their beliefs, resulting in damaging fights that can last years. It’s a tactic that’s even been tried on the rich and famous, though not with the desired results.

The standard for awarding custody due to religion has to rely on obvious religiously-motivated abuse and harm that can be proven, not ominous intimations of ritual “nudity” or strange altars. The courts should not be in the business of deciding what religion is better for a child in custody cases if no abuse or mistreatment can be proven. In addition to fighting for stronger legal precedents to prevent judicial value judgments, other responses to the problem of parents using religion against each other in custody battles is increased mandatory mediation sessions, and giving greater agency to the children in these cases. A cocktail of all three could provide a good inoculation against religious discrimination in the courtroom. In the meantime, many Pagans, and other adherents to minority religions, still worry about revealing too much about their faith, lest it be used against them should a marriage fall apart. If you are a Pagan parent worried about custody, I suggest contacting the Lady Liberty League for help and advice. For those who can speak out, becoming more visible and understood is key in demolishing stereotypes about our faiths.

Finally, sunlight in these cases can be a good disinfectant. The more public scrutiny given to custody cases where Pagan religion is being used as a factor, the less likely it is a judge might decide to insert his personal prejudices. I’ll keep you appraised on any updates on this case, as will PNC-Texas, who are now following this story.

The United States has a strong ethic of not interfering with the internal affairs of religious organizations. The recent unanimous Supreme Court decision affirming the right of “ministerial exception” sent a clear signal that our government is limited in what in can demand or regulate. In America, religious institutions aren’t taxed, and our constitution enshrines a secular ethic that prevents one faith being raised up above any other. However, freedom of religion does not place clergy and religious leaders above the law, individuals have been imprisoned when their teachings have led to the abuse or deaths of others. Now, the question is if the United States should act to keep a religious leader accused of encouraging the abuse, and in some cases death, of children from entering our country. In March, Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is planning a trip to the United States to engage in a “Marathon Deliverance” session in Texas. The International Humanist and Ethical Union claims that Ukpabio “uses her sermons, teachings and prophetic declarations to incite hatred, intolerance and persecution of alleged witches and wizards.”

“Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch, initiated while she was a member of another local church, the Brotherhood of Cross and Star. She later founded the Liberty Gospel Church to fulfill her ‘anointed mission’ of delivering people from witchcraft attack. Ukpabio organizes deliverance sessions where she identifies and exorcizes people, mainly children, of witchcraft. Headquartered in Calabar in Southern Nigeria, the Liberty Gospel Church has grown to be a witch hunting church with branches in Nigeria and overseas.”

Ukpabio’s teachings were profiled in the documentary “Saving Africa’s Witch Children,” a ministry that includes a propaganda film, “End of the Wicked,” and a book entitled “Unveiling the Mysteries of Witchcraft,” materials that are taken very seriously by many Nigerians, and is claimed to have directly led to the torture and abuse of “witch” children. When confronted with these allegations by the New York Times during her last visit to America, Ukpabio claimed the film was mere fantasy, and that the accusations against her were fueled by racism.

“Do you thinkHarry Potteris real?” Ms. Ukpabio asked me angrily, in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express where she was staying. “It is only because I am African,” she said, that people who understand that J. K. Rowling writes fiction would take literally Ms. Ukpabio’s filmic depictions of possessed children, gathering by moonlight to devour human flesh. [...]  Ms. Ukpabio argued that “Saving Africa’s Witch Children” exaggerates or invents the problem of child abandonment. Asked how she could be so sure, she said, “because I am an African!” In Africa, she said, “family ties are too strong to have a child on the street.”

Despite these claims of “exaggeration”, Nigeria has since outlawed accusing a child of witchcraft. A law challenged by Ukpabio, who tried to sue the Akwa Ibom state government, local police, and relief charities for damages and an exemption from the law. Failing in that initiative, her followers have used the press to attack the organizations that seek to help children accused of witchcraft. As the New York Times so aptly puts it: “In the name of religious freedom, Ms. Ukpabio seeks a gag order on anyone who disagrees with her.” Now she seeks to return to America again, to no doubt rake in donations from her American followers and admirers.

I’ve written about Ukpabio several times at this blog, a prominent figure in a gruesome business of churches naming and “curing” witchcraft in children. A phenomenon that Western churches have much to answer for. This time, Ukpabio’s visit is seeming to inspire some coordinated opposition. Humanitarian activist Michael Mungai at HuffPo says there should be protests, which are now being organized by Staise Gonzalez in Houston against Ukpabio’s visit.

Her critics, such as Staise Gonzalez, say that once children are identified as witches, especially in areas where people believe in sorcery, they are tortured and sometimes killed. ”These suspected witches have been treated in brutal and inhumane ways,” says Gonzalez, who is organizing 12 days of protest to correspond with Ukpabio’s appearance, scheduled from March 14 to March 25. ”Abandoned, isolated and otherwise ostracized from the community, taken to the forest and slaughtered, disgraced publicly, bathed in acid, poisoned, buried alive, chained and tortured in churches in order to extract confession, and murdered,” she says.

A Facebook page, Stand Against Helen Ukpabio, has also been created. Meanwhile, back in Nigeria, children are still being branded as witches, and a judicial commission on witchcraft accusations in Nigeria is demanding that she appear and testify before it. A warrant for her arrest may be issued if she ignores those summons. Considering the circumstances, and the mountain of evidence that Ukpabio is engaged the naming of child witches, and her defiant stance to any and all accusations of wrongdoing, is it in the best interests of our State Department to allow her a visa? A petition on Change.org argues that Ukpabio should be denied entry.

“US Department of State needs to be urged to do the right thing and deny Helen Ukpabio’s entry into the United States on grounds of her human rights violations.”

PZ Myers adds that “this evil, criminal woman ought to be met at the airport and turned right around, if not sent off to trial for crimes against humanity.” Will the State Department acknowledge Ukpabio’s witch-hunting as a crime against humanity and deny her entry? I can only imagine that a concerted effort to bring the matter to their attention may have some effect. I will try to contact them to see if they have an official stance or response to the charges against Ukpabio.

Those who would accuse children of witchcraft have no place in our society, and should not be feted or encouraged by welcoming them to our shores. The cures and blessings peddled by Ukpabio, and those like her, should face intense scrutiny, and not allowed the status of an United States victory lap.  For those who want to help the witch-children of Nigeria, Stepping Stones Nigeria is a good place to start.