Archives For The Harvard Crimson

The Harvard Extension University Cultural Studies Club created quite a stir in Boston this past week when it announced the sponsorship of a Black Mass re-enactment to be staged by the New York-based  Satanic Temple. The event was originally slated to be held on campus Monday evening at Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in Memorial Hall. By 7 p.m. the Club had cancelled its official involvement leaving The Satanic Temple to stage the ritual on its own.

Harvard [Photo Credit: Joseph Williams/WikiMedia]

Harvard [Photo Credit: Joseph Williams/WikiMedia]

The Cultural Studies Club began advertising the Black Mass on May 5 with campus posters and a registration website. In accordance with their mission, the Club’s goal was purely educational. As explained by the Club President*:

In a pluralistic democracy it is essential that everyone have equal rights to display their faith. We feel this has not been the case and want to allow other legitimate groups this opportunity especially when those groups have been unfairly maligned with disturbing repercussions.

The outcry and backlash were almost immediate. On May 7 a Catholic student named Jonathan wrote, “My hope and prayer is that all Catholics on campus of sound mind and faith will oppose this injustice and picket the event.” The Harvard Catholic Student Association published an online petition that reads:

While the Cultural Studies Club dubiously claims that the purpose of re-enactment is purely “educational,” this does not change the fact that the Black Mass in fact mocks religious beliefs, desecrates sacred items and symbols, and insults the spiritual sensitivities of Harvard’s Catholics, Christians and other people of faith. … Moreover, we who are members of the Harvard community fear for the University’s reputation and for what Harvard’s stamp of approval will do to the University’s relationship with its alumni, students, faculty, and the global community it aims to serve. We demand that President Faust and the Harvard administration speak out against this event, and do all in their power to disband it.

Despite mounting student protests, the University administration would not cancel the event. On May 9 the Dean of Students and Alumni Affairs Robert Neugeboren, stated:

Students at the Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests. The Harvard Extension School does not endorse the views or activities of any independent student organization. But we do support the rights of our students and faculty to speak and assemble freely.

Neugeboren goes on to express his awareness that the event is “deeply disturbing and offensive to many” and hopes that Club organizers will open a dialog with Harvard’s Christian community.

Boston’s Catholic leaders joined the protest asking Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust to cancel the Club’s Black Mass. Fr. Roger Landry called the event “terribly ill-advised and totally insensitive.” The Archdiocese of Boston publicly “expressed sadness and strong opposition” referencing recent speeches from the Vatican.  He said:

… Pope Francis warned of the danger of being naïve about or underestimating the power of Satan, whose evil is too often tragically present in our midst.  We call upon all believers and people of good will to join us in prayer for those who are involved in this event, that they may come to appreciate the gravity of their actions. 

The Archdiocese also announced a vigil walk from the M.I.T. Chapel to St. Paul’s Church to be held at the same time as the Black Mass. The walk would be followed by a Holy Hour of prayer at St. Paul’s.

President Drew Gilpin Faust [Photo Credit: Harvard]

President Drew Gilpin Faust [Photo Credit: Harvard]

Despite pressure President Faust would not stop the Black Mass. She said:

The reenactment of a ‘black mass’ planned by a student group affiliated with the Harvard Extension School challenges us to reconcile the dedication to free expression at the heart of a university with our commitment to foster a community based on civility and mutual understanding … It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory … Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. 

In the statement Faust also emphasized that she would be attending the Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church in order to “reaffirm our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.”

By Monday afternoon the Club had over 700 people registered to attend the Black Mass; far more than expected. The Club President says, “Due to this level of interest and the conflicts this was creating on campus with concerns over upcoming finals, we decided to move the event.”  At 5:45pm the Club announced that the new location would be the Middle East Restaurant and Bar.

However The Middle East quickly responded via tweet that they were “not hosting the event.” According to one of the owners, “The booking had never been confirmed.”  The Cultural Studies Club believes that the restaurant may have experienced external pressure causing negotiations to fall through. At that point the Club had no other viable location and therefore decided to publicly cancel the Black Mass. The Club President says:

Some people seem to think the public cancellation is a victory, but it is most certainly a Pyrrhic one. The dissenters did not shut down hate speech as they like to pretend they did. Many people are keenly aware of that and are disgusted by the self-righteous behavior of those who tried to stop this event. Instead they come across as being frighteningly oppressive …The celebrations of the people protesting the Black Mass, we observed, took on a fascist tone because they were rejoicing in the suppression of those they disagree with.

Throughout the evening Christian Organizations held protests all over Harvard Square while the Archdiocese lead the vigial walk and prayer hour. At the same time there were counter-protests by supporters of the Club and Black Mass event. The Club President says, “Neither the club nor [The Satanic Temple] were actively involved, although The Satanic Temple spokesman Lucien Greaves did deliver an impromptu speech.”

Counter Protestors [Photo Credit: The Satanic Temple]

Counter Protestors [Photo Credit: The Satanic Temple]

Despite Monday’s turn-of-events, The Satanic Temple did manage to stage a Black Mass ritual that night at the Hong Kong Restaurant and Lounge across from Harvard Yard. According to The Harvard Crimson, there were 50 attendees, most of whom were Temple members and core supporters.

Looking back at the events the Cultural Studies Club President firmly believes that there were as many people or more who supported the Club’s work or wanted to experience the Black Mass as those who didn’t. The President notes that the University itself “was honorable though out and always planned to allow the event to proceed.” Despite significant pressure Harvard’s administration consistently upheld its support of “student free speech and made sure the necessary logistical support was provided.”

When asked if they would reschedule, the President said, “We certainly have the right to reschedule, but we’ll have to wait until the fall to decide. We already have a number of events planned.” Some of those events are a Shinto Tea ceremony, Buddhist mediation presentation and a Shaker performance. In addition a Southern Baptist preacher has volunteered to journey to Cambridge in order to host a ritual. The Club President adds that “All club members are open-minded and would enthusiastically accept invitations to events hosted by” Pagans and Heathens of all and any practice.


* Due to the amount of hate mail and personal threats received by the Club President and members, they wish to remain anonymous.

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.

Religious Right watchdog site Talk to Action recently noted that the Harvard Extension Service & Leadership Society is hosting the 2011 Social Transformation Conference on April 1st and 2nd. HESLS wants to reassure us that this conference is a positive, diverse, and hate-free event.

“This conference is focused not on drawing lines of division, but on providing an opportunity for students and the community at large to explore how we can transform or improve our society. We have been assured by our speakers that they have not supported any hatred directed towards any group, and that allegations to the contrary are untrue and/or misinterpreted.”

The only problem with this statement is that it isn’t even remotely true. You see, the backers and speakers at this conference are members of the New Apostolic Reformation (aka the “Third Wave”), a neo-pentecostal Christian group obsessed with waging a spiritual war against indigenous religions, Pagan religions, homosexuality, and even Catholicism! Three of the featured speakers have publicly inveighed against the dangers of Witchcraft and “New Age” religions, spurring Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action to note that “it’s been a few years now since witch hunting was in vogue in Massachusetts, but an upcoming conference to be held at Harvard this April 1-2 could help rekindle the practice.”

The staff of the Harvard Crimson have also weighed in, strongly criticizing HESLS’s defense of the event, noting that if some of the participant’s “expressions do not seem like hatred, we are hard pressed to understand what does.”

“By hosting a panel discussion whose participants will merely voice their opinions without being called upon to justify their past incendiary remarks, the event seems to accept incredibly offensive opinions without providing any internal challenge. In a sense, the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community is consequently on trial with this coming conference. Regardless of their subject matter, conferences must nevertheless be held to basic standards of intellectual honesty and accountability, and we simply cannot imagine what value the Social Transformation Conference will bring to our community.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage of this extremist Christian movement, they have taken credit for the crisis in Japan, and blamed Shinto for God’s wrath, praised the Haitian earthquake for breaking the “strongman of the occult’s” back, provided Sarah Palin a religious mentor who claims to have given a Wiccan chaplain cancer through prayer, believes Japan’s emperor literally slept with a demonic succubus, thinks worship is a weapon, gives fiscal aid to African witch-hunters, burns indigenous/Native art, and are obsessed with destroying the “Queen of Heaven”. In short, they are consumed with a theologically-driven hatred of indigenous and Pagan faiths. Oh, and I think it goes without saying they are rabidly anti-gay.

Let me echo the Harvard Crimson and say that these individuals have the right to believe as they do, and the First Amendment right to air their opinions in the public square, but for them to go unchallenged here, using Harvard to legitimize and paint a veneer of respectability over their almost cartoonishly nefarious goals seriously endangers “the intellectual integrity of the entire Harvard community.” As for the New Apostolic Reformation, their conceptions of resistance to this conference are typical.

“Today, however, Harvard is known as one of the most liberal universities in America.  Recently, a student felt a leading of the Lord to host a Christian marketplace conference on social transformation.  Little did he realize the level of opposition that would come against him.  It wasn’t long before this conference was met with real opposition from a gay activist group that is seeking to prevent the event from taking place.  This group has been effective at causing the Dean to question the merits of such an event.  We believe the root of this concern is simply spiritual forces seeking to keep Christ off this campus and fear caused by the gay activists.

One wonders if all it takes to have Harvard host a hate group is a willing student and a heavily edited press packet. By hosting this group, a message is being sent to religious minorities, indigenous groups, and GLBTQ individuals that they aren’t safe at this campus. That claims from extremists that they in “no way seek to convey any negative message about any group,” are taken at face value despite obvious evidence to the contrary. This isn’t the usual debate about conservative speech being allowed at liberal college campuses, or even conservative Christian speech, this group’s theology and mission transcend the usual left-right debates. This is a group on a mission, one that should concern anyone who doesn’t fit into their very narrow Christian paradigm.

Since the US Department of Veterans Affairs relented on allowing the Pentacle symbol to be engraved on the graves of Pagan veterans, some Pagan organizations have gotten together to work towards getting two more symbols approved: the Thor’s Hammer (for Asatru), and the Awen (for Druidry). But will these attempts be any easier than before? A Harvard Crimson editorial analyzes the new post-settlement V.A. regulations and finds they still place an undue burden on believers.

“Although the VA has rectified this specific mistake, it is no closer to a more expansive definition of religious legitimacy. In January 2007, the VA proposed a new set of criteria to determine when it ought to recognize a new emblem of belief. The new criteria seeks to ensure that “there is an immediate need” for a new emblem, and that the belief system is a “genuine and non-frivolous group of religious opinions, doctrines and/or principles believed or accepted as true by a group of persons.” The VA has also established a new bureaucratic procedure for applying for new emblems of belief. Although the proposed definition wisely uses the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) definition of a religious institution as one of its many criteria, the new overall process is seriously flawed.”

The new restrictive criteria includes prohibiting active soldiers or veterans from petitioning on their own behalf, Constitutionally dodgey requests for “information about the structure” of the soldier’s religious organization (something the IRS doesn’t require), and prohibitions against “social, cultural, and ethnic” emblems (a fine line for any indigenous faith group). Joshua R. Stein’s editorial calls for a complete overhaul on the approval for emblems of belief.

“While it is laudable that the VA has accepted the Wiccan Pentacle and begun to examine their highly entrenched, anachronistic system, this single action is not enough. The system of emblems of belief – which places an undue, indeed unfair, emphasis on one’s religious identity – needs to be reevaluated entirely so that soldiers can be remembered in a way most appropriate to them.”

While I hope I’m wrong, I fear that needed reevaluation will only come in the wake of further lawsuits, very likely from a modern Pagan faith.