Archives For The Huffington Post

There’s an old chestnut in our community that goes something like this: If Christians are “people of the book,” then Pagans are people of the library. In short, we love books; reading them, writing them, arguing about them, and listing them (we’re a highly educated and literate bunch). Recently the Huffington Post posted a reader-recommended list of 27 essential Pagan texts which almost instantly set off a chain-reaction within our online communities. I saw several complaints as to what was omitted, links to the piece from authors who were included, and alternate lists from folks like Star Foster and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

“And, of course, I’m very willing to say and am totally non-self-deluded about the fact that the list of thirty-one books to follow here is very subjective, and quite biased as well because it has four books that I wrote solely, and at least one other that I contributed to in some fashion. What can you do? The books I’ve written have been books I rather wish existed when I got into this–now they do exist, and they’re meant to help people who want to pursue Antinoan devotion, so I challenge anyone who thinks they should not be included to suggest something that will do the job equally well, if not better, at this point. Plus, some books by friends and/or co-religionists of mine also make the list because they’re just that damn good, in my opinion.”

Anyone who’s known Pagans for any length of time shouldn’t be surprised by this. An integral part of just about every Pagan website in the early days was the recommended reading list. Everyone had additions, or personal tweaks, or newer works, or what they felt was an exhaustive overview of their particular area of expertise. You could say that recommended reading lists are an integral part of how we came to be. In his history of modern Paganism in America, “Her Hidden Children,” Chas Clifton spends quite a bit of time explaining how important reading books has been to our development.

“At the end of the 1970s, in her list of reasons why respondents to her Green Egg questionnaire became Pagans, Margot Adler lists seeking beauty and imagination, personal growth, the freedom of ‘religion without the middleman,’ and environmental and feminist concerns, but also bookishness: “In particular, most of the Midwesterners said flatly that the wide dissemination of strange and fascinating books had been the main factor in creating a Neo-Pagan resurgence … almost all [Neo-Pagans regardless of educational level] are avid readers.” Adler’s research was conducted in the late 1970s, but her conclusion remains appropriate.”

So, in short, books are important to us. Our mutual love of books may be one of the few things that we all mostly agree on, even if we can’t all agree on the various titles. Anyone who wants to understand modern Pagans, and modern Paganism as a religious movement, will need to spend a lot of time reading what we read (and what we write). Having said all that, I now feel almost contractually obligated to provide you with a list of my own. Since I don’t really feel like trying to present a “top ten most important books all Pagans should read” kind of list, I thought I’d provide you with something more personal.

Jason’s Ten Favorite Fiction Titles that Have Pagan Themes and He Found Personally Inspiring.

One current that I don’t think gets addressed enough in our history is how much fiction titles played a role in our development. There are obvious instances like Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the Church of All Worlds, or Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” and the inspirational role it played within Reclaiming and Paganism as a whole in the mid-1990s, but it goes far deeper than that. Paganism, at some level, has always relied on story. From Homer’s epics to Lucius Apuleius’ “The Golden Asse” to Margaret St. Clair’s “Sign of the Labrys” (a novel that ended up with her being initiated by Raymond Buckland). So here are ten novels that struck a chord with me, and maybe some of them struck a chord with you as well.

  • John Ford’s “The Dragon Waiting : A Masque of History”:
  • An early alternate history novel, first published in 1983, it supposes a world where Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (aka “Julian the Apostate”) did not fail in turning the Christian tide, creating a world where paganism is the norm, and Christianity an extremist sect existing on the margins. However, instead of making this shift the focus on the novel, Ford tells the tale of a group of adventurers who get caught up in saving Richard III’s throne in England. The characters don’t self-consciously comment on how different things are, instead they live and breath in a very pagan England, one where the Roman Empire never fell. It’s the little details that stick with you.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon”: This is probably the one that everyone else has already read, and this novel has been feted (and criticized) so many times that it seems redundant to mention it here. Still, this tale of the Arthurian mythos through the eyes of its women is a blockbuster for a reason. I went through a phase in my earlier years where I read and reread this, to the point where I don’t think I could ever do so again. In today’s light, where historical authenticity is highly prized, it seems flawed (Atlantis?) and dated (Did ancient Britons really practice what amounted to Wicca?) but Bradley was an expert teller of stories and it was hard to not get caught up in the melodrama.
  • Stewart Farrar’s “Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic”: Yes, it’s that Stewart Farrar, with a 1980 novel from the”Witches save the world genre.” Set in the far future of around seven years ago, it tells a tale of apocalypse brought about by an alternative energy source, a gas that turns people into insane zombies, and a rag-tag group of Witches who fight a Satanic coven, and a corrupt splinter government to win the future. Really, this book has it all, including some inadvertent comedy when guesses at what modern Paganism will look like after the year 2000 are made. I really hope somebody puts this back into print.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night”: Published in the early 80s (I’m sensing a trend.), and out-of-print for years, this was another “Witches save the world” book. This time it’s up to England’s Witches and occultists to save their land from an invasion by Hitler and his evil magical coven. Pulpy and full of high-adventure, Kurtz knows her way around writing about ritual magic, and weaves in the theories of Margaret Murray and divine kingship in a way that’s compelling. I have no idea why this hasn’t been put back into print, or made into a movie. For a contemporary (and darker) take on this same theme, check out “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis, where Warlocks fight Nazi mutants.
  • Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles (“The Winter King”“Enemy of God”“Excalibur”): Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell sinks his teeth into King Arthur, placing him into a real, dirty, and brutal 5th century Britain. Told in flashback by a fictionalized Saint Derfel, Cornwell shows both the beauty, and brutality, of pre-Christian religion (and Christianity is almost always found wanting in comparison). He does his best to include everything while still keeping things as historically plausible as possible. His Merlin is a real treat, as is his treatment of Druid magic in general.
  • Margaret Mahy’s “The Changeover”: This may be one of the first YA novels to deal with Witches in a purely positive light, and is interesting for the way it talks about magical initiation as a metaphor for becoming an adult and taking responsibility. A little gem of a novel.
  • Gore Vidal’s “Julian: A Novel”: Speaking of Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Vidal takes on the work of rehabilitating the character of the much-maligned “apostate,” portraying him as, if not a hero, then an intellectually curious man well ahead of his time. This is a rich novel that takes the time to establish what life and religion must have been like for Julian, and how his embrace of paganism shook the world (or at least parts of the world). It also provides Vidal plenty of chances to critique Christianity, which is done with great gusto and at regular intervals. I great way to start your journey learning about this oft-revered figure within modern Paganism.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Finnovar Tapestry (“The Summer Tree”“The Wandering Fire”“The Darkest Road”): Kay’s tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantasy epic that is explicitly pagan in its telling. One of the only “regular people get sucked into a fantasy world” series that I truly enjoy, and one that is truly moving. Kay dreams of a truer world, in a tapestry of worlds, one where gods and goddesses still walk the earth, interweaving  them with the Arthurian mythos in a way that feels engaging. It subverts the “ordinary men and women learn what truly matters” trope by upping the stakes, and drastically changing the characters by the third book. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or of Celtic mythology, you’ll love this.
  • Robert Grave’s “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God”: It’s hard to think of these novels today without thinking of the epic British television series, but Grave’s tale of the Julio-Claudian dynasty seen through the eyes of stuttering, limping, drooling Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is a masterwork. Thought a fool, but canny and smart enough to survive and grow old in an age of executions and upheavals, Claudius narrates an epic tragedy about family, principles, and duty. These books are every bit as entertaining as the show, and if Graves played with history a bit, well, that’s the prerogative of novelists. These are landmark modern novels of the ancient Roman period.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s “Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles”: Let’s end with something published rather recently, shall we? Winterson plays with myth, twisting and turning the tale of Atlas and Heracles, finding new and interesting ways to interact and engage with the story. She finds how these tales fit into our own lives, finding raw, personal, parts of ourselves in the tales of gods, titans, and heroes. Poetic, playful, and moving, she reminds us that the tales pagans told each other in times long past still matter, still live, still breathe.

That’s ten! As a bonus, let me endorse the entire oeuvre of Charles de Lint. If you’ve never read anything by him, start with “The Very Best of Charles de Lint” and work your way out from there. Also, I know I didn’t recommend Gaiman’s “American Gods,” but I’m sure someone else will bring it up in the comments. Feel free to share your favorite Pagan-themed or inspirational novels in the comments.

In a recent editorial for the Huffington Post Josh Schrei argues that the real difference between Hinduism and other world religions is that Hinduism is an “open source” faith, and that most of the others are “closed source” in their orientation.

The logo of the Open Source Initiative.

The logo of the Open Source Initiative.

“However, the key point of differentiation between Hinduism and these other faiths is not polytheism vs. monotheism. The key differentiation is that “Hinduism” is Open Source and most other faiths are Closed Source. “Open source is an approach to the design, development, and distribution of software, offering practical accessibility to a software’s source code.” If we consider god, the concept of god, the practices that lead one to god, and the ideas, thoughts and philosophies around the nature of the human mind the source code, then India has been the place where the doors have been thrown wide open and the coders have been given free reign to craft, invent, reinvent, refine, imagine, and re-imagine to the point that literally every variety of the spiritual and cognitive experience has been explored, celebrated, and documented. Atheists and goddess worshipers, heretics who’ve sought god through booze, sex, and meat, ash covered hermits, dualists and non-dualists, nihilists and hedonists, poets and singers, students and saints, children and outcasts … all have contributed their lines of code to the Hindu string.

It’s an concept that could just as easily be applied to modern Pagan religions. Like Hinduism, Paganism is simply an umbrella term for a large number of individual faiths, traditions, and practices that happen to share a some commonalities that bind them together. Though I think Schrei might be overstating things when he initially claims that the differentiation isn’t about “polytheism vs. monotheism.” Isn’t it the theological openness of polytheism that allows both “atheists and goddess worshipers” to coexist and contribute to a religious culture? This point is all but conceded by Schrei later on in his piece.

“Western and Middle Eastern monotheistic faiths have simply not allowed such liberal interpretation of their God. They continue to exist as closed source systems.”

The similarities and shared outlooks of the Pagan and Hindu communities will be explored at the upcoming PantheaCon 2012 in San Jose, California, where members of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) will participate in a panel discussion entitled Hindus and Pagans: One Billion Strong. Perhaps the open/closed religion model idea will be discussed along with other topics.

I’m taking a personal day today as it’s my wedding anniversary and we’re headed out to the coast for a bit of celebration. But before I go here’s a few quick news notes to tide you over until tomorrow.

First off, Stone City Pagan Sanctuary has started a memorial fund for Fay Campagnola, an active part of the Pagan community in California who helped with several important events, and worked for years as live-in caretaker at the Annwfn sanctuary.

“Due to the suddenness [of her passing], the family is struggling with funeral costs and Fay’s memorial service, which was planned for earlier this month, had to be postponed due to a lack of funds. Stone City is now collecting donations from the community to raise the funds needed to hold Fay’s memorial and help her family through this difficult time. We feel it’s important for the community to honor Fay’s life and service by providing a proper memorial rite. It would be tragic both for her family and the community if a dedicated community builder such as Fay could not be properly memorialized at her passing simply because of a lack of funds.”

Stone City is looking to raise $600.00 to cover memorial costs, and help support Fay’s family. All donations are tax-deductible. If your life has been touched by Fay’s work, or if you want to help out a family in need, do consider making a donation.

Over at HuffPo, religion professor Ramdas Lamb writes about polytheism and monotheism from a Hindu perspective.

“The purpose here, then is to make the case for the inclusion of polytheism as a legitimate belief system, for it has animated people throughout the world since ancient times and has often provided an understanding of divinity and reality that is more rational than Abrahamic monotheism and has been the cause of far less violence in the world. Hinduism will be used as a primary example, since it offers a good example of polytheism and how it can be blended with the Hindu understanding of monotheism into a useful and practical theology.”

For more Hinduism-related content from the Huffington Post, click here.

Yesterday I mentioned  the new Arthurian-based Starz series “Camelot,” and how one reviewer found it “almost completely devoid of ideas or values.” However, perhaps this interview with actor Joseph Fiennes, who plays Merlin in the series, will make you want to check it out for yourself?

“…we wanted the magic to be something very organic, elemental, true to [Merlin as] a pagan character. He’s not of this newfangled Christian age. He has a very different belief system and also, we both decided that it’d be great to look at the magic where it wasn’t, you could just wield it and walk off, but actually, like all of us, if we have a power, whether it’s with our pen, the microphone or whatever, there’s a level of, you know we can’t abuse it. The moment we step up, we know that abuse comes back to haunt you. So with the magic like that, [it can’t be abused without a price]. Even in politics, you can’t abuse politics.”

As for positive advance reviews? Well, the more fannish-oriented sites seem to think it’s OK. Once it comes to Netflix, I’ll certainly give it a chance.

That’s all I have for now, have a good day, and watch out for the April Fools posts!

Some news of note to start your week.

Respecting (and Not Respecting) Native Culture: There seemed to be several stories in recent days concerning reactions to indigenous and Native cultures. Some of these stories were positive ones, like a New York Times profile of the new Denver Art Museum’s initiative to credit individual American Indian artists, instead of simply listing the tribe it was made by. However, this newfound sense of respect hasn’t carried over into all aspects of our culture, as the ongoing discussion over the wave of criticism from conservative pundits regarding a traditional Native blessing given by Dr. Carlos Gonzales at a memorial service for those killed and injured in the horrific shooting in Tuscon, Arizona shows. Last week the Indian Country Today Media Network profiled several Native voices regarding the conservative media outcry over the blessing, and today, in a follow-up report, Rob Capriccioso notes that several blogs are weaving conspiracy theories about the one pundit, Power Line’s Paul Meringoff, who did retract his insensitive comments.

Former Washington Times scribe Robert Stacy McCain played the role of an alarmist, writing in a Jan. 31 blog post, titled, “Power Line Gets Scalped: Did Indian Tribe Money Influence Akin Gump Decision?,” that he believed tribes had knocked off Mirengoff—and somehow former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was involved, too. “You may recall that Pelosi and Democrats were elected in 2006 on a promise to clean up the ‘culture of corruption’ in Washington. Exhibit A in the Democrats’ case against the GOP that year? Yeah: ‘Casino Jack’ Abramoff’s shady dealings with Indian tribes,” McCain wrote. “So in criticizing that Yaqui prayer at the Tucson memorial, Paul Mirengoff wasn’t just being politically incorrect, he was also offending a lucrative segment of Akin Gump’s lobbying clientele, whom the firm had recently hired three lawyers to service. Small wonder that Mirengoff was likely forced to choose: Quit blogging at Power Line or quit working at Akin Gump.”

What does it say about any culture, blog or otherwise, when a member can’t retract, or be wrong, without others invoking a web of intrigue to explain it? So instead of a pundit simply deciding he went over the top, embarrassing his employers in the process, and that being accepted, his apology is marked as “worthy of a political prisoner” or an example of the “slow erosion of our speech.” Free speech for some may be never having to say your sorry, but being a part of a community means that our words and actions have consequences. Behind these various conspiracy theories were actual American Indians who were hurt and offended by the attacks, distortions, and smears, that some can’t acknowledge that is troubling.

While we are on the subject of not respecting Native Americans, their religion, and their culture, we have some news in the ongoing James Arthur Ray sweat lodge deaths trial. The trial is set to begin on February 18th, but the defense team are trying to have the proceedings moved from Yavapai County (home to New Age hub of Sedona) to a court in Phoenix, saying the jury pool is too tainted and biased (an allegation locals aren’t too happy about).

“Ray’s lawyers made a similar request last summer, which was denied by Judge Warren Darrow. At the time, though, Darrow said he’d still consider the request as the case moves closer to trial. The Associated Press reports that his attorneys say jury questionnaires reveal widespread prejudice against Ray in Yavapai County.”

Ray’s lawyers are also trying to prevent cult deprogrammer/consultant Rick Ross from giving testimony for the prosecution. They  (prosecutors) want Ross to evaluate Ray’s programs, and testify on how coercive they may be. This trial, once it actually starts, should be very, very interesting.

Opening, Restoring, and Protecting Goddess Temples: Starting with a bit of good news on this topic, the Roman Forum’s Vestal temple and houses, after a lengthy restoration effort, is now open to the public.

No doubt modern followers of Vesta, and those interested in the restoration of pre-Christian temples, will be most pleased! Meanwhile, despite the economic turmoil in Greece lately, restoration efforts in Athens are being pushed forward, with many seeing it as a matter of national pride to continue the work. However, not all efforts regarding ancient temple sites are as well received as those in Greece or Italy, the Goddess Pages is calling for protests over plans to build a visitor center in the middle of a prehistoric goddess sanctuary in Nettersheim, Germany.

“At first we thought this must be a bad joke. Unfortunately the concealed plans are already very advanced. An architect is already dreaming about eternalizing this outrageous action and a mayor is dreaming of hordes of tourists bringing their money. This construction in the middle of this sanctuary would be an terrible crime. It’s more than about questioning the subject of reputation, prestige and profit, fact is it would destroy irretrievable evidence of our foremothers and ancestors. We’re sure the public has not yet realized that this plan exists. In the past churches were built on sanctuaries to honour goddesses in order to destroy them. Today is it to be Info Centers built to attract tourists which will destroy our remaining sanctuaries?”

You can read more about the proposed visitor “cube, ” here. The German article notes conflict “about the ‘male’ form of a cube” not being “compatible with the ‘female’ matrones.” There seems to be a Facebook campaign already underway. You can see some pictures of the Deae Matrone sanctuary, here. Thanks to Medusa Coils for tipping me off to the story.

While restoration efforts happen for ancient temples, modern Goddess worshipers, like those in the Sisterhood of Avalon, carry on in creating new traditions and fellowships. The Waterloo Record in Canada has a profile of a small Sisterhood of Avalon group, and interviews local hearth mother Tiffany Lazic.

“The sisterhood is about “gathering the tools for self-empowerment,’’ said Lazic, a holistic therapist in private practice, who meditates several times a week and journeys to Avalon in her mind twice a month. Pagan faiths, often described as earth-based religions, adhere to ritual practices and follow different mythologies including Celtic, Norse and ancient Greek traditions. […] Lazic started the Kitchener group in July 2009 which now has 11 active members. Worldwide, there are 350 members in the group which has a seminary in the United States. For Lazic, the sisterhood seemed natural. Her parents were classic teachers and as a child she immersed herself in Greek mythology.”

What’s nice about the article is that it treats this local hearth of the Sisterhood as it would any other religious congregation. As modern Pagans start and continue to build their own temples and communal spaces, an emerging continuity could develop between the new and the old, and modern Paganism could truly restore its place in the public mind as a world religion.

A Quick Note on the HuffPo-AOL Deal: For those who keep track of new media business, you may have heard that the Huffington Post has been purchased by AOL. For some relevant commentary, see Jeff Jarvis, Newspaper Death Watch, Fishbowl LA, and PC World. I wanted to note this here for a number of reasons, first, HuffPo has Pagan bloggers, most notably Anne Hill, Grove Harris, and Donna Hennes (among others), and secondly, because this is just another sign of how the blogosphere is gaining in prominence, and becoming professionalized. Many have noted that blogging as an activity is declining among certain demographics, and while some hope this signals a return to print or more traditional forms of media, I think its simply a sign that the “faddish” nature of the technology has faded as more suitable social technologies have emerged to keep folks in contact and update your friends on your latest adventures.

In many areas, particularly religion, new media is where the future of journalism lies. Relevant and well-written content about our faiths is more vital now than it has ever been. The ability of our faiths to be heard, to inform ourselves and others effectively, will rest in our ability to navigate the changing world of Internet media. Our ability to create our own news organs, and to work within the increasingly condensing content giants, will decide for many how we are perceived. This is our chance to make sure the Pagan voice(s) ring out to the world, and I hope some of you will join me for my talks at Pantheacon later this month as I explore some potential solutions and ways forward.

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

I hope you enjoyed the day off yesterday, because I have yet another round-up of reactions, insights, and opinions regarding the Christine O’Donnell “dabble-gate” witchcraft comments. This will hopefully be the last, since it seems the issue is running out of steam in the mainstream press. Let’s start with more Pagan voices within the mainstream press. First, Pagan author and Washington Post On Faith panelist Starhawk weighs in.

“Witchcraft deserves the same respect accorded to any other spiritual tradition. And O’Donnell deserves the same respect as any other politician: that we judge them by their record, their abilities and their policies, not by stupid, offhand remarks they made decades ago.”

The rest of the panelists cover the thorny issue of if the Tea Party movement itself is religious, with the usual variety of answers that run the gamut of “yes” to “no”.

Meanwhile, at the CNN Belief Blog, Circle’s Selena Fox, who was already interviewed by the Huffington Post, expands on concerns regarding this media feeding frenzy.

“It’s an opportunity to get some correct information out there. That’s how I see it,” says Fox, who is the high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church near Barneveld, Wisconsin, that serves Pagans worldwide. “There’s comedy about it, hot debate about it, lots of pundits weighing in. But one of the things that really hasn’t gotten through is how ridicule and defamation can harm people.”

Fox also talks about the ongoing battles Pagans have waged for equal treatment over the years.

On the local level, some Salem Witches are interviewed by The Salem News, and they aren’t pleased.

“She’s obviously very ignorant about witchcraft,” said Teri Kalgren, director of the Witches Education Bureau. “To say she dabbled in it — what is dabbling? And how do we know people she was hanging out with were really witches?”

Oh, and the mainstream media (CBS News) did finally get around to interviewing a Satanist.

Diane Vera, the founder of a group called “NYC Satanists, Luciferians, Dark Pagans, and LHP Occultists” added today that O’Donnell’s anecdote also misrepresents Satanists. “As far as I am aware, no serious practitioner of any variant of either Wicca or Satanism would have a picnic on one’s altar,” Vera said in a press release. Vera also cited a 1997 Washington Post op-ed O’Donnell wrote as head of the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT). O’Donnell wrote about proselytizing to concert goers in the Washington area. “Walking through the crowd I also noticed more pentagrams than crosses around the teenage necks,” she wrote. “‘Satanism is the religion of the ’90s, I was told.” Vera responded that O’Donnell “has a tendency to confuse Satanism with not only Wicca but also rock fan culture.”

As for Christine O’Donnell, she’s done doing national television appearances, except for an outgoing interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, who gently brought up the whole “witchcraft” issue. Here’s what seems to be her final say on the matter.

“”In my 20s I had a newfound faith and, going on these shows, I looked at it as a ministry opportunity — that was what I did in my 20s. But that was a long time ago. My faith has matured … Who didn’t do some questionable things in high school, and who doesn’t regret the ’80s, to some extent? I certainly do.

I have some regrets from the 1980’s but I don’t think they’re the same ones she has. So what, as the media starts looking for the next shiny object, is the consequence of all this coverage? Wicca is turned by many into a punchline, it has inspired some rather tired satire, and some commentary that probably should have been satire.

“Once again, the Left’s tolerance and diversity mantra rings hollow. Who knew that witches had fallen out of favor with the Left? You have to wonder if it’s O’Donnell’s dabbling or denunciation that’s piqued the pagans. If the Left continues to link witchcraft and paganism to “crazies,” Obama could end up on the wrong end of the mystics’ magical broom…”

Both Wes Isley at the Huffington Post and University of Illinois graduate student Joseph Vandehey seem to grasp that, barring a few notable exceptions, we were simply grist for the mill that was grinding up Christine O’Donnell.

The media could have talked about the impact that Wiccans have in our society (there’s more Wiccans in the Air Force than any other non-Christian demographic). The media could have talked about the plight of Pagan political figures, since the O’Donnell frenzy connotes that Paganism makes you ineligible for public office. The media could have talked about the difference between covens and the eclectic practices that O’Donnell seemed to have dabbled in. The media could have talked about the fear some Pagans have with talking about their beliefs in public — the so-called “coming out of the broom closet” — especially in the wake of recent attacks on Muslims. The media could have talked about public perception issues, when the average persons’ exposure to Wicca comes from bookstores crammed full of “Spells to make him fall in love with you” trash that has as much to do with Wicca as Fred Phelps does with Christianity. But no, it all got swept under the rug in exchange for an Obama bumper sticker parody: O’Donnell in a pointed hat and the phrase “Yes, Wiccan.”

I can’t help but think that this “dabble-gate” coverage, while it will die down as the media grows tired of the subject, and as Bill Maher releases more embarrassing clips, it may well color our traditional Halloween/Samhain rush of coverage this year. Making the usual efforts to tamp down sensationalism in the yearly glut of “real Witch” stories even more difficult. Or maybe, since this rush happened so late in September, this is the October rush, and our role in this media tempest will stand in for more in-depth explorations of Pagan faith. Whatever the outcome, we have our work cut out for us to push past the easy jokes and to remind the world that we are a mature, multi-generational, community of faiths who have spread around the world and are fighting against the prejudices and ignorance that in many cases denies us equal treatment and access.

ADDENDUM: Want some more? Blogger Daniel Nester at the Times-Union in Albany interviewed Rev. OakLore on Tuesday, and today interviews Witchvox media coordinator Peg Aloi and her partner Todd Hulslander.

It doesn’t take a genius to predict that, barring some substantial new information, the mainstream press would go seeking out modern Witches and Pagans for their take on Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s unearthed comments about once “dabbling” in witchcraft while in high school. Though I’m a little surprised on how quickly it all happened. Sam Stein from the Huffington Post seemed to be the first out of the gate with an interview with Circle’s Sanctuary’s Selena Fox.

“Any political candidate that is going to equate witchcraft with Satanism is ill informed and is not likely to get the support of people involved in nature religion,” she said, noting that the pagan community was “multi-partisan.” “I’m concerned,” she said. “I’m concerned that 25 years of work that the Lady Liberty League and other Wiccan and pagan civil rights and religious freedom groups have been involved in… that there will be more misinformation as well as ridicule and disrespect. We are living in politically turbulent times.”

Stein also included a comment from Diotima Mantineia at The Witches’ Voice, a Delaware resident who refuted any connection between Satan, bloody altars, and Wicca.

“So I don’t know what Ms. O’Donnell is talking about. I wonder if she knows what she was talking about.”

Then we have ABC News, who spoke with Sylvia T. Webb, the first officer of the Covenant of the Goddess, who called O’Donnell’s comments “bizarre”.

Webb scoffed at O’Donnell’s claims. “It’s very hard to worship something you do not believe in and Satan is a Christian concept,” she said. “Wiccans don’t have Satanic altars.” While they don’t have Satanic altars, they do have altars, but “there would be no blood,” Webb said. “She might have had a date with some … want-to-be goth child who was into thinking he was Satanic or something,” Webb said. “There are a lot of misinformed young people trying to be wild.”

Even the AOL blog Parent Dish gets into the act while interviewing Lillitu Shahar Kunning from the Witch Mom blog.

“Oy! I don’t want to claim Christine O’Donnell. It’s kind of like when Sen. Larry Craig was caught in that airport bathroom. No gay person wanted to claim him, either. Actually, I haven’t seen the old footage from Bill Maher, but from what I understand, she was a dabbler, not an actual witch with religious principles.”

So what about actual Pagan Tea Party folks in Delaware? Individuals who may actually want to vote for O’Donnell? What do they think? Cara Schulz from the PNC blog Pagan+Politics has interviewed two Pagan Tea Party members about their reactions to the O’Donnell witch-revelations.

“If this witchcraft admission affects her or not depends on how she handles it. I would like her to come out and explain what happened, not denigrate witchcraft, and then move on. If it was some guy who wanted to get into her pants, that’s what I think happened, she should say so. Ideally she would talk about the difference between Paganism and 1980?s and 90?s style Plagans. I doubt that will happen. A mage can dream, right?

I haven’t seen anyone in the Tea Party throw a fit like they have in the media. When people make fun of her for dabbling in witchcraft they are making fun of us. I’m seeing Pagans do that, too. They are so interested in making a Republican candidate look bad that they are willing to hurt our own path. But no, I’m not seeing the Tea Party get too upset over this. They are saying that it doesn’t matter and is an attempted distraction, don’t fall for it.”

The whole interview with “C” and “D” is well worth reading, and should give some greater insight into this story. Thanks to Cara for doing the legwork and getting their perspectives.

On the whole, I wish the mainstream coverage had been a bit more nuanced. I think there are larger issues to confront than “Witches don’t worship Satan” involved here, and I’m disappointed that we may have lost our chance to raise them before the media machine moves on to the next controversy. Still, I suppose it’s a mark of how far we’ve come that representatives from several organizations and traditions were contacted by the mainstream media for our thoughts.

Top Story: While traditional media outlets continue to cut back on their coverage of religion, there’s been a slow expansion on the Internet. Beliefnet, one of the first Internet religion-news hubs, continues to reign supreme in terms of size and traffic, but it’s starting to see some competition from sites like Patheos and the Newsweek/Washington Post-supported On Faith. Now, another new-media contender is entering the God(s)-beat, as the left-leaning Huffington Post launches a religion section.

Site founder Arianna Huffington explains:

“Like all our sections, HuffPost Religion will bring you the latest news — in this case about all things religion-related — served up in the HuffPost style. It will also be home to an open and fearless dialogue about all the ways religion affects both our personal and our public lives. And it will do so in a way that moves beyond the pigeonhole depictions of both the faithful and the agnostic we see so frequently — and also beyond the tired assumption that God is a card-carrying member of one political party or another.

HuffPost Religion is being edited by Paul Raushenbush, an Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University and an ordained Baptist minister. As a passionate and brilliant religious thinker, pastor, writer and college dean, Paul is ideally suited to the challenge of presenting multiple viewpoints and insights, as well as the real-world implications of religion for American life.”

Some of the big-name contributors include Jim Wallis, Deepak Chopra, Sister Joan Chittister, and Eboo Patel. But will HuffPost Religion cover modern Paganism? I’ve received some initial signs from folks working there that they are looking to add Pagan voices to the section, so we’ll see how things play out in the weeks ahead. Patheos, Beliefnet, and On Faith all now include a Pagan perspective (to varying degrees), so I can’t imagine HuffPost Religion will be far behind (especially since they have Pagans writing for them in other sections). I’ll keep you posted on developments.

In Other News:

An Earth-Based Discussion: Thorn Coyle has posted the audio from a panel discussion she led at this year’s Pantheacon on the question: “Earth-Based: Are We Really?”

“Organized by T. Thorn Coyle, this panel features Weiser authors T. Thorn Coyle, Diana Paxson, Zee Budapest, Orion Foxwood, and Lon Milo DuQuette. Discussion spans our definitions of ourselves as Earth- based, Nature-Based, Cosmos-based, etc. and addresses some of the problems of our times as well as positive media influences such as the movie Avatar.”

I briefly covered (and live-tweeted) this panel in my Pantheacon coverage, so I’m glad to see the audio for it released. While the panel didn’t really dig too deep into the question of how “earth-based” modern Pagan traditions really are, there were some fascinating and insightful things said and discussed, and I highly recommend checking it out.

The Fake Child Sacrifices: Earlier this year I noted the story of Ugandan anti-human-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela, who claimed to have personally killed several children, including his own son. At the time I was deeply skeptical of his claims, seeing them as a strong echo of similar stories peddled by various ex-Satanists and Witches in America. Nor was I the only one to wonder if Angela was fabricating the story, and if he wasn’t, why he wasn’t in custody for his crimes. Now the house of cards has come tumbling down, as he’s been arrested for lying to a public officer.

“He allegedly repeated his claims to a Ugandan police officer and has been charged with “giving false information to a public officer”. He denied the charges and was remanded in custody in Lira Central Prison. Police officer Godwin Tumugumye, an officer at Lira Police Station, said BBC correspondent Tim Whewell is also wanted by the police over the case, reports Uganda’s New Vision newspaper.”

In another report, it’s come out that Angela was paid 200,000 Uganda shillings to play up child sacrifice, and has now confessed to lying.  If only we could do the same to some of the professional “ex”-workers in America. As I said in my initial post on this story, it isn’t that I don’t believe children aren’t being abducted, abused, and killed in several African nations. There’s of plenty of evidence for that. I also acknowledge that some witch-doctors are indeed killing and mutilating certain children for various reasons. But the lurid portrait painted by the BBC, with help from Mr. Angela, raised many of my old “Satanic Panic” red flags (most notably the idea of a centralized sacrifice industry/conspiracy). I’m glad that the truth has come to light in this story.

Max Beauvoir Declares War: After Tuesday’s incident in Haiti, where a mob of Christians drove off a small group of Vodouisants performing a ceremony for the dead, Vodou leader Max Beauvoir says it’s war.

“It will be war, open war,” Max Beauvoir, supreme head of Haitian voodoo, said at his home and temple outside the capital. “It’s unfortunate that at this moment where everybody’s suffering that they have to go to war. But if that is what they need, I think that is what they’ll get.”

You can see a photo essay of the inciting incident, here (thanks to Jennifer for the link). Since the clash of religions, Haitian officials have ensured that Vodou practitioners will be able to perform ceremonies at Cité Soleil in the future, but that seems cold comfort to those who were driven away with stones. However, not everyone in Haiti is seeing a religious war in the future, Mambos Elsie Théanou Joseph and Silviana Désir are busy working to feed and shelter the homeless, while Catholic priest Rev. Frantz-Michel Grandoit sees a new unity developing between Christians and Vodouisants.

“Humanity doesn’t want us to be separated,” said the Rev. Frantz-Michel Grandoit, a Catholic priest. Grandoit has planned several interfaith prayer vigils with Voodoo priests, including a three-day national prayer for rebuilding, held earlier this month and sponsored by the Global Network of Religions for Children, an international nongovernmental organization. In a ceremony at the Croix-des-Bouquets temple earlier this month, priestesses and parishioners knelt at the base of a tree trunk, lighted candles and solemnly chanted prayers for the earthquake’s victims and for the future of their country. “Hold Haiti’s sweet hand!” they sang as they threw water on the tree trunk and conjured up what is known as the Veve, a mystical symbol embodying the Voodoo deities. “Save us! Give us grace and deliverance!”

So while Max Beauvoir is an important voice right now in post-earthquake Haiti, we must remember, despite his claims, that Vodou has no “supreme chief” that all Vodouisants, Mambos, and Houngans bow before. Beauvoir leads a faction, a group of practitioners who have acknowledged him as their leader, and is not a Vodou “pope”. Reporters must move beyond Beauvoir, and talk to many practitioners from different areas to get a fuller picture of religious interactions in Haiti. To be sure there are those how want a religious war, but I would say there are also many who want a sense of national unity to trump theological differences at this critical stage.

The UK Reburial Issue: The BBC tackles the issue of reburying “pagan” remains, and interviews Druid priestess Emma Restall Orr, and representatives from Honouring the Ancient Dead, about the connection some modern Pagans feel to their pre-Christian ancestors.

“Pagan groups are increasingly asking for human remains and grave goods from pre-Christian burials to be returned to the ground, and their voices are being taken increasingly seriously in the museum world.”

As I’ve said before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. It would have been nice for the BBC to get more perspectives on this, rather than simply portraying HAD and Orr as representative of Pagan stances on this issue.

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

A custody case involving a Pagan mother I mentioned on this blog a couple months ago, has gained the attention of big-time legal/political blogger Eugene Volokh who posted about the issue at The Huffington Post.

“The father may indeed have been a more suitable parent on some grounds, for instance if the mother and her fiance indeed used illegal drugs (though note that the drug use is listed as just one item among many, including the paganism), or if the mother’s online time materially affected the time she spent with her daughter (though I assume that if the mother’s problem was that she left her daughter unattended, for instance, the court would have said that rather than just pointing to her “spend[ing] a great deal of time online”). But the reference to mother’s paganism – and the view that pagans may be denied custody because their open practices risk “exposing such lifestyle to [their] child[ren]” – strikes me as a clear First Amendment violation.”

Oddly, Volokh, a libertarian legal scholar, is far more concerned about the First Amendment violations in this case than many of the Pagans reacting to it on The Witches Voice.

“I can tell you that this one was not decided based on paganism. The headline is, once again, an attention-grabber. Who would be excited by another “mother loses custody of children due to drug use and sado-masochistic behavior on her part and her fiance’s part”

The problem is that anyone can look at this case and see “drug use” and all other points become moot to the casual observer. But Volokh points out that the recreational drug-use was simply itemized along with the mother’s Paganism and her enjoyment of sado-masochism.

“[M]other and her boyfriend have a perfect right to engage in sado-masochism, paganism and their chosen sexual orientation, but nevertheless, this Court is not convinced that [they] would exercise the due diligence that is required to engage in those practices without exposing such lifestyle to the parties’ child[ and thus] adversely affect[ing]the best interests of [the child, a 4-year-old girl].”

A legal scholar (who isn’t a Pagan) is troubled by this ruling, shouldn’t we be more worked up about this? What if there was no drug use? Should a openly kinked Pagan bisexual blogging mom be denied custody of her child? Shouldn’t she at least be granted a new trial free from her religion being used as a strike against her?