Archives For Utah

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October means many things to many people. It brings apple picking, pumpkins, falling leaves and a bevy of journalists looking to interview a Witch. October is the month that mainstream newspapers around the country feature stories about Witches and the Craft. Although this media attention may seem off-putting to some, others view the seasonal interest as a golden opportunity to dispel myths and demonstrate the beauty and breadth of their spiritual beliefs.

Public Domain Photo

Public Domain Photo

In New Mexico, the Daily-Times published a story titled “Wiccan group in Bloomfield celebrates nature and a shared path.” The story features Janie Felix, the High Priestess of The Order of the Cauldron of the Sage and, as noted in the sub-heading, “the woman behind the Ten Commandments lawsuit.” After Felix, the local witch, made headlines in the spring, it perhaps seemed only appropriate for the local paper to feature her in an article in October.

A Daily-Times reporter visited Felix and other coven members at her home and covenstead, where they shared information about Wicca and their tradition, as well as stories from their own personal spiritual journeys. Felix told The Daily-Times, “I was exploring my spirituality after the Christian church just did not appeal to me. I sat there and turned the pages [of Starhawk's Spiral Dance] and said ‘Yes.’ Everything she said worked for me. It spoke to my feminism and my soul.”  The news article even includes a video of part of a ritual.

In addition to an exploration of Wicca, the Daily-Times reminds readers about Felix’ involvement in the town’s recent religious freedom battle. The article reads, “The [Ten Commandments] case sparked a fair amount of vitriolic reaction, mostly online, which some coven members feel is as unfortunate as it is unnecessary.” The City of Bloomfield is currently appealing the court’s ruling, requiring the removal of the monument. Unfortunately, this legal battle and the accompanying “virtriolic reaction” appear to be on-going, which means that Felix, the local witch, may find herself in the news once again.

Similarly the Gainesville Times interviewed author Lydia Crabtree, a Wiccan living in Buford, Georgia. In this small town paper in the Bible Belt South, the reporter focused on the religious nuances of Wicca more so than the New Mexico reporter. Crabtree answered a number of questions touching on subjects such as “What is Wicca?” “Are there pastors?” and “Why do people confuse Wicca and Satanism?” When asked if she wanted to share anything else about “the Wiccan faith,” Crabtree said:

That it is just as deep and meaningful and daily and present as any other sacred belief someone might hold. And just because I may do it a little differently doesn’t take away how serious it is to me. It’s my life breath.

In Utah, Weber State University‘s student-run newspaper, The Signpost, published an article entitled, “Wiccans, Pagans Worship the Earth.” It opens, “Come Halloween, witches, wands, cauldrons and pentagrams seem to pop up everywhere … For students who practice Wicca or Paganism, wands, pentagrams and magic aren’t just meant for Halloween, they’re a lifestyle.”

The Signpost spoke with Wiccan student Austin Toney, event planner Kirsten “Fluffy” Blake, and Cecilia Delgado, the owner of As Above, So Below metaphysical shop. All three Pagans answered questions about Wicca, in general, and touched briefly on the broader concept Paganism. In this article, Delgado encourages Weber State students “who have questions” to visit her store and to “not just assume that because TV and popular culture has painted one image or another about Wicca that that image is reality.”

Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

The secular holiday of Halloween, in all of its commercial glory, sparks a definite type of mainstream news story, which often leads to directed interviews with individuals who identify clearly as Witches or Wiccans. However, the season also throws a spotlight on a population of people who practice a broader spectrum of minority religions. Pagan Pride Day often becomes the launching pad for many of those seasonal media stories.

In Nevada, the Reno Review offered an expansive look at its local Pagan community. Titled “Pagan it Forward,” the article introduces the reader to the diversity of practice in the Reno area, rather than focusing on one person’s or group’s tradition or opinion. The Reno Review first attempts to answer the very difficult question, “What exactly is Paganism?” and then adds, “It really depends on who you ask.” From that point, the article discusses common misconceptions, highlights community activity and features a discussion with Misty Grayknight the co-owner of the Reno Magick Store.

After attending the Northern Nevada Pagan Pride Day, the Reno Review reporter describes the event as “easily overwhelming, sparking sensory explosions from the wafting smells of incense, multiple symbols prevalent around the booths …” But she then adds that, as an outsider, she felt welcomed by the unexpected diversity of people and feeling of acceptance. The article concludes, saying:

Northern Nevada is home to a wide range of Pagan practitioners, from shamans to druids, wiccans to polytheists. Shattering clichéd renderings of wickedly deviant devil worship, mastery of cheap parlor magic, and conventions for naked treks through forests, the diverse Pagan population of Reno has broken down cockamamie notions of evil and established itself as a positive force.

Similar to the Reno Review, a California-based newspaper, the Redlands Daily Facts, focused its fall article on the spirit, community and diversity of Pagan Pride Day. The article opens with details from a past legal entanglement, which forced the Inland Empire Pagan Pride Day event to move from Redlands to Riverside. According to the paper, city spokesman Carl Baker created problems when he noted “a [Redlands] city ordinance prohibiting fortunetellers, card readers and other prognosticators from operating without a license if they receive some kind of compensation.” Organizers moved the festival to a state park where they have had no further problems.

After noting that past hurdle, the Redlands article turns its attention to Pagan Pride Day, highlighting the many reasons people attend the event. The reporter featured comments from attendees of various spiritual backgrounds, including a few non-Pagans who were there just to enjoy the fall festivities. One of the interviewees, Sheri Wells explained to the Redlands reporter that she was Pagan because “being close to the Earth makes me a better person. It keeps me grounded. It keeps my life in perspective, and it makes me appreciate more the blessings that I have on a daily basis. When you respect the land, you respect life. When you respect life, you respect humanity.”

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The mainstream news also turned up at the Central Puget Sound Pagan Pride Day held in Tacoma, Washington. Like California’s Redlands Daily Facts, the Bellingham Herald gave a general overview of the day’s event. However, the Herald provided a more expansive look at the population’s religious diversity. The reporter interviewed PPD organizer and Wiccan Angela Wehnert, African-Caribbean Witch Uwanna Thomas, Heathen Dan McDonald, Druid Karen LaFe and others.

In Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal turned out for the city’s 17th annual Pagan Pride Day event. Reporters sat down to speak with Circle Sanctuary’s Selena Fox and PPD coordinator Jessica Maus. The article begins with, “There were no apparent Patronus Charms or any such sorcery going on at Winnequah Park Saturday as believers of various alternative stripes gathered for the 17th annual Pagan Pride Day.” Fox and Maus discuss their own practices, Paganism and the role of Pagan Pride Day within the community. Fox later told The Wild Hunt that she believes that this fall season “is a good time to do public education about the Craft and Paganism.”

The listed articles are certainly not the only ones currently circulating; nor will they be the last. Halloween turns the general public’s attention to witches, for better or worse, presenting an opportunity to share the reality of Witchcraft. As Fox suggested, “it’s a good time for education.”

Moreover, Pagan Pride Day events fall during the same season, which helps to capture the attention of a news industry already interested in related topics. Once again, an opportunity presents itself to openly discuss misconceptions, the distinctions of practice and, more importantly, separate the public’s passion for fictional Hollywood fare from, both the reality of Witchcraft and the reality and diversity of Pagan and Heathen traditions. While the published results of these interviews are not always perfect and often contain arguable points, the intent is generally positive, which can ultimately benefit Pagans and Heathens throughout the rest of the year and into the future.

On August 27, a U.S. District Court Judge finalized a ruling stating that Utah’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. This decision is the latest chapter in an on-going legal battle between Utah state officials and the Brown Family, stars of TLC’s reality show “Sister Wives.” 

The Brown family practices the Apostolic United Brethen faith, a type of Fundamentalist Momonism that supports plural marriage. Although polygamy was largely abandoned by the mainstream LDS Church in the 1890s, some Mormon churches have continued to allow the practice. These sects or people are typically referred to as Fundamentalist Mormons. Some are affiliated with churches and some are independents.

sister-wives-season-4Since the TLC show first aired, the Brown family has experienced a great deal of legal trouble due to their unconventional family structure. Police investigations began the day after the first show debuted in 2010.

Most states, including Utah, have laws governing aspects of marriage, sexual relations and habitation. These laws include the well-known definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Additionally there are limits and restrictions on cohabitation, especially when intimacy and children are involved.

In 2011, the Brown Family decided to challenge Utah’s family laws. Utah Code Title 76, Chapter 7, Section 101 states:

Bigamy: (1) A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person. (2) Bigamy is a felony of the third degree. (3) It shall be a defense to bigamy that the accused reasonably believed he and the other person were legally eligible to remarry.

After several years in the courts, Brown vs. Buhman landed in the U.S. District Court of Utah before Judge Clark Waddoups. In December 2013, Judge Waddoups ruled that the state’s ban on cohabitation was unconstitutional. He said:

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, ADJUDGED, AND DECREED that Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-101 (2013) is facially unconstitutional in that the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and is without a rational basis under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; to preserve the integrity of the Statute, as enacted by the Utah State Legislature, the Court hereby severs the phrase “or cohabits with another person” from Utah Code § 76-7-101(1)

The ruling wasn’t finalized until this past Wednesday when Judge Waddoup added that, in the early investigations, county officials had violated the family’s first amendment rights. As a result the Judge has ordered the state to pay all attorney’s fees and other associated legal costs incurred by the family. In a blog post, the Brown family attorney, Jonathan Turley, wrote:

This [last] count sought to establish that state officials, and particularly Mr. Buhman, acted to deny protected constitutional rights ranging from free speech to free exercise to equal protection….[Judge Waddoup's] decision in this case required a singular act of courage and principle as the first court to strike down the criminalization of polygamy. In doing so, Judge Waddoups reaffirmed the independence of our courts and stood against open prejudice and hostility toward plural families.

While some reports say that Utah has officially legalized polygamy, it actually has not. The December ruling only removed the ban on cohabitation. Bigamy, or more one legal marriage, is still prohibited by Utah code 76-7-101. In his ruling, Judge Waddoup made that distinction very clear.

Regardless, the court’s decision is still considered historic. After Wed, only three states now criminalize cohabitation of any kind. These states include: Michigan, Mississippi, Virginia and Florida. In addition, the final portion of the court’s decision affirms the constitutional right of plural families to exist guided by their own religious principles.

In recent years, there has been an increase in attention and support for non-conventional family structures. This is partly due to the marriage equality movement as well as shows like “Sister Wives.” In an essay published in 2010, Morning Glory Zell predicted, “This whole polyamorous lifestyle is the avante-garde of the 21st century. Expanded families will become a pattern with wider acceptance as the monogamous nuclear family system breaks apart under the impact of serial divorces.”

Rev. Allyson  [Courtesy of White Winds]

Rev. Allyson [Courtesy of White Winds.com]

Rev. Allyson is a Wiccan Priestess and interfaith minister who also practices polyamory. She says, “I see the ruling as good, because it reinforces that which goes on between consenting adults behind closed doors is really no one’s business.” If a spiritual community or faith practice embraces polyamory or polygamy and there are no legal restrictions on cohabitation, than a plural marriage can be recognized spiritually without fear of legal ramifications.

There is a secondary social benefit to Utah’s ruling. As Rev. Allyson points out, “[The decision] also opens up the door to more women who are in abusive poly relationships, allowing them to come forward without the concern that they will end up in jail themselves.”

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller

Michelle Mueller, a doctoral student at the Graduate Theological Union who is studying polygamy and polyamory, agrees. She says:

The decriminalization of polygamy also helps women who may be in abusive relationships. Women who are consensually polygamous but in an abusive relationship are unlikely to report abuse to police because they would risk prosecution as polygamists. Basically, the de-criminalizing of consensual polygamy between adults enables law enforcement to tend to actual problems like violence.

The removal of the cohabitation laws and the court’s ruling in favor of the Brown family’s religious rights are two small showings of legal support for non-nuclear families who live peacefully according their own private, religious principles. While plural families within Fundamental Mormonism might look or act different from those within a Pagan context, the secular laws create the same barriers and reinforce the same cultural stigmas in all cases. Therefore the Utah ruling helps everyone regardless of religious affiliation.

Rev. Allyson says, “All that said, as a minister, as a pagan, and as a polyamorous person, I feel that the world is slowly become more accepting. I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a place where poly marriage is acceptable, and I’m not overly concerned about it. What I’m most interested in seeing is acceptance of whatever intentional families people create.”

On Thursday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert told local press that he personally believes plural families are “not good policy or practice.” However, he added that the courts ruled as such because cohabitation laws are unenforceable. He advises anyone who dislikes the judge’s decision to make use of the democratic system and try to change it. To date, the Utah Attorney General has not announced whether he will appeal the case. 

[Correction: The original article stated that there are 3 states that still ban cohabitation: Michigan, Missouri and Florida. This list should have read: Michigan, Mississippi and Florida. Further research also reveals that Virginia belongs on this list.The state's officials are currently discussing removing the ban.]

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.

Akhenaten's daughter (Tutankhamun's sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

Akhenaten’s daughter (Tutankhamun’s sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

  • One ongoing issue relating to the political tumult within Egypt (which is ongoing) has been the fate of art and antiquities looted during these times of crisis. So, it’s a small ray of light that French officials are returning five pieces that were spotted by Egyptian officials at auction. Quote: “Five antiquities looted and removed from Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 have been returned by the French government to the Egyptian authorities. “Egyptian officials in charge of monitoring antiquities sales abroad spotted five Ptolemaic dynasty objects [323BC-30BC] for sale online, including two that were posted by a Toulouse-based auction house,” Ali Ahmed, an official at the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, told the French newspaper Le Figaro. A head, torso and arm, which were part of a glass sculpture of a man, were among the stolen items.” Egypt’s vast and rich archeological heritage has been an engine of it’s once-booming tourism industry (currently hobbled by the chaos), and the preservation of this legacy a key component of recovery. For now, it’s a hunt to restore priceless treasures of one of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations.
  • If you wanted to know more about the painting of famous Voodoo/Vodou Queen Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans being painting pink, The Art of Conjure has a very good round-up of the story. Quote: “Whether it is vandalism or devotion is not the issue here, however. Rather, according to Morrison, it is the fact that it was apparently done without Mam’zelle’s consent. At least, that’s what Morrison expressed after being there in person and informing Mam’zelle that her tomb had been painted pink. Traditionally in New Orleans Voudou, Marie Laveaux is associated with the color blue, perhaps because of her association with water.” On Thursday I featured Lilith Dorsey’s views on this incident.
  • NPR has a deeper look at the recent controversy over the auction of Hopi sacred artifacts, and the struggles in general of preserving Native/indigenous sacred lands, places, and objects. Quote: “‘Indians in Arizona and elsewhere continue to be guided by religious traditions that have been handed down by the Creator,’ said James Riding In, a member of the Pawnee Nation and Indian Studies professor at Arizona State University. He adds it’s difficult for those who are not Indian to understand the spiritual connection many tribes have with their land and with items such as the Hopi sacred objects.” A nice summary of several stories that I’ve touch on over the years here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The New York Times profiles Kumar Natarajanaidu, a Hindu priest who set up a temple in the back of a retail space in Queens. Quote: “To pay the rent, Mr. Natarajanaidu uses the front portion of his temple to frame pictures and sell videos, flowers and religious apparel. But beyond the DVD counter, the temple begins, pieced together by his untrained hand. It is a hodgepodge of cleverly rigged curtains and shrines made from stray planks, tape, string and ornate wall coverings. The carpet segments are duct-taped together, and overhead is a water-stained drop ceiling. But as if by divine intervention, it all comes together as a glowing, opulent holy place, with a seductive mélange of colors and a flood of fragrant incense.”
  • Here’s BBC coverage of the Druid leader Arthur Pendragon-led protest against the display of human remains at the new Stonehenge visitor center. Quote: “Mr Pendragon said that until the bones were taken off display and reburied, he would continue a campaign that will cost English Heritage money and turn the public against them. He has claimed the bones discovered in 2008 are the remains of members of the royal line and wants them reinterred. ‘Today was just a shot across the bows – it was just a taster,’ he said.” For another perspective, I spotlighted a review of the new center, here. Here’s an excerpt from his announcement to protest.
The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

  • The (much-reported) decision in Brown v. Buhman may not have legalized polygamy, but it is a victory for polyamory (and privacy). Quote: “The problems with this statutory language under the right to privacy most recently re-established in Lawrence v. Texas should be obvious. On its face, the law would prohibit not only informal consensual polyamorous relationships—problematic in itself—but any kind of intimate cohabitation between unmarried partners. Based onLawrence’s recognition of the fundamental right consenting adults have to engage in same-sex relations, it is very hard to argue that this section of the Utah statute doesn’t violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.” Is this the beginning of the end of morality laws?
  • Would you like to know what author Dan “The Da Vinci Code” Brown’s superpowers are? Quote: “Given the powers of ‘Inferno’, showing a glimpse of hell with every three line poem he writes, that reflects the future in 33 minutes.”
  • You know you’ve arrived as a minority religion when conservative Christians call you out. Yes, it’s from the Duck Dynasty dude. Quote: “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero,” Robertson explained. “That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.” Charming, isn’t he? He should get his own TV show! Oh… wait…
  • Here’s the backstory on how the Annenberg Foundation saved those Hopi and Apache sacred items at a French auction.
  • Here’s the complete “American Gods” soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “The Dark Knight” screenwriter David S. Goyer are producing an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” at Warner Bros. What could possibly go wrong? For the record, Gordon-Levitt was brilliant in “Brick.”

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.

Meanwhile, outside the walls of PantheaCon, I have been busy tending the Wild Hunt’s hearth fires and watching the news….

The sheer number of stories describing the intersection of faith and public education has been overwhelming in recent weeks.  In fact, Americans United (AU) believes that 2013 will be a “pivotal year for church-state separation.”  According to AU, the country’s increasing religious diversity and the recent failures of evangelical Christian politics are fueling the fight to force religion back into public schools.

Since January, five states already have anti-evolution bills “in play” including, Missouri, Montana, Colorado, Oklahoma and Indiana.  AU writer Simon Brown remarked, “The mantra of Indiana state Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn) seems to be:  ‘Darn the Constitution, full speed ahead!’”

Just last week, the ACLU of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the Jackson City School District for refusing to remove a portrait of Jesus from Jackson Middle School. The School Board’s justification for non-compliance was that the portrait was a gift.  However, there’s that darn Constitution again. Now, the Jackson City School Board is being sued.

Jackson Middle School

Portrait Hanging in Jackson Middle School

There are similar cases across the country. Whether it’s Creationism, school prayer, religious displays or school vouchers, the challenges continue. As such, it is very easy to get caught up in the contentious discourse surrounding these cases.  From a media perspective, conflicts are considered more “ sell-able” because they stir emotions and keep us tuned-in. The positive outcomes are often quite boring.

As a result, we forget to adequately acknowledge these “happy-endings” or record the positive gains. When one battle ends, another always seems to flare up. It’s much easier to watch the new fires than see the sprouts rising through the ashes of old battles.

However, I have and will always argue that it is essential for all of us, especially those on the front lines, to purposefully acknowledge positive progress; no matter how small, how subtle or how utterly boring. Once in awhile, it’s nice to have the opportunity to do an “end-zone” victory dance and fly a flag or two.  With that in mind, I’d like to update two stories that involved challenges to liberty within the public schools.

Let’s start in the South. One of last year’s top ten stories was the struggle to protect religious freedom within the Buncombe County School (BCS) system of North Carolina. This was the case that began when Ginger Strivelli, a local Pagan mother, challenged the presence of Gideon Bibles in her daughter’s school. Over multiple contentious meetings, the school board finally enacted policies that would ostensibly prevent any First Amendment violations and, in addition, would pave the way for interfaith talks.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

A view of the Buncombe school board meeting.

During the early days of this case, I worked as Lady Liberty League’s Media Adviser. As such, I have written numerous case reports and articles; the last of which was just published in Circle Magazine’s latest issue (#112). That article contains the full scope of the Board’s newly enacted policy changes.

Here are some of the highlights. The Buncombe County School Board (BCS) has created a Faith-Based Advisory panel to act as consultant for all faith-based issues. Local Pagan, Byron Ballard, who has been actively involved in this case, now sits on that panel. In addition, the Board encouraged all teachers to celebrate  National Religious Freedom Day on January 16th.  On the first of January, the Board formally announced this intention and stated that all children will watch the newly produced BCS program called: “The 3Rs of Religion.”

Byron has confirmed that the overall progress has continued to be very positive. In fact, for the first time in a year, Byron will not be attending the Buncombe County School Board meeting. We are witnessing the evolution of a community and recognition of social change. However Byron did add:

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the relationship with the county school system, but I am aware that it will have to be monitored forever after. Vigilance, like strong fences, makes for good neighbors.”

Buncombe County’s story may not yet be fully written.

Now, let’s move over to Utah. In November, I reported on the ACLU’s lawsuit against the Davis School District in Utah.  One of its schools, Windridge Elementary, had restricted access to the book In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polocco because of its depiction of gay marriage. The restriction was initially supported by the district and encouraged for all lower grades. In November, the advisory council stated, “Members of our Community Council feel that the book is non-offensive, but agree that it should be restricted.  It can be found behind the Librarians desk.”  Shortly thereafter, parent Tina Weber challenged the legality of the decision which resulted in the ACLU’s lawsuit.

In Our Mothers' Houseby Patricia Polacco

On January 31, the ACLU reported that the Davis School Board has reversed that 2012 decision and put Our Mothers’ House back on all library shelves.  In a letter to the Board’s legal adviser  Assistant Superintendent, Pamela Park wrote, “I agree with and support the Committee’s conclusion regarding the book as follows:

  • Removing the book completely is not a good option.”
  • “We all know many non-traditional families” with students attending our schools.
  • “It could help those children in same-sex families see their family in a book.”
  • “[T]his book teaches acceptance and tolerance.”
  • “The book could help prevent bullying of kids from same-sex families.”
  • “It could be used by families to discuss the issues….” 

Park also confirmed that the book’s presence does not violate Utah educational policies because it’s not used as instructional material. She continues to advise that any parent who feels the book is inappropriate can contact the librarian and have the book restricted from his or her child only. You can read the letter in its entirety here.

The Utah case wasn’t necessarily a church-state issue. The school was restricting Patricia Polocco’s freedom of speech more than violating religious liberty. However, it could be argued that the case did have a religious freedom element. The Board restricted the book based on what could be considered a faith-based opinion. It’s opponents complained that In Our Mothers’ Housenormalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with.”  Removing the book on such a basis promotes one faith’s value system over another. Facilitating parental choice supports the values of all people; no matter their religion or position on gay marriage.

Celebrating the work done in both Utah and North Carolina, and other similar cases, does not at all detract from the serious nature of defending First Amendment freedoms allowed by the darn Constitution. Nor does it show disrespect for those cases not yet closed.  Acknowledging progress strengthens our spirit and allows us to stand again.  It restores our faith in the American system.  We need this time to breathe.

So, in honor of the work done by those in Buncombe County and Davis County, “Way to Go!” Take your victory lap.

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.

An invocation is offered by Indra Neelameggham of Utah's Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple at the beginning of the Jan. 7 inauguration ceremonies for Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell inside the rotunda of the Utah Capitol. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

An invocation is offered by Indra Neelameggham of Utah’s Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple at the beginning of the Jan. 7 inauguration ceremonies for Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell inside the rotunda of the Utah Capitol. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

  • Deseret News reports on Indra Neelameggham, the first Hindu (and first woman) to ever give an opening invocation at a Utah governor’s inauguration. Quote:  “It is a prayer for peace, happiness, harmony and contentment, Sen. (Orrin) Hatch and (former) Gov. (Jon M.) Huntsman both told me after the ceremony that they thought my prayer was inspiring, so I guess it went pretty well [...]  So many people believe that in Utah we are just a Mormon community,” she said. “Certainly that is the predominant religion, but we are so much more than just that. And I think they wanted someone to represent that diversity.” Neelameggham is a member of the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah, and a pivotal figure in Utah’s Hindu community.
  • So remember last week when I reported on a theistic Satanic group in Florida (The Satanic Temple) that’s planning to hold a rally on January 25th in solidarity with Gov. Rick Scott’s support of a school “inspirational messages” law? At the time I said that “I have no idea if this is serious, or if someone is engaging in some next-level trolling.”Well, it turns out it was the latter:  “[Lucien] Greaves is listed as the casting director of a feature film called …wait for it…The Satanic Temple. [...] The casting call said the movie was a mockumentary about the “nicest Satanic Cult in the world.” It was seeking actors for eight speaking roles “to play minions” and 10 featured extras.” So there you go.  It’s a would-be mockumentary.
  • The U.S. Forest Service has found a relationship between the loss of trees and a downturn in human health and life expectancy.  Quote: “The “relationship between trees and human health,” as they put it, is convincingly strong. They controlled for as many other demographic factors as possible. And yet, they are unable to satisfactorily explain why this might be so [...] there is something fascinatingly mysterious about the entanglement of our health with that of nature. The suspicion that this may be so, of course, is seen well outside of the scientific literature on the topic [...] Henry David Thoreau, writing in The Atlantic in June 1862, said, ‘I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.'”
  • John Beckett, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and Vice President of CUUPS National, has joined the Patheos Pagan Portal as a blogger. Quote: “This blog is part of my spiritual journey. Sometimes I write about what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I write about what’s in the news or what’s abuzz on the Pagan internet. There are some recurring themes: the nature of the Universe, the origins of religion, developing relationships with the spirits of nature, with our ancestors, and with our gods and goddesses. Spiritual growth. Magic. Building vibrant religious communities. And perhaps most importantly, how to combine all that into a spiritual practice that builds a better world here and now.” Congratulations to John, Patheos is lucky to have you.
  • Radio Netherlands profiles 18-year-old Adrien Adandé of Benin, a High School student by day, and a Vodun priest by night. Quote:  “As soon as he gets home from school, 18-year-old Adrien Adandé slips out of his high school uniform and into his voodoo priest robes. A large crowd is already queuing outside for consultations. Adandé took over the practice from his father, who initiated him into the Voodoo rites before his death. ‘As a child, I was my father’s only son who was interested in what he was doing at the convent,’ the teenager recalls. ‘Along the way, he taught me things and showed me the secrets.'” It’s an interesting piece, featuring several perspectives on Vodun in Benin.
  • The Telegraph in India check in with  Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, India’s most famous Wiccan. Quote: “Draped in a black cloak, Chakraverti put 70-odd students of the Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta, under a spell on January 9 as she spoke about ghosts and planchettes and decoded Wiccan symbols. “Black is a witch’s favourite colour. It stands for enigma and dignity in Wicca. The broom signifies a woman being liberated from household activities and flying away in search of identity. The conical hat is a symbol of concentration and free-flowing thought,” she explained.”
  • Think Africa Press notes that blaming traditional African belief systems for witchcraft-related crimes and persecutions ignores that most of these harmful and violent manifestations are modern inventions, and that Pentecostal and evangelical churches have had a large influence in their development. Quote: “Today’s witchcraft beliefs and practices are as much products of modern dynamics as they are informed by long-standing tradition. Witchcraft beliefs are not remnants of ‘pre-modern’ cultures but contemporary phenomena embedded in, and partly constituted by, specific and current cultural and socio-economic contexts.”
Seen on Wednesday is all that remains of the controversial Santa Muerte statue located at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery. (Photo: San Benito News)

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

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.

In Our Mothers' Houseby Patricia PolaccoToday I’m going to be a little daring and omit the long-winded, over-arching opening paragraph to get directly to the story. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Utah are suing the Davis School District, twenty-four miles outside of Salt Lake City, for removing a children’s picture book from the shelves of its elementary school libraries.  Why? The book, In Our Mothers’ House by Patricia Polacco, focuses on a family with two mothers.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a children’s literature snob.  Dr. Seuss is my Dostoevsky.  Therefore, I felt it was my duty to share this information.  Patricia Polacco, a talented and prolific author of children’s books, published In Our Mothers’ House in 2009.  It is just one of her many stories that paints a picture celebrating cultural difference.

Before I get too caught up in kvelling over the author, let me detail the case. The trouble began in late 2011 when a Windridge Elementary School kindergartner borrowed In Our Mothers’ House.  His parents were appalled and immediately complained to the school’s administration.  To appease the parents the librarian moved the book to the shelves meant for older kids.

Unsatisfied with the results, the offended parents took their case to the Davis School Board.  In the spring of 2012 the Library Steering Committee was presented with a signed petition and a series of written complaints which can be summed up best with the comment: “[The Book] normalizes a lifestyle we don’t agree with.”  (ACLU Complaint Record)

Bowing to parental pressure, the district administration ordered the book’s removal from all elementary library shelves, placing them behind the librarian’s desk. To substantiate its decision, the Board cited Utah State law for School Health Instruction 53A-13-101 that prohibits “the advocacy of homosexuality.”  To date, all students may only access the book with signed parental permission.

In a state where 58% of the population is Mormon, the reaction is not surprising. (The Davis County Chamber of Commerce) However, for local resident Tina Weber, the school’s actions were not at all acceptable.  After no response from the district, she turned to the ACLU for support. In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, she explained:

As a parent, I believe that it’s my role to help [my children] understand certain issues … I don’t believe it’s for anybody else to tell me how to raise my family.

On November 13, 2012, the ACLU filed its lawsuit. The press release read:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Utah filed a lawsuit against the Davis School District after elementary schools in the district were instructed to remove a children’s book about a family with same-sex parents from library shelves…..Public schools cannot remove books from the library shelves because some people disagree with the books’ viewpoint.  Under the First amendment, parents can place limits on what their own children can read but they cannot restrict access to books for everybody else’s children.

Over the past few months Tina Weber has garnered the support of many local organizations including, The Utah Library Association, Utah Pride Center, Ogden OUTreach Resource Center, Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).  At this point no court dates are set and the book still sits behind the librarians’ desk.

Unfortunately, this was not the first time that In Our Mothers’ House has made waves. As reported by the Texas ACLU, Polacco’s book is currently on the banned book list for all Texas public schools. Of course, as a concerned citizen, I immediately checked with my local schools and public libraries.  I’m happy to report that In Our Mothers’ House is available here.  Fortunately, I was able to snatch up a copy before the Black Friday rush on library borrowing.

In June The National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) caught up with Patricia Polacco to interview her about the book, its inspiration, and the Utah ban.

Aside from being beautiful and well-written, Polacco’s books, including In Our Mothers’ House, play an important role in an increasingly heterogeneous world. Just look at our 113th U.S. Congress. According to Pew Forum, its composition demonstrates the “continuing, gradual increase in religious diversity that mirrors trends in the country as a whole.” It will house its first Buddhist Senator, its first Hindu in either chamber, a declared “none,” an increase in Catholics as well as small population of Jews, Muslims, and Mormons.

katztushDemographics are changing and we all have get use to it.  What better way to do that than to curl up with a good book. Through her unique style of storytelling, Polacco celebrates difference by connecting us to her characters, no matter who they are and who we are, through the universal components of the human experience.  I challenge anyone to get through Our Mothers’ House with a dry eye. By its end the story evolves into something so human that none of the details matter.

In addition, Polacco demonstrates a powerful respect for family tradition, cultural heritage, the wisdom of elders, and the power of friendship. Her stories offer a window into life – many of which are autobiographical derived from her own experiences as a dyslexic child. Her books don’t preach or lecture. They aren’t political or argumentative. They are just that – stories.

Babushka Baba Yaga

In the struggle for social acceptance, not all advances are made in the court room or on the battle field.  Some of the biggest strides can be made in the home with a warm fire and a good storybook. But in Utah, that opportunity is being threatened.  As Patricia Polacco stated in her interview, the book ban is a serious First Amendment issue. And, the ACLU agreed.

Just as the government cannot censor her writing; it should not have the power to censor our access to her writing.  I make the choice on what’s appropriate for me and for my children.  And, I choose Patricia Polacco’s books. Two days ago, I read In Our Mothers’ House to my daughter. She listened intently with no questions. Perhaps, in the future, when she meets a child with two mothers, she’ll remember Marmi and Meema and just how much they loved their kids. That is how change begins. And that is what matters.

Current Polacco books in my library:

  • Rechenka’s Eggs
  • Mrs Katz and Tush
  • Pink and Say
  • Just Plain Fancy
  • Thank You, Mr Faulkner
  • Junkard Wonders
  • Babushka Baba Yaga
  • Betty Doll
  • Babushka’s Doll
  • Thunder Cake
  • The Trees of the Dancing Goats
  • In My Mothers’ House (just ordered from Amazon)

 

Tomorrow I’ll be on a flight to Maryland for the 2011 FaerieCon event, at which I’ll be conducting interviews, taking pictures, and moderating panel discussions (in addition to seeing Qntal in concert).

Since I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to blog properly while also covering the event, I’ve arranged a variety of guest-posters during my absence to keep the lights on here at The Wild Hunt. Tomorrow we’ll be featuring a guest-post from Patheos columnist and Killing the Buddha Contributing Editor Eric Scott, and we have several other wonderful Pagan voices lined in the days to follow. Patheos Pagan Portal manager Star Foster will be behind the scenes making sure the trains run on time. I’ll return on Tuesday, and should have some great coverage to share when I get back!

In the meantime, before I go, here are some news stories I’d like to share with you.

That’s all I have for now, enjoy the guest-posts, see you on Tuesday!

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.

Back in April I mentioned the case of Roberto Casillas-Corrales, a Santero living in Utah. A local narcotics strike force raided his home looking for illegal drugs. They didn’t find any, so instead they arrested him for possessing two human skulls.

“Roberto Casillas-Corrales, 53, is facing two counts of third-degree felony desecration of a human body for the two human skulls found on his property, according to a court official. Clearfield police and Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force officers served a search warrant at the man’s home as part of a drug investigation Sunday. No drugs were found. The man told police he used the skulls and animal parts for religious purposes. He said he practices Santeria, a Caribbean religious tradition.”

Now it should be noted that it isn’t illegal to own a human skull, even two human skulls. But when you go to all the trouble of doing a drug raid, and don’t find any drugs, it must be hard to come back empty-handed. Now it seems that prosecutors are walking back on those charges, citing some “further investigation” they need to do.

Prosecutors have dropped the case against a Santería clergyman accused of keeping two human skulls in a shed behind his Clearfield home, saying they want to further investigate the case’s constitutional issues. [...] In documents filed last week in 2nd District Court, prosecutors asked Judge David Connors to dismiss the case because “due to the constitutional issues further investigation is needed.” “From the start there was a freedom of religion issue,” said Deputy Davis County Attorney Kathi Sjoberg. “Then there’s some question as to whether or not the process that he went through [in obtaining the skulls] was unlawful.”

Now, the judge dropped the charges without prejudice, so they could charge him again, but you’d think the prosecutor’s office could have found proof they were illegally obtained in three months. As for Casillas-Corrales, he claims he bought the skulls in/from Cuba for 3,500 dollars.

The case raises a lot of different questions. Do law enforcement have any solid evidence that Casillas-Corrales is involved with illegal drugs, or was this a bit of drug-war over-reach? If they were involved in a drug raid, and didn’t find drugs, why did they arrest him for possessing human skulls? Is this due to “occult experts” who like to emphasize ties between Afro-Caribbean religions and the drug trade? Local media reported that Casillas-Corrales was, by all accounts, “somebody who invites people in for celebrations and aids those in need,” so why didn’t anyone dig into the possibility that he was an innocent man practicing a religion that may seem strange and alien to those not exposed to it?

It may be that Roberto Casillas-Corrales is guilty of something. Drugs, improper handling of animals or human remains, or even an immigration issue (he’s not a U.S. citizen), but so far no charges stand against him. In the eyes of the law he’s an innocent man until proven otherwise. His life has been exposed in a way he most likely would not have chosen, and this will have deep ramifications to other practitioners of Santeria, Palo, and related faiths, who will now be even less likely to trust law enforcement (not to mention the press, or at least the mainstream press). I think my recent interview with Morgan Page Iyawo Odofemi fairly sums up the general state of things.

Practitioners of Lukumi, along with most other Afro-Diasporic Religions, have faced an incredible amount of persecution – including being murdered and having our religious altars desecrated. This ongoing oppression, combined with class issues, race issues, immigration status, and language barriers creates a climate where many elders (who are generally people of colour, lower-income, Spanish-speaking, etc.) do not feel comfortable speaking about the religion out of a very real fear of persecution. There are also some priests who are given taboos against being public about their religious beliefs. I don’t think that our lack of public spokespeople necessarily hurts practitioners. I think racism, classism, and xenophobia hurt practitioners. Secrecy is what helped our ancestors to survive and thrive. Ashe to those who want to take on the burden of being public, but I don’t think it’s something we necessarily “need.”

I think the press needs to take a cue from prosecutors and have a greater emphasis on the “constitutional issues” that arise in interactions with Afro-Diasporic Religions instead of going for the sensationalist stenography that seems to sometimes pass for journalism. These faiths are only growing in the United States, and the more we alienate them, the more secretive and hostile to outsiders they will become. If we want to ensure that justice and fairness happen, we can’t allow the tiny amount of outreach that’s happened in the last twenty years to be undone.

I’d like to highlight two comments from yesterday’s post on the treatment of Santeria and Vodou in the media. The first comes from Jacquie Minerva Georges, who notes that adherents to Afro-Caribbean faiths are engaging with the media, just not the mainstream English-speaking media.

“Thank you, Jason for your devotion for defending the Afro-Caribbean/Latin American based religion. I do believe practitioners of African-based religions are speaking but not the “mainstream” media or certain individuals. I often must read French, Spanish, Portuguese written [typed] articles to find out what practitioners of such faith[s] are speaking about. Recently there was an article, originally written in Spanish but somehow was translated into English, regarding practitioners of Santeria being really upset and embarrassed by individual practitioners leaving offerings to the orishas in [the] public community [parks for an example where masses commune]. “We” are educating the recently migrant practitioners that “our” rituals must adapt to our times and/or the “general” public. Here is a link to what I am speaking of: titled “Offering to the Orishas”.”

Georges follows up to say that “some of ‘us’ we don’t care what others think about our faith[s].”

The second comment I’d like to highlight from yesterday’s post comes from Rev. Heron Herodias, a Wiccan priestess from the Church of the Sacred Circle in Utah. She was interviewed by a local Fox affiliate about one of the stories linked in yesterday’s post.

“They interviewed me about this – classic Fox News move “Hey, let’s ask a Wiccan about Voudou!” I’m embarrassed to say that they got some good “out of context” and reporter-fed quotes from me, while completely cutting out the point I was trying to make which was that animal sacrifice is not only a legal practice in the US, but that many “mainstream” faiths including Christianity have a history of it as well. They interviewed me for a good twenty minutes, and BOTH of the statements they showed were fed by their reporter. For instance, I followed up the statement about human remains being a concern with the acknowledgement that most mainstream Santeria practitioners discourage the use of human remains (having read some prominent Santeria practitioners say the same thing) even while other practitioners do not. i thought that by being interviewed that I could help dispel the “OH NOES, ded animal” hype. Lesson: don’t be a patsy for Fox News when they come a-callin’.”

I think both comments add some great context and additional information, and I’m glad they shared it with us here. I’m thinking of taking a page from Andrew Sullivan and highlighting smart, relevant, comments that expand and clarify an issue more often.