Archives For vandalism

At the beginning of this month, a wooden idol of the god Perun, installed in the Ukrainian city of Kiev by Slavic Pagan reconstructionists/revivalists (known as Ridnovir), was destroyed by unnamed vandals. According to the Native Faith Association of Ukraine (ORU) this was a coordinated effort that required machinery and multiple people to accomplish. This desecration comes after a Ukrainian Pagan temple was attacked at the end of 2011 in Poltava.

The European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) released a statement saying that this event “rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith.”

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration.

Perun idol in Kiev before the desecration. (Photo: ORU)

This event rocked all those who respected the ancient Slavic faith. In Poland, in the name of Rodzimo Wiaro (Stanislaw Potrebowski), an appeal on behalf of their fellow Ukrainians was released. The appeal reads “With pain we are going through the news of your idol’s desecration in Kiev. Through this tragedy we stand in solidarity with you. The authors of this crime should not feel like they still live 1000 years ago, when the sacred groves were destroyed and our people’s idols were profaned. Across Europe, the old spiritual traditions are being reborn, and that which has been persistently forced on us is drawing back. The destruction of our idols and beliefs will not minimize our fidelity to our ancestral faith. Let this sordid crime become one more stimulus to move us into restoring and strengthening our indigenous culture. “

This incident seems to be part of a larger tapestry within the Ukraine, where tensions between competing worldviews seem to be ratcheting up. Back in August members of the Ukrainian feminist group Femen took a chainsaw to a giant wooden cross to protest the treatment of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot, while the recent Ukrainian elections were very controversial (and very close), causing mass demonstrations. No doubt some see the rise of Slavic Paganism as an affront to traditional Orthodox values, even though adherents of the traditional pre-Christian faiths in the Ukraine are hardly heterogeneous in political or social views (Ridnovir was recently denied inclusion in national religious organizations).  Unlike other European countries, clergy in the Ukraine are very involved in politics, fueling tensions with those who feel the Orthodox and Catholic churches in that region exercise too much control over society.

Within Slavic Paganism Perun is the highest power, controller of thunder and lightning. He shares many, but not all, characteristics with the Norse god Thor. As mentioned above, Ridnovir maintain that this desecration of Perun’s idol will simply become a “stimulus” towards growing and strengthening their faith. As I find more information on this incident, and the larger picture of current tensions between Pagans and Christians in the Ukraine, I’ll post updates.

Yesterday several British papers reported that a stone circle on Trinity Saint David University grounds in South Wales was damaged “beyond repair.” The circle had been used for years by the university’s Pagan Society, who called the destruction “heart-breaking”. The question now: Was it a religiously motivated attack, or simple vandalism? According to the BBC, University officials are not treating this as a hate crime.

Lampeter Stone Circle

Lampeter Stone Circle

Cen Powell, executive head of estates and facilities at University of Wales: Trinity Saint David, said: “We are aware of the situation regarding the damage caused to the site and are working with the Students’ Union to assess our options. [...] ”There is no reason to believe that this was a result of hate crime and would consider it to be an act of vandalism.”

However, this isn’t a unanimous opinion. Speaking to the Telegraph, police constable Richard Marshall noted the obvious religious connections to the site and its destruction.

Lampeter Pc Richard Marshall told town councillors at a meeting last week that the site had been “maliciously taken apart” and is now unsafe to use. ”It is disturbing,” he added. “This is a place of worship. If this was a church I’m sure we’d be hearing more about it.”

This was far more than a few stones kicked over, the vandals apparently brought pick-axes and crowbars to demolish the site. That seems far more than drunken revelry or random hooliganism. In any case, it seems the university is not going to rebuild the circle, and is instead in talks with the Lampeter Pagan Society about finding a new site.

“We are looking to get a new space, but thanks for your best wishes. It has a 20 year history here and connects us to older students, but we are excited to be hoping to work on a new place soon.”

Meanwhile, outrage and calls of solidarity have been spreading through the Pagan community since the news of this event broke. It will be interesting to see if the vandals are caught, and find out what the motivations might have been for destroying the stone circle. Was it mere vandalism? Or could there have been a religious element? What do you think?

Top Story: A local Nevada television station is reporting that Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, had her truck vandalized. The Stewart’s were at the heart of a campaign to grant Wiccan soldiers the right to have the pentacle engraved on their military tombstone or marker after ten years of stonewalling by the VA. While the act is attributed to local vandals, the report does explore the possibility that the brick thrown at her truck was connected to anti-Pagan sentiment.

But there’s another more remote, but more disturbing possibility: Roberta Stewart’s very public dispute with the Veteran’s Administration following her husband’s death. Although the Army recognized Patrick Stewart’s religion, it took a lawsuit against the V-A and government intervention to get the Wiccan faith’s symbol, a pentacle, placed on his marker at the veterans cemetery in Fernley. She won that fight, but the marker was vandalized shortly after it was installed. Roberta has continued to be a vocal advocate for religious tolerance and slain soldiers’ families. It’s a stance that still stirs strong emotions in some. She still gets angry emails. She doubts her truck was targeted for that reason, but can’t help but wonder. “We still get things where people don’t believe that we have the right to practice religious freedom, so it could have. I can’t be the one to answer that, but i would hope not.”

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who worked closely with Roberta Stewart during the Veteran Pentacle Campaign, issued the following statement on her official Facebook Pagan.

“Please send healing, strength, and protection to Roberta Stewart, the courageous Wiccan Afghanistan War Widow who was with me on the front-lines of the successful quest to the get US Department of Veterans Affairs to add the Pentacle to the list of emblems that can be included on the grave markers they issue to honor deceased veterans.”

While this vandalism is terrible, I do hope that it truly was random, as evidence suggests, and not motivated by religious hatred. My best wishes go out to Roberta Stewart, may she have all the strength and healing she needs, and may the perpetrators be caught.

In Other News:

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

For the second time this year Greenville, North Carolina’s Hindu Temple has been broken into and vandalized. Stealing nothing, the vandals seemed content with desecration, smashing the shrine and altar, and overturning the murti (divine images).

“It looks very odd. My first impression was that they must have stolen something, but looking at the shrine of worship, it appears they just came in to do this,” temple member Rajesh Verma said, pointing to the desecrated shrine. Another television, DVD equipment, other electronics and a collection box with money inside were not stolen, Verma said. [...] It was the second time this year the temple has been burglarized, Verna said. In January, someone broke in through a bathroom window and stole a television, he said. Nothing was vandalized during that incident, he said. The members are not feeling secure now, Verma said. “I’d never experienced anything like this in 15 to 20 years, but to have this happen twice in a year is very worrisome,” Verma said.

The verdict is still out as to whether this is a religiously-motivated hate-crime. The police say there is some evidence of “possible juvenile involvement,” though the involvement of younger people doesn’t preclude this from being an anti-Hindu incident.

This incident is truly tragic because, for the most part, Hindu temples have been growing and thriving in the United States. A quick scan of the news will show the local government in Sugar Hill, Georgia aiding a Hindu congregation in getting their temple plans off the ground, a new 10-12 thousand square foot Hindu temple starting construction this Summer in Michigan, and a $2 million addition to New England’s oldest Hindu temple in Ashland, MA.

“The temple, first conceived by a small group of Indian immigrants in 1978, was built slowly over the next dozen years. Its ornate exterior iconography was carved by a team of Indian artisans, and its granite deities, including Sri Lakshmi, the goddess of auspiciousness and prosperity, were shipped from India. The community has grown dramatically since the high-tech boom of the mid-1990s, when many Indian professionals moved to the Boston area, leaders of the temple said.”

Hopefully the problems facing the Hindu community in Greenville are truly isolated, and don’t signal the beginning of some sort of anti-Hindu sentiment. The growth and acceptance of Hindu sacred spaces is a positive omen for modern Pagans as we start to gather the recourses and will to create our own dedicated spaces, like the new Goddess Temple in Ashland, Oregon opening in the Spring.

“The temple, founded by Graell Corsini and 18 others, will open under a full moon on the spring equinox, the women say. It will enshrine the great goddess mother of ancient times, working in equal partnership with the “sacred masculine” God to “celebrate the divinity in everything,” Corsini said. [...] Corsini founded AvaSha Goddess Temple in Mount Shasta and came with two of its priestesses to found the Ashland temple. For the Ashland site, she says she “received a vision” from the Celtic goddess Bridgit to draw together 19 trained priestesses, the same as the number at Avalon, a mythical sacred isle associated with Glastonbury and Arthurian legend.”

Modern Pagans have much to learn and gain from the Hindu community, and we should support them as they spread their temples across the United States, learning from their experiences. This could be an excellent time for Pagans in the Greenville area to reach out, and show solidarity and  support during this time of trials.

A few quick news notes to start your weekend.

Glastonbury Thorn Cut Down: The town of Glastonbury in England, a place held as special and holy to both Pagans and Christians, suffered a tragedy yesterday as vandals cut down the Holy Thorn tree on Wearyall Hill. The tree was a place of pilgrimage, and thought to be planted there by Joseph of Arimathea (the uncle of Jesus).

Photo by Matt Cardy / Getty Images

Police are trying to establish a motive for the attack, in which vandals hacked off the branches of the tree, leaving only part of the trunk remaining. They have not ruled out a religious motive. Katherine Gorbing, director of Glastonbury Abbey, said: “The vandals have struck at the heart of Christianity. Like the whole town, we are shocked and appalled.”

So far, no one is sure why vandals attacked the tree. Some claim it could have been done by some sort of neo-Puritans, hearkening back to the Cromwellian “Roundheads” who cut down the original tree during the English Civil War, other think it might be due to the recent collapse of Crown Currency Exchange (the owner of Wearyall Hill is a major stockholder in the company). Whatever the case, this is a tragedy to those who love the history, tradition, and unique atmosphere of Glastonbury. One can hope the tree will be replaced by a surviving off-shoot, the perpetrators caught, and the wounds healed over time.

Jim Morrison Pardoned: The late Dionysian rocker/poet Jim Morrison has been pardoned of his 1970 indecent exposure charges by outgoing Florida governor Charlie Crist, calling the conviction a “blot” on his record. This move was blasted by Morrison’s widow, author and  Celtic Pagan Patricia Kennealy Morrison.

The pardon isn’t enough for Patricia Kennealy Morrison, who says she married Morrison in a ceremony that was never made official. She wanted the convictions expunged and called the pardon “a complete cheap, cynical, political ploy.” “I have a real problem with the semantics of a pardon. The pardon says that all his suffering and all that he went through during the trial, everything both of us went through, was negated,” she said [...] Kennealy Morrison said Morrison’s convictions led to his demise, and that of the band. She said he felt like he “had been made a scapegoat of the counterculture movement.”

The issue of a pardon has been something of a debate among Doors fans, with some preferring a more raucous image of the singer. For many Pagans Morrison has become “the 20th Century incarnation of Dionysus,” complete with rituals done in his honor.

Goat Heads That Aren’t Occult: Three homes in Cincinnati had severed goat heads placed on their door-steps, but for once it isn’t being blamed on practitioners of Santeria, Satanists, or occult practitioners.

“Police currently do not believe there is any kind of occult connection. “Usually when satanic or cult worshipers do this kind of thing they leave a mark they want you to know exactly what, who and why this was done,” said [Cincinnati Police Detective Charles] Zopfi. Police interviewed all three families to see if they are connected in some way and so far the answer is no. “Right now it could be anything from a teenage prank to a very nasty prank to somebody who is just targeting these people for a specific reason and right now we don’t know why,” said Zopfi.”

Gold star to Detective Zopfi for not rushing to judgment, or falling for those horrid “training videos” for “occult crime.” Now if only more law enforcement and animal control officials would follow suit.

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

Just a few quick news notes for you to start your Monday.

Asylum For Witch-Hunt Victims: A Nigerian woman in Britain is fighting deportation on the grounds that she will be hunted and killed as a witch in her country if sent back. Cynthia Owie came to the UK in 2008 with her infant daughter, shorty after the baby sadly contracted meningitis and died, now Owie says she is receiving death threats from fellow Nigerians accusing her of witchcraft in the child’s death and is seeking asylum.

Ms Owie, 33, said: “I have been threatened that I will be killed if I go back. I have been told I am a witch and murdered our daughter.” Ms Owie also claims she was treated “like an animal” at the Yarl’s Wood detention centre, in Bedford, where failed asylum seekers are held before removal. Her cause has been taken up by West Ham MP Lyn Brown as well as members of the Ascension Parish Church in Custom House, east London, which has been providing Ms Owie with accommodation and support for two years. Rev Chris Hanson, the vicar of the church, took the case to the Home Office last week and said the community was praying that she would be allowed to stay. “Cynthia’s case is one in a thousand,” he said. “She has gone about trying to stay in this country in a God-honouring way. I am hopeful that the Home Office will understand her exceptional circumstances. When the baby was discovered as being very ill, she was accused of witchcraft. People out in Nigeria believe she brought on this illness and we believe if she is returned to Nigeria she would be killed.

If Owie’s plea is granted it could set a new precedent for asylum seekers to the West. Would more individuals from places like Kenya, Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia try to seek asylum to escape jail, abuse, or death? More importantly, would a stream of asylum seekers affected by witch-hunts and panics force Western governments to become more proactive in using their diplomatic muscle to end the worst abuses? What do we do when the men and women accused of “sorcery” and “witchcraft” are no longer “over there” and are instead at our doorsteps begging to be spared?

Metaphysical Store Vandalized in Alaska: A Pagan-owned shop in Soldotna, Alaska was vandalized with a large wooden cross last week, the first time such an act has taken place in the small town.

“An Alaska store owner says a wooden cross wrapped to the store sign in Soldotna was an unwelcome act of vandalism that goes against her pagan and spiritual beliefs. The Peninsula Clarion reported 45-year-old Rondell Gonzalez arrived Thursday at her store, the Pye’ Wackets on the Kenai Spur Highway, and found a makeshift cross about 7 feet tall attached to her business sign with plastic food wrap. Gonzalez says she believes in spiritualism rather than organized religion. She also said her father fought and died in Vietnam for religious and personal freedoms.”

The Peninsula Clarion interviewed Gonzalez, who called the action “pathetic”, and expressed surprise that the cross wasn’t on fire. You can find out more about Pye’Wackets at their Witchvox listing. The question now is if this was an isolated prank, pulled by bored teenagers, or if it signals something more sinister.

Sarah Palin’s Christianity: Speaking of Alaska and witch-hunts, religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman points to an emerging debate between former governor Sarah Palin and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend about the nature of religion within the realm of politics. It seems that Palin, in her new book “America By Heart”, criticizes John F. Kennedy for his famous speech about his Catholicism. This has lead Townsend, a niece of JFK, to pen an editorial in the Washington Post criticizing Palin’s views.

“Palin writes that when she was growing up, she was taught that Kennedy’s speech had “succeeded in the best possible way: It reconciled public service and religion without compromising either.” Now, however, she says she has revisited the speech and changed her mind. She finds it “defensive . . . in tone and content” and is upset that Kennedy, rather than presenting a reconciliation of his private faith and his public role, had instead offered an “unequivocal divorce of the two.” Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office. A careful reading of her book leads me to conclude that Palin wishes for precisely such a test. And she seems to think that she, and those who think like her, are qualified to judge who would pass and who would not.”

While I doubt Palin would blatantly call for a religion test to high office, her allies in C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation, who regularly engage in spiritual warfare against Pagans, and helped nurture her career, certainly would. The fact that two of the Republican front-runner for 2012 presidential elections, Palin and Mike Huckabee, have ties to Christian groups and figures (like David Barton, for instance) who would deny Pagans their basic constitutional protections is chilling. The more we insist on an unofficial religious tests in campaigns, the closer we get to real ones.

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