Archives For Vatican

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.

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

(Credit: Wikimedia/DarkGeometryStudios via Shutterstock/Salon)

  • Let’s start off with Salon.com’s follow-up to the outing of rogue Wikipedia editor “Qworty,” which focuses on his strange vendetta against Pagan, esoteric, and occult pages. In the piece Andrew Leonard links to my run-down of the story, and manages to dig up some new information as well. Quote: “Every page deleted or altered by Young on grounds of self-promotion or conflict-of-interest clearly deserves a second look. And that great effort is already well under way. The Neo-Pagans are clamoring for the return of some of their deleted pages and scouring those that survived the purge to see which of Young’s cuts will be reverted. But Young didn’t confine himself to questions of notability or conflict-of-interest when tangling with the Pagans; he also challenged the basic tenets of Pagan spirituality. Wikipedia, he argued, should be debunking such things as Wiccan rituals or the exploration of drug-induced conciousness-raising, rather than reporting them.” This experience has left some Pagan Wikipedia editors disillusioned, to put it lightly. It will be interesting to see how things progress from this point. 
  • The branding of children as “witches” by pastors in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo continues. The BBC has a new documentary where a British citizen who was born in the DRC finds out her cousin has been accused of witchcraft and races to find her. Quote: “Journeying from her home in London to her birthplace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kevani tries to discover how ancient traditions have been hijacked in the name of Jesus, why families are singling out vulnerable children and hurting them and why toddlers are having to endure excruciating rituals in order to ‘rid them of demons’.” It should be noted that branding children as witches is illegal in the Congo now, but the pastors seem unconcerned.
  • The book “Ritual” by David Pinner, which inspired the 1973 film “The Wicker Man” is going to be getting a sequel. Pinner told Rue Morgue Magazine that he’s written a book set 30 years later entitled “The Wicca Woman.” Quote: “I’ve just completed the sequel to Ritual, after all these years, called The Wicca Womanthe children who are in Ritual are grown up in this. It’s set 30 years later just before the millennium. Wicker Man obsessives will no doubt want to keep an eye out for this one. Meanwhile, StudioCanal continues its hunt for lost footage from the 1973 film’s original cut in hopes of releasing a complete anniversary edition. 
  • Christianity in Britain could be declining faster than originally thought according to a new analysis of the 2011 UK census data. Quote: “A new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.” We may see a truly post-Christian Britain in our lifetimes. That new analysis is from the UK’s Office for National Statistics, by the way. 
  • John Macintyre, former president of the Scottish Pagan Federation, is interviewed by Patheos.com about the importance of Pagan involvement in interfaith. Quote: “Interfaith is not a threat, it doesn’t aim to change what Paganism is, still less to merge it into some kind of ‘one size fits all’ universal religion. It allows us to educate other faith groups and the wider society about the reality of modern Paganism, to challenge prejudice and negative stereotyping close to its sources, and to make a positive contribution as one of the many faith communities that make up our society.”
Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte

  • Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” writes about the Vatican’s ongoing battle with the cult of Santa Muerte. Quote: “In addition to theological objections, the current religious economy of Mexico and Latin America provides a compelling explanation not only for the condemnation of narco-saints but also for other dynamic religious competitors. For the past three decades both national bishops’ conferences and the Vatican have inveighed against the “invasion of the sects” in Latin America. Of course, Pentecostals, the most vibrant of the Church’s competitors, have been the primary object of condemnation, but Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age groups and Spiritists have also been singled out.” 
  • PNC-Minnesota has an update on Pagan-initiated tornado relief efforts in Oklahoma. Quote: “As of Saturday, Solar Cross has collected $545 in donations and was able to send 400 N95 rated respirators, 58 pairs of work gloves, 50 safety goggles, 20 tarps, and 10 shovels. Tillison said, ‘Thank you thank you thank you! Your donations will be distributed within 24 hours of the time they arrive and sent out to Little Axe, Newcastle and the outlying areas that are not receiving the outpouring the greater area of Moore is.’” You can read my initial report on this, here.
  • When talking about legal protections, “who’s a journalist” is the wrong question. Quote: “When considering whether to grant legal protection for the gathering and dissemination of information, the question should not be the person performing those acts, i.e., “who is a journalist?,” but “is this an act of journalism?” Before the user-generated content revolution, focusing on journalists (i.e., people defined by their institutional affiliations) served as a functional if rough approximation of the true interests at stake (i.e., debate on issues of public concern). That is no longer the case.” This issue is an important one for all us Pagan media types who are not affiliated with a recognized institution. 
  • Paul Louis Metzger argues that sometimes Christians create the “idols” for modern Pagans out of ignorance of our actual beliefs and practices. Quote: “We Christians need to be on guard in our understanding of such movements as contemporary Paganism. We tend to lump all of modern Paganism into one general and distorted category. We often fail to account for the vast complexity within the movement and articulate Paganism accurately. For all our concern about pagan idolatry, we may be guilty at times of making their idols for them. We need to develop the practice of respect for understanding their practices, rituals, and beliefs.”
  • Wiccan love spells: sometimes they (kinda) work (at least for awhile). Quote: “Yes, I shed a few tears, but not because I was in love with him. I cried because the spell hadn’t worked, at least not all the way, and I was now forced to revert to being a Party of One after having had a brief, haunting reminder of the cozier aspects of being in a relationship.”

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.

A coalition that claims to represent around 90% of the world’s Christians, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), and the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), have released joint recommendations for the conduct of Christian missionaries. This document is the result of five years of consultations among the three bodies, and is being touted as “a major achievement” in building consensus on the issue among Christians.

“In the past five years we have been building a new bridge,” said Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe, chief executive officer and secretary general of the WEA. “The document is a major achievement,” he explained, in that it represents formal agreement on “the essence of Christian mission” while also demonstrating that diverse Christian bodies “are able to work together and to speak together.” In this sense, the release of the text “is a historic moment” in the quest for Christian unity.

In talking about the rationale for this initiative, Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA, in what could be fairly described as understatement, admitted that “in some places dynamic public witness to Jesus Christ has been accompanied by misunderstanding and tension.” Reuters religion reporter Robert Evans put it somewhat more bluntly.

“Christian missionaries have long been accused of offering money, food, or other goods to win converts in poor countries, either from other faiths or from rival churches. Tensions have also risen in recent decades as evangelical Protestants have stepped up efforts to convert Muslims, which is a capital offence in some Islamic countries. This also prompts retaliation against local Christians who do not seek converts.”

So what  does this new document solve? What is it meant to do, and what does this mean for the world’s non-Christians? First, while this document may be a historic moment of consensus and agreement, it is toothless in regards to enforcement. As I reported back in 2007, no church or missionary group will be forced to accede to this new code of conduct. The document takes pains to stress that these are “recommendations,” that will “encourage” churches to “reflect” on their “current practices.” It certainly “does not intend to be a theological statement on mission.” In short, these are more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules. That said, for those Christian missionaries who do plan to take this new historical document seriously, and base their conduct on it, what will it change? The core shift in thinking seems to be in fighting “arrogance, condescension and disparagement” among Christian missionaries toward non-Christian faiths and building a new ethos of mutual respect and cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.

“Christians are called to reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness. They also reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts. [...]  Any comment or critical approach should be made in a spirit of mutual respect, making sure not to bear false witness concerning other religions. [...]  Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions.

In addition, the document endorses providing “sufficient time for adequate reflection and preparation” in regards to conversions.  Frowning on quickie conversions and urging Christians to “refrain from offering all forms of allurements.” All of which is encouraging on its face, though the document also has a political purpose, to help missionaries lobby against anti-conversion laws in places like India.

“WEA Secretary General Geoff Tunnicliffe said the code, entitled “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World,” would be “a great resource” for Christians lobbying against anti-conversion laws passed in countries such as India.”

How a document that is merely a recommendation, not enforced policy or doctrine, will actually sway supporters of anti-conversion laws remains an open question. Is it simply a propaganda tool, or will there be actual “moral and peer pressure” as hinted by the coalition previously? With the revelations of coercive conversion tactics in Haiti, and serious accusations that missionaries have stirred up anti-Vodou violence, not to mention an emerging theory within evangelical circles that Christian missions may have helped trigger the witch-hunts in Africa, it may take far more than encouragements of better behavior to allay the fears of those scarred by this sort of abusive behavior.

With Catholic plans in the works to “re-evangelize” Europe and the United States, one has to wonder if this document will be respected when it comes to interactions with adherents of Pagan, indigenous, and syncretic faiths. If “Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions,” will anti-Pagan tracts and books be changed or will that escape the scope of this new initiative? While I applaud some of the sentiments encased in this document, I fear it raises too many questions to set the minds of those targeted by missions at rest.

While I like to talk about some of the fringe protestant Christian groups that see us as the enemy, the Catholic Church has its own subculture of extremists obsessed with combating Paganism and the occult. This impulse within Catholicism most clearly manifests as a renewed interest in the rite of exorcism. I understand that Pope Benedict XVI has taken a dim view of some interfaith work done on the part of the Church, but listing adherence to an established religion as proof of demon possession may be further than even he would be willing to go in a public forum.

“Father Euteneuer does not speak as a theorist. Since 2003 he’s had extensive experience ministering to those possessed by demons … Father Euteneuer told me possession is almost always a result of someone getting involved in some sort of occult practices, such as witchcraft, Wicca, tarot cards, and Ouiji boards. ”Harry Potter and these Twilight vampires glamorize the power of evil,” Father Eutenener explained, “and this has lead to many, many cases of possession among young people.” It may begin with a child or teenager simply “playing around” with the occult, but that seemingly harmless act is “opening a window” to possession.”

Father Euteneuer, like all “occult experts” selling Satan, is peddling a book. In it, he goes so far as to suggest that merely hanging out with a Pagan could infect you with an “occult demon”.

“Occult demons are the most difficult to expel due to their mode of infestation. They generally come in through a person’s participation in or contact with occult things or people, even if the person thought that he was just playing a game. . . .”

Interestingly, while Father Euteneuer says that “Demons are basically handcuffed, and they know it”, he’s also quick to criticize DIY exorcisms by untrained non-Catholic “prayer warriors”.

“I am also concerned about real abuses that happen in spiritual warfare when people are trying to deal with evil without the protection of the Church. They may have a legitimate desire to be free from demonic forces but they can unwittingly get caught up in the very evil they are trying to quell.”

One has to wonder if this is a swipe at some of the spiritual warfare-happy protestant groups? After all, if any old Christian could cast out demons, why buy the book? Then again, he’s being interviewed by someone very much in favor of Catholic-Evangelical political alliances, so who’s to say?

Obviously not all Catholics are demon-haunted like Father Euteneuer, my father’s a staunch Catholic and I don’t think he believes I’m being controlled by various devils (right dad?), nor do most rank-and-file believers seem to be lining up for exorcisms because their teenager is reading “Twilight” or dabbling in Wicca. But this new zeal for exorcisms among certain priests and believers is troublesome, especially since Euteneur isn’t the first exorcist to list modern Paganism as a symptom of possession. Further, their zeal for occult battle is vindicated when prominent Bishops fear a looming “esoteric religiosity” due to the evils of secularism, and their Pope warns of “subjugation to occult powers” in his encyclical on love. When your religion isn’t merely criticized, or found to be in error, but actively demonized, seen as a pure evil to be cast out, there can be no real conversation or understanding. It sparks a dehumanizing process that can lead to violent outbursts against those who are “other”.

If this impulse towards demonization, willful misunderstanding, and distortions continue, what will happen when new efforts to “re-evangelize” the West gain steam? One can only hope that the Catholic Church realizes the implications of the rhetoric it allows from its clergy, and the problematic undercurrents of inter-faith warfare within the now-burgeoning exorcism movement. If not, how long before we have Catholics pursuing and branding “witches” in the West as certain unscrupulous Christian pastors now do in parts of Africa.

For those of you who like to keep track of Pagan and occult themes in pop-culture and the arts, I’ve got a few goodies to share. First, online magazines Right Where You Are Sitting Now and Dangerous Minds profile a new short (7 & 1/2 minute) film by Brian Butler entitled “Night of Pan”.

“‘Night of Pan’ is a seven and a half minute film featuring film auteur Kenneth Anger and actor Vincent Gallo. The film has been screened in various versions internationally – Beijing, Lisbon, Cannes, Athens, Rome, Berlin and elsewhere, but never in Butler’s base, Los Angeles. In the film, Anger, Gallo, and Butler depict an occult ritual that symbolizes the stage of ego death in the process of spiritual attainment.”

If you’re going to do a short ritualistic art-film, there’s no finer stamp of approval than getting Kenneth Anger (the undisputed master of the genre, and long-time Thelemite) to co-star in it. After it’s finished making the festival rounds, maybe they’ll post the whole thing to Youtube?

Turning from short art-films with Pagan and occult themes to long big-budget historical films with pagan themes, I have some “Agora” (the film about Hypatia of Alexandria) news to share. While Americans are still awaiting an official release date for the film, in Spain it has garnered 13 Goya Award nominations from the Spanish Film Academy.

“[Alejandro] Amenabar said at the ceremony in the Academy building that it had been “a great year for Spanish cinema” and was quick to push the worth of his fellow nominees, Agora co-scriptwriter Mateo Gil and lead actress Rachel Weisz.”

Now if we can only get a release date! Perhaps the new flurry of international acclaim and press will speed things along?

In a final “and water’s wet” sort of note, Vatican media isn’t pleased with the pantheistic elements of the global mega-blockbuster “Avatar”, criticizing it for turning “creation” into a “divinity to worship”.

“L’Osservatore said the film “gets bogged down by a spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.” Similarly, Vatican Radio said it “cleverly winks at all those pseudo-doctrines that turn ecology into the religion of the millennium.” “Nature is no longer a creation to defend, but a divinity to worship,” the radio said.”

And while we should never conflate Vatican media with the official opinion of the Pope, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi did state that these views “reflect” Benedict XVI’s opinions on the matter. Indeed, how could they not?  The pontiff has a long history of warning against the dangers of “neo-paganism”, especially within the context of environmental concerns. I’m sure Ross Douthat is excited to be so “on the same page” as his spiritual authority.

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

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

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

Top Story: While not explicitly about Paganism, the Newspaper Death Watch blog pointed me to a fascinating new study entitled “New Entrepreneurs: New Perspectives on News” ( PDF version), that interviews fifty women news creators and consumers and transmits a reality that many of us involved in new-media already knew.

“New media creators seek to report on their communities by being actively involved in them. They engage in newsgathering and reporting that is informed by their own knowledge and sense of place. They seek to entice members of their community in robust conversations. They pay close attention to their readers and communities to figure out what is of interest …New media news creators deliberately employ more involved (participatory), less dispassionate points of view, while maintaining the distinction between news and opinion …The primary motivation of news creators in starting a community news site is to amplify a sense of community and connect its members in meaningful interactions … For news creators, the primary gap is a geographic one. They are seeking to fill a void that exists because traditional media never covered their communities or have abandoned coverage because of economic pressures.”

The above could read as a mission-statement for The Wild Hunt and hundreds of other blogs, podcasts, and new-media resources out there. I’m not “embedded” in the Pagan community, I’m a part of the Pagan community, and that intimacy and familiarity gives me a perspective and vitality that no mainstream journalist can hope to match. I do believe I can be passionate about a topic while distinguishing what is fact and what is merely my opinion.  Further, the study makes plain that media creators and consumers (an increasingly blurry distinction) are both frustrated by the current state of mainstream news reporting, pointing out how “old media” has been petty and hostile towards emerging new-media solutions and  outlets.

This new attitude/reality is certainly worrying for newspapers and other traditional news-outlets. As Newspaper Death Watch states: “reinvention doesn’t come without pain”, and that pain has yet to run its course. However, I believe in the long run this change in journalism and news-gathering will ultimately create more quality journalism, not less. Further, it will forever change the old paradigm of a select few deciding what is “newsworthy”. For many, what happens in the world of modern Paganism isn’t worth reporting, or only worth reporting during Halloween, but we are no longer limited by the page-count or the deadline. In the future, news will be initially generated by self-interested communities which will then “trickle-up” to larger journalism-creating entities as “big” stories emerge. News outlets that continue to ignore these changes will just become another statistic for the media “death-watchers”.

In Other News: Turning briefly to Catholicism, I’ve previously mentioned that American nuns are currently undergoing a “doctrinal assessment” to see if they are coloring inside the lines and not straying too far into feminism, practicing Reiki, or getting too cozy with Goddess-worshipers. Well it looks like many of the women religious aren’t going to go down quietly, by, well, being quiet.

“Most US women religious are failing to comply with a Vatican request to answer questions in a document from Apostolic Visitator, Mother Angela Millea. Leaders of congregations, instead, are leaving questions unanswered or sending in letters or copies of their communities’ constitutions, NCR Online reports. “There’s been almost universal resistance,” said one women religious familiar with the responses compiled by the congregation leaders. “We are saying ‘enough!’ In my 40 years in religious life I have never seen such unanimity.” The deadline for the questionnaires to be filled out and returned to the Vatican appointed apostolic visitator, Mother Mary Clare Millea, was November 20.”

So what happens when non-contemplative Catholic womens religious orders, the ones who are usually the most tied to and involved with their local communities (and hence, quite popular with the laity) put their foot down? Saying that they are through being “bullied”? We can’t be sure, but I doubt this is making Benedict XVI very happy. Something tells me this isn’t going to be the last instance of civil disobedience and non-compliance from American nuns.

The Religion Clause blog alerts me to an update on the South Carolina “I Believe” license plates story that I’ve covered here at The Wild Hunt in some depth. It seems the local Palmetto Family Council, instead of urging the state to issue unconstitutional endorsements of a single faith, is going to follow the law and sponsor the plates themselves.

“The plaintiffs who just won the lawsuit that killed the General Assembly-sanctioned “I Believe” license tag are saying they won’t protest Smith’s plan — as long as it’s a private group, and not state government, that is sponsoring the tag. “This would be a specialty license tag like all the other specialty tags,” said the Rev. Neal Jones, one of the four plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit over separation of church and state. “It would be an expression of freedom of speech by a private group, and we don’t have a problem with that.” Jones, pastor of the Universalist Unitarian Fellowship in Columbia, said he had discussed with the other three plaintiffs the possibility of a private group putting “I Believe” on a tag. “Everyone was fine with it,” he said.”

You know, if local Christian groups had just coughed up the $4000 dollars to sponsor the specialty plate in the first place we wouldn’t have had to have an expensive court battle. But I suppose that would rob local politicians of some quality Christian pandering for votes.

In another follow-up, the massive (and controversial) Nepalese ritual-animal-slaughter of the Gadhimai Mela is over and the AFP interviews some unrepentant participants in the killings.

“Munna Bahadur Khadgi, a professional butcher, said he had enjoyed the chance to give the goddess “something in return.” “Gadhimai has been kind enough for me to have a good life and I take this slaughter as a way of saying ‘thank you’,” said the 40-year-old, who said he had killed 200 buffalo this year. “I make money by killing animals normally but at the festival I do it for spiritual satisfaction. It is the least that I could do for the goddess and I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.” For 31-year-old Abhimanyu Rana, the slaughtering was in keeping with the family’s religious belief and practice. “When I was young I had seen my dad and grandpa slaughtering animals. I am proud that I am continuing the family history,” said Rana, who owns a local restaurant.”

But while many local Nepalese participants seemed pleased with the festivities, Utpal Parashar of the Hindustan Times seemed to have had a terrible time, saying the slaughter was “nauseating” and that he was pick-pocketed twice. Inside Nepal, a commentator for the Kathmandu Post, invoking Peter Singer, said the event was “the legitimization of violence in Nepal writ large”. The coalition lobbying to stop the mass-sacrifice points out that few safety and humane regulations were witnessed during the festival, and I can’t help but wonder if a reformation movement would have met with better success than a movement for a complete ban.

In a final note, now that Thanksgiving is over, people are turning toward Yuletide gift-giving and reporters are anxious to turn in their “pagan origins of Christmas” story before heading out for Black Friday deal-hunting. In an article about a festival of trees, the pre-Christian origins of hauling a tree indoors was cited, while a variety of letter-writers are quick to point out the pagan-ness of Christmas while considering church-state concerns. Meanwhile, SF Gate columnist Jon Carroll quotes a reader on the issue of Jews adapting and adopting Christmas for themselves.

“So can’t the Jews attempt something that the Christians did so successfully 200 or so years ago with a pagan celebration?”

Yes Virginia, Winter festivals do predate Christianity, and that religion did steal borrow many popular pagan traditions in the process. However, I’m not sold on the theory that Santa was a shaman. I’m more a “he exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist” kind of guy. I’m also a let everyone celebrate their Winter festivals in whatever way they want kind of guy, but I still think that Gap ad is stupid.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 20, 2009 — 4 Comments
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My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

It seems like a given nowadays that if some dead animals turn up, practitioners of Santeria or Vodou will get blamed by a police officer, animal shelter spokesman, or speculative/lazy/bored journalist, even though most of these cases bear little resemblance to the actual religious practices of African diasporic faiths (and it usually ends up being teenagers). Journalistic coverage of these animal killings, and the assumed religious angle, has gotten so bad that press watch-dog blog Get Religion has started asking for some needed clarification.

“Say what? Let’s read that quote again, the one in which it is claimed that the number of ritual animal sacrifices spike at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.”what in the world are these words supposed to mean? Are we to believe that there is a wave of beheaded animal corpses because of (a) the arrival of Advent/Nativity Lent, (b) approaching observances of Hanukkah, (c) Kwanzaa festivities, (d) some alleged connection to Solstice? Is the goal to link this to voodoo or something? But before you go there, please note that the story says absolutely nothing that would point toward Santeria and, even if it did, there is no discussion of whether these sacrifices in any way fit patterns of worship in that tradition. You see, it’s wrong for journalists to say, “Behold, beheaded animals. Those Santeria people are at it again.” That’s too simplistic. So let me ask the obvious question and ask readers to weigh in: Precisely what “high holidays” are we supposed to assume are being discussed here? I honestly do not have a clue. What does this strange sentence mean? Just asking.”

The quote referenced above, from an AP story, and left unexamined, is from another representative of an animal cruelty center, making me wonder what kind of workshops on ritual killings (or horror movies) these people are attending. I’m very glad to see the issue of the horrible reporting concerning mysterious animal deaths and their alleged connection to Santeria or Vodou is being picked up on by more religion-news watchers. Maybe now we can finally inch away from pure sensationalism whenever a dead animal turns up.

Over at the Times, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard visits a famous Clootie well near he village of Munlochy and wonders if the practice of tying rags to branches for healing really is an ancient pagan custom.

“The notice nearby, put up by the Scottish Forestry Commission (for like most shrines it’s a tourist attraction too), claims that this tradition goes back to pre-Christian times, and is a reflection of the power of water in pagan Celtic religion. It is, in other words, an amazing survival across the millennia. I found myself thnking that this was really rather hard to believe. If most other customs are invented in the nineteenth century, then why nt this pagan one too. How far back does it really go, in this form. Does anyone have any real hard evidence?”

I’ll leave it to my Celtic reconstructionist readers to look into the matter and let me (and Mary) know. While we’re on the subject of Ms. Beard’s skeptical nature, she also takes aim at the theory that ancient Greek temples were deliberately built to face the rising Sun. I’ll leave it to my Hellenic Pagan readers to weigh in on that one (I’m quite the delegator today).

Author and techgnostic Erik Davis has posted an essay adapted from the introduction to the new photography collection “Tribal Revival” that deals with the West coast neotribal festival culture.

“Every summer, tens of thousands of participants descend upon dozens of festivals and gatherings, great and small, that occur on the West Coast of North America: Shambhala, Oracle, Moontribe, Lightning in a Bottle. The names of these clans and crews are legion: hippies, ravers, pagans, crusties, free spirits, burners, seekers, travelers, eco-warriors. They gather together to dance, to escape, to hold ritual, and to craft a visionary culture based on community, creative self-expression, and a celebratory earth wisdom. Labels are always dangerous, but an honest name for the scene is neotribal. These are the new tribes, recreating and reinventing patterns of organic culture that are inspired by the premodern past but designed for a high-tech planet hurtling through a period of unprecedented global change.”

Something of a neotribal himself, Davis waxes Utopian about the the “festival [as] foundation of world renewal”, and the “earthy communion” these interweaving groups partake in. Whether this subcultural phenomenon will truly equip us for an uncertain future remains to be seen, but I’m certainly open to there being more festival, “feral joy”, and liminality in our lives.

Turning briefly to pop-culture, the io9 blog has a clip from the upcoming Percy Jackson movie “The Lightning Thief” featuring Uma Thurman as Medusa. I’ve written about the pagan-ness of Percy Jackson previously, which follows the adventures of young Greek demigods. “The Lightning Thief” is due out in February. Meanwhile, the highly literate/geeky indie rock band The Decemberists is putting out a full-length animated film of their recent myth-drenched pagan-y concept album “The Hazards of Love”.

“…next month, Colin Meloy and co. will push The Hazards of Love to full-on The Wall status, releasing the album as a full-length video. Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized premiered at a show in Los Angeles on October 19, and on December 1, it’ll be available exclusively via iTunes. Filmmakers Guilherme Marcondes, Julia Pott, Peter Sluszka and Santa Maria created animations to accompany individual sections of music from the album.”

That trailer looks pretty cool/trippy. If you want to acquaint yourself with the music before considering the movie, you can download it at Amazon.com (they also have it in vinyl for those that want to kick-it old-school).

In a final note, no matter how much I deplore the idea of sparkly vampires, if Vatican spokesmen and evangelical anti-occult book-peddlers don’t knock it off soon, I’ll have to see the darn things just to spite them.

“Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office. This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.’ ”

Man, if sparkly celibate-till-marriage Mormon vampires are a “moral vacuum” I’d hate to hear what he thinks of “True Blood”.

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

I have a few stories of interest before we dive head-first into our Samhain celebrations, starting with an Omaha World-Herald story about a Wiccan inmate who had his request granted to change his legal “Christian” name to his chosen “Witch name”.

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“Just in time for Halloween, former Fremont resident Billy Joe McDonald has received a judge’s permission to change his “Christian” name to his “witch” name: Hayden Autumn Blackthorne. In requesting the change for religious reasons, McDonald — er, Blackthorne — wrote that he is “a lifetime member of Witch School,” a “recognized Wiccan Priest” and a person who has “successfully completed Correllian Wicca — First Degree.” And, oh yeah, McDonald also noted that he is a sex offender who has been successfully convicted of sexual assault — first degree.”

While the Wiccan angle makes it newsworthy, the event itself isn’t all that uncommon. Prison inmates request to change their names, often for religious reasons, quite often. That said, these requests aren’t always granted, a Heathen inmate in Nebraska who wanted to change his name to “Sinner Lawrence Bilskirnir” was denied on grounds that it didn’t satify “legal requirements”. Blackthorne’s request was most likely granted because he had letters of support from local clergy, and proof of long-time religious activity within the prison.

Turning from prisons to the world of “adult” film, The Sydney Morning Herald interviews porn star Monica Mayhem about her new book “Absolute Mayhem”, which apparantly mentions her adherence to Wicca.

“It helps me to stay grounded and it helps me to cope with things a lot better … it’s not like you see in the Hollywood movies, it’s actually just a more free and naturally way of living … it’s all about mother nature and the universe.”

Considering how many “stars” in the adult industry are treated, I sincerely hope that Wicca really does help her cope, and ultimately brings her a deeper connection to the earth around her.

In a final “we must be doing something right” note, both Pravda Online (a remnant of the once-mighty official organ of the Communist Party) and The Vatican have warned against celebrating Halloween due to its pagan and occult origins!

The Holy See has warned that parents should not allow their children to dress up as ghosts and ghouls on Saturday, calling Hallowe’en a pagan celebration of “terror, fear and death”. The Roman Catholic Church has become alarmed in recent years by the spread of Hallowe’en traditions from the US to other countries around the world … The Vatican issued the warning through its official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, in an article headlined “Hallowe’en’s Dangerous Messages”. The paper quoted a liturgical expert, Joan Maria Canals, who said: “Hallowe’en has an undercurrent of occultism and is absolutely anti-Christian.”

So there you go! Celebrate Halloween properly and you’re defying both The Vatican and members of Russian Orthodoxy who write for post-Communist propaganda tabloids. Talk about rebellion!

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

ICANN, the organization that manages and assigns new top-level domains (like .com, .org, and .net) has recently been going through a process that would (in theory) make the proposal process for new extensions easier and (relatively) cheaper. While that would certainly make some people happy (namely registrars), other groups are concerned about this more open process. One influential organization in particular has made its concerns known.

“The Vatican warned the internet address-making body of the “perils” of allowing new internet domains such as “.catholic, .anglican, .orthodox, .hindu, .islam, .muslim, [and] .buddhist”. ICANN, frequently accused of mission creep, could find itself having to decide who gets to represent an entire religion on the internet, His Holiness pointed out, in a letter from Monsignor Carlo Maria Polvani.”

That’s right, religiously-themed top-level domains have become a very real possibility, and the Vatican is concerned about who might end up holding the reigns of those new extensions.

These gTLDs could provoke competing claims among theological and religious traditions and could possibly result in bitter disputes that would force ICANN, implicitly and/or explicitly, to abandon its wise policy of neutrality by recognizing to a particular group or to a specific organization the legitimacy to represent a given religious tradition.

In other words, what if an organization headed by a schismatic or Independent Catholic group got control of ‘.catholic’ (not that I see the Vatican letting that scenario go down without a fight), or, what if a rogue Subgenius had control over ‘.pope’ (charging twenty dollars per domain obviously)? More likely, what if control over religious top-level domains went to the groups with the most money?

“You have the right to contest any of these extensions by spending the  $50,000+, it will take to object to each and every religious domain extension that might be applied for. Just  ask the churchgoers to dig a little deep in their pocket to put more money in the collection plate, so they can fight each new extension religious extension. Seriously the many nightmarish problems and issues are just starting concerning these new extensions. What if multiple groups apply for a  .god extension, who gets to play god? Well I guess the highest bidder, according to the ICANN’s Guidebook.”

To say this is a potential minefield is a huge understatement. So long as you have groups that insist they hold the only “proper” or “correct” way of administering legitimacy regarding a faith, tradition, text, title, or teaching, your going to run into serious problems. Worse, what would happen if enemies of a particular faith controlled the keys to its top-level domain? After all does the Pagan community have hundreds of thousands of dollars to challenge an evangelical group from running ‘.pagan’ or ‘.wicca’? So in this instance, and perhaps not for the exact same reasons I have, the Pope is right. Religious-themed extensions under the current system would be a potential nightmare. Without the promise of an affordable and open challenge mechanism, or the certainty that religious extensions would be controlled by ideologically neutral parties, ICANN should stay out of the God(s) business.

Yesterday, the New7Wonders Foundation named the new seven wonders of the world after a worldwide Internet/phone poll. The list, which updates the seven wonders of the ancient world, includes the Great Wall of China, the Roman Colloseum in Italy, and the Christ Redeemer statue in Brazil (full list). But this Internet-age poll has angered and disappointed many, with criticisms coming from all corners. UNESCO, which runs the World Heritage program, has taken pains to point out that it has no part in this contest, that the contest in biased, and that it in no way helps preserve ancient sites.

“UNESCO’s objective and mandate is to assist countries in identifying, protecting and preserving World Heritage. Acknowledging the sentimental or emblematic value of sites and inscribing them on a new list is not enough … There is no comparison between Mr Weber’s mediatised campaign and the scientific and educational work resulting from the inscription of sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The list of the “7 New Wonders of the World” will be the result of a private undertaking, reflecting only the opinions of those with access to the internet and not the entire world. This initiative cannot, in any significant and sustainable manner, contribute to the preservation of sites elected by this public.”

Egypt, which houses the only surviving ancient wonder, the Great Pyramid of Giza, complained that the contest demeaned their culture and the pyramids. It got so heated that New7Wonders sidestepped the controversy by making the Great Pyramid(s) of Giza an “honorary” candidate.

“After careful consideration, the New7Wonders Foundation designates the Pyramids of Giza—the only remaining of the 7 Ancient Wonders of the World—as an Honorary New7Wonders Candidate. Therefore, you cannot vote for the Pyramids of Giza as part of the New7Wonders campaign. This decision has also taken into account the views of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The Pyramids are a shared world culture and heritage site and deserve their special status as the only Honorary Candidate of the New7Wonders of the World campaign.”

Meanwhile, The Vatican has complained that the lack of Christian monuments included in the running points to an anti-Christian bias.

“Archbishop Mauro Piacenza, who heads the Vatican’s pontifical commission for culture and archeology, said that the exclusion of Christian works of art such as Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was ‘surprising, inexplicable, even suspicious’ … Monsignor Piecenza said that many other Christian sites had been ignored, from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona to world famous cathedrals. ‘Vatican officials suspect an antiChristian bias’ said La Repubblica yesterday. Francesco Buranelli, the director of the Vatican Museums, said he was also aghast. ‘How they can they possibly exclude from the wonders of the world a masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel, which last year alone had over four million visitors?’”

Aside from those who felt snubbed or offended, were those who lost out. Druids in Britain mourned Stonehenge’s failure to place in the new list, and equated the entire contest to the Eurovision song competition.

“Druid Terry Dobney, who is keeper of the stones at Avebury, said he was disappointed there had not been more support for the Wiltshire monument. ‘It’s a bit like the Eurovision song contest, there’s been block voting around the world so I’m led to believe,’ he said. ‘In South America, they voted for the Christ statue in Rio and they’ve got a million block vote in South America and it’s the same with the Taj Mahal in India. They’re places of intrigue, but we know who built them and why they were built, there’s not a great wonderment attached to them as opposed to Stonehenge which has this great wonderment attached to it.’”

Despite Stonehenge’s loss, the new list does overwhelmingly favor pre-Christian constructions (giving some credence to the Vatican’s complaints). But rather than paint this as some sort of victory for polytheist achievements, I think I’m more in UNESCO’s camp in this instance. Our world is far larger now (culturally and geographically) than it was when the seven wonders of the ancient world world were picked. To arbitrarily pick the “top” wonders by an unequal voting process seems counterproductive to the mission of preserving and recognizing great works in human achievement.