Archives For Wales

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.

Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon

Spencer Butte in Eugene, Oregon

  • This just in: walking in the woods is good for you! Quote: “In an effort to benefit the Japanese and find nonextractive ways to use forests, which cover 67 percent of the country’s landmass, the government has funded about $4 million in forest-bathing research since 2004. It intends to designate a total of 100 Forest Therapy sites within 10 years. Visitors here are routinely hauled off to a cabin where rangers measure their blood pressure, part of an effort to provide ever more data to support the project.” Those of us who love to sojourn into nature regularly can most likely attest to the salubrious effects of wooded terrain.
  • Religion Clause reports that the USDA has “released a lengthy report titled USDA Policy and Procedures Review and Recommendations: Indian Sacred Sites.” Quote from the summary: “[The report calls] for USDA and the U.S. Forest Service to work more closely with Tribal governments in the protection, respectful interpretation and appropriate access to American Indian and Alaska Native sacred sites on national forests and grasslands. The report recommends steps the Forest Service should take to strengthen the partnerships between the agency, Tribal governments, and American Indian and Alaska Native communities to help preserve America’s rich native traditions.” This seems a welcome step forward after some recent incidents involving sacred lands.
  • Moral panics often help promote the very thing they (sometimes literally) demonize. Quote: “The most common way for music to blow up from a small scene into global pop is for a controversy to erupt. Music history is littered with examples of “moral panics”: be-bop jazz was blamed for white-on-black race riots in the mid-1940s, just as rap music was blamed when riots erupted in Los Angeles following the Rodney King trial. In both cases, sensationalized news reports and especially a focus on the “dangerous” elements in the music attracted young people in droves. Moral panics, like magnets, repel and attract.” That quote is from Jennifer Lena, whose book “Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music,” looks very interesting. To give this a Pagan spin, one wonders if the “Satanic” panics of the 1980s and 1990s actually drew people into the occult and modern Paganism? Yet another factor to explore in the “teen witch” boom?
  • Remember folks, reality television, all reality television, distorts its subjects.
  • In a final note, Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is going independent, and will subsist on reader donations. Which makes me wonder, will the future of media not be with massive ever-expanding content hubs, but with smaller, curated, islands that are more responsive to the communities they serve? Or, at the very least, will the new media ecosystem allow for both to thrive?

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.

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: Are you a Pagan family in North Carolina that would like to take a day or two off for holiday observances? A new North Carolina law would let you keep your kids home from school with an excused absence.

“It requires all school systems, community colleges and public universities to allow students at least two excused absences each academic year for religious observances. The law standardizes an informal practice. But some administrators hope it won’t create exam-week havoc.”

Sounds like a net positive, right? Practitioners of minority faiths that don’t have observances that overlap with existing Christian holidays can include the kids without hassle, and college students can attend a scheduled event without worry of hurting their GPA. But a comment from Rep. Rick Glazier, who co-sponsored the bill, have some worried about how it will be applied.

“It has to be a bona fide holiday; you don’t get to just take the day off because you want to pray at home.”

So who decides what’s a “bona fide” holiday? Will the school take the parent’s word for it? The law is vague on this point, only saying that schools can request a letter of explanation if they want. Faith & Reason’s Cathy Lynn Grossman notes the law could make minority faiths have to “prove their religiosity”, but it’s more the “praying at home” bit that I’m concerned about. If your “church” is the living room, or an open field, or a forest, does it still count as bona fide? It should be interesting to see how this law is enacted by different schools, and see how it handles Pagan requests for days off.

Guilty Sentence For Cop-Dragging Pagan Priestess: A Magistrate has found Eilish De Avalon, who gained international noteriety last month for dragging a cop by the arm during a routine traffic stop, guilty of recklessly causing injury. De Avalon, who is currently out on bail pending an appeal, made tabloid headlines by announcing she was a “pagan priestess”, and that man-made laws didn’t apply to her, much to the chagrin of other local Pagans who said that incident has set back local interfaith efforts. In a press release, the Australian Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) blasted those who were using this incident to put her beliefs, and by extension the beliefs of all Australian Pagans, on trial.

“The media has done its best to put Ms De Avalon on trial in the court of public opinion for her beliefs as well as her actions. I doubt they would bother if she were a Catholic or a Hindu or practically any other religion. What is the big deal about practicing an indigenous European belief like witchcraft? When it comes to the law, people’s actions are what matter.”

It remains to be seen what will happen next. I can’t imagine she’ll win on appeal with the involuntary “autonomous state” defense she used in the first trial. As for the reputation of Pagans in Australia, perhaps the soon-to-be-airing episode of Rituals: Around the World in 80 Faiths (which I covered here previously) that features Australian Pagans will help things a bit.

A Cuban Santera on Faith, Possession, and Divination: Journalism student Kelly Knaub interviews Cuban Santera Iyalocha Lourdes about her faith for the Havana Times, and undergoes a purification ritual as well. During the interview Iyalocha Lourdes goes into some detail on the matter of possession by spirits, which I found quite interesting.

“In the beginning you lose consciousness. It’s a process of spiritual development. Right now you’re an embryon – a person that doesn’t have the potential or capability to be a medium. Right now, that’s you – you don’t have any knowledge. You come to my temple to develop yourself spiritually, which means to process and open yourself and become a spiritualist. So, in the beginning, I pull the spirits so that they possess you. You lose consciousness, you don’t remember anything.

As the years go by, and you continue perfecting and working more with your spirituality, a moment will come when you’re seated, like I am, and a spirit comes to you and you speak, sometimes also in a conscious state and you can remember it. But this comes with practice.”

They also talk about gender within Santeria, “false spiritualists” who only do it for the money, and animal sacrifice. It’s definitely worth a read, especially since most mainstream journalism about Santeria doesn’t tend to allow this much detail or insight into their practices.

The Welsh Witch Problem: It seems that rural Wales is a hotbed of occult and strange happenings being reported to the police. A recent Freedom of Information Act request reveals that residents in places like Powys, Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire are having all sorts of supernatural problems, including “witches” behaving badly.

The force, which covers Mid and West Wales, has received 86 reports of witches in the last five years. The force’s police incident log reveals details of the calls. One caller reported “that one individual is a witch and had attended at the house to put salt around the bed”. A caller in January last year claimed he had been fed a “fur ball” during a witchcraft ritual. Following a call from Llanelli, police recorded: “Caller, who was drunk, who rang regarding a gang of witches who want to sacrifice him.” Another call was a report of a “malicious communication: rumours that an individual’s mother is a witch”.

OK, which tradition’s been feeding people fur balls? There were also reports of ghosts, vampires, demons, and wizards, but witches topped the list. The Dyfed Powys Police downplayed these reports, saying they are far more ordinary taken in context, though local paranormal experts insist this is just further proof that “Wales is a frighteningly haunted country”. That still doesn’t explain the fur ball. Was it from a cat? Is it a euphemism? What?

I Can Only Imagine the Internet Spam I’ll Get Now: Plenty of places on the net are getting a decent chuckle over an Ebay auction that is selling a spell by a “powerful Wiccan Witch” to increase the size of your, ahem, “booty”.

“Are you desperate to achieve the perfect butt and perhaps a fan of the occult? For just $8.95, you can achieve your dreams by buying one “Booty Enhancement Spell” from a “Powerful Wiccan Witch” on eBay. Hurry, supplies are limited!”

There’s also a spell for breast enhancement. The powerful “Amelia” (it that’s her real name) claims that she’s “used this [spell] many times with stunning results!” But just in case, buying multiple castings ensures greater chances for success (naturally). There’s always been spell-peddlers in our community, but this level of brazenness and scammy-spammy-vibes may take this to a new high/low. One wonders what old Gerald would have to say about booty-boosting spells.

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

There’s good journalism and bad journalism, and then there are articles that simply bend your brain with how astoundingly far they travel from the fields of acceptable news-gathering. Tell me good readers, what comes into your mind when you read the following sentence.

“A Voodoo priest who was linked to the death of a young woman is coming to Wales to preach about his bizarre “religion”.”

That sounds horrible! Some woman-killing Voodoo priest teaching his “bizarre” faith in Wales?!?  But wait, there’s more…

“Wales on Sunday can reveal that mysterious Hector Salva – who compares voodoo to Catholicism – will be in Cardiff later this month to hold secret meetings about his faith.”

Secret meetings! Oh no! We have to… wait a second… did you say “Hector Salva”? I know that name.

“Authorities are awaiting results of a toxicology test to determine the cause and manner of Hamilton’s death, which has not been deemed suspicious. No charges have been filed, and Salva, who goes by “Houngan Hector,” said he is “100 percent confident” there was no wrongdoing on his part. Salva, soft-spoken and polite with a constant smile, said that no drugs were involved in the spiritual cleansing called the Lave Tet, but that small amounts of rum sometimes are consumed. “Maybe a sip,” he said, but he added that Hamilton had “passed on the rum.” …  “She was happy, very positive,” he said. “She seemed very fine as far as everyone knew.” What happened about 11 p.m., Salva said, is the same scenario he told dispatchers during a frantic 9-1-1 call. “She was taking a nap and we woke her up to see if she was hungry, and she was nonresponsive,” he reiterated yesterday. “We kept calling her name and she wouldn’t respond.” The other participants in the ritual could not be reached for comment. Salva declined to provide their names.”

In fact, the Wales on Sunday piece does grudgingly admit later on in the piece that New Jersey Vodou practitioner Hector Salva isn’t under suspicion for the woman’s death, and that the meetings are “secret” because the organizers are worried about “religious fanatics” (ie Christian protesters) gate-crashing the event.

“No charges are expected to be brought against Salva and police say they are not treating it as suspicious. But neighbours of Salva – who converted to being a voodoo priest in Haiti in 2003 – said there were often strange smells and foreign chanting coming from the house. Now Salva, whose followers call by his spiritual name Hougoun Hector, will be arriving in Wales to hold three clandestine gatherings in which he will talk about his religion. The location is being kept secret, as the organisers are worried religious fanatics might turn up and gatecrash.”

Well, if there weren’t any Christians looking to infiltrate and protest before, they may well want to now thanks to this article. Andrew Dagnell should be ashamed of this piece, littered as it is with half-truths, distortions, and moral judgements. Frankly, this horrible little article is an affront to good journalism. Is Wales on Sunday a gossip tabloid to allow such things to run? If Salva or Baron’s Magic (the shop sponsoring the talks) runs into trouble we’ll know who will be on our list to “thank” for it.

In recent years a small island in the UK with a rich pagan history has become internationally famous for its apples. No, it isn’t Summerisle, but a small island off the coast of Wales. Around ten years ago Ynys Enlli (aka Bardsey Island) became the home of the rarest apple tree in the world, and sparked a sensation.


Ian Sturrock with his children and Bardsey Apples

“One of the world’s rarest trees has become a must-have for green-fingered Welsh patriots. Nearly 10 years ago a birdwatcher noticed an apple tree growing beside a house on Bardsey, off the Lln Peninsula, and alerted Welsh orchard expert Ian Sturrock. One of the world’s leading authorities on apple species, based in Kent, later declared it the rarest apple tree in the world. Now Mr Sturrock – who specialises in growing native Welsh fruit trees by grafting small pieces of them onto rootstock – cannot keep up with demand for Bardsey apple saplings. Having sent them across Britain and overseas, he is now sending wood from a Bardsey tree to a nursery in the US – for grafting on the other side of the pond.”

It isn’t just any rare apple tree on a small Welsh island, Bardsey Island has been a pilgrimage place for pre-Roman pagan Celts and for early Christians, it is rumored to be the final resting place of Merlin the magician, and some claim it may be Avalon itself.

“Barber & Pykitt identify Ynys Enlli with the Isle of Avalon where King Arthur was taken to be healed of his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. The battle, they place at nearby Porth Cadlan on the mainland. Merlin’s “Castle of Glass” on Ynys Enlli would appear to be the “Chamber of Glass” where Queen Morgan (or Modron) Le Fay lived and worked with her nine sisters (Merlin’s companions) to heal King Arthur on the Isle of Avalon. Avalon, meaning “Place of Apples,” was an aspect of the Celtic Otherworld, usually called Annwfn…”

As a result both modern Pagans and Christians are eager to get their hands on the famous Afal Enlli (Bardsey Apple).

“Christian people want it because it’s got the Bardsey connection, … Pagan people like it because of the original Bardsey connection.”

So how does an apple from an apple tree growing on what might be the Isle of Apples taste? According to fans it has a tangy taste with a slight hint of lemon. But it may be awhile before enough is grown to satisfy an international demand (there is already a two-year wait for more saplings). In the meantime, 150 trees were sold to a Gwynedd business in hopes of producing a cider from the apples, and residents of other islands are buying the strain in hopes it will be hardy enough to thrive in that rugged environment. This includes residents of Hebridean islands off the coast of Scotland. So who knows, perhaps we will see a Sumerisle strain of apple sometime in the future.

For more information check out the official web site for Yns Enlli, and the official web site for Afal Ynys Enlli (the apples of Bardsey Island).