Archives For Washington Post

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.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

Indonesian politician Permadi, photo by Edi Wiyono.

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Blake, The Whore of Babylon, 1809, Pen and black ink and water colours, 266 x 223 mm, © The Trustees of the British Museum

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Author, activist, and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has been attending several Occupy gatherings in California and writing about those experiences at her blog. In addition, she has also written about Occupy Wall Street for the Washington Post’s On Faith section.

Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland

“At its essence, the message of the Occupations is simply this: “Here in the face of power we will sit and create a new society, in which you do count. Your voice carries weight, your contributions have value, whoever you may be. We care for one another, and we say that love and care are the true foundations for the society we want to live in. We’ll stand with the poor and sleep with the homeless if that’s what it takes to get justice. We’ll build a new world.” The Occupy movement is not overtly religious, like the Tea Party. The 99 percent includes people of all religious faiths, and people who have none. But I believe its core message and ethic is profoundly spiritual, even prophetic.”

Starhawk goes on to say that the Occupy movement “renews my faith in the human spirit, in our creativity, our craving for justice, our determination to root our world in love.” As mentioned above, you can read her ongoing reports from the various Occupy gatherings in California at her personal blog.

For more on Pagan reactions to the Occupy movement, check out these reports from PNC-Bay Area and PNC-Minnesota. You may also enjoy these recent blog posts from Alison Leigh Lilly, T. Thorn Coyle, Jonathan Korman, and Gus diZerega.

I have a new piece up at the Washington Post’s On Faith section examining the importance of the recent video Pagan media press conference with Republican presidential candidate, and former New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson.

Screenshot of the Johnson-Pagan Media Conference

Screenshot of the Johnson-Pagan Media Conference

Here’s a short excerpt:

“What does it all mean? I think it represents two opportunities. First, there’s an opportunity for politicians to realize that America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage. Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”

I hope you’ll head over and read the whole thing, and leave your thoughts in the comments section. This “town hall” has gotten far more attention than I thought it would, getting noticed by congressional paper The Hill, snarked about at Wonkette, New York Magazine, and Gawker, and reported on by New Mexico newspapers. This may not be the kind of attention Johnson hoped for, but I do think that his choice to do this will have resonance far beyond his campaign, and could start to change the way politicians view religious minorities.

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!

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Texas Governor, and possible GOP presidential candidate, Rick Perry has endorsed ‘The Response’ a prayer event scheduled for August 6 in Texas. “As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy,” Perry wrote on the event’s official Web site. Perry’s critics are concerned about his distinctly Christian approach to public prayer as well as his association, through ‘The Response,’ with several problematic pastors, among them John Hagee, controversial for his comments on Israel, the Roman Catholic Church and Islam, and C. Peter Wagner, who has suggested that the Catholic veneration of saints is an evil practice.Should politicians be judged by the religious company they keep?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

We would be foolish to ignore how a politician’s religious beliefs, and which religious figures they rely on for support, shapes their policy decisions. It is especially dangerous for religious minorities who have been rhetorical and practical targets of politically active conservative Christian leaders to pretend that people like Rick Perry won’t be beholding to them should he run for, and subsequently become, president. Due to the unique “bully pulpit” power possessed by our Commander in Chief even comments made before a politician becomes president can later be interpreted into policy by his administration. There is a strong indication this happened during the presidency of George W. Bush, who famously remarked in 1999 that “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it.” In this case “it” was allowing Pagan soldiers to freely practice their religion at Fort Hood in Texas, but nearly a decade later the Washington Post reported on a case involving grave markers for fallen Pagan soldiers where Barry Lynn of Americans United said that discovery documents showed “references to Bush’s remarks … in memos and e-mails within the VA.” In Lynn’s opinion “the president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level.” In short, rhetoric, especially when you go on to lead the world’s most powerful nation, does matter, as does the rhetoric of those who have played king-maker during the election.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

Top Story: The planned movie adaptation of Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” has officially launched its Kickstarter fundraising campaign (complete with fundraising pitch video featuring Starhawk). They are looking to raise $60,000 dollars in 60 days. There has been just over $10,000 dollars pledged in the first two days. The money will be used to make a professional pitch video to the major film studios.

“Now we’re asking for your support.  What will we do with the money?  You’ve seen in the video some of the brilliant artists who inspire us, and who want to work with us.  With your help, we’ll be able to create the next phase; designs for sets and costumes, visuals of key scenes, and storyboards for the action.  We can secure the rights to the music and art we need, and do those dull but oh-so-necessary things like finalizing contracts, budgets and financial plans.  To ensure that we are able to continue to develop the strongest possible project, we estimate that we’ll need about double our Kickstarter campaign goal of $60,000, and we’re certain that with your help, along with the tremendous support we’ve been receiving from our entire community, we can do it.”

The official website for the film is here.  They are also encouraging folks to connect with them on Facebook and Twitter. If this succeeds it will be the largest sum of money collectively raised on the Internet for a campaign originating with modern Pagans. Doubling what was raised earlier this year for Japan relief. I’ll have more on this project soon, hopefully including an interview with Starhawk about the proposed film.

Interview with Iceland’s Allsherjargoði: Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried at The Norse Mythology Blog interviews Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, chief priest of Iceland’s Ásatrúarfélagið. In the interview they discuss art, mythology, working with Sigur Rós, and the question of pre-Christian survivals (among other things).

KS – Do you see contemporary Ásatrú in Iceland as a continuation of a living tradition that goes back to ancient times, as a recreation and revival of a practice that had ended, as a descendent of 19th century nationalist romantic mysticism, as a post-war rejection of modernity, or as a post-1960s counterculture movement?

HÖH – I think, probably, I would say “yes” to all those things. The influence of this seems to resonate with Icelanders. The poems never really went away, and they’ve been treasured ever since they were handed down orally and written down. I’m pretty certain that the people in the learned places of Oddi and Reykholt and [elsewhere] were reading Ovid and Roman mythology, and they realized, “My god, we have this thinghere which is a living and vibrant thing, and this is what my great-grandfather believed in,” and stuff like that. I think it never really went away.

It was said – after the conversion in 1000 or 999 – that you could not worship the old gods except in secrecy. That was part of the truce. People carried on secret worship for at least two centuries. I don’t think it ever really went away. To illustrate that, I met this old man in the shop yesterday. He came up to me and shook my hand, and he told me that – when he was confirmed in the early 1920s – his grandmother came to him and gave him a book with the Eddic poems and said, “You should read that, because this is what we also believe.” She thought, “Christianity is okay, but you should not forget your roots.” Ha! I think that’s really a telling story.

The whole thing is worth a read, and that’s only part one! Check out the entire blog, which is chock-full of interesting interviews, including one with Jóhanna G. Harðardóttir of the Ásatrúarfélagið.

A Wiccaning at PSG: Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota has posted a brief report and pictures of a Wiccaning that took place earlier this week at the 2011 Pagan Spirit Gathering in Illinois.


“Rev. Fox blessed the child with element of earth, air, water, fire, and spirit and gifted Arden with a feather found on site.  Arden enjoyed the first half of the ceremony, especially when Fox played peek-a-boo with him.  But as the sun came out, so did some tears.  Rev. Fox noted that was just what Arden should expect from  life, times of laughter and times of tears.  The parents, Kidril and Twitch, then gave their baby his first drum and gave him their blessings.  The community was then invited to grant Arden blessings such as friendship, comfort, peace, and love.”

I realize that a Wiccaning (or ‘saining’) at a festival isn’t the biggest news, but I don’t feel enough attention is paid to our faiths outside of big events or inadvertent scandals. Depictions of modern Pagans living their faith, going through life’s many transitions, can be an important tool for outreach and understanding. I’d like to thank Selena Fox, Kidril, Twitch, and Arden for agreeing to share this moment with the world.

My Take on Religious Exemptions: My latest panelist response for the Washington Post’s On Faith section is now up. This time I tackled the issue of religious exemptions in New York’s proposed gay marriage bill.

“Often overlooked in this wrangling over exemptions are religious groups that fully support equal rights and protections for all American citizens, even the gay ones. Gay marriage is almost wholly uncontroversial among modern Pagan faiths. Druid group Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF)has “never believed that the institution of marriage could possibly be threatened by the existence of married people of any gender,” while Pagan scholar Michael York, author of “Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion,”underlines that sentiment by proclaiming that “freedom has to be the highest Pagan goal and virtue.” Gay marriage has been endorsed by notable Pagan leaders like my fellow co-panelist Starhawk, along with leading Pagan organizations like Covenant of the Goddess (COG) and Cherry Hill Seminary. Yet, despite this, few seem unconcerned that one religious moral view concerning marriage is allowed to override another. The simple fact is that certain Christian and Catholic groups are used to getting their way, and it matters little to them if a moral world-view they endorse overrules the world-views of other religious groups. So the more exemptions granted, the more we’re tacitly saying a socially conservative Judeo-Christian approach to these issues is the de facto “religious” perspective.”

You can read my entire response, here. You can responses from the entire panel, here.

In Other News:

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

Several folks have pointed out to me a photo from the May 3rd print edition of the Washington Post. It is a shot of Arlington National Cemetery headlining a section on the death of Osama bin Laden. It, perhaps inadvertently, makes very clear why the military, and all Americans, should take the needs and accommodation of modern Pagan faiths seriously.

“Look in the left foreground of the photo – you will see the Pentacle on VA marker for Wiccan soldier Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in action in Iraq. His grave is in section 60, where many US soldiers killed in wars in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried & honored.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

When crude editorials mock Pagan faiths and our equal treatment in the military, when pseudo-historians and Christian pundits claim non-Christians shouldn’t even have constitutional protections, they are, in part, talking about Wiccan soldiers like Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. or Sgt. Patrick Stewart. Men who gave their lives in service to the United States. Modern Pagans of all persuasions are part of our everyday society, our fabric of life. We are your coworkers, teachers, friends, and family. When we are “othered,” it has ramifications beyond the editorial page, it leads to rights being delayed, parents risking the loss of their children, and an unspoken tiered system of  religious rights and freedoms being created. Pagans ask for no “special rights” just the equal treatment we are all supposed to enjoy in America, the freedoms and rights our Pagan military personnel served, suffered, and died for.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

“The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,” former President Jimmy Carter said last week. Many traditions teach that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women. Those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions in their religious communities. What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

If the goddesses are suppressed, if they are erased from history, reduced to lesser roles, or turned into demons, then there is no divinity that reflects the female experience. Instead of being the originators of life, subduers of injustice, and the source of all sovereignty, women are instead bearers of the “original sin.” No sane philosopher or theologian can claim this doesn’t change the very nature of a culture, or the way we perceive gender. Imagine for a moment how different the ever-raging debate over legal access to abortion, or even contraception, whether for or against, would be if women were seen as the final holy arbiters in the matter of creating life. I can only guess we’d see something very different from the parade of old white male politicians exclaiming about “moral” issues and threatening basic health care for women in the process. Once you open your mind to that first exercise in a world with goddesses it’s hard not to think of dozens, hundreds, more. Female priests and feminine divine pronouns would hardly skim the surface.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts.

I have a special editorial up at the Washington Post’s On Faith section about the religiously-motivated firing of Pagans, and the case of Carole A. Smith, who was seemingly fired from the TSA for her adherence to Wicca.

What happened to Carole A. Smith is, sadly, all too common a story for many pagans. Smith, a TSA agent in Albany, NY, endured bizarre claims, indifferent superiors, workplace harassment, and finally, termination.

Like many pagans, she wasn’t officially fired for being a pagan, but was subject to a “death from a thousand cuts,” where every minor slip-up is obsessively cataloged until a legally acceptable threshold for dismissal is reached. This was starkly conveyed when msnbc.com revealed an email exchange between two of Smith’s supervisors: the first read, “Hammer Time,” with the response, “Not yet – not enough.” Because Smith works at the TSA, a government agency, her story is now making headlines, and her chances of proper legal recourse are increased because of it.

I’d like to thank the Washington Post for allowing me to present a Pagan perspective on this important story, and I hope you’ll head over, read it, and share it with others.

My latest response at the Washington Post’s On Faith site is now up.

Here’s this week’s panel question:

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will begin holding hearings Thursday on “the extent of the radicalization of American Muslims.” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has characterized the hearings as “a witch hunt.” Are they?

King also has said he believes the “self-radicalization” of American Muslims represents“a very small minority” of the overall community. What are the potential consequences of singling out one religious group?

Here’s an excerpt from my response:

As a member of a religious minority, I understand the peril in being labeled as the dangerous “other”. Too far outside the accepted mainstream to fully enjoy the rights and protections of “normal” citizens. At this moment there are Pagans in the “broom” closet because they know their children will be taken away should they speak publicly about their beliefs. There are Pagans in American prisons being denied basic access to religious counsel or materials. For too long even Pagan soldiers were denied the dignity of an emblem on their gravestones. Things are far better now for my family of faiths than 10, 20, or 30 years ago, but I’m old enough to remember the moral “satanic” panics of the 1980s, and how easy it would be for things to slip down that road again should some instigating incident turn public opinion against us. When I see hearings so transparently showy, so obviously about garnering political favor and throwing red meat to their voting base, my first thought is always: who’s next.

I hope you’ll head over to the site and read my full response, and the other panelist responses, and share your thoughts. Also, since I didn’t post about it here, do check out my response from last week dealing with abortion.