Archives For West Memphis 3

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Two recent news stories reminded the United States of something many would like to believe never happened, the systematic imprisonment of hundreds of innocent people for “Satanic” ritual abuse. Four women, known collectively as the San Antonio 4, were released from prison last month, as it became increasingly clear that their case had more to do with a vindictive homophobic relative than ritual sexual abuse.

The San Antonio 4

The San Antonio 4

“He had evidence that the father of the child accusers had been angry with one of the women (in part because she was gay) and pressured his young daughters to bring false accusations. The case closely resembled that of the Kellers, with bizarre, improbable accusations and intimations of Satanism. [...] In late 2010, the first big investigative article about the women came out in the San Antonio Express-News. Days later, the NCRJ received a call from one of the accusers, who by then was in her 20s. Tearfully, she said that when she was 7, her father had forced her to lie about being raped by the women. She didn’t remember that happening. But he’d threatened that if she didn’t say it had, he would beat her and she’d be jailed.  [...] Last month, three of the four – Elizabeth Ramirez, Cassandra Rivera, and Kristie Mayhugh – were released from prison pending later review by the Court of Criminal Appeals. Co-defendant Anna Vasquez was already out on restrictive parole, but has now had those restrictions rescinded. The process is being repeated for the Kellers.”

Then, Frances and Dan Keller of Austin. Texas, were released from prison this week as their 20-year-old case continued to fall apart under scrutiny.

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

“The Kellers were among hundreds of child-care workers across the nation who, in the Eighties and Nineties, were accused of being part of a network of Satan worshippers who abused children taken to day care. In 2008, the Chronicle began a reinvestigation of the case against Fran and Dan Keller. We discovered that Austin Police and prosecutors were embarrassingly credulous in their belief that the children had been abused in all manner of unbelievable – often literally impossible – ways, despite the fact that there was scant evidence to suggest any crime had ever occurred at all.”

While this long-overdue justice is welcome, what’s chilling is that we just don’t know how many more innocent people are still rotting away in jail cells, accused of unspeakable acts and quickly locked away during a time of moral panic.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

“No registry exists of old ritual abuse cases. People still in prison may be discovered by chance, as the San Antonio women were. Or they may never be found. That’s a chilling possibility. Equally chilling is the temptation to believe the panic is over. It’s not. While satanic abuse cases are rare or even passé, the NCRJ hears persistently of less dramatic but common scenarios. Incest, arson, shaken babies – sloppy, unscientific investigations into such accusations can and do railroad many innocent people.”

2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the “Satanic Panics” emerging into our culture, and we’re still trying to heal, to find real justice, and move forward. Indeed, despite the high-profile release of the West Memphis 3, and other victims who’ve managed to draw media attention, we are still wrestling with a justice system littered with individuals who stand by their old convictions. People are still arrested and thrown into jail on evidence that could be called questionable at best, so long as it sounds “Satanic” and diabolic enough. Meanwhile, true believers lay in wait, champing at the bit to put more imaginary “Satanists” behind bars.

“[Judy] Byington is an authority on Satanists, and as a clinical social worker she spent years helping others heal from wounds so deep most would shrink from the task. With the permission of her clients, she has written about one woman’s experience of growing up within a coven and surviving. The book is called “Twenty-Two Faces.” “This is a huge breaking story validating the existence of human sacrifices of children in our society,” Byington said. [...] They have secret combinations. They live in duplicity. They torture and sacrifice the innocent. They give birth in secret so the babies they sacrifice have no birth certificate record. They take the time to learn speaking Latin backwards from what is called the Black Bible.”

In the current light of day people like Byington sound like lunatics, but we have to remember that thousands of people once took this very, very, seriously. That mainstream news outlets treated the accusations as though they had merit.

So yes, we laugh when we read sites like Right Wing Watch, where fringe Christian religious leaders say that same-sex marriage will lead to the Satanic killing of Christians, but we forget that moral panics are panics, they aren’t rational. Small eruptions of hysteria on a variety of topics happen every day, but we don’t know which one will erupt at the right time, and at the right place, to trigger some atavistic impulse in our society. To lead us down a path of madness, where we destroy the innocent to keep us safe from an invisible danger. The Salem Witch Trials didn’t need ergot poisoning, because many of us saw the phenomenon play out in our lifetimes. The legacy of the Satanic Panic is still ongoing, it isn’t a closed subject, because people are still being made to suffer for its sins. Let’s hope these recent moves towards justice, these prisoners freed, will bring us all closer to the light of reason.

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.

  • Nathaniel Rich at the New York Review of Books looks at the story of the West Memphis Three through Damien Echols’ book “Life After Death,” the “Paradise Lost” documentary series, and the feature documentary “West of Memphis.” Quote: “Investigators asked Jerry Driver, a local juvenile officer and self-described “guru” of the occult, to compile a list of local kids involved in cult-related activities. At the top of Driver’s list was Damien Echols, an eighteen-year-old high school dropout who had been hospitalized for depression. [...] In his closing statement, district attorney John Fogleman pointed at Echols and said, “There’s not a soul in there.” That argument carried the day.” As always, the story remains a cautionary tale of how a moral panic over “cults” can send innocent children to jail. 
  • Santero Jorge Badillo has filed a complaint against several officials in Monmouth County, New Jersey for civil rights violations after police searched his home (fruitlessly) for a gun belonging to his brother, went through his sacred items, and filed a complaint with the SPCA who proceeded to flood the man with citations with little evidence of wrong-doing. Quote: “Badillo claims Amato issued the tickets without any evidence that any of the animals had been abused. ‘To sacrifice a sick or maltreated animal to the Orishas or to perform the sacrifice in a way that causes the animal to suffer is prohibited in Santeria as this would be an insult to the Orishas,’ Badillo says. Amato then contacted the Asbury Park Press, a local newspaper, and told it about the summons he had issued to Badillo. The Asbury Park Press published an article, in print and online, and included Badillo’s address, he says in the complaint. As a result, Badillo claims, his home and car have been vandalized and he and his family have been threatened.” Badillo claims the accusations ruined his family’s attempt to adopt children, violated their civil rights, and endangered his family. 
  • The latest edition of Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions is out and features an article on Heathenry and two on Otherkin/Therianthropy. At his blog, Pagan scholar Chas Clifton examines the Otherkin articles, noting that both heavily rely on Lupa’s “A Field Guide to Otherkin.” Quote: “To Laycock, Otherkin are perhaps best described as an ” ‘audience cult,’ a movement that supports novel beliefs and practices but without a discernible organization. [...] Robertson spends more time explaining the concept of Therianthropes’ self-descriptions of “awakening” to their dual natures…”
Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

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.

At RealClearReligion Philip Jenkins notes that 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the start of the McMartin preschool trial, and with it the moral panic over an underground Satanic abuse conspiracy in the United States (and eventually the UK and other countries).

“Over the following months, counselors interviewed hundreds of children, using questions that might have been quite appropriate when treating the genuinely abused, but which should never have been used in a prosecutorial context. In 1984, the case broke in the most lurid terms. Seven teachers were accused of a mind-numbing list of atrocious crimes, including the mass rape and torture of children, and the killing of small animals to instill fear. Other allegations involved the ritualistic use of urine and feces, and bizarre acts involving robes and occult symbols. Seven years of trials and investigations followed.”

The McMartin trial was one of the most expensive in history, lasted seven years, and ultimately garned no convictions; but it started a panic that led to several innocent men and women being thrown in prison, sometimes for decades. Fueling the panic were books like “Michelle Remembers” (published in 1980), and Mike Warnke’s “The Satan Seller” (published in 1973) which created a mythology of this Satanic criminal underground, a mythology that became “true” when allegations started emerging in the 1980s. By 1985 mainstream news programs like 20/20 were profiling the rise of “Satanism” in America, and a growing number of ex-Satanists and alleged abuse victims started making the rounds on the more free-from morning talk programs (including Oprah).

This hysteria lasted for around a decade before official investigations into the phenomenon, lawsuits against therapists, and a shift towards skepticism in the media finally started to defuse the panic. Sadly this shift didn’t happen quickly enough for the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin) who in 1993 (ten years after the McMartin case) had their interest in the occult used against them during a murder trial, as shown in the new documentary “West of Memphis” out now in theaters.

The West Memphis 3 were finally freed, after the case against them slowly started to fall apart, but they lost nearly 20 years of their lives in prison, and in the case of Echols, in solitary confinement on death row. In his RealClearReligion piece Jenkins stresses that this phenomenon isn’t a relic of the past, but something that is still in our collective rear-view mirror: “These aren’t just throwbacks to the dark fantasies of Salem in the 1690s. They were yesterday’s news.” Sadly, some don’t want to let this moment pass, and are working to propagate the old slurs and rumors in the name of religion, ideology, or personal power. The moment we allow ourselves to forget, to let this slip into the memory hole, the easier it will be for the unscrupulous to revive the panic.

For modern Paganism, our communities were shaped by, and surged in growth during, the Satanic Panic era. The reflexive mantra of Pagans not being Satanists was established as a talking point in virtually all media interviews during this time, as were similar assurances that we didn’t engage in blood sacrifice or harm people. For many, the massive influx of teenagers into modern Paganism in the 1990s (myself included) presented a huge potential danger at a time when “covens” and “rituals” to harm children were still being taken seriously. So many built an image that was as benevolent as possible, eccentric “white-lighters” at worst, no danger to your neighbor’s kids. Some books for Pagans even gave tips on how to appear harmless, and advised that sometimes not telling the truth about your faith was for the best.

If you look at the late 1990s and early 2000s, the backlash against these impulses now seem inevitable, and there are still pockets within our community who commit themselves to criticizing “fluffy bunnies” and “white lighters” as in any way representative of their Paganism or Witchcraft. Some defiantly embraced “dark” Paganism as an antidote, or discovered the emerging reconstructionist faiths which presented a more scholarly and serious alternative to the pop-culture moment in the sun Wicca seemed to be enjoying. In many ways our interconnected communities are only now getting to the many serious discussions and debates we should have been having instead of constantly watching our backs worrying what the church (or occult expert at the town hall) was saying about us.

As the Satanic Panics move into ever further into our past, we need to grapple with them as an integral part of our history, which, for better or worse, shaped how we have behaved.

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.

  • Jeet-Kei Leung, a researcher into ”transformational festival culture,” heads up a new web documentary series entitled “The Bloom” about these events. The first episode is due in February, but you can watch this 9-minute preview video now, featuring some familiar faces (and places) and plenty of Pagan-friendly themes. Quote: “Amidst the global crisis of a dysfunctional old paradigm, a new renaissance of human culture is underway [...] THE BLOOM tells the vibrant, compelling and colorful story of a cultural renaissance in progress with the artistic sensibility and inspired creativity from which the culture has been birthed.”
  • Art dealer and museum curator Carine Fabius writes about Baron Samedi, Haiti’s Lord of Death and Sexuality, and why the Haitian people love him. Quote: “I also reminded people that the Baron isn’t just the Spirit of Death. As many of the numerous works featuring larger-than-life phalli imply, he is also the Spirit of Sexuality, the extension of which is life. The Baron is death in charge of life; he is a guide and source of comfort during difficult times, and the one who takes life away. He may be unpredictable but he is God’s ultimate helper.”
  • Yesterday was a unique calendrical event: 12-12-12, which of course means that someone had to do something stupid, like carve a pentagram into his 6-year-old-son’s back. Quote: “According to CBS DFW, Brent Troy Bartel of Richland Hills, Texas, told a 911 dispatcher early Wednesday that he had carved the religious symbol — often used as a symbol of faith by Neopagans — on his 6-year-old child because ‘it’s a holy day.'” The star, or pentagram, is a symbol used by many faiths, philosophies, and traditions, and this has nothing to do with modern Paganism. Bartel is now in custody, the boy is in stable condition, and with his mother.
  • The Cornwall “Paganism Sex Case” (as dubbed by the BBC), which I’ve covered here previously, has now been turned over to a jury for a verdict. Quote: “Prosecutor Jason Beal said the duo had “used the cloak of paganism” to commit the offences. He said Mr Kemp had “put up a number of explanations” for him being linked with the case, but they were nothing more than “diversions” or “red herrings”.” During the course of the hearing, murdered occultist and parish councillor Peter Solheim was also accused of being part of their group (Solheim was murdered by a former lover).
  • The male lead in Bollywood film Ek Thi Daayan, Emraan Khan, is apparently talking to real-live Wiccans to better research for the supernatural witchcraft-themed film. Quote: “The actor didn’t know that many practitioners of the Wiccan craft reside in Mumbai, in fact, he didn’t even know that certain forms of witchcraft are practiced till today [...] the actor is making the rounds of the plush residences in Mumbai where Wiccans stay and practise their craft. Emraan visits them diligently, to find out more about their customs and philosophies. Friends of the actor say his research has made quite an impression on him.” So now you know where Wiccans live in India, the “plush residences” of Mumbai!
  • With a new film treatment of “On the Road” on its way, Scott Staton at the New Yorker considers Neal Cassady as a sort of American “muse and demigod,” a holy fool, “the consummate hipster-savant.” Quote: “He presented an extreme embodiment of American freedom to close friends who were determined to become writers, and in being thus grafted onto their work, he became an unlikely literary legend.”

  • Singer, songwriter, and visual artist Phildel sent me a link to her new video “Storm Song,” saying that it’s “a celebration of the natural world,” and that she has “always enjoyed a strong spiritual connection to nature.”I think many folks here will enjoy the song, and the imagery in the video. Her debut album “The Disappearance of the Girl” is set for release in January 2013.
  • “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson says that “West of Memphis,” the documentary on the West Memphis 3 that he produced with partner Fran Walsh, was one he “never intended to make,” but that “it turned out to be the most important one they’ve ever made.” Quote: “Their support turned into funding of scientific research and, when they felt they needed to present the evidence to the public, they eventually decided to make a documentary on their findings. They asked Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) to direct.” For all of my coverage of the West Memphis 3, click here.
  • The Baltic Crusades were pretty terrible it turns out: “The Baltic Crusades left major ecological and cultural scars on medieval pagan villages, and new archaeological evidence shows the campaign caused deforestation, pushed species to extinction and may have even ended a pagan practice of eating dogs.” I guess it was good for the wild dogs, but still. Pretty bad.
  • More and more people are starting to notice that the “religiously unaffiliated” are becoming an important voting demographic. Quote: “The religiously unaffiliated voters are almost as strongly Democratic as white evangelicals are Republican, polls show. Their overwhelming support of Obama proved crucial in a number of swing states where the president lost both the Catholic and Protestant vote by single and low-double digits, but won the “nones” by capturing 70-plus percent of their votes.” Maybe it’s time to tone down the Christian culture war stuff?

That’s it for now! My best wishes to everyone heading to Between The Worlds! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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.

tow new home

The Temple of Witchcraft’s new Salem home.

  • The Temple of Witchcraft, a religious organization co-founded by author Christopher Penczak, is still encountering difficulties in getting their new building in Salem, New Hampshire the proper zoning so that they can build a parking lot and make improvements. Neighbors say it isn’t about the Witchcraft, just traffic, but at least one neighbor disagrees with the notion of them identifying as a “church” even though no Christian denomination would receive such a challenge. Meanwhile, a new Hindu temple in the same area has been approved, while the Temple of Witchcraft is still having their essential “church”-ness questioned. Make no mistake, the Temple is in the legal right here, and I hope this is resolved before lawyers have to file litigation, costing Salem quite a bit of money.
  • Remember my analysis of last week’s elections here in the United States? I noted that religious demographics were shifting, and this may have been the first post-Christian election. To add more data to my assertions, Discover Magazine notes that Asian Americans, who voted heavily Democratic this cycle, have also become far less Christian, influencing how they vote. Quote: “Barry Kosmin has documented that between 1990 and 2010 Asian Americans have become far less Christian, on average. Meanwhile, the Republican party has become far more Christian in terms of its identity. Do you really require more than two sentences to infer from this what the outcome will be in terms of how Asian Americans will vote?” In short, the more some Republicans want to become “God’s Own Party,” the more a growing number of votes will simply evade them.
  • Over at HuffPost Religion Deepak Sarma addresses the question of white Hindu converts, and whether this growing group, sincere or not, are engaging in a unintentional mockery of that which they profess to honor.  Quote: “So, no matter their sincerity, or self-proclaimed authenticity, their mimicry seems more like mockery. And, unlike the forced mimicry of the Diaspora Hindu, which may have subversive undertones and may destabilize the dominant ideology, reverse mimicry, ironically, merely reinforces existing hierarchies and paradigms. In fact, some claim to be more “authentic” than Diaspora Hindus and, in so doing, deny the voice of those they mimic/ mock.” Sarma goes on to posit that perhaps white converts can never understand the experience of the Hindu diaspora and wonders if welcoming Western Hindu temples and homes suffer from “post-traumatic, post-colonial, servile disorder” by accepting these converts. It should be interesting to see the debate and discussion this post incites.
Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

Sandra L. Harris, M.Div., Pagan Pastoral Counseling

  • Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has passed another important hurdle on their road to becoming an established, recognized, seminary. After awarding its first Master of Divinity in Pagan Pastoral Counseling, graduate, Sandra Lee Harris has had her credentials examined and accepted by the Board of Chaplaincy Certification, Inc., the credentials-examining body for the Association of Professional Chaplains. This frees her to complete the process of becoming a board-certified chaplain. Quote: “David Oringderff, Ph.D., Harris’s department chair and adviser at Cherry Hill Seminary, congratulated her on her achievement, “This is indeed a milestone, both for your professional aspirations and for Cherry Hill Seminary.”  Oringderff noted the precedent set by the BCCI/APC decision, which could strengthen the case for future acceptance of Cherry Hill Seminary degrees by other institutions, the U.S. Department of Defense, for example.” We’ll have more on this story, and its implications, in the near future.
  • Check out this interview with West Memphis 3 member Damien Echols, conducted by Henry Rollins, who talks to Echols about “his life before and after his trial, including his spiritual and intellectual journey in prison as well as his wife, Lorri Davis, whom he met and married while on death row.”
  • Back in 2010 I announced that long-running web magazine Heathen Harvest, which covered post-Industrial and neofolk music, was closing down. Now, the site has returned at a new address, with new owners, and with the blessing of the original founder. Quote: “Heathen Harvest’s second major incarnation came into being on 4th July 2011, learning from the past by chiefly reviewing digitial promos and concentrating only on the most stimulating music received. The new site has been respectfully named The Heathen Harvest Periodical to distinguish it from the old website, which still remains archived at www.heathenharvest.com. We continue to cover all material from the darker musical underground and to serve the needs and works of musicians, artists, authors and journalists alike all across the post-industrial spectrum.” The new site can be found at: www.heathenharvest.org.
  • In other Pagan-friendly music news,  UK Pagan band The Dolmen have just released a new album entitled “Wytchlord,” while fellow UK Pagan artist Damh the Bard (a most excellent human being) is coming out with a new album, “Antlered Crown and Standing Stone,” on November 17th.
  • At the New Yorker, Michelle Dean wonders if the folkloric witch has been tamed to its own detriment. Quote: “But the witch is no longer terribly wild to us; she’s domesticated, normal, prone perhaps to a spell of madness but one from which she’ll emerge sunny and whole. She no longer signals a liberating spirit. Culturally, we have replicated witch-figures like Samantha of “Bewitched,” whose powers aid her in serving her husband. Our emblematic witch is Hermione Granger, who performs all the magic and takes none of the credit from Harry Potter. She is self-effacing and noble and never in any real danger of contamination by the dark. There are bad witches in Harry Potter, indeed, bad witches in many stories. But their cartoonish one-dimensionality cancels out any real portent. The internal conflicts go to Snape, while Bellatrix is irretrievable.” Dean feels we need the uncontrollable and unpredictable witch in order to do battle with those who seek to control women.
  • The Fourth Circuit Federal Appeals Court ruled that a prison does not have to provide an outdoor worship space for Asatru in prison, noting that there’s no authority requiring it. Quote: “A federal trial judge concluded that Krieger failed to show how the practice of his religion, which is called Asatru, was harmed by the lack of a worship circle outdoors. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision.
  • In a final note, tomorrow I’ll be heading to the American Academy of Religion’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. and I’m hoping to post updates during my time there, and bring back some interviews as well. You’ll also have regular updates from Wild Hunt columnists and reporters to read while I’m away. I’d like to thank everyone who funded this coverage trip back in April, and will do my best to transmit what’s happening in Pagan Studies and Pagan scholarship to you.

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.

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.

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

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.

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.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

Damien Echols, showing off his Theban tattoo.

  • South Korea, one of the most Christian countries in Asia, is witnessing a revival of interest in its indigenous shamanistic practices, with local mudangs (priests or priestesses) being consulted by politicians and featuring on popular television shows. Sociology professor Shin Kwang-yeong thinks the popularity is due to Koreans dealing with the “strong uncertainties” of their modern existence, with many crediting shamanism with bringing healing and piece of mind to their lives. Quote:  “I felt something from my heart. This ritual has everything in there – happiness, sadness, anger and fun [...] Sometimes tears pour out from my heart. Sometimes it’s just fun when everyone is dancing and bowing. And, it’s healing.”
  • Father Thomas Euteneuer, a star in the Catholic pro-life activist ranks, and vehement anti-Pagan exorcist, admitted to having inappropriate sexual relations with at least one woman back in 2011. Now, a Jane Doe is filing suit against Euteneuer, alleging that the priest sexually abused and assaulted her, using his position as an exorcist as a means to force sexual contact. This spiritual/physical rape of the Jane Doe has caused the Catholic church to recall him for counselling and remove his “priestly faculties,” meaning he can no longer perform mass or other sacred rites.
  • There’s a deep connection between synthesizer music and the occult, Klint Finley explores it for Boing Boing. Quote: “You can find traces of the occult throughout the history of electronic music. The occult obsessed Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo built his own mechanical instruments around 1917. The famous Moog synthesizer made an early appearance in Mick Jagger’s soundtrack to Kenneth Anger’s occult film Invocation of My Demon Brother in 1969. And in the late 1970s Throbbing Gristle built their own electronic instruments for their occult sound experiments, setting the stage for many of the occult themed industrial bands who followed. The witch house genre keeps this tradition alive today.”
  • The Border House looks at the controversy surrounding the upcoming game SMITE, and the protests from Hindu activist Rajan Zed over the depiction and ability to control their gods and goddesses, most notably Kali, in the game. The Border House also calls out the “pornification” of Kali. Quote: “This is truly disgusting. Not only is a faith appropriated, but it is done so in a way which turns a widely revered deity into a male sexual fantasy. A goddess in non-sexual nudity is somehow less preferable to a caricature in which she is put in a costume for the male gaze. Whether you agree with Rajan Zed or not about controlling Hindu deities as combat tools is not the issue. The cultural imperialistic mindset which allows a westerner to pornify symbols of Hinduism and yet think he has the right to lecture a Hindu about the religion, this is the issue.”
  • Associated Press reporter Christopher Torchia says that ancient Greek myths lend valuable context to the country’s current fiscal and political crisis. Quote: “Greek mythology is full of examples of how mortals should find the middle way in order to live a happy life, or as it said on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, ‘Nothing in Excess,’” Peter Meineck, associate professor of classics at New York University, wrote in an email. He noted that, according to the Greek poet Hesiod, “the first divine agent that caused creation was Eros — the spirit of erotic drive or the impulse to create anything.”
  • Tammy Trotter-Bazzle, a Pagan priestess living in South Carolina, shares her experience advising the pastoral staff at AnMed Health after a Pagan patience was admitted. Quote: “I feel blessed and honored to have had that opportunity. At the end of a day, good was done for the greater good. Pagan patients will be better understood at AnMed. And that was, after all, the reason for this class; to help the patient. I, along with many of the local Pagan community, are happy to see this step forward.”
  • A majority percentage of Jews, Catholics, Mainline Protestants, non-Christian faiths, and unaffiliated religious believers favor same-sex marriage rights. Yet we are told that we must “protect” the conservative Christian viewpoint on marriage by denying all other faiths and traditions the ability to perform legal same-sex rites. How is this about religious freedom again?
  • Is polyamory ready for its close-up? A Showtime reality program is on its way, featuring neo-tantra practitioner and “bliss coach” Kamala Devi. Will Paganism make an appearance? Are we ready for the questions if and when it does?

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.

On Friday, the Contra Costa Times reported that an appeal to overturn a 2010 fraud conviction was denied. California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal decided that prosecutors did not unfairly prejudice the case by bringing up a “voodoo” (though more likely Palo Mayombe, according to one expert) shrine that belonged to Ruben Hernandez, saying the evidence was “highly probative” of his “consciousness of guilt.”

The altar of Ruben Hernandez.

The altar of Ruben Hernandez.

In a 35-page ruling, the appellate court justices noted that Hernandez testified during the trial about the “benevolent purposes served by the dolls.” “He characterized the dolls as an element of his Catholic faith in which the pins stuck in the dolls were a form of ‘spiritual acupuncture’ to cleanse evil from the individuals the dolls represented. He also believed the dolls would assist in ensuring people were not put in jail wrongfully,” the justices wrote.

This case is just the most recent to raise the question of when, exactly, it is fair and relevant to a criminal case to bring up a defendant’s adherence to a minority religion, or involvement in an esoteric practice. While the justices in the Court of Appeals found that Ruben Hernandez’s altar was fair game, that wasn’t the opinion in the case of Christopher Vaughn, accused of murdering his wife and three children. In that instance, Judge Daniel Rozak ruled that Vaughn’s adherence to Druid beliefs could not be directly referenced, seemingly agreeing with Public Defender Jaya Varghese, who said that “The word ‘Druid’ alone is prejudicial,” and would “significantly impact” his right to a fair trial.

“A Will County judge this morning barred attorneys from referring to quadruple-murder suspect Christopher Vaughn’s Druid beliefs at trial, but said some statements Vaughn posted to a Druid listserv can be heard by jurors. [...] Prosecutors want to use postings Vaughn made to Druid listservs that refer to his desire to live in the Canadian wilderness. They argue his statements were another sign that Vaughn wanted to be rid of his family. [...] Judge Daniel Rozak said he would allow the statements “if they somehow deal with leaving the country or living off the land” and don’t reference Vaughn’s religious beliefs.”

There are two very different cases, but both speak to the fact that the mere mention of a Pagan, Afro-disaporic, or esoteric practices can have an outsize influence on a trial, affecting how juries and judges react. For every instance where bringing up a defendant’s religion might be acceptable, as in the case of Angela Sanford, there are many more, particularly in custody battles, where it is not. Where it’s clear that fear and ignorance are being welded as weapons to win a judgement.

Perhaps the best-known example of this would be the case of the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr.), where Damien Echols’ interest in the occult and Wicca was used as proof of his murderous interests, and the three were subsequently swallowed up in the Satanic hysteria of the times.

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three

“…you really have to put this case into historical perspective. In 1993, the Satanic Bandwagon Folks like Dr. Griffis were mainstream and largely supported by both the media and established religion. We now know better, just like we now know that there are such things as “coerced confessions.” In 1993, virtually everybody believed that the phenomena of Satanic Ritualistic Homicide was very real, and perhaps even more regrettably, that no one, not even a mentally handicapped person, or a child, would confess to a crime that they did not commit. Thankfully, due in large part to pioneers with real credentials like Dr. Gisli Gudjohnson, Dr. Richard Ofshe, and Dr. Richard Leo, we now understand the dynamics of false confessions. By the way, not many people remember that Dr. Ofshe won a Pulitzer Prize for his work studying religious “cults.” He had a dual expertise.”

Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley would end up spending 18 years in prison before being freed in 2011 on an Alford plea, the capstone on an era that saw thousands of lives ruined in part thanks to the willingness of lawyers and prosecutors to wrongfully exploit people’s fears. Today, those fears are still being exploited, invoking “effigy dolls dunked upside down in this brown liquid” to judge the “consciousness of guilt.” Judging the worth of mothers, or even the depths of depravity, through what amounts to a theological popularity contest.

It very well may be that Hernandez, or Vaughn for that matter, are entirely guilty of the crimes they’ve been accused of, but that doesn’t remove the issue of their religion or beliefs being invoked. In Vaughn’s case, his lawyer was able to make sure the case stayed focused on the facts, while Hernandez’s trial allowed his “voodoo altar” to be used as evidence of his guilt, even though the spells may have born from defensive fear instead of from a guilty conscience. It is for this reason, perhaps more than any other, that outreach and interfaith efforts must be maintained.

It’s easy to affect an air of smug superior isolationism when there’s nothing on the line, but in the wider world we must constantly face that our faiths are a tiny minority in world dominated by faiths that have been historically hostile to us. We have to work towards changing perceptions, or else we risk sacrificing all those who end up situations where  misconceptions can mean jail and ruined lives. In the meantime, while we work for change, let’s hope that more lawyers advocate strongly to leave religions most people don’t understand off the witness stand.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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