Archives For Wyclef Jean

The unofficial results are in from Haiti’s March 20th run-off presidential election and it looks like Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly has secured the necessary percentage of votes in order to become that country’s next leader. The president-elect has already sent out a conciliatory gesture of Haitian unity by inviting Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, both recently returned to Haiti from exile, to his inauguration. The former singer received support from musician (and would-be candidate) Wyclef Jean, and his Fugees bandmate Pras, during the election.

Martelly and former US president Bill Clinton

“For me, Mr. Martelly is a clear departure from the status quo … a man with a vision for the future of Haiti, who listens to young voices,” said Jean, whose own bid to run for the Haitian presidency was blocked on ineligibility grounds.

President-elect Martelly also seems very friendly to, and supportive of, the Vodou community in Haiti. Early on Pras noted that Martelly had the support of the “voodoo guys” in Haiti, and one of Martelly’s closest advisors and supporters in Haiti has been Richard Auguste Morse, a former musician and businessman who was initiated as a Vodou Houngan (priest) in 2002. In a recent interview with AllHipHop.com, Martelly made explicit Vodou’s important cultural and fiscal role in Haiti’s future.

“Even though the country is predominantly Christian, we need to accept voodoo as part of our culture, for example. It’s a very mysterious thing. People tend to want to learn more about it. And we need to utilize it within the tourism industry. There is a thing called “The Ceremony at Bois Caïmans,” which was the ceremony that started the slave revolt that lead to Haiti’s independence. We should have, like a Broadway show so people all over the world could come and see “La Ceremonie du Bois Caïmans.” We need to exploit these things, we need to exploit our history and our past because it’s a great past! It’s like we don’t know who we are. We need to restore pride, and for this, we can’t do it alone.”

However, the candidacy and election of Martelly hasn’t come without controversy, many have accused him of being a “stealth Duvalierist,” though supporters claim too much is being made of those connections.

“You have to take [the friendship with Michel Francois] out of the political context,” says Gesner Champagne, a childhood buddy who married Martelly’s wife’s sister. “You might like the conversation you have with that person. You might like the good time you have with that person. It doesn’t have to be political. You just like the guy.”

What is clear is that Martelly has had political ambitions for some time, and now they are realized. Whether he becomes a positive change-agent from outside the fractured political system, or has “the makings of an autocrat,” remains to be seen.

Top Story: The Irish Times reports that Barry Raftery, emeritus professor of archaeology at UCD, and one of Ireland’s leading Celtic scholars, has passed away after a long illness.

“Professor Barry Raftery (Professor Emeritus, Archaeology, University College Dublin) died peacefully at St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin on Sunday August 22, 2010. Professor Raftery retired as Professor of Celtic Archaeology in the UCD School of Archaeology at the end of August 2007 after a long and internationally distinguished career. As a former student wrote in appreciation, Barry was an inspired teacher and communicator, always encouraging colleagues and students in developing their research and careers. His work and humanity will ensure that he will be always remembered and treasured.”

Raftery was probably best known to many Celtic-oriented Pagans as the author of “Pagan Celtic Ireland: The Enigma of the Irish Iron Age”, a tome that has been recommended in various contexts within Celtic Reconstructionism and modern Druidry. While Raftery was not a Pagan, and almost certainly didn’t write his works with reviving Celtic forms of pre-Christian religion in mind, I’m sure there are many Pagans who are raising a glass in honor of his work.

Who Was That Atheist? After shocking the town of Marion, Illinois by threating them with a lawsuit if they approve a Ten Commandments monument without also opening it up to a Wiccan display, The Southern digs into the history of atheist activist Rob Sherman.

In 1986, Sherman started his first legal battle against the mixing of government and religion, as he challenged the mayor and city of Zion, located near the Wisconsin border, on the inclusion of religious symbols on municipal logos, material and property. His efforts were successful and landed his name on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, on the city’s 10 o’clock newscasts and on national television talk shows, including those of Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue and Larry King. He said he took up the mantle of promoting his cause across the state and nation simply because no one else was doing so. “I’m the only one doing it. Most people suffer from poultry syndrome, so they don’t take on these cases. They’re chicken.”

It remains to be seen if there will be a Constitutional showdown in Marion. The city council may decide to indefinitely table the decision on whether to accept the offer of the Christian monument on public lands rather than risk expensive litigation. However, if legal action does progress, with a Wiccan caught in the middle, I’d like to find some on-the-ground sources living in or near Marion that can clue me in to local Pagan attitudes towards this situation.

Is Haiti’s Government Shutting Out the Diaspora? This past Friday Haiti ruled that hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean was ineligible to run for president, most likely stemming from residency requirements. While Jean initially said he’d respect the decision of the Provisional Electoral Council, he now accuses the government body of “trickery”, and implies that there’s an effort to shut out candidates from the Haitian diaspora.

“Jean told VOA he is appealing to Haiti’s government to address a number of concerns about the approval process used by election officials, who authorized 19 candidates for the presidential vote. He said candidates who have lived outside Haiti were mostly excluded by the provisional electoral council, or CEP. “It looked like every other candidate that was out was a diaspora candidate and that is a form of prejudice on the CEP’s part,” he said. As part of his election campaign, Jean had hoped to reform the relationship between Haiti and the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who have fled the country. He said, if elected, he hoped to change the constitution to remove a ban on dual citizenship, and offer many Haitians abroad a chance to vote in elections.”

Among the other candidates that were rejected are Jean’s uncle, Raymond Joseph, the former ambassador to the United States. Both say they will challenge the ruling, though the government says there is no appeal to the CEP’s decision. Some are saying a political crisis could emerge over this decision. Meanwhile others, like political activist and Vodou practitioner Ezili Danto, say this media circus is all a distraction from larger political games being played out behind the scenes. Both Danto and Lewis G. Parker argue that Wyclef, even if he could run, would be a problematic figure to lead the country. As for the Haitian diaspora, would it be beneficial to allow dual citizenship and voting rights? In what direction would it steer the country?

More Visionary Folk from the Electric Eden: The Observer has a profile of author Rob Young and his new book “Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music”, which explores the mythic history of folk music in the UK, starting with its revival at the hands of Cecil Sharp.

“Sharp met hundreds of what he called “the common people”, who sang songs to him that had been passed down to them through the generations, songs that retained their mystery and power even though the events that inspired them – anything from a good harvest to the murder of an infant – had long since passed into myth. The songs were, in fact, the transmitters of those myths, evoking an older, predominantly agrarian England that increasingly existed only in memory.

What happens to that mystery and power, though, when a folk song is “put into an evening dress”? That is one of many complex questions that resounds through Electric Eden, a book that, for the most part, is a surefooted guide to the various tangled paths the English folk song has since been taken down by classicists, collectors, revivalists, iconoclasts, pagans, psychedelic visionaries, punks and purists.”

I’d just like to say that I’m very, very excited to read this book (now if it would just get a release date in the US). I predict it will become a must-own for those tracking the birth of modern Pagan music, which I feel also began with Sharp, and then bred with the very folklorists that helped launch Wicca into the spotlight. For more on this, and two other promising books dealing with music, please check out my post from last month.

An Unforeseen Upside to the Mosque Debate? Over at The Moderate Voice Kathy Gill, inspired by the rancor of the “ground zero mosque” debate, starts to approach the question of who exactly profits from the dominance of monotheism.

“If politics is both “a system used to allocate those things which are important to society” and “the authoritative allocation of value,” then religion plays an incredibly large role in politics because religion is the basis, the foundation, of most people’s value judgments. And the differences between political parties in the United States are reflected in values: this is good, that is bad (distribution of charity – church, state or other means); this is right, that is wrong (abortion, death penalty, who is taxed and how). When investigating murder or other nefarious deeds, the first question is this: who benefits? So what is the role of monotheism in our modern society? Who benefits?

Gill quotes Jonathan Kirsch’s “God Against the Gods: The History of the War Between Monotheism and Polytheism” in her piece, which comes to some uncomfortable conclusions regarding the benefits of monotheism. One wonders how many modern polytheists once asked the questions that Gill now poses.

That’s all I have for now, but before I go I just wanted to quickly link to two more Pagan perspectives on the Park51 community center and mosque that I overlooked in yesterday’s post. “The Mosque, the Mirror, this Moment…” by T. Thorn Coyle, and “Why The New York Mosque Debate matters to Pagans” by Ed Hubbard. Both are worth checking out.

Have a great day!

A few quick notes for you on this Wednesday.

Bumper Sticker Politics: If I was pressed to name the most innocuous bumper decoration ever, the “Coexist” sticker would be right up there with the “My Kid is On the Honor Roll at…” (which has been endlessly parodied) tags, or maybe the Christian fish and its endless permutations. But it seems I’m wrong, and the sticker is in fact a sign of everything that is going wrong in America according to Republican Allen West a candidate for the House in Florida’s 22nd district.

“[A]s I was driving up here today, I saw that bumper sticker that absolutely incenses me. It’s not the Obama bumper sticker. But it’s the bumper sticker that says, ‘Co-exist.’ And it has all the little religious symbols on it. And the reason why I get upset, and every time I see one of those bumper stickers, I look at the person inside that is driving. Because that person represents something that would give away our country. Would give away who we are, our rights and freedoms and liberties because they are afraid to stand up and confront that which is the antithesis, anathema of who we are. The liberties that we want to enjoy.”

Now West, a local Tea Party favorite, seems to be focused mostly on the Muslim “C” in “coexist” when pondering his revulsion of the sticker, but I can’t imagine why a sentiment of peaceful coexistence among all the world’s religions has become the focus for his “Islam is the 5th column” tirade. It’s troubling enough when moderate and mystical elements within Islam are ignored by politicians, but these remarks make one wonder if there are any other faiths coexisting that he has a problem with. I mean, has he had any chats with Pagan tea partiers? Maybe palled around with Dan Halloran? Are there any other letters in “coexist” that have him seeing red?

Who Will Run? Tensions are already mounting in Haiti’s upcoming presidential race. Over 30 potential candidates, including musician Wyclef Jean, are vying to be the nation’s top executive; and Haiti’s electoral commission is supposed to issue a ruling Friday as to who will be allowed to run. Jean, who’s been getting death threats after announcing his intentions, is battling challenges to his eligibility, and it may come down to testimony from a Vodou priest.

“Two people contested Jean’s candidacy on the grounds that he does not meet the residency requirement. A justice of the peace, the records mention, went to the suburban neighborhood of Lassarre — where Jean stays when he visits Haiti — to interview a Vodou priest in an effort to establish Jean’s residency requirement.”

Meanwhile, Jean’s friend and former Fugees bandmate Pras, who’s backing one of Jean’s potential opponents, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly (also a musician), claims his man has the backing of the “Vodou guys” in Haiti.

“He’s a transformative figure. Michel is one of the only guys that can unite not only the whole country — the elite, the masses, the youth, the Christians, the voodoo guys — but also the diaspora, the Haitians out here in America, Africa. He’s the ambassador for environmental protection, for disaster relief, and he has a foundation that’s been helping out the community for seventeen years. Michel served in the army. He’s not doing it for photo ops … People have this affinity for him that is natural. When you have that as a leader, it goes farther than someone coming in who’s popular.”

Once we have an official slate of candidates, and know who the front-runners are, we will be able to better gauge which candidates will be the best for Haiti’s future in terms of religious freedom and coexistence with that country’s “voodoo guys”. It will be interesting to see who various notable figures in Haitian Vodou, like Max Beauvoir, will back.

The “Dark Wave” of Australian Paganism: Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt takes aim at Australian Pagans by holding up some local Pagan-oriented magazines, and recent cop-dragging news-getter Eilish De Avalon, as symbols of a “dark wave” of declining reason.

“Oh, you’re right, it’s just a few women flirting with their irrational and harmlessly naughty side. But noticed how many of them there suddenly are? Sen-Constable Andrew Logan has. In February he pulled over a woman driving through Geelong while talking on her mobile, and asked her why she didn’t have a licence, either. “Your laws and penalties don’t apply to me,” replied Eilish De Avalon, a 40-year-old witch. “I’m a being from another world and don’t require one.” And off she drove, with Logan’s arm unluckily wedged in her window. Penalty last week: two months’ jail. If Logan was surprised to find a witch even in no-mucking-around Geelong, he hasn’t paid attention. In the 1996 Census, just 1849 Australians claimed to be followers of Wicca or witchcraft. A decade later, there were 8214 of them, with another 15,516 Pagans. Most were women, of course, and a Monash University study says a high proportion are bisexual. But what else do you expect, with reason in decline and Greens on the rise?”

Just more pile-on for the Pagans in Australia, who have been dealing with waves of bad press lately due to figures like Eilish De Avalon, and Lizzy Rose making the headlines (and snarky blog posts).  As Australian Pagan Gavin Andrew said recently at my blog, “at two strokes the gains that the Australian pagan community made in terms of local interfaith dialogue and public acceptance last year at the Parliament of the World’s Religions (with the help of so many of the U.S. delegates) have now well and truly been undone.” It will no doubt take years of work to put these events behind them, while dealing with people like Bolt, who seem to have nothing better to do than wring his hands over Pagan magazine articles.

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

A few quick notes (with videos) for you this Saturday.

Eat, Love, and Pray to a Hindu God: News has been popping up all over the place concerning actress Julia Robert’s interview in Elle Magazine, where she says that she and her family are practicing Hindus.

“Roberts, 42, tells the fashion magazine that she and husband Danny Moder and their three children, 5-year-old twins Phinnaeus and Hazel and 3-year-old Henry, all go to temple to “chant and pray and celebrate.” “I’m definitely a practicing Hindu,” says Roberts, who grew up with a Catholic mother and Baptist father. That seems to make her the most famous convert since the late George Harrison, a member of the Beatles who embraced Indian mysticism in the 1960s.”

As the Politics Daily article points out, Roberts is hardly the first famous person to convert to Hinduism. But those converts weren’t about to release what is expected to be a major blockbuster picture, that grew from an already popular Oprah-approved memoir, that features praying at an Indian Ashram (and later studying with an Indonesian medicine man) as a central focus of the book. Bali has already seen a tourism boom, and I can imagine India has as well. The real question at this point is will this film, and the high-profile conversion of its star, create a new Western Hindu “boom” in America? It isn’t the first time such a thing has happened, and the reverberations of such a resurgence could have interesting effects on trends within modern Paganism. Will we see a more robust Indo-Paganism rise from all the eating, praying, and loving?

He Wants to Be President: So it’s official. Hip-hop artist Wyclef Jean is going to run for the presidency of Haiti. Time Magazine says that Jean could be the factor that engages the Haitian diaspora and creates a new relationship between Haiti and the United States.

His presidential run, win or lose, could build a long-awaited bridge between Haiti and its diaspora: a legion of expatriates and their progeny, successful in myriad fields, who number more than a million in the U.S. alone. International aid managers agree that Haiti can’t recover unless it taps into the education, capital, entrepreneurial drive and love for the mother country that Jean epitomizes — even if his French (one of Haiti’s official languages) is poor and his Creole (the other) is rusty. “A lot of Haitians are excited about this,” says Marvel Dandin, a popular Port-au-Prince radio broadcaster. “Given the awful situation in Haiti right now,” he says, “most people don’t care if the President speaks fluent Creole.”

This decision has come with criticism, including from his longtime friend and band-mate Pras, who is backing Jean’s opponent, Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly (also a musician), in the November elections. What isn’t clear is where various candidates stand on the question of religion in that country, and how their win would affect Haiti’s Vodou community. Jean’s grandfather was a Vodou priest, but that isn’t necessarily an indication that he’ll concern himself with maintaining the fragile balance between Catholic, Protestant, and Vodou factions within the country. We’ll keep you updated as this election season approaches, and I’ll be looking into finding informed sources on religion and politics in Haiti.

Abbey For Sale: Have around 2 million dollars lying around? Want to buy Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema?

“The dilapidated, whitewashed Italian villa, set amid the hills of Sicily, was owned in the 1920s by Aleister Crowley, whose outrageous drug-taking, keen sexual appetite and interest in mysticism later made him a cult figure for the Beatles, David Bowie, Ozzie Osbourne and Iron Maiden. The cottage, near the town of Cefalu in Sicily, contains explicit, erotic frescoes of men and women entwined together, painted by Cambridge-educated Crowley when he lived there in the early 1920s.”

The property is in disrepair, and the locals are afraid of it, but estate agents are hoping it could be turned into a museum dedicated to Crowley (and thus attract tourists). Could a high-profile Crowley fan buy it and restore the murals? If not, there’s a very good chance this piece of occult/magickal history could be lost forever.

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

We’ve passed the six month anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-PrinceHaiti’s capital. The quake killed nearly a quarter of a million people, and over a million are still homeless. After the quake, this blog tried to focus on the often unheard and maligned voice of Haitian Vodou within this tragedy. First we had to deal with triumphalist smears concerning Haiti’s history from a noted Christian pot-stirrer, then there was a veritable onslaught of of pundits, many of whom had never set foot in Haiti, opining on how Vodou was the main detriment to its forward progress and recovery.

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.- Rod Dreher, Beliefnet

But amidst the wave of stunningly wrong-headed criticism,  there were also several pro-Vodou voices, within and without Haiti, that came to the fore. Most notably Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who ended up being the de facto voice for Haitian Vodou to the Western press in the months after the quake. While I counselled reporters to remain aware of the decentralized nature of Haitian Vodou,  the much-publicized attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haitiand its aftermath, created little room for nuance in those hectic first weeks (not to mention tensions over insensitive and controversial missionary activities). Sadly, the centrality of Vodou in Haitian society was often ignored, though there were the occasional nods in that direction.

So where are we six months later? While aid has been pouring in, there have been many accusations that reconstruction is going too slowly, or in the wrong direction, prompting a “blame game” amongst various parties. Longtime Haiti activist and advocate Dr. Paul Farmer says that the U.S. needs to allow Haiti to lead reconstruction efforts if the country is to survive, while Haitian-born human rights attorney and Vodouisant Ezili Dantò (aka Marguerite Laurent), echoing Farmer, says that some U.S. aid initiatives are more geared towards corporate profits than uplifting the Haitian people.

“Instead of enabling the millions of small Haitian farmers to become food self-sufficient by growing rice, millet, corn and a variety of fruits and vegetables, however, [U.N. envoy Bill] Clinton has announced that Coca-Cola will be running a project to use Haitian fields to grow mangoes for a new drink. In the last six months, a number of industrial parks have been built by foreign corporations to take advantage of Haiti’s $3-a-day minimum wage. The “new Haiti” after the earthquake is not much different from the old Haiti the United States has been attempting to bring forth for two centuries: a place governed by business-oriented Haitian technocrats who take their marching orders from Washington.”

There do seem to be growing signs of tensions between the struggling Haitian government and the United States, Haitian President Rene Preval has rejected U.S. Senate recommendations on holding an election for his successor, though an election date in November has been set (Preval is prevented from running again under Haitian law). It was noted that the National Confederation of Haitian Vodou had a hand in helping to select the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council. As to who will be President, that seems to be anyone’s guess. Singer and activist Wyclef Jean is supposedly mulling a run, though some Haitian commentators think he hasn’t met all the requirements to do so.

As for coverage of religion in Haiti, not much of it has focused on Vodou. Though there was a nice article from last week about a yearly pilgrimage to the Saut-d’Eau waterfall in the town of Ville-Bonheur, venerated both by Catholics and Voudisants for its healing properties.

“She needs Erzulie Dantor’s help, she said. As she spoke of her wish, a crowd began to gather a few feet away. A female worshiper was calling Erzulie, hoping to invoke her presence. “The spirit that is here in the yard, come and grant me my chance,” the woman sang. “Erzulie Freda bring me luck. If there is a spirit in the yard, I will name its name and adore it.” As she sang, the pitch of her voice began to crack. She seemed to be in a trance, her lithe body falling onto the rocks. As others watched — now believing that Erzulie had possessed her — revelers rushed to her side, whispering their demands in her ears, sure they were speaking to the goddess.”

There were also some photo essays of the recent Plain Du Nord Festival, which draws thousands of Vodou practitioners. But beyond that, not much else.

Haiti is in a perilous situation. The massive tent cities are at the mercy of the weather should a hurricane hit the already-struggling country. Lawlessness and rampant sexual violence are an ongoing problem, and the country could easily collapse politically. If the birthplace of Haitian Vodou with its rich culture of arts and music is to continue, it is imperative that we don’t allow it to fall off our radar. It isn’t so much a question of donations now (though you can still do that), but of making sure those who hold the purse-strings chart the country on a course of renewal and self-sufficiency. To make sure the first priority are the people of Haiti, not the profits of outside interests. While I know we face our own problems at home, I hope we don’t lose sight of Haiti, especially at this crucial moment in history.