(Pagan) News of Note

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My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

In South Africa, News 24 interviews Damon Leff of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) concerning recent comments by ANC MP Adrian Williams (an “out” Pagan politician) that modern Pagans in South Africa should abandon attempts to reclaim the term “Witch” due to its (sometimes violently) negative associations in the country.

“SAPRA rejected Williams’s views on the use of the word “witch”, saying communities must be educated about other people’s religious beliefs and practices. “While Williams self-identifies as pagan, it should be noted that he has no mandate to speak on behalf of all the witches in South Africa,” said SAPRA director, Damon Leff.”

The piece also interviews a representative of the Traditional Healers Organisation (THO) who sympathizes with SAPRA’s goals, and feels that while it might be possible for the term to be used and reclaimed among white South Africans,  colonialist framing of the term “witch” has made reclaimation all but impossible among black South Africans. What’s clear is that this issue isn’t going away any time soon, and it remains to be seen if some sort of “dual understanding” equilibrium over terminology can be reached.

The Lancaster Sunday News has the official follow-up from the showdown in Stoudtburg Village, which pitted a planned Pagan festival against Christian protesters and shop-owners closing to avoid serving Pagan customers.

“Witches and pagans who traveled to Adamstown on Saturday for a festival “Celebrating Earth Spirituality” were greeted by a steady rain and praying Christians in a silent protest. The gathering held at Stoudtburg Village and hosted by Reading Pagans & Witches proved to far less controversial than the debate that brewed in the days leading up to it … Jen Anderson-Wenger, president of Reading Pagans & Witches, said several church groups “laid hands on us and prayed.” She said she was pleased at the turnout, and said her group was received “very peacefully”.”

You can read Jen Anderson-Wenger’s report on the festival, here. The Reading Pagans & Witches site has also posted a list of businesses that stayed open for them. It should be interesting to see what the long-term ramifications of this event will be. Will some stores that closed down end up regretting it? Have local perceptions of who modern Pagans are changed any? It would nice to see some follow-up on those questions.

The Boston Globe’s Articles of Faith blog reports on the massive new Hindu Temple of Minnesota, and the various issues that the growing numbers of American Hindus (1.5 – 2 million estimated) face.

“This temple is unlike anything you would see in India — there, temples are typically centered on a single deity, but because this is the U.S., where the Hindu community hails from all over India as well as the Hindu diaspora, the temple opted for a variety of shrines to meet the needs and devotional practices of a diverse group of worshipers … The biggest challenge, of course, is transmitting the faith from immigrants, most of whom grew up in a predominantly Hindu society, to their children, who are growing up in a predominantly Christian society.”

Reporter Michael Paulson also notes that the Hindu community in America is used to worship being a personal matter, and is still adjusting to the American tradition of clergy speaking out publicly on social and political issues. In the coming years it should be interesting to see how Hindu clergy in America start to adapt to Western expectations of what religious leaders do, and what the leaders that do spring to the forefront want to say. I wanted to highlight this article because there are some strong similarities between the Hindu community’s emergence into the American mainstream and our own. We should pay attention to how they grow and change, because the modern Pagan movement will be facing similar issues as our numbers start to rival theirs.

Canadian magazine The Walrus takes a look at the Theosophist and Transcendentalist beliefs of the Group of Seven,  a fellowship of influential landscape painters in the 1920s who were influenced by European Impressionism.

“Cosmic consciousness might seem an awfully thin rod to hang a flag from, but given the checkered history of nationalist experiments in the twentieth century, that may have been a godsend. During the 1920s and ’30s, when Germans were falling for a myth of the mystical superiority of the Nordic race, Canadian Theosophists were promoting a quaint, aristocratic mysticism that privileged the wisdom of colonized peoples and taught the values of internationalism and universal brotherhood.”

It’s a fascinating exploration of how the Canadian art world became infatuated with Theosophy and how that relationship influenced the art that was made. “New Age”, occult, indigenous, and modern Pagan religions and philosophies have had such a great impact on the history of art that I’m surprised we haven’t seen more explorations of the topic. It’s certainly true that we still await a good overview of fine art and illustration influenced (and created) by modern Paganism, something that I hope I don’t have to wait too long to see remedied.

Three Roman-era statues of Aphrodite have been discovered at the Israeli archaeological site of Hippos, excavators speculate they were hidden by worshipers of the goddess during the rise of Christianity in the 4th century CE.

“It is possible that during the fourth century [CE], when Christianity was gradually becoming the governing religion in the Roman Empire, there were still a number of inhabitants in Sussita who remained loyal to the goddess of love and therefore wished to hide and preserve these items,” suggests Prof. Segal.

No word yet on what will be done with the statues, or if they’ll eventually be put on display. If I were a devotee of Aphrodite I might see the recovery of these intact statues as some sort of sign or miracle, proof of her enduring power. It is, after all, how many Christians see the recovery of their ancient artifacts.

In a final note, there’s a new Pagan e-zine starting up called “Eternal Haunted Summer”.

“Eternal Haunted Summer is the only ezine of its kind: one which gives voice to modern devotion to the many Gods and Goddesses of our ancestors. Poems and stories celebrating the Deities and heroes of the Celts, Norse, Germans, Romans, Etruscans, Greeks, Phoenicians, Canaanites, Sumerians, Egyptians and many, many, many others are all welcome. If you have been inspired to write a poem honoring Apollo or Brigid or Enki; or a short story about Inanna or El or Jove; or if you have written a review about a book or journal with a Pagan focus, please consider submitting it here. Our first official issue will go live on the Winter Solstice 2009, with quarterly updates on each subsequent Equinox and Solstice.”

I wish them every success and hope the poets and writers who read the The Wild Hunt will check them out.

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