(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.

Let’s start off with some updates on past stories, first off Sarah Pike, author of “Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community”, reports on the Dan Halloran story for Religion Dispatches. Pike ultimately sees his candidacy as a positive sign of modern Paganism’s entry into the mainstream.

“It would have been impossible to find a Neopagan like Halloran running for political office twenty years ago, when most Neopagans kept their identities carefully guarded for fear of losing jobs or child custody battles. In neighborhoods all over the country, Neopagan communities have been treated suspiciously and outright persecuted by some Christian neighbors, law enforcement, and government agencies. Since for many Americans, the Republican Party is inseparable from conservative Christianity, Neopagans were surprised that the party stood by Halloran, and took it as a sign that not only is the makeup of the religious left and the religious right shifting, but that the country as a whole is becoming more receptive toward their religion.”

As for Halloran’s campaign, he’s trailing badly in the fundraising department, but has benefited greatly from the city’s matching funds program (which his Democratic challenger opted out of). The two candidates are scheduled to debate on October 24th, I’m sure many of us will be watching to see if religion is brought up.

Now we turn to another ongoing story, the death of two participants (and hospitalization of others) in a sweat-lodge ceremony lead by New Age “Secret” peddler James A. Ray. Commentary on the issue, as you can imagine, has been fast and (mostly) furious. New Agers and Natives in Arizona are undertandably split on the issue of Ray’s sweat-lodge use, historian Al Carroll, one of the founders of New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans (NAFPS), is asking Oprah to apologize for promoting him, and Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle has made an official statement.

“Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic’oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag’a – by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted – to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone’s life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient, they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate. What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life! When you do ceremony – you can not have money on your mind.”

Meanwhile, James Ray reportedly broke down in tears at a scheduled speaking engagement in Los Angeles, saying that he grieved for the families and is “being tested” by these events. Let’s hope his contrition is genuine, because another sweat-lodge victim is in a coma with multiple damaged organs, and two more remain hospitalized. Authorities have also noted that the sweat lodge didn’t have a permit to be constructed, and that there was a past mishap in its use in 2005, also lead by Ray. For even more, check out the Newspaper Rock blog.

Turning to other events, Mollie at Get Religion has totally got my back this week. She looked at coverage of the James Ray sweat-lodge deaths, and debunked one-sided press speculation that roaming goats were Santeria sacrifices.

“But while we get tons of perspective from animal rescue groups, there is literally not one practitioner of Santeria whose views are included. We don’t even hear from a professor or other expert who could speak about Santeria. And finally, I’m unclear how these live, wandering goats are related to animals killed as part of a religious sacrifice. Maybe we could just get some explanation on that front.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m really happy to see Get Religion start to dip its toe in the waters of minority faiths, especially Santeria and its practice of animal sacrifice, becasuse press coverage of those topics is especially bad.

If you’re a Pagan who needs his bladed weapons to meditate, maybe you shouldn’t wave them in the face of a policeman.

“He told police he had travelled the world and needed the weapons to meditate with in a peaceful place. Thornton, 46, of no fixed address, was committed to Bradford Crown Court for sentence by the city’s magistrates for carrying an ornamental dagger and a lock knife in Buttershaw on June 13. On bail, he drew a sword in the city centre five days later and waved the weapon at a Police Community Support Officer.”

The world-traveling homeless magician was sentenced to two years imprisonment (for two seperate offenses). Proving, I suppose, that “religious purposes” isn’t some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card you can wave anytime you do something stupid.

Inside Jersey takes a look at the “real” vampire subculture in New Jersey, with all the usual stopping points about blood-drinking, safety, ethics, interviewing Michelle Belanger, sparkly pop-culture vampires, and such. But what really caught my eye was this little tidbit.

“Their August event featured a pagan rite performed by a guest from outside the court. It was an animal sacrifice; a lizard was dispatched for a good harvest. That was followed by a vampire town hall. There was a debate, an election for magistrate and Q&A session addressing tensions between clans.”

A lizard? For a good harvest? Did lizards suddenly become a livestock animal? Or was that the only animal they thought they could stomach killing? I’m sorry, I try not to judge regarding people’s rituals, but this seems, well, wrong. Not wrong because they sacrificed an animal, but wrong because it sounds like a failed attempt to be “dark” and “shocking”. I’d really like to know what tradition the lizard-killer is from, and what the ritual format for this “harvest sacrifice” was.

In a quick final note, be sure to check out the AP article about Maria Lionza followers in Venezuela, you may remember that I did several stories about the socio-political importance of the goddess Maria Lionza years back on this blog.

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