Regulating Native Practices and other Pagan News of Note

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Top Story: While the final fate of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who led a “sweat lodge” ceremony that ended up killing three people, remains an open question, others are working to put Ray, and others like him, out of business. Arizona state Sen. Albert Hale, a former president of the Navajo Nation, is sponsoring a bill that would allow the state to regulate any for-pay activity that claims to be a “traditional and authentic Native American practice.”

“A measure proposed by state Sen. Albert Hale, D-Window Rock, would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to regulate individuals or businesses that charge people to take part in what are claimed to be “traditional and authentic Native American practices.” Violators would be subject to yet-to-be-determined civil penalties. Hale said the measure is a direct outgrowth of the incident last October in Sedona, when three people died after participating in what was billed by its promoter as a traditional sweat lodge ceremony. Participants paid up to $10,000 for the overall “healing” retreat. The senator said SB 1164, if it becomes law, would preclude that from happening. He called the event “a perversion of our traditional ways.” But Hale said the proposal would go further, regulating what anyone could call a “Native American” practice, at least for pay.”

The proposed bill has the support of current Navajo Nation President, Joe Shirley, Jr., and if passed, would not apply to practices held on tribal lands. The “nuances” concerning free events that purport to be Native practices, or Native-like activities that don’t claim to be Native have yet to be worked out. Hale pointed out that this bill targets more how an event is advertised than how it is actually practiced. There hasn’t been too much commentary on the proposed bill yet, but the Don’t Pay to Pray blog seems all for it.

“Twelve precious human beings have lost their lives in pay-to-pray sweat lodges conducted by or influenced by ambitions non-Natives who were all later shown to have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of indigenous spiritual protocol and philosophies. There have been many other close calls that were not reported in the manin stream media. In my opinion this legislation is overdue. It’s telling to me that it took a Native American member of the legislature to come up with a bill that penalizes non-Natives from profiting from the exploitation of indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices, while taking steps to ensure that indigenous people are still allowed their rights to freedom of religion. I have always been an advocate of culture-jamming and taking the “cool” out of the exploitation of our spiritual ways, but perhaps the solution really lies in taking the profit motive out of this exploitation as well.”

How this would ultimately affect other faiths that have been known to dabble with Native practices, like some modern Pagan groups, remains to be seen. I suspect that, if the bill becomes a law, it wouldn’t change too much. Usually Pagans shy away from charging for such things, and if they don’t, often re-label the practices to suit their (usually) Euro-centric world-view. As for James Arthur Ray, his lawyers insist he isn’t liable for those sweat-lodge deaths, even as more incriminating details leak out. When, or if, he is brought to court, or is brought up on charges, remains to be seen.

In Other News:

In Defense of Vodou: While Haiti continues to struggle, and is rocked by major aftershock, more commentators are stepping forward to defend Haitian culture and religion in the face of charges that it causes/worsens the hardships they face. Dianne M. Diakité, associate professor of Religion and African American Studies at Emory University, argues that critics are buying into the “myth of Voodoo” instead of the reality. That Vodou practitioners, far from being complacent, were actually first responders in the aftermath of the quake.

“This line of discussion, however, concedes to the fear that behind the portrait of meandering earthquake survivors peacefully singing Christian hymns in the streets of Port-au-Prince is a barbaric “voodoo” ceremony waiting to unfold. It is for this reason that accessible Vodou priests and priestesses who were first responders, providing medical care to wounded victims pouring into their temples in the immediate aftermath of the quake, remain unaccounted for in the US American media’s roll call of international heroes and heroines now at work in Haiti.”

So while fools continue to equate Satanism with Vodou, turn the tragedy into a morality play, or blame Vodou for Haiti’s poverty, the heroic Vodou priests and priestesses of Haiti remain largely unsung.

More on Christian Gun Sights: As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Bible-verse encoded gun-sights being used by the military, many wondered what the big deal was, so long as the machinery functioned properly. Dispatches from the Culture Wars shares a letter received by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation that highlights what non-Christian soldiers are subjected to as a result of these “special” sights.

“A very senior NCO was yelling at us which is not that unusual. He asked a private what it was that he (the private) was holding in his hand and the private said it was his “weapon” several times to which the senior NCO replied “and what ELSE is it”? FInally, the senior NCO said that the private’s rifle was also something else; that because of the biblical quote on the ACOG gunsight it had been “spiritually transformed into the Fire Arm of Jesus Christ” and that we would be expected to kill every “haji” we could find with it. He said that if we were to run out of ammo, then the rifle would become the “spiritually transformed club of Jesus Christ” and that we should “bust open the head of every haji we find with it.” He said that Uncle Sam had seen fit not to give us a “pussy ‘Jewzzi’ (combination of the word ‘Jew’ and Israeli made weapon ‘Uzi’) but the “fire arm of Jesus Christ” and made specific mention of the biblical quotes on our gun sights. He said that the enemy no doubt had quotes from the Koran on their guns but that “our Lord is bigger than theirs because theirs is a fraud and an idol” … Finally, this senior NCO ended his yelling by warning us that if we did not “get right with Jesus” then our rifles would not provide spiritual strength despite the bible quotes on our ACOG gunsights and that we would be considered “spiritual cripples” to our fellow units and soldiers. He didn’t say it in so many words, but the message was clear; if anything bad happened in a combat situation, it would be the fault of anyone who had not accepted Jesus Chris in the “right way”.”

These sights, these Jesus-guns, aren’t just being used against the enemy, they are being used as a club against non-Christian soldiers. They are being told, specifically, that the “magic” in them won’t protect the unbeliever (that it may even hinder them), that they are engaged in a holy war. A holy war that will only allow two faiths fighting for dominance.

Anglicans vs. Episcopagans: The conservative Anglican site VirtueOnline worries over the infiltration of Pagan religion into the US Episcopal Church, this time focusing on a “croning” ritual that appeared in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s newsletter.

“Entitled “Crone Power”, the meditation innocuously sat opposite a story about choosing a children’s Bible and next to a column on St. Jerome. The newsletter quickly drew the attention of Anglican bloggers, many of whom found the placement of what appeared to be a Wiccan ritual to be jarring in an official church publication. But intentionally or not, the publication and placement of the rite were reflective of a new reality: one in which practices drawn from or inspired by pagan belief, including witchcraft, are increasingly finding acceptance within the ranks of the Episcopal Church.”

I have little interest in the self-appointed heretic hunters of the Anglican communion, but what did catch my eye is that they heavily quote Catherine “Wicca’s Charm” Sanders as an “expert” on modern Paganism. Sanders, a Christian who used to write anti-Pagan tracts for Focus on the Family, is no expert on modern Paganism. Her book, “Wicca’s Charm”, is a deeply flawed work that makes some frankly ignorant claims about the history of ancient Paganism. So, needless to say, any article that makes her the primary point of reference on Paganism should be held suspect.

Bastet Temple Found: In a final note, Egyptian archaeologists have uncovered the temple of Queen Berenike (the wife of Ptolemy III) in Alexandria, and it appears that temple was dedicated to the Egyptian cat-goddess Bast/Bastet.

“The team found a large collection of statues depicting the cat goddess Bastet, indicating that the temple was dedicated to the deity. Clay pots and bronze statues of other Egyptian gods including Harpocrates and Ptah were also discovered, the Supreme Council said. The find suggests that the worship of Bastet continued even after the decline of the Pharaohs, it said.”

So proof that worship of Bast endured at least until the 3rd century? Good news for Bast fans! You can read more about the discovery, here.

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