RIP Mary Daly and other Pagan News of Note

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Top Story: Word is now emerging that pioneering feminist theologian Mary Daly passed away yesterday, after suffering from poor health for the last two years. With books like 1973’s “Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation”, Daly became hugely influential on the then-emerging field of feminist theology, and in turn, hugely influential on certain strains of modern Paganism in America.

“The Goddess Movement would not be the same without her. Contemporary Paganism would not be the same without the Goddess Movement. The radical essentialism of thinkers like Daly was a challenge to the pole that said “only men can communicate with the divine”. That pillar that she went up against? Mostly it has changed, leaving behind laughable relics, some of whom unfortunately still hold a measure of power. Yes, inequality still exists and yes, I am still a feminist, but things have gotten better. Much, much better. I don’t know if Mary Daly was able to see the battles she actually won.”T. Thorn Coyle

To be sure, Daly will be well-remembered not only as an ardent foe of patriarchy, but also as someone who passionately wanted to remove the idea of God from an exclusively male definition. She gladly “went overboard” in service of her cause, but did so with her wit and humor intact. May she rest in the arms of a Goddess.

In Other News: The New York Times makes a new-year visit to the Original Products Company in the Bronx, the East Coast’s largest botanica and ritual supply emporium (they reportedly take in around three million dollars per year). The report does a nice job of giving a sense of the place’s scale, and also conveys the religious diversity of their clientèle.

“This is the busiest time of the year for Original Products and the many other botanicas around the city and country — purveyors of herbs, amulets and other items used in Afro-Caribbean religions and occult practices including Santería, voodoo and Wicca … The company has turned over the second floor, rent free, to the Pagan Center of New York, which holds witchcraft rituals overseen by a Wiccan high priestess named Lady Rhea … A short plump man missing half his teeth approached the counter to speak with Mr. Allai, the Santería priest…”

What I also found interesting was that the owners, descendants of Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Turkey, don’t share in any of the belief systems of their customers.

Jason Mizrahi, a co-owner of the company, which was started in 1959 by his father, the son of Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Turkey. The business, which fills a former A.&P. supermarket on Webster Avenue near Fordham University, claims to be the largest botanica on the East Coast … Mr. Mizrahi does not follow any of the faiths his store provides for, but said he subscribed to the “concept of spirituality and keeping a positive attitude by using these products.” “These things are daily needs, staples,” he continued. “Milk, eggs, bread, incense, candles, in that order. Sometimes incense and candles are ahead of milk and eggs, on a day like today.”

Perhaps the owner not being directly involved cuts down on drama? There’s no hint that the customers mind this arrangement. Whatever they are doing, it sure seems to be working. I’d just like to take a stroll through a botanica that large some day, it must be quite the experience.

Can you get anthrax from attending a drumming circle? The answer is apparently yes.

“A New Hampshire woman who is critically ill with gastrointestinal anthrax most likely swallowed spores while participating in a community drumming circle, state health officials said Tuesday.”

So how exactly do you get anthrax from drums? I got the following answer via e-mail from Michael Lloyd, who has some knowledge and experience of this phenomenon.

“When I am not writing about Paganism or running a Pagan men’s gathering, my real-world job is as an engineering consultant in the fields of risk management and security/anti-terrorism. One tidbit of information that I ran across several years ago was that shipments of improperly tanned hides from certain countries (notably Haiti) are routinely screened for anthrax contamination. Now while the exact cause of the anthrax infection in NH was not released, I suspect that one or more of the drum heads was made of anthrax contaminated hide. This appears to be bolstered by the article, which notes that several of the drums were contaminated. With the drum circle being held indoors during the winter, this would have increased the chances of exposure in the confined space by concentrating the spores. One good reason to use a synthetic drum head, at least when indoors. But this also points to a potential problem during other times of the year when the drummer has cuts, blisters, or abrasions on their hands that could allow anthrax from a contaminated head to gain entry to the body. Something to think about.”

Now scientists say the chances for infection from drums is very low, but it’s always good to know where your natural-hide drum-skins are coming from, and take proper precautions.

Apple growers in Somerset are getting ready to Wassail their orchards for a good harvest come the Spring.

“Wassailing is an ancient pagan tradition held on Old Twelfth Night which falls on 17 January. Although many are held on this date, others observe the Gregorian calendar where Twelfth Night falls on 6 January. The Wassail is held to scare off worms and maggots that are regarded as ‘evil’ spirits and to attract the ‘good’ spirit embodied by the robin. The ceremony takes place around the oldest orchard tree where it is toasted and traditional Wassail songs are sung.”

Of course you can’t have a good Wassail without some Morris dancing too! Any Pagans out there planning to do some Winter-time Morris-dancing or Wassailing? Let us know in the comments.

In a final note, the Washington Post wonders if the movies are getting more religious.

“In movies as varied as the dead serious “The Road,” the uplifting family picture “The Blind Side,” the biting comedy “The Invention of Lying” and even James Cameron’s sci-fi opus “Avatar,” issues of faith and morality and mankind’s place in the universe are all the rage.”

It’s a shame that the article seems to equate the “religious audience” with the “Christian audience”, even though they mention the pantheistic “Avatar” as part of the trend. With films like films “Agora”, “The Wicker Tree”“Clash of the Titans” and “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” coming up in 2010, it seems rather obvious there is a market for non-Christian “religious/spiritual” films.

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