Syracuse Gets a Pagan Chaplain and other Pagan News of Note

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Top Story: Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University has recognized its first Pagan chaplain, Mary Hudson, co-founder of the Syracuse/SUNY college Pagan group SPIRAL, and co-owner of The Fey Dragon metaphysical shop. Hudson was sponsored in her chaplaincy by the Church of the Green Wood, affiliated with the Church of Ancient Ways. Jessica Mays, the current president of SPIRAL, sees her appointment as an important positive step in raising awareness of modern Paganism on campus.

“I would like to see us get more of the student body not necessarily involved but to know we’re there and to know that we’re normal people … Being in an interfaith school where most of the religions are a branch off of Christianity, you have to be able to say what you need to say and say it well as to not offend everybody, but also know what it is that you believe in and stand by what you believe in.”

Hudson joins a small but growing group of officially recognized Pagan chaplains serving at universities, including the Rev. Cynthia Jane Collins at the University of Southern Maine, Brian Walsh at the University of Toronto in Canada, and Catherine Starr, also at the University of Toronto. Naturally, not everyone is happy with this growing ethos of interfaith cooperation, both Free Republic and conservative Anglican site Virtue Online have gotten the vapors over this development. Despite these rumblings from the fringes, Hendricks Chapel Interim Dean Kelly Sprinkle sees this as a something that will put Syracuse on the forefront of religious pluralism.

“Having a Pagan chaplain clearly places Hendricks Chapel and Syracuse University as one of the leaders on the national scene among university and college chapels in recognizing and embodying the importance of religious pluralism on campus. It helps those students that may not be part of one of the larger traditions to realize that we care about them as well and that they are welcome here.”

As this news reverberates into the blogosphere I’m sure we’ll be seeing more commentary, both positive and negative, in the weeks to come.  The Wild Hunt will be sure to keep you posted as things develop. In the meantime, congratulations to Mary Hudson, may she serve well.

In Other News:

Have the Jedi Ruined the British Census for Pagans? The Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK is saying that the 2011 census may be the last of its kind, partially due to the quickly-shifting demographics of the nation, but also due to what they say are “prank” answers.

“Prank responses to questions that are perceived to be too intrusive have also knocked confidence in the current system. In 2001 — the first time a voluntary question was asked about faith — almost 400,000 people took inspiration from the Star Wars films to claim that their religion was “Jedi”. This was in addition to about 7,000 people who said that they were witches.”

Now I’m not going to get into a debate about whether the British Jedi are a “real” religion, or how many of the 400,000 were having a laugh, as opposed to being truly spiritually moved by the works of George Lucas. But it is troubling that Pagan Witchcraft, which has been around openly in the UK since the repeal of anti-Witchcraft laws in the 1950s, is being lumped into this “problem”. This development has inspired some unlikely defenders, like from Guardian columnist Tanya Gold.

“But still I feel an urge to defend the witches. Of all the silly religions – and I think that all religions are silly – I believe that witchcraft is the least dangerous and the most benign. It is also the least understood.”

Gold’s somewhat mocking and half-hearted defense of Witchcraft somewhat masks the larger problem here, which is that the 2011 census may be the last opportunity we get for a truly accurate count of Pagans in the UK. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from the Pagan Federation, and especially PEBBLE, who were trying to coordinate Pagan response to the 2011 census, on these developments soon. To replace a census with regular surveys could make data about religions far more unreliable, and mask the growth of minority religions in the UK.

Medea Not Gaia: The Christian Science Monitor reports on a new book by paleontologist Peter Ward that offers a counter-theory to James Lovelock’s popular  Gaia hypothesis. Ward’s book, “The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?”, argues that instead of life sustaining habitable conditions on Earth, per Lovelock’s hypothesis, life might instead be its own worst enemy.

“Ward’s book isn’t really about human-caused global warming. It’s about the long-term future of life on the planet. Organic life has repeatedly caused the collapse of the biosphere, and on at least one occasion (snowball earth) has almost extinguished it entirely.”

But while this counter-theory may be somewhat depressing, the scenario isn’t without hope, and Ward explains that humanity may be able to turn our Medea planet into a Gaia in the longer term.

“Ward brings us full circle. Life is Medean, he’s argued for 140 pages, not Gaian. By its very nature, it’s self-destructive. The only hope in the very long run is through human foresight and planning, to ensure continued survival. Then, he implies, life on Earth life will have finally overcome its Medean nature. It will have become truely Gaian.”

This book will no doubt incite some fierce debate, especially within the modern Pagan community, where the Gaia hypothesis has been almost fully embraced.

Myth, Religion, and Percy Jackson: It look like critics are evenly split on “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”, with some saying it’s a lifeless slab of market research aiming for the Harry Potter dollar, while others were enchanted by seeing the Greek myths brought to life on screen. Those who might be enchanted particularly worries the Catholic New Service.

“…it may represent an attempted revival of pagan ideas with the potential to confuse impressionable kids.”

Then again, perhaps the Catholics should be worried, since young Catholics are increasingly relativistic regarding other faiths. As for the Pagans, they seem excited to see the film, and meet-ups are being planned. I’ll be interested to see reviews from Pagan film-goers emerge (especially from Pagan film critic Peg Aloi). As a kid who was completely enchanted by myths, which did eventually lead me to Paganism, I’m sure I would have utterly loved Percy Jackson. Maybe I’ll have to sneak out to a showing and treat my inner child a bit.

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