Quick Notes: An Imbolc Murder? Salem’s Psychic Industry, and Vodou Comes Out of the Shadows.

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A few quick news notes for you on this Thursday.

An Imbolc Muder? A Winston-Salem North Carolina couple are being charged with first-degree murder that prosecutors say was planned around the Wiccan wheel of the year. The murder, which took place back in 2004, was allegedly planned out via e-mail by Katherine Hofmann and Kim Stout against Hofmann’s long-time partner Sharon Snow, who was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“In e-mails, they talked about killing Snow and having Stout move into the house that Hofmann and Snow shared, Hall said in court. After Snow’s death, Stout did move in with Hofmann and together, they sought to collect $157,000 on Snow’s life-insurance policy, Hall said. … Stout and Hofmann both practiced Wicca, a pagan religion that focuses on worshipping the divine in nature, and Hall said the two women decided when to kill Snow based on the Wiccan calendar.”

Stout and Hofmann were arrested back in 2009 on murder charges, it is unknown what spurred movement forward on this cold case. The state is pursuing the death penalty, and it could be another year before the case comes to trial. In addition to being practicing Wiccans, both Snow and Hofmann were members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro. If, as the state alleges, Hofmann and Stout truly did time the murder around a Wiccan holiday (Imbolc), it could be the first time where the Wiccan religion was truly relevant to a criminal case at hand instead of a sensationalist distraction or attempt to sully the character of a defendant. If there are any Pagans or UUs in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area who knows more about this case, please contact me or feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Salem’s Psychic Industry: The Salem News checks in with their city’s psychics three years after regulations were eased by Salem’s Licensing Board. While there are some complaints about the relaxed regulations allowing folks who “aren’t truly psychic” to set up shop, and grumbling about diminished business due to increased competition, many seem to agree that it’s been an overall positive step for Pagan, occult, and psychic businesses in the Witch City.

…the number of shops in Salem with a psychic license has increased sixfold since 2006 — from four to 24. Each store has the ability to employ up to five individual psychics. At last count there were about 75 psychics licensed to work in stores in Salem. There are also 17 individual psychics licensed to work as private contractors, more than twice as many as before. … Diana McKanas, who owns the Salem Psychic Center and has been a practicing psychic in Salem for about 30 years, says the new ordinance allowing more psychics “cuts both ways.” It has made it easier for her to hire psychics and expand her business, she says, but it’s also paved the way for people who aren’t truly psychic to set up shop.”

Longtime readers will remember that the battle over regulations in Salem back in 2007 got truly strange, and that what we have now is a compromise solution. If there was a “winner” to this saga it must be promoter and shop-owner Christian Day, a member of the Destination Salem board who fought for relaxed regulations, and who envisions Salem becoming “a destination for psychics”. I’m hoping to feature an interview with Day soon in my Psychic Services and the Law series.

Vodou Out of the Shadows: The Globe and Mail in Canada reports on how the Haitian diaspora is working to dispel rumors, counter bad PR, and defend the religion and traditions of Vodou. Spurred partially over the spate of demonizing that came from various pundits in the wake of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, and partially to overcome taboos within their own community, Vodouisants are organizing a Canadian “national voodooist confederation” and are hoping that an upcoming Museum of Civilization in Gatineau exhibit will allow them to re-frame an oft-misunderstood religion.

Despite the move to go mainstream, voodoo has long been taboo in the 100,000-strong Haitian diaspora. The religion was the focus of “anti-superstition” efforts by the Catholic church in Haiti that began in the late 19th century, which pushed voodoo underground even as some Haitians clung to its practises.

“Haitians are ambivalent about voodoo,” said Emerson Douyon, a retired psychology professor from the University of Montreal who studied voodoo in Haiti for his PhD. “On the one hand, they’re very proud of their ancestors’ religion and their African roots. Voodoo is part of who they are. But Haitians know Canadians don’t necessarily approve of these kinds of practises. They worry about being considered primitive. That’s why it’s kept hidden.”

Shortly after the earthquake I noted an emerging Vodou voice, and this seems to be very much an outgrowth of that. I think we’re going to see Vodou (within the context of the media) come into its own in the next ten years. With some religious scholars finally giving Yoruba religions and its diasporic offshoots a place of prominence, we may see more serious attention given to faiths like Vodou and Santeria by scholars and journalists. I think modern Pagans, who’ve been down the road before, can be useful allies as these faiths emerge into the mainstream.

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