Russell Means (1939 – 2012): Activist, author, and actor Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux who participated in the famous 1964 Alcatraz occupation, and would go on to become a prominent leader within the American Indian Movement (AIM) passed away on Monday from cancer. Means was a spokesman for, and involved with the occupation of, Wounded Knee and from that period of activism he would go on to run for political office, work with the United Nations, and involve himself in American Indian and indigenous issues. The Indian Country Today Media Network has a article up highlighting his many accomplishments, while the New York Times calls hims the best-known Indian since Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse.
“[Means] styled himself a throwback to ancestors who resisted the westward expansion of the American frontier. With theatrical protests that brought national attention to poverty and discrimination suffered by his people, he became arguably the nation’s best-known Indian since Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.”
Throughout his life Means was an ardent critic of the “cultural genocide being waged by Europeans against American Indian peoples today,” and embraced the religion and spirituality of his people. You can read more remembrances and tributes, here.
David Godwin (19xx – 2012): Author and magician Donald Michael Kraig shares that news that David Godwin, “a longtime student of the cabala, occult lore, and magick,” and author of the influential “Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia: A Complete Guide to Cabalistic Magic,” passed away on October 16th. According to Kraig, Godwin performed “two massive services” for the occult community: indexing Israel Regardie’s “The Golden Dawn”, and the publication of his aforementioned Cabalistic encyclopedia.
“Following Godwin’s Cabalistic Encyclopedia there came a flood of occult books that expanded on what went before and even pointed in new directions. I can’t think of any that pointed back to David’s book, saying, “without GCE what I’m presenting wouldn’t be here.” This wasn’t done out of spite, but out of a lack of recognition of not just the content of David’s book, but of the disruptive nature of the book for all of occultism. And that disruption has changed us all in positive ways.”
In addition to his encyclopedia and indexing work, Godwin was on FATE magazine’s editorial staff for more than a decade, edited books on the supernatural, and wrote a history of Greek magic. To again quote Kraig: “In the later part of his life, David became deeply involved in Freemasonry. So may the Great Architect of the Universe watch over you and guide you to rest and recuperation before we are lucky enough to experience your essence once again.”
Paul Kurtz (1925 – 2012): You might call Paul Kurtz, who passed away on Saturday, a patron saint of the “nones.” Called a father of secular humanism Kurtz was a “giant” within the movement according to Roy Brown, chief representative at the United Nations Human Rights Council for the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). A precursor to the more militant atheists of the present era, Kurtz essentially helped found the modern skepticism and paranormal debunking movements. Kurtz also worked to develop secular alternatives to religion, something he called “eupraxsophy.”
“A compilation of Kurtz essays published by Bupp in June describes Kurtz’s theory of eupraxsophy, which he first envisioned in 1988 as a secular moral alternative to religion that met some of the social needs served by religions without the supernaturalism or authoritarianism of traditional faiths. At a January UNESCO conference in Paris, Kurtz spoke on “neo-humanism” and the positives of unbelief. Kurtz wasn’t anti-religious, Bupp said, but nonreligious. “Neo-humanists do not believe in God, yet they wish to do good. But if this moral outlook is to prevail, then neo-humanisms need to concentrate on improving the things of this world rather than simply combating the illusions of supernaturalism,” Kurtz said at the conference.”
If you look at modern Pagan religions we have both absorbed, and rebelled, against the secular humanism that men like Kurtz helped develop. Indeed, debates still rage today within our ranks over humanistic forms of modern Paganism, belief vs practice, and supernaturalism vs. skepticism. However, unlike other faiths, modern Pagan religions have been able to absorb these tensions in ways more top-down belief systems have not. As religions that deal with magic, the supernatural, and powers undefinable, we too deal with the challenges of secular humanism.
May all these spirits be remembered, may their wisdom and work endure, and may they return to us again.