Pagan Community Notes: England and Wales may allow outdoor weddings, Vandalism at Hill of Tara , and more

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[By Kam Abbott / Wikimedia]

LONDON – Last week, Prime Minister, Theresa May announced a proposal that could have a large impact on Pagans and members of earth-based belief systems living in the England and Wales.

The Law Commission will perform a two-year review of marriage rules. Currently weddings in England and Wales are required to be held in a place of worship or another building licensed to hold legal ceremonies of that nature. Legally recognized weddings are prohibited from being performed outside in nature, or anywhere that is not a licensed structure. Scotland does not have the same restrictions on locations.

May said, “The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners. But we can do more to bring the laws on marriage ceremonies up to date and to support couples in celebrating their commitment.”

A report published by the Law Commission in late 2015, raised concerns of inconsistency in the laws governing marriage. The review of wedding venues was commissioned by a conservative and liberal government coalition the same year, and found that offering wider choices could make marriages more affordable and more personal.

The review elicited a response from the government that such changes would create more complex issues of equality with religious and secular ceremonies. The choice of venues is governed by the Marriage Act 1949. Still, the majority of laws regarding marriage have not been broadly reformed since 1836.

“Whilst we will always preserve the dignity of marriage, people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them,” said David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor.

Gauke also said, “This review will look at the red tape and outdated rules around weddings – making sure our laws are fit for modern life.”

While it will be 2021 before the review is completed and recommendations on changes are made to the government, if adopted, allowing weddings to take place at the sea shore or even in a private garden could make a big difference for Pagans.

May is due to step down from her role as Prime Minister as soon as her successor is chosen, and it will ultimately be under the leadership of that person to manage any changes to marriage laws.

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Women’s reproductive rights were in the news last week when a five-month-pregnant woman, Marshae Jones, 27, was charged with manslaughter that stemmed from her involvement in an altercation with another woman that ended with Jones being shot in the abdomen and killing the fetus she was carrying.

As we have reported, some members in the Pagan community have voiced serious concerns and outrage over a series of laws that have been passed in the last few months that restrict women’s reproductive rights, and attempt to criminalize abortion and even miscarriages.

The charges against Jones for manslaughter seem particularly odd since Ebony Jemison, the woman who fired the shot that ultimately terminated Jones’ pregnancy was not indicted by a grand jury after deciding her actions were in self-defense.

Jones was indicted by the same grand jury. The indictment stated Jones did “intentionally cause the death” of “Unborn Baby Jones by initiating a fight knowing she was five months pregnant.” The district attorney’s office has not yet made a decision as to whether they prosecute the case.

A prominent Birmingham law firm, White Arnold & Dowd, issued a statement on Friday that they are representing Jones. Monday morning, attorney Mark White filed a motion in court asking the state of Alabama to dismiss the charges against Jones calling them, “unreasonable, irrational, and unfounded.”

Opponents of reproductive laws they see as oppressive have been outspoken on similar issues and cases in the past. Response to this latest case from the outside and within the Pagan community has been muted, at best.

The executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Lynn Paltrow told the Associated Press  that Alabama currently leads the nation in charging women for crimes related to their pregnancies. She said hundreds have been prosecuted for running afoul of the state’s “chemical endangerment of a child” statute by exposing their embryo or fetus to controlled substances.

But this is the first time she’s heard of a pregnant woman being charged after getting shot.

“This takes us to a new level of inhumanity and illegality towards pregnant women,” Paltrow said. “I can’t think of any other circumstance where a person who themselves is a victim of a crime is treated as the criminal.”

In a related story, The Satanic Temple (TST) counter-protested against a group of evangelicals in Chicago over the weekend. TST displayed a banner that read, “End Forced Motherhood” and umbrellas with large pentagrams emblazoned on them on an overpass right next to group holding signs proclaiming, “Abortion takes a human life” and “Honk against abortion.” TST Chicago Chapter posted pictures of their Facebook page along with links for their religious reproductive rights website.

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The Lia Fáil - Hill of Tara, Ireland.

The Lia Fáil – Hill of Tara, Ireland.

COUNTY MEATH, Ireland – One of the “wishing trees” on the Hill of Tara near Skryne in County Meath, Ireland, fell due to the weight of clouties, charms, and coins that had been tied or affixed to it.  The tree that fell was one of a pair on the site. Visitors are now being asked to refrain from adding any other material to the remaining tree. The Hill of Tara is an  ancient ceremonial and burial site, and tradition holds that it was the inaugural site of Irish Kings and is included in Irish mythology and folklore.

Also on the Hill of Tara, according to the The Irish Times, an American couple, Jeff Olsen and Anna Lisa Van Bloem, from Utah had a traditional Celtic handfasting during the summer solstice.  Unfortunately, thieves stole all the footage “from their photographer’s car boot, along with electrical items, passports and clothing, at the base of the hill”.  The photographer is the bride’s brother and the couple was hoping to show the footage to their eight children

“We were kind of distraught when we found out. Our whole ceremony was bound by our children, so it would be very special if the kids could see it,” Olsen is reported as saying.

Meanwhile, a bystander who took some photos of the couple’s ceremony sent them what she had.  The groom says that “his faith in Ireland had been restored by the kindness he and his partner had experienced in the aftermath of the robbery.”

The couple is offering a €500 reward for the return of the hard drive that held the footage.

In other news:

In “witch-hunt” and related news:

  • A 50-year-old woman, Sunita Devi who has been accused of practicing “witchcraft,” was murdered in the Indian province, Nayatola Bhawanpur. She was shot at the Kharik railway station. Kharik police have named a number of people as suspects in the shooting, and are working with railway police to arrest those involved.
  • In another case of “witch-hunting” a 50-year-old woman and her daughter were brutally murdered in Rowaoli village in the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand in India. The names of the women murdered were not listed in any news reports, only that they were the wife and daughter of  Subhash Khandait. Several news reports listed a conflict over land rights, and that those accused of the murders has circulated rumours of “black magic” and “witchcraft” practices against the two women among the villagers.
  • The rates of sickle-cell anemia in African countries accounts for nearly 70% of the 300,000 infants born with the disease world-wide. 30% of the cases are found in the Western and Nyanza regions of Kenya and frequently go undiagnosed due belief the cause of the illness is “witchcraft” or misdiagnosed as malaria. Sheilah Abebe from Ball State University School of Nursing who was part of a research program with Masinde Muliro University, urged the government to carry out extensive awareness campaigns to educate the populations of the regions where the disease is most prominent, as well as provide medical support and screenings.
  • The results of a recent survey were revealed in Ranchi, Jharkland, India last week at an event organized by the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives (AALI) and included a number of attorneys, civil society representatives, and government officials and calls for attention to witch-hunts to be treated similarly as human trafficking in awareness and justice campaigns. The survey, conducted in eight districts of the state [Jharkland] showed that more than half of the women murdered as a result of “witch-hunts” were between 40 and 50 years of age. The breakdown of the findings: 33% of the victims of witch-hunting are women above 51 years of age; 24.2% are in the 41-50 years age group; 28.8% are in the 31-40 years age bracket; and 21.6% in the 21-30 years age group. “Witch-hunting should be given the same importance and treated on a par with human trafficking,” said Kalyani Sharan, chairperson of the state women’s commission. “Instead of just terming witch-hunting as a fallout of superstition and bad social customs, it should treated as a violation of the fundamental rights of the victim,” said Shubhangi, AALI project coordinator from Lucknow.

Tarot of the week by Star Bustamonte

Deck: Symbolon: The Deck of Remembrance, by Peter Orban, Ingrid Zinnel, and Thea Weller, published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc.

Card: The Black Mass

This week may call into question what opinions are held and why. Consider what is being pledged before committing to the taking or giving of oaths, and what the broader connotations might be.

Decks generously provided by Asheville Raven & Crone