Today I’ll be away with the Faeries in Seattle (along with T. Thorn Coyle, Raven Grimassi, Stephanie Taylor- Grimassi, Lupa, and several other Pagan-friendly folk) but I didn’t want to leave you empty handed in my absence! So, since I’m at a convention, it seems appropriate that I share a panel from the convention I just participated in last weekend. So here’s a panel discussion from PantheaCon 2013 entitled “Setting the Record Straight: Pagans and the Press,” moderated by journalist Beth Winegarner, and featuring Eric Colon (a Mayombero and Santero), Mike Aldax (crime reporter for the San Francisco Examiner), Nagasiva Yronwode (a Satanist), and myself. “Most reporters aren’t experts in Paganism, Satanism, or African Diaspora faiths. When these topics come up, especially in connection with violent crime, news articles often suggest that these religions are violent.
In the past decade I’ve noticed a rapid increase in the number of modern Pagans who have taken initiations in African diasporic religions like Santeria, Vodou, and Palo Mayombe. Likewise, a growing number of elders and teachers in those traditions have started to attend Pagan events like PantheaCon in San Jose, California. I’ve long been interested in the shared struggles our faiths face, and find the increasing interactions a fascinating and under-studied phenomenon. What will this growing trend mean both for modern Pagan religions and for the African diasporic faiths? To address some of these questions I’ve interviewed Stacey Lawless (Ngueyo Ndumba Kunayanda), who lives in the Southeastern United States where she is currently reinventing herself.
There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up. Noted children’s and young adult author Margaret Mahy passed away last week due to complications resulting from cancer. The New Zealand author wrote several acclaimed titles, and was beloved in her home country, my personal favorite was “The Changeover,” a story about Witchcraft, initiation, and growing up. That title won the annual Carnegie Medal in Literature from the Library Association, and is worth seeking out, as are many of her works.
On Friday, the Contra Costa Times reported that an appeal to overturn a 2010 fraud conviction was denied. California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal decided that prosecutors did not unfairly prejudice the case by bringing up a “voodoo” (though more likely Palo Mayombe, according to one expert) shrine that belonged to Ruben Hernandez, saying the evidence was “highly probative” of his “consciousness of guilt.” In a 35-page ruling, the appellate court justices noted that Hernandez testified during the trial about the “benevolent purposes served by the dolls.” “He characterized the dolls as an element of his Catholic faith in which the pins stuck in the dolls were a form of ‘spiritual acupuncture’ to cleanse evil from the individuals the dolls represented. He also believed the dolls would assist in ensuring people were not put in jail wrongfully,” the justices wrote. This case is just the most recent to raise the question of when, exactly, it is fair and relevant to a criminal case to bring up a defendant’s adherence to a minority religion, or involvement in an esoteric practice.
Joseph Laycock, scholar and author of “Vampires Today: The Truth about Modern Vampirism,” examines media coverage of the killing of two boys and one woman over the span of four years in Mexico, allegedly the work of Santa Muerte cultists. Laycock’s Religion Dispatches piece argues that “these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America,” that they are a “Manson moment” that will have potentially harmful reverberations in the years to come. “It goes without saying these murders are unconscionable, and a tragedy. But attempting to find a grand pattern, or a reason, in a connection to so-called ritualistic violence brings authorities no closer to preventing such crimes—while greatly increasing the likelihood that innocent people will be persecuted. It is almost a certainty that at some point in the future the events that have unfolded in Nacozari will be presented as “proof” that Santa Muerte is an inherently violent tradition.