Sunday, July 31, 2011

Burning Man, Boycotts and Fernley, Nevada: the Sequel (but wait, there's more!)

While the Bonta incident has inspired some to threaten bodily harm, it has inspired others to talk about it at length. (I plead guilty as charged).  Some of the more interesting discussion has come on yet another Facebook page, "I Will Not Spend One Cent In Lyon County On My Way To Burning Man 2011." This event was founded by concerned Burner Jeremy Turner to raise awareness among people attending the world's most (in)famous Temporary Autonomous Zone.

A few participants continue to express concern about the ethics of a boycott.  As Burner Barbara Fried said:
Opinion: I was c. #200 on the Johnny Bonta FB page & completely support justice being done. However, I must believe that not every non-Native person/ storekeeper in Fernley is a racist hater, & that some are disgusted at persons & events. Unfortunately/ fortunately, people are not made to wear identifying badges... From study of history, I will not boycott, mistreat or shun all individuals who live in a place based upon the actions/ beliefs of a few people (incl. the authorities). That is stereotyping, & it is part of what Natives & other ethnicities have been fighting against for millennia. My .02. Perhaps some of the shopkeepers of Fernley will bravely put up signs to show their position/ support for equality/ justice/ fairness... for both the Burners/ visitors & for the whole town to see. That would be something. Shalom.
While I appreciate Ms. Fried's sincerity, I might note that there is a considerable difference between losing business from a few thousand Burners and being refused medical treatment for six days.  There is a considerable difference between the experience of Natives dealing with poverty, racism, and unemployment on the reservation and people with the disposable income to go on a week-long pilgrimage.  There is also a considerable difference between advocating a boycott and making terroristic threats: nobody is talking about bombing Lyon County shops or attacking random Lyon County civilians.  As I pointed out in an earlier post, a boycott is a legal and frequently effective method of encouraging change.  We might disagree on whether they are warranted in this particular instance, but we cannot argue that they work.

Ms. Fried suggests an alternative, recommending that shopkeepers in Fernley put up signs showing their support and that Burners patronize their stores.  Assuming at least some people in Lyon County were on board with this, it might well be a more productive way of attacking the issue.  No matter how good the intentions, a Burner boycott would be a largely symbolic gesture. It might cost a few businesses in Lyon County some revenue: I doubt very much that it is going to drive anybody in Lyon County to bankruptcy.  Encouraging people in the county to support tolerance and speak out against racism is likely to reap more long-term reward than punitive measures: a carrot may well be more effective in this case than a stick.

Another Burner, Sarah Nocktonick, mentioned another recent attack on a 24 year-old Navajo mother:
Rather than punish the entire town for the acts of a few disturbed individuals, let's all donate a little bit to Patty Dawson and her family who is without health insurance. Those who wish to help may contribute at any Wells Fargo Bank, to the Patty Dawson One Love Fund.
This is another worthy cause, one which might have passed largely unnoticed had it not been for the public attention garnered by this earlier incident. However this drama plays out for all the participants, it has brought awareness to long-simmering resentments in the southwestern United States.

As with all things Burning Man-related, we've also had a few naysayers. Zack Levitt said:
No need to hold a town hostage because the cops suck.
Kenaz, I am straightforward, I am not worried about it. If I need gas I will buy it, If I need something I will get it at the most convenient place. People get the crap beat out of them all the time and all over the place. Might as well boycott the whole country. My truck was broken into the other night, I am not boycotting my police because they did not show up. Though next time, I will make sure I hear it and am more prepared.
The first thing I note is that Mr. Levitt is so unconcerned about this incident that he felt the need to post about it, then provide a follow-up which further explained his lack of motivation.  I am apathetic about many things. I've never felt the need to go to forums dedicated to 4-H elections, chess club political shenanigans, Balkan languages, etc. and announce, then justify, my disinterest. There are plenty of political causes supported on Burning Man forums, ranging from heroic to hare-brained.  Why did Mr. Levitt feel this one was particularly worthy of being not just ignored but called out?

The second is that I can come up with several possible interpretations of Mr. Levitt's stance, neither of them particularly flattering.  One is that he is a nihilist, and has decided to focus his efforts on partying as we float inevitably toward the iceberg.  Another is that he has little concern for Johnny Bonta and the Lyon County Sheriff's Department because he assumes his skin and class privilege will protect him from law enforcement's worst abuses. Mr. Levitt's worldview may well be deeper than I have imagined: if so, I'd be interested in hearing more about it.

During the course of this discussion I noted that I've always found that the Burner community is, with a few exceptions, more committed to looking politically involved and concerned than with actually accomplishing anything. This is not entirely fair for a number of reasons.  For starters, Burning Man was never intended to be a statement for any particular cause, no matter how noble it may be.  As a TAZ, it is by definition nebulous. Some come to raise political consciousness; some come to make art; some come to take illegal substances and stare at sun-baked jahoobies. (Not that any of these are mutually exclusive, mind you).  Trying to corral 50,000 Burners into a single ideology is likely to work about as well as André Breton's efforts to hitch Surrealism to the Stalinist cause.

More to the point, this sort of criticism suggests that earlier sociopolitical movements were populated entirely by zealous devotees.  For every wild-eyed Abolitionist preaching the horrors of slavery, there were several hundred who went to meetings hoping they might meet a young lady who was into Free Love.  Radical hippie activists were surrounded by people who were in it for the weed and the social benefits (particularly regular access to weed). Nevertheless the ideas espoused by Abolitionists and Hippies had an enormous impact on public policy and American history. Biographers and scholars tend to focus on lone fanatics and wild-eyed radicals:  in doing so, they often minimize the effect of shallow and fashionable beliefs.  When the populace comes to accept "fringe" ideas as forward-thinking and progressive, the war has already been won: all that remains is cleanup and removal of the reactionary old guard.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Violence, Scapegoats, Symbols and Reality

Many of the details in l'affaire Bonta remain unclear.  This has not stopped many, on both sides of the fight, from expressing strong opinions on the subject.  On Facebook's "Justice for Johnny Bonta and Family" page Dee Cassell, mother of Jacob Cassell, claims:
They made our family to be hated "the point of this page" We receive death threats & horribl private messages every day. Today, I came home from the lake after a day with my multi-cultural grandchildren & found a hate message - hand delivered to my mailbox. I had a Mexican & Native grandaughter with me. Some psycho came o my property because of this page. This page needs to make it VERY clear what it is about then                                     
The group's moderator was likely on sound legal ground when he replied "It is not my fault that your family is receiving threats, nor is it my responsibility. [R]eport it to the appropriate authorities."  And in my experience posters wishing Jacob and Josh dead, asking for their addresses, commenting about baseball bats and boot parties, etc. have quickly and loudly been condemned by the vast majority of participants on "Justice."

That being said, there have been more than a few such posts to be condemned: on other forums the vitriol has become even harsher. There have been phone calls to Joshua Janiszewski's employer demanding that he and supporter/family member Leo Mayfield be fired:  people (OK, furries) have contacted their commanding officers in the Reserves.  And so I am inclined to believe Mrs. Cassell is receiving threats from people who have been riled up by coverage of this story.

It should go without saying that this kind of happy horseshit is unacceptable.  It should also go without saying that one should urinate or defecate only in receptacles specifically reserved for that purpose.  Yet reminder signs to that effect are posted throughout New York's Port Authority bus terminal - and are regularly ignored.  So despite history's example here is my attempt at a warning sign:

It is not OK to threaten the people involved in this case with mayhem or death. I don't care whose account of the fight you believe.  I don't care if Dee Cassell dances around in a swastika-studded leather bikini like Cosima Wagner in Ken Russell's Mahler while Jacob and Joshua sing "Deutschland über alles" in time with her gyrations.  They don't deserve bullets in the head, beatings with baseball bats or any of the other nasty scenarios wished upon them.  We all need to watch our rhetoric here: the point is to protest violence, not perpetuate it.

Many of us (yrs. truly included) have been a bit harsh on the friends and family members who came in to support Jake and Josh.  Many certainly could have been a bit more... diplomatic.  On the other hand, if my mother were receiving hateful, profane and threatening e-mails, letters and phone calls, I might not be feeling all that level-headed either.  Whether or not we agree, let's try to understand where everyone else is coming from.

At this point the primary issue appears to be the Lyon County Sheriff's Department. Numerous questions  remain about the way this incident was handled.  Why was Johnny Bonta denied medical treatment for six days after he was arrested for a bounced $357 check? Why does his car presently show damage in the towing yard that it did not show at the time of the accident? Did the LCSD forge an incriminating statement from an illiterate person to cover up for the son of a former deputy?  And is there a history of violence against Indians, Mexicans and random strangers in Fernley - violence which is tolerated and even encouraged by local police?

Answering those questions will be a lengthy process, one which might step on well-connected toes and bring up ugly, uncomfortable issues. Throwing Cassell and Janiszewsi to the wolves might well distract attention and help foster that all-important illusion that Something Is Being Done. No need for inconvenient investigations into local law enforcement: we locked up those racist punks and that shows our commitment to diversity and tolerance.  No need to question our own entitlement or ask what we've done to improve conditions on America's reservations: we sent an obscene .jpeg to some 20-year old kid's mother in a crushing strike against racism.  It's a Debordian Spectacle that helps satisfy the masses, but one which accomplishes precisely nothing toward healing a community's wounds or finding the truth.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Beginner's Guide to Working with the Spirits Pt. 4: Silence

Silence is at the heart of mysticism: it is arguably the most important tool in the spirit worker's kit. If we want to commune with our ancestors and the other denizens of the worlds seen and unseen, we must first learn to be still.  Our lessons to date have required you to seek out items and to take positive actions. This one asks only that you do and say nothing, that you put your Self away to stand quiet and empty in the presence of those who came before you and Those who came before them.

Although it sounds simple, you may find this step very challenging.  The hum of tires against asphalt, the ceaseless aspiration of our computer fans and the rumbling buzz of our air conditioners, the high-pitched electronic mosquito hum  -- our modern world is a very noisy place indeed. Because of this, we have grown accustomed to overstimulation.  When we are forced to spend time in silence, we find it uncomfortable.  Boredom soon sets in: we think of more entertaining ways to spend our time and what should be restorative becomes instead an ordeal.

The best approach to this problem is the same one you take when you're trying to get into shape: gradually working up to longer periods of silence.  In time you will find yourself able to keep still well enough and long enough to strengthen your ancestral connection. You may even develop a taste for peace and quiet, and find yourself called to an increasingly contemplative lifestyle: many a reluctant beginning jogger has gone on to finish multiple marathons.  For now, try to spend five minutes sitting quietly and thinking of nothing at all. If you fail at that, find a period within which you are able to enforce an internal  radio silence.  Try to repeat that period, increasing a little bit each time: keep a chart of your efforts, just as you would for any exercise regimen.

Thoughts will arise while you are trying to maintain this quietude.  Let them rise, then let them disintegrate back into the silence.  The distractions and temptations which trouble you are only as important as you allow them to be.  Once you learn to separate your thinking Self from the chattering of the monkey-mind, you will find yourself better able to concentrate in mundane life and better able to find your calm still center in a crisis. Background noise and personal distractions will drift through you like smoke swirling through air.

It is within this clear state that you will have the most profound interactions with your ancestors.  When you go into the place of silence and reverence, this place where all magic begins, you will find them waiting there. They will bring you the knowledge they bore in their bones and carry it through marrow and sinew. They will whisper to you in the soft slithering beat of the blood that you share.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Situation to Date on Johnny Bonta

Since the May 24 incident in which Johnny Bonta was beaten by two white teenagers in Fernley, Nevada, few mainstream media outlets have picked up the story.  (One notable exception is Al Jazeera, which included a quote from one of my earlier posts).  However, discussion continues throughout the online world and appears to have attracted the attention of some very influential backers. On Sunday Lisa Bonta posted:
This is an update to all of the brothers and sisters who have shown us so much love and support! We are being represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Thank the Creator for them. Johnny is continuing physical therapy on his knee and has injections in his knee. Last week Johnny had an upper and lower scoping and is awaiting the decision for surgery on his nose. Shane is having an mri on his elbow. Alyssa and myself are seeking therapy for post traumatic stress. Thanks to everyone who has donated it has made our lives unexplainably better. Thank you and we will keep u updated. In a couple of weeks we will be holding a community action meeting.
Meanwhile, supporters of alleged assailants Jacob Cassell and Joshua Janiszewski continue to speak up vociferously on their behalf.  The major narrative thread which underlies all of these defenses is that race had nothing to do with this incident at all.  The only racists here are the Bontas and their supporters: they started this fight and then cried "wolf" to defame innocent white boys and hard-working law enforcement officials who are now being threatened with violence and even death. One Cassell supporter claims to have had negative experience with Bonta which proves that the accused were innocent.  In a communication to me he explained:
So, sometime ago, I spent 3 months in Chuchill County jail with Johnny. I ask about the deputy shooting because that's what he bragged about being in jail for. You don't go to prison for 'something about a beer run' Prison is reserved for felons.
He was very intimidating to everyone. Acted like he was some gangster Indian. Took what he wanted, and bullied people around. He pulled the race card when he wasn't given the treatment he thought he deserved. 'It's because I'm Indian, isn't it??' No, no one gets special treatment in jail.
I was a pretty skinny guy back then, compared to know. About 180, to his probably 230. he was very threatening all the time. I stayed out of his way, as did most everyone else.
Probably because no one really cared, and wanted to bother with him.
One morning, after getting our food, he walked right into my cell, grabbed my food and walked out, turning to me and saying 'what are you going to do about it white boy' I walked into his cell, took back my food and started leaving. He punched me. And to the surprise of myself, and everyone else in jail, I beat his ass. His blood was everywhere.. mainly from his nose, and mouth. His face was black and blue, with a grapefruit sized lump over his eye.
For the next 3 or 4 days, he didn't leave his bunk, and wouldn't look at anyone. When he finally came out, he never spoke to anyone. I was only there for about 2 more weeks, and during that time, he quietly sat in the corner minding his own business. The jailers all commented that they were not surprised that someone finally called him on his BS. He didn't cry out for medical help, or claim it was a hate crime. He realized that he had mouthed off too much, and finally got called on it.
So, I know Johnny's character and attitude. And the more I read, and see comments about this incident, it appears to be a long standing feud between two white boys, one from each family, and threatening looks where exchanged, and it escalated to a fight. Johnny is very quick to puff up, and try to start something. And it would seem very like him to have instigated this fight.
It was not a hate crime. it was a mutual fight, that resulted in him getting his ass beat, so now he's crying hate crime for revenge.
I have no idea how much of this claim, if any, is true: Churchill County does not make its court or jail records available online. However, I do note that it carries the usual resentment about Indians crying for "special privileges" and suggests that they only do so when they lose the battles they start.  Neither does it answer several inconvenient questions, like "Why, if this was a 'mutual fight,' were statements not taken from both sides?" and "Why was Johnny Bonta denied medical attention for six days?" As I noted in an earlier entry about Chris Brown, the crime committed is less unforgivable than calling attention to racism aka "playing the race card."

Other defenders have pointed out that both Cassell and Janiszewski have Indian and other nonwhite friends. This supposedly proves that they could not be racists and that Bonta and his son-in-law started the whole thing.  NYPD officer Justin Volpe, who sodomized Haitian immigrant Abner Louima with a broomstick in a notorious 1997 incident, had a devoted black girlfriend. Many of the Long Island teens who engaged in "beaner hopping" and murdered an Ecuadorean immigrant in 2008 had black and Hispanic friends.  It is still unclear as to how this fight started: it is clear that one may have friends and lovers of color and yet still engage in brutal racist attacks.

The resolution of this case is likely to take months, possibly years.  In the meantime ill feeling toward Indians persists throughout the southwestern United States.  On July 20 Paul Beebe and Jesse Sanford of Farmington, New Mexico pleaded guilty to beating a developmentally disabled 22-year old Navajo man, drawing racially and sexually insulting pictures on him, and branding him with a swastika in exchange for a sentence of up to 8 1/2 years.  On June 14 Patty Dawson, a Navajo/Apache woman, was driven off the road and beaten unconscious by three skinheads.  Meanwhile, a new poster has claimed on several forums that there was another skinhead attack in Fernley, this one in the town park.

According to this story, the Lyon County Sheriff's Department allegedly did nothing to arrest or hinder the swastika-tattooed gentleman who beat a 19-year old Indian and told him to "go back to his own country."  (Presumably he is a bigot with a strong sense of irony).  I have received e-mail from the person who has posted this, and who claims that a security camera in the park supports his story.  I will keep you posted on this as further events develop.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Holy Writ: for Galina Krasskova

I've been talking a lot lately about ways of seeing and why we need to get back to the worldview of our distant ancestors.  The latest post from Galina Krasskova is an excellent study of what that entails and why it is so vitally important.  Galina nails in a few paragraphs what I've been trying to say for weeks: she also hits some issues I had overlooked.   I've focused on the Scientific/Materialist prejudices which shape our worldview.  Galina concentrates on a no less insidious prejudice, our reliance on Holy Writ.  Toward that end, I thought I'd add a few words of my own.

Many religions have holy scriptures, not just the big Monotheist faiths: consider the Rig Vedathe Zoroastrian Avestasthe Book of the Dead and similar texts. Sacred books can preserve a great deal of ancient knowledge, and provide a framework upon which we can build sociocultural institutions and identities. After the Temple's destruction, the Rabbis preserved Jewish identity and culture through their veneration of Torah and Talmud: they allowed the Jews to survive as a people when many peoples were consigned to the dustbins of history.  We cannot minimize the value of the Word.  But neither should we minimize other, non-textual ways of preserving information which are perfectly functional and which even have advantages over the literary approach.

Singers and bards have long memorized lengthy passages. The Iliad and Odyssey were transmitted orally before being preserved in writing.  Even today the Kirghiz preserve their ancestral history in the Manas saga, an epic of over 236,000 lines - almost nine times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined! (And yes, there are manaschi who can perform every line).  These songs and stories are more flexible than the written word. The poet/singer is given room to improvise, to alter the text to address contemporary problems.  Incidents can be incorporated into the tribe's collective memory and become a part of their mythology.  Oral epics grow within a well-established culture, yet are less subject to official censorship and control.  Controlling printing presses and libraries is one thing: controlling the songs the grandparents sing to the children at night is a far more difficult matter.

Today many Reconstructionists treat ancient texts as sacred scriptures.  Yet this is a modern view, certainly not the intention of the original writers or of their audience.  It is, of course, difficult to establish the authorial or editorial intent of the original writers and compilers of most holy scriptures.  It is not difficult to prove that these texts have been re-edited and re-interpreted throughout their history. One sect's apocrypha is another sect's canon, and one generation's heretic is another generation's prophet.  The battles which have arisen among Reconstructionists as they struggle with inclusion and interpretation are part and parcel of scripturally-based faiths.  Words can be set in stone: their meaning is far more fluid.

The idea is not to say the exact words our hundred-generations-removed ancestors used in their ceremonies while using the correct dialect and wearing a ceremonial robe woven out of period-appropriate fabrics. The idea is to re-establish the connection those ancestors had with their Gods and the ways in which they interacted with the world.  Instead of seeing them as part of a mythic Golden Age set apart from us, we should understand them as a process which began long before us and will continue long after we are gone.  We still fight their ongoing battles; we reap the benefits of their achievements; we carry the terrible burdens of their failures.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

On Devotion

When we're talking about theological issues, it helps if we define the words we are using.  "Devotion" gets thrown around frequently in religious discussions - but do all the participants mean the same thing when they use that word?  Since I've been in a deconstructing mood of late, let's see what has to say on the history of the word:
early 13c., from O.Fr. devocion , from L. devotionem , noun of action from devovere "dedicate by a vow," from de- "down, away" + vovere "to vow," from votum "vow" (see vow). In ancient L., "act of consecrating by a vow," also "loyalty, fealty, allegiance;" in Church Latin, "devotion to God, piety." This was the original sense in English; the etymological sense, including secular situations, returned 16c. via Italian and French.
In old Latin the devotio signified a ritual of self-dedication to the Gods of the Underworld, as Jona Lendering explains:
The ritual itself was simple. The pontifex maximus said the prayer, and the general who dedicated himself repeated it, leaning on a spear, and dressed in a toga. With the toga over his head ("Gabine fashion"), the commander rode to the enemy. If he survived, he was never to perform religious acts any more; if an ordinary soldier had dedicated himself to the Underworld and had survived, a statue with a height of seven feet had to be buried instead. One such statue has been excavated in the country of the ancient Vestini, at Capestrano in the Abruzzi.
When Rome became a monarchy, the word devotio was used to describe the self-sacrifices for the well-being of the emperor. A notorious example is the story of Publius Afranius Potitus, who promised to commit suicide if only the emperor Caligula would recover from an illness - the emperor insisted that the man would indeed descend to the Underworld.
Lendering mentions Greek antecedents (notably the story of King Leonidas at Thermopylae), and suggests Carthaginian King Hamilcar's death at Himera in 480 BCE while making an offering to Poseidon was a similar sacrifice.  What seems clear is that this myth and this kind of ritual/ritualized death for one's community was likely found throughout the Mediterranean and much of Levantine. The "cinctus Gabinus" described above was associated with sacrifice and worn by Roman emperors in their office as high priest. And according to scholar Andrew Feldherr:
The enemy are afflicted with terror wherever the consul rides, and when eventually they kill him, their fate is sealed. The consul’s body is always buried under the thickest pile of weapons and corpses and so cannot be found until the next day.
How many of these details accurately reflect early Roman religious practice remains uncertain.[15] The idea of charging a man or beast with the impurities of the people and sending it off to exert its destructive influence among the enemy possesses many analogues, from Hittite sacrificial practice to the legend of the Trojan horse.[16] However, Versnel has argued that what has become the archetypal form of devotio actually evolved from the more widespread but somewhat less dramatic practice of invoking the gods’ power by making over to them the lives and property of the enemy.[17] But whatever the actual authenticity of Livy’s description, the act clearly possesses a special significance for his text. The historian explicitly justifies his inclusion of the details of the ritual in terms that remind us of one of the cardinal aims of his history: he has preserved the tradition of an archaic Roman practice into an age when native religion has been supplanted by foreign rites
In time "devotion" came to be a synonym for the zeal and ardent desire required to offer oneself up in such fashion (Classical Latin used the word studium to describe such eagerness - and yes, that is related to studere and our English "student." Medieval Latin lost that distinction).  "Devotionals" provided a way by which one could bring the sacred into one's daily life through meditation and prayer. "Devotees" came to mean enthusiasts, not sacred vessels cum spiritual bioweapons.

Within that meaning-slippage we can see many of the changes between the pre-Christian and Christian worldviews. Even before putting on the cinctus gabinus the devotio was one set apart, one who is not only willing to die for the Gods but willing to die at their hands. The devotio offers up body and soul for the tribe, striking a deal in order to preserve the nation and community.  It is a perfect offering, one which gains its power by its terrible price.

Christian models for devotion preserved that idea of self-sacrifice but wiped out nearly everything else about the ritual. The office of devotio was subsumed into the new office of "martyr" but that crown was reserved for those who died for Christ.  Those who fought for other Gods were devil-worshippers and fanatics whose bravery was a sign not of their goodness but of their innate bestial corruption.  Studium, zeal, became the new ideal: the interior life became more important than the outward sign of the consul wearing the trappings of the scapegoat.

(As an aside:  It's not for nothing that the Christians also pushed for monopolistic control on outward signs of the Divine, or as they called them, sacraments).

This is not to say that the use is "wrong." I'm hardly arrogant enough to think I can erase two millennia of lexical history. Nor would I deny that there has been much good, as well as much evil, done in the name of Christian devotion.  But I think it may behoove us to consider again the majesty and terror of the  cinctus and the spear and the holy words by which one gives up everything so that your people might live.  It might help us to remember the difference between those things which we deeply enjoy and those things we might be willing to die for.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spell Books and Spell Kits: for Matt Deos

For some time I've been promising Matt Deos a shout-out.  Matt, a Houngan Asogwe made by Boston/Jacmel Mambo Maude Evans, is not afraid to share his opinion on Vodou. We have butted heads on a number of occasions, but I've never questioned his devotion to the faith, his passion for the lwa or his knowledge.  (He has some great info on introductory ancestor work and sevis lwa here).  However, disagreement doth ever fuel the blogosphere. And so I thought I'd address one of his longstanding complaints here.  If I have misunderstood or misstated his position, I trust he will step in and correct me.

Matt dislikes Voodoo/Vodou/etc. "spell books" and "spell kits." He (and quite a few others in the various African Traditional Religious communities) think that spell books and kits are disrespectful.  They see them as attempts to profit from their religion by cheapening and commercializing the spirits and their sacred rites. Not only is it disrespectful, it's a waste of time and money, since these mass-produced products don't work. As Matt puts it:
A truth: information is useless unless it is given the proper way. That’s a core piece of Vodou… those pretty veve? UTTERLY USELESS unless they are handed to you by your teachers in your House. (seriously… veve differ, and each House/lineage has the veve that correspond to the spirits of the House. Veve are also useless unless made the proper way… so those sites and books that tell you to tape up a photocopy? TOTAL BULLSHIT. Its not real, its not a part of the tradition, and its not going to help you to use it… but of course, the book isnt gonna tell you that...
None of this ‘service kit for sale’ crap, none of this calling on random lwa who you dont even know if you have a relationship with… the buried rule here is that ANY lwa can do anything for you. Read that again. Get out of the mindset of each having ‘powers’ or ‘portfolios’ where only one spirit can perform a task for you, or the idea that each only has specific uses. Its not real. Any lwa can do anything for you… serve the ones you have. Get the reading, and skip out on the online or written accounts or kits (always for sale, funny that) that will teach you how to serve a specific spirit; you dont need it, and in essence its fraud.
I can't deny that many people come to these traditions with an attitude of entitlement. Neither can I deny that there are some atrocious Vodou books and websites out there, or that many of Vodou's most visible leaders serve primarily as public embarrassments.   But with all that being said, I still think there is something to be said for spell books and spell kits.

(Disclaimer: I have skin in this game, having penned Vodou Love Magic and Vodou Money Magic).

While spell books are less common in Haitian Vodou than in many other traditions, that may primarily be due to the country's low literacy rates.  It is not difficult to find spell books in English, Spanish and Portuguese which promise aid in love, money, gambling and various other earthly concerns. Spell kits are certainly found in another Kongo-influenced tradition, American Hoodoo.  In my forthcoming New Orleans Voodoo Handbook, I provide a recipe from the Cracker Jack Drugstore's 1930's era pamphlet Black and White Magic of Marie Laveau - a recipe which required ingredients sold by said drugstore.  So far as I can see, a "Peaceful Home spell kit" would differ from these instructions only by virtue of convenient packaging.
sprinkle every room of your house with “Peace Water” and burn the “John the Conqueror Incense” mixed with the “Helping Hand Incense.” Sprinkle some “Jinks Removing Salt” all around the outside of your house. Apply to your body daily the “Peace Powder” and anoint your head and clothes with “Bend Over Drops.” Burn for one hour each day or night the “Peace Candle” until you have burned three of them.

The person who purchases a spell kit is evidencing faith. They have put their money on the table and asked a lwa, orisha, saint, god, etc. to step into the picture. They have expressed a willingness to see magic in all its beauty and terror: they have dared to ask for the miraculous. That is an enormously courageous step in a society which denies the existence of magic and the miraculous and which mocks those who believe otherwise.

The spell kit (or the properly written spell) establishes commerce with the spirit.  An offering is made. This can be as simple as a candle and a prayer.  It can be an elaborate ritual involving expensive items offered at specific times at inaccessible places. Whatever it is, it establishes commerce between the supplicant and the spirit. It creates a sacred exchange: something is given in expectation something will be received.  It also establishes boundaries: you are giving the spirit a candle, a glass of wine and some flowers in lieu of offering an eternal pledge of fealty.

A spell book or kit may provide a good learning opportunity. If your petitions fall on deaf ears, you're out a comparatively small sum of money and time. If your spell works, on the other hand, you have established an important connection have seen real evidence of magic and the spirit world.  I have seen many people who became involved in Vodou after purchasing a spell kit.  Whether or not their lost love returned or their promotion came to pass, the candles and oils had a major positive effect on their lives.

I don't think that willy-nilly purchase of spell kits is the most effective way to approach the lwa. I would definitely recommend a reading from a competent practitioner and training with an actual functioning société.  Approaching random spirits with no guidance can be time-wasting at best and actively dangerous at worst.  But I have also found that the spirits will come where they will, and will use any available doorway.  If you seek the lwa, rest assured they will find you.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ways of Doing, Ways of Seeing: For Brother Christopher

I was unsure of what I was going to post today, until Brother Christopher's comment on my earlier post provided me with inspiration.
that's a delightful pastoral fantasy to which I call bullshit. All of the items of "personal gain" that you have pointed to a Neoshaman are also things that a tribal shaman would also need to produce for himself and his tribe, otherwise I don't think the tribal shaman would be tolerated and the tribe would displace him and look for something else to meet those needs
Obviously, I should have been more clear: I can definitely see where you might read my original post as you did.  Let me add a few points that I missed, as I suspect we agree more than disagree on most issues.

The lives of nomadic, hunter-gatherer or subsistence agriculture societies are anything but delightful and idyllic. They do not live in a happy world where cherubic animals perform Busby Berkley routines and dispense homespun wisdom. They recognize their surroundings as animate and sentient, yes - but they are also well aware that those surroundings can turn on them with little notice.   In their capacity as intercessors and messengers, they deal with enemies as often as friends, and the stakes are frequently life and death for shaman and tribe alike.  And of course shamans can be held accountable for bad things that   happen to the tribe, including things which would seem to us to be far beyond their control.

Nor is there any particular distinction in virtue between the Priest and the Shaman. Both offices give their holders power, and with power comes temptation. So long as we are competitive pack primates, we will scramble for social position and use that position to our personal advantage.  Devout and sincere worshippers can be found among Shamans and Priests alike. So too can cynical schemers, power-tripping abusers, and combinations of the above in every shade of human ambivalence.  No spiritual practice has yet attained a monopoly on good or evil.

The distinctions between Shaman and Priest, or between Shaman and Neoshaman, are useful abstractions.  They are not Platonic ideals, nor are they written in stone.  My thoughts here are intended as springboards for further discussion, not final answers.  I'm trying to do here what Martin Heidegger did with Dasein, or Being. I am less interested in what and why they are doing than in how and what they are seeing. How do they perceive the world in which they were thrown, and how does that perception and that world differ from our own?  I want to move closer toward their state of Being - not the altered state which comes from their ceremonies but the framework which inspires and constrains their actions and upon which they organize their existence.

This is, of course, a voyage toward an unreachable end.  Many divides separate me and a Siberian shaman, Diné Medicine Man, Tibetan Buddhist Priest, or Artibonné Vodouisant. We have available more data than ever before  on these peoples and their practices, and yet we are further than ever from the worlds they live in. Language, economic status, culture, life experience all mark us as products of different worlds. Our attempts at understanding have often been marred by all the excesses of colonialism and missionary hostility. Many explorers who have avoided these pitfalls have often fallen instead into the slough of starry-eyed anthropomorphism and romanticism. This is no easy task: we will only be able to draw our map in broad strokes and await the corrections of those who come after us.  Yet this knowledge is vital if we are to understand their ways and access their much-needed power for healing.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Boycotts, Burning Man and Fernley, Nevada

From a post to the New York Burning Man List:

Here are my posts to date on the topic. The first one was originally posted to this list in full. Johnny Bonta: the Story So Far was an attempt to compile the facts we have to date. The second post was my response to a critic (and likely friend of the assailants) - The Fans Speak Out on Johnny Bonta. I've also been following the Facebook debate about spending money in Fernley and a potential Burner boycott against Fernley.

Boycotts were one of the most important weapons in the arsenal of the Civil Rights movement. (Do a little research on the Montgomery and Alabama boycotts, just for starters). Boycotts have certainly been abused - before someone else Godwins the thread, I'll bring up a certain 20th century political thinker whose followers encouraged people to boycott Jew-owned shops. They definitely cause pain to people who were not directly involved in the attack, maybe even people who are sympathetic to your cause. They can increase resentment and further divisions between communities. But they are also a very effective tool which have goaded many recalcitrant leaders into making unpopular changes.

One poster on this list mentioned his friend who lived in a nearby community but owned a business in Fernley. Because of this, said friend was unable to vote in local elections and hence had no say in what the sheriff's department. The OP sadly underestimates his friend. His friend can support to candidates who work for positive change in Fernley. He can show up at public meetings and explain how this boycott is hurting his business. He has window space for political posters and commercial space that can be used for political meetings. Vote or no vote, he is a powerful force on the ground in the community - and a boycott gives him real incentive to use that power.

You can debate whether or not a boycott is warranted in this instance. You cannot debate that boycotts have changed the course of much of 20th century American history.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Fans Speak Out on Johnny Bonta

On Topix winnemuccamomma informed me:
You really need to stop spreading half-truths... 
You ARE a hate crime waiting to happen. 
Perhaps you might want to wait for the truth to be exposed, especially since the wife finally confessed as to some realities? And that this is really all about 2 white boys who have been fighting for years and it just got out of control? 
That the WHITE boy in Bontas car was the one who got this mess started?(Yes, I said "white boy" in the indians car... duh!!!!) 
Or maybe the fact that the Bontas admitted that THEY were the ones who stalked the boys? 
You are a yellow journalist. The supreme court already ruled you a fool. Stop proving them right!
Alas, I have never been ruled a fool by the Supreme Court. Only lesser luminaries have spoken up - and in 20 years of online activity, I've been found guilty by some of the dimmest bulbs out there.  Through it all I have remembered the sage advice of William Blake, who said "Listen to the fool's reproach! it is a kingly title!"  In that spirit, I must thank winnemuccamomma for crowning me with her thoughts, spittle-flecked and ungrammatical though they are.  May she be yet another in my collection of very dull gems.

I erred in identifying Leo Mayfield as Josh Janiszewski. I corrected that error on Topix and repeat that correction here.  If I have made any other factual misstatements, please do bring them to my attention.  I am not a journalist (yellow or otherwise), just a freelance nonfiction writer, but I will do my best to rectify my mistakes.  In the meantime please make sure that any "half truths" you see involve a deficiency in my posting and not your wit.

If the fool's reproach is a kingly title, the fool's praise is a vile stain.  Jake Cassell's family would do well to distance themselves from the people making remarks about "Injuns," "fire water" etc.  As it stands, the Bonta claim that this was a race-related attack orchestrated by testosterone-charged thugs looks increasingly credible.  It also makes Fernley look like a David Lynch remake of Dallas with meth labs taking the place of the oil industry.  You can click on the link if you don't know who David Lynch is: I have no doubt you are already familiar with meth labs.

As far as hate crimes waiting to happen: threats against the people involved - or against their families, friends or random strangers of similar skin tone - are unacceptable in a civilized society.  Anyone acting out like this should be punished harshly and I would gladly assist in their prosecution, no matter whose side they claim to represent.

On Thursday, July 14, Lisa Bonta posted on the Justice for Johnny Bonta and his Family Facebook group:
We have the lyon co sheriffs driving past our house 3-4 times daily. they claim that we have had threats made against us but wont elaborate. The FBI made some threats to my daughter today about ruining her nursing career if she doesnt wise up and tell them what they want to hear. 
The FBI told my daughter that she was a liar and that they have researched her background and see that she graduated at 16 and attended TmCC for a short time. My daughter just graduated at 20 years old as a Med Assistant and plans to go to Nursing school. The FBI told her that it would be unfortunate for her to have a big black mark on her clean record for not cooperating with them.

When I questioned the FBI about who was investigating Lyon Co. Sherriffs they told me that internal affairs in Lyon Co would be doing that. I am calling the Justice Dept tommorrow because I feel this would be a biased investigation.
So while Lisa appears to be expressing some skepticism about the investigators and their motivations, there is no sign that she, or anyone else, has "confessed" to anything.  

The events leading up to the fight are in question. There seems to be near-universal agreement that Johnny Bonta was badly injured after the conflict. Even Dee Cassell, Jake Cassell's mother, said:
Cause they all agreed the EMT's needed to go check out the Bontas, even though blood was running down his face. He refused treatment.
Cause Jacob refused 1st aid, everyone thought the Bontas should be looked at 1st. That's where my familys heart comes from.
Yet Johnny Bonta was denied treatment for six days, even when tribal doctors tried to visit him.  That is a serious breach of duty and a human rights violation by the Lyon County Sheriff's Department.  Whatever his role in that May 24 fight, he had a right to necessary health care.  This helps reinforce the impression that Lyon County law enforcement would embarrass Sheriff Joe Arpaio and, again, gives credence to the Bontas' claims.

If you would like to say anything more, feel free to pound your stubby little fingers on your keyboard. I'm always happy to answer intelligent questions and even happier to mock stupid ones.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Definitions and Misdefinitions of Shamanism: for Hugh Eckert

One of my longtime Livejournal and meatspace friends, Hugh Eckert, asked how I define the word "shaman."  This came about in response to my earlier posting on shamanic practices in Christianity.  wherein I expressed reservations about the Eliade/Harner-inspired definition even while I acknowledged its value in highlighting commonalities between cultures. (Sorry: I've been reading a lot of academic writing lately and have picked up a bit of that godsawful vernacular in my own prose.  I promise to wash my brain out soon... ). It's a useful question, and it deserves a clear, if somewhat involved, answer.

Michael Harner's approach to shamanism was quite in keeping with the scientific method.  He looked for the mechanics of the religion: he, like Eliade, was concerned with what they do, the ways in which they alter their consciousness.  They were both seeking some universal Essence of Shamanism, something they could put in a test tube, something that would produce verifiable results under controlled conditions.  And, to a certain extent, they succeeded.

Take enough Iboga, Ayahuasca, or Peyote and you are almost certain to have what feels like a mystical experience.  You can also get some interesting perception-shifts by fasting for several days, dancing in circles for long hours, and engaging in other rigorous and sometimes life-threatening activities.  By sorting through reams of data (another Western approach) modern shamans have been able to isolate some of the most effective of these techniques and create ceremonies (i.e. controlled conditions) under which altered states can be replicated.

The problem is that the Neoshaman and the tribal healer are using the same means to very different ends.  Tribal shamans are mediators and diplomats. They seek to protect the interests of their clan and its members in a world/s filled with allies, enemies and neutral parties.  Many Neoshamans, by contrast, come as colonists and conquistadors. The oilman drills deep into Mother Earth in search of profit: the Neoshaman meditates on Mother Earth in search of wisdom, abundance, prosperity, healing or other polite euphemisms for "personal gain." The interior and exterior worlds are treated not as complex interdependent ecosystems but as resources to be exploited.

It would be easy enough to write this all off as yet another sign of cultural appropriation and the commercialization of the sacred.  But there's something deeper here, a way of seeing which is absent in most contemporary Neoshamanism. The shaman is an entity within a living world, a being defined by hir  interactions with other sentient beings both human and nonhuman.  The Neoshaman lives within a material universe, one which is essentially inert and where sentience is an exclusively human trait - or where, at best, human intelligence is seen as the apex of evolution to date. In such a world, things can only have meaning and value insofar as they are of use to the Neoshaman.

For me, a Shaman is someone who acts as an intercessor and a messenger to the various beings who share the Web of Sentience.  Sie communicates with these corporeal and non-corporeal beings and works with them to accomplish certain tasks.  Commercialization is not an issue. There are many cultures where spirit-workers are honored professionals and spirit-work a solid career opportunity.  What is important is the way in which the Shaman interacts with the worlds of matter and spirit:  it is not a way of doing so much as a way of seeing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Johnny Bonta: The Story So Far

Since my earlier post about the recent Johnny Bonta incident in Fernley, Nevada, the incident has attracted increasing attention in the blogosphere, with mentions in Forbes, Raw Story and the Daily Kos.  (Credit is due to Brenda Norrell of Censored News, who broke this story a month before it went viral and whose work has all too often been cut-and-pasted without attribution). Many Burners who will be passing through Lyon County on their way to the Playa have vowed to boycott Fernley businesses: others feel a boycott would just punish innocents and be counter to the Burning Man spirit of peace, love and general tolerance.

As public outrage mounts, it is likely that many who have chimed in online will want to edit or erase their comments.  Hence, I have started saving screen captures against that eventuality.  The comments from Leo Mayfield, brother of alleged assailant Joshua Ryan Mayfield Janiszewski, can be found here.  I have also saved copies of these comments from a woman claiming to be Dee Cassell, the mother of purported "skinhead" Jacob Cassell.
I am truly trying to stay out of this until the investigation is done - I won't comment on the fight just want to clarify for myself. I asked "who has blood" on fb cause I wanted to know which boy was hurt & wanted them to come to my house house for 1st aid. Why? Cause they all agreed the EMT's needed to go check out the Bontas, even though blood was running down his face. He refused treatment. As far as losing their car, it was towed cause of no insurance,no registration & it wouldn't start after hitting the other car. TY! 
I am trying to refrain from commenting until after the investigation but I will also clarify myself. I posted on fb "who got blood" cause I wanted to know which boy was hurt & who needed to come to my house for 1st aid. Why? Cause Jacob refused 1st aid, everyone thought the Bontas should be looked at 1st. That's where my familys heart comes from. And the Bontas car was towed because of no insurance, no registration and it wouldn't start again after it hit the other car. There was also only 1 Native present - Bontas wife, step-daughter and son-in-law are all white. And Shane - shame on you - sorry you lost your parents!
If this is indeed Dee Cassell and she is providing an accurate description of the events, this suggests that even Cassell, Janiszewski and Unidentified Young White Male #3 felt that Bonta needed medical attention after the fight.  Jacob, in fact, was so concerned about Bonta's welfare that he refused aid. Yet the Lyon County Sheriff's Office refused him access to medical attention for six days, even turning away what one jail guard disparagingly called "his Indian doctor" from the reservation.

And as an added twist to this drama, here's a December 7, 1997 article in the Las Vegas Sun which has Dee Cassell booked on 17 counts of embezzlement involving a total of $187,817 and three counts of fraudulent use of a credit card involving a total of $29,360. Because of her husband's role on the sheriff's department, the Nevada Division of Investigations was called in.  It is unclear how this was resolved, as Lyon County's court records do not appear to be accessible online.  But it is interesting to note that, despite many claims to the contrary, I could find no prior or current arrest records for Johnny Bonta.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Beginner's Guide to Working with the Spirits Pt. 3: Water

Part 1 and Part 2 can be found here.  This section focuses on ancestral work. This connection to the roots and the lineage is key to further progress in spirit work.  Ancestral veneration is important in every culture and religion: these lessons can be applied to any spiritual path which calls you. 

In Vodou the dead reside anba dlo, en bas de l'eau, under the water.  Deceased members of a société (a Vodou house) may be reclaimed later and housed in govis, ceremonial clay pots which show they have been drawn back to our world like water drawn from an ever-flowing river.  Water gives us life and keeps our dead; it is the home to Les Ville aux Camps  (Milokan or Minokan in Kreyol) where the lwa reside, the great barrier which separates us from and carries us to Gineh.

Because of this, water can serve as a spiritual gateway.  The offerings, holy symbols and images help them to feel at home and provide grounding, while the illuminations guide them. The glasses of water which you place on your altar are the doorway through which your beloved dead can return.  By staring into that water, you may be able to speak to your ancestors through scrying.  Focus your eyes on a point within the glass and relax: make note of any images that rise within your field of vision, but do not try to control the visions or force the action.

(As with everything else, this improves with practice.  Scrying is also a bit of an innate talent, so if you have little luck don't despair: there are many other means by which you can communicate with your ancestors and I will be discussing them in due course).

Water flows into all crevices and fits all containers: it takes unto itself the nature of all it passes over and through and returns it to the great mother ocean.  You can use this to your advantage: water drawn from a stream or river in your family's ancestral homeland, for example, can be used to establish your ties with the oldest roots of your lineage.  Put this in a small vial or bottle which you then seal with wax (so as to avoid exposure to the air and other elements), and place it on your altar.  Like a river, it will provide a means of transport between distant places and times.

Because it takes all things into itself, water can purify an area.  It is vital that you change the water on your ancestral altar regularly: I would recommend doing so each evening before going to bed.  Fresh water attracts positive spirits, but standing water which has become stagnant attracts spirits of decay and corruption.   On an aesthetic note, it also becomes covered with scum and the bodies of small flying insects -- hardly the sort of thing one wants on an altar.

Do not confuse water with alcoholic spirits, particularly hard liquor.   Water cools the spirits and makes them more peaceful: alcohol heats them up.  You can certainly give alcoholic beverages to an ancestor who enjoyed a drink in life, but those drinks should be placed on the altar along with water, not as a substitute.  (And you may wish to refrain from giving such offerings altogether if your family has a history of alcoholism).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Shamanism, Christianity, Pre-Christianity and Politics

In a Facebook comment about my earlier post, one of my friends noted that many Old Testament figures practiced fasting and went on vision quests, as did Jesus and John the Baptist.  He was, of course, absolutely correct.  There are many historically documented examples of shamanic practices in the pre-Christian Levant.  They show that these techniques were used in sophisticated urban cultures, not just among nomadic and hunter-gatherer tribes.

But they also show the tensions between the Shaman and the Priest - between the visionary and the religious organizer - existed long before Christianity.  The founding fathers of Judaism may have spoken directly with G-d and conveyed his message, but they paid a heavy price for that privilege.  Tradition holds that most if not all of the Jewish prophets were martyred.  (And of course we all know how things turned out for Jesus and John the Baptist... ).

Insofar as Shamans acts as a direct conduit between the people and the Divine, they are dangerous. They are not working from a script and so their message is unpredictable.  The gods may criticize kings and commoners alike:  they may warn of lean times to come when you'd rather hear of prosperity.  And so the shamanic office becomes co-opted into an official structure. Access to the oracles is strictly controlled: those officials who need to know of impending dangers can be warned while the populace is left blissfully and safely ignorant.  Officially sanctioned liturgies preserve a culture's heritage - at least the officially sanctioned version thereof.  

The Shaman (a problematic but useful term: more on that later, with a nod to my friend Hugh Eckert) comes from hunter-gatherer, nomadic and rustic cultures. The Priest is a product of the city-state and the empire.  Belief in the Gods remains, but access is limited to those who are born to power or who are able to purchase it.  The two roles need not be mutually exclusive. For every wealthy man who sought counsel at Delphi, there were innumerable others who consulted local oracles or healers.  So long as the Shamans kept out of the way and posed no threat to the greater authority (whoever that might be this decade), they were tolerated in the way urban folks tolerate the rural: pious if unwashed and superstitious rubes.

As urban and imperial cultures develop, the Priest is seen as an ideal while the Shaman is scorned as primitive, uninformed, and unenlightened.  When the empire lands on foreign shore, the Shaman becomes a frightening enemy, one whose connection to the Gods is as strong as or stronger than the Priest's.  In time the Shaman becomes the Witch Doctor, a caricature with a bone through his nose and a bevy of bare-breasted wives by his side: a figure of mockery tinged with fear.  But for most of history the mad visionary who wandered in from the wilderness with a vision was not likely to receive a warm welcome from the palace or from the temple establishment.  It was a high risk job whose rewards, if any, were unlikely to be found in this lifetime.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Johnny Bonta and Hate Crimes in Fernley, Nevada

On May 24, Paiute Indian Johnny Bonta and his family were involved in a confrontation with several young white men in Fernley, Nevada.  Accounts differ as to what happened next: the Bontas claim they were attacked without provocation by the men, who called them "niggers" and "river monsters" while beating them with baseball bats.  Then, when police arrived, they took statements from the young white men (one of whom, Josh Cassell, purportedly bragged “You hear those cops coming? They’re not going to help you. My daddy is a cop in this town, and nothing is going to happen to me. You fucking niggers are going to jail.”), then took a badly injured Johnny Bonta off to jail, where he was held for six days and refused medical treatment.

For their part, the white assailants claim that Bonta and his family started the confrontation, and they were just defending themselves.  The Lyon County Sheriff's Department (where Cassell's father formerly worked) has said “The allegations made to say we have not investigated this properly are just not true,” and described the accounts of the incident given on the Indian Country Today website as “awfully one-sided and without merit.” The FBI is now investigating the incident, and may be examining security tape taken outside the convenience store where the confrontation began and blood stains at the site of the actual fight.  They are remaining quiet until such time as their investigations are complete, and rightly so.  But meanwhile some of the friends and acquaintances of the white assailants and their supporters have chimed in.

"Leo Mayfield", (assailant Joshua Janiszewski's brother) weighed in on Facebook's "Justice for Johnny Bonta and Family" page with these thoughts:

k well until you people learn to spell im just gonna laugh at you. just like everyone else is gonna laugh when that fat retard johnny bonta is going to go to jail again for being such a pussy, making up lies about some white boys because his fat ass got whoopped. tell him ill see him. get stomped you punk ass indians. This is why your country got took, because your morons. plain and simple. Cant wait to see you pussies cry some more.
Monica Cassell, attacker Josh Cassell's sister-in-law, commented in response to a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal:
This comment is for iammoe and anyone else that wants to talk about the cassell family. I am jacob cassell's sister-in-law i am proud to call him my brother! Let me clue you all in on something dont you dare slander the cassell name and not know us lets start with his dad the retired deputy officer shall we. He threw his other son in jail when he caught him partying in highschool so no he is not corrupt he is far from being a corrupt law officer and another thing he is a grandpa to 3 grand children who are half native american and he loves all of his grand children very much so how dare you pass judgment on our family we are a very diverse family and we are a strong united family.
Next i would just like to say that jacob is an awesome brother and uncle he loves my children and the rest of his neices and nephews very much no matter what their skin color is. Second i would just like to say how about i cry hate crime on my family for bonta seeking my brother jacob and his friend out to fight with them. I am so sick of every time a white person has conflicts with a different color of skin everyone cries hate crime but us white people cant cry hate crime on anyone else. This is so out of control there was never a hate crime commited just bonta looking for a fight and finding one after he ran into my brother-in-laws car and then smashed his window out. But the native american community forgot to tell that right plus did u catch the part when they said they were bragging about hitting a tongan so tell me how they called bonta these racial slurrs for indians but thaught it was a tongan. Their story is a bunch of bs and another bit of info bonta was arrested because he had a warrant so justice was served just like when white people have warrants.
Meanwhile, several people who did not claim to be related to the Cassell family weighed in with their thoughts. One user appears to be familiar with Mr. Bonta's criminal record.  It is unclear whether he served time with Bonta or if he is involved in law enforcement and trying to come to the aid of the Lyon County Sheriff's department:
What was it called back in 95 when Johnny Bonta was in Churchill County jail walking around intimidating everyone else because he was a big bad, gangster indian?
Of course, he wasn't doing much of that after getting a beat down by a skinny white boy after stealing the white boy's lunch.
This loser is far from an innocent. Walk around all tough and gangster and someone is bound to call you on it
User "Naked Truth" noted "Minorities process a powerful weapon. If they don't like the hand they dealt then they can always play the race card. Wrong or right they don't hesitate to use it." while user "TheWord" summed up her opinion more succinctly:
Its good to see the "don't snitch" campaign that is so rampant in the Afro-American community is alive and well in the Injun community as well!! The Bonta side is not talking but yet they have their Injun reps trying to prosecute this in the media. Uhh, newsflash to the Reno/Sparks Injun Colony: We conquered you guys in the 1800s and you live by our rules. After you get our federal money, hit the quick stop for fire water head on over to the sweat lodge and don't let us hear from you again.
While Lyon County Sheriff's department has stated that they do not have evidence linking the assailants to any skinhead or racist groups,  it is telling that Janiszewski purportedly bragged on his Facebook page, "Just laid the fists and boots to some 6′ 5” tongan dude."  I've heard the term "laid the boots" from quite a few Skins in my day, and can't recall hearing it from anyone else.  (I should add that most Skinheads are not racists, but given the situation you can understand why it might be worth exploring his affiliations).

Another Native American said:
Johnny and Lisa,I to have been attacked by Jacob,Josh and others of there group,7 of them at one time. Though they did`nt win with me, they beat my freind pretty bad.My encounter with them was not racialy motivated(I`m white)just opportunistic thuggism, but I do know they have beat other natives because of race.And one was mentally handicapped.I to was taken to jail,and no I did`nt have any warrants,lots of wittnesses that they started everything. The deputy did`nt even care. At the LCSO jail I filled out a report that was never investagated,I believe becuase of who Jacobs daddy is.I know these thugs have been doing this for years in Fernley and so does the sheriff. Though I hope our paths cross again some day it sounds like they have bigger people looking for them.And what a disgrace they call themselves “Army Reservse”.One day they`ll choose the wrong person to mess with and karma will pay it`s due.
It should be easy enough to find the records of this victim's arrest and the incident described.  Should other witnesses come forward it would suggest that Cassell and his friends have a habit of racially motivated attacks that are ignored or even encouraged by Lyon County law enforcement.  As it stands, it is pretty clear that there are some serious underlying racial issues and anti-Native sentiment in Fernley, Nevada. Let us hope that justice is done in this situation and that these festering wounds finally begin to heal.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From MysticWicks: Shamanic Practices in Christianity

Since the popular Pagan board MysticWicks appears to be down, I thought I would post my response to a thread on the forum concerning that ever-popular bugbear, Neoshamanism.  We were discussing whether the "Shaman" as a figure appears in contemporary Christianity.  I suggested that we might want to look to Pentecostal Christianity and such Christian figures as Holy Fools and Stylites.  Another poster, Phathead (who is a practitioner of Lukumi, IIRC) said:
I thought about those examples such as spiritual baptists of the south,snake handlers, etc. but did not think that someone "catching the spirit" necessarily met the rest of the original poster's definition of Neo - shaman and certainly not that of any other traditional or indigenous person that fit that particular role(shaman type). As for anything in the old testament -well that too is pre-christian. I do not have any issue with the term Neo-Pagan, It just isn't me. Having said that, isn't that co-opting or diluting the term?????
I am looking forward to the release of your next book!
In the documentary I referenced (Holy Ghost People) the preacher was acting very much like a houngenikon at a Vodou fet.  He was using the cadences of his preaching, including bits of glossolalia, to "bring the spirit down" on congregants. Others would lay on hands, begin singing at people who were wavering in and out of trance and generally act to induce an altered state of mystical consciousness.  I think that there are definite commonalities in the techniques used, the energy raised, and the final results.  I wouldn't call those people shamans or neo-Shamans - it would dilute the term and they would take it as an insult.  But I think they have incorporated elements of shamanism and shamanic practice into their contemporary Christian spirituality.

There are very real problems with the word "Shaman."  Originally it describes a spiritual/political office found within a few indigenous Siberian tribes.  Mircea Eliade noted that many of their religious practices and customs were found in other parts of the world, and described these practices as "Shamanism."  (He also incorporated his own prejudices into the definition: he favored "vision questing/visualization" cultures over more "decadent and primitive" trance possession cultures - which were largely African... ).  The priests and medicine men of most of these various tribes did not define themselves as "shamans" or their religion as "shamanism" - that has always been an outsider term used to label a foreign practice and classify foreign concepts.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Beginner's Guide to Working With the Spirits Pt. 2: Food Offerings

When working with ancestors (or any other spirit), it is important to remember that our relationship is a reciprocal one. The spirit world is not a place where entities wait patiently to dispense free enlightenment, prosperity and better sex to all who ask.  Remember the old Hermetic axiom: as above, so below.  You expect to be compensated for your time and efforts, and so do the spirits.  By making offerings to the ancestors you will strengthen the connection between the worlds: instead of relying on miracles out of nowhere, you set up a system of exchange which provides continuing benefits to both sides.

As Nutty Professor pointed out in the comments to my earlier post, food is an excellent offering. If your great-grandfather loved chocolate cake in life, why not give him a slice now that he's shuffled off this mortal coil? This allows him to relive one of his favorite sensory experiences.  African tradition says the food of the dead is to be prepared without salt: if you are making food specifically for the ancestors you might want to keep that in mind.  However, I have found that you generally can feed them food from your own table, even if salt was used in the preparation.  This is especially true if you are cooking a traditional family meal or something which your ancestors particularly enjoyed.

There are good practical reasons why the Holy Eucharist began as a communal supper: bread and wine sealed a covenant among fellows and provided spiritual as well as physical sustenance. Leaving a plate for the ancestors along with your own food helps to connect you and your family to those who have gone before you.  It also sanctifies the act of eating, turning your meal into a prayer.  Your food becomes not only nourishment for you but for your lineage... and people, like plants, grow best when their roots are well-fed.

That being said, avoid consuming the food which you place out for the ancestors: do not nibble from their plates or drink from their glasses.  The dead consume the essence of what they are given.  When you eat their offerings, you are exposing yourself to spiritually tainted food.  (You may also be exposing yourself to bacterial contagion, as I have found offerings to the dead will frequently decay at a greatly accelerated rate).  It is important to establish communication between the realms of the living and dead: it is equally important to recognize and honor their boundaries.

This devotion can be practiced easily and discreetly. One of the most brilliant and dedicated Houngans I know leaves a bite or two on his plate at every meal.  When he is done, he taps discreetly on the table, thereby alerting his ancestors that what remains is theirs.  Thus he feeds his ancestors and commingles his spiritual and material lives without attracting undue attention.  Learning to pray quietly and unobtrusively will increase the opportunities in which the ancestors may involve themselves in your life. It will also serve you well when you begin to explore more challenging and potentially dangerous paths of spirit-work.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Energy Work: Reiki, not Reiki and Other Important Distinctions

I was recently speaking with a dear acquaintance of mine about Reiki, Sue Satayana Yarnes.  She's a Reiki teacher and practitioner whom Kathy and I met at Free Spirit Gathering: we have received Level I attunements from her and she has provided invaluable assistance at the Universal Temple of Spirits' annual FSG ritual.  We were talking about some of the misconceptions and issues surrounding Reiki in the Pagan community.

I think Reiki is a powerful and valuable spiritual and healing modality. While I am skeptical of claims that any energy "can only be used for the highest and greatest good," the spiritual force called upon by Reiki generally appears to have a powerful positive impact upon most recipients, with no negative side effects. Satayana has studied with teachers in three different lineages of Usui and Karuna Reiki and appears to have benefitted from their wisdom. I have seen impressive results from other Reiki workers, including a couple practitioners of variants like Otherkin (now Open Source) Reiki.

That being said, I've also seen some less-than-impressive things being done in the name of Reiki.  One friend of mine had months of headaches, nausea and other issues after a masseuse helpfully manipulated his energy - thereby "fixing" his aura and screwing up various things he had acquired during his shamanic practice.  (I should also note that he was never consulted about this impromptu psychic surgery: she simply decided it was part of her job along with the body manipulations).  And I've seen plenty of people who get a couple of attunements, combine that with the stuff they read in Mantak Chia and the Tantra workshop they took last month, then set themselves up in business as "Energy Healers."

To give a nod to one of my favorite polytheists, Galina Krasskova, I blame part of this on Monotheism. It's part of the desire to reduce everything to one happy nebulous one-size-fits-all Truth.  The kundalini serpent who travels upward and seeks to rejoin divinity is not the lightning flash by which the Divine transforms us in body and spirit.  The pentecostal fervor of the Holy Ghost is not the healing balm that flows through the Reiki symbols: neither are to be confused with the furor Wotan sometimes brings to His disciples, or with the forces that generate body heat and muscle tension in the supplicant's physical body. 

In this rush to create a generic one-size-fits-all school of energy work, these practitioners often miss this important distinction.  Reiki calls upon something outside the practitioner: through the use of symbols this force is called upon for healing.  This is something different than the energy which we generate in our capacity as an ongoing biological process.  It's the old ceremonial magic distinction between invocation and evocation. In one operation you are calling in and acting as a channel, while the other involves the casting out and separation of spiritual force. It is easy to miss when you think the Divine only exists within your cranium: in theology as in all other disciplines, solipsism is an epistemological dead end. 

The force that is called by and filtered through the Usui symbols appears to be exceedingly safe.  There are no such guarantees with the force that is generated by a human body.  When you get practitioners sticking themselves willy-nilly into various meridians, chakras and power points,  it can become the New Age equivalent of a DIY appendectomy.  People invariably steal the spectacular shiny points from a tradition while ignoring the dull, drab safeguards.  And as Reiki (and energy work in general) grows increasingly popular, I see an ever-growing number of ineffective and outright dangerous "healers" giving a bad reputation to a perfectly good practice.