Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Heresies and Preconceptions: for Star Foster

In a recent posting on Patheos, Star Foster speculated on whether or not Wicca is a Christian heresy.   A number of commenters disputed her claim: most agreed with Erynn Rowen Laurie that: "[Wicca] doesn't position itself as Christian in the same way that, say, Mormonism does." I tend to agree. Wicca does not attempt to redefine Christian Scriptures in the way Christianity redefined Judaism's holy books as the Old Testament and Islam redefined Christianity's "New Testament" as the Injil. Nor have they redefined the holy figures of Christianity, save insofar as they might incorporate any other mythical being into their practices. In fact, most American Pagans at least run screaming from anything which might suggest "Christian corruption."  Only recently have Pagans begun exploring Psalm magic, petitions to the Saints, and other practices which have long been part of traditional folk witchcraft.

Instead, I might argue that what many modern Neopagans have done is the opposite of heresy. Heretics seek to cull away the detritus and distractions which have accrued upon the True Faith.  They do not reject their natal religion: rather, they seek to save it from those who have led it astray.  To that end, they reject the innovations and missteps which they see as corruptions.  Compare and contrast this with the Neopagans who begin their journey into the faith by rejecting the Church altogether.  They see Wicca and Goddess Religions not as the perfection of the Christian faith but as its antidote.

Yet, paradoxically, this often means that they preserve more of the original orthodox belief structure.  The heretic must carefully pick and choose what parts of the True Faith come from the original and which parts are deviations.  No such caution is required by someone who wants to jettison the whole structure and start anew.  They see their rejection as an end in itself: all they need do is remove those elements which are obnoxiously and obviously "Christian."  And so they rebuild a faith which contains no crosses or Messiahs - but which is redolent of many other Nazarene ideas and preconceptions.

I've spoken in the past about the Neopagan interest in Holy Writ.  Snorri Sturlsson identified as a Christian and compiled the Elder Edda stories as a political rather than religious act: Ovid wrote his Metamorphoses to entertain patrons, not honor the Gods.  And yet many Neopagans seek to determine the validity of spiritual experiences by comparing and contrasting them to these and other ancient works of fiction.  There are, of course, many religions which get along just fine without Sacred Scriptures, relying instead on amorphous collections of myths and tales.  (see Ocha'ni Lele's collections of Patakis for one excellent example).   But this model is often neglected in the quest for a guidebook: the Lore said it, I believe it, and that settles it.

Then we have the "Threefold Law" and the idea that bad deeds bring "bad karma" while noble behavior reaps "good karma."  In Vedic Hinduism and Buddhism "good karma" is like "good cancer" -- karma is that which entangles us in this world and keeps us strapped to the Wheel of Rebirth.  Yet in the West Gautama's wisdom has been conflated with the prosperity Gospel which states that God rewards the virtuous and punishes the wicked in this lifetime as well as the next.  The idea that actions have consequences is certainly not unique to Christianity: many faiths believe, for example, that violating spiritual taboos can be devastating to one's health and well-being.  But I would argue the self-righteous outrage of the Karma Kops and Threefold Lawyers has more in common with their hated Fundie preachers than with the spiritual practices of pre-Christian Europe.

In its early days, Christianity incorporated all kinds of myths and spiritual heroes into its practices, then re-interpreted them for a Christ-loving audience.  Local gods and heroes were recast as saints working within a Christian paradigm in the service of the One God.  Compare and contrast this with efforts to mix and match various gods and pantheons into a "Horned God/Mother Goddess" model.  Instead of accepting these gods and their stories as a truth in themselves, they are reduced to a signpost which points the way to a Greater Truth. 

And finally we have what may be the most insidious of preconceptions: the Manichean battles between Good and Evil.  Many Neopagans are happy to tell you that there is no Satan in Wicca - then yammer on at length about the horrors of Christianity and how the Evil Christians destroyed the peace-loving matriarchal Goddess-Worshippers.  They never stop to think how their claims echo tales of Christian warfare with powers and principalities, how their slain witch-queens play the role of Christian martyrs, or how they have exchanged the TV evangelist's polyester suit for a tie-dyed pentagram T-shirt.

Luckily, this situation is not hopeless.  Earlier I asked for non-Christian examples of evangelism and martyrdom: in response, Sannion at House of Vines provided a lengthy list of Dionysian priests and priestesses who had spread His fame and even given their lives for His cause.  Imagine an ecstatic faith based not on Christian models but on the Bacchanalia, one fueled by passionate believers who were willing to die for Dionysos and who wanted to set the world aflame with His passion.  This is the kind of revival we could see - indeed, which we must see - when we strive to reach beyond mimicking Pagan ways of worshipping and strive instead for Pagan ways of seeing, living and being.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ridin' the Storm Out

Lots of shredded leaves and a few good-sized twigs in our yard, but no big branches and (thankfully!) no trees.  Alas, the folks living down the hill have not been so fortunate: downtown Millburn has sustained extensive flood damage and the waters continue to rise.  

Here's hoping all my friends in Irene's path are staying warm and dry!  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Dangers Real and Imagined, or, Still More Penicillin for Ye Burning Times

In my earlier post, I mentioned a Witch School member who complained about the dangerous Dominionists in her area.  Not long after this, the ever-vigilant Jack Faust pointed me in the direction of this quote from Witch School founder Ed Hubbard on the Evangelical/Fundamentalist threat:
At phase 3 it will be to thoroughly challenge Wicca and Paganism. It is at this phase I believe we are currently in. . . Phase 4 is the real pisser. They will find a way to make a Wiccan, a Pagan, a Witch a criminal class. Not unlike the Hippies of the 60's, The Blacks of the 70's and continues, Gays in the 80's and so forth. . . . But Wiccans will be a special case, it won't be enough to marginalize them and create ghettos for them. The authorities with the urging a growing evangelical movement and media war progress, they will seek the high ground. Wiccans will become traitors, treason, terrorists, and worse. All of these will be executable offenses and long term imprisonment. After all, The evangelicals don't want us to survive, and we are the object lesson that they need renewed. Be a Witch and you will die.
To quote gynecologist and spirit guide Marc Levinson, M.D. (deceased), this is a steaming pile of happy horseshit.  The prose is execrable: if the English language were Ed Hubbard's dog, he'd be sharing a prison cell with Michael Vick.  Like Glenn Beck and similar demagogues Hubbard appeals to fears, throwing about buzzwords and ill-defined threats so that people will circle their wagons about his cause.  It's an approach which polarizes audiences, drawing people apart rather than bringing them together.  And as with Beckorrhea, it can be used for nefarious purposes by people with ill intent.

In my experience to date (well over 20 years of same), every Pagan fraudster and exploitation-artist I have encountered has used "Christian persecution" as a shield.  In one case, a High Priest staying at a coven member's house molested her 12-year old daughter.  Said coven then asked mother and daughter to refrain from attending ceremonies because they made the Priest uncomfortable.  (He was apparently upset that they turned him in to the police).  When questioned on this, one coven representative intimated they were "fundamentalist plants" who had made the whole thing up to smear the organization.  Similar arguments were advanced by a New York Pagan who came under scrutiny for his "Great Rite" initiations:  those damn Christians just don't understand when you initiate a 13-year old goddess.  Another woman who took $7,000 to cure a woman's diabetes and who later served time for fraud explained that the only jury qualified to judge her would consist of initiated Third Degree HPs and HPSs: no Cowan and certainly no Christian could ever judge a real Witch. 

(I should add here that when a Correllian priest was charged with sex crimes the Correllians suspended and later expelled him.  I disagree with Hubbard's rhetoric and think it can easily be abused. I do not think he, or other Correllian leaders, have so abused it: in fact, the available evidence suggests their behavior in the face of a crisis was exemplary.  I've been calling on others to be temperate in their rhetoric and specific in their criticism, and it behooves me to follow my own advice).

More immediately dangerous is the silliness factor.  It's easy enough to dismiss this sort of thing as simple-minded hysteria: easy enough, in fact, to get in the habit of dismissal.  The Dominionists (and other right-wing Christian groups who might reject that label but share many of its goals) are notorious for gaining control of local institutions in a patchwork fashion.   One wild-eyed social worker seeking to save children from Satanic Indoctrination can ruin a Pagan family's life -- and it's easy for those incidents to get lost amidst the Endless River of Butthurt which flows through so much modern Pagan discourse.  It's equally easy to chide someone for choosing to remain in the Broom Closet by contrasting their justified trepidations with your own bravery in the face of imaginary threats.

There are real dangers out there which need to be taken seriously.  (And I'd note that the Dominionists are being taken seriously:  the Texas Observer, New Yorker and Daily Beast are hardly fringe publications).  In addressing those dangers, we need to combine forces with like-minded people who have as much or more to lose than we do.  Not all Christians are Dominionists.  If they were I wouldn't be posting this message, you wouldn't be reading it, and High Priest Sebaceous Smegma wouldn't be wandering around Wal-Mart amusing people.  Instead of complaining about the Holocaust to Come, why not join forces with those people - regardless of their theological persuasion - who support toleration and freedom of choice? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More on the Broom Closet: for Freeman Presson

One of the things which I've noted about American Neopaganism is its emphasis on the importance of being public.  Groups like Pagan Pride Day "foster pride in Pagan identity through education, activism, charity and community.  Pagan writers offer  advice on "coming out of the Broom Closet" and otherwise becoming a public representative of Ye Olde Religione.  This is particularly interesting as its most immediate antecedents, British Traditional Witchcraft and Gardnerian Wicca, were far less interested in - and were in fact often hostile to - public scrutiny.

Yet alongside this demand that Neopagans identify themselves to the world is another recurring theme: the Evil Fundamentalist Christians want to burn us all at the stake.  When I noted this obsession on Wild Hunt, Apuleius Platonicus replied "Yeah, we're so obsessed with our history and with clear and present threats to our survival. It's weird."  (Alas, the comment was closed before I could find out exactly what sorts of "clear and present threats" Apuleius was experiencing.  Thanks loads, Charlton "Chuck" Hall of Mindful Family Therapy and The Culture Artist Organization, for making legal threats against the Pagan Portal's editor after she called you "rude").

Given all these concerns about the dangers of being a Witch, I had to ask a question which I haven't heard raised all that often - "Why should Witches go public with their religion?"  I know the Christians are expected to bear witness to the nations, and are told that Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for the faith.  But I have not run into any pre-Christian indigenous traditions which placed a particular premium on martydom, or which expected believers to publicly affirm their faith and to share it with nonbelievers, even if said nonbelievers were potentially hostile.

So what's going on here? Toward answering that conundrum, here's a response from Freeman Presson, an active and public Pagan in Birmingham, Alabama.  He commented on an earlier post: I thought I'd bring the discussion here so I could respond at more length.
Maybe because I'm raising my kid in it and don't want him feeling like he has to hide what we do. 
Maybe because I actually believe that funny shit about religious liberty. At the same time, I'm not going around shoving it into random people's faces, either.
The Pagan community in Birmingham, Alabama, has been increasingly public and visible for the last decade, and there's really been very little flak about it, compared to what one might expect based on some people's rhetoric. Whoops, now I'm agreeing with you! Ha.
I'm going to start with Presson's last paragraph, because it shines light on a few important points.  One of them is that it appears reasonably safe to be a public Pagan in Birmingham, Alabama.  This might shock some people, given Birmingham's checked history.  Those who have lived in the southern United States may be less surprised.  Atlanta, Birmingham, and many other large and midsize southern cities have surprisingly active magical and alternative scenes.  (I lived in Athens, Georgia for several years: even in the early 90s there was a thriving Pagan community there).

Unfortunately, the rural South - and for that matter, the rest of the rural United States - is frequently less friendly to Pagans and other "weirdos."  This is by no means a given: many rural folk are happy to live and let live and couldn't give a damn what you smoke, drink, fuck or worship so long as you do it on your own land and own time.  But if they decide they don't want you around - see the Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater's ongoing battles with the Town of Catskill, New York -  they can make your life absolute hell.  And as far as "that funny shit about religious liberty" goes, I'm reminded of something a Satanist friend of mine once said: "you have the right to everything you can take and defend by force."

And when there are children involved, the situation gets even more complicated.  I'm absolutely sympathetic to Presson's desire that his child not grow up feeling he has to be ashamed of his faith. Yet I'm also reminded of another Patheos blogger, Eric Scott.  When Scott was a youth his parents kept their Alexandrian Wiccan faith hidden from him.  As he said in a recent post:
The West Memphis Three put a very different face on my parents' decision. Because the jury didn't know what an actual esbat was - because the trappings of my religion could be dressed up as something vicious and angry - Damien Echols was sentenced to death. This didn't happen sometime in the distant past; this happened when I was six years old.
What's really burned into my mind is this: if you walk into my parents' house, you will find shelves full of books on the occult, hundreds of them. You will find a cabinet with ritual implements, including athames and a sword. You will, in short, find far more "trappings of the occult" than the prosecution ever introduced against the West Memphis Three.
I'm saying that this was the first time I realized it could have been us.
Suddenly a lot of things about my childhood make a lot more sense.
What I'm getting at here is this: the decision to go in or out of the Broom Closet is a personal one and should be made depending on individual and family circumstances.  I am not entirely sure that "out" should be the default or even the preferred setting. Some of our most public figures are among our greatest embarrassments.  Nor do I think there is any sin in discretion: one may be out under a craft name yet keep that identity hidden from those who don't need to know or those who might do you harm should they discover your religion.

Another important distinction Freeman drew was between being open about his religion and "shoving it into random people's faces."  If you're wandering around your local Wal-Mart dressed up in bad Renfaire garb and introducing yourself as "High Priest Sebaceous Smegma," you are not being laughed at because you are a Pagan.  You are being laughed at because you are a doofus.  I don't know Freeman and his wife well, although they have been Facebook friends for some time.  But from what I have seen of the Pressons, they are most assuredly not doofii.   This may go a very long way toward explaining why their career as public Pagans has been to date a relatively uneventful one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Burning Twits Are Upon Us: More From the Wild Hunt

My recent comments on The Wild Hunt and in this blog have attracted a number of positive comments, but they've also attracted some criticism.  I figured this was as good a place as any to address some of the issues raised.

First we have a person who will remain anonymous, for reasons which will become clear later. In the Wild Hunt comments she stated:
Kenaz, when you've lived through a threat of being murdered and your house burned down as I have, get back to me about not calling these people terrorists. This particular group (Dominionists) ARE terrorists. They want to shove Jesus down our throats and they advocate violence to accomplish it. ANY GROUP that advocates violence is a terrorist, get it? 
I live in TN and some of these folks would gladly murder any non-Christian. They are called Christian Supremacists because that is what they openly advocate. But then you probably think Nazis weren't terrorists. I've followed this movement a long time, very closely and I don't think you understand what is happening.
A quick Google search on this person's posting name reveals her address, her workplace and all sorts of other personal information which a murderous Dominionist terrorist could use to find her.  She's apparently so frightened of these vicious Christian thugs that she feels the need to go public with her complaints - but not so frightened that she feels the need to take steps to protect herself.

At best this suggests that she's dangerously naive: at worst one might suspect that she was engaging in a bit of melodrama. (The latter becomes increasingly likely when one notes her ties to Witch School, an organization of which it has been said:
Because the Correllian tradition does not require an in-face meeting with individuals as part of the initiation process and ordination as clergy, there is no way for the Correllian tradition to maintain standards of who they initiate. Currently, the Correllian tradition has first degree clergy members that include at least one fish and a few dogs.(12) These are members in the same standing as anyone else who completes the first degree program. Yet, Ed Hubbard, CEO of WitchSchool has stated, "If you were investigating the Correllian tradition you would discover they have integrated record keeping and that they do this to create a clergy that is as ironclad as possible under American and International law."(13) I do not know of any other religion that ordains fish or dogs, however.
However, in an abundance of caution, I have refrained from posting her name. Given the danger (real or imagined) in which she lives, I can only recommend she show more caution in the future.  Perhaps she could buy a pit bull or a German Shepherd to protect herself: if all went well, she could even make it her High Priest and they could start a coven.

Then there's Charlton Hall, aka Chuck. Chuck is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who states "My approach to therapy involves helping individuals and families to facilitate change through Mindfulness techniques in a non-judgmental, client-centered, positive environment."

Right, then.  Here's some mindfulness from Chuck:

To yrs. truly:
Kenaz...have you ever had friends and/or relatives murdered by Christian terrorists? I have. I know firsthand what they're capable of. Of course, if you support the murder of gays, doctors, etc. then perhaps you're part of the problem.
I agree, Kenneth. Apparently Kenaz doesn't think that torturing gay people to death, or shooting up Unitarian churches, or blowing up the Olympics, or bombing women's health clinics qualifies as terrorism. Which begs the question, what DOES qualify as terrorism where Kenaz is concerned?

I wonder if Kenaz would be okay with Christians beating one of his family members to death
It's pretty obvious, Kenaz, that you support terrorism as long as it's committed by Christians.
True, Anna. For example, Kenaz lives in New Jersey and has no idea what goes on here in the Bible Belt. I wonder how a transvestite would be received here in South Carolina? ;)
To Patheos managing editor Star Foster:
Star...I find it interesting that you de-friended me on Facebook for pointing out that while you complain about Jason's 'polemical' approach, Patheos has several evangelical Christians whose rhetoric is much worse than anything Jason's ever stated.

Apparently your 'tolerance' of other viewpoints doesn't extend to people who point out the double standard Patheos has.
LOL Star...yet Christian evangelicals preaching intolerance on Patheos doesn't bother you at all?
And the only person from the South who is trying to minimize my claims is Star Foster, from Atlanta...where a Christian terrorist bombed the Olympic games.Incidentally, Star just de-friended me on Facebook for pointing out that Christian evangelicals on Patheos are free to criticize Pagans to their heart's content, yet Jason was told to 'tone it down' when he used language that wasn't nearly as offensive.
Ahh, so it's okay for Kenaz to call people 'idiots' and to mock my gay cousin who was murdered, but when Kenaz refuses to acknowledge that such acts are the acts of a terrorist, I'm supposed to 'turn it down a notch.
Interesting...perhaps the Dominionists are right about some Pagans...
With this kind of butthurt, we can only hope that Mr. Hall finds a suitably sized tube of Preparation H before returning to cross swords with me, Star Foster, and Wild Hunt's other closet Dominionist supporters of Christian terrorism and gay-bashing.

More entertainment as it develops.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Christian Jihadis, American Taliban and the Christian Right: For Jason Pitzl-Waters

Over at The Wild Hunt, Jason Pitzl-Waters has produced a fascinating and well-documented series of posts on Christian Dominionism.  For those of you who aren't familiar with the expression, it is a blanket term used to describe a number of militant right-wing strains of Christianity.  Speaking of one of the most prominent of these, Christian Reconstructionism, Frederick Clarkson says:
Generally, Reconstructionism seeks to replace democracy with a theocratic elite that would govern by imposing their interpretation of "Biblical Law." Reconstructionism would eliminate not only democracy but many of its manifestations, such as labor unions, civil rights laws, and public schools. Women would be generally relegated to hearth and home. Insufficiently Christian men would be denied citizenship, perhaps executed. So severe is this theocracy that it would extend capital punishment beyond such crimes as kidnapping, rape, and murder to include, among other things, blasphemy, heresy, adultery, and homosexuality.
As you can imagine, the Dominionists are quite popular among those Neopagans who are most committed to identifying as persecuted victims .   If you've ever dreamed of being a heroic crusader against Voldemort and the Death Eaters Evil Christians, the Dominionists can provide you with a never-ending fapfest of fun: nothing says you're a real Witch like people seeking to burn you at the stake. It's tempting to write both groups off as a delusional dumbshits put on this planet to entertain each other.  Tempting, that is, except for the distressing fact that a number of influential people - including Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann - actually take them seriously.

And so, to my Burning Times obsessed readers,  I offer this challenge in the face of the Dominionist threat: grow the fuck up and learn the difference between reality and a role-playing game.  (I'd add "shave your neckbeard and get those cheap Chinese resin statues off your altar" but let's take things one step at a time).  What follows are some pointers to that end.

All Dominionists identify as Christians, but not all Christians identify as Dominionists.  In fact, most hard-core Dominionists consider mainstream Christian denominations to be mere empty shells, bereft of the Holy Spirit.  (Unless, of course, they're active servants of Satan like the Roman Catholics and Mormons... ).    Your average Neopagan has more in common with a "Poinsettias and Easter Lilies" churchgoer than either has with a devout Dominionist.  Tarring all Christians with the "intolerant Fundie" brush isn't just unfair.  It alienates many potential allies who have nothing to gain and everything to lose from a Dominionist rise to power.  

In my original response to Jason's post, I questioned how useful words like "American Taliban" and "Christian Jihadi" are in understanding Dominionism.  There are Christian organizations which I would consider to be terrorist or at least sympathetic to terrorism.  The anti-abortion Army of God comes to mind immediately: so too does Christian Identity and other groups which have combined Christian imagery with white supremacist philosophies.  But in the end "Taliban" is the "Nazi" of the post-Godwin's Law world.  It's a facile analogy intended to score quick emotional points in a discussion, and one which rarely sheds any kind of light on extremist religious movements Islamic or otherwise.

Criticize behavior.  Make sure that everyone knows Reverend X or Candidate Y advocate the execution of homosexuals or believe the First Amendment only applies to Christians.   But do so in a sober and respectful fashion: there's no need to bang on the table when the facts are most assuredly on our side.  Most Americans have serious problems with many of the tenets of Dominionism -- and that includes devout Christians like Hal (The Late Great Planet Earth) Lindsey.  Getting sucked into name-calling and mud-slinging exchanges will only serve to distract from the damning evidence and thereby further their cause.

I noted many responses from Pagans who stated they had experienced harassment and violence from Christians in their small, typically southern, towns.  At the risk of sounding insensitive (not that this has ever stopped me before), I might ask, "So why did you go public with your religion anyway?" Christians  believe they need to spread the Good News to the nations and see persecution as a fate to be sought: I haven't found similar behavior in any pre-Christian faith.  If you want to fulfill the classical Christian roles of evangelist and martyr, why not stay Christian? If nothing else, it would improve relations with your neighbors.

(All snarkiness aside, I can think of many good reasons for standing up against intolerance or for an unpopular but righteous cause.  If you choose to go public with your religion despite potential risks, you should do so for one or more of those reasons.  You should also understand the potential consequences of that action and believe the potential reward to yourself or to others outweighs the cost.  The Gods love  heroes who are willing to suffer and die for a good cause: they're less keen on ego-driven self-immolation or juvenile attention-seeking behavior).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Addiction, Christianity and the Death of Zachery Tims, Jr.

I shouldn't be surprised to find shallow, snarky, insensitive commentary on Gawker. But their commentary on the death of Dr. Zachery Tims, Jr., "Megachurch Pastor Found Dead, with Drugs, in Times Square," was even more grating than usual:
Times Square has cleaned up a lot over the last 20 years or so! But there's still no better place on earth to die with drugs in your pocket. Especially if you're the pastor of a huge church in Florida...
If it is drugs—and if Tims was using them—it would mark a sad return to the addiction that Tims struggled with as a teenager in Baltimore, before being "miraculously saved" and, a few years later, turning to life as a pastor. His church, the New Destiny Christian Center, occupies a 21-acre space outside Orlando. Sometimes it gives away cars to its members, just like Jesus did in the Bible...
(By the way: If you're thinking Wow, all this story needs is a stripper, guess what? Tims and his wife divorced in 2009 after he confessed to a one-year affair with a stripper. That's megachurch pastor bingo, right?)
It's easy enough to treat this situation with the kind of smug satisfaction that accompanied the fall of a Jimmy Swaggart or a Jim Bakker.  In 2008 Tims and his wife Riva were divorced due to what she called his "multiple and repeated extramarital sexual affairs."  And he was a well-known proponent of the controversial "Prosperity Gospel" which claims God wants his followers to be wealthy and answers prayers for success. But while Zachery Tims and I may not share much in the way of theology, we did have one thing in common: we're both addicts.

I don't doubt the sincerity of Tims' faith for a minute, nor do I doubt the reality of the conversion which took him off the streets of Baltimore.  I've seen many addicts of one stripe or another (myself included) come to Christianity in search of healing. Jesus can fill that great aching empty darkness so you can pretend it isn't there for a while.  He can take away all that guilt until you stumble, and then he's always there waiting for you like Hickey's wife in The Iceman Cometh, offering healing and reminding you just what a miserable failure you are.

Autopsy reports remain inconclusive: we still don't know what role, if any, drugs played in his demise. But whatever happened on the 37th floor of the "W" hotel, I suspect Tims died filled with regret, nihlism and self-loathing which I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.  And so I just can't really work up a whole lot of glee over this particular fall from grace. May his ex-wife and family can find healing, may he be remembered for the good he has done rather than his failings, may he find in death the peace that eluded him in life.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Kenaz Filan September Interviews

On Saturday, September 3, I will be appearing on The Church of Mabus, a program hosted on the Paranormal Radio Network, from 11pm to 1am Eastern time. This interview, featuring Lead Mabusites Jeffery Pritchett and Guy Weddle, will focus mainly on my recently released New Orleans Voodoo Handbook.  Previous supplicants at the Church include crime writer Adam Gorightly, medium/author Rosemary Ellen Guiley and a guy who had sex with a dolphin.  I am not sure how I will measure up amongst such august company, but I shall certainly do my best.

On Monday, September 12, I will be interviewed from 6:00pm to 6:30pm on The Donna Seebo Show.  Donna is particularly interested in Power of the Poppy, so we may be focusing on poppies, painkillers and the debacle which is the War on Drugs.  I am particularly impressed by the diversity of guests.  Knitting superstar Liat GatDr. Daniel Rudofossi, an expert on treating traumatized law enforcement officials;  animal communicator  Mary J. Getten -- all these and many others have appeared on the show. Donna obviously has a wide-ranging curiosity and keen intelligence, and I look forward to this interview.

And if you're still able to contain yourself, you may want to double-check your adult diaper. Galina Krasskova recently interviewed me for an upcoming Patheos column.  We discuss Loki, entheogen and plant magic, Michael Harner and other contentious topics: agree or disagree with what we have to say, you're likely to have an opinion.  That brings us up to October 1, when I will be presenting in Princeton, New Jersey at Arthur Moyer's Crucible convention.  If you are in the area, you really should stop by: other presenters include Andrieh Vitimus, Cliff Low and Jason Miller

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Loons pt. 2: Rep. Tim Walberg (Tipton, MI)

Pam Geller, whom I profiled in an earlier post, has managed to get coverage on various news outlets.  Despite this she has not yet been elected to public office, as voters in the New York metropolitan area prefer that their officials be at least marginally sane.  We're tolerant of lots of things - quite a few of us think that Anthony Weiner should have *ahem* held on to his position - but we prefer to keep our fringe candidates festering in the cesspool of city and state politics.

Well, folks, it's time to meet Tim Walberg, who represents Michigan's 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.  Mr. Walberg, a minister, was a member of the Michigan State House of Representatives for 16 years.  In 2004 he ran for the U.S. House, narrowly losing in the primary to moderate Republican Joe Schwartz, who would go on to win the general election.

Undeterred, Walberg ran again in 2006.  His campaign ran into controversy when Daniel A. Coons, a volunteer staffer for Wahlberg pleaded guilty to domestic violence.  He was originally charged with a more serious misdemeanor child abuse charge after leaving a 9-year old foster child with what a social worker's police statement describes as  "a bruise and the beginning of a black eye on the left side of his face, finger marks on the right side and bruising and abrasions on his chin and trouble opening his jaw." 

By his own account, Walberg found out about the charges a week before Coons resigned from his campaign on September.  Yet while Walberg has run as a "family values" candidate thanks to his anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality positions, he seemed less than concerned with the incident, even arguing that the child should be returned to the Coons family.  His Democratic challenger, Sharon Renier, said "Walberg’s actions were morally wrong for this child, and Walberg is definitely wrong for the voters of the 7th District of Michigan." But alas, neither Renier nor Schwartz were able to beat back a $1 million+ funding surge on Walberg's behalf from the Club for Growth and so Walberg began his first term in the House.

Two years later Walberg found himself out on the pavement, as Democrat Mark Schauer beat him in a close race.  Walberg would later blame large Democratic donors for his loss at a meeting where he promised to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, not allow amnesty to illegal aliens, deny citizenship to children born to illegal aliens in this country, dismantle the federal Department of Education, allow oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, make English the official language of the U.S. and allow contributions to individual savings accounts to replace some Social Security taxes.  Apparently this message found a welcoming audience at the Lenawee Christian Family Center: Walberg was re-elected.

This brings us to an August 11 meeting sponsored by Glenn Beck's 9/12 Project.  At that meeting, two questioners brought up the issue of Barack Obama's birth certificate.  Now, we all know that President Obama released his birth certificate on April 27 of this year, and since then most "Birthers" (minus a few kooky holdouts like Pam Geller) have grudgingly acknowledged that yes, President Obama was probably born in the United States after all.  So did Walberg say, "That particular issue has been settled: whether or not we like the President, he's an American citizen?" What do you think? 
Regardless of whether the license that he showed is true or fake, I’ve not seen it other than what was portrayed in the news. The House is controlled by the majority party being the Republicans, the Senate by the Democrats, the attorney general by the Democrats. That’s the answer. One and a half years. One and a half years. That’s when we do the do-over.
... though I would like to have that question finally answered as much as anybody else, yet it takes my eye off the ball of all that I have to do. [I have made a] priority decision [to concentrate on the budget and policy to] make a long-term difference for this country in a positive way.
In his quest to make a difference, Walberg has fought to defund Obamacare through budget cuts, while also taking out secular humanist and socialist organizations like National Public RadioPlanned Parenthood and the Public Broadcasting Service.  His latest crusade involves efforts  to repeal a 10% tax on tanning salons.  This was a particularly smooth move on his part, as it not only stuck it to the (brown) Man but also helped him win points with permanently orange Republican celebrities like House Speaker John Boehner and Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, who famously said of the 10% tax, "I feel like he did that intentionally for us, like McCain would never put a 10% tax on tanning.. because he is pale and he would probably wanna be tanned."

Congratulations, Michigan.  Most states would find Ted Nugent to be embarrassment enough.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Updates from Lisa Bonta

While there has been little public progress in the Johnny Bonta case, things continue moving slowly but steadily forward behind the scenes. Lisa Bonta and several other interested parties organized a community meeting at the Reno Sparks Indian Colony Gym on Saturday, August 13.  In Ms. Bonta's words:
Our community meeting went well yesterday. We counted over 100 present. Lonnie Feemster of the NAACP and Mario Delacruz from PLAN were in attendance. I sent personal invitations to the mayors of Fernley,  Fallon, Yerington, Lovelock, Reno and Sparks, then followed up with phone calls. All declined. Letters were sent to each law enforcement agency and the FBI who also declined. We were fortunate enough to have people travel from California to support us
We had a phone conference with Dennis Banks. We also had a phone conference with Corine Fairbanks from AIM in southern California. The people got the impression that our police and elected officials condone racial violence. We plan to form a northern Nevada chapter of AIM and proceed in whatever it takes to show the government that WE WILL NOT CONDONE RACIAL VIOLENCE IN ANY FORM! If they choose not to meet with us then we will meet them in a peaceful demonstration in Fernley NV.
I will keep you posted on events as they develop. While the circumstances of the original fight remain unclear,  it appears obvious that a growing number of people on and around the Reno Sparks Indian Colony are concerned about racist violence and police complicity in the region.  It appears equally obvious that, at present, the political and law enforcement powers that be in the surrounding counties are uninterested in addressing their concerns.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Judaism, Christianity, Culture and Conversion: for Donald Michael Kraig

Since Donald Michael Kraig kindly mentioned my earlier post on the Usenetification of American discourse, I thought I'd return the favor.  DMK's blog contains a number of gems and is well worth perusing, but I particularly enjoyed his Beltane post on "How Not to Communicate." He provides therein a touching and telling story from his youth:
I was chosen by my synagogue to be among the young Jewish students to visit a church for a “Jewish-Christian Dialog.” The purpose, supposedly, was “to promote mutual understanding.” 
I went there, excited, to share my religion and learn more about Christianity directly from Christians. That was my goal. The other Jewish students I talked with had similar goals. To this day I believe that communication results in understanding and understanding results in tolerance. 
So we naively went to the Church, willing to share our beliefs and learn. The purpose of those Christians, however, was not to share and learn. They had been indoctrinated in the concept that their faith was the best for everyone. It was clear that they looked down on us and their main purpose was not communication, it was conversion.
From its earliest days, Christian followers felt driven to spread the faith. Much of the New Testament consists of letters to and from missionaries.  And most frequently these conversions involved the extirpation of earlier indigenous beliefs. (I mentioned Charlemagne's forced conversion of the Saxons and the later Wendish Crusades in an earlier post).  For most of its history Judaism has shown little interest in seeking converts.  Other than Khazaria, there are few examples of kingdoms or tribes converting en masse to Judaism through force, coercion or evangelization.  And even today prospective converts to Judaism must first overcome resistance from their prospective teachers.

Christians seek to go forth and make disciples of all the nations and Muslims have expanded the ummah through both conquest and missionary activity.  Within both Christiandom and the Islamic World proselytizing (a term originally used to describe enthusiastic Greek converts to Judaism) has been, and in many places still is, punishable by death.  Wary of promoting even more ill feeling after the Destruction of the Temple and subsequent exile, Jewish scholars began discouraging conversion, seeking instead to preserve their cultural identity by enforcing elaborate taboos on dress, diet and lifestyle.  These preserved the Jews as a people set apart and helped ensure against the dissolution which struck down the Carthaginians, Thracians, Babylonians or other contemporaneous civilizations.

We see a similar dynamic at work today in the conflicts between British Traditional Witchcraft and American Neopaganism.  The first is based on a coven model. Dedicants separate themselves from the "cowans:" their spiritual techniques and spiritual revelations are intended only for a select audience.  Gardner and later writers were only able to speak as openly as they did thanks to the 1951 repeal of the 1735 witchcraft laws.  A few might go public concerning their beliefs: none suggested their inner secrets should be shared with the public.

Contrast this with some important dates in the history of American Neopaganism.  In 1968, a year when folks were flying their freak flags high, Oberon Zell began publishing the Green Egg newsletter.   A year before Scott Cunningham released 1988's Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, six gay activists began plastering posters around New York City proclaiming Silence = Death.  What started out as a hierarchical mystery tradition became in America both more freeform and more public.  While much technique and terminology was preserved, the definitions and explanations shifted wildly. Today a BTW HPs and an American High Priestess might well use the same words to mean very different things. Understanding this ahead of time and taking appropriate steps toward clarification might go a long way toward mutual understanding and dialogue.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Reality Expands to the Exurbs: When the Fringe Becomes the Norm

Most famous today for pirated software and movies, Usenet was once a place where anyone with access to a computer could share thoughts ranging from brilliant to bizarre. No matter how stupid your proposal, you were almost certain to find supporters -- or, at the very least, to discover that there were folks out there even dumber than you. And so wannabe Jonathan Swifts and aspiring Catulluses did battle with the forces of dimwitedness.

These keyboard warriors found no shortage of  crazies  alternative thinkers ready to do battle.  Throughout America subway platform shouters, streetcorner ranters and subdivision prophets let their Factsheet Five subscriptions expire and reached out to a brave new world.  Unencumbered by distance or logic, they used cyberspace as a virtual bathroom wall bulletin board.  And lo, they did find many detractors.  But so too did they find followers among the ones who GET IT, the SERPENT RACE, not the hateful pinky-dick KLIPPOTHS who laughed at the real MASTERS


Fast forward to the present day:  Usenet has been replaced by the blogosphere and a whole new generation of kooks, cranks and crackpots seek our attention. Which brings us, at last, to Pamela Geller.

Geller is one of the guiding luminaries in the "no mosque at Ground Zero" movement.  She is the author of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America and Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance.  (Concerned Obama is going to declare our country a province of Kenya? Worried about the growing pressures on American women to don the burka and blow themselves up in subways? Me neither).  Like the great loony-tunes of old Geller has strong opinions. According to a October 2010 New York Times article Geller:
has called for the removal of the Dome of the Rock from atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; posted doctored pictures of Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court justice, in a Nazi helmet; suggested the State Department was run by ''Islamic supremacists''; and referred to health care reform as an act of national rape.
Recent gems in Geller's Atlas Shakes His Damn Head Shrugs blog (which includes enough apps and web gewgaws to choke Linda Lovelace) include this gem from April 1, 2010
The President of the United States is advancing jihad against the oath of office that he took. If he is agitating Muslims against Jews, will he declare war on Israel?... (Accusing Obama and White House Special Assistant Samantha Power of encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis) That's how the gangsta administration operates.
I'm sure you noticed the date, but don't worry: every day is April Fool's Day on Atlas Shrugs. On August 11, 2011 (today, that is) she railed against "the Obama administration's secret (or not so secret) race war and complete abandonment of indivudal (sic) rights," while in an article which appeared the same day in the conservative blog American Thinker she claimed:
It came to light Monday that the thirty elite American troops who were killed when their helicopter was attacked in Afghanistan were lured into a trap by the Taliban. 
An Afghan official said, "Now it's confirmed that the helicopter was shot down and it was a trap that was set by a Taliban commander.  The Taliban knew which route the helicopter would take." 
How did the Taliban know?  Who tipped off the Taliban?  And who supplied the Taliban with the surface-to-air armaments? 
I blame the president. 
I believe the loose lips of this reckless, incompetent fraud cost this group of elite Navy SEALs their lives.  So obsessed was this poseur with taking credit for something that he didn't have the stomach for (and didn't want) that he ensured a U.S. sacrifice of incalculable proportions.
Who could be deluded or delusional enough to take Geller seriously, you may ask?  (Besides Norwegian philosopher, political theorist and mass murderer Anders Breivik, that is).  You would think that she, along with her fellow frothing-at-the-mouth idiots, would be relegated to some seedy corner of the web where there is much wailing and gnashing of keyboards.  But the kind of ranting that was laughed at on  fin de millenium Usenet is now being taken seriously - or used seriously - by a lot of people who should know better.  As CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper says: "People say don't give her too much credit, she's a fringe character. But she is a fringe character who every day is on CNN, Fox, The Washington Post, and The New York Times."

The rise of the Internet and the web has definitely improved our access to information, and provided a platform for many voices which might have been silenced otherwise.  (For a recent example, consider the paucity of mainstream media coverage on the Johnny Bonta incident vs. the continuing outcry in the blogosphere).  It has been a major player in the "Arab Spring" and similar movements around the world.  It has accomplished a great deal toward establishing virtual communities devoted to alternative sexual, spiritual and political expressions.

But all those gains have come at a price. Long decades of flame wars have coarsened our discourse.  The same openness which allows for diversity and dissent also provides a fertile breeding ground for urban legends, sloppy or nonexistent scholarship and racist demagoguery.  The Internet has helped to give everyone a voice: a quick look at the comments sections of most major media outlets will soon show that most have nothing worthwhile to say.  For better or worst, DARPA's bastard children continue to shape our culture.  The jury is still out on whether they will lead us to The Singularity or The Stupefication.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hel's Pond: for K.C. Hulsman

K.C. Hulsman's recent post on Patheos introduced us to an ancient holy pond in Berlin's Alboinplatz. Now an unassuming park, this was once a place where sacrifices were offered to Hel, Northern Europe's half-rotting goddess of death and the grave. (It is, in fact, the only site known to have been sacred to Her Bony Majesty).  K.C. tells the story better than I could:
According to local folk tradition, there was a sacrificial stone altar beside the great lake tended by a pagan priest, and Hel (who was believed to dwell at the bottom of the lake) would send up black bulls that emerged from the water. These bulls would help the priest clear the land, and work it. The land itself was blessed, and would provide plenty of grain that kept the priest well fed. 
But as the priest grew old, he took it as a sign when one day a Christian monk appeared at the lake that his time on Midgard was ending. He asked the holy man to continue to look after the place of sacrifice. But after the pagan priest had passed from the world of the living the monk refused to honor a pagan Goddess. Hel was greatly displeased and sent Her bulls foaming up from the water after the monk, and the monk was killed. Since then, it is said in some versions of the local folk tales that instead of waiting for others to sacrifice to Her in an age of Christianity, that the Goddess Herself lures victims to Her holy waters, and takes them as drowned sacrifices.
I am uncertain if this particular folk tale has been translated into English, but through the years, and the pagan grapevine I’ve heard of several other pagans who have in one source or another stumbled across this local folk tale. There appears to be other versions of the folk tradition out there as well, such as an alternate version that describes the Christian monk reconverting back to paganism after being chased by the Goddess’s bull, or a version where instead of this being Hel’s pond it belongs to Frau Holle.
While I don't think I will be traveling to Berlin anytime soon, I thought I'd explore the history of the region a bit in honor of Hela and the other Gods who were once served here, as well as the land which has seen so much history.  (She thought it was a good idea, and one really can't argue with Her.  Well, one can, but it generally doesn't do any good... ).

Even during the Empire's heyday the land which is today's Berlin lay well outside the borders of Roman control, part of the barbaric forest region. But the Semmones, an ancient and honored branch of the Suevianstribe who controlled the area wherein modern-day Berlin lies, attracted the attention of the Roman historian and philosopher Tacitus:
Of all the Suevians, the Semnones recount themselves to be the most ancient and most noble. The belief of their antiquity is confirmed by religious mysteries. At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. There by publicly sacrificing a man, they begin the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship. To this grove another sort of reverence is also paid. No one enters it otherwise than bound with ligatures, thence professing his subordination and meanness, and the power of the Deity there. If he fall down, he is not permitted to rise or be raised, but grovels along upon the ground. And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency; that from this place the nation drew their original, that here God, the supreme Governor of the world, resides, and that all things else whatsoever are subject to him and bound to obey him. The potent condition of the Semnones has increased their influence and authority, as they inhabit an hundred towns; and from the largeness of their community it comes, that they hold themselves for the head of the Suevians. 
The park itself is named for Alboin, king of the Lombards between 560 and 572.  The Lombards (also known as the Langobards or Long-Beards) were a Scandinavian tribe which settled around the River Elbe in the first century BCE.  Contemporary archaeological evidence suggests they were originally followers of the Vanir: some scholars believe their "Long Beards" were a sign of their later commitment to Wotan. Still later some (including the Lombard aristocratic families) would convert to Arian Christianity, all the while remaining remarkably tolerant of differing opinions. In Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon described life under Alboin's rule:
Every mode of religion was freely practised by its respective votaries. The king of the Lombards had been educated in the Arian heresy; but the Catholics, in their public worship, were allowed to pray for his conversion; while the more stubborn Barbarians sacrificed a she-goat, or perhaps a captive, to the gods of their fathers. 
Although he managed to assert control over a good chunk of modern-day Hungary, Austria, Serbia and Italy by 572,  Alboin was unable to enjoy his triumphs for long.  (Forcing your wife to drink wine from her father's skull is never a path to marital bliss, especially when she has a lover in the imperial bodyguards).  Within two years the various dukes of the Lombard Confederation were in civil war amongst themselves: two centuries later, Alboin's dynasty ended when the Lombard throne was claimed by Charles in Charge - Charlemagne, that is.

Whatever Charlemagne's virtues or vices, he was not one for religious tolerance. His grandfather Charles Martel ("Charles the Hammer") earned his name by beating back the superior forces of the Umayyad Caliphate at the 732 Battle of Tours. Charlemagne applied a similar zeal to ridding Europe of "pagan superstition." Under his reign those Germanic tribes who would not be baptized by choice would be martyrs to their faith.  Paul the Deacon, who chronicled Lombard history at the end of the 8th century, was calling their myths of Godan/Wotan "silly tales." A few years later those myths would largely be destroyed, as family altars and community temples alike were leveled and replaced with Christian churches.

It may have been at this time that the zealous monk of legend was mauled by Hel's bull.  Or it may have
been the locals. The Polobian Slavs who settled northeast Germany from the 7th century onward were notoriously hostile to Christianization.  The Wendish Crusade of 1147 finally applied military and clerical efforts toward fulfilling St. Bernard of Clairvaux's request that "by God’s help, they be either converted or deleted.”  Many were deleted: by 1185 the rest were converted.  Yet perhaps She got the last laugh after all, as She usually does.  Today those who want to get extra close to Hel's Pond can rent an apartment in the Lindenhof, a 1918 complex whose private pond was once part of the glacial lake that was Blanke Helle.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My New Column in Witches & Pagans #23

Those who read this blog may have noticed that by and large I am a rather private person.  I am much more comfortable discussing my ideas than my feelings, and tend to be reticent about the details of my daily life. And so my latest "Rite Behavior" column in Witches and Pagans was a particular challenge for me: it speaks at some length and in uncomfortable detail about my ongoing struggles with substance abuse.

I went public with this for a few reasons.  One is because addiction thrives on shame and secrecy. It entangles its victims - substance abusers and innocent bystanders alike - in a web of lies and half-truths.  It isolates addicts from their friends, their families and ultimately from themselves.  Admitting to yourself and to others that your use is out of control is the first step toward breaking out of that web: until you acknowledge the damage which has been done, you will have little chance of repairing it.

Another is that I believe the current models of substance abuse treatment - more precisely, the almost exclusive use of the 12-Step/Abstinence-based and punitive/law enforcement models - are seriously flawed and based largely on our Puritan distrust of all things pleasurable.  In the name of fighting addiction we throw doctors in prison for prescribing pain medication to suffering patients: thanks largely to drug offenses 55% of African-American men in Chicago - and similarly high percentages in many other American cities - are convicted felons.  I acknowledge that substance abuse is a problem, and that I suffer from that problem: I recognize that we need to do something about it.  But I also see that our current efforts are not working, and that alternate approaches are desperately needed.  By talking about my experience and encouraging others to share theirs I hope we might save some addicts who might otherwise be lost, myself included.

I'm not interested in playing the Redeemed Sinner ala Robert Downey, Jr. and various other celebrity rehab graduates.  But neither am I interested in playing the Entertaining Party Animal ala Charlie Sheen or graduating to Tragic Drug Victim ala Amy Winehouse.  Since that article was written I've done a reasonably good to mediocre job of staying clean: there have been a couple of slip-ups but nothing that spiraled out of control.  And recent events in my personal life (more on that later) have kept me occupied enough to resist the worst temptations. Right now there is enough good stuff going on in my life to help me steer clear of the bad, but I also know how quickly things can change when dealing with addiction.  I hope to come out of this struggle as one comes out of any successful Ordeal: with hard-acquired wisdom and as few scars as possible.