Tags: book review

reject reality

"A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism" by John Michael Greer

The first chapter is free as a preview on Goodreads

First Thoughts

I just started reading this book, and it is what people say it is. The author is a long-time Druid and it is a very scholarly discussion about the differences between monotheistic beliefs about the nature of god and polytheistic beliefs about the nature of gods.

What he says is the truth but it is not the whole truth.

He doesn't seem to be aware of the Pagan Monotheism of classical Rome and Greece. Personally I think the recent spate of books on the subject misunderstand classical pagan monotheism.

But there is evidence that classical pagans did believe that their many gods were "representatives" of a much higher universal God. Part of the understanding the Romans had with the Jews (that gave the Jews a waiver from honoring the gods of Rome) was the idea that the Jews worshiped the one highest God, who was also the God over the Roman gods. The Romans agreed that the Jews' one God was the same universal God their gods reported to, that all gods reported to.

This is a sort of syncretism that Greer and many modern polytheist reject. Which is OK. It doesn't bother me, or God.

The distinction he makes between the characteristics of the monotheistic God and the polytheistic gods are valid.

Personally, I believe that there are two distinct ways that human beings experience divinity. One is as the universal, omniscient, ubiquitous, omnipotent, all loving presence that wants nothing and does not intervene in our lives. And the second is as the more limited powerful beings, persons, that Greer describes. The many gods and goddesses and spirits.
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goddess and god

Women in Hinduism, Muriel Spark: The Biography, A spiritual community, sans dogma

Ask the Religion Experts How do the positions of men and women differ in your faith tradition? How are we to understand the seemingly subordinate position that many religions impose upon women?
By Radhika Sekar,Ottawa Citizen, August 22, 2010
"Ancient pagan religions worshipped goddesses and there is evidence suggesting women were highly regarded in these societies. But while goddess worship still flourishes in Hinduism, ironically, the equal status of women did not prevail.
Fortunately, Hindu reformers of the 19th-century recognized that the injustices heaped upon women are social rather than religious and campaigned vigorously against the oppression. In the past decades, the status of Hindu women has undergone three stages; first emancipation, then "equal but complementary" and finally equal in all spheres. But attitudes of several millennia are slow to erase and injustices still abound. However as more women claim their rights, the patriarchal system will give way to a society of parity."
Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard

A brilliant, difficult woman in sharp focus
Biography of novelist Muriel Spark, known best for "The Prime of Miss Jean Brody."
Reviewed by Frank Wilson, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 22, 2010
"She was born Muriel Sarah Camberg on Feb. 1, 1918, in the Morningside district of Edinburgh. Her father was a Scottish Jew. Her mother was English (from Watford) and (at least, nominally) Anglican. Stannard describes the household religion as "pagan Christian Judaism."
Then, in 1951, the Observer announced a contest for a Christmas story. The prize was 250 pounds. There were nearly 7,000 entries. Spark's "The Seraph and the Zambezi" won.

The story displayed all the characteristics of Spark's mature fiction: precision, concision, and her own brand of magical realism.
He certainly makes it clear that as a single woman, she had to fight for what she got. He also makes clear that, for Spark, writing fiction was a vocation in the religious sense. She was prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone on behalf of her art.

What Spark, who always considered herself a poet, wrote about John Masefield's work, of its "kinship with that primitive order of religious revelation," applies equally to her own:

That is the paradox of inspiration - the incredible and the impossible are felt to be present and therefore (for what is more actual than what we feel?) are credible and possible. . . . The poem will have an organic connection with its physical origin, and the pattern of events and their movement at the visionary instant will be translated symbolically until in the end the work itself becomes the real thing and the events the symbols of it."
A spiritual community, sans dogma
by Guy Kovner, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, August 21, 2010
"A stone statue of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh stands just inside the door to Santa Rosa's Center for Spiritual Living.

The senior minister, Edward Viljoen, a South African native and trained classical musician, is as likely to quote from the Bhagavad Gita as the Bible, and says neither one should be taken literally.

More than 1,000 people call the center, located in a warehouse-sized former roller skating rink on Occidental Road, their spiritual refuge, a place of prayer, study and communal warmth.

Just don't go in expecting pat answers to the elemental questions about the meaning of life, like who are we and why are we here."
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A review of "God Is Not One", and 'Percy Jackson' Summer Camp

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero

God is Not One
by syncreticmystic, (blog), August 18, 2010
"Back in May I hosted a chat on syncretism for members of the House of Netjer. It was interesting and provided me with a lot of fodder I need to go back and cull. Some of it being that I still have a LONG way to go in terms of understanding syncretism.
One person in the chat was asking a lot of questions related to Kemetic practices and Hinduism. Now, I’m not Hindu, never been Hindu, the closest I get is a deep and abiding love for Shiva. Something about the questions though triggered a realization that sometimes needs to be reinforced. Religions are not interchangeable, no matter what ecumenists might try to say. If they were, why would the practices and labels be so important to people and why couldn’t we all just be the same thing? Never mind that for many people this defaults to Christianity, which is a beautiful tradition and most certainly not my tradition.

Around this time, Stephen Prothero was promoting his new book God Is Not One. Being the good polytheist and syncretist I am, I had to borrow a copy. (Incidentally, this meant I got my library to purchase it. Huzzah!) It’s been a few months since I read it and I do wish I could give a more complete review, but that could be summed up in this one sentence.
This is a wonderful book and you must read it."
A 'Percy Jackson' Summer Camp Thrives In Brooklyn
by Margot Adler, NPR, August 17, 2010
"At Brownstone Books' Camp Half-Blood in Brooklyn, the campers' adventures come right out of Greek mythology. Based in nearby Prospect Park — with its wooded paths, groves of trees and classical-looking buildings — the camp is protected by the Golden Fleece, which looks a lot like a yellow T-shirt. Campers give offerings to the gods before they eat. There are daily quests and even prophesies that sometimes pop up on counselors' cell phones.
They are between 7 and 11 years old, and they really know their stuff. Campers Dinah Schone and Georgia Silverman say they've been reading D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths — a book they say everyone and their mother has read.

Camp Half-Blood is relaxed, unregimented and definitely low-tech. The kids each have a bandanna representing their parent god — orange for Athena, yellow for Apollo and so forth. They bring their own lunch and if someone wants to just sit in the shade and read a book, that's fine."
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"Three Cups of Tea"

I just finished reading "Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

The subtitle is pretty accurate. This book is about Greg Mortenson's mission to build schools and alleviate poverty in the poorest parts of Pakistan. He has written a follow up book, "Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan", about his work in Afghanistan.

The thing that appalls me most right now is that Christian Americans are trying to stop Muslim Americans from building a community center in Lower Manhattan, in violation of the Constitution and the principles of freedom that this country was founded on. While in Pakistan the Sharia courts have twice upheld the right of an American Christian to build secular schools for Muslim children. The Supreme Council of Ayatollahs in Qom, Iran's leading clerics, the ultimate authority to the world's Shia Muslims decided:
"Our Holy Koran tells us all children should receive education, including our daughters and sisters. Your noble work follows the highest principles of Islam, to tend the poor and sick. In the Holy Koran there is no law to prohibit an infidel from providing assistance to our Muslim brothers and sisters. Therefor, we direct all clerics in Pakistan to not interfere with your noble intentions. You have our permission, blessings, and prayers."

Gus diZerega has written in support of banning the Burqa. On the grounds that the Burqa represents a form of speech too dangerous to be allowed. I disagree with him. Banning the Burqa is "a terrible assault on the ideal of religious liberty". Even as Claire Berlinski supports the ban she admits:
"These bans are outrages against religious freedom and freedom of expression. They stigmatize Muslims. No modern state should be in the business of dictating what women should wear. The security arguments are spurious; there are a million ways to hide a bomb, and one hardly need wear a burqa to do so. It is not necessarily the case that the burqa is imposed upon women against their will; when it is the case, there are already laws on the books against physical coercion."
Reading "Three Cups of Tea" gave me confidence that the right way to fight terrorism and the oppression of women was not to become oppressors or hypocrites ourselves but to educate and empower woman to stand up for themselves.

Meanwhile the poor of Pakistan are running out of food and need new bridges to get supplies to remote villages. "Pakistan floods: residents brace for a second wave of problems"

Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute have experience working with local people to build bridges and a history of helping refuges in Pakistan. If you want to fight terrorism and help the poor I recommend sending a donation to the Central Asia Institute and read the book "Three Cups of Tea".

"Little, Big" by John Crowley

I'm rereading Little, Big by John Crowley

I was quite inspired by this book when I first read it, and added John Crowley to my short list of authors who's books I will always buy. A look at his Live Journal crowleycrow will give you some feel for his writing style.

"Little, Big" is the story of a family that lives in constant contact with Fairies. Intentionally at some times and unintentionally at other times. It is a bit of a cautionary Tale. But it doesn't paint the Fairies as evil. What I really like about it is the way their belief in Fairies is a way of life, a Religion.

Another thing I really like about all John Crowley's work is the way he bases his stories on real history without every pretending to write anything but fiction. If you are familiar with the Cottingley Fairies, The Spiritualist Movement, Lewis Carroll's Photography, and Art of memory you will recognize them in his work.

"Little, Big" is an ornate and intricate Modern Urban Fairy Tale that I recommend whole heartedly.
goddess and god

History of Nakedness, Festival of the Sun, Religious Property Status, superstitious Balkans,

A Brief History of Nakedness by Philip Carr-Gomm

Philip Carr-Gomm's A Brief History of Nakedness shows that the act of removing our clothes reveals more than just our bodies
By Jane Shilling, telegraph.co.uk 27 Jun 2010
"Philip Carr-Gomm is the author of nine books, many of them on the subject of druidry, though his interests also run to naturism, Jainism and Wicca. Perhaps it was the interest in naturism that suggested the subject for his most recent book, a handsomely illustrated history of nakedness.
Carr-Gomm begins his survey of the bare forked animal throughout the ages by considering nakedness and spirituality, beginning with an account of a witches’ coven that assembled to leap starkers over a bonfire in the New Forest in 1940, in the patriotic hope of frustrating Hitler’s invasion plans. Thence to druidry, Wicca, Kabbalah, the Pompeian House of the Mysteries and the quaint practices of country folk concerning fertility of crops and stock, divination of the identity of future husbands, and so on.

He is well informed on the curious kinship that arose in the early 20th century between naturism and pagan beliefs, promoted by such eccentric figures as Cecil Williamson, an MI6 officer, his colleague, Gerald Gardner, a retired customs officer, his high priestess Doreen, and their associate, the magician Aleister Crowley, of whom there appears an arrestingly horrible naked photograph, spindle-shanked, raddled and paunchy, seated upon a leopard skin, demonstrating yogic breathing. "
Ancient sun festival still draws thousands -- rain or shine
By Ron Verzuh, Vancouver Sun June 26, 2010
"It threatened to rain as we rode the air-conditioned bus down from the mountain citadel at Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes. Our next stop was Cusco and the annual three-hour Festival of the Sun or Inti Raymi that would begin on June 24 (winter solstice).
The Inca Empire thrived for about 100 years through the mid-1400s and abruptly ended in 1532 when the Spanish conquistadors rode into Cusco on horseback and began destroying what the Inca people had built. In 1572, the Spanish banned Inti Raymi as a pagan ritual that challenged Catholicism."
Pagan sect fights town for religious property status
By Colin DeVries, The Daily Mail, Hudson-Catskill Newspapers, June 26, 2010
"CATSKILL — After four long years of being denied religious property status, a landmark court battle over a cloister of pagan witches is brewing.

The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, a faction of matriarchal priestesses living in a historic Palenville inn, has filed suit against the Town of Catskill after being denied a religious property tax exemption on their three-acre parcel along Route 23A.

The property has been denied the exemption since 2007, though the Maetreum — which was federally recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) religious organization — was granted the exemption on 2006.

“They refused to renew the exemption without reason,” said Cathryn Platine, the group’s leader, known as Reverend Mother Battakes."
Psychic vampires, look out
Damien Bathersby, Sunshine Coast Daily, 27th June 2010
" I know I shouldn’t joke about things I don’t understand ... like witches and all that.

Because they do exist.

Not the “hubble bubble toil and trouble” type who stir their cauldrons and toss in a handful of toads’ eyes and so on.

I’m talking about modern-day spell-casters who drive the kids, do the groceries and watch the daytime soapies like the rest of us.

At least we don’t burn them at the stake any more.
Now before all you witches, wiccans, warlocks and goblins start jumping on your broomsticks and baying for my blood, I just want you to know that I’m cool with the whole witchcraft thing.

If that’s what gets you through the night and makes you feel good about yourself and the world, then it’s fine with me.

As long as no one gets hurts or turned into a toad (particularly me), then I’m not worried.

And before all my Christian readers get upset, can I say that I’m just having a laugh.

If the witches and the wiccans and the Christians and the Callithumpians want to laugh along with me, feel free to join in.

It’s a big beautiful world out there and there’s plenty of room for everyone.

Just make sure you bring your own yak fat, because I’ve just about run out."
Witches and miracle healers still rule roost in superstitious Balkans
Gabriel Ronay in Sofia, Herald Scotland, 26 Jun 2010
"In the good ‘white witch’ stakes, Romania has the edge on the rest of the Balkans – even on Bulgaria. While keeping their ancient craft traditional, Romanian white witches use websites, blogs, email messaging and chatrooms to reach their clientele.

To judge by the claims of her website, Rodica Gheorghe is the leading ‘white witch healer’ in the country. Her credentials are based on her family tradition of witchcraft. She is the daughter of the witch Mama Omida and granddaughter of the witch Sabina. Some joke that her family are well on their way to having enough for their own coven.

But in the competitive cut-throat witch business, nothing is lasting, and in Romania’s Transylvania province, ‘black witches’ have muscled in on the lucrative evil eye and funerary markets. Proven spells to keep a newly widowed man from remarrying, and thus depriving his children of their inheritance, are especially well paid for.

After any death in the village of Camarzana, a witch is called in to smear the udders of cows with garlic to prevent ‘revenants’ – vampires returning from the grave – stealing their milk.

As long as the ancient Balkan superstitions rule ordinary lives, witches, clairvoyants and miracle healers will do brisk business, with or without the internet."
Couple get hitched Pagan style
Thurrock Gazette, 25th June 2010
" A GRAYS couple’s garden resembled a scene from a Harry Potter film, as they tied the knot Pagan style.

Steve Beedan, 50, and Kerry Church, 18, invited 70 of their friends and family to their home in Rectory Road to share their Wiccan wedding with them.

Guests, many of whom wore cloaks, watched as the couple took part in traditional Wiccan wedding rituals, such as handfasting, where the couple’s hands are tied together to symbolise their union, the sharing of bread and wine, and the ancient practice of “jumping the broom”. "
goddess and god

Publisher cancels Wicca-themed book series, Salem witches, Ashley Cole and the white witch

Cate Tiernan

Publisher cancels Wicca-themed children’s book series

Helsingin Sanomat
"Hansen emphasises that the decision to cancel the publication was the publisher’s own.
“We are not forced by those who want to protect their own beliefs any more by those who want to advance freedom of expression. We decide ourselves what kinds of products to produce.”

Written by Cate Tiernan, the Sweep series comprises 15 novels for young people. The main character is an American teenage girl by the name of Morgan Rowlands, who learns that she is a witch. In the series she is searching for her place in a new type of world. The original series was published in 2001-2003.
It has appeared in the United States, Britain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and France."

Publisher cancels book series with Wiccan themes
Orlando Sentinel (blog) - ‎Jun 16, 2010‎
"A series of American books with Wiccan themes will not find a new home in Northern Europe, according to a Helsingen Sanomat report.

The Stabenfeldt publishing house has decided not to publish the Sweep series in Finland, Sweden and Norway after controversy about the Wiccan-themed young adult books.

“We do not want to promote any individual religion or political ideology in the books that we target toward children”, says the publisher’s CEO Jens Otto Hansen.

He said that the publisher was not familiar with Wicca.

“I only learned on Monday morning that such a thing as Wicca exists.”

Hansen sees the case as an “industrial accident” for the publisher.

“Our own routines have failed in this. We have acted too quickly.”

The American series was published from 2001 to 2003 and has been available to readers in the U.S., Britain, Australia and France.

Wicca is a pagan faith that began growing in popularity during the 1950s, and is often known by its other name, Witchcraft.
The trials of Salem witches
By Michelle Andujar, WillametteLive, Wed Jun 16, 2010
""I may put some aromatherapy on the stove, simmering my intent ... kinda like a cauldron," said Holy Degner, a self-described "kitchen witch."

"I use kitchen witchery for the household to work, to flow better."

Degner, usually accompanied by her husband, has been attending the Witches of Salem Meetup group for at least a year, driving all the way from Willamina, Oregon, where she believes she wouldn't be accepted.
Lee, a "Neo-Pagan Eclectic Wiccan solitary crone," founded the Salem group about three years ago.

"I'm a nature lover, I practice tarot, astrology, and all kinds of new age," she said. "At first I was a Wiccan and as I got deeper into it I became more eclectic. I have Native American heritage and I appreciate the beliefs of my ancestry."

Lee decided to create the group when she moved to Salem from Portland, which has a larger and more active pagan community. "I found some groups online in Salem, but I wanted to have real life get-togethers," she said."
Ashley Cole and the white witch
The footballer is going out with a Wicca practitioner. Is this the future of Wagdom?
by Alexis Petridis, The Guardian (blog) Thursday 17 June 2010
"Here's a story to gladden the heart: Ashley Cole's latest conquest is a self-confessed white witch, who apparently once made a love potion out of human hair, peppermint essence and rose petals. LiS can only hope this ushers in a whole new era of Wag – the alt-Wag, if you will. It looks forward to seeing at least one premiership star's marriage broken up by an alternative therapist from Brighton with a belief in Wicca, a batik waistcoat and Velcro-fastening sandals, and Jermain Defoe hanging round a provincial town's war memorial in the hope of picking up a goth."
goddess and god

Review of "A New History of Early Christianity"

A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

Review of "A New History of Early Christianity"
by Tom Bissell, The National April 2. 2010
"Jesus and his original followers spoke Aramaic. At some point the faith became predominantly Greek in its expression. “The difficulty here,” Freeman writes, “is that it is impossible to know what was lost, culturally and linguistically, in the process.” But some Greek speakers brought with them an esteemed philosophical tradition. The Platonists conceived God as being entirely separate from the world of matter and flesh. Forms and ideas existed outside of the material world, there for us to discover them, with God’s guidance. But how did God communicate with us? One answer was logos, or “word,” an incredibly complex idea in Greek, the literal translation of which “gives little of the breadth or philosophical depth of the Greek original,” in Freeman’s words. Logos became a kind of second divinity, the ambassador of God. These ideas, which greatly influenced the author of John’s gospel, would determine the course of Christian thinking by allowing an important philosophical reconciliation between pagan and Christian ideas.

Indeed, many early Christians conversant with pagan thinking were embarrassed by the primitive nature of Christian scripture. Origen once asked a fellow Christian to “apply the things that are useful from geometry and astronomy to the explanation of the Holy Scriptures”, as though in recognition that scripture alone was not intellectually filling. Clement of Alexandria regarded pagan philosophy as, in Freeman’s words, “a sort of preliminary discipline for those who lived before the coming of Christ.”

Clement and Origen represented the Christianity of Alexandria, where debate was initially encouraged, but Christian thinkers such as Tertullian and Augustine influenced the church to a far greater extent. Both emerged from the more hostile Christian milieu of Carthage, and this intellectually censorious, North African Christianity would help lay the foundations for later orthodoxy. “With our faith,” Tertullian wrote, “we desire no further belief ... [and] there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.”
As Christian thinking became more stable, the church, at least as we today understand the word, began to emerge. What was settled intellectually by this process? Several things: a new phase of history had been launched upon by God when he sent Jesus to the earth; the “Wisdom” referred to frequently in the Old Testament was Jesus himself; and Jesus had redeemed the sin of Adam by becoming human and taking on all the sins of the world. Only some of these beliefs were scriptural– and then barely – and others appeared to contradict scripture. But without the codification of these beliefs, it is hard to imagine Christianity ever becoming appealing enough for men like Constantine to throw the weight of empire behind it. Orthodoxy was, in Freeman’s words, a “model for survival” in which “a single truth” was passed on “within an institutional framework.”
After the doctrinal purgings of Theodosius, the attacks on pagan temples and synagogues began in earnest, many of them led by “roving bands of monks” who demolished anything they deemed insufficiently Christian. (Much of this shocked even Theodosius.) The freedom of pagan teachers to instruct freely was withdrawn, and Plato’s Academy was shuttered in 529. Thousands of important classical works were lost forever, and no one would be able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics again for 1,400 years. “What was lost for centuries,” Freeman writes, “was any form of restraint on the exploitation of credulity. The exploitation of the miraculous by both religious and secular elites acted as a major brake on intellectual progress.”

Christianity took the best minds of several generations and, if not destroyed them, certainly set them to counterproductive ends. That is the story of early Christianity. The authoritative theology many Christians believe can be located in the New Testament is not found there. New Testament theology had no authority, and so authority was brought to bear upon New Testament theology. This has nothing to do with whether or not Christianity is “true” but is a question of how it was understood through time – a process that destroyed centuries of human progress. Freeman says as much, but then adds, a page from the end of this fine book, that this is “too bleak a conclusion. The churches have fulfilled many needs.” It is not too bleak a conclusion, and the only reason the church fulfilled those needs was because it was the only institution the church itself had not helped destroy. Charles Freeman reminds us why understanding how this faith developed is the best way to ensure it will never again wield such unquestioned institutional power."
goddess and god

Book Review: 'Occult America'

Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation by Mitch Horowitz

Review: 'Occult America'
by Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express, Feb 21, 2010
"From the earliest German Rosicrucian renegades to Shakers, Mormons, Masons and the prophets of spiritualism and faith healing, Horowitz builds a basis for understanding the national urge to transcend ordinarily reality and imbue it with palpable, understandable residues of the divine.

With sharp wit and factual detail, he ranges from describing America's long-standing and continuing obsession with the Ouija board to relating the origins and continuing influence of the Theosophical Society. Founder Henry Steel Olcott — allied with famed medium Helena Petrovna Blavatsky — brought an amalgam of spiritualism, bizarre scenarios of human evolution and the teachings of the "Masters of the East" to Americans hungry for a coherent alternative spirituality.
Remarkable for its breadth, "Occult America" has some significant omissions. There is no serious treatment of the problem of "cultism" in the occult or the practice of negative and abusive mind control. His epilogue on New Age spirituality is a good overview but passes too lightly over elements of interest — from UFOS to Wicca and hatha yoga — that gained popular followings during the '80s and '90s.

Nevertheless, Horowitz sums up this exceptional book with a short list of core contemporary American spiritual beliefs that have become widespread and derive from their occult movement predecessors. It's worth a read to see if something one might believe to be true was also once "occult.""
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Air Force Circle, Occult Specialist on Animal Planet, Haitian Voodoo, The Faith Instinct

A Shrine Of Our Times: The Air Force Academy Goes Pagan
Opinion: Editorial, Harrisonburg Daily News Record, February 3, 2010
"Apparently, Fox News reports, the USAFA has quite the contingent of tree and rock worshippers, and they needed a spot to mumble their mumbo-jumbo
No word on whether the Academy will provide goats for the animal sacrifice, although several herds of cloven-footed beasts are said to have fled the area. The “neo-pagans” will dedicate their stony shrine on March 10.
Far be it for mere mortals to doubt this coven’s spiritual sincerity. No one wants to get hexed or vexed, or whatever happens when Wiccans and Druids don their robes, serenade the owls and prance around their rocks among the Ponderosa Pines. Colorado, by the way, is also home to the Quaking Aspen, so the very thought of berobed witches and warlocks gamboling about the woods and warbling at the Moon may explain why the aspens are quaking.

No, a far more compelling interrogatory observation is why anyone, much less the academy, would take the “neo-pagans” seriously. The academy is, after all, a very serious place.

Or at least it used to be."

Respect Freedom Of Religion
by Eugene C. Buie, Harrisonburg Daily News Record, February 19, 2010
"It is unseemly to make fun of things we may not understand, particularly religions chosen and valued by others. That is not a strange thing to say in America where it used to be customary to honor and respect everyone’s “freedom of choice,” especially where religious beliefs and practices are concerned.
We steadfastly defend our freedom of expression. Additionally, we are offended by attempts to take this expression away from us. Do we now publicly ridicule this same freedom where others are concerned when they choose to worship gods that Christians or other religions do not accept?
This transcendent revelation of the “One True God” has competed with the Nature gods from earliest recorded history. Nevertheless, the Christian commission is to simply present the Gospel of Christ to be accepted or rejected. In the end, we all must decide whether to be a child of God or a Pagan or a godless secularist. But for now, we all are entitled to worship as we choose without ridicule."
OU adviser hunts ghosts on Animal Planet
Gregory Maus, Oklahoma Daily, February 19, 2010
"Students in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication know Chris Borthick as an academic adviser, but he also works an an occult specialist for an organization whose exploits will be featured today on cable television.

Oklahoma Paranormal Research and Investigations will be featured in an episode of the Animal Planet paranormal anthology series, “The Haunted,” 9 p.m. Friday.
Borthick said his contribution to the group is to provide information on spiritual beliefs, in case the team encounters anything related to religions, such as Wicca or traditional American Indian beliefs."
Myths Obscure Voodoo, Source of Comfort in Haiti
by Samuel G. Freedman, New York Times, February 19, 2010
"Consider a few facts. Voodoo is one of the official religions of Haiti, and its designation in 2003 merely granted official acknowledgment to a longstanding reality. The slave revolt that brought Haiti independence indeed relied on voodoo, the New World version of ancestral African faiths. To this day, by various scholarly estimates, between 50 and 95 percent of Haitians practice at least elements of voodoo, often in conjunction with Catholicism.
But Catholicism in Haiti, as too few journalists seemed to realize, is not more or less like Catholicism in a Polish parish in Chicago or an Irish one in Boston. It is a Catholicism in symbiosis with voodoo, a Catholicism in which saints are conflated with African deities and dead ancestors serve as interlocutors between God and humanity.

Prof. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith of the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, an expert in voodoo as well as a voodoo priest, likens the religious texture of Haiti to that of Japan. The same Japanese person, he said, will observe the Shinto faith for certain rituals, Buddhism for others, and will see no contradiction or mutual exclusivity.

“I’d tell reporters to go into the shanties and find the local voodoo priest,” said Amy Wilentz, the author of an acclaimed book on contemporary Haiti, “The Rainy Season.” “Voodoo is very close to the ground. It’s a neighborhood to neighborhood, courtyard kind of religion. And one where you support each other in time of need.”"
The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures by Nicholas Wade.

Book Review: Tracing the genesis of the world's religions
by Anne Grant, Providence Journal, February 19, 2010
"Pagan agricultural festivals morphed into monotheists’ most sacred observances celebrating, for example, the exodus of Jews from slavery and the resurrection of Jesus. Wade explains how “this sense of emotional familiarity . . . makes one’s own religion feel so natural, whereas most other religions feel far-fetched or deluded.”

He reaches around the world, forward and back: cultures reinvent their religions to unify groups for survival of the fittest. He shows how sacred texts rewrote history with uplifting themes to achieve political and theological unification.
Wade concludes this landmark work by proposing that humanity’s faith instinct needs to escape rigid religious canons and “choose a sustainable balance between warfare and conciliation” to fit us for survival in a secular, global age."