Tags: books

goddess and god

Roman Religion

We've been reading the "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius in book group. It is very illuminating. There are a lot of ideas that we attribute Eastern religion that were present in Stoic philosophy. Romans generally agreed about the gods, but they belonged to competing philosophical schools about how to live one's life. This made me think that for Romans "philosophy" was closer to what we call "religion". I had a suspicion that Romans didn't have an word equivalent to our word "religion". I started reading "The Christians as the Romans Saw Them" by Robert Wilken to see if there was support for this in the way Romans talked about Christians. There are quotes about "religion", such as Cicero's "most distinguished citizens safeguard religion by the good administration of the state and safeguard the wise conduct of religion". I asked a friend who is knowledgeable about Classical Rome and she wasn't sure. She did say that the Romans had a lot of words for specific religious practices.

From Wikipedia I get:Collapse )

The association of "religion" with gods goes back to the Roman meaning of the word "religio" but not the meaning of religion as a belief system. Basically to the Romans "religio" meant practices not beliefs.

Reading "Meditations" of Marcus Aurelius I've come to think that to Romans of his time "philosophy" is closer to the definition of religion as a system of belief. In Marcus Aurelius' time a philosopher was someone who lived in accord with a set of beliefs, not merely someone who studied ideas.

In "The Christians as the Romans Saw Them" so far, Pliny was mostly concerned with "clubs" or voluntary associations, and superstition. The emperor was concerned that such organizations cause political unrest. There are two kinds of voluntary associations discussed: hetaeria - "clubs" mutual interest societies, and eranus - "benefit societies" formed by poor people for mutual aid. In Pliny's time Christians were rumored to engage in human sacrifice, cannibalism, and orgies (descriptions of supposed Christian practices are quite lurid). There is an irony to Christians being accused of the same things they now accuse others of. Pliny found no evidence of actual crimes, but had them executed for forming illegal "clubs" (hetaeria) and practicing a foreign cult (superstitio). As the Romans believed that "religio" safeguarded the state, both superstitio and atheism threatened the well being of the state, that is the sort of thing you get when you mix government and religion. To prove that they had renounced their cult Pliny asked "ex-Christians" to offer wine and incense to the Roman gods. Those who refused to were executed. He seems to have introduced that particular test of faith.

It is interesting that even at this early stage Christians asked others "only believe, do not ask questions". And there was a lot of turn-over in the Christian cult. Not everyone who joined chose to stay.

I will continue reading and commenting. And I think I need to read "Bowling Alone" next to think some more about the role of "clubs" in society.

Pagan Book Club

Sunday we had the first monthly Pagan book club at the Open Hearth Foundation.  (For those who don't know, the Open Hearth Foundation is the DC Pagan Community Center.  I am their Librarian.  You can find more about them at openhearth.org.)  Because this was the first and we didn't have a lot of promotional time to get the word out immediately it was a round-robin book talk.  So we each brought a bunch of books that we had read, or were in the process of reading, and we talked about their premises, their strengths and weaknesses.  And over the course of describing the books that I brought to the table I started to have some very fundamental insights into myself that, on the surface, I kind of knew about myself, but hadn't ever in one fell swoop synthesized those insights into anything internally consistent.  Also, the discussion led me around some personal journeys that I had done, but never contextualized it in a broader sense of my own spiritual development.

So here's what I brought.

Breaking Open the Head - Daniel Pinchbeck
My Stroke of Insight - Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
The Serpent and the Rainbow - Wade Davis
When God Talks Back - T.M Luhrmann
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love - Will Roscoe
God is Not One - Stephen Prothero
Pagan Theology - Michael York

I've talked about a lot of these books online before.  And this was just an opportunity for me to share them with some new people in a new way.  But I realized that I had brought items that spoke to particular facets of my relationship with religion in the context of science, sociology, historical narratives, and theology.  They explore things like how the brain understands the world around it, and how chemical reactions in the brain alter your perceptions of the world around you (physically and spiritually).  They talk about the cultures that are intertwined in religious traditions, and how culture and religion build and feed and loop back into each other.  They talk about the philosophical issues at the heart of religions, and the justifications for contemporary Paganism as a world religion.  They talk about the experiences one has when they immerse themselves in these paradigms and worldviews and how that changes people.

None of these books would be the kind of thing that you would expect to see in the typical metaphysical bookshop.  Maybe Pagan Theology, though as an academic text it's not usually on the first order list.  And The Serpent and The Rainbow, possibly again, but it's an older title and less likely to be on a mandatory purchase list for most metaphysical stores. 

And yet, with all the science and the sociology, I think back on the things I revealed to other people in this book talk.  Half the reason I'm fascinated with Luhrmann's book "When God Talks Back" is that I see the similarities between the evangelical relationship with God, and the Pagan relationship with Gods.  We go through much the same process of developing that internal/external dialogue with unseen forces, and I myself as an intellectual person have on many occasions had conversations with my Gods. 

I come back to the brain, and wonder is this a product of my mind, of chemical process, of spirit, of external beings, or all of this?  And so books like Breaking Open the Head and My Stroke of Insight bring me further along to answering that question.  I still don't have an answer, but the body of understanding is growing.  During the course of the book talk I also talked about "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" and Gaspar Noe's film "Enter the Void" expanding the conversation about the confluence of chemical processes and spiritual processes, particularly around death and dying; contrasting that with Pinchbeck's book which looks at the blend of entheogens and spirit communications in a somewhat simplistic fashion. 

And then I turn to society.  And how my personal beliefs have grown through the karma of the social environment in which I live.  We spoke of cultural experimentation, and appropriation. How we grew in and out of spiritual cultures and how they are and are not integrated in our society.  I think back to Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and the Profane" and wonder if magic makes any sense outside of a world view where body and soul and society are constitutionally and socially separate.  In Haiti of "The Serpent and the Rainbow" all of these things are so integrated to each other that magic is more potent both for the magician and the victims to whom it is directed.  The mind and the soul are inextricably linked in society and thus magic can kill and raise the dead, because belief increases the power.

I also turn inward, and reflective. The books on comparative religions and the questions that they pose to themselves and to their followers have always been something that I had to ask.  As someone who was not raised in any particular religious faith I have to always come at religions as if they need to be explained from their roots.  So something like "God is not One" or "Pagan Theology" help me muddle through understanding where different religions are coming from, and the internal narratives of those traditions.  Without having those introductory texts I'm lost. I couldn't begin to tell you the difference between many of the different Christian denominations, I have no idea what distinguishes a Presbyterian from a Methodist, or if they're even the same thing.  But being able to find those fundamental differences spelled out in a clear and informative way has been something that I find myself gravitating toward.  For those things that I care to delve deeper, like Pagan Theology, I turn to the longer philosophical and theological works.  I'm just at that place that I want to explore the depths, and not just skim along the surface.

So that's where I'm at.  Understanding the interplay between mind, body, and spirit; looking at the social context of religion; and comparison/contrast between different faiths while learning how best to integrate the finer facets of my own.  I see myself questioning how my brain and its chemical processes both inform and are informed by my spiritual practices, and how I integrate that into the world and integrate the world into myself. 

No small task.

Wiccan Sophiology

There are more and more books out there about Wiccan practice, but a lamentable lack of discussion of how Wicca informs it's practitioners lives.

I recently came across a copy of The Essential Marcus Aurelius (Tarcher Cornerstone Editions) translated by Jacob Needleman and John Piazza. This is wonderful little volume with great insight into how a classical Roman pagan brought his spirituality to bear on his life. Although he called it philosophy rather than spirituality. This is the sort of insight modern Wiccans should be exploring.

A few other books about classical paganism that look work reading for the modern Wiccan are:
Coping With the Gods : Wayward Readings in Greek Theology (Religions in the Graeco-Roman World) by Henk Versnel Free PDF download
Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths?: An Essay on the Constitutive Imagination by Paul Veyne, translated by Paula Wissing
One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire edited by Stephen Mitchell and Peter Van Nuffelen
Monotheism between Pagans and Christians in Late Antiquity (Interdisciplinary Studies in Ancient Culture and Religion) edited by Stephen Mitchell and Peter Van Nuffelen

Too much of what is written about European paganism suffers from Christian biases about what religion should be rather than what it is, or was.
goddess and god

"Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the dangers" by Elizabeth Dodd

How to cure a witch: Catholic Church issues guide in Britain to turn the tables on Harry Potter
By Simon Caldwell, The Daily Mail, 4th February 2011
"A guide on how to convert witches to Christianity has been published by the Roman Catholic Church in Britain.
The move comes in response to fears that growing numbers of teenagers are being lured into Wicca, occult practices and paganism by the heroic depiction of witches in entertainment including the Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice films, and TV.
The booklet, called Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the Dangers, offers parents advice on what to do if one of their children takes an interest in witchcraft."

How to convert witches to Catholicism
By Damian Thompson, The Telegraph (blog), February 3rd, 2011
"There’s no eco-bore like a Wiccan eco-bore. I’ve met a few and, believe me, you need to be under a spell to sit through a three-hour whinge about Mother Gaia from a practitioner of white magick. It makes one long for the days when witches restricted themselves to a quick cackle before riding off into the night. "

Catholic Church Issues Guide on How to Convert Witches
AOL News, Feb 4, 2011
"While many religious and nonreligious folk might regard Dodd's message as extreme, her point has clearly been heeded by some Catholics. As of this morning, the pamphlet was listed as sold-out on Amazon.co.uk. "

Catholic Church Issues Guide to Chatting Up Witches
Kevin Spak, Newser, Feb 4, 2011
"It advises you recognize that “Wiccans are on a genuine spiritual quest,” and use that to provide “the starting point for dialog that may lead to their conversion.” Which is important to do, says author and former Wiccan Elizabeth Dodd, because casting spells—whether they work or not—causes “psychological damage” and “offends God.” And the danger that young people will dabble is higher than ever, the pamphlet says; after all, they're still reading Harry Potter. "

Wicca and Witchcraft: Understanding the dangers by Elizabeth Dodd, The Catholic Truth Society

Catholic Encyclopedia: Witchcraft
"Still there can be no doubt that during the fourteenth century certain papal constitutions of John XXII and Benedict XII (see Hansen, "Quellen und Untersuchungen", pp. 2-15) did very much to stimulate the prosecution by the inquisitors of witches and others engaged in magical practices, especially in the south of France. In a witch trial on a large scale carried on at Toulouse in 1334, out of sixty-three persons accused of offences of this kind, eight were handed over to the secular arm to be burned and the rest were imprisoned either for life or for a long term of years... "
goddess and god

Texas' Banned-Books List, Gresham courier accused of stealing thousands

Free People Read Freely
The ACLU of Texas celebrates Banned Books Week, September 26 -- October 3, 2009

Twilight, Cleavage, Drugs & Wiccans: Five Highlights From Texas' Banned-Books List
By Richard Connelly, Houston Press (blog), Sep. 22 2010
"5. Among the books that were restrricted: Idiot's Guide to Wicca and Witchcraft, by the Corpus Christi ISD, which reclassified as "religious." We have to say we agree with this. You don't want young Corpus kids growing up to be masturbation-hating Tea Party Senate candidates, after all."
Gresham courier accused of stealing thousands from company's clients
Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, September 22, 2010,
"Police say Resnick deposited the checks at ATM machines across Multnomah and Washington counties, some into the business account of a Tigard-based business called New Pagan Journeys.
Resnick's website indicates that she at one time had been a general partner of New Pagan Journeys, whose website says its goal is to bring the Pagan community together where they can be understood by the Wicca community and provide supplies for "education and healing. " Resnick's website also says she has a certificate in Shamanic Soul Coaching out of California.

An owner of New Pagan Journeys, Lilith Silverkrow, says Resnick's actions are "not OK" and she's no longer involved in the business."

"One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire" and "Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity"

I just found this on Amazon.com

One God: Pagan Monotheism in the Roman Empire edited by Stephen Mitchell and Peter Van Nuffelen
Here are some quotes from the introduction by the editors.
"This addresses two related issues that were at the heart of our research. First, what was pagan monotheism? How should the term be defined, and how useful is it as a concept for understanding religious developments in the first four centuries AD? Second, is it possible to classify significant aspects of pagan cultic activity in this period as monotheistic?"

"Monotheism itself, in the the strong and restrictive sense of believing in and worshipping only one god, is generally regarded as the defining element of post-classical religious systems. it is tempting therefor to treat the contrast between the belief in one and the belief in many gods as being the central issue at stake. However, the focus on the unity or singularity of the divinity has certainly diverted attention from other aspects of the transformation of ancient religion that have fair claim to be more important than the bald fact of the triumph of monotheism."

"The restrictions on belief and action demanded by strict monotheism entail a level of religious intolerance unknown in ancient paganism. Monotheism has thus become associated with religious fundamentalism the political dangers of fundamentalism have accordingly led to serous theological reflection on the nature and effects of monotheism in contemporary societies."

"Assmann has argued in numerous influential studies that monotheism introduced a basic moral transformation in social thinking. By introducing the distinction between true and false gods, it required men not only to choose truth, but also to reject falsehood. According to this analysis, the distinction provided a major spur to religious intolerance, something with was hardly perceptible within polytheism, and increased the potential for religiously inspired violence."

"We need also to ask whether the religious transformations of later antiquity is due to the development of monotheism as such, or to the concomitant aspects of religious change which are subsumed within monotheism. These include the replacement of an indefinite mass of written and unwritten traditions by a fixed body of religious texts; the prevalence of exclusive belief in one God rather than the inclusive acceptance of the existence of many gods; the capacity of monotheism to be used as an instrument for social and political control at the supra-national level; and the emergence of religious identities as a key element in social organization."

"What constitutes monotheism? Many thinkers and writers of classical times, above all the Greek philosophers, could make statements about the unity of god, but only in a few cases, discussed in Frede's contributions to this volume, should they be defined in a rigorous sense as monotheists. Indeed, as John North's paper points out, for the most part writers about pagan religion simply did not make propositions about one or many gods that led to the creation of two opposed types of belief. From the pagan point of view monotheism, in a religious sense, was neither a meaningful category nor a contentious issue in the classical Hellenistic Greek city states."

It's easy to see how this is relevant to modern Wiccan religious discussion.

I need to look into Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity edited by Polymnia Athanassiadi and Michael Frede

*sigh* Why are the scholarly books so expensive? Anyone have $95.00 to donate to a pagan scholar?
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

"The Secret History of Weeds", and Vodou practitioners attacked by Christians

The Secret History of Weeds: What Women Need to Know About Their History by Julia Hughes Jones

PURPLE PATCH: The fight to be female
Julia Hughes Jones, Daily Times, Pakistan, February 24, 2010
"Goddess cultures considered the dragon a defender of the feminine. Christianity dubbed goddess cultures as paganism and construed the dragon as a pagan symbol. This account can also be seen as the beginning of empire building because the sword, or warfare, is the rational way to achieve territorial expansion.

It was centuries after the infamous witchcraft executions before women finally began the fight against being labelled inferior and in need of male guidance. The struggle to be recognised as equal to the other half of humanity, at long last, began to make headway in the 20th century.

(This extract is taken from The Secret History of Weeds by Julia Hughes Jones)
Voodoo practitioners attacked at ceremony for Haiti earthquake victims
By Paisley Dodds, The Associated Press, February 23, 2010
"Angry crowds in a seaside slum in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, attacked a group of Voodoo practitioners Tuesday, pelting them with rocks and halting a ceremony meant to honor victims of last month's deadly earthquake.

Voodooists gathered in Cite Soleil where thousands of quake survivors live in tents and depend on food aid. Praying and singing, the group was trying to conjure spirits to guide lost souls when a crowd of evangelicals started shouting. Some threw rocks while others urinated on Voodoo symbols. When police left, the crowd destroyed the altars and Voodoo offerings of food and rum.
Religious tension has also increased: Baptists, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientologists, Mormons and other missionaries have flocked to Haiti in droves since the earthquake to feed the homeless, treat the injured and jockey for souls. Some Voodoo practitioners have said they've converted to Christianity for fear they will lose out on aid or a belief that the earthquake was a warning from God.

"Much of this has to do with the aid coming in," said Max Beauvoir, a Voodoo priest and head of a Voodoo association. "Many missionaries oppose Voodoo. I hope this does not start a war of religions because many of our practitioners are being harassed now unlike any other time that I remember."
"There's absolutely a heightened spiritual conflict between Christianity and Voodoo since the quake," said Pastor Frank Amedia of the Miami-based Touch Heaven Ministries who has been distributing food in Haiti and proselytizing.

"We would give food to the needy in the short term, but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I'm not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn't want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.""
goddess and god

Haitian Vodou, and "Books should offend you"

The Serpent and the Rainbow: A Harvard Scientist's Astonishing Journey into the Secret Societies of Haitian Voodoo, Zombis, and Magic by Wade Davis

Haiti’s Vodou song being heard at last
By Kathy Nance, St Louis Post-Dispatch (blog), Feb 20, 2010
"The little I knew about Vodou came from reading Wade Davis’s excellent book, The Serpent and the Rainbow. And don’t think you can cheat and watch the movie on this one. Davis, an ethnobotanist, wrote the book as an antropological work. The movie recycles just about every Hollywood cliche about “voodoo:” the curses, the wanton violence and intimidation by evil priests, you name it. Two hours of my life I’ll never get back.

I’m glad I’ve made the effort to do some additional reading and listening. Vodou is a fascinating and complex faith. Many of its beliefs are ones I also work with: the belief that everything is energy; that we can work with these energies to influence outcomes in our lives; that our ancestors stay with us and will aid us if we ask; and that we can experience Deity directly regardless of our community standing. Like Gods and Goddesses in other Pagan pantheons, the Vodou deities also have specialized spheres of influence and distinct personalities. I also enjoyed learning that some spirits are tied directly to the landscape, much like Celtic faeries.
And for me, that’s what all of modern Paganism is about: trying to hear the ancient beat that thrums through all of life. And connecting with it, even though the words we may use are different. I’m glad I took the time to listen to the Vodou song."
Profane, offensive, and great
By Jonathan Zimmerman, Philadelphia Inquirer, 02/09/2010
""Books should offend you," a professor told my literature class 30 years ago, when I started college. "They should make you squirm and sweat. They should keep you up at night."

He paused for effect. "Have a nice a day," he concluded.

Everybody laughed, of course. But the joke was on us. Americans want to feel good, and they want the same for their kids. So we try to protect them from books that hurt.
But all great literature offends someone. I can easily understand why Huck Finn makes African Americans uncomfortable (and I would hope it would make whites a bit nervous, too).

But I can't understand why we need to shield our kids from these bad feelings. Why, oh why, must everybody feel good? Literature should make us squirm and sweat, because that's when we really start to learn about the world, which is a messy and disquieting place.

So go ahead, get angry at these books. Yell, scream, and even curse if you want. Just don't deny kids the same experience. And have a nice day."
goddess and god

Witch vs Green Party, Gods' Robes, Pendle Witch Camp, NZ Pagan Festival, Margot Adler, Hindu Pyre

Witch's poll hopes dashed after rejection by Greens
South Devon.co.uk Herald Express, February 13, 2010
"Ms Goldsmith said she had hoped to represent Torbay on green issues.

She said her lifestyle as a 10th generation hereditary witch was is in tune with the party's politics.

Ms Goldsmith describes herself as a female Shaman — Shamanka or wise woman — who practises the ancient arts to help students on their spiritual journey.

A Green Party spokesman did not make any comment on Ms Goldsmith's recent membership application.

He said: "Sarah Goldsmith resigned from the Green Party in May 2008. The South Devon Green Party will shortly run a selection process to find our general election candidate for the Torbay constituency.

"That candidate will champion our party's goals to preserve public services, restore the NHS, and create jobs to address the recession.""
Gods’ robes marry tradition and innovation
By Tien-ying Hsu, Taiwan Today, 02/12/2010
"The robes worn by altar statues in Taiwanese temples are something to see, delicately embroidered with ancient Chinese characters or nature themes to accentuate the specific blessings that the gods offer.

Tim Chou, heir to a local traditional embroidery business based in the southern Taiwan County of Chiayi, has come up with unprecedented applications for these “gods’ robes.” One of the most striking is his design of tiny versions of the robes to protect and identify the paper-made lucky charms that pilgrims take home after worshipping a deity. These talismans are small and easily lost, especially when entrusted to children. Over time, one may also forget the specific blessing associated with a charm."
Bewitching plans for 400th anniversary of Pendle witch trials
By Jon Livesey LancashireTelegraph.co.uk, 10th February 2010
" A YEAR-long programme of events is being proposed to mark the 400th anniversary of the trial and execution of the Pendle witches.

Adrian Lord, the man behind Pendle Witch Camp, wants to organise the series of events to take place in 2012.

He has offered to chair a committee aimed at securing funding for the festivities and coming up with ideas."
Morrinsville prepares for pagan invasion
By Ali Ikram, 3news.co.nz, Thu, 11 Feb 2010
"Morrinsville will play host to the fourth New Zealand Pagan Festival, starting Friday.

Official statistics show that thousands of Kiwis follow the pagan way of life.

Nightline met with a member of the Order of the Oriental Templars, a secretive group that once counted infamous British occultist Aleister Crowley amongst its numbers.

Lionel Snell was dressed like an accountant on holiday. He's what's known as a 'chaos magician', and while he's used to people thinking that's a bit odd, so are a lot of things.

"Where I come from in England, there were these people who would meet in a temple where there was a field surrounding it where dead bodies were buried, and they'd kneel down in front of images of human torture and degradation and pretend to drink human blood and eat flesh," says Mr Snell.

"That, word for word, is an accurate description of a Church of England ceremony, but it complete misses the point.""
Author, Margot Adler, to discuss paganism at Pacific
The Record, February 09, 2010
"STOCKTON, CA-- Margot Adler, an author and correspondent for National Public Radio, will lecture about paganism in America at 8 p.m. next Tuesday at the Long Theatre at University of the Pacific.

Adler is a practicing Wiccan. She is author of "Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today," a book considered by scholars to be an authoritative guide. Her most recent book is "Heretic's Heart: A Journey through Spirit and Revolution."

Adler's lecture, "Paganism: Religion, Not Superstition," is part of Pacific's Colliver Lecture Series on religion.

The event is free and open to the public. Adler will conduct a book signing after the lecture. For more information, visit www.pacific.edu."
Hindu healer wins funeral pyre battle
By Jerome Taylor, The Independent Religious Affairs Correspondent, 10 February 2010
"In the end they decided that Mr Ghai’s wishes to burn on a pyre enclosed within a large structure but open to the elements was not forbidden by the Cremation Act 1902.

In summing up his judgement Lord Justice Neuberger ruled: “Contrary to what everyone seems to have assumed below, and I am not saying it is anyone's fault, it seems to us that Mr Ghai's religious and personal beliefs as to how his remains should be cremated once he dies can be accommodated within current cremation legislation."

The landmark ruling paves the way for anyone in Britain – be they Hindu, Sikh, religious or non-religious – to opt for an open air cremation as long as they can find a crematorium which can conduct the cremations without falling foul of the strict environmental and public health regulations surrounding the disposal of bodies. Currently no such facility exists although the expectation is that some orthodox Hindus will hope to build one soon."
Polish Nationalists oppose St. Valentine’s Day
by Gazeta Wyborcza, Polskie Radio S.A., 10.02.2010
"Posters saying “F**k Off Valentines, Noc Kupaly OK”, designed by Niklot, a nationalist organisation, have appeared on the streets of the Baltic city of Szczecin.

The organisation wants Poles to abandon the foreign tradition of celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day and go back to their roots, i.e. pagan rites.

Niklot claims that Poles should observe the Kupala Night, a Slavic fertility holiday traditionally celebrated on 23-24 June.

On Kupala Night young men would jump over the flames of bonfires and girls would float wreaths of flowers often lit with candles on rivers, attempting to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river.

Niklot, which opposes the mixing of cultures, languages, nations and races and considers revenge to be the basic right of every man, and is frequently accused of propagating fascism.

“We only refer to tradition, not radical ideology,” Ireneusz Woszczyk from Niklot has said, denying the accusations.

The Helsinki Federation for Human Rights claims that city authorities should wage war against the organisation and check if it has violated the law by pasting anti-Valentine posters with nationalistic slogans."