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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Meet The Ancients

The obsidian-dark profile of Tanethep, an Egyptian woman dead since the second century BC, gazes sightlessly over my head. I am in a darkened room at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, one of 12 linked rooms and alcoves filled with obscure treasures from across time.

How strange to venture from the bright light of the national capital into such an arcane world. Being in Canberra is like inhabiting a David Hockney painting, with its immaculate, china-blue skies, clean, stark buildings and well-behaved waterways. The wide-open, shadowless capital seems an unlikely route to take to the underworld of the ancients, and making even more rarefied this glimpse into the realms of the long-dead is that the exhibition, Egyptian Antiquities from the Louvre: Journey to the Afterlife, comes from that Parisian temple of high art. Full Story

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Let's See, What's A Good Symbol For Intolerance?

An overzealous homeowners association president, abetted by Media Gone Wild, gave us the Christmas season's first brouhaha over what is an acceptable holiday display. But then, thankfully, the issue was crushed under the weight of its 15 minutes of fame.

The local story goes national and as Kearns notes, "It's really gotten out of control." Calling the peace symbol a symbol of Satan might have contributed to that. That and the irony of a Christmas disagreement over "Peace on Earth." Good thing a homeless, pregnant couple wasn't seeking shelter in a Loma Linda garage. (Hey, heavy-handedness begets heavy-handedness.)

By Monday, the association withdraws its threat of fines and wreath removal and apologizes to the couple, who have received hundreds of calls of support and offers to pay the fine. The blessed end to nonsense.

Speaking of symbolic nonsense, the federal government has for years denied Wiccan veterans the right to have the symbol of their religion placed on their grave markers. Full Story

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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

First Glimpse Of A Superior Wisdom

Wicca took its first formal steps in India, in the “witching hour” of a November afternoon. Wiccan Ipsita Roy Chakraverti launched The Wiccan Brigade on Sunday in a Taj Bengal conference room swathed in yellow light and soft music. Far removed from the monastic chalet in the Laurentian mountains near Montreal, where Ipsita attended her initiation ceremony, this was a wicca fresher’s brush with the western pagan cult.

The Wiccan Brigade has been formed close to two decades after Ipsita started practising wicca in different forms — working as a healer, lecturing and writing on the century-old branch of learning. The organization aims to pass on the knowledge to wicca enthusiasts. Full Story

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Monday, November 27, 2006

The Sellers Of Santería Put Faith In The Internet

Nelson Carrasco works inside a cavernous Hialeah warehouse, under the unblinking figures of Catholic saints and African gods, surrounded by his stock in trade: hollowed bull's horns, cast-iron cauldrons and blocks of virgin beeswax, said to curry good fortune.

But the tools of his trade are decidedly less mystical: a sleek Compaq laptop and the Internet.

For years, Carrasco's parents catered to a clientele of local shops, or botánicas, and Santero priests who dropped in to purchase the elaborate trappings required by their Afro-Cuban religion.

Then Carrasco, a self-confessed computer geek, decided to take the family business online.

It's no surprise that even the most obscure commodity can be ordered on the Web. But the advent of online botánicas are a sign that Santería's reach is traveling far beyond Cuban exile enclaves like Hialeah and Little Havana, where brick-and-mortar versions have long been neighborhood fixtures.

''This is a religion that has been spread without missionaries or militaries,'' said Terry Rey, a professor of religious studies at Temple University. Full Story

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wiccan Widow Receives State Plaque

The widow of a Fernley soldier killed in Afghanistan says she has received a special anniversary gift from her husband.

Roberta Stewart said she received a phone call Monday morning that a plaque with the Wiccan emblem for her husband, Nevada Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart, had been affixed to the Veterans' Memorial Wall at the Northern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Fernley.

"It looks beautiful," said Stewart, whose wedding anniversary is Wednesday. "It is awesome to see Patrick next to John and finally both of them honored." Full Story

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Iceland’s Museum Of Sorcery And Witchcraft

Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft in west Iceland, where visitors can observe obscure magical objects and learn how to scotch ghosts, is steadily growing in popularity.

The Witchcraft Museum in Hólmavík, Strandir, opened in 2000. “The Strandir area has always been notorious for witchcraft and that sparked the idea of the museum,” Sigurdur Atlason told icelandreview.com. He is the manager of Strandagaldur, the company behind the museum’s exhibitions.

The Witchcraft Museum has gained popularity in recent years, last year it had 8,000 visitors. So far mostly Icelanders have visited the museum, but tourists are becoming increasingly interested. Full Story

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Witches In South Florida

Is there such a thing as a real witch? Witchcraft is actually a religion called Wicca and just how many believers are present in South Florida may surprise many.

CBS4's Laurie Stein took an in-depth look into the world of witches and found that many search area cemeteries in search of ghosts.

On one particularly cloudy and dark night, Stein followed some of these witches to a cemetery one evening and what she found may be shocking yet intriguing to some. Full Story

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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Indonesian Witch Doctor Tries To Jinx Bush Trip

An Indonesian man claiming magic powers drank animal and snake blood today as part of a ritual he said would jinx the forthcoming visit of US President George Bush.

Ki Gendeng Pamungkas slit the throat of a goat, a small snake and stabbed a black crow in the chest, mixed their blood with herbs before drinking the potion and smearing it on his face.

“I don’t hate Americans, but I don’t like Bush,” said Pamungkas, adding he believed the ritual would succeed because “the devil is with me today”. Full Story

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Asked And Answered: What Is Wicca?

Question: You printed an item about two veterans' widows wanting Wiccan symbols on their husbands' headstones. What is Wicca?

Answer: Some authorities say it stems from a witchcraft branch called Gardnerian, founded in Britain in the late 1940s.

Others trace it to about 2,800 years ago. Full Story

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Service Symbol

Surely the courts have better things to do than answering a question of religious freedom, one that by all accounts was answered properly and in perpetuity by the crafters of the Constitution more than two centuries ago.

At issue is a religious symbol, the Wiccan pentacle, a five-pointed star representing the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, along with spirit, that are the foundations of the faith. The military does not allow that symbol to be used on the headstones of deceased veterans of that religious persuasion in national cemeteries, unlike the Christian cross, the Jewish Star of David and the crescent of Islam. Even atheists may choose to have a specific symbol acknowledging their particular (dis)belief for eternity.

The issue should never have made it to court. The deceased soldier, Sgt. Patrick Stewart of the Nevada National Guard, was killed in Afghanistan last year. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his service. That, and the fact that he died for his country, should prove his right to be buried as he would choose, or as his family would choose.

This shouldn’t be a federal case. It shouldn’t even be a district judge’s case. It should just be done. Full Story

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Monday, November 20, 2006

US Pagans Fight Grave Symbol Ban

Pagans in the US have filed a law suit against the government for the right to have their five-pointed symbol placed on gravestones in military cemeteries.

Widows of two Wiccan soldiers and two Wiccan congregations say the government is obstructing their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

About 1,800 people on active duty in the US armed services are Wiccan.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is reviewing the way it approves new emblems but has not spoken on the case. Full Story

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

AU Fights VA Bias Against Wiccans

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today filed litigation against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) over its refusal to include the Wiccan symbol of faith on its official list of emblems for government headstones and markers.

Americans United is representing Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005; Karen DePolito, whose husband, Jerome Birnbaum, is a veteran of the Korean War who died last year; Circle Sanctuary, a prominent Wiccan church; and the Isis Invicta Military Mission, a Wiccan and Pagan congregation serving military personnel.

The filing of the litigation was announced this afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., by the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director; Roberta Stewart; the Rev. Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary’s senior minister; and Americans United Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee. Full Story

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Saturday, November 18, 2006

Pagan Love And The Golden Ratio

Some of my readers seem to think that I’m some flaky, hippy-dippy, crystal-gazing, bong-hitting, artist type who has no grasp on reality or the effects of poverty (though my family of four lives on less than $20K per year -- so technically we ARE poor) so let’s go ahead and reinforce this stereotype and get a little metaphysical in celebration of the Day of the Dead …

Samhain (Halloween) is the Druidh New Year. The Gaelighe (Celt is actually a Greek word), a Gaia-centric people followed a lunar calendar. Prior to the heliocentric Julian Calendar and the Gregorian Calendar, Samhain was celebrated on the first full moon in the sign of Scorpio. This is a time that traditionally marks the death of the Oak God and His symbolic return to womb of the Earth Mother until spring. On Samhain, it’s said, the Western Gate of Heaven is opened, and the veil between the Otherworld and the Middle World is at its most transparent. It is a time to mourn and rejoice for lost loved ones, to lament the loss of the warmth and fertility of Summer, a celebration of the last harvests before Winter, and an invitation to the dark aspects of the Mother with an understanding that all things must pass and that the barrenness and cold will yield again in Spring. Death is essential to life. So it goes.

This has been a year filled to the brim with the themes of death and regeneration. Full Story

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Art Of The Ancients

Images from ancient Egypt - the pyramids and the sphinxes, the mummies, headdresses and loin cloths, the sacred scarabs and priestly cats - are plentiful in popular culture, but they are almost cartoon-like in their superficiality.

Our familiarity with them is misleading. The mind-set of these mysterious people is far less transparent to us than that of the ancient Greeks, whose classical civilization flared comparatively briefly towards the end of the 3000-year reign of the pharaohs.

To walk from the Egyptian rooms in the Louvre in Paris, one of the great repositories of this material, into those of the Greeks next door is to leave the seemingly modern - large-scaled, brightly colored and smoothly textured, dominated by text and brand-like pictograms - for the rough-hewn simplicity of a much more distant world.

Yet the Greeks gave us the foundations of our intellectual life: philosophy, science, literature. The everyday metaphysics of the Egyptians - mind-bending notions such as the interchangeability of the real and the symbolic, or belief in the coexistence of the living and the dead in the material and the immaterial worlds - strains the imagination. Plato spent time in Egypt and is said to have taken from there his metaphor of life being like shadows flickering on the walls of a cave. Shifting back from the mental world of the Greeks to that of the Egyptians, however, is a leap for us.

"You could say the Egyptians created the virtual world," says Marc Etienne, curator of the department of Egyptian antiquities at the Louvre." Full Story

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Garden Before Eden

Changing the story of Western civilization, according to Santa Fean Craig Barnes, would change the future. His new book, In Search of the Lost Feminine: Decoding the Myths That Radically Reshaped Civilization, is a pastiche of scholarship, creative reinterpretation of Greek myths, and personal passion. At the book's center is a cataloging of the artworks of Minoan Crete, an apparently woman-centered civilization that flourished from 2500 to 1500 B.C. and then disappeared.

What drove the former public-interest lawyer and arms-treaty negotiator to devote 12 years of his life to this feminist project? "There are a hundred things that come together in a life," Barnes said. "I spent a year in Athens when I was a high-school student. I tried a lawsuit in the 1970s in which the judge ruled against Denver's nurses in a wage case. He excluded evidence of the history of discrimination against women, and to prove the right of redress you have to prove the history of discrimination. Nothing in my family history had prepared me to encounter this kind of discrimination." Full Story

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

AU Sues VA Over Wiccan Burial Markers

A group dedicated to “defending the separation of church and state” is weighing in legally on the battle by some families to have the Wiccan symbol placed on burial markers provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for their fallen veterans.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State plans to announce a lawsuit against the VA on Monday in Washington, D.C., said Rob Boston, a group spokesman.

“We seek equal treatment among religions by the government,” he said. “We think the federal government is clearly discriminating against Wicca by refusing to recognize its symbols … Why the federal government continues to fight this is beyond me.” Full Story

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Practicing Pagans Find Freedom, Variety In Faith

They don't sit around casting spells, they aren't all "witches" and they don't worship the devil -they don't even believe in one. They're Pagans, and they're all around ASU.

Paganism is the country's 10th largest religion, according to a 2005 Adherents.com survey that the U.S. Census cites for religious information, with about 1 million Pagans living in the United States.

Eighty-six of them are members of the ASU Pagan and Associates Network, said PAAN adviser Sheila Brushes. Full Story

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Ritualistic Site Noted As “Place Of Interest”

Kern County Sheriff’s Deputies located a site in the Old Towne area last week they are categorizing as a “meeting place” or “site of interest” because of several unusual items located there.

Neighbors reported seeing suspicious activity by teenagers dressed in black or “gothic” attire. The teens were seen entering and leaving private property in a rural area of Old Towne through a barbed wire fence.

There is a large pit, with a fire ring at the bottom and some sort of stadium seating carved into the sides of the pit. It resembles an ancient amphitheater.

Across from the pit is a stone fire ring in the shape of a pentagram. Although associated with Satanic worship, a pentagram has been used by different cultures and religions throughout history. Full Story

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Pagan Hub Remains Intact

Moonflower Magicks was a rare place for today's witches and pagans to gather and be accepted. It was as much sanctuary and cultural center as it was a book and supply shop.

When a fire two weeks ago closed the purple gilded New Age shop at the corner of Colby Avenue and California Street, word of the loss shot through the communities that called it home.

"It's pretty much a hub of the neo-pagan community," said Willow Moon, an Italian witch and Wiccan high priestess from Everett. "It's been a big loss."

Investigators said the cause of the fire has not been determined. Shop owner Jana "Moonflower" Benson, 63, said she suspects arson. Full Story

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

An Experience Of Mythic Proportions

As I'm coming down the stairs of the Red Lion Pub, where I've rented a room for the night, I see a sign on a chalkboard: "Curious about Paganism? Why not visit the Avebury Pagan Moot? 1st Sunday of every month, 3 p.m."

By chance, I'm right on time, but glancing in at the front room of the 400-year-old pub, I decide against going in.

I am curious, but the earthy-looking women and burly bearded men inside look a bit intimidating, like a wizarding version of a biker gang.

Besides, what's the point of discussing the mystical world of Avebury when I could be out experiencing it? This Wiltshire village, roughly 120 kilometres west of London, is home to Britain's largest stone circle. Full Story

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

Priest Paves A Pagan Path

Ross MacKae spent years studying - and sampling - various religions, from Buddhism and the Church of Latter-day Saints to Unitarianism and Catholicism, but didn't find what he wanted in any of them.

So he started his own church.

"Now my goal," he said this week, "is for people to see it as just another church."

That's probably easier said than done. He's the high priest of the American Pagan Church, founded two years ago in East Hampton, L.I., with a handful of believers who currently meet in his home. Full Story

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Cauldron Of Mystery Descends On To Town

When people think of witches, it is easy to get lost in the stigmas that are readily accepted by the mainstream.

As these modern day fables would suggest, witches are old ladies with warts on their noses, covered in saggy green skin and ride brooms into the night sky while cackling all the way to their local shop for a new supply of frogs - or something along those lines.

Like any stigma or negative representation of a minority group, there is a truth concealed within and with witches, Paganism, Wicca and the like, this is certainly the case. Full Story

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Witches And Wizards

Meet the Schaffers. Kevin, an IT professional, his wife, Athena, a writer for Gothic Beauty magazine, and son Collin.

They're also witches -- members of the Wiccan religion. And their beliefs, this family of witches says, are not about black magic. It's a way of life.

"Most of our spellcasting is for things like prosperity, for love, for healing, ahh, even for communications. If you haven't heard from somebody, you light a yellow candle," Athena Schaffer says. Full Story

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Faith-Based Diet, Wiccan-Style

Recent reports have pegged churches as breeding grounds for obesity, largely because of the large amounts of fatty foods often served at church social events.

All this got us wondering on this Halloween’s eve: what about people with more unconventional beliefs? Is there, for example, a wiccan diet? Turns out, not too surprisingly, that there are people who have written about the preferred diet for wiccans, or, more accurately, pagans.

As paganism is normally associated with connection to nature and reverence of the earth, it makes sense that these would be the guiding principles in a wiccan or pagan diet. Full Story

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Witch Way? Rival Shops Compete

Botanica Mama Roots is as tiny as hell's icebox and as crowded as heaven's waiting room. The Normal Heights shop overflows with herbs, charms, spells, relics and votive candles.

“Chango Macho,” a red candle, promises good luck, money, power and love.

“Contra La Ley,” white, prevents awkward encounters with law enforcement.

Then there's “Destructora,” a black candle that threatens to “Open the Doors to Hell.” Etched into the glass candleholder are nine spaces and an invitation to mayhem: “Evil to Those So Named.”

“Destructora” and its sinister ilk anger Kyle Leite. “I do not participate in doom, do not participate in curses,” said Leite, owner of Superstitious: The San Diego Witch Shop.

Mama Roots and Superstitious are neighbors but not friends. Full Story

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

A Witch's Coven

On a neglected downtown Columbus street, a dusty minivan sits across from a store.

Nothing suggests what’s inside the shop except for the vehicle’s bumper sticker: “My other car is a broom.”

Store owners and self-described witches Lady Hawk and Ole Bear have kept a subdued business since 2001 – for the same reason they gave only their Wiccan names for this article.

“I don’t go around telling people I’m Wiccan,” said Ole Bear, a stout man with a neatly trimmed silver beard. “In the South, people will hate you because of your faith.”

These two witches – and the couple hundred others in Northeast Mississippi – have no stereotypical features – no pointy hats or Goth makeup. Although predominantly female, witches are both men and women. They are the co-worker, next-door neighbor and volunteer in our communities. Full Story

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tribute To Britain's Last 'Witch'

She was the last person in Britain to be tried as a witch - in a 1944 case Winston Churchill called "obsolete tomfoolery".

Her ability to inform relatives about loved ones who had died abroad during the Second World War led to her family being demonized. Even 54 years later, then-Home Secretary Jack Straw refused to grant her a posthumous pardon.

But now Helen Duncan is to receive a special mention in a ceremony to remember 81 people from Prestonpans who were killed during the witchcraft trials of the 16th and 17th century. Full Story

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Friday, November 03, 2006

Caelum Moor Sculpture May Be Moved Again

It's not etched in stone, but the monumental Caelum Moor sculpture that once drew pagan worshippers and protests from religious groups might be dusted off and erected in the Glorypark development.

At a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Wednesday, developers announced their hopes to integrate Caelum Moor into the $600 million town center. Commission members were reviewing plans for the residential, retail and office development, which is expected to open in fall 2008 next to Ameriquest Field in north Arlington.

If the City Council approves the proposal, the sculpture would sit on public land north of Randol Mill Road near Johnson Creek. The council could consider the plan as soon as next month, but many details, such as who would own and maintain the sculpture, have not been finalized, city officials said. Full Story

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Court Rejects Wiccans’ Tax Challenge

A Wiccan group’s challenge to a state sales tax exemption for Bibles and other religious items faltered Thursday when the Florida Supreme Court decided it lacked authority to consider the issue after all.

The high court earlier agreed to take the case and even heard oral arguments. But it ruled in a brief 6-1 opinion that it found no conflict in appellate court rulings on the underlying issue of whether the Wiccans have the right, or “standing,” to challenge the law.

The Wiccan Religious Cooperative of Florida had appealed a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that it lacked standing.

The Wiccans, who follow an earth-based belief system or religion, once qualified for the exemption on items sold by the cooperative. They sued on Halloween 2000 after losing their exemption because they did not own a place of worship as required by state regulations. Full Story

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Wicca Follows Cycles Of Natural World

Low, 42, was raised Christian in the United Church in Hamilton, Ontario, but "came home to the craft" about 15 years ago, following the teachings of English occultist Gerald Gardner, who founded and wrote about modern Wicca in the 1950s. After years of interest, Low was accepted into a coven and studied under High Priestess Lady Mae.

"Wicca is a religion based on the cycles of the natural world," she told the Peak in an interview at her Westview home. This makes the four seasons and cycles of the moon instrumental in understanding the religion. "The sun is the symbol of the god and the moon is the symbol of the goddess," she said. "All living creatures are manifestations of the divine."

Low said there are two parts to witchcraft: The religion and the craft. Full Story

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