Monday, April 30, 2007


Had a wonderful Beltane this year at the Center for Symbolic Studies.
This year, a full ritual was performed, including the calling of the directions. The ritual was based on the Arthurian legend, and featured characters from that pantheon. It was well performed. After that, a procession was led to the fire circle. I got to help out a little this year, moving some benches around and helping getting the fire dance going. A good time was had by all. I want to thank Hrana of Free Style Frolic for all she did.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Charlotte's Web II: The Revenge of Charlotte--This Time It's Personal

Giant spider makes NZ home

Orb weaving spiders of the genus Nephila are spectacular. Not only are they impressive in their own right, they make huge orb webs:

...Lorrie Griebel's Marlborough backyard is home to a golden orbweb spider – the latest found in New Zealand in recent months. Eleven discoveries of the tropical spider have been reported to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry this year. The Marlborough spider is one of just three confirmed sightings in the South Island since 1975. Measuring over 5cm in length, the spider was thriving on a generous diet of bumblebees and other garden insects. The spiders are known to catch small birds.Griebel discovered "Charlotte" in the garden...Her children, Alicia, seven, and Hayley, five, named the spider after the main character in the book Charlotte's Web. "The first thing we noticed was these strange-looking legs and my main concern was the kids running through it. I left it well alone and gave it a wide berth. I got more interested when it started to change and I thought `this is definitely not a common everyday spider'," Griebel said...

We have Nephila in the SE of the USA. I have also seen them in Central America and Trinidad. The genus is represented throughout most of the worlds tropics. How they recently became established in NZ is somewhat of a mystery. They could have been introduced as stowaways on produce, or spiderlings (which are very small) could have drifted there by ballooning.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ritual and the Family

Study: Religion is Good for Kids

Maybe Richard Dawkins feels religious upbringing for children is tantamount to child abuse, but here's a study by sociologist John Bartkowski that points to a rather different conclusion:

...Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.The kids whose parents regularly attended religious services—especially when both parents did so frequently—and talked with their kids about religion were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than kids with non-religious parents...

That's amazing enough, but here's the clincher:

...But when parents argued frequently about religion, the children were more likely to have problems. “Religion can hurt if faith is a source of conflict or tension in the family,” Bartkowski noted...

So maybe some bestselling atheists got it backwards: religion is not the cause so much societal strife, but families and cultures undergoing angst, strife, or transition can use religion as just one more club to beat each other up with.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pentacle Wins!

Use of Wiccan Symbol on Veterans’ Headstones Is Approved

What a wonderful Beltane gift! From the NYTimes:

WASHINGTON, April 23 — To settle a lawsuit, the Department of Veterans Affairs has agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to a list of approved religious symbols that it will engrave on veterans’ headstones. The settlement, which was reached on Friday, was announced on Monday by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which represented the plaintiffs in the case...It normally takes a few months for a petition by a faith group to win the department’s approval, but the effort on behalf of the Wiccan symbol took about 10 years and a lawsuit, said Richard B. Katskee, assistant legal director for Americans United...A Veterans Affairs spokesman, Matt Burns, confirmed that the “V.A. will be adding the pentacle to its list of approved emblems of belief that will be engraved on government-provided markers...The government acted to settle in the interest of the families concerned...and to spare taxpayers the expense of further litigation.”

Heh, nice to know where their priorities are. Regardless of the VA's motives, this is a great day for Wiccan's and Pagans, the men and women in uniform and their families, and celebrators of religious freedom and tolerance. Congrats to Roberta Stewart and her family, Rev. Selema Fox of Circle Sanctuary, the various veterans groups who supported the effort, and all who blogged or annoyed their Congressional Representatives. AU is to be particularly congratulated (I'm a supporting member of AU; why not do the right thing and join right now!)and so is the ACLU. Many of us have sent out our wishes in this quest during ritual: what a wonderful thing to have happened at Beltane.

UPDATE: great article via AU, Bush Administration Agrees To Approve Wiccan Pentacle For Veteran Memorials.

O Captain, My Captain: Cap'n Dyke

Blogger to testify before U.S. House Committee

Our very own Capt'n Dyke is testifying before Congress! Blue Gal and Dr. Zaius have details.

Steady on, my Cap'n. Your hearties got your back. I tied a witch rope to bind your problems and calm the sea. Now, the rest of you salty dawgs, drop the good Cap'n good line! (For you sodpounders, that means leave a comment at her blog!)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Twilight of the Dominionists

Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?

Do you know who the worst enemies of Xtain fundamentalists are? You can guess the usual suspects: Secular Humanists, Godless Liberals, homosexuals and their 'agenda', and last-but-not-least--those filthy hippie earth worshiping, tree-hugging Pagans (or do I flatter myself?). But if you picked any of them--you're wrong! It turns out that the worst enemies of Xtain fundamentalists--are THEMSELVES! That's according to Mary Ratcliff, who presents significant research by a social psychologist who focus on fundamentalists. It seems their Junior Xtian Soldiers have penchant for going astray:

...Ironically, one of their biggest how difficult it has been to keep their children in the fundamentalist camp when they grow up. Fundamentalists have invested a great deal into trying to make sure their children are not polluted by the sinful world. They've created a parallel mass media....They've put on huge rallies and concerts providing Christian entertainment and music. And they've created a separate press that publishes Christian novels and magazines. Indeed, home-schooling was started largely in response to the "godless" culture which was so seductive to the children of the Christian fundamentalists...

But even after such precautions, as they grow older, it seems many children abandon fundamentalism. Insiders typically blame the suspects I mentioned above. So they've reacted by redoubling their efforts at stacking the courts, state houses, school boards, and the federal gov with like-minded people. However, according to social psychologist Bob Altemeyer (who figured prominently in John Dean's excellent book "Conservatives without Conscience") such efforts have been failing:

...Bob Altemeyer found that fundamentalist families have a particularly poor track record in passing their beliefs down to their descendants.... "Christian fundamentalism has three great enemies in the struggle to retain its children, judging by the stories its apostates tell: weaknesses in its own teachings, science, and hypocrisy...For the first problem: when the Bible is actually read, the actual text causes problems for the discerning reader. "The Bible was, they said, too often inconsistent, petty, boring, appalling, self-serving, or unbelievable..."

Although may profess Biblical allegiance, Altemeyer found that few actually read the Bible completely; those that do find it's inconsistencies too great. Yuppers, the bible does indeed contain some appalling stuff. Hmmm. How about tossing your daughters to an angry mob--in order to avoid offending your guests? Or, sacrificing your son--to prove your love of god? How 'bout the bible teaching that pagans just can't get enough human sacrifice and like to make Sushi of their own children. (As some reading this will know, I'm not joking: I have talked to Xtains who think we advocate things like that! I'm so sorry to disappoint them.) And I've been at this for a few year now--and I still haven't grown my cloven hooves, DAMMIT!

Next, science rears it's serpentine head:

...for some, science makes too much sense ...for people who find the logic of science compelling, the decree from the pulpit to ignore and disbelieve science is too much....From its earliest days fundamentalism has drawn a line in the sand over scripture versus science, and some of its young people eventually felt they had to step over the line, and then they kept right on going...

Don't you hate it when science makes too much sense! regards to the third problem...what they learned from their families and from the pulpit was how valuable integrity and truthfulness was in defining one's character. And the implacable demand that one submit their belief and their reason to something they found irrational became too much...

For Fundamentalist, this third problem is perhaps the worst, especially when one escapes the cocoon-like confines of their communities. Then, several powerful factors come into play. Part of it comes down to the fact that for people who think dishonesty is a sin and hold themselves and others to a high moral or ethical standards, hypocrisy does not play well. Long term, sick people like Ted Haggard or Jimmy Swaggart and disgraced Dominionist apologists such as US Rep. Mark Foley take a heavy toll.

As the Yin and Yang symbol teaches us, an extreme always contains the seeds of its self destruction.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Goodnight, sweet bellydancer

Love and Hugs for Reema's Loss
I tried my best not to post anything about this. But I'm compelled to acknowledge it, by recognizing a victim of the horrible Virgina Tech tragedy. Check out the link above and read some of the heart-felt comments there. Enrich yourself and honor the remarkable dancer, Reema Joseph Samaha.

Blessed be, Reema. Goddess and God thank you. Seeing you dance is something we all look forward to when we cross over to SummerIsle.

(For more info: CNN Reema Samaha bio)

UPDATE I: Article and VIDEOS of Reema's last dance at bottom of page. She's in the green dress.

UPDATE II: Info coming about dance charity in her honor.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

NYTimes Theocracy piece

It seems NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman was inspired by the BAT, with a piece entitled "For God's Sake: Invasion of the theocrats". (Hmmm, that title sounds familiar.) Unfortunately, his editors decided to hide it behind "TimesSelect". Sheesh! What a perfect example of why the print press is tanking. Notwithstanding Brian 'I'm competing with a guy in a bathrobe' Williams asinine comments, the majority of the BAT pieces stand up to, or greatly surpass, Krugman's editorial. OTOH, Krugman is a damn good writer. Many of us have warmed our hands by the fire in his belly. Here's some highlights of Krugman's piece:

...The infiltration of the federal government by large number of people seeking to impose a religious agenda--which is very different from simply being people of faith--is one of the most important stories of the last six years...

Well said, Mr. Krugman. Too bad your bosses decided to bury your piece behind a firewall.

...It's also a story that tends to go underreported, perhaps because journalists are afraid of sounding like conspiracy theorists...

Maybe "TimesSelect" subscribers would think it's just wacky theorizing, but not the rest of us. As Paul points out, Pat Robertson's Xtain revisionist Regent University has 150 graduates working inside the Bush admin. If that's not a bona fide conspiracy, I don't know what is. He goes on:

...But this conspiracy is no theory. The official platform of the Texas Republican Party pledges to "dispel the myth of the separation of church and state." And the Texas Republicans now running the country are doing their best to fulfill that pledge...

Good on you, Paul!

...One measure of just how many Bushies were appointed to promote a religious agenda is how often a Christian right connection surfaces when we learn about a Bush administration scandal...

Heh! It's good to be cautious, so I won't quibble over cause & effect. Besides the infamous Monica Goodling (sounds like a character dreamt up by Vonnegut), Paul gives us a handy gallery of Dominionist creeps:

...Kay Cole James...dean of Regent's government school, was the Federal governments chief personnel officer from 2001 to 2005...she then took a job with Mitchell Wade,...who bribed Representative Randy "Duke" Cunningham...

...George Deutsch, the presidential appointee at NASA who told a Web site designer to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, to leave open the possibility of "intelligent design by creator. He turned out not to have, as he claimed, a degree from Texas A&M...

...Rachel Paulose, the US attorney in Minesota--three of whose deputies...stepped down, protest over her management style, is, according to local news report, in the habit of quoting Bible verses in the office...

...Claude Allen... presidential aid and former deputy secretary of health and human services, who stepped down after being investigated for petty theft. Most press reports, though they mentioned Mr. Allen's faith, failed to convey the fact that he built his career as a man of the hard-line Christian right...

Krugman notes that the Bush admin's hemorrhaging represents a setback for the Christian right's strategy of infiltration:

...But it would be wildly premature to declare the danger over. This is a movement that has shown great resilience over the years. It will surely find new champions. Next week Rudy Giuliani will be speaking at Regent's Executive Leadership Series...

How frightening. Echoing Krugman's words, AU has an excellent article asking "Is the Religious Right Dead?".

(image from Kudzu Files)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sagan, Cheech, and Chong

Smoke more pot, says Kirsten Dunst

Spider Man actress Kirsten Dunst believes the world would be a "better place" if more people smoked marijuana:

"...My best friend Sasha's dad was Carl Sagan, the astronomer. He was the biggest pot smoker in the world and he was a genius."

Wow! Something like a quote right out of Cheech and Chong, "Carl Sagan smoked pot, and HE'S NOT SO STUPID!". Good old Carl influences the world in so many ways.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ripple in the Chrono-Synclastic-Infindibulum

As has been widely covered, the great author Kurt Vonnegut died Wednesday. The MSM coverage has been generally good, although some seem to glance over the fact that he was primarily a science fiction writer. He wrote his own epitaph:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:



I first heard of him when I was a child, staring slack-jawed in amazement, watching a PBS movie based on some of his stories called "Between Time and Timbuktu". Soon I was to read Slaughter House 5, Mother Night, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and Venus on the Half Shell.

Tralfamadorians, where were you when we needed you?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Friend of theTheocracy: Giuliani

Questions on Schiavo Bedevil Giuliani
Part of my Blog Against Theocracy post concerned Terri Schiavo. The comments issued by Republican Presidential hopeful Rudolf Giuliani must warm the hearts of Dominionists everywhere. A reporter asked:

"...Can I ask you about Terri Schiavo...Did you support the congressional intervention to—"

At this point Mr. Giuliani cut in, according to a transcript provided by his campaign: "I believe I did. I don't, I, it's a while ago and I think I said that I thought every effort should be made to keep her alive. I don't know that I supported the, the whole thing to the very end, but I am not sure now..."

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Blog Against Theocracy: Night of the Living Dominionists

In the original version of the classic science fiction movie The Blob, a gang of hip teenagers race through town, attempting to warn their neighbors of the approaching monster. Their parents--and other iconic 1950's authority figures--dismiss their actions as just a practical joke by some mixed-up kids. But as the threat grows and grows, and after many people are killed, the menace becomes obvious. Teens, parents, teachers, concerned citizens, fire fighters, and law enforcement eventually join forces to defeat the monster.

Over the last few years, many of us have been suspicious of the growing intolerance expressed by certain elements of the Religious Right. Did they have some ulterior motive? Many feared this cult's goal was the establishment of a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in this country. Pursuant of these goals, they attacked and demonized gays, lesbians, or the transgendered, people practicing alternative sexuality, the hard-earned rights of racial minorities, members of non-mainstream religions, feminism and reproductive rights, certain fields of science such as ecology and evolution, and any form of art or expression that called into question a 1950's perception of normalcy. For lack of a better word, some of us have nicknamed the most strident of these zealots 'Dominionists' (but other apt terms are sometimes applied, such 'Theocons' or 'Authoritarians'). For the most part, warnings of this cult's impending coup were ignored.

After the attacks of 9/11, the American public seemed like complacent pod-people as an illegal war was waged, our Justice Department trashed domestic and international rights, and a free hand was given to industries hell-bent on driving the earth to ecological collapse. The main stream media, seemingly channeling a Big Brother form of journalism, advanced this agenda.

As any fan of genre films can tell you, the path to salvation is based upon getting others to notice. They have to see the threat with their own eyes, even if that involves rubbing their noses in it.

I feel that the Terri Schiavo saga was the bellwether. As the debacle unfolded, Americans got to see the subversion of their entire system of government. A special session of congress was convened, unconstitutional laws were drafted, and even the almost unheard of interruption of the President's vacation time, all to institute a 'right-to-life' agenda. Now comfortable in its lapdog roll, the press fed us "The Race to Save Terri" themed stories. However, poll after poll revealed the public was taking a dim view of these actions. This outrage served to reveal certain ulterior motives of the Dominionists: in moments of your most personal life and death struggles, in your most sacred space--only rightfully populated by loved ones or trusted medical professionals--there exhisted a cult of Bible-thumping monsters poised to violate you on every level. Even the sad post mortem of Mrs. Schiavo, revealing her complete blindness and lack of a functioning brain, pointed up another failing of the Dominionists: a complete lack of apologies.

It's sad and tragic for a family to be so hounded, at such critical times. But never underestimate the viciousness of Dominionsts. Even death is no shield against their harassment. They will even pursue you beyond the grave.

The family of fallen soldier Patrick Stewart was to find that out. Sgt. Stewart was killed in combat in Afghanistan. When his widow, Roberta, attempted to honor him by having a pentacle--the symbol of their Wiccan faith--engraved on his memorial plaque, she was in for a rude surprise. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs refused! It turns out the pentacle is not one of the approved symbols the VA allowed. Although applications for this symbol had been properly filed over the years, no action was ever taken. In the mean time, at least six other symbols (one even for Atheism) were approved. For some, the application to approval time was only a few months!

The ordeal of the Stewart family is well documented by the organization Americans United, who has brought a lawsuit (along with Salena Fox of Circle Sanctuary and a number of Wiccan veterans groups) against the VA, trying to force them to address the issue. In this case, the MSM is demonstrating a rare instance of being-on-point. Numerous editorials have appeared in support of the Stewart family and the story has gotten wide coverage. Even activists and politicians who are on the conservative side of issues, have lent their support, such as John Whitehead of the Rutheford Institute.

Throughout all of this, the VA has hidden behind a curtain of bureaucracy. A host of lame excuses has been offered. However, a close reading of the events seems to force the conclusion that someone is putting their personal religious convictions (which I might add are very mistaken as to the nature of Wicca) ahead of their duty and the Constitution of the United States. I wish the VA was not acting like this. It's a sad day for this country when the families of fallen soldiers must pursue lawsuits to get the VA to do the right thing.

Never underestimate the power and ruthlessness of Dominionists. But like the monsters of Psychotronic movies, they have their weaknesses: remember how the Blob could not stand cold temperatures; keep in mind the Hammer Studio's classics, where Van Helsing (played by Peter Cushing, of course) had an arsenal of weapons to defeat the Count (Christopher Lee).

Our weapons are the facts--Dominionists can't stand facts! Facts, knowledge, understanding, and diplomacy are analogous to holy water and garlic. Iconic symbols, such as the crucifix, also are powerful shields. We now have another weapon in our monster-stopping tool kit: the Pentacle.

Technorati Tags: blog against theocracy

Thursday, April 5, 2007

DNA: Born Again

Collins: Why this scientist believes in God

Dr. Francis Collins has an interesting editorial concerning science and religion at CNN. After explaining a bit about his path from atheism, he shares with us some of his struggles:

...After resisting for nearly two years, I found it impossible to go on living in such a state of uncertainty, and I became a follower of Jesus. So, some have asked, doesn't your brain explode?

Heh! According to some--such as demonstrated by PZ Myers knee-jerk reaction to the article--it should indeed explode. For many of us, it's perplexing to observe how confounded some strident atheists become at the sight of a scientist who is comfortable with spiritual beliefs. I agree with one brave commenter at Scienceblogs, who pointed out such posts are taking on a frightening resemblance to the anti-homosexual screeds of Dominionist web sites. Collins then asks:

...Can you both pursue an understanding of how life works using the tools of genetics and molecular biology, and worship a creator God? Aren't evolution and faith in God incompatible? Can a scientist believe in miracles like the resurrection...?

OK, that resurrection thingie is a bit of a reach for me, however:

...Actually, I find no conflict here, and neither apparently do the 40 percent of working scientists who claim to be believers. Yes, evolution by descent from a common ancestor is clearly true. If there was any lingering doubt about the evidence from the fossil record, the study of DNA provides the strongest possible proof of our relatedness to all other living things...

Phew! It's really great to have a respected scientist speak-up like this. So much MSM dialog has been monopolized by Dominionists, it's any wonder some brains are upset. Now for the clincher:

...But why couldn't this be God's plan for creation...?

Bravo. I really like the way some of the scientific and environmental Christians are integrating the observable universe into their spirituality. Welcome to our Circle, folks, we Wiccans and Pagans have been at this for a bit. Lets welcome all the help we can get, as together we just might save the planet. He concludes with an attack on literal interpretations of scripture:

...attaching oneself to such literal interpretations in the face of compelling scientific evidence pointing to the ancient age of Earth and the relatedness of living things by evolution seems neither wise nor necessary for the believer. I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship.

What Pagan or Wiccan could disagree with that? It's great to have people like Dr. Collins speaking up.

(Thanx to green_ghost for pointing me to this article)

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses

Brooklyn Museum: Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses

March 23–September 16, 2007

A great long-term exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, featuring our darling Hatshepsut, at the newly opened Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art:

...This exhibition is the inaugural biographical gallery show of a series in the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Presented in tandem with The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, the exhibition is dedicated to powerful female pharaohs, queens, and goddesses from Egyptian history. The central object of the exhibition is an important granite head from the Brooklyn Museum collection of Hatshepsut, the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539–1292 b.c.), and one of the 39 women represented with a plate at The Dinner Party. Hatshepsut is featured alongside other women and goddesses from Egyptian history, including queens Cleopatra, Nefertiti, and Tiye and the goddesses Sakhmet, Mut, Neith, Wadjet, Bastet, Satis, and Nephthys...By incorporating multiple objects from the Museum's extraordinary Egyptian collection, the exhibition encourages viewers to make visual and historical connections with the Museum's long-term installation Egypt Reborn, which has additional objects on view pertaining to Pharaohs, Queens, and Goddesses.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pyramid Wars

War of the pyramid theorists

"...some Egyptologists now argue that ancient Egypt's rural population was the group that actually built the pyramids - and that it did so not in bondage, but as a more complicated form of tribute to the pharaoh...According to Shoeab, those who contributed to the production of the pyramids were not slaves at all, but displaced persons who came to Giza during the Nile's annual flood season. Shoeab believes that the historical records found along the banks of the Nile provide the most credible theory, which says that the pharaohs provided food, shelter and sanitation in exchange for the seasonal river dwellers' work on the pyramids. The seasonal nature of the work may help to explain why the Great Pyramid of Khufu took 20 years to build. Shoeab claims it was actually considered a great honor to work on the pyramids...One should also remember that these were tombs built for gods, she says, and that in this context the pain of the task might have been understood in a similar light as the self-discipline and deprivations of Christian monastic life."