Thursday, September 08, 2005

Fear and Hatred in Smalltown, Anywhere

This article in a Colorado Springs newspaper caught my eye, as, over the years, a lot of similar articles have caught my eye. Articles like this make me angry. Too often, lately, I have heard the piteous cries of the WASPs: "We're being discriminated against because we're white and Christian!"

Who is being discriminated against here? And by whom?

Planned festival of pagans draws anger in plains town

The small eastern plains town of Ramah is simmering with religious tension after a pagan group rented out the American Legion Hall for a festival on Halloween weekend.

The name of the festival is Samhain -- pronounced SA-when -- and it is the pagan festival that honors the ancestors.

A Baptist minister tried to rally the town board to stop the gathering, and one woman is circulating a petition demanding that the festival be stopped.

Other residents call the situation a witch hunt targeting those with different beliefs and are sarcastically referring to their town as “Salem.”

“It’s mass hysteria,” said resident Virginia Gurule Baker. “These people are so closeminded.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Annette Manchego, who said, “I do not want it in our town or anywhere around our town.”

Last month, the Secret Garden Coven decided to hold a fall festival as a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Organizer Jerusha Doucette-Johnson said she paid a deposit Aug. 19 on the building. Then she distributed fliers in Calhan, Simla, Ramah and other towns advertising the festival, which will include a ball, craft show and midnight ritual.

The coven of about 10 is primarily from the Calhan and Simla area.

Pagans worship a number of gods and goddesses and don’t subscribe to the Christian idea of a God and devil. The ritual consists of facing different directions, lighting candles, honoring those who have died and giving thanks for loved ones, Doucette-Johnson said.

This part is really, really important: pagans do not believe in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim concept of satan, a devil, or demons! Pagans have their own dieties. They do not need to borrow or steal anyone else's dieties!

The different directions have meaning. The candles have meaning. This festival, to repeat myself, is meant to honor the ancestors.

There’s no violence, she said.

No. Violence. None.

Some in Ramah, named for an Israeli town in the Old Testament, became upset when they saw the flier, particularly the reference to a ritual.

Specifically, it is a religious ritual that has nothing to do with Christianity. It also has nothing to do with the devil, satan, or demons. Why is it that people fear and hate things about which they know nothing?

The Rev. Tim Tucker of Ramah Baptist Fellowship asked the town board to meet about the matter, and Town Clerk Cindy Tompkins scheduled a workshop Aug. 25 at Town Hall.

Trustee Nicole Allen, who is Gurule Baker’s daughter, said she protested the gathering because the town has no legal interest.

Doucette-Johnson said Trustee Tara Bell did much of the talking when the meeting began and asked what the ritual was about.

This is where an invitation would normally be issued to anyone who is curious about paganism. Samhain, however, is an intensely emotional and private ceremony. This is not "hallowe'en" we're talking about.

Tucker was there but said nothing, she said. Doucette-Johnson said she tried to explain how her religion worked but felt Bell was aggressive and rude. Bell did not return two calls seeking comment.

This does not surprise me. That someone of any religion would demand to know what another religion is all about if the space of a town meeting is ludicrous. We are not only talking about a religion, but an entire culture. You can't possible explain it in a town meeting.

The meeting quickly became heated.

Doucette-Johnson said some residents thought the pagans would slaughter animals and one man said he didn’t want the pagans pushing their religion down his throat. He then asked whether she would be open to a Ku Klux Klan meeting in her front yard, she said.

Several religions use ritual animal slaughter as part of their dietary laws -- Judaism (for kosher) and Islam (for halal), to name two. Pagans have no such ritual or requirement. And then there are Catholic Christians, who practise a kind of cannibalism they call Holy Communion -- eating the flesh and drinking the blood of their god. You, reading this, might think that is only symbolic. Ask a Jesuit priest sometime. He will tell you it is not symbolic -- the bread and wine are being literally transformed into flesh and blood. They call it "transsubstantiation."

And as for pagans shoving their religion down anyone's throat: If this is the first time the town realised there are pagans among them, I wouldn't call it shoving anything down anyone's throat -- quite the opposite, in fact.

And the whole reason for renting the Legion Hall was to keep the festival private -- remember the Legion Hall? Four walls, a roof -- doors that lock? Not public. Private.

“That to me was like a threat,” Doucette-Johnson said.

Sounded like a threat to me, too. Are there not laws against this kind of threat?

The same man also said he could organize a cattle drive through the area to ruin the festival, Allen said.

Oh, how wonderful! Not only is this unnamed man willing to ruin a sacred moment for a culture which is no threat to him, but remember where it's being held? Legion Hall? He wants to drive a herd of cattle through the Legion Hall?

Tompkins said the meeting continued for about 45 minutes before she stopped it and proclaimed it a citizens’ meeting.

Tompkins said she made a mistake in allowing the meeting in the first place and that she and elected officials didn’t understand the subject of the meeting before arranging it.

“The town should not have been involved,” she said.

Thank you, Ms. Tomplins. No more should the town be involved in what the local churches are doing...

Mayor Tamra Herrera agreed, declining to share her personal opinion of the matter. “I’m staying completely out of it,” she said.

Now Manchego is circulating a petition asking the American Legion Hall not to allow the rental. She said she’s collected more than 100 signatures from residents in the area and plans to present the petition to the American Legion.

She may find that some of the veterans who are members of that Legion are pagans, themselves. The military guarantees freedom of worship. There are pagan military chaplains.

If that fails, Manchego said, she’ll hold a protest Oct. 29.

She said pagans have the right to practice and gather privately, but shouldn’t do so in public.

Once again, and trying not to repeat myself too often -- this is not public. This is in a Legion Hall. Behind closed doors. Four walls and a roof. Completely private.

However, if other religions have a right to gather in public, then so, too, should pagans have the right to gather in public. This is not a subversive society, here, people!

“We have vulnerable young people that don’t need this put upon them,” she said. “The festival is a pulling to get people in. Then they can work with the devil himself, which they worship. It is powerful, believe me. They can brainwash you, and before you know it, you’re staying for the midnight ritual.”

Ahem. Pay attention. Major point about to be made:

Of all the pagan festivals (there are eight formal ones), Samhain is the least suited for children. This is not hallowe'en we are talking about!

Repeating: NO DEVIL!

And, perhaps if more people understood this next point, they'd understand why they don't hear about pagans until close to the time of a pagan festival:

Pagans do not advertise. Pagans do not proselytize. Pagans do not go on recruiting drives. Pagans are not interested in your children. Pagans are not interesting in adding to their membership. Pagans do not want to tell you how to live your lives.

How un-Christian of them!

You have not been, and will not be, invited to the midnight ritual.

A representative of the American Legion Hall didn’t return calls, but Doucette-Johnson said her group has been told it can still hold the festival. However, American Legion representatives did ask her to remove references to a ritual from a flier. She agreed to do so.

Thank you, American Legion. And perhaps this is a good place to say that mentioning the ritual was maybe not the best idea in the first place. After all, anyone attending would know about the ritual -- it's part of the festival. And we've just seen how upset the willfully ignorant can get when you mention certain words...

Doucette-Johnson said she’s never encountered such problems before.

Ah, sister-friend, welcome to reality!

“It’s the first time I’ve ever organized anything like this. I know now why paganism is such an underground religion and why (pagans) are so afraid,” Doucette-Johnson said.

“It is disappointing to me,” Allen said. “It’s 2005. I thought we’d become more progressive. I found out we’re not.”

No, we are not. And, despite that the year is 2005, the differences between religions and cultures is still the hottest button you can find to spark anymosity among otherwise civilised peoples. I have no idea why this is so, but it is a fact that is being used around the world to keep people isolated from one another. One of these days, I'll write an article on the politics of isolationism.



Blogger DazzlinDino said...

paganism has been "demonised" by hollywood I think. As far as I know, pagans don't really worship anything, they just say be good, and look at the stars and nature for signs. I did one a long time ago that said pagans and wiccans have the fastest growing congregations, while christianity is dropping.....

Thursday, September 08, 2005 6:41:00 PM  
Blogger Chimera said...

LOL -- I know -- I gave you a few links in your comments...

The concept of "worship" is not a pagan thing, either. Prayer and supplication do not fit into the culture. Pagans have more of a partnership with their deities. And not all pagans have the same deities...

Enough to drive a non-pagan up the wall, sometimes.

But never enough to justify the levels of fear and hatred that follow them around.

Thursday, September 08, 2005 7:54:00 PM  
Blogger Dez said...

Religious organizations are bases of power. The more power such bases hold, the more they fear competition.

When the christian church replaced the traditional gods of Rome, the first thing they did was demonize the old gods. One of the hardest to displace was also one of the least powerful - the god of light and dawn, Lucifer - a simple god beloved of the common people, with a tiny shrine in every home. The church demonized him so hard he is still identified as an avatar of satan.

Christians are hostile to all who compete for their power - the faith of the people. Any who wish to challenge them by putting forth an alternative faith would be wise to fear them.

Christians are easy to recognize, fortunately. They are the ones who preach peach and love while holding a gun to your head.

Friday, September 09, 2005 8:49:00 PM  
Blogger Dez said...

sorry... PEACE and Love.

Peaches and Cream.

I'm always getting those two confused.

Friday, September 09, 2005 8:51:00 PM  
Anonymous ironheart said...

Thing is, with all those pagans going skyclad...there are a LOT of cheeks to turn...

Saturday, September 10, 2005 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger angela said...

the thing with christians is because the pagans are mentioned in the bible and during sermons, they think they know everything about it... you cant argue with the infallible. ugh.

Monday, September 12, 2005 3:24:00 PM  

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