Poem on a Birthday

Brigit Rest Goddess Grove. photo credit: Sadie

I am a lucky woman, and much gifted. Four gifts in particular I received this year:

a perfect July peach
a knife that fits my hand
a heartmeant compliment from a teenage son
and an argument for which I did not apologize

 

These things exist in our world, but they are exceeding rare. I know their value and will wear them forged and braided as adornment and strength. I am a lucky woman.

A woman grown so quiet here, in this space where just a year or two ago I was all enthusiasm. For a while my silence worried me. A theologian, I’ve had to learn trust over the months as my thought moves down, into the body. Into my body. A poet, I’ve had to face the fact that language flattens and distorts when tossed about too quickly. A woman, I’ve had to find a way to understand my silences as active and alive, rather than passive and inert.

All the myths and stories tell us the gift exists to be transformed and passed on, or it loses its power.

one sunflower 2016

photo credit: Sadie

 

A Poem for Women with Birthdays

 

It has taken me decades to learn to love
the way I pour each night into bed like a Midwestern river,
soft and insistent and ripe, effulgent with summer rain,

here and there paused and pooled
with minnows, with trout. Then too I am the voracious,
toothy carp jumping into the next boat that passes.

I was taught to play my breath out with care,
To run it over and through the knotted cords of my throat
like wind through a young grove of aspen,

to sing and laugh like the spring breeze that flirts
and lifts the hair playfully on a hopeful morning.
It’s a gift, that grace, but there are other gifts too.

By now I know we are equal parts joke and broken,
luscious bluster and blister, so very unspoken,
so very real. Silver and gilt. Sisters, tell me

how will you exult
in your gristle, the meat and fat of your flesh,
how will you rest in the mud of your marrow,

where important and ephemeral things go to be born?
Nameless and slippery, crunched and wiggling,
dark in the sockets of bone,

against all odds and cultural narratives,
we have time yet to locate each element and ore, here,
and here, and here again. Come closer.

 

photo credit: Vardaman

photo credit: Vardaman

 

Why Black Lives Matter (Too) – A Book Review #BlackLivesMatter

The Black Lives Matter movement arose in response to the violent deaths of three unarmed Black men: teenager Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Suddenly, it seemed, the media silence around such deaths at the hands of police or other authorities had broken. The names of unarmed Black adults, teens, and children assaulted or killed by police came blazing across our news feeds, seemingly a new name every week.

For many of us in the Pagan movement who do justice work, it felt like scales had fallen from our eyes. We may have been aware that our society is racist, that Black people are still suffering from the aftermath of American slavery. But we were living under the illusion that since the gains of the Civil Rights era, we were still slowly moving toward true equality.

The well-publicized deaths in 2013 and 2014 showed how wrong we were. In the US, unarmed Black children and adults can be killed by police (or, in the case of Trayvon Martin, a self-appointed neighborhood watchman) with no repercussions—and such assaults happen frequently. This is not a society moving toward equality for Black people. Rather, it’s a society whose systemic racism has simply become more subtle and well-disguised. “Black Lives Matter” is a powerful slogan because in so many arenas, our society still treats Black lives as though they do NOT matter.

why-black-lives-matter-too-revolutionary-call-to-action-by-mary-canty-merrill-phdThe anthology Why Black Lives Matter (Too) emerged from Voices for Equality, a Facebook group established by Mary Canty Merrill in August 2015. Merrill describes the group as “a dialogue-into-action community against social injustice and inequality.” After Voices for Equality agreed that the proceeds of the book should support challenging the effects of racism in the justice system, they chose The Sentencing Project as the beneficiary. To quote from its website:

Founded in 1986, The Sentencing Project works for a fair and effective U.S. criminal justice system by promoting reforms in sentencing policy, addressing unjust racial disparities and practices, and advocating for alternatives to incarceration.

Our work includes the publication of groundbreaking research, aggressive media campaigns, and strategic advocacy for policy reform. As a result of The Sentencing Project’s research, publications, and advocacy, many people know that this country is the world’s leader in incarceration; that racial disparities pervade the criminal justice system; that nearly six million Americans can’t vote because of felony convictions; and that thousands of women and children have lost food stamps and cash assistance as the result of convictions for drug offenses.

The opportunity to support The Sentencing Project is, by itself, a good reason to pick up a copy of the anthology. However, the anthology has a broader mission than either The Sentencing Project or the Black Lives Matter movement as it was originally conceived. Black Lives Matter (Too) critiques racial injustice in the United States in a huge variety of contexts, and it does so with equal servings of research and personal narrative.

As a writer and editor, I can tell you that anthologies are never of completely consistent quality. Some pieces will always be stronger than others, and this is true of Black Lives Matter (Too). A good anthology, however, should have “something for everyone”—a variety of pieces so that almost any reader should be able to find something to connect with—and the anthology does fulfill that mission.

For example, there are a number of strong pieces from white activists who tell personal stories of discovering and confronting both their own racism and our society’s. Patheos Pagan’s own Cat Chapin-Bishop, for example, has an engaging essay that does this admirably. I also particularly recommend the piece by Rebecca Wiggins, which lays out the issue of systemic racism briefly and clearly and then provides a list of concrete strategies for response. Either would make an excellent introductory essay for a person or group just beginning to learn about racial injustice. Frustratingly, however, the anthology is organized alphabetically by author’s last name, not topically or by placing complementary essays in groups. This arrangement results in the middle of the book being dominated by essays by white activists, most of whom seem to be responding to the same writing prompt, “Why Black Lives Matter to Me.”

If the reader presses on through the repetition, however, some of the strongest essays are buried near the back. I was particularly struck by Rhonda Lee Richoux’s piece, which addresses how one can be a person of color (in her case, Filipino) and still be thoroughly indoctrinated in racism. This essay is immediately followed by my favorite in the collection, a piece from Native activist Bee Schrull that celebrates the accomplishments of Black scientists, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs while mourning the creative Black lives that have been lost to injustice. Some of the strongest Black writers are also included near the back of the volume: a piece by Muthu (Jordan) Weerasinghe protesting the inattention that Black Lives Matter has given to Black women and gender-nonconforming Black people, and an essay by Anthony M. Wiley about being Black and in a position of authority in the military.

These and many of the other pieces in the book would make excellent reading for a discussion group that wants to educate itself about systemic racism. I am disappointed, however, to say that I cannot recommend assigning the book as a whole to a “newbie” group. Sadly, Black Lives Matter (Too) suffers from poor editing. In addition to the ineffective system of organizing the essays, the anthology is riddled with grammatical errors that can interfere with comprehension. In some essays, sentences were so vague, unclear, or just plain muddled that they left me scratching my head. (Take, for example, this uncited statistic from p. 11 of the introduction: “A 2015 Huffington Post survey shows that three out of four white Americans believe that racism is a ‘somewhat serious’ national problem, compared to nine out of ten Blacks—that’s 68 percent of Black respondents, compared to 31 percent of whites.”) Other problems were content-based; one essay, in apparent innocence of Nazi-era anti-Semitic propaganda, uses the stereotypical image of the “crafty” Jew to criticize a former business partner.

The weak editing is particularly problematic in the first twenty-five pages of the book, which are the key parts for connecting with and drawing in an audience. Unfortunately, it is not clear who the intended audience is. Mary Canty Merrill, who drew the material together and wrote the introduction and conclusion, seems to address a sympathetic white audience on the back of the book, where she asks readers to “confront your own white privilege and fragility as you examine racial justice and equality in a revolutionary way.” The book’s prologue by Mirthell Bazemore, however, is written for a Black audience, whom Bazemore chastises for language and dress that she doesn’t see as liberatory (xx).

This prologue is followed by Merrill’s long framing introduction, which gives historical and sociological background for systemic racism. Some parts of this introduction are excellent, giving talking points and facts about topics such as internalized racism, discrimination in health care and employment, and inequality in the justice system. Merrill, whose PhD is in a psychological field and who works as an organizational psychologist, is particularly strong on the topic of mental health, and she provides careful, clear definitions of jargon such as “privilege” and “microaggressions.” Her conclusion for the book is also effective, outlining concrete strategies for readers to address racial injustice. Yet other sections of the introduction—particularly the opening pages—are much less focused, with abrupt changes in tone, facts stated without citation, and ad hominem attacks on other researchers.

These problems are especially frustrating because they distract from what is essentially a strong argument. Why Black Lives Matter (Too) could have easily been crafted into an effective introductory text for white readers who are curious about but perhaps still skeptical of the racial justice movement, and based on the back cover blurb, this seems to have been Merrill’s intent. Because the writing is not properly organized and edited for this audience, however, it preaches best to the already-converted.

Despite these issues, I can still recommend this book for educators and activists who are working with people who know little about or do not yet support the movement. Merrill’s introduction provides all the material an educator needs to give an effective introductory lecture. Educators can then pick and choose readings from the collection of essays for a combination that will draw in and then effectively challenge their chosen audience. Merrill’s conclusion, which outlines concrete strategies for activism, can be assigned whole cloth to guide future action. With this strategy, Why Black Lives Matter (Too) should be a powerful resource for anti-racism educators.

 

UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On

A guest post by Lucya Starza
of A Bad Witch’s Blog


 

“So, which are you – a journalist or a witch?”

That was a question I was asked twice when I attended the conference on the UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On at the London School of Economics on Tuesday. I was wearing both a press badge and a silver pentacle, so I can understand the confusion.

As a pagan who has also worked in the press for the past 30-odd years, it isn’t the first time I’ve come across fellow witches not believing I can be both. Journalists have been among the biggest enemies of modern pagan witches since the mid 20th century – and during the late 1980s to early 1990s we fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic with lurid stories such as those in the clippings at the top of this post.

When I say “we”, I don’t mean me personally. Being a pagan, I would never have written such stories, but most journalists were not so knowledgeable at the time and sensationalist headlines sell. The journalists weren’t making stuff up themselves either, I should add, they were being given inaccurate information by seemingly reliable sources, including children’s charity the NSPCC.

However, one investigative journalist bucked the trend. Dr Rosie Waterhouse, now director of the MA in investigative journalism at City University London, was a freelance reporter at the time. She investigated what was being called Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) and found that evidence to back up the claims simply didn’t exist. Her research and debunking of the myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse went on to form the basis of her PhD, awarded in 2014. I was keen to hear Rosie talk at the conference.

But what was the Satanic Ritual Abuse Scare?

It started with a small group of claim-makers, mostly fundamental Christians, who had read material circulating in America stating that an international network of Satanists were sexually abusing children as part of their rituals – raping young girls, then aborting foetuses and sacrificing them. They portrayed pagans and other occultists as being part of that. These claims were taken seriously by social workers, therapists and police, leading to high profile cases in Rochdale, Nottingham and the Orkneys. Children were taken into care because it was believed their parents were members of this ring of Satanic abusers. Newspapers loved it.

At the conference, Rosie Waterhouse talked about how the media covered SRA – and her 25-year investigation into it.

Between 1987 and 1993 there were 84 investigated cases of SRA, the main ones being in Nottingham, Rochdale, and the Orkneys. Respected children’s charity the NSPCC, at a press conference for its 1990 annual report, told journalists it took these claims seriously. What followed was a media frenzy with headlines such as “Children forced into evil sex rites” from the Press Association and “Kids Forced into Satan Orgies” in the Daily Mirror. Satanic Ritual Abuse was national front page news.

Rosie had joined the Independent on Sunday and did investigative work. She was tasked with finding evidence for SRA, but back in the days before Google, finding evidence was hard and research was long-winded. Rosie searched for criminal cases and family court cases, with an archive of newspapers as her main resource. There she found criminal cases with anecdotal evidence. Getting in touch with the family courts, she discovered that 41 children had been taken into care. That looked like evidence, but Rosie realised anecdotal evidence is not firm evidence.

She worked back to find out the original source of information. The NSPCC put her in touch with fundamentalist Christian group the Evangelical Alliance, who put her in touch with Reverend Kevin Logan. He claimed teenage girls were used as brood mares in Satanic rituals, then the foetuses aborted and sacrificed. Asked how many women had told him they had been used as brood mares, Rev Kevin Logan said eight.

Rosie said that seemed to her like a great piece of investigative journalism, but she then got a letter in the post from the Pagan Federation and other letters from Sorcerer’s Apprentice bookshop, pointing out that hard evidence was missing.

Visiting Sorcerer’s Apprentice, she looked at the shop’s archive of letters from pagans and other occultists pointing out where the stories being reported in the press were broken. She said she had never met an occultist before and was nervous, but the upshot was a fantastic archive. The following week the Independent on Sunday‘s Sunday Review editor Richard Williams asked her to look into it further.

Through the material she received, she concluded there was no forensic evidence at all – no blood, no bones or any other physical proof. These would have been present if the killing of babies and foetuses had been taking place.

Eventually, this was recognised by the police both in the UK and America and cases against the accused were dropped. The FBI in the US has stated that until hard evidence is found, Americans should not be worried that babies are being sacrificed in Satanic rituals. The scare grew because of impatient cops, poorly trained therapists and social workers, and fantasists who believed things had happened to them that were actually only in their dreams or imagination.

However, SRA accusations are still being made and although the scare of the 1980s and 90s is over, we should not be complacent. A current trend for police to follow a “believe the victim” mantra – rather than “listen to the victim and then investigate the allegations” – could lead to police being taken in by fantasists again.

Rosie summed up by saying that the method journalists should use to tell the difference between true and false allegations is to test the evidence.

And back to that question about whether I can be a witch and a journalist. Well, yes, of course I can, even though I understand why many of my fellow witches are still suspicious of me because of my job outside writing a pagan-friendly blog. Journalists can be the enemies of pagans – but, as Rosie has shown, they can also be our greatest allies, especially if they do their investigations well and test the evidence of what they are being told.

The UK Satanic Abuse Scare: 25 Years On conference was organised by information charity Inform and the renowned pagan bookshop Treadwell’s. Other speakers at the event included Prof. Jean LaFontaine, author of a report that effectively ended the scare; Prudence Jones, former president of the Pagan Federation and active senior member during the scare; Phil Hine, co-founder and co-editor of Pagan News in the early 1990s; and Amanda van Eck of Inform. I will be blogging about their views on SRA over the next week or so.

You can find Rosie’s dissertation, Satanic Abuse, False Memories, Weird Beliefs and Moral Panics, at Openaccess.city.ac.uk/11871


This post was originally published at A Bad Witch’s Blog