Baku: Eater of Nightmares

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)

Bad dreams, everybody has them. Sometimes they stick with you throughout the day, making it hard to concentrate. Like the first slumber party I went to and some genius suggested that we watch “Poltergeist”. Nightmares are a common occurrence and their effects are universal. It is no wonder that in Japan and China bad dream equals bad luck for the dreamer. Fortunately, they know what to do to prevent this. Call on the baku.


The baku is a creature of spirit, a chimera that eats bad dreams. Talk about a specialized skill set! Oddly, it’s ugly enough to cause me nightmares. Many tales say the baku resembles a tapir. A what? I know, I had to look it up. I’ll save you the hassle. Tapirs are a roughly pig-like mammal found in Central America, South America, and Southeast Asia. Others describe it as having a large body like an ox, a long snout like an elephant, with tiger’s limbs, an ox tail, and small rodent-like eyes. There’s a variant where the body is more like a bear, with all the same features as before. Still other tales describe the baku as having spines on its back, sharp pointy teeth, an elephant’s trunk and tusks, and a lion’s mane. Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, more important than what a baku looks like is what it does.

You wake up from a bad dream. Immediately you call upon the baku to come and eat your bad dream. This spares you from the bad luck associated with having a nightmare. I don’t think it matters how you ask, just that you do. Some stories instruct you to say “I give my bad dream to the baku to eat”, others tell you to say, “Devour them, O Baku.”

If you want to try to prevent bad dreams, keep an image of a baku in your bedroom. Some people write the baku’s name on a piece of paper and put it under their pillows before bedtime. Others take no chances and write the baku’s name on the pillow itself! Of course, if you are concerned, you can set up an altar to the baku in your bedroom. There you can leave small gifts and offerings to him to insure pleasant dreams.

How wonderful is it that such an odd, and perhaps scary looking creature can in fact help humans with their nightmares? Perhaps the baku is so frightening looking that nightmares dare not show up. No matter why it happens, the baku is a benevolent creature, if unusual looking being. Pleasant dreams.

Magical Buffet Mythology: Set

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)

Attempting to discuss Set can be a tricky endeavor. Like all deities, he has had a long and varied existence, and those darn Egyptians were so fond of writing about their gods that the stories are long and the inferences are many. So, bear with me as I take a stab at talking about Set.


It appears that originally Set was a desert god, and thus all desert things were under his purview. Some examples are sandstorms, desert caravans, and the animals that lived near the edges of the desert like donkeys and gazelles. Set was a very important and powerful god. You would have to be if you held court over such a hostile environment. Set was a chief god and his influence was strongest in Lower Egypt.

Just as Set was the big deific cheese for Lower Egypt, Horus laid claim on Upper Egypt. When the two lands became united the pair worked together crowning pharaohs and such. Of course, since technically Upper Egypt had defeated Lower Egypt Set was viewed as the bad guy counterpart to Horus’ supreme coolness. Despite the fact that Set gouged out Horus’ eye in their conflict, Set was still an all right god in most Egyptian’s books.

Then the fit really hit the shan for the poor guy. These pesky foreigners, the Hyksos, had to go and gain rulership of Egypt. Worse, Set reminded the Hyksos of their warrior god and so they raised Set up to be the primary god of Egypt. Sure, it sounds like a good gig, but you know, the Egyptians were obviously not the biggest fans of the Hyksos. Since Set was already the lesser bad boy god to their beloved Horus, guess who got to eat all the seething burning foreigner hatred? That’s right, our boy Set. Set grew to embody all that the Egyptians hated about the Hyksos, and thus began to be perceived as an even darker and more evil deity than before. Soon all the identities of other evil deities began to be absorbed into Set’s identity.

Gradually no one even remembered desert Set. You know, the guy who controlled the sands? Friend to donkey and gazelle everywhere? Now Set was associated with animals the Egyptians feared, like crocodiles and hippopotami. Also, Set became related to evil deities of other rising empires.

These days when you look for a basic definition of Set you generally hear these words: chaos, war, storms, inhospitable places, Satan, black magic, Left-Hand Path, and other unsavory persons, places, and things. Granted, Set was never the God of Puppies and Rainbows, but still, it’s a dark place to land for any deity. If darker things float your boat, you’ll be happy to know that there is in fact an active organization devoted to the worship of the Set from the end of the story. Me, I’m looking for the ones that likes the Set from the beginning. I’ve got my sunscreen and flask of water waiting for when they call.

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Ten Questions with a Virtual Pagan

1. Can nature oriented faiths benefit from the internet?
Absolutely. The Internet (and specifically, the world wide web) is an incredibly powerful tool for communication. It provides a forum for magickal groups to describe and discuss their beliefs and practices. At the same time, it allows for a great deal of anonymity. For example, I could have published under my craft name (Maat) and there would have been no easy way to know that Maat and Lisa Mc Sherry are one and the same. Another benefit is that some groups can be made up of people from diverse geographies. I can only imagine how lonely it was for people interested in exploring alternative religious practices that had no ‘likeminded’ groups to learn from. Or for the nascent ceremonial magician surrounded by Erisians!

2. How do covens perform rituals and celebrate holidays using the internet?
I think the most evocative (and accessible) way uses a combination of physical performance and real-time chat. (Perhaps it is no surprise that this is what my coven does.)

Set up a physical altar, with specific energy spent on ‘dressing’ it for the ritual. For example, at Lammas a blade of grain; at Mabon, an apple; at Ostara flowers, etc. As well, if the ritual includes sharing cakes and wine, or another physical element, set up the altar to include it. (For example, at Yule, we begin the ritual with no fires lit. At specific points we light candles and wood-scented incense.)

Any ritual can be done online, but special attention must be directed to transforming physical actions into text that describes the action being done. We use a narrator to describe what the leaders are doing when they are busy Aspecting or engaging in some activity that requires their attention sufficiently that it would be distracting to type.

If the participants actively visualize what the text is describing, the energy raised (and felt) is palpable. In the end, visualization is the key. Practice helps as well. It has taken me several years to write virtual rituals as easily as I once wrote rituals for physical enactment. The timing is different, the flow, the need for far less words, but those with richer meaning and deeper content.

As for tools: a computer, Internet Relay chat (mirc.com) and internet connections. That’s all that is required!

3. What advice do you offer Pagans exploring the internet?
Use your brain! If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Also: Don’t be seduced by the highest tech – low tech is often easier to use, less intrusive on your computer, and more adaptable to your needs.

4. What challenges do you feel the Pagan community will face in the next 10 years?
There are several, but I think the biggest and most complicated challenge will come from the tension of having group members who have no desire to become a priest/ess, but actively prefer (and consistently choose) the role of follower. I think we need to consider and address that tension – can we truly be a religion of priest/esses? If we all speak directly to God/dess, what need do we have to work in groups? Do groups create hierarchy?

The second biggest challenge will come from the tension between group and solitary practice. The bulk of pagan publishing is directed towards working on your own and there are an enormous number of groups started by people with inadequate training. These two factors make working in a group unattractive – but traditional (nature-based) teaching is based on the concept of group work.

These challenges both come from the enormous growth the Pagan community has seen in the last 20 years.

5. What advice to you have for someone interested in starting their own website?
K.I.S.S. – keep it seriously simple.

I am not a professional when it comes to websites (or even technology in general – that is my dark secret). I am, however, an excellent end-user. I have made a point to learn the most efficient ways to do what I want to be done. And I happily pay people who are professionals to fill in the gaps.

I always start with a diagram of how I want the site to look. Ask yourself about the different components, maybe a blog, a collection of knowledge (say, a Book of Shadows that visitors can add to), graphics, etc. The elements you want to include will help you decide how to design the site. For example, my webhost (drak.net) provides a huge number of free site installations, like Wikis, content managers, image galleries, and blogs. This allows me wide latitude when deciding how I want my sites to look, and what they should contain.

Facing North, for example, is my review site. Because it is a huge collection of data (with accompanying graphics) it was best to use a CMS (content management system). So the site is in Joomla, with the template modified to be clean-looking, and a professionally re-designed main graphic.

JaguarMoon, my cyber coven’s site, is a collection of data, but also serves as central point for password-protected data. This data includes our calendars, class logs, class work, and coven-only data (like rituals). This site is in the process of going from an ‘old-fashioned’ html-encoded site to one with a series of discussion boards, supported by content.

Cybercoven, my writing site, is the most complicated site I maintain. For one thing, I actually own a bunch of domains which I forward here for my convenience. The main site is in Joomla, and I update the look (and image) each sabbat. The site links to my blog (in wordpress) and JaguarMoon. Some of the pages are static, others are actually collections of information (like my various writings).

As you can see, I am a big fan of Joomla. If even a technologically inept person like me can manipulate the templates, it is a seriously easy technology to use.

6. Microsoft, Apple, or open source?
I’m pretty much locked into Microsoft products. But I use a lot of open source products to get the nifty things done. Like IRC programs and Joomla. I used Macintosh back in my college days and they were easy to use. But now they just seem great for people who do a lot of graphic work.

7. What’s your guilty pleasure website?
Witchvox.com – it is full of incredibly interesting things to read, updated weekly. Oh, and craigslist.org. Lots of yummy things to buy, trade, sell, and give away for free there.

8. The cup holder on my computer is broken, what do I do now?
LOL! Cheap replacements can be found on your local craigslist.org site – search for ‘cd drive.’

9. Can you explain for our readers the concept of the “cyber altar”?
A cyber altar is a virtual altar, virtual sacred space, that you create as part of your practice. I have seen some gorgeous ones graphically created. (For example, http://aheartsease.com/nuke/modules.php?name=Altar. http://angelnet.com/altar2.html is particularly interesting, but http://home.znet.com/quan_yin/ is my favorite.)

My own cyber altar is the physical manifestation of the items I use in my cyber rituals. Having them ‘to hand’ during ritual adds extra energy to the work I am doing.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question?
What made you decide to start this venture and what are your future goals?

Many different things went into the decision to start The Magical Buffet. Much of it is outlined on our philosophy page (http://www.themagicalbuffet.com/Philosophy.html), but at this point it’s evolved into more than just a celebration of the generalist, it’s become my obsessive mission to start dialogues between different communities. The idea being that once you meet the face behind the belief, that belief system becomes less alien and thus less scary.

My future goals? Global domination. Seriously, I’m asked this a lot and honestly our goals range from just trying to get our next issue done to maybe one day hosting interfaith discussion groups. At this point our little publication and website has evolved into more than we could have expected. Who knows what goals we’ll be able to achieve?

About Lisa McSherry
A practicing Witch for more than 25 years, Lisa McSherry is the author of Magickal Connections: Creating a Healthy and Lasting Spiritual Group (New Page, 2007) and The Virtual Pagan: Exploring Wicca and Paganism Through the Internet (Weiser, 2002), the senior editor and owner of Facing North: A Community Resource (www.facingnorth.net) and can be reached at: lisa@cybercoven.org.

Profile: Pagan Troop Support

Article provided by Pagan Troop Support

In efforts to build a stronger global Witch/Pagan community I have founded the organization Pagan Troop Support.

The purpose of Pagan Troop Support is to provide a support system to our Pagan/ Wiccan military men and women who are deployed overseas. Through donations we hope to provide them with the ritual items needed in order to practice their faith and perform ritual wherever they may be and also to provide a networking resource to them as well as their families.

This organization, Pagan Troop Support, is my way of giving back and saying thank you to all those who give to us everyday, and also to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our way of life. I think that often times we take for granted what freedoms we do enjoy in this country, among them the freedom of religion and the ability to practice our faith in the open. I’m very thankful for this freedom, it came with a very high price, not only from our military servicemen and women, but also from those elders in the Witch community that have walked the path before us and fought for that right as well, and so this is my way of giving back to the Witches/ Wiccan/ Pagan community, and serving the greater good.

I have received an overwhelming response to this, and I’m so happy to have all of the supporters that have joined me in my efforts, and would like to thank them all. On the flip side of the coin, there are those few with opposing arguments of “It’s not politically correct”. Well, to those people I say, “We need to put aside our personal views on war and accept the here and now, and what is, because despite our own view, the fact is we are still at war, and there are people that are in need of help and support.” All the while projecting for a swift end to the war and the safe return of our soldiers to their families.

At this time the biggest question I get is “What can I do to help?” The best thing at this time is to spread the word that this resource is available, and if you should know any servicemen or women that are deployed, and may be in need of ritual items let them know we are here. Have them get a hold of us if they are in need of Occult related items. We have received a huge wish list from our Pagan Troops overseas, and at this time we are diligently working on fulfilling as many of these wishes that we can. If you would like to donate items, you can go to our website www.pagantroopsupport.org and click on donate items on the far left and send us an email, we will contact you shortly thereafter. You can also join our forums for discussion whether it be occult related discussion, military related, or just in general, we currently have a growing forum community.

Pagan Troop Support in no way condones War or Violence of any kind, but attempts to make this world a better place by lending a hand to those in need, and assisting the growing Witch/Pagan community.

If you haven’t already, please drop by and visit us at www.pagantroopsupport.org you may also find us on my space by clicking the link to Pagan Troop support on My Space icon at the far left on the website. You can also hear the first Pagan Troop support podcast at http://pagantroopsupport.mypodcast.com/200704_archive.html.

What does a lily mean? The Fleur-de-lys

Article by Rebecca
Image by Will Hobbs (www.sirwilliamwesley.com)

Behold my friends, the power of three. For some reason it always comes down to three. Bad things supposedly come in threes; for me it’s more like tens. Wiccans observe the rule of three, mind the threefold law ye should, three times bad and three times good. The influence of three can even be felt in the symbolic life of the lily. Welcome to The Magical Buffet, the fleur-de-lys.



The lily flower itself can symbolize many things: fertility and erotic love (because of it’s scent and phallic pistil), purity, innocence, and Christian piety. In alchemy the lily symbolized the female principle and it has also symbolized the fertility of the Earth Goddess. The white lily is said to have come from the milk of the goddess Hera, and the fertility implied by this caused it to be a popular decorative motif in Greece, the Middle East, and Egypt. Once you reached Byzantium, the lily symbolized prosperity and royalty. Some say this is where the fleur-de-lys (flower of the lily) gained its nobility. For others, it is ordained by God.

The fleur-de-lys, a stylized lily, traditionally represents the kings of France. There is the legend of Clovis, the Merovingian king of the Franks. Clovis converted to Christianity, and once he did an angel gave him a golden lily as a symbol of his purification. This legend is helped by the fact that for many, the three “petals” of the fleur-de-lys represent the Holy Trinity or the Virgin Mary.

Others attribute the symbol to Clovis, but instead of a divine origin they say it became Clovis’s adopted emblem after he was able to spot a part of the river Rhine that he could ford and it was spotted by him due to the water lilies there. Of course, this led to his victory in battle. Later Louis VII used it on his shield and by then the fleur-de-lys’s connection to French royalty was secured. English kings would have the symbol on their coat of arms to signify their claims to the French throne.

Oddly, despite the strong female and fertility associations with the physical flower, the fleur-de-lys is linked to masculine, martial power due to its resemblance to a spearhead.

The fleur-de-lys has become a decorative symbol found anywhere from ancient shields to modern interior design. It’s got the power of three on its side. Here’s just a few threes:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Mankind’s body, mind, and soul
God, the creation, and royalty
Scout’s Promise: duty to God (and/or my country), to help others, to obey the Scout Laws

The fleur-de-lys has a rich history that I have barely touched on here. For a good starting point to learn more, start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fleur-de-lis.

An Introduction to Hinduism: Part 2

From the editors of Hinduism Today magazine (www.hinduismtoday.com), a team of Hindu swamis and yogis living in a monastery in Hawaii who have been publishing the story of Hindus in modern times since 1979.

Photos Courtesy of Hinduism Today. www.hinduismtoday.com

An Introduction to Hinduism:
Living Faith for a Billion People continued




Hinduism in Daily Practice

Hinduism’s three pillars are temple worship, scripture and the guru-disciple tradition, around which all spiritual disciplines revolve. These include prayer, meditation and ritual worship in the home and temple, study of scripture, recitation of mantras, pilgrimage to holy places, austerity, selfless service, generous giving, the various yogas, and following good conduct. Festivals and singing of holy hymns are dynamic activities.

Hindu temples, whether they be small village sanctuaries or towering citadels, are esteemed as God’s consecrated abode. In the temple Hindus draw close to the Divine and find a refuge from the world. God’s grace, permeating everywhere, is most easily known within these holy precincts. It is in this purified milieu that the three worlds—physical, astral and causal—commune most perfectly, that devotees can establish harmony with inner-plane spiritual beings. Traditional temples are specially sanctified, possessing a ray of spiritual energy connecting them to the celestial worlds.

Temple rituals, performed by Hindu priests, take the form of puja, a ceremony in which the ringing of bells, passing of flames, presenting of offerings and intoning of chants invoke the devas and Gods, who then come to bless and help the devotees. Personal worship during puja may be an expression of festive celebration of important events in life, of adoration and thanksgiving, penance and confession, prayerful supplication and requests, or contemplation and the deepest levels of superconsciousness. The stone or metal Deity images enshrined in the temple are not mere symbols of the Gods; they are the form through which their love, power and blessings flood forth into this world. Devout Hindus adore the image as the Deity’s physical body, knowing that the God or Goddess is actually present and conscious in it during puja, aware of devotee’s thoughts and feelings and even sensing the priest’s gentle touch on the metal or stone.

Hindus consider it most important to live near a temple, as it is the center of spiritual life. It is here, in God’s home, that the devotee nurtures his relationship with the Divine. Not wanting to stay away too long, he visits weekly and strives to attend each major festival, and to pilgrimage to a far-off temple annually for special blessings and a break from his daily concerns.

For the Hindu, the underlying emphasis of life is on making spiritual progress, while also pursuing one’s family and professional duties and goals. He is conscious that life is a precious, fleeting opportunity to advance, to bring about inner transformation, and he strives to remain ever conscious of this fact. For him work is worship, and his faith relates to every department of life.

Hinduism’s spiritual core is its holy men and women—millions of sadhus, yogis, swamis, vairagis, saints and satgurus who have dedicated their lives to full-time service, devotion and God Realization, and to proclaiming the eternal truths of Sanatana Dharma. In day-to-day life, perhaps no facet of dharma is as crucial as the spiritual teacher, or satguru. These holy men and women are a living spiritual force for the faithful. They are the inspirers and interpreters, the personal guides who, knowing God themselves, can bring devotees into God consciousness. In all Hindu communities there are gurus who personally look after the spiritual practices and progress of devotees. Such preceptors are equally revered whether they are men or women. In few other religions are women allowed such access to the highest seats of reverence and respect.

Within the Hindu way is a deeply rooted desire to lead a productive, ethical life. Among the many virtues instilled in followers are truthfulness, fidelity, contentment and avoidance of greed, lust and anger. A cornerstone of dharma is ahimsa, noninjury toward all beings. Vedic rishis who revealed dharma proclaimed ahimsa as the way to achieve harmony with our environment, peace between people and compassion within ourselves. Devout followers tend to be vegetarians and seek to protect the environment. Selfless service, seva, to God and humanity is widely pursued as a way of softening the ego and drawing close to the Divine. Charity, dana, is expressed though myriad philanthropic activities.

Hindus wear sectarian marks, called tilaka, on their foreheads as sacred symbols, distinctive insignia of their heritage. They prefer cremation of the body upon death, rather than burial, knowing that the soul lives on and will inhabit a new body on Earth.

Perhaps one of this faith’s most refreshing characteristics is that it encourages free and open thought. Scriptures and gurus encourage followers to inquire and investigate into the nature of Truth, to explore worshipful, inner and meditative regimens to directly experience the Divine. This openness is at the root of Hinduism’s famed tolerance of other cultures, religions and points of view, capsulated in the adage, Ekam sat viprah bahu­da vadanti, meaning “Truth is one, the wise describe it in different ways.” The Hindu is free to choose his path, his way of approaching the Divine, and he can change it in the course of his lifetime. There is no heresy or apostasy in Hinduism. This, coupled with Hinduism’s natural inclusiveness, gives little room for fanaticism, fundamentalism or closed-mindedness anywhere within the framework of Hinduism. It has been aptly called a threshold, not an enclosure.

There is a false concept, commonly found in academic texts, that Hinduism is world-negating. This depiction was foisted upon the world by 19th-century Western missionary Orientalists traveling in India for the first time and reporting back about its starkest and strangest aspects, not unlike what Western journalists tend to do today. The wild-looking, world-renouncing yogis, taking refuge in caves, denying the senses and thus the world, were of sensational interest, and their world-abandonment became, through the scholars’ eyes, characteristic of the entire religion. While Sanatana Dharma proudly upholds such severe ways of life for the few, it is very much a family oriented faith. The vast majority of followers are engaged in family life, firmly grounded in responsibilities in the world. Hinduism’s essential, time-tested monastic tradition makes it no more world-negating than Christianity or Buddhism, which likewise have traditions of renunciate men and women living apart from the world in spiritual pursuits. Young Hindu adults are encouraged to marry; marriages are encouraged to yield an abundance of children; children are guided to live in virtue, fulfill duty and contribute to the community. The emphasis is not on self-fulfillment and freedom but on the welfare of the community, as expressed in the phrase, Bahujan hitaya, bahujan sukhaya, meaning “the welfare of the many and the happiness of the many.”

Definitions from Prominent Hindus

In our magazine and books we have offered this dictionary-style definition of our faith: India’s indigenous religious and cultural system, followed today by nearly one billion adherents, mostly in India, but with large populations in many other countries. Also called Sanatana Dharma, “eternal religion” and Vaidika Dharma, “religion of the Vedas.” Hinduism is the world’s most ancient religion and encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies ranging from pluralistic theism to absolute monism. It is a family of myriad faiths with four primary denominations: Saivism, Vaishnavism, Shaktism and Smartism. These four hold such divergent beliefs that each is a complete and independent religion. Yet, they share a vast heritage of culture and belief—karma, dharma, reincarnation, all-pervasive Divinity, temple worship, sacraments, manifold Deities, the guru-shishya tradition and a reliance on the Vedas as scriptural authority. Great minds have tackled the thorny challenge of defining Sanatana Dharma, and we would like to share a few of their efforts here.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, renowned philosopher and president of India from 1962 to 1967, states in The Hindu View of Life: “The Hindu recognizes one Supreme Spirit, though different names are given to it. God is in the world, though not as the world. He does not merely intervene to create life or consciousness, but is working continuously. There is no dualism of the natural and the supernatural. Evil, error and ugliness are not ultimate. No view is so utterly erroneous, no man is so absolutely evil as to deserve complete castigation. There is no Hell, for that means there is a place where God is not, and there are sins which exceed His love. The law of karma tells us that the individual life is not a term, but a series. Heaven and Hell are higher and lower stages in one continuous movement. Every type has its own nature which should be followed. We should do our duty in that state of life to which we happen to be called. Hinduism affirms that the theological expressions of religious experience are bound to be varied, accepts all forms of belief and guides each along his path to the common goal. These are some of the central principles of Hinduism. If Hinduism lives today, it is due to them.”

Bal Ghangadhar Tilak, scholar, mathematician, philosopher and Indian nationalist, named “the father of the Indian Revolution” by Jawaharlal Nehru, summarized Hindu beliefs in his Gitarahasya. This oft-quoted statement, so compelling concise, is considered authoritative by Bharat’s courts of law: “Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and realization of the truth that the number of Gods to be worshiped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion.”

Sri K. Navaratnam, esteemed Sri Lankan religious scholar, enumerated a more extensive set of basic beliefs in his book, Studies in Hinduism, reflecting the Southern Saiva Agamic tradition. 1) A belief in the existence of God. 2) A belief in the existence of a soul separate from the body. 3) A belief in the existence of the finitizing principle known as avidya or mala. 4) A belief in the principle of matter—prakriti or maya. 5) A belief in the theory of karma and reincarnation. 6) A belief in the indispensable guidance of a guru to guide the spiritual aspirant towards God Realization. 7) A belief in moksha, or liberation, as the goal of human existence. 8) A belief in the indispensable necessity of temple worship in religious life. 9) A belief in graded forms of religious practices, both internal and external, until one realizes God. 10) A belief in ahimsa as the greatest dharma or virtue. 11) A belief in mental and physical purity as indispensable factors for spiritual progress.

Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi: “I call myself a Sanatani Hindu because I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avatars and rebirth. In a concrete manner he is a Hindu who believes in God, immortality of the soul, transmigration, the law of karma and moksha, and who tries to practice truth and ahimsa in daily life, and therefore practices cow protection in its widest sense and understands and tries to act according to the law of varnashrama.”

Sri Pramukh Swami Maharaj of the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Sanstha (Swaminarayan Faith) propounds: 1) Parabrahman, one, supreme, all-powerful God: He is the Creator, has a divine form, is immanent, transcendent and the giver of moksha. 2) Avatarvad, manifestation of God on Earth: God Himself incarnates on Earth in various forms to revive dharma and grant liberation. 3) Karmavad, law of action: the soul reaps fruits, good or bad, according to its past and present actions, which are experienced either in this life or future lives. 4) Punarjanma, reincarnation: the mortal soul is continuously born and reborn in one of the 8,400,000 species until it attains liberation. 5) Moksha, ultimate liberation: the goal of human life. It is the liberation of the soul from the cycle of births and deaths to remain eternally in the service of God. 6) Guru-shishya sambandha, master-disciple relationship: guidance and grace of a spiritually perfect master, revered as the embodiment of God, is essential for an aspirant seeking liberation. 7) Dharma, that which sustains the universe: an all-encompassing term representing divine law, law of being, path of righteousness, religion, duty, responsibility, virtue, justice, goodness and truth. 8) Vedapramana, scriptural authority of the Vedas: all Hindu faiths are based on the teachings of the Vedas. 9) Murti-puja, sacred image worship: consecrated images represent the presence of God which is worshiped. The sacred image is a medium to help devotees offer their devotion to God.

Sri Swami Vivekananda, speaking in America, proclaimed: “All Vedantists believe in God. Vedantists also believe the Vedas to be the revealed word of God—an expression of the knowledge of God—and as God is eternal, so are the Vedas eternal. Another common ground of belief is that of creation in cycles, that the whole of creation appears and disappears. They postulate the existence of a material, which they call akasha, which is something like the ether of the scientists, and a power which they call prana.”

Sri Jayendra Saraswati, 69th Shankaracharya of the Kamakoti Peetham, Kanchipuram, defines in his writings the basic features of Hinduism as follows. 1) The concept of idol worship and the worship of God in His nirguna as well as saguna form. 2) The wearing of sacred marks on the forehead. 3) Belief in the theory of past and future births in accordance with the theory of karma. 4) Cremation of ordinary men and burial of great men.

The Vishva Hindu Parishad declared its definition in a Memorandum of Association, Rules and Regulations in 1966: “Hindu means a person believing in, following or respecting the eternal values of life, ethical and spiritual, which have sprung up in Bharatkhand [India] and includes any person calling himself a Hindu.”

The Indian Supreme Court, in 1966, formalized a judicial definition of Hindu beliefs to legally distinguish Hindu denominations from other religions in India. This list was affirmed by the Court as recently as 1995 in judging cases regarding religious identity. 1) Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophic matters and acceptance with reverence of Vedas by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the sole foundation of Hindu philosophy. 2) Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent’s point of view based on the realization that truth is many-sided. 3) Acceptance of great world rhythm—vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession—by all six systems of Hindu philosophy. 4) Acceptance by all systems of Hindu philosophy of the belief in rebirth and pre-existence. 5) Recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are many. 6) Realization of the truth that numbers of Gods to be worshiped may be large, yet there being Hindus who do not believe in the worshiping of idols. 7) Unlike other religions, or religious creeds, Hindu religion’s not being tied down to any definite set of philosophic concepts, as such.

Swami Shankarananda of Melbourne, Australia, offers this definition: “In the late sixties when spirituality arose within me for the first time, I could have said (had I enough awareness), ‘I’d like a path that is as spacious as the universe. A path that includes everyone and every possible belief system. A path that is as tolerant and forgiving as a mother, yet as precise and on-purpose as a brain surgeon. A path whose mode of thinking is so broad that no thought or idea is left outside of it. A path of inner transformation and self-development. A path of truth that is also a path of kindness. A path whose love is so deep and all-embracing that no sinner is excluded from its mercy. A path whose source is Universal Consciousness.’ Had I been able to formulate those thoughts that were in me in an inchoate way, perhaps the sky would have parted and a voice from on high might have said, ‘Your path is Hinduism.’”

For My Neighbor

We all hear about horrible things being done to people for no reason other than they’re different from other people.  Vandalism, threats, and most horribly violence.  It’s a terrible truth of human nature, people tend to fear what they don’t understand, and fear can cause people to uncharacteristically terrible things.  I read the news online, I watch national and international news shows; these stories are not new to me.  What’s new to me is when it happens in my own backyard.
 
I live in Clifton Park, NY, which is 17 miles from Cohoes, NY.  On May 15, 2007 The Times Union featured the story of Patricia Gardner, Cohoes resident and Wiccan High Priestess.  (you can view the original story here: http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=589490&category=ALBANY&BCCode=&newsdate=5/16/2007)  According to the story, after living in her apartment in Cohoes for a year and a half with no problems, she found graffiti along the side of the house.  Amongst the writings was the Lord’s prayer, descriptions of Gardner as an “evil witch” and a “spook”, and the asking of God to “please move evil away.”  The Times Union explains that the case is under investigation and at this time it has not been labeled a hate crime.
 
Okay, where to start.  Um, why?  Why would someone do that?  Why would someone take the time to do that?  What on Earth does it prove?  Since the story says that Gardner lives in an apartment, she probably doesn’t even own the property that got defaced.  The person, or persons, behind this act not only attacked Gardner but is making her land lord, who I’m guessing would not be viewed as an “evil witch”, pay as well.
 
Obviously I’m preaching to the choir on this one.  I’m 99% sure that my readers all agree that doing something like this just because someone is of a different religion is wrong.  So why am I sharing this at all, I mean, this is just one example of the religious intolerance that exists not just in the United States but the world.  Well, it’s simple.  Patricia Gardner is only 17 miles away.  In just a little over 20 minutes I could be at her door.  I view people all over the world as my neighbor, but in this particular instance, she is literally my neighbor.  I just wanted to take a moment to let my neighbor know that I’m so very sorry she’s had to experience this and to put it simply, that I care.
 
Patricia Gardner was kind enough to issue this statement that I would like to share, “I would just like to say that this incident has us a little worried because we don’t know what else they may do.  If they will sneak around in the dead of night and write on my wall, what else do they have in mind. It also angers me to think that in the twenty first century people are still afraid of us. If they would just talk to us, they would see that we are not anything like they think. We would like to believe that by bringing this out into the open, that who ever did it will realize we are going all the way with this. We will not cower in the corner and wait for them to strike again and if they continue, they will go to jail. Hate crimes are against the law, and we believe that silence is acceptance, and since we do not accept this we will not be silence.”
 
Remember, we really truly are all neighbors.  In honor of Patricia Gardner, lets all take a moment to think about what we appreciate about other religious faiths.  Not sure you can?  Then do all the Patricia Gardners in the world out there a favor and visit www.pluralism.org and www.religioustolerance.org.  Also take a moment to remember one of my favorite pieces of writing of all time, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances.”  It’s the First Amendment baby, love it!

Summer “Wiccan festival” in Floyd County a Hoax

Originally posted 5-10-07
Summer "Wiccan festival" in Floyd County a hoax WDBJ7 proclaims. The article they ran was so small I can actually type it all in here. So here is the story: Link

Contrary to internet postings, a group of witches and warlocks is not planning a blood ritual in Floyd County over the Fourth of July weekend.

The event was posted all over the internet, including craigslist.com. The satanic ceremonies were supposedly going to take place on 18 acres of land owned by a Maryland couple.

The ritual was supposedly going to involve animal sacrifices and group sex. With the help of the FBI, Floyd County Sheriff’s Investigator Jeff Dalton has spent the last month researching the two land owners. It turned out they were the victims of this charade.

Even though there won’t be a Wiccan festival in Floyd this summer, deputies will be on hand just in case there are people who didn’t get the message that it’s a hoax.

"It turned out they were the victims of this charade." Perhaps, but I’ll argue the fact that the word Wiccan was a much bigger victim. I get that maybe the people who put together the fake festival may have used the words Satanic and Wiccan interchangeably (I can’t locate any of the original "event" postings), but the press? Come on guys, Wicca is a nationally recognized religion. Do you think this would be how Wiccans normally celebrate? Everyone missed the part that it’s all about animal sacrifices, group sex, and Satan? Get real. And by the way, thanks for not taking even two seconds to point out that hey, um, Wiccans DON’T DO THAT!

How are we ever going to all get along when even the press won’t take a moment to point out that Wiccans aren’t the same as Satanists? I’m not saying that it’s the job of the press to educate everyone about different faiths, but how about behaving responsibly? How does a Wiccan in Floyd County feel knowing that apparently he or she is the same as a Satanist in the eyes of their community news team? Better still, how safe does that same Wiccan feel knowing that their neighbors have now been "educated" that Wiccans do such socially taboo things?

I contacted Lady Damorea, the High Priestess of Merry Meet Temple in Floyd County (www.merrymeettemple.org), and asked for her thoughts.

I have written to WDBJ7 about the story. I told them that I am Wiccan and reside in Floyd County. I also stated that I felt let down and disrespected by the fact that they obviously had not done their own research. If they had, they would have been able to let the Floyd community know that they have nothing to fear from Wiccans who adhere to the teachings of the religion. I also suggested the "Law Enforcement Guide to Wicca" by Kerr Cuhulain and the website called "Religious Tolerance" which is located at http://www.religioustolerance.org/. I told them that they had failed as journalists since they did nothing to dispel the untruths contained within the original advertisement for the Festival or to alleviate the fears it caused. Hopefully, they will do much better if the opportunity ever arises.

Now that all that has been said, let’s take a moment to catch our collective breaths. Sigh. I don’t like being a snitch and I hate being an aggressor. There is just so much that is being misunderstood every day about different religious beliefs. Religion can be scary, especially if it’s different than yours. Faith can be scary, especially when it manifests itself differently than yours does. The world is getting smaller every day and we have to learn about our neighbors, and more importantly we need to learn to respect our neighbors. In this case, respect means not implying that the rituals of the Wiccan faith are Satanic blood rituals. This kind of blunder is so very small, but it’s a thread that is helping weave the tapestry of religious relations in our country.

Oh yeah, and you, the dumb ass that started all this with your prank, get a hobby.

Update: Lady Damorea just received a response from Keith Humphry, a reporter and anchor with WBDJ7.

We’ve received several messages similar to yours from various people scattered around the country. I think yours may have been the only locally-generated one.

I thought we made it abundantly clear in the story that this "festival" was a vindictive hoax, perpetrated by someone with a grudge against the land owners. But I am persuaded that the point was not made strongly enough.

Would you consider an interview to underscore the fact that this hoax does not reflect Wiccan beliefs and practices?

I’m pleased to say that Lady Damorea has accepted, she was interviewed May 9, 2007

Update 2:  You can all check out Lady Damorea’s interview here: http://www.wdbj7.com/Global/story.asp?S=6526510

Philadelphia Psychics: Screwed, and then Not So Much

Originally Posted 5-03-07 

On Friday April 27, 2007 news sources started reporting that Philadelphia police were alerted to a 30 year old law banning fortune-for "gain or lucre".  The exact damning phrase is "A person who pretends for gain or lucre to tell fortunes or predict future events by cards, tokens, the inspection of the head or hands of any person."

As of the writing of this blog at least 16 Philadelphia based fortune tellers have been shut down with the promise of more to come.  The law has been in place since 1971, but apparently no one was aware of its existence until recently.  News outlets are reporting that the law was first brought to the attention of the police.  The police approached the Department of Licenses and Inspections who were shocked to find that in fact, yes, the practice of fortune telling for money was illegal.  It is considered a third degree misdemeanor.  It also should be noted that they are not making arrests or issuing fines, but will if the offending individuals attempt to return to work.  Bummer for all those they issued business licenses to, eh?

A city official has been quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer as saying, "Most psychics were con artists who prey on vulnerable people."  A sentiment that I’m sure skeptics and rationalists world wide are agreeing with, and cheering this new development on for.  The difference being, the skeptics I like, such as James Randi, are man enough to put their name with their quotes.  (It’s one of many reasons I love him.  James call me, I adore you.)

But was Philadelphia being ravaged by charlatan psychics?  I’m not going to sit here and say that every psychic is legit and not in it for the money.  On the other hand, I think that many psychics and fortune tellers view their chosen occupation as an entertainment and something that is filling a specific need in our modern society.  It is a sad but true statement that some psychics take advantage of needy and desperate individuals, but I think it’s an equally true statement that people will also get taken advantage of by doctors, lawyers, and a host of other professionals.  Just because one doctor screwed their patient certainly doesn’t mean I view all doctors as quacks.  I think we can afford to extend the same courtesy to fortune tellers and psychics.  When any of these professionals take advantage of or mistreats one of their clients, the wronged person has the option to sue … and the same happens with psychics.  (They can also be reported to the Better Business Bureau.)

I have had one psychic reading so far in my life.  I paid $25 for a unique experience.  I have spent that amount of money many times over for all kinds of experiences in the forms of books, movies, concerts, and more recently things like seances and travel to religious observances.  Although perhaps sometimes let down by the purchase, I never felt taken advantage of for having spent the money for the experience.  Except for when I bought the movie "Alone in the Dark", if I could’ve taken someone to court over that loss of funds I would have.

What I’m trying to say is this, visiting a fortune teller or psychic should be viewed perhaps more as an entertainment based experience.  Sure, listen to what the psychic has to say, many of them wish nothing more than to help and support you, but by no means allow a fortune teller to run your life.  The good ones wouldn’t want you to let them.  Visiting a psychic or fortune teller should be a rewarding experience that you may want to repeat, much like seeing the movie "Serenity" (three times in the theater).  It should never take over the entirety of your life, much like the movie "Serenity" (don’t ask how many times on dvd).

Come on Philadelphia, they were local businessmen and women.  Paying for licenses, paying their taxes, voting in elections, and being a part of your local economy.  Can’t something be done to help them out?

UPDATE:

Apparently something can be done!  Starting May 3, 2007 news sources out of Philadelphia began reporting that psychics and fortune tellers operating within the city are going back to work.  Monica Mitchell, who runs a psychic shop in Manayunk, PA, was rightfully peeved and instead of sitting around whining about it, like I was doing, she took action.  She lawyered up, and thanks to her attorney John Raimondi, psychics in Philadelphia have a second lease on their business lives.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer Raimondi filed a request last week for a restraining order and preliminary injunction on the ground that the statue could be invoked only in cases of fraud.  He is quoted as saying, "What we said is the law is part of the crimes code.  You have to prove that someone has been taken advantage of, and you can’t expect L & I (Licenses and Inspections) to enforce that."

The City Solicitor’s Office agreed with Raimondi and advised the L & I to back off because the state law banning fortune tellers seemed better suited to fraud prosecution than to regulation. 

Hopefully, this means things will settle down for the storefront psychics and fortune tellers in Philadelphia.  We’ll keep you posted…..