Professional Pagans Respond to Michael Coren|
Author: Kerr Cuhulain
Posted: August 10th. 2003
Times Viewed: 12,018
Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and broadcaster. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org his web site is www.michaelcoren.com. On 2 August 2003 the Toronto Sun newspaper published a column by Christian journalist Michael Coren, "Witch way to prison?" This 749 word article reflects the alarm on the part of fundamentalist Christians like Coren to the growth of our Pagan community.
Coren's article commences by reporting that many prisons now have Wiccan chaplains and that "Just like representatives of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other faiths, Canadian law and the Canadian Charter will give witches full access to our incarcerated criminals."
Coren attempts to make his article humorous. "One can only hope they won't be teaching them how to make the cell doors disappear or the warders invisible", he quips. Yet the content of the rest of the article is anything but amusing. "Knowing that every good Canadian would delight in this oh-so-progressive adventure", Coren says, adding that "the public will have to pay for [it]" he goes to the Pagan Federation Web site to do research. "What fun it turned out to be. The organization represents witches, druids, goddess worshippers and various others. As for Satan, visitors to the site are given an essay praising satanism and providing a link to the Church of Satan Web site."
Gina Ellis, President or the Pagan Federation/Federation Paienne Canada responds:
We Pagan Federation prison visitors are religious resource people, not institutional chaplains, and only see inmates who are registered with their institution as Pagan/Wiccan and who wish to see us. We teach them our tenets of harming no one and getting in touch with the forces of nature/the Divine.
We have an article on our site (www.pfpc.ca) by a Satanist because we thought it more effective to have a Satanist state why we Wiccans are not like them rather than claim it ourselves and be doubted - we believe in the Divine, and they believe only in themselves. The link to a Satanist site is there so people can read further, if they wish, to see how different we are, and there is also a link to the Ontario Org. for Religious Tolerance, which has excellent, unbiased information on Paganism, Satanism and all the other 'isms'...
What IS healthy is that this is a free country, where people may follow whatever spiritual path they wish (backed up by the Charter of Rights), and we may speak as we wish. (Though any similar column on any other religion would probably not make it past the editor...)"
From this point in his column Coren attempts to make fun of a series of groups representing professionals who happen to be Pagan, He starts with the Pagan Firefighters Association, founded by John Tennant, a Wiccan firefighter with Wilmington Fire Department, Station 13, in Connecticut:
The Pagan Firefighters Association unfortunately has 'no info at the moment,
but will post when we do.' This is very good news indeed. The average speed of a broom is several miles an hour faster than that of even the most advanced fire truck. There is also the chance of communing with the god of fire and asking him (or is it her?) to be
reasonable and simply put the flames out without any human intervention."
Pagan firefighters put out fires the same way that their co-workers from other faiths do, Mr. Coren. With a combination of water, know how and guts.
Next Coren mentions the Pagan Bar Association, http://groups.yahoo.com.group/PaganBar/ and attempts to make a joke about it, stating "I think I may have met some of the members." Coren quotes the founder, who tells us that he "wanted to communicate with other attorneys who, like myself, follow the way of the Witch". "Right," Coren sneers, "Lots of nose-wiggling I suppose, and stopping your mother from getting cross with poor old Darrin."
Next Coren slams the Pagan Alliance of Nurses, founder by Pagan nurse Shaughna Savage.
He goes on to attack Automative Pagans, "a networking group for Pagans working in the automotive industry - no matter where they live, or which company they work for, whether they work for manufacturers or suppliers, hourly or salary." "I just know CAW members all over Canada have been counting the days until they can have the union fight for crystal manipulation lessons," Coren scoffs, "Look out, Buzz Hargrove, you could be replaced by Harry Potter. Mind you, is Harry a socialist? Goes to a private school, speaks in a posh accent. No, it's Ron Weasley who's the member of the proletariat."
We also have the great North American disease of being offended," Coren states, pointing out that Automative Pagans had complained that the SciFi Channel had been actively misrepresenting Pagans in its programs Evil Witches and Declassified Evil. Coren tells us that "Mr. Warlock or Ms. Goblin [are] moved to tears" by these programs. "Stay tuned for Buffy with a bad hair day," Coren taunts. Does Coren seriously expect the Pagan community not to be offended by comments such as this?
Coren uses several scenes from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail in his attempts to make his column humorous. He refers to the scene in which the villagers bring forward a woman who they've dressed in a pointy hat and a false nose in an attempt to convince a knight that she is a witch. "'How do you know she's a witch?' Reply: 'Because she looks like one.' In that case the local peasants had put a big, false nose
and a funny hat on the woman." Later in his column Coren describes Pagans as people with "A liking for dark makeup and black clothes, often mingled with Hollywood witch fashion and Celtic jewelry. A habit of staring a lot and speaking in a slow, deliberate manner that is supposed to indicate authority and wisdom. Oh, and a fair helping of middle-class neurosis." In other words, Coren is engaging in exactly the same activity as the peasants in the Monty Python movie: Trying to convince his readers that we are evil people by "dressing us up" in the same manner.
My experience," Coren explains, "has been that such people tend to have a little too much time and money on their hands and a feeling they are superior to the 'ordinary people' around them 'who don't quite understand.' Also a contempt for and crass ignorance of what is referred to as 'organized religion' and a total lack of contextual knowledge of ancient and medieval history."
I challenge you to check out the schedules of any one of the members of the Pagan Firefighters Association, the Pagan Alliance of Nurses, or my own Officers of Avalon, Mr. Cohen. Your "experience" isn't as extensive as you seem to think. Officers of Avalon members do not have "too much time and money on their hands". If any of them ever feel superior it is because they've rescued someone or solved a difficult case. The Wiccan community includes people in many other professions that work hard and contribute to society. I certainly haven't had a lot of extra time on my hands as on top of my police schedule in the past fifteen years as I've been active in anti-defamation work dealing with articles such as yours.
Later in his column Coren gets serious. "While nobody would allege that all pagans break the law," Coren states, "people proudly calling themselves pagans have been involved in child abuse circles and grotesque dark cults." Coren provides no evidence to substantiate such a claim. "Is it healthy that a pagan group called the Officers of Avalon is listed and claims to have police members in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Ireland and Australia?" Coren asks. He concludes his article with a line from the same Monty Python movie: "'She turned me into a newt ... I got better.' Let us hope the same for these poor, misguided souls. And that we don't have to finance the treatment."
Here are what some of the members of Officers of Avalon had to say in response to Coren's column:
Joie Balindjo, Chancellor General, Officers of Avalon, a deputy sheriff with the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office in Florida who is a Vodou priestess:
I would like to commend you on one of the finest humor pieces I've read in a long while, and to thank you for the free advertising. I'm still laughing, as bad as it was.
I would venture to say that if Mr. Coren was tragically trapped in a burning building or in peril of his life from a robber, he would not care if it was a Pagan emergency responder who was coming in to rescue him. In fact, it probably wouldn't cross his mind any more than it does anyone else our members serve through their professions.
The Officers of Avalon do indeed include members from Canada, the USA, and Australia who are police officers, firefighters and in emergency medical professions, both civilian and military. Every day our members are among those who are willing to put their lives on the line for others and we take great pride in each other. We also happen to follow various Pagan paths in our personal lives and find our inner strength by it.
There is one truth throughout this piece that Christian, Islamic and Judaic Clergy and belief systems have something worthwhile to offer prison inmates. I have to agree with this, especially given that the majority of inmates profess to be of one of them. Inmates need access to their spiritual advisors, especially when being forced to confront their own actions in such an environment. The comparatively rare Pagan inmate asking for clergy should also have his or her needs met.
I would never assume criminal behavior to be the fault of those faiths. I ascribe criminal behavior to only itself and the individual.
All in all, this column was a sadly disappointing introduction to your newspaper. Another source peddling lies, hatred and ignorance nobody needs. It is not a public service, certainly."
Linda Moss, Henderson (Tennessee) PD, ex-National Guard member:
Mr. Coren you would be surprise at just how many of us there are out there in every walk of life. And we do not wear Goth and we do not look any different then any one else. Think about that next time you go the doctor, store, call the police, it may be one of these pagan you have insulted. We will not treat you any different then any one else, except to feel a little sorry that you are so ignorant.
Travis Ecclestone, Australasian Preceptor, Officers of Avalon, a firefighter and Vodou priest from Australia:
Firstly I wish to thank you for providing a most humorous piece of reading material, and secondly, for a chance to respond, appropriately beyond my shores, ...
... I find the generalisations you have made completely ludicrous, and humorous mind, but showing a complete lack of research into the subject, despite the reference to doing so in the article. It seems to me you only went so far as visiting these websites in a vain attempt to justify your attack. You take every comment made on each site as a way to attack the organization, the people associated with it, and pagans in general. I must compliment you on your most unbiased journalism.
Your comments referencing Monty Python actually show yourself (as indicated by your article) to a 'T'. You have dressed 'witches' up in crooked noses and pointed hats and branded all Pagans as such. Please pardon the personal question here sir, but have you ever been turned into a newt? But I digress.
To quote your comments, though paraphrased 'My experience has been that such people tend to have a little too much time and money ...and a total lack of contextual knowledge of ancient and medieval history.' What is your experience here? My experience is the opposite. I find most of them have little money (though sometimes time), often contribute voluntary time to their community and have a better understanding of cultural and historical contexts than the average citizen. They feel 'superior' only as much as the next person. We are only people , just like yourself, who follow a differing set of spiritual and religious beliefs. Your description of clothing, jewellery, attitudes and 'middle class neurosis' honestly describes a large percentage of the population in 'free countries' many of whom or not Pagan, Wiccan or any non mainstream religions but actually 'god-fearing Christians'. It is a personal fashion choice; not necessarily representative of someone's spiritual practice.
Your second last paragraph I take particular offence at. One for it's deliberately inflammatory comments; two for its total absurdity of speculation and association; and thirdly for its total and utter level of denial. Whilst the sentence 'While nobody would allege that all pagans break the law, people proudly calling themselves pagans have been involved in child abuse circles and grotesque dark cults' cannot be stated as being totally wrong, it is totally misleading. Let me rewrite it for you and keep it just as correct as you have made it: "While nobody would allege that all break the law, people proudly calling themselves Christians (Muslims, Jews or any other religious grouping or denomination you wish to state) have been involved in child abuse circles and grotesque dark cults."
Funny how this is just as correct both grammatically and factually. This comment was made for one reason and one reason only by you, and that is to deliberately play of fear and to stir up support for yourself. Funny also how more cults across western world are actually based in Christianity and not some form of Pagan fundamentalism.
You ask if it is '...healthy that a pagan group called the Officers of Avalon is listed and claims to have police members in the U.S., Canada, Britain, Ireland and Australia?' I ask you, is it healthy to have similar Christian organizations. I dare say you would say yes wouldn't you? Is it right to preach hatred and fear based on religious and spiritual choice?
Finally to quote your last comments and that famous Monty Python quote 'She turned me into a newt ... I got better.' Let us hope the same for you as a '... poor, misguided soul(s).' I hope that next time you can take the time to find out more about the topic you write on, and write an article of unbiased opinions without personal attacks and ridicule. You serve nothing by writing inflammatory, fear mongering articles like this... "
To the editor of The Toronto Sun, I would hope that the paper will publish an apology in regards to this article. It attacks people and classifies all "pagans" into the 'child abusing, dark grotesque cult' category. It attacks people who do a lot for their society. It attacks the average person. Consider this. It is likely you have working at the paper at least one Wiccan or person who identifies with some form of new-age, or pagan spirituality."
William Sullivan, a corrections officer for the Montgomery County Department of Corrections in Maryland who is a Wiccan:
An acquaintance... sent me the link to Michael Coren's article 'Witch Way to Prison' dated 2 August 2003. I was NOT impressed with the article, the opinions expressed, nor the lack of research which was apparently performed in writing it. You see, I'm a witch, I run a custody and security shift at a jail, and am a member of the supposedly fictitious group Officers of Avalon. USA group member speaking up here.
I have brooms, none of which fly, which is probably for the best, since I don't do heights very well. One broom is for sweeping the kitchen floor. One broom, named a besom, stands by the front door as a sort of good vibes charm, much like many people use a horse shoe. If I wear black, it's because that is the color of the clothing article I have pulled from my drawer. I am no less a witch when I wear blue jeans and a red t-shirt. Though I haven't read the books, I've seen the movies, and I know that Harry Potter is nothing more than refreshing entertainment. I might wear eerie makeup for Halloween, but that's just for fun.
I suppose that in response to this piece I could write my own opinion piece and cite Jim Jones, or the guy who eats from dumpsters, hasn't washed for 2 months and claims to be Jesus Christ as an examples of Christians, or terrorists as representing all Muslims, but I shan't do that. It's not part of my make up.
I happen to agree with Mr. Coren to a degree. I'm not fond of the idea of Pagans being chaplains in prisons. Truth to tell, I'm not overly fond of any religion having chaplains in prison. In my experience, most of the criminals of any faith, do not stick to the tenets of their faith while free on the streets, else they would not be criminals in the first place. Those on the inside, with some exception, use the services of the chaplains as an excuse to get out of their cells for a while or use the chaplains and religious programs to look good for the court systems.
While I don't agree with it, I do not fight against the chaplaincy. It is a given right in both Canada and the USA for these prisoners to receive these services, and I, the witch, have worked hand in hand with Christian chaplains from the Good News Jail and Prison Ministries to get their job done.
If your paper is going to write something, please do the research and find what it truly is that is being written about. Research Wicca and Druidism, as those are the larger of the pagan faiths in North America. Do not base your research on Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, of The Witches of Eastwick. It's offensive, and it's not very professional."
Kele Ivey, an EMT-P wrote to Coren to say:
I was absolutely sickened by your article and the way you portrayed the Pagan paths. I am Pagan and a paramedic. I am not some screwed-up Goth child or wannabe hippy. I dress very conservatively, and most people cannot guess my religion just by looking at me. I pay my taxes, vote in all my country's elections, go to a Unitarian church every Sunday that I am not working, and crochet lap-blankets for nursing home residents every winter. I do not try to use my religion to scream 'Oppression!', nor am I looking for a reason to stand out in a crowd. I am completely un-exceptional. Although I am public about my faith to all those who ask, I do not bring it up in polite conversation. I know that many are as confused and scared as you are of anything that may be perceived as different. It is not my job to proselytize to the masses. But for those that want an honest opinion on my beliefs, I tell them that I revere a God and a Goddess that I see manifested in the natural world around me. I follow the agricultural cycle of the year as my holidays, and I work hard to make this world a better place to live in. If this makes me a some sort of a freak, so be it. Maybe the world needs more freaks in it."
Coren's specious article attempts to perpetuate hateful stereotypes and urban legends about Witches being Satan worshipping cult members who fly on brooms and engage in child abuse. That there are organizations such as the Pagan Alliance of Nurses, Pagan Firefighters Association, Pagan Military Alliance, Pagan Bar Association and my own Officers of Avalon is an indication of the reality of the situation. We are responsible people engaged in legitimate professions contributing to the prosperity and safety of our community. The members of Officers of Avalon are police, firefighters and emergency services personnel, many of them recipients of medals for service and bravery, who happen to belong to a Pagan faith such as Wicca, Asatru or Vodou. I don't fly a broom I drive a police cruiser. I particularly object to Coren's comment that "pagans have been involved in child abuse circles and grotesque dark cults". For your information, Mr. Coren, I am a child abuse investigator for the Vancouver Police department. My colleagues and I in Officers of Avalon protect children from abuse.
It appears that none of these letters from Officers of Avalon members were published by the Toronto Sun. I got an e-mail back from Coren. This is the entire text of his reply:
"Thanks so very much. It's Coren actually. Best, and blessings, Michael Coren.
MICHAEL'S LATEST BOOK, "MERE CHRISTIAN" (Castle Quay Books) HAS JUST BEEN PUBLISHED. Michael can be booked for speaking engagements via his e-mail. Also visit his website, www.michaelcoren.com, for details of his books, radio and television work and speaking dates."
No apology, just an add for his latest Christian book. As my fellow Officers of Avalon member Nessa so aptly put it: "Is any one else here reminded of Gilderoy Lockhart from the Harry Potter novels?!"