Jan 21, 2022

CultNEWS101 Articles: 1/21/2022 (Sisters of the Valley, Islam, Sikhism, Religious Research, Canada, Psychedelics, Shamanism, South Africa, Russia, Religious Freedom, Legal)

Sisters of the Valley, Islam, Sikhism, Religious Research, Canada, Psychedelics, Shamanism, South Africa, Russia, Religious Freedom, Legal

"In the middle of California's Central Valley, in a modest milky-blue home on one acre of farmland, lives a small group of nuns. They wear habits and abide by a set of vows, but as the door opens, it's clear that the Sisters of the Valley, as they're known, aren't living in a traditional convent. Because as the scent wafts out, it's unambiguous: It's the earthy, pungent smell of weed.

When we visit, five women live in the home: Sister Kate, 62; Sister Sophia, 49; Sister Quinn, 25; and at the moment, Sister Luna and Sister Camilla, both 34, who are visiting from Mexico. Sister Kass, 29, lives off the property with her two children and her partner, Brother Rudy, the collective's crop manager. On this sunny day, the Sisters of the Valley home is flooded with golden beams of light; a cream-colored piano stands against the wall with an ashtray and joint placed on top. Sister Kate picks it up, lights it, and thoughtfully inhales as she sits down to play "America the Beautiful." She's using a piano-learning app filled with Christian songs and national anthems — the two genres of music she dislikes the most. But there is an underlying motive: "The Christian kids nearby have contests, so if I do a lot of practicing in a month, then I can beat them," she says with a raspy laugh. "There is some gratification in beating the Christian kids."

The Sisters of the Valley are not a religious organization, but an enclave of self-proclaimed sisters who are in the business of spreading spirituality and selling healing cannabidiol products. "Look, the average age of a new Catholic nun in America is 78," says Sister Kate, founder of the sect, which has 22 sisters and eight brothers worldwide. "Christianity is dying all around us. What are people going to do? They need spirituality in their life; we need it for meaning. We are very spiritual beings walking a physical path, and so for that reason we will find ways to connect. And we are just one example of that."

Their property is a peaceful setting, with ashtrays everywhere. There's a craft yurt, vegetable beds of kale and spinach, a trailer where Sister Quinn resides, and tall potted cannabis plants, which were cultivated in a shed and planted outside in preparation for the upcoming full-moon harvest. (All of these are hemp, from which they extract CBD, but they also grow marijuana for personal use.) A secondary home on the property, known as the abbey, is used for medicine-making. The scent of their lavender salve consumes this space. The walls are lined with photos of nuns and female religious figures, some with joints, some without. Sister Sophia smiles as she stirs a pot on the stove, heating up their CBD topical salve before packaging it into jars. When it comes to their products, it is always referred to as medicine, not cannabis, and all steps from planting, to trimming, to packaging are scheduled around the moon cycle."
"When Ushpreet Singh arrived in Whitehorse, Yukon, in late 2020, he was dismayed to find that the town of 33,000 people did not have a gurdwara — a place of worship for Sikhs like him.

At the time, there were about a dozen Sikh families in Whitehorse and a makeshift Sikh committee, but no meeting place.

So Singh set about trying to establish one himself.

"I asked where all the paperwork was and when I saw it, the total donation was $6,000 in 20 years," the 23-year-old tells Global News.

"It was not enough to establish a temple, it was not enough for anything. I was really upset; this money couldn't help us. And no one wanted to help."

One year and one monumental fundraising campaign later, Whitehorse is now home to a gurdwara for a Sikh community that now numbers between 300 and 400 people.

Singh is one of many new immigrants fuelling religious growth among minority groups in Canada.

As Christian religiosity falls to unprecedented levels (just 68 per cent reported a religious affiliation in Canada in 2019, according to new StatCan data), minority religions such as Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism continue to thrive, fuelled by immigration.

In fact, by 2036, StatCan predicts that the number of people affiliated with non-Christian religions could almost double.
"Nine years ago I stayed at Kalari Kovilakom, a wellness retreat in Kerala, India. This was no ordinary wellness retreat. Instead of fluffy robes and champagne-drinking in the hot tub, my phone was whisked away on arrival, I was obliged to wear white pajamas the entire time, and I had to rise in the darkness, like a monk, to do yoga before dawn. Then there was the ghee. Clarified butter was poured over and into every one of my orifices daily. My many treatments included having a 50cm "hat" made of lino attached to my head, and then melted ghee was slowly poured down it. There were enemas with, you guessed it, ghee.

My fellow guests were a veritable united nations of health-seekers, including an exiled politician from Egypt and a group of Canadian millionaires. The Egyptian minister had been there for months and must have been 90 per cent ghee. I was there for more than two weeks, and while I left feeling calm and happy, I could never shake the suspicion that I was also re-enacting an episode of Absolutely Fabulous.

Welcome to the world of extreme wellness, which is the subject of the hot new TV series Nine Perfect Strangers. Based on the bestselling novel by Liane Moriarty, the setting is the fictional Australian health retreat Tranquillum House. There are nine guests — clients, victims, fools, prisoners, call them what you think best describes the attendees at a wellness retreat where, on arrival, all phones are removed, luggage is swept for snacks and booze, and the doors are locked. There is also a crucial plot twist that involves the mind-bending delivery of what is known as a therapeutic (read, huge) dose of the psychedelic compound LSD. If LSD and imprisonment sounds like a ludicrous literary conceit, then you have clearly never succumbed to the joy and pain of extreme wellness."
"Russia has used increasingly strict legislation on "foreign agents'' (a term which has connotations of spying) and "undesirable organisations" to curtail, complicate, or prohibit the activities of organizations which promote human rights and monitor their violation, including that of freedom of religion and belief. This "indirectly affects the people human rights defenders stand up for '', says Aleksandr Verkhovsky of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis (branded a "foreign agent"). The Justice Ministry and prosecutors are seeking through the courts to close down the Memorial Human Rights Centre (also branded a "foreign agent"), partly for its monitoring of criminal prosecutions of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Courts in Moscow are considering whether to liquidate two organizations belonging to Memorial, one of Russia's longest-established human rights movements – with one lawsuit partially based on Memorial's support for freedom of religion and belief.

On 23 December, Moscow City Court began considering the Justice Ministry's and city prosecutors' request to close down the Memorial Human Rights Centre, on the grounds both of alleged violations of the law on "foreign agents" and of "justification of the activities of terrorist and extremist organisations", including Jehovah's Witnesses.

Meanwhile, judges at Russia's Supreme Court have completed their examination of the General Prosecutor's Office's case against the International Memorial. Both sides are due to make their arguments to the court on 28 December."

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