Wednesday, March 31, 2004

The Pagan Olympics

The Olympic flame has made its from Olympia to Athens, but not everyone is happy. A lone voice speaks out: The Olympics are Pagan and idolatrous. "I believe that our best response to the Olympics is to go on the offensive for the kingdom of God"

For others, it's a sort of Greek civil region, according to this piece in Kathimerini.
Wolves in Colorado and in . . . Scotland?

While the Colorado Division of Wildlife tries to figure out what to do with the grey wolves that are coming south, I just learned that there is an effort underway to reintroduce wolves in the Scottish Highlands. Still more here.

Here in Colorado, the private Colorado Wildlife Federation says that there is 66-percent public support for the wolves. I have often wondered what it would feel like to live in a place like the UK with no four-footed predator larger than a badger (and feral dogs, I suppose).

Friday, March 26, 2004

Gerald Gardner in the 1940s

Capall Bann have published Philip Heselton's second volume exploring the origins of contemporary Wicca, Gerald Gardner and the Cauldron of Inspiration. (Am I the only one who thinks that that title seems awfully Harry Potterish?) Capall Bann's distribution is not great outside the UK, but North American readers can order it here.

Heselton continues to do a fine job ferreting out information on Gardner and his associates: letters, obscure publications, even Ordnance Survey maps from the 1930s showing whose house was located in relation to someone else's house. He is an outstanding researcher. Read this book and you will learn about many interesting things tangential to Wiccan history, such as the beginnings of organized nudism in the UK. (Those "Moonella" people were a hoot!)

Unfortunately, Heselton is blinded by the myth: the hidden coven at the Rosicrucian Theatre, Gardner's purported 1939 initiation in Dorothy Clutterbuck's house, the alleged Lammas 1940 ritual to stop the planned German invasion--all of it. (And, at one time, so was I.)

Instead, Ronald Hutton's suggestion in The Triumph of the Moon, that there was no Wicca as a consciously Pagan "Old Religion" until about 1950 or 1951, is more likely true. Heselton's new evidence actually supports that conclusion even better than did Hutton's, but Heselton, a "true believer", will not admit it.

Throughout the 1940s, when Gardner supposedly was already a Wiccan initiate, he was chasing after other religious credentials. He was ordained by an esoteric splinter of mystical Christians, the Ancient British Church, part of the maverick "Old Catholic" movement. He joined the Druid Order. He persuaded Aleister Crowley to give him credentials in his magical order, the OTO.

Do these seem like the actions of a man who has already found what he was looking for?

When Gardner does does find -- or co-create, with Edith Woodford-Grimes (Dafo) -- what he is looking for, he commits himself totally to promoting it, which he does with Wicca in the 1950s.

Heselton's account of how Gardner financially backed and supplied exhibits for Cecil Williamson's Witchcraft Museum on the Isle of Man leads me to speculate still further. In May 1951 Gardner writes to Williamson about how he can "fake up" this item or that for the displays, such as ritual swords. I begin to wonder how much of Wicca was created in a hurry in order to supply a "back story" for the museum exhibits. In order to have an exhibit about witches, we must have witches.

The repeal in 1951 of the Witchcraft Act of 1735 after the Helen Duncan affair during World War II was a wonderful "cosmic coincidence."

As Aidan Kelly pointed out in Crafting the Art of Magic, his own study of Gardnerian origins (published by Llewellyn in 1991, now out of print), Gardner was always the only source of information about the "Southern Coven of British Witches." I do not see Heselton really developing any alternative authoritative source, although he fills in many gaps in the narrative.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The sameness of ski towns

Because of the poor spring snow conditions, on the 22nd we put the skis in their rack on the Jeep and drove over Frémont Pass from Leadville into Summit County, the heart (or other metaphorical internal organ) of Colorado's ski industry. After walking around the business district of Frisco, driving to see if my uncle's former cabin on Lake Dillon is still there (it's not, apparently), and walking around the business district of Breckenridge, Mary had an observation: "These ski towns are all the same."

RIGHT: View down 7th Street in Leadville, Colorado, which has not yet succombed to being a ski town.

In what way, for instance, does Main Street in Breckenridge differ from Elk Avenue in Crested Butte? Answer: Main Street in Breckenridge is longer and slightly wider.

At the core, the old mining town, Historic Register plaques in place--bars, ski/snowboard rentals, antiques shops, real-estate offices, interior decorators (for the million-dollar-plus trophy homes), boutiques for "adventure apparel," real-estate offices, restaurants, souvenir stores, maybe a lone museum ("Our Mining Heritage"), real-estate offices.

The next ring out: newer commercial buildings--the professional offices, the municipal offices, the fire station, the police department.

Then the condominiums with names like Edelweiss.

Then the upscale subdivisions for the "trophy homes", so often named with the "The (blank) at (blank)" formula that is supposed to exude classiness to buyers in Denver or Dallas. Example: "The Turds at Elk Meadows."

The other formula applies to ski towns built from scratch, such as Vail, in which case there is no core, only Bogus Bavarian or whatever style was in favor at the time of construction, with an outer ring of tasteful strip malls.

One visit to Summit County per decade is enough.

On the plus side: Weber's Books, 100 S. Main in Breckenridge, tiny but well-stocked, had an autographed copy of Mary Sojourner's new collection of essays, Solace.

Monday, March 22, 2004

From 'Bavarian' to 'Buddhist'

When I was a kid in the 1960s, the decor and nomenclature of Colorado ski towns relied heavily on the ersatz-Austrian, sort-of-Swiss, or bogus-Bavarian model. Everywhere you looked (and still look, in some cases), was "Alpen-this" or the "Something Haus" or "Hof." For the full flower of the bogus-Bavarian 1960s, visit the older parts of Vail.

It's not just Colorado, of course. Park City, Utah, has its Edelweiss Haus condominiums; if I had $10 for every "Edelweiss" and "Haus," I would be much richer. (The Edelweiss flower does not bloom in the Rockies except on signboards.) Now, when I see these Berchtesgarden School houses, restaurants, etc., I think that they should be next in line for historic preservation, after the Mining Boom structures of the late 1800s.

Over the equinoctal weekend, Mary and I took a room at the Mining Boom-era Delaware Hotel in decidedly non-Bavarian Leadville. (It has an "Alps Motel," that's all.) We put in a few miles of cross-country skiing on snow that was turned to mush and slop by a week of unusually warm weather. On Sunday, we skied to the Tennessee Pass Cookhouse for lunch.

On the wall were several Tibetan-style Buddhist pictures: a mandala and a landscape of a Himalayan monastery. Right next to the last was a painting of the Cookhouse itself, done in the same Tibetan style. Is that going to be the next trend? The Cookhouse itself is a big yurt (or ger, as my friends who have visited Mongolia insist that it should be called), possibly produced by this firm or someone with a similar product.

LEFT: The Tennesee Pass Cookhouse

What comes next, the Potala Condominiums? A few people are already raising yaks, I know. Trendy-Buddhism already has a toehold in interior decorating and, for a local-history angle, the CIA trained fighters in the doomed early 1960s Tibetan resistance movement just down the road at Camp Hale, the old mountain-troops base.

Friday, March 19, 2004

'Red flag warning'

For the last month, Forest Service crews have been cutting fire line and otherwise preparing to set a prescribed burn quite near my home. The first burn in what was supposed to be a series of them to reduce the wildfire risk and improve elk winter habitat was set four years ago. I was there and wrote about it.

Since 2000, there has been a problem every spring: too wet, too dry, too windy--especially in 2002, which was the big forest-fire year in Colorado. This year started wet--February, in particular, brought plenty of snow hereabouts, but March has been scarily warm, windy, and dry. M. and I are taking three days off for cross-country skiing up in Lake County, if the snow has not turned to slush.

In theory, I think prescribed burns are good, necessary, overdue. When the fire is within sight of my home, however, it is still plenty scary, even with a fire truck pre-positioned in the driveway! Tonight's television news said that we are already under a "red-flag warning" for wildfires, so I do not think that the FS will be setting any deliberately, not this weekend.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

'A hint of paganism'

Sydney Carter, who wrote the hymn "Lord of the Dance" to a tune ("'Tis a Gift to be Simple") originally created by the Shakers, a movement of 19th-century American religious communalists, has died. Says the Daily Telegraph in Britain, "But the optimistic lines "I danced in the morning when the world begun/ and I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun" also contain a hint of paganism which, mixed with Christianity, makes it attractive to those of ambiguous religious beliefs or none at all."
Full story here.

And some of us hear only Gwydion Pendderwen's more blatantly Pagan version in our minds when we think of it.

Thanks to GetReligion for the link, where blogger Douglas LeBlanc is discomfited by those pagan overtones too.

But she is not a Western goddess

Right-wingers complain that naming the new planet Sedna is a manifestation of liberal white guilt or something.

No doubt they would have been happier if the astronomers had chosen "Hekate."

Not being Inuit, the name merely reminds me of a former comic strip in the Pagan magazine PanGaia, in which Sedna had a role.
A kinder, gentler Anglo-Saxon invasion?

New tools of DNA analysis are causing British archaeologists to rethink the idea of the Anglo-Saxon invasions that followed the collapse of Roman rule. Anyone who has imersed themselves in the Arthurian period tends to think of Anglo-Saxon versus British conflict as something resembling "ethnic cleansing." I remember as a kid reading Walter O'Meara's The Duke of War, one fictional treatment of Arthur, the "decisive battle" of Mount Badon, Romanized mostly Christian British versus heathen Saxons, etc.

New studies of teeth in cemetaries of the period, however, are showing fewer persons than expected who were born outside Britain, as the BBC reports here. Was the change, the language shift, more cultural than violent? It's still an open--and interesting--question.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Yesterday by the photocopier, Colleague A (Political Science) cornered me. She and Colleague B (Psychology) had been at the local Barnes & Noble store and seen the B&N edition of The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, which I wrote in 1991 when a friend was acquisitions editor at ABC-Clio and invited me to do a book for them. "Is that our Chas?" wondered Colleague A. That's what happens when you teach in one field and write in another!

Frankly, I was amazed a few years ago when B&N reprinted it. The check was a nice surprise too. Now it's apparently out of print. I had been curious who bought the book, aside from the original intended market of librarians. This review from British e-zine editor Matthew Cheeseman gives one suggestion. (The lower trade-book price doesn't hurt, either.)

A little Googling: here is an someone with an online Christian ministry building a virtual homily around my introduction. (Unlike Cheeseman, Timothy King evidently does not Google his sources.)

And speaking of a different sort of "heresy." My humor column from the earlier, print version of "Letter from Hardscrabble Creek" on "Training Your Soul Retriever" pops up on an actual dog-training web site. (Scroll down). Or you can read it here. It was a gentle parody of retriever experts such as Eloise Heller Cherry and Richard Wolter. What would happen if Wolter collaborated with neoshaman Michael Harner?


A study from Barna Research Group on beliefs about the afterlife shows 18 percent of Americans accepting the idea of reincarnation--even some evangelical Christians. Other contradictions abound as well. Thanks to Joe Perez for the original link.

The Roller Coaster

In a little bit of a haze from some hay-fever medication, I finished the first draft of Her Hidden Children, my book on the rise of contemporary Paganism (mainly Wicca) in America, over the weekend.

Now I have started the complete re-editing, and that means I am on the emotional roller-coaster. It's pretty good. It's pathetically sophomoric. I have some original insights. No, it's just a miserable dribble from the cauldron of scholarship. It would have been better if I could have written it ten years ago; now it is dated, and who will care, anyway? No, I had some original insights.

And so on and on and on.

The only thing to do is to get it into the publisher's hands (only a year and a half late) as soon as possible and move on to the next thing.

Meanwhile, I am awaiting my copies of The Paganism Reader. Co-editor Graham Harvey says--and the illustration here, from Routledge's web site, seems to confirm, that Routledge stayed with their utterly dreary cover design.

In the real world: I saw my first kestrel, flying low against a strong northwest wind, while driving to the university today. I left home wearing a leather jacket over a fleece vest, but at some point realized that I need not need the Jeep's heater on (not that a 1973 CJ-5's heater produces all that much warmth), and by the time I reached Pueblo, I was shedding layers. Spring comes on in a rush. When is the next blizzard due?

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Vanity vinyl

From the Pork Tornado blog, a couple of pages of the strangest and/or worst album covers ever. Most date from the 1970s, but that's not the problem. As someone who was alive and buying albums back then, I can say that some of these would have chilled my blood even then.

But it's like "vanity publishing:" if you want to pay for it, you can be a recording, uh, artist.
Next, the Associated Press Stylebook

Wren at Witches' Voice posts an item about a student Pagan group meeting in a Kentucky high school, much to the surprise of administrators.

But here is the interesting part: the reporter's last paragraph explaining what Paganism is. In fact, he repeats the Pagan "party line" about the antiquity, earth-centeredness (whatever that means--I'm trying to define it in a book), and pervasiveness of Pagan beliefs. The scholar in me makes a wry expression; the Witch in me smiles.

I recently bought a new copy of the reporter's bible, The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law, which has no entry for "Paganism," although it does cover other religions and denominations within them, with instructions for writers, e.g., "Episcopalian" is a person but not an adjective. At this rate, I can see a small change coming for the next edition.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc�s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, "After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up," having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Grading with Gollum

Putting off sitting down to a pile of student papers, I find this, as if I were not already halfway there tonight.

Hates them. Ssstupid sstudentses, don't even read the textbook, no preciouss.

Link courtesy of Crooked Timber.

Episodic Religisity

Cultural anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse divides modes of religiosity into "episodic" and "doctrinal." One relies on dramatic ritual experiences, the other on creeds, sermons, texts, exposition, etc.

In his book Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity, he writes that in small, tribal, or breakaway groups, "religious life is focused around very infrequent, traumatic ritual episodes." "Traumatic" seems rather strong, unless, of course, you're thinking of adult circumcision, the knocking out of teeth, scarification, tattooing, etc.--and a lot of Whitehouse's field work was done in Melanesia, where some of these practices are or were common.

But now here is an example of a traumatic initiation ritual. If there were other candidates besides the late Mr. James, we can be sure that they will never forget their initiation.

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Archaeology of religion

May's issue of The Pomegranate will carry an excerpt from archaeologist Brian Hayden's new book on ancient religion, Shamans, Sorcerers, and Saints: A Prehistory of Religion.

A news release about the book from his university, Simon Fraser in British Columbia, is here.

A key sentence: Hayden argues religious behaviors have largely been shaped by our response to ecological factors, such as the environment, reproduction, survival and the use of energy sources, as well as �an innate emotional foundation in humans that distinguishes us from other animals.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Let's hear it for flax

The latest snow is melting, and two early perennials are showing new growth: wormwood, which is bulletproof, and blue flax (Linum perenne lewisii according to the Plants of the Southwest catalog).

Blue flax is a winner for gardeners in the Southern Rockies. It handles all weather: snow, severe cold, and hot, windy, blowtorch summer days, with a minimum of water. I planted some two years ago in a southwest-facing bed behind a rock retaining wall, where it is just scorched by the afternoon sun. Last year, the second year, it bloomed bounteously all summer, contrasting with the wormword and other Artemisias in the same bed--blue and silver together.

The comet that hit Chicago

On our last Amtrak layover in Chicago, last December, Mary and I walked up through the "Miracle Mile" shopping district and saw the ornate municipal water tower that stood alone, surrounded by desolation, after the Great Fire of 1871.

Now comes a suggestion that a comet, not Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over the kerosene lantern, might have started the fire. From Discover magazine via Cronaca.

This history of the great fire contains a sentence that the comet hypothesis (multiple impacts=multiple fires) could explain: Before tracing the progress of the fire further northward must be mentioned the burning of the water works, and the curious or rather incomprehensible manner in which it caught fire almost two hours before the time that the fire first reached the north division across the main branch.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Dissoi logoi and flying ointments

Researching the motif of the "flying ointment" in the early modern period for my paper for the Sophia Centre conference on consciousness, I had to turn to the Malleus Maleficarum, that lovely book on witch-hunting (and on the general female predisposition to evil) written by two fifteenth-century Dominican monks.

Studying the section on "Why Superstition is chiefly found in Women," I suddenly realized that my recent attention to Classical Rhetoric was paying off. What I might earlier have dismissed as mere wordiness was actually the use of one of those good old techniques of developing argument from the use language itself, such as dissoi logoi or Aristotle's "common topic of degree."

Knowing what the monks (trained, no doubt, on Aristotle and Quintillian) were doing, I found myself more willing to sit back and enjoy their verbal display--honed over hours of preaching out loud, no doubt--despite my disgust with their larger world view.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Basement ritual

. . . and other memories. Yeah, this sounds familiar--and for a bookstore too. Thanks to Life on the Mississippi for the link.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Estonian shamanism site

With thanks to the dashing Odious and Peculiar, a link to a site on Estonian shamanism created by Aado Lintrop. Most of the links are in English, some in Estonian.

But Lintrop links to the dreaded Michael Harner's site. Quick, call the Culture Police! (No, not them; I mean the ones that you might find down the corridor in the anthropology department.) Arrest him for felonious cultural appropriation and misdemeanor neoshamanism!

Monday, March 01, 2004

Nature religions in Australia

Nature religions are growing fast, according to this article from the Christian Research Association.

Consider the alternative.