Saturday, July 31, 2004

'Give it up to the Goddess'

I confess that I had not looked at Eurotrash's blog for a while, so I missed this account of her summer solstice trip to Avebury.

It is safe to say that it provides a certain balance to the stories told by some friends who spent the night there this past solstice.

Her link to Children of the Stones did not work for me, so here is another guide to its episodes.
Missing texts

The Wiccan/Pagan times has reviewed Graham Harvey's and my anthology, The Paganism Reader. So far, no review (of two that I have seen) has noted our big, accidental omission, James Frazer's The Golden Bough.

It is easy to see what happened. Neither Graham nor I make any use of this monument of 19th-century anthropology. We tend to think of it as an exhibit in the Museum of Ideas. But it was influential in the Pagan revival and it still pops up on Pagan reading lists because of all that "sacrificial king" stuff: examples here and here.

By the time I thought to include it, Routledge did not want to hear of any more changes, and we were already 300 UK pounds over budget on permissions. (Someone is still making money off Rudyard Kipling, for example.)

It hurt me more to leave out Sappho's invocation of Aphrodite, because all her surviving poems still speak with a fresh voice, even though she lived more than 2,500 years ago.

Friday, July 30, 2004


Worth reading: "The Last Man on Earth," an essay by Kathryn Joyce at The Revealer, on the enduring power of such books as 1984, The Handmaid's Tale, and Brave New World. Here is the first paragraph:

"In my father's favorite dark fantasy he is Mr. Mead of Ray Bradbury's short story, 'The Pedestrian': persecuted for walking alone at night without purpose instead of watching television, as everyone else does in a disturbingly-familiar authoritarian state of the future. That Bradbury's dystopia sounds a lot like Westchester, where my father grew up, or any other suburb, is of course the real chill -- an intended one, one of recognition."

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Nanny-state tendencies, and what about that May Pole?

Recently, British police officers have been forbidden to join the British National Party, a political party which might charitably be described as far-right. More here from Wikipedia.

You don't like far-right parties? Fine. But the BNP is, as its web site points out, a legal political party in the UK. Imagine an American cop being told, "You will lose your job if you register as Libertarian (or Green)."

In another weird drug-war development, it is seriously suggested that British children could be vaccinated against euphoria.

I don't mean to pick on the Brits. These same things could happen tomorrow in Canada under the banner of "order and good government." They could happen the day after tomorrow in the United States under the banner of "The War on (whatever)."

Two incomplete thoughts:

1. As a Pagan, I have strong small-l libertarian feelings. As Judy Harrow once pointed out to me, ours is a "high-choice ethic." We make up our own minds. Evidently Police Constable Smith is no longer to be trusted to make up his own mind. Nor would the kids be trusted. The less a government trusts the people, the more totalitarian it becomes--even if for the "best" of reasons.

2. Back to the BNP: Take another look at its web page. Click on the link at upper right that says, ""New 'Land and People' site launched." Watch the photos--particularly in the upper right. See that May Pole? Hmm. Does the American political right own "family values"? Does the British political right own (revived) Pagan symbolism?

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"There are 60,000 recipes in Italy"

USA Today brings an Italian cooking expert to rate the food at the Olive Garden restaurant chain. (Ah, the typical strip-mall setting shown on the web site.)

"This is bad. This is really bad," Marcella says. She stares into the bowl. "This is Bolognese sauce?" She reaches for a menu in disbelief.

"I must console myself," Marcella says. She orders a Jack Daniel's.

Hat tip to Consumer Whore.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Buffy as spiritual director

This book had to happen: the only part that surprises me is that I had an image of Jossey-Bass as a fairly staid publisher, based on their display at AAR-SBL meetings.

It started out as a joke.

Two academic women were laughing over the absurdity of writing a book about the spirituality of the teen TV show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" in May 2002. But by fall of that year, Jana Riess, religion book review editor at Publishers Weekly, was writing a book proposal.

Read more from Religion News Blog
It is believed . . .

that I have added D'Alliance, blog of the Drug Policy Alliance, to my blogroll, not least because of this wicked skewering of the "bureaucratic passive voice."
Stormy afternoon

I have been sitting on the front porch watching a summer thunderstorm roll in over the Wet Mountains First a grey veil is drawn across the most distant ridge, leading up to Hardscrabble Mountain. Holt Mountain, which is nearer, is obscured in turn, and then I can hear the hissing of rain on oak leaves and pine needles as the storm comes closer, and then, suddenly, the first drops are tapping loudly on the metal roof above me. I had already shut down my desktop computer and pulled the plug on the surge protector, since lightning bolts are stabbing downward too. When I go indoors to write on the PowerBook (on battery), syncopated raindrops rattle on the disused stove pipe rising from the study.

It's been a split day. For two hours I was a landlord, mowing and trimming and fertilizing at the rental cabin, taking advantage of the dry (for a change) morning and the fact that this week's guests, a thirty-something couple from Denver with their golden retriever, had gone hiking. (They timed it right and were back just ahead of the storm.)

Before and after that, I was an editor and book publicist, compiling a list of possible review sources where Routledge's New York office might send The Paganism Reader. They know most of the standard religious-studies journals, but they probably do not yet have The Pomegranate in their files, and apparently they do not know about PanGaia either. And chatting on the telephone with the editor of a forthcoming anthology on church-and-state issues about running one of its contributions in The Pomegranate. And replying to an e-mail from yet one more religious-studies graduate student who is working on contemporary Paganism and who needs to be brought up to speed about The Pom, about this year's Pagan studies conference, and, who knows, about eventually turning her dissertation into a book for AltaMira's Pagan studies series.

The editorial assistant at Equinox Publishing sent PDF files of ads for some of their books and journals, including The Pom, that will be running in the Association for the Sociology of Religion's annual meeting program book, and in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. That's wonderful; it is the sort of publicity that we could never have managed earlier when The Pom was basically a two-person operation (Fritz Muntean and Diana Tracy, plus other helpers, and eventually me.) We have also arranged to be added to Religion and Theology Abstracts, which will be a big help for researchers. Fritz has sent them the CD-ROM of back issues, which were never indexed anywhere--five years' worth!--so one of these days, those will be available to subscribers. There are a couple more databases that we need to be listed in as well. Until then, as far as academic research is concerned, we are invisible, which is no good at all.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Is Starhawk (still) Jewish?

Terry Mattingly of the religion-and-journalism blog GetReligion has posted recently on the difficulties of determining Jewish identity, both for Jews and for journalists.

His post is based on the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001; the link is to a longer article that he wrote. What caught my eye was his line about "non-monotheistic religion," but then he mentions Islam (?!). And here I was expecting some exploration of the prominence of certain Jewish Pagans.

The survey defined a Jew as someone whose "religion is Jewish, OR, whose religion is Jewish and something else, OR, who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, OR, who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing."

I guess people like Mimi "Starhawk" Simos belong in a "hard-to-define, niche spirituality" to newspaper religion writers, to quote Mattingly's blogging colleague, Douglas LeBlanc.

Here is Jewish commentary from Starhawk's home town, but it focuses on the dating and marriage issues.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Creating Pagan Identity

Back at my campus office, I discovered a review copy of Witching Culture by folklorist and anthropologist Sabina Magliocco. The publisher's cover blurb calls it "the first ethnography of this religious movement to focus specifically on the role of anthropology and folklore in its formation."

I think the meatiest section will be the last, Part III, "Beyond Experience: Religion and Identity" with its two chapters, "The Romance of Subdominance: Creating Oppositional Culture" and "'The Heart is the Only Nation:' Neo-Paganism, Ethnic Identity, and the Construction of Authenticity."

I am just starting to read it, but I can already see that Magliocco takes on the problem of why, in the face of all historical evidence, so many Pagans cling to the myth of the Burning Times and of the antiquity of Wicca, as though it really was a direct survival of the Stone Age and not a twentieth-century creation. She seems to view these issues through the lens of "identity politics," which probably is as valid an approach as any. I look forward to spending more time with the book.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Why we go to British Columbia

We go to British Columbia to see the big trees, like this Western red cedar in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Although these mountains are well inland--they are the Western ranges of the Canadian Rockies--they catch the storms and produce landscapes that feel in places like the Pacific coast. Here is M. "in church," with a choir of hermit thrushes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Mystery of Wicca Lake

No, that's not the title of another of Llewellyn Publications' ventures into "occult" fiction. It's a question that has been bothering me since my return from British Columbia.

That area of SE British Columbia was settled in the 1890s, first by miners. Ninety years later--1983--the provincial government set 49,893 hectares aside as Valhalla Provincial Park, which includes the Devil's Range, Lucifer Peak, the Devil's Couch (another mountain), and other unfortunate names. (Why the Christian Devil gets so many interesting geological features named after him is a paper that I have always wanted to write.)

Other features have names more in keeping with the "Valhalla" theme, which also undoubtedly explains the naming of Thor's Pizza in nearby Nelson.

Hiking into the Devil's Range, M. and I came across Wicca Lake, which our otherwise authoritative hiking guide referred to merely as "a tiny lake on Drinnon Pass." Wicca Lake? Devil's Range? OK, that's unfortunate, but the scenery is great: here is one professional photographer's version.

It's funny how the memory of how places got their names often vanishes rapidly, within a generation or two, unless they were named after famous people or obvious physical characteristics. I have asked one Canadian Wiccan with a wide geographical knowledge of B.C.'s mining districts if she knows, but so far, no response. I will post one if I get one; otherwise, if you have a solid answer, post a comment.


My archive link stopped working, so I have changed the template code to display links to each month's post below the blog roll. That change should provide enough space for now.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Inner West is published

The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West is just out under Penguin's Jeremy Tarcher imprint, with the publisher's web page here.

The collection of 20 articles is drawn mostly from the back issues of Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, whose founding editor, Jay Kinney, has edited this new collection. I look at it as a sort of "best of Gnosis," with a focus on Neoplatonism, Hermeticism, and Gnosticism. Richard Smoley, the second editor of Gnosis and a fine writer on Western esoteric traditions, has several pieces in the collection.

A piece that I wrote about 1991 called "The Unexamined Tarot" is part of the collection; I think that it holds up pretty well after all these years. The collection also includes Judy Harrow's "Explaining Wicca."

Friday, July 09, 2004

Another short break from blogging

M. and I are leaving for our favorite small town in the We(s)t Kootenays of British Columbia, which offers bigger lakes, bigger trees, and different mountains than those we see every day. I hope to continue the editing of Her Hidden Children with a goal of finishing the re-write by mid-August.

Blogging should resume after 18 July.

The new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies is being mailed. Janet Joyce, managing director of Equinox Publishing, dropped off some copies when I was in Bath; otherwise, I would still be waiting to see it, thanks to some start-up glitches in the mailing process. It looks good! Now if we can just get the start-up bugs out of the distribution system. . .

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Greek Pagans rile church

Followers of revived Greek Pagan (or Ethnic) religion are indeed able to gain more publicity, thanks to this summer's Olympic Games in Greece.

On a green meadow at the foot of Mt Olympus, famous in mythical literature as the home of the Zeus and the Hellenic gods, a group of men and women stand dressed in togas in a circle, heads covered with wreaths of leaves, right hands held up as they repeat lines in Classical Greek.

A ritual of baptism has begun, at the end of which about a dozen members of the group will formally cast aside their old Christian beliefs and accept new Hellenic, pagan names.

Read entire article here.

Update: A couple of people have questioned the word "toga" in the article, rightly pointing out that togas were worn by upper-class Roman men, not by ancient Greeks. (A toga was the Roman equivalent of a man's three-piece suit, you might say.) Not having seen photos, I cannot be sure, but I suspect that the reporter used "toga" ignorantly to mean "ancient garment."
Under the spell of Sulis (5)

Part 1 Part 2

I have added one video clip to Part 3 and two video clips to Part 4

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The poison path and fatal fronds

While I was in England, M. was Web-searching and turned up the Duchess of Northumberland's "poison garden," which I would like to see today. Part of a much larger garden complex that is under construction but still attracting busloads of garden-loving Brits, it has gotten a lot of press.

RIGHT: The duchess, Jane Northumberland.

In a recent article, The Guardian, [sarcasm ]official organ of the nanny state [/sarcasm], gets hyperbolic about the terribly dangerous plants. Protect the children! Fence off the catnip!

"Evil-looking flowers," Caroline? Imagine a potato flower. Imagine it pale yellow with dark brown veins. OK? A plant can be a traditional entheogen without being "evil-looking." Ah well, she has to promote the product.

Of course, people visit exhibition gardens to get ideas. If, for instance, the duchess gets official approval to grow coca (and being a young, media-savvy duchess she might well get it), others might well think, "I could plant some of that between the rhododendrons."

LEFT: "Evil-looking" henbane blossom.

Who knows what else adventurous British gardeners might be tempted to try growing.

I have long assumed that some very discreet growers in mild North American climates have brought Mama Coca north of the Mexican border. How useful for that long hike in the Sierra Nevada! Unlike refined cocaine, the natural plant has been used for centuries, it has nutritional value, etc.--all this is in the writing of ethnobotanists like the late Richard Schultes or Wade Davis.

(I owe the phrase "poison path" to Dale Pendell.)

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Under the Spell of Sulis-4

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3

At today's exchange rate, it costs US $16.38 to tour the excavated ruins of the Roman baths that give Bath its name. I paid the entry fee twice, last Sunday and last Monday. It was worth it.

Full of tourists as it is, the place still has a presence. Celtic British holy site, Roman temple-baths complex, Dark Ages ruin, medieval hospital for "leprosy" (whatever they meant by that term back then--any skin disease, apparently), 18th-century fashionable watering hole . . . layers on layers. And underneath it all the sacred spring still flows, 13 liters per second, or 250,000 gallons per day, however you wish to measure it.

LEFT: Diorama of a Roman priest with two visitors to the temple-baths complex. The temple of Minerva Sulis is in the background.

I had stayed at the White Hart Inn with seven friends; six returned to their homes in the UK after the conference, leaving just Doug Ezzy and me (the "rude colonials"), so we found new lodgings nearby at No. 3 Caroline Buildings and stayed on. After a "full English breakfast" on Sunday the 27th of June (a meal that seems always to include baked beans--I had forgotten that), we walked to the site of the baths.

They give you one of those audio guide receivers to listen to, as many museums do. Its soundtrack is a little too fond of Roman trumpet blasts, but they also include, for instance, the screamed Latin curse of a woman throwing a scrap of lead with a curse written on it into the sacred spring. Folks used to do that a lot, along with their votive offerings.

By the time I arrived at the dedicatory altars (placed in the sanctuary in fulfillment of someone's vow) and the tombstones, I was there. I don't mean some big reincarnational flashback; I've had those (maybe), and this was not the same. But I half-lost track of Doug, and the clusters of tourists were in the background. Here, underground as the site now is, I was ready to do it all: to cast my offerings into the water (still done), pay honor to Minerva Sulis (yes), and then submerge myself (sorry, not permitted). Only a clandestine dip of fingers, in defiance of the posted notice (not sanitary!).

Instead, the nearest thing is to go upstairs into the 18th-century Pump Room and to pay 50 pence (90 cents) to a man in wig and knee britches who decorously passes you a glass tumbler full of the water, tasting of rust and sulfur, and drink it down, down, down.

Not enough. Doug and I left to have a quick pint of the local Blackthorn cider with Alan Richardson and his lady friend, Margaret--Alan's new biography of the magician William Gray, The Old Sod, was recently published by Ignotus Press. And Doug went on to continue his interview of British teen witches for a study that he is conducting together with Helen Berger. And I was up the next morning and back to the Roman baths.

I let the audio receiver hang from its cord, instead just walking the ancient pavements, listening, looking, feeling. And taking pictures. Maybe taking pictures is a votive act itself, sometimes--perhaps there is a paper there or at least a couple of paragraphs. No doubt, had the Empire lasted, the priests of Sulis would be selling disposable cameras at a stall in the temple courtyard--or they would have leased the concession to someone else to do it. Pagan religions, after all, delight in the tangible. The relic, the souvenir--that is one of the Pagan substrata that underly the so-called world religions. We want to experience the gods with all our senses, so a soak would have been nice too. Instead, you get the T-shirts and the Aquae Sulis bath products in the museum shop. Oh well, it's a handsome T-shirt.

This 3.1 MB video clip pans across the Roman pool (facing east), showing the 19th-century terrace above the pool with Victorian statuary, various tourists, and a glimpse of the abbey in the background.

This 1.4 MB video clip pans from the opposite side, looking down into the entrance to the West Baths.

And then on to Bristol, for a too-short, 24-hour visit with Ronald Hutton, and then bus-bus-airplane-airplane-Jeep and home.

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Under the Spell of Sulis-3

Part 1 Part 2

RIGHT: Indigenous Avon skipper

The first evening of the consciousness conference ended with a cruise into the English rain forest, in the company of indigenous shamans. Our boat moved at a stately 5 knots or so down the dark and shimmering Avon, away from the town and into a green tunnel: the sinister Salix, the ghostly Umbellifereae. Techno/world music thumped in the main saloon in the indigenous dusk until, by a deserted mission station at the water's edge, our indigenous pilot swung the bow around, we returned through the ancient Weston lock, and glided back from the green tunnel into the stone walls of dreaming Bath.

In this video clip, the rain-forest cruise is leaving Bath, heading down the River Avon. Watch your head.

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Saturday, July 03, 2004

Now here is a 'Pagan survival'

Is Alexander the Great's body actually in Venice? In the current issue of History Today, historian Andrew Chugg makes the case that the mummified body of "St. Mark" treasured in Venice might actually be that of the world-conqueror Alexander (356-323 BCE). (Article available online, registration required.) It's all timed for the movie, of course.

Under the Spell of Sulis-2

But before I could visit the temple of Minerva Sulis, there was the conference to attend. I arrived midway through the first day, 24 June, considerably jet-lagged, after a journey on two airplanes, two trains, and my feet.

Arriving at The Forum, a 1930s movie palace now home of the Bath City Church, I was a little perplexed by the church's name on the marquee. But the building looked right, and once inside, I knew.

For that weekend, the stage was decorated with potted Salvia divinorum, San Pedro cactus, morning glory, and other interesting plants--not quite the BCC style, I'm sure. But they fit with an auditorium full of psychonauts, astrologers, Pagans, and (mostly Pagan) academics.

We presenters really had only 20 minutes out of the allotted 30, once you subtract the introduction and the question-and-answer period. Some people (like me) still wrote out papers with citations, such for our own security, while knowing that we would have to condense them drastically.

My list of people whom I knew of but had never met included the grand couple of psychoactive chemistry, Alexander and Ann Shulgin, as well as two outstanding astrologers, Robert Hand from the US and Liz Greene from England, not to mention the two German ethnobotanists, Christian Raetsch and Claudia Mueller-Ebeling.

More to come. Meanwhile, some views of Bath.

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Friday, July 02, 2004

Under the Spell of Sulis-1

Back from England, I am planning several blog posts as I edit the photos and video clips to go with them.

Left: the base of a column that once helped to support a high, vaulted roof over the main swimming pool in the Roman baths, rebuilt in the 2nd century CE., when the town was known as Aquae Sulis, the waters of the goddess Minerva Sulis.

I spent four days in Bath, the town that grew up around the only significant hot springs in England, which have been a site of worship, therapy, and pleasure-seeking for centuries--and under Roman rule, visitors could have combined all three in a way never since equaled.

To get a feel for Bath, you might imagine what Santa Fe, New Mexico, might have been like if the center of town included the hot springs from Ojo Caliente or Jemez. Like Santa Fe, Bath is clogged with tourists, every third business is a restaurant, and you probably want a fat bank account to live there, and yet, underneath, its energy is flowing.

For me, a bonus to visiting Bath and the nearby port city of Bristol is that when making hotel reservations, etc., I never had to spell out my surname. Everyone was familiar with it.

More soon. . .

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