Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Daily magic in Russia

Russians continue to use "low" magic, says this news report.

"Ghoulish as Russian traffic police are, perhaps it makes sense to resort to unorthodox measures to ward them off."
Kinder, gentler polytheism

Charged with reviewing both it and a new book about the emperor Julian, I have finally begun Jonathan Kirsch's God Against the Gods.

Even as the legacy of the Vietnam War still influences American politics, so the fourth-century C.E. conflict between the ideas of Julian and his uncle Constantine echo down unto our era. Kirsch's thesis, in brief, is that monotheism produces intolerance and violence, such as flying hijacked airplanes into office buildings. "At the heart of polytheism is an open-minded and easygoing approach to religious belief and practice," he writes by contrast--and I am all for that.

(On the other hand, when dealing with any of the "desert monotheisms"and their commands to "kill the polytheists", it's best to keep your eyes open.)

Jason Pitzl-Waters earlier blogged about the same volume, and it furnished the subtitle for The Juggler, the collaborative Pagan blog.

A sidelight: Julian's story was still so annoying to some medieval Christians that Winchester Cathedral contains a set of paintings depicting an entirely fictional version of his death.

UPDATE: If you like that "open-minded and easygoing" polytheism idea, then surf on over to Godchecker.
Not Satan's Birthday

Focus on the Family decides that Hallowe'en is all right after all, although "darker" than it used to be. Well, I am so relieved.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Drug war backfires again

The Drug Enforcement Agency's bureaucratic blunders may unwittingly end up boosting the legal hemp industry, while new research seems to confirm that your body manufactures morphine--a finding with interesting implications for the study of addiction.

If I were (a) younger and (b) more interested in medicine as a career than I ever was, I would concentrate on the study of addiction. What a spiritual-medical-psychological-legal-social puzzle!

Thanks to The Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics for the links.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"The fastest-growing religion"

James R. Lewis (University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point) collects data on new religious movements in this article in the online Marburg Journal of Religion.

In New Zealand, at least, "The fastest growing segment is Paganism ('Nature and Earth Based Religions')". The data from other English-speaking countries are suggestive too, but the United States, of course, does not ask questions about religious affiliation in its census.

My earlier posts on this topic are here and here.
Peyote progress

The Utah Supreme Court has decided that Native American Church members may use peyote even if they are not on the rolls of a federally recognized tribe.

James Mooney, the NAC leader spectacularly busted a few years ago, is celebrating, but the feds, of course, see peyote as an Evil Drug whose use must be contained and limited to enrolled tribal members (marginal folks, you know) and continue to menace Mooney's NAC congregation.

"If this concerned the sacrament of any other religion, people would be up in arms." (Links from Religion New Blog.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Andrew Chumbley

Andrew Chumbley, who died this month on what would have been his 37th birthday, pursued an individualistic form of Traditional Witchcraft, not to mention other byways of magic. Comparisons between his life and that of Austin Osman Spare are inevitable, especially when you consider Chumbley's artwork.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


Continuing our sporadic investigation of cinematic paganism, M. and I watched Häxan ("Witches"), a 1922 silent Swedish film that is available subtitled in English as Witchcraft through the Ages.

Released just before Margaret Murray swayed English-speaking readers with her "survival of the Old Religion despite persecution" theory, this film reflects the "enlightened" outlook of the late 19th century: witchcraft was partly ecclesiastical prejudice and partly undiagnosed "hysteria."

In its own way, its pseudo-documentary approach commits a different set of blunders than did Murray, blaming the Catholic Church for witch persecutions, when, in fact, Church courts were milder (more likely to acquit, less likely to use torture) than were secular courts--and Protestants killed as many "witches" as did Catholics, maybe more.

Parts are hilarious (the animal-demon costumes at the "sabbat"), while other parts are merely inexplicable (the two men dissecting a corpse--what was that all about?).

One online critic writes, "What makes Häxan memorable is [director/actor Benjamin] Christensen's remarkable quasi-documentary approach, which must have been awfully sophisticated stuff in 1922."

Maybe. Now, at best, it's a Hallowe'en party movie.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

DNA vs. the Mormons

Christianity Today, which bears no love for the Latter-day Saints, reviews a new book that undercuts a key Mormon teaching: that American Indian tribes are descended from "Lamanites" and "Nephites," alleged ancient immigrants from Israel. LDS officials react with predictable smokescreen.

Years ago, I worked at a newspaper in a Colorado town next to a Mormon colleague. The paper was owned by a family named Lehman, so I'd occasionally make a joke based on wordplay of Lehman-ite/Lamanite. She would laugh, but with a look in her eye that said, "How do you know about that?"

Friday, September 17, 2004

Another reason for home-schooling

Pennsylvania man keeps the kids at home to protect them from neighborhood witches. Where is Professor Evans-Pritchard when we need him?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Robots in the Victorian Era

Visit this site and marvel at the ingenuity of our ancestors! Then backtrack to the home page for more exploration, after you realize that you are definitely looking at an alternative history of robotics.

Question: Could I buy items from the gift shop with Antarctica dream-dollars?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Interfaith games

In Austin, Texas, a Feri-style invocation in a Methodist Church, the Statesman reports (registration required).

"The expression [broom closet] is an example, Wiccan Gordon Fossum said, of the mix of mirth and reverence his faith embodies. Earlier that morning, Fossum had jokingly invoked the 'Goddess Caffeina' to get the church's coffee maker brewing.

"Wearing a silver pentacle necklace and sipping from a Garfield mug, Fossum shrugged.

"'If a religion can't laugh at itself, it's got some work to do,' he said."

Thanks to Doug LeBlanc at GetReligion. Apparently this was his first encounter with Wiccan humor.
Magic noir

Back to my ongoing series on literary and cinematic paganism: over the weekend M. and I watched Cast a Deadly Spell (HBO, 1991), which attempts to blend 1940s-style film noir with magic. In fact, the movie begins with the statement, "The year is 1948. Everybody uses magic." Everyone, that is, but private eye Philip Lovecraft (the craggy-faced Fred Ward) whose character bears no resemblance to the semi-reclusive writer from Providence, R.I. Julianne Moore plays his girlfriend, a cabaret singer. I would pay to watch Julianne Moore wash dishes, but this movie is just Who Framed Roger Rabbit for occultists.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

'Spiritual, not religious'

Articles like this one from the Denver Post illustrate the difficulty in censusing non-mainstream religions. How many Pagans might answer "none" when our traditions don't appear in the menu of choices?

Meanwhile, a friend is working on a sociological piece on the growth of Wicca and other Paganisms in English-speaking countries. He might end up reinvigorating the "Wicca is the fastest-growing religion" meme after all, which I had at one point lost faith in.

If you look at the map at the botton of the Post article, you will see that my county is one of those with the lowest percentage of "nones." It's not that we mirror northern New Mexico, but rather, as someone here said, the place is "too rich, too religious, too Republican."

Thursday, September 09, 2004

"Pagan" predecessors

The BBC picks up on the growing evidence for multiple ancient migrations into the Americas with this story. Meanwhile, Inappropriate Response remains a good place to keep up with the "Caucasoid" Kennewick Man squabble.

For some American Indian political leaders, this issue has a line-in-the-sand quality. They apparently fear that if Kennewick Man, for instance, is shown to be racially different (Polynesian, perhaps) that they will lose standing in aboriginal land disputes, in claims on sacred sites, and, in general, the lose moral high ground. Whether those results would necessarily follow such findings, I am not sure, but I myself have no problem with DNA studies of all our ancestors.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

"Addicted" to Greek mythology

There are days when I feel like we are still intellectually in the 4th century C.E. Consider this little flap over "Classical education" and the danger of becoming "addicted to Greek mythology."

To read the article by Christian-homeschooling celebrity Elizabeth Smith that started it, go here and scroll down past the poll results.

She writes, "Some have claimed that Classical Education is really a Christian idea that was stolen by pagans and we just need to reclaim it. However, the history of education, including Classical Education, traces its roots to the pagan Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle around 500-400 B. C."

No? Really?

"Have you ever met someone addicted to Greek mythology? I have, and I have never forgotten it. In consideration of our children’s varying temperaments, how can we tell whether or not some of this literature will be harmful to them? I am also concerned about the 'spirit' of Classical Education. Just as our faith has a spiritual element to it, so does humanism. We all know stories about someone who has started out on the path to God and had their faith shipwrecked."

Didn't the blessed emperor Julian deal with all of this about 362 with his edict on Christian schoolteachers? Smart man, Julian.

Thanks to Tolle, Blogge for the link--and for the story of the original article's curious disappearance from the homeschooling site that originally hosted it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Life's a Beach

You've seen this slogan as kitsch, as travel brochure, and all, but have you considered that beaches are "a model civic space: tolerant, playful, self-regulating"?

More here, from the people who invented going to the beach. (Thanks to Arts & Letters Daily.)

And don't forget the special debt owed to beach-goers by the publishing industry.
Pagans invented the wheel

Well, yes, of course, if you think about it--presuming that you equate pre-Big Name Religion (Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.) with "Pagan." But first, let me acknowledge publication of Pagan Pride, a book of short readings (in unusual square format) "honoring the Craft and Culture of Earth and Goddess." Its premise is that we self-defined contemporary Pagans can be proud (and celebrate Pagan Pride Day) because our religious predecessors, if not literal ancestors, gave the world so much: democracy, pottery, the Sphinx of Egypt, spinning and textiles, calendars, the Parthenon, etc.

Item 40, "Rhetoric," strikes a note similar to my first-day-of-class remarks in my "advanced composition and rhetoric" course, in fact.

At the same time, playing with the rhetorical notion of kairos, I have note the unspoken claims that such a book makes by its very existence. (And I have made them too.) In other words, this book--its title, subtitle, and content--make a statement in an ongoing conversation about these claims:

1. There is a religious mode called paganism/Paganism that underlies all religion and yet stands apart from "revealed" religion. (That is one of the claims made by Michael York in Pagan Theology.

2. This mode can be defined to include almost all ancient, Classical, animistic, "native" religions as well as the self-consciously revived or created "new" Paganisms of today.

3. Paganism is--or will become--the de facto civil religion of the entire globe as environmental crisis worsens. That is the argument York is developing in a book chapter that will be excerpted in the next Pomegranate. I would argue that contemporary Pagans started making this argument right about the time of the first Earth Day and continued emphasizing it from the 1970s onward. (The "ownership" of Earth Day is somewhat "contested," as we academics say, but that is another story.)

Sunday, September 05, 2004

More literary paganism

Two more novels that carry the lingering strand of Victorian or Edwardian literary "paganism" forward into the 1930s and 1940s are Forrest Reid's Uncle Stephen (1931) and Jocelyn Brooke's The Scapegoat.

Uncle Stephen was the last of a trilogy, but it was written first and can stand alone. Reid then provided the earlier history of his protagonist, Tom Barber, in two more books: The Retreat (1936) and Young Tom (1944), written in reverse-chronological order. In Nick Freeman's words, they "offered a celebration of youth and sexual freedom alongside rhapsodic natural descriptions and the putting aside of quotidian responsibility," together with various supernatural elements.

I describe the Tom Barber novels as "Kennth Grahame (talking animals) meets Henry James (supernatural elements, lots of interiority) meets Mary Renault (evocations of Classical Paganism, much unconsummated homoerotic longing)."

As for The Scapegoat (1948), it's hard to improve on Peter Cameron's line in the afterword to the 1988 edition: "almost unbelievably subversive and kinky."

Earlier entries here, here, and here.

You know who you are

Dear blogger and/or Web designer:

Making the text on your Web page white on a black background does not thereby make your site "witchy," or "alternative," or "goth"; nor does white-on-black text honor the Dark Side, the Dark Mother, or the Dark Wombat.

Instead, it just cuts readability by about 70 percent. Even with my nice new LCD screen, it is excruciating, especially if I have been reading other pages before yours. Learn from the masters. Repeat after me: Dark Text, Lighter Background. There. That still leaves you more than one color combination to work with.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Legal novels

As opposed to illegal novels? No, these are works of fiction, pre-John Grisham, with legal office or courtroom settings, part of a "Law in Popular Culture" project at the University of Texas law school.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Greek Pagans in the Sun

The Web site of the Supreme Council of the Gentile Hellenes, a Greek Reconstructionist Pagan group in Greece, has posted video clips of a NBC news feature about Greek Pagans--tied to the Olympics coverage, of course. (The compressed clips total about 30 megabytes.)

Coverage includes an Orthodox priest saying that Greeks can't go back to idol-worshiping and footage of a vandalized Athens bookstore that sold Pagan books.