Sunday, October 31, 2004

Halloween night

A Halloween storm seems to be traditional in the Wet Mountains. The forecast calls for rain turning to snow. I finished digging up and separating the day lilies and then turned to Halloween preparation.

As a little boy I lived some years on the outskirts of Rapid City, South Dakota. Our house was just a little too far a walk up the hill for trick-or-treaters, so we got very few. Nor did I get to go out much: I don't remember why. When I was 10, we moved to suburban Denver, and for a couple of years I made up for lost time.

Here in the foothills, we have all the atmosphere: spooky shadows, the leathery leaves of cottonwood trees clattering down by the creek, cool moonlight--but very few kids. One neighbor called to say that she and her husband were bringing their 5-year-old and some other kids. They'll probably come by car, too, which to my mind really cuts down on the experience. (Maybe the neighbors will think the same way and come on the path through the field instead, but I doubt it.)

Some people spend lots of money making their homes look scary for Halloween. I feel like my job is to make the place look less scary. Are there too many bunches of drying plants hanging from the front porch roof? Are the stairs too creaky? (Can't help that.) The dogs will have to be locked up, so they don't go berserk when strangers arrive. And all the porch and under-stairs clutter of stacked flower pots, tomato cages, buckets, garbage cans of compost and manure--all I can do is superficially tidy it up. And then I can hang some candle lanterns, which M. thinks offer some sort of Halloween aesthetic effect.

Meanwhile, a Catholic priest tries valiently to reclaim Halloween. It's about the Black Death, you see. Now that's spooky.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

More on the 'Episcopagans'

The Druid-Episcopal Church controversy has now moved from the blogosphere to the serious religion journalists at GetReligion, who summarize the whole scandal here.

I do see some bloggers gleefully tossing out the term "Episcopagan" as though they cleverly just invented it. Within the Pagan community, the term has been used since the early 1970s, at least, to describe those who like to perform rituals with lots of candles, incense, and other props.

This is all fascinating, but I have to go prune the apple tree and manure the garden now. Oh yes, and reserve a virgin for the Samhain sacrifice. And then grade student papers.
Can you be a Druid and an Episcopalian?

The controversy over "Pagan" elements on an official Episcopal Church Web site and the husband-and-wife clergy connected with them continues to bubble. Christianity Today's blog has their bishop's statement: the situation is "extremely serious," but there is no rush to the stake, metaphorically speaking. Conservative Anglican bloggers continue to howl for blood. And howl and howl and howl. Notice how they blame the man more than the woman; we know that women are naturally sinful and led astray by the Devil, right?

I suspect that the Revs. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk (Glispa) and William Melnyk (Oakwyse) are caught up in the Victorian idea of a special "Celtic Christianity," more place-centered and mystical than the Church of England, yet not tainted with Roman Catholicism.

My earlier posts here and here.

Friday, October 29, 2004

More Pagan movies

While we are waiting to see Colin Farrell as Alexander the Great, an Icelandic-Canadian cinematic version of Beowulf is also in the works, and from the Web site Beowulf and Grendel looks visually stunning. Although the original story is set probably in Denmark, this one is filmed along the rugged Icelandic coast: read about it in their blogs, linked at the site.

Meanwhile, M. and I recently watched The Witches (also called The Devil's Own, a 1966 thriller starring Joan Fontaine and Kay Walsh. It was better than we expected, even though the outline of the plot was rapidly apparent. (Why is so important to preserve the lovely 15-year-old girl's virginity, hmm?)

Ah, the countryside, preserving the Old Ways under the guidance of the great families who have the villagers' interest at heart.
"Paganism Goes Mainstream"

That's the title of a new piece by Kimberly Winston at BeliefNet. I'm quoted in it. Yikes.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Pagan/Christian clergy

Christianity Today's blog continues to be vexed by Pagan ritual in the Episcopal Church.

With Matt Drudge-like glee, the blog notes that the two married Episcopal clergy involved are also contemporary Pagan Druids. (Let's capitalize Pagan, please, Mr. Olsen.) Their Druid group is here.

I have seen people hold clerical positions in Christian denominations and Wiccan groups as well. Back in 1996, the fourth of Llewellyn's Witchcraft Today anthologies, which I edited, carried an article by a woman who is both Wiccan and a minister in the United Methodist Church. So is her husband: they are co-pastors of a UMC church.

From a polytheistic perspective, it all makes sense. From a cultural perspective, it is pretty risky, hence her pseudonym--although at least some of the UMC congregation knew of their dual roles.

UPDATE: Conservative Episcopalians are in full cry, as demonstrated here and here (note the comments).

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

It's too easy . . .

. . . to make fun of the "teen witch" fad. I try to restrain myself. I was 16 once too. But then the Llewellyn New Times catalog arrives, announcing their new Teens & Tweens Web site

Are you "Craft curious, but seriously sick of those dense, boring bookstore books on Wicca?" Yes, this is the site for people who can't make it through even Silver Ravenwolf or Scott Cunningham's work, presumably, as I doubt the copywriter has even seen Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves.

Fans of Laurie Stolarz's young-adult mystery novels such as White is for Magic can buy T-shirts proclaiming their allegiance--or lunchboxes, camisoles, and caps.

"Check out our Wicca channel for spellcraft support, Tarot channel for card counseling and Astrology channel for horoscope help."

Chevrolet, part of General Motors, competes with Pontiac, another part. Llewellyn, too, has started to compete with itself. Result: more market share.

Idol-worshiping Episcopalians

Christianity Today reacts to Pagan aspects of an Episcopal Church experiment with women's liturgy. Other conservative Christian bloggers chime in: check out the "comments" section of this blog. The ordination of women led to "sexual narcissism," you see.

It's been a long time--like 40 or 50 years--since the Episcopal Church was humorously referred to as "the Republican Party at prayer."

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Wolf packs for truth

The Bush campaign's latest television ad is debunked by the wolves themselves.

You would not expect Karl Rove to have read Of Wolves and Men, would you?

Friday, October 22, 2004

O Web gallego

When I was in graduate school, I studied Portuguese in order to be able to read books on Umbanda for my research. Since I already knew some Spanish, the two languages would blend in my mind and produce a feeble hybrid. I joked to my teacher that I was actually speaking Galician (from northeastern Spain).

That would be no joke to some people, since now there are Web sites in Galician. Abre ben os ollos e toma nota, as they say.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Musicians on drugs

These, however, probably are not the musicians whom you expected to be reading about.
It's that time of year again

The Religion Newswriters Association primes journalists everywhere with story ideas on Wicca.

Meanwhile, a school district in Washington state bans Halloween as "offensive to witches." (Thanks to Joanne Jacobs.)

Let's see, if "Everyone's Irish on St. Patrick's Day," as the common saying has it, then what happens on the last day of October, hmm?

Offended? No. Amused at the annual flurry of attention is more like it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A Forest God

This has turned into a weekend of car repair and grading student writing. But last Friday M. and I did manage to fit in a short cross-country ramble in the Wets. In some shadowed ravine I bumped into that forest god again.

Or, to use technical language, it is a sort of "irruption of the numenous."

You're walking through the woods, and there, in a tiny clearing, you see a man-high young fir tree, all perky and perfect, every needle sharp, blue-green in the sun.

On its needles has fallen a shower of golden coins--the golden, rounded leaves of aspen trees. The little fir seems to have its "hands" out snatching leaves from the shower of gold.

It is full of shining power--and it's just a fir tree.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Pomegranate updates

I spent a few minutes yesterday on updating the old Pomegranate Web site. SInce all the activity is at Equinox Publishing's new site, the old one exists mainly to sell back issues.

The first five volumes of quarterly issues, less one--19 issues all together--are available on CD-ROM in PDF format for US $20.

Just for fun, I put up a page listing the contents of Volume 6 (2004).

Finally, I am updating the contributors' style guide on both sites. (Changes at Equinox's site, however, will not be immediate, because I have to wait on their webmaster.)

As far as The Pomegranate style is concerned, I have issued an editorial "fatwa" about the capitalization of such words as P/pagan, W/witch, H/heathen, and so on.

It's "Pagan" both when referring to self-consciously revived contemporary
Paganisms and to other polytheistic, world-affirming religions, especially when viewed in contrast to monotheisms, for example, Roman Paganism.

My analogy is with "Hinduism," a category that did not exist until Westerners arrived in the Indian subcontinent and applied a label to a very diverse collection of religious practices.

It's "pagan" when the meaning is "irreligious," "sensual," or merely "nature-loving," for example, we could take the last sense and speak of the literary paganism of Algernon Blackwood.

This rule tends to follow American over British practice, but I'm an American. They get to keep their single quotation marks and to put the full stop outside the final quotation mark in a sentence. (Canadian usage is a muddle, but that's another issue all together.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Living by the Code

I have blogged before about certain Christians' horrified response to the success of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. At least a dozen books are devoted to "exposing" it.

But Curtis White's review essay in the Voice Literary Supplement makes the best point:

"The Da Vinci Code is important as an expression of a desire for a spirituality that cannot be had within the confines of the institutionalized church. More simply yet, it is the popular expression of a desire for a kind of meaningfulness to life that is missing for most of us. And certainly, it is the scandalous expression of a willingness to be disobedient to achieve the heretical end of a salvation outside the confines of the church."

"Excursus religion," in other words, a term of Robert Ellwood's that I always find useful and apply wherever I can.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

More than a passing fad?

Brooks Alexander of the Spiritual Counterfeits Project (an "anti-cult" group) has a new book, Witchcraft Goes Mainstream

It gets favorable notice from Jeffrey Burton Russell, perhaps one of the last of the hardline historians of the medieval and early modern witch trials, who treated at least some of the victims as genuine Satanists.

The publisher's language manages to be both conventional and scare-mongering: "What do I say to my teenage daughter who wants to experiment with witchcraft?" Why not "son"? "Experimenting" -- sounds so much less committed than "adopting a different world view" or even "changing religions, much to her parents' horror."

Alexander's assertion that "historical" witchcraft is in the past would be challenged by plenty of journalists and anthropologists, for people are executed (usually by their neighbors) for the crime of so-called witchcraft all the time, particularly in Africa but also elsewhere.

Much of the Craft's appeal, Alexander asserts, arises because "The contagious excitement of cultural insurrection is modern Witchcraft’s functional substitute for missionary zeal." And then there is feminism, oh yes. Read the excerpt at the Web site. Much of the history is accurate enough, if polemical.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

The Goddess is Back, and She's Horny

Waking the Moon, another unintentional Pagan classic, covers some of the same ground as Tartt's The Secret History. There is the university setting, the eccentric professor, the elite group of students, but then things take a different turn, down the road of conspiracy theory reaching back to the Bronze Age at the very least, whereas The Secret History is more about hubris and intellectual vanity.

Author Elizabeth Hand attended the Catholic University of America, where she "used to wonder what the priests were really into," recalls one of her college acquaintances.

I wonder why so many people assume that Goddess worship must necessarily involve human sacrifice. Waking the Moon is still a good read, although some readers have been thankful that it was never made into a cheap horror flick.

For all the cosmic battles, Hand is not a mastery of astronomy. At the beginning of Chapter 8, a character awakes at dawn, looks out her dormitory window and sees the new moon in the sky. (An uncritical plot summary-review here.)

Friday, October 08, 2004

The slippery slope at AAR

The annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion is more than a month ago, but the shock waves are already forming on the cultural right, as this article from World Net Daily shows. (Credit: The Revealer.)

I plan to be there, maybe even blogging--although not on S&M, most likely.
What do Pagan scholars do?

Cat McEarchern answers that question at the Pagan Studies site, where he has compiled a list of papers in Pagan Studies presented at various conferences. Some of mine are there, and you can find links to them on my own home page.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


• Why am I blogging about Pagan and magical themes in old movies (as I did here and here ) when Tanya Kryzwinska has the lot in her book A Skin for Dancing In: Possession, Witchcraft and Voodoo in Film? She characterizes Häxan, for instance, "the first 'nunploitation' movie" for its flagellant sisters.

• Four more cartons of Pagan magazines and ephemera shipped off to UCSB today, which with last week's shipment makes seven. The storage shelves in the garage look about the same, however.

• My revised version of Her Hidden Children: The Beginnings of American Paganism (that subtitle is still under discussion) received a favorable review from the series' co-editor. Hurray!
Urban Primitive

When I read the sentence, "Children's dolls, broken or whole, are symbolic of urban 'elves'--the urban version of the tomte or tontu," I was drawn further into reading--and then buying--Urban Primitive, by Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartztein.

The title and cover treatment owe something to RE/Search's Modern Primitives, whose title in turn came from the idea that "Primitive" actions . . . rupture conventional confines of behavior and aesthetics . . . [they explore] the territory of the last remaining underdeveloped source of first-hand experience: the human body."

It's a Llewellyn book, which means it is "Wicca 101," but with enough twists and originality to make it interesting--using subway trains in banishing rituals, assigning astrological symbolism to different body piercings. It's not the usual "the ancient Celts did this and that" approach, at least. The way that the authors teach city dwellers to seek the "heart of the city" is important, because too often American culture tells us to hate our cities--and so we make them ugly, and they sprawl as we keep trying to "escape" them.

The book gave me the idea of a magical action that I wish to carry out--and it also gave me the germ of a nature-writing class assignment.

Researching Paganisms

Congratulations to Graham Harvey, Jenny Blain, and Doug Ezzy on publication of their new anthology, Researching Paganisms, with contributions by the editors plus Andy Letcher, Jone Salomonsen, Wendy Griffin, Melissa Harrington, Sarah Pike, Ronald Hutton, Ruth Mantin, Robert Wallis, and some incoherant rambling essay by me.

The publisher says, "Should researchers of spirituality and religion be distantly 'objective,' or engaged and active participants? The traditional paradigm of 'methodological agnosticism' is increasingly challenged as researchers emphasize the benefits of direct participation for understanding beliefs and practices. Should academic researchers 'go native,' participating as 'insiders' in engagements with the 'supernatural,' experiencing altered states of of consciousness? How do academics negotiate the fluid boundaries between worlds and meanings which may change their own beliefs? Should their own experiences be part of academic reports? Researching Paganisms presents reflective and engaging accounts of issues in the academic study of religion confronted by anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, historians and religious studies scholars—as researchers and as humans—as they study contemporary Pagan religions. The insights that contributors gain, with resultant changes to their own lives, will fascinate not only other scholars of Pagan religions, but scholars of any religion and indeed anyone who grapples with issues of reflexive research."

My lingering question (in the tone of Carrie's column-writing voice-over from Sex and the City), "Are we being too reflexive too soon?" But it's fun.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

New blogs on writing

Bitch Novelist: "I suppose I should begin by telling you what this blog is for. I have no intention of being one of those bloggers with attitude, as in fuck you, you figure it out. I welcome readers of this blog as enthusiastically as I welcome readers of my novels. It's the industry, the prize committees, the reviewers, and many over-hyped novels that I am here to bitch about"

Galley Cat, a spin-off from Cup of Chicha: "While reading is still considered a relatively private and intellectual endeavor, national book clubs seem to drive up sales by ensuring books' social currency. Reading no longer needs to be the artsy equivalent of solitary confinement; instead, it can be a ticket to a group event, as well as an affordable emulation of a beloved celebrity's habits. Consequently, if you think literary culture is suffering for lack of readers, you probably see some good in TV shows' book clubs; and if you think literary culture is suffering because people no longer like to think -- at least, for themselves, that is -- book clubs may seem like its death knell (and here comes the grim Ripa). "

Not as new, but I never linked to it: Maud Newton's blog, now featuring The Secret [Literary] Agent

Friday, October 01, 2004


I spent a large chunk of the afternoon sorting and packing three large cartons of Pagan magazines dating back to the 1970s. They will be donated to the American Religions Collection at Davidson Library, University of California-Santa Barbara.

My book on the first decades of American Paganism is with the publisher. I sent in one draft last spring, it went to two outside reviewers, and I spent the summer revising it in light of the reviewers' comments. Now another editor is reading the revised ms., but I feel fairly confident that she will pass it. Finally.

And at any rate, these cartons of materials were not critical to my research. Some materials I am holding back for possible further use.

But in the long run, I am not in the archive business. If the special-collections librarian with whom I am dealing wants more, I could send him another four, five, or maybe six cartons, easily.

On one level this is a happy milestone, but on another, it feels spooky. I suppose I feel that way because in the last 18 months I have spent too much time disposing of my late parents' belongings, and now I want to shout, "I'm not dead yet," like the character in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.