Thursday, February 24, 2005

The empire in color

Before there was such a thing as color film, a Russian photographer figured out a way to project the equivalent of color slides. His work can be seen in an online exhibition at the Library of Congress.

Off-topic for this blog? Bear with me.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was commissed by the government of the last tsar, Nicholas II, to travel the Russian Empire taking pictures of people, buildings, bridges, and other sights. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 overthrew the tsar, and Prokudin-Gorskii left for Paris the next year, taking many of his negatives with him.

When we have looked at too many sepia-tone photographs and old, herky-jerky black-and-white movies, we can almost forget that people a century ago lived in a colorful world too. You can see old Russia (and parts of Central Asia) in full color in these pictures.

Oh yes, the Russian royal family's personal physician was Dr. Sergei Botkin, who was gunned down along with them by the Communists in 1918. Dr. Botkin's son, Gleb, 17, would have been there too, except for a transportation foul-up that left him in another town.

Gleb Botkin eventually came to the United States and made a career as a commercial artist and writer. Although one branch of the Orthodox Church has canonized Tsar Nicholas II as a saint, the picture Botkin gives of him and his family in his memoir The Real Romanovs could be summarized as "nice people, but clueless."

In 1939 Botkin founded his own Pagan religious group, the Church of Aphrodite, first in Long Island, N.Y., and then in Charlottesville, Va., after he moved there. The "church" ended with his death in the mid-1960s, but at least one member, W. Holman Keith, was connected with subsequent Pagan bodies such as Feraferia, the Church of the Eternal Source, and the Church of All Worlds.

Monday, February 21, 2005

"The blessing of Lono"
Hawaiian prison inmates manage to follow traditional religion a long way from home. (New York Times, registration required.)

The incongruities are piled up, thick and mysterious: these inmates, many of them not particularly devoted to any faith, have found God - or gods, rather - in a medium-security private prison in the land of the Cheyenne and Arapaho after being locked up for robbery, drug dealing and other felonies. They have been helped not only by native religious teachers, community organizations and legal advocates back home, but also by volunteer ministers from the United Church of Christ, a denomination whose roots include the Congregationalist missionaries who tried so hard to destroy the Hawaiian religion two centuries ago.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Pagan with a Small 'p'

Pueblo, Colorado, is a perplexing city. As Pueblo Chieftain columnist Chuck Green wrote in today's paper, it "suffers from a traditional inferiority complex, looking like a haggard woman when a little bit of care could reveal an attractive lady. Sometimes it seems like the city has accepted some self-fulfilling subordination imposed by outsiders."

And yet some local organizations just produced a outstanding performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

Go figure: it's a shot-and-a-beer, get-pregnant-and-drop-out-of-high-school city with an equally flourishing "high culture" side.

Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer who believed in creating powerful, sensual music that could be performed by nonprofessionals. One organization still carries on his music-education principles.

The "carmina" are medieval songs from a collection found in a German monastery, but their world view is not Christian. It is a frank admittance that sometimes you are up, and sometimes, no matter how you strive, the universe has decided that today is not your day. So you drink a toast to Lady Fortune, and you keep on keeping on.

The gods may favor you, or they may not; meanwhile, "Hail, light of the world. Hail, rose of the world. Blanchefleur and Helen, noble Venus!"

The performers ranged from professional singers to dedicated amateurs (The Pueblo Choral Society) to university students (the solid CSU-Pueblo Percussion Ensemble) to kids (the South High School Cecilian Choir and the Sangre de Cristo Ballet Theatre)--nearly 200 performers in all.

From the first crashing notes . . . O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis (O Fortune, you are changeable like the Moon), I was carried away. Back to the fog-wrapped dormitory at Reed College where I first heard the Carmina Burana on my girlfriend's stereo, back to the final scenes of John Boorman's Excalibur back to, yes, even the credit-card commercial where the barbarians invade the shopping mall. So what--Orff' s music stands like a wall.

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Saturday, February 19, 2005

There are girls you marry, and girls you . . .

Robin Runesinger explains Wiccan women: They worship goddesses, and they want to dominate men sexually, you see. (And all the lonely Ásatrú boys take another swig from their drinking horns, each wrapped in a mist of sexual fantasy.)

Reference is made (again) to a dualistic essay in which a rhetorical straw man is chopped to satisfying bits by a nicely honed battleaxe.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The Greeks are at it again

Plans are afoot to rebuild the Colossus of Rhodes..

One of the "seven wonders" of the ancient world, the giant statue of Helios was destroyed by a strong earthquake centuries ago and its material--bronze and iron--scavenged for other uses.

The original Colossus was similar in size and construction to the Statue of Liberty.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Is 'Hollywood' the problem?

One of my favorite Pagan academics, Nikki Bado-Fralick, says that the entertainment industry tends to portray certain pagan practices, including witchcraft or Wicca, with a thriller aspect.

The Hermit blog critiques the critique.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The loneliness of the long-distance columnist

Jason Pitz-Waters looks at some of the press coverage that newWitch magazine is receiving and wonders why no one mentions his music column.

Ain't it the truth. You shoot these columns off into the dark and wonder if anyone ever reads them.

Some years back, I wrote a weekly fishing-hunting-outdoor recreation column for a small Colorado daily newspaper. Then I quit that job in order to teach part-time at a community college and work on a book. About a year later, someone stopped me at the supermarket and asked me to mention his organization's upcoming event in my column. It would have been appropriate for the column, too, except I haven't written one for the last year, you illiterate idiot. Like it's obvious that you are one of my faithful readers . . . not..

OK, I didn't say that, but I felt like saying it.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Religion being made

An interesting thread on Erynn Laurie's blog shows a group of Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans attempting to move beyond the idea of "personal gnosis" ("It's right for me.")

In comparison to Greek religion, for example, we have almost nothing on Pagan Celtic religion that was actually written down by Pagan Celts, so any discussion about sources tends to get sidetracked into the question of how much the material was cleaned up or otherwise massaged by Christian monks, well-meaning Victorian folklorists, or other persons--hence the large part played indeed by personal gnosis.

So it is fascinating to watch people try to find some common ground in creating what is a 98.5-percent new Pagan religion.
"Revisioning the Past: Reconstructionism, Revitalization and Ethnicity"

The call for papers for the 2005 Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies is now online here.

The CCPS will be Friday, 18 November 2005, in Philadelphia: that is the day before the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting begins. Registration for the AAR-SBL meeting is not actually necessary to attend CCPS, which has its own lesser admission fee.

Loving the trees

These young Scandinavians are taking the idea of erotic nature religion to its logical conclusion. Their public actions get attention too. (Not safe for work.)

Monday, February 07, 2005

Who is marginal now?

We Pagan academics struggle with feeling marginal, but as Elizabeth Carnell comments, consider how you would feel to be the only person with a doctorate in trolls?

But no doubt in Finland there are job opportunities.
No more crones on broomsticks

So says Brooks Alexander, author of the latest anti-cult ministry book on contemporary Paganism (hey, we dropped the "Neo-" a while back), Witchcraft Goes Mainstream.

"The old crone on a broomstick is gone," says Alexander. "In her place is a young, hip, sexually magnetic woman who worships a goddess and practices socially acceptable magic."

Rich Poll of Apologia Report crows over the book's favorable mention on a Pagan blog: "Praise from one's opponent is high praise indeed."

The author claims "personal experience in the occult," but then that can mean anything from a detailed study of Neoplatonic theurgy to merely having used a Ouija board once, so who knows?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Helen Duncan, accidental godmother of Wicca

A movement is underway in Britain to clear the name of Helen Duncan, a Scottish Spiritualist medium sent to prison during World War II under the Witchcraft Act of 1735.

She was convicted of faking mediumistic abilities, but as this reviewer says, some people thought she was a true medium at times:

Her partisans, and conspiracy theorists in general, looked back to 1941, when at an earlier séance in Portsmouth Helen had raised the spirit of a young sailor. In life, he had served in HMS Barham. News of his materialisation soon spread among the families in the port. This was a source of dismay to the Admiralty, who had not yet admitted that the warship had gone down.

A film is now being made about her life.

What is the Wiccan connection? After the war, British Spiritualists lobbied Parliament to repeal the 1735 act. Eventually, it was replaced by a milder law. The repeal occurred in 1951--and suddenly here was Gerald Gardner proclaiming the existence of the hither-to unknown Southern Coven of British witches.

Cynic that I am, I think that Gardner & Friends only felt safe to create the coven then, in part to furnish a "back story" to Cecil Williamson and Gardner's new witchcraft museum on the Isle of Man, which opened that year.

Indeed, it may be the museum that makes 1951 significant, and that invoking the repeal of the 1735 anti-witchcraft law was merely another of Gardner's dramatizations.

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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Fellowship 9/11

Stop what you are doing, take 14 minutes, and watch this:

Michael Moore's searing examination of the Aragorn administration's actions in the wake of the tragic events at Helm's Deep.

In memorium

Word came yesterday of the passing of Asphodel Long, a "grandmother of the Goddess Movement in Great Britain."

Wednesday, February 02, 2005


I had never encountered the literary-journalistic term feuilleton until I started reading some of Mircea Eliade's autobiographical writing: he used to write them for Romanian newspapers as a (precocious) teenager. I had to look up the word and its etymology:

[French, from feuillet, sheet of paper, little leaf, diminutive of feuille, leaf, from Old French foille, from Latin folium.]

John Holbo of John & Belle Have a Blog quotes this definition . . .

The feuilleton writer, an artist in vignettes, worked with those discrete details and episodes so appealing to the nineteenth century's taste for the concrete. But he sought to endow his material with color drawn from his imagination. The subjective response of the reporter or critic to an experience, his feeling-tone, acquired clear primacy over the matter of his discourse. To render a state of feeling became the mode of formulating a judgment. Accordingly, in the feuilleton writer's style, the adjectives engulfed the nouns, the personal tint virtually obliterated the contours of the object of discourse. In an essay written when he was only seventeen, young Theodor Herzl identified one of the chief tendencies of the feuilleton writer: narcissism.

. . . as part of a wildly discursive entry on theory, the feuilleton, and Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game, which I attempted as a teenager because the serious university students were reading it--only I was not Mircea Eliade, and I think I sort of bounced off the book. Perhaps I should give it another try.

Meanwhile, does blogging encourage the "feeling-tone" to dominate "the matter of [the] discourse"?

Helenic Paganism on DVD

Contemporary followers of traditional Greek religion got some attention during the recent Athens Olympics, and a new documentary film (made before the games) should help more. (For my earlier posts, see also here and here.)

I Still Worship Zeus, a recently released feature-length documentary film directed by Jamil Said, includes footage of rituals, games, music, and interviews, including a funny "average Athenian in the street" segment in which Greeks are asked whether or not the ancient religion has survived into this century. (Their responses are all over the place.) The film seems to focus in particular on the Dodecatheon (12 gods) group. The soundtrack is a mixture of English and subtitled Greek.

In particular, the film deals with Greek Pagans' experience with social discrimination and denial of religious rights by the national government, even while they position themselves as the "true Greeks."

The film's web site offers clips and still photos. A copy of I Still Worship Zeus on DVD is US $20; send email to "" for ordering information.

Buy yourself one for Candlemas, the festival of intellectual renewal.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Forget what season it is?

It's time (almost Candlemas/Imbolc, in fact) for my annual plug for, the site that keeps you from getting your quarters crossed.
The Crane Dancers of Çatalhöyuk

The Neolithic town of Çatalhöyuk in Turkey occupies a high place among people who think that there were peaceful, ancient cultures focused on a Mother Goddess.

That view of Neolithic culture is a bit simplistic, but one thing seems likely: in ancient Anatolia they had crane dancers, costumed in the actual wings (and other plumage?) of the common crane.

The current issue of Antiquity offers a suggestion that crane wing bones found with holes drilled in them were part of dance costumes. Read a summary here.