Friday, April 29, 2005

Jay's at it again

Jay Allen has revived his Kensho Godchaser blog, and it is back in my permanent blogroll. His other blog is The Zero Boss.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

More grad school advice

From the Recovering Academics Live Journal, good advice for grad students.

Then there are the unintended consequences of postgraduate studies.

On the undergraduate-teaching front, meanwhile, I see in my referral logs a number of search engine requests for "summary analysis of ..." or "notes on ..." followed by a book title. You haven't written that paper yet, have you. And now you're cutting corners. Remember, professors know how to use Google too.
Giving good headship

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer has way too much fun dissecting Christian men's self-help books. Some quotes:

Women can't get enough of good headship, but a man must be careful; a woman's hunger for his headship may lead him to abuse its potency through the sin of anger. . . .

I place "homosexuals" in quotes to suggest that the very term itself — so often referred to with code such as Lewis' — is itself a kind of code within the Christian men's movement. Lesbians, as one might imagine, are not popular among evangelicals; but then, they are not really imaginable. In the theology of "Jesus plus nothing," there is no room for anything that is not man-God (or God-man, if you're particular about such things), and that includes female sexuality. Many of the man-manuals advise loving attention to wives and speak of the joys of married, heterosexual sex as a bulwark against the culture (which is queer by definition, since it is not Christ-centered, a peculiar oxymoron at the heart of the faith), but they also teach a "sensitivity" that is called to stand in for the sins of their cavemen fathers. . . .

But with Christian womanhood restored and redeemed, a crucial character in the Christian conservative morality play has gone missing: the seductress. It is no longer acceptable to speak of loose women and harlots, since sexual promiscuity in a woman is the fault of the man who has failed to exercise his "headship" over her. It is his effeminacy, not hers, that is to blame. And who lures him into this spiritual castration? The gay man.

Sharlet thinks about how the Christian-versus-culture debate is framed in terms of homosexuality. Personally, I think the "harlot" image is still present, and had I nothing better to do, I would write at length about how so much of organized religion deals with controlling female sexuality.

Wicca, by contrast, exalted and attempted to ritualize sexuality, with mixed results. Both the polyamorous and the monogamous agree that sexuality has a sacred dimension, but just how that works in daily life continues to be debated, usually in venues closed to outsiders.
The purgatory of peer review

In a this case, the kind of car your mom drives is factored in. (Thanks to Scribbling Woman.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Domestic rites of the 21st Century CE

Looking through a Sportsman's Guide catalog, I saw this portable fireplace. It is copper with a wrought iron stand, made in the former imperial province of Anatolia.

Lift out the grill, and it seems to cry out for libations, which you pour from the patera. You can see a fine silver one from the sacred spring of Minerva Sullis in Bath, while here is a pewter version.

Detailed instructions for serious Romans are here, while what you might call the children's version is here.

It's a pity that the stand does not bring the firebowl up to waist height. I need an ironworker to make me a tripod.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

It's ours, and you can't have any

Sabina Magliocco (her last book mentioned here) has a good piece on "Indigenousness and the Politics of Spirituality" in the American Anthropological Association newsletter.

Some quotes:

Cultural tradition is a process, rather than a product; the key quality of many indigenous spiritual practices is their variability and adaptability to different contexts, depending on the needs of their practitioners. Copyrighting spiritual practices would involve freezing them in time, rendering a living tradition static, unchanging, dead and preventing its adaptation by other group members. Not only is this anathema to many practitioners; it is also not how religion works.

My emphasis. And she points a finger at anthropologists who aid and abet the process of limiting spiritual material to only the "right people," which practice is itself a form of reverse racism.
Paganism--religion or fad? Stay tuned

'Australia Talks Back' tackles the question: Traditional religions continue to lose their flock to the evangelicals,but an increasing number of Australians are opting out of Christianity and turning to pre-Christian paganism, with its spells and witchcraft. Paganism may be on the rise, but is it a serious religion, or new age trend? (Real Media and Windows Media links here--scroll down)

Guests on this program:

Dr. Rachael Kohn
Producer & Presenter of Radio National's 'The Ark' and 'The Spirit of Things'

David Garland
Pagan priest and spokesman for PAN - The Pagan Awareness Network

Lynne Hume
Associate Professor of Religious Studies, University of Queeensland.
Author of
Witchcraft and Paganism in Australia

Stacey Demarco
Sydney businesswoman who describes herself not only as a Pagan but also as a modern -day witch

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The "Yeah, Right" department

A news release for an online witchcraft school trots out the interview that I gave to Religion Link a few months back.

Whoever wrote the release was pretty sloppy. Phyllis Curott, for instance, is a lawyer not a "researcher." And straight-line demographic projections are generally meaningless. Then there is "visionaire." Is that supposed to sound slicker than the usual "visionary"? I think the only vision here is "get rich quick with the World Wide Web." Of course, if you have to divide the money among your "staff of over 300," there will not be much cash to go around.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Goddess of the North"

Plans are underway to create a huge goddess figure next to a northern British highway. Ironically, the material to scupt her will be the overburden ("mining spoil") removed from an open-pit coal mine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

When is a Druid not a Druid?

Another twist in the William Melnyk affair. Jason Pitzl-Waters has the conspiracy theories.
Benedict the inquisitor

As I paid for my turkey wrap and orange juice at "La Cantina," i.e., the student coffee shop, today, the cashier told me that a new pope had been elected. Back in my office, I went on the Web and learned that Cardinal Ratzinger was now Pope Benedict XVI.

Coincidentally, some of my colleagues and I had just been discussing Aidan Kelly's Crafting the Art of Magic (Llewellyn Publications, 1991), which for all its flaws represents the first book-length study by a scholar of religion on Wiccan origins.

Kelly, raised Roman Catholic, turned to the Craft as a young man, but then in the early 1980s tried for a time to return to the Church, only to feel that there was no place for him in it.

At his book's conclusion, noting how the Church never apologized for the execution of "witches" and "heretics," he writes:

The man who holds the position of Grand Inquisitor, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, is responsible for the harassing of Fr. Charles Curran, and of Fr. Matthew Fox, whom he has accused of heresy. Why? Because Fox hired Starhawk (and Luisa Teish, a Voudun priestess) to teach at Holy Names College in Oakland, California. . . .

Let me merely extend an invitation: if you, dear reader, can no longer stomach being in communion with Cardinal Ratzinger--or whoever the Chief Son-of-a-Bitch of your particular persuasion may be--then come circle with the Witches. We offer you liberty, fraternity, and equality.

That was my first introduction to the Ratzinger-as-Inquisitor meme, back in 1991. As the analysis of the papal election rolls forth, we may hear more of it.

Monday, April 18, 2005

New classics

The Independent (UK) newspaper reports that a group of ancient, seemingly unreadable documents might contain both Classic works of literature and ancient Christian gospels.

Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.

In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.

Between these documents and those at the Villa of the Papyri in Pompei, we might have some wonderful new texts. But where are the rest of Sappho's poems? (Via Bartholomew's Notes on Religion)

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Episcopalians and Druids, cont.

The saga of the two married Episcopal clergy who were denounced by their denomination's conservative wing for participation in Druidry has a new twist.

After resigning his pastoral post last November, the husband, William Melnyk, has decided that Druidry is more welcoming. (Registration may be required to view article.)

W. William Melnyk, former rector of St. James' Episcopal Church, has formed the Llynhydd Grove of the Druid Order of the Yew, which he is leading under his Druid name, OakWyse.

He told the Philadelphia Inquirer that his move was "a joyous occasion." His wife, Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk, who kept her parish, said she supports her husband's decision to "exercise his ministry in an interfaith context, which was not available to him strictly within the ordained ministry of the Episcopal church."

More links and a photo at the Wildhunt blog. A copy of Melnyk's resignation letter is in the comment section here, along with derogatory comments about "Episco-Baalians."

Friday, April 15, 2005

I'm in Blog Heaven

This blog has been added to BeliefNet's "Blog Heaven," a list of blogs emphasizing religion and spirituality.

Appropriately enough, you will find "Letter from Hardscrabble Creek" in the "Other" category. I feel "Other" quite a bit of the time. Not "the Other," just "Other."

The button on the right side of your screen below the blogroll will take you to Blog Heaven too.

Another BeliefNet article profiles an American who became a shaman in southern Africa.

He says, "The great taboo in our [Western] culture has nothing to do with sex, drugs, or controversial theater or performance—it is that realm of ecstatic experience. We just dismiss it, close the door, just no room, no reason, in fact, we don't even want to look at it."

Thursday, April 14, 2005


The case of the male Wiccan high school student in San Bernardino, Calif., suspended for wearing black lipstick is all over the Pagan Web, but the Zero Intelligence blog dissects it nicely.

That's the crux of the issue. If his black lipstick and red eye makeup were causing a genuine distraction then the school is justified in calling him on it (although a five day suspension is huge overkill for a dress code violation). However, this is a school in California, self-styled land of self expression. It is in San Bernardino which has no lack of people expressing themselves colorfully. I strongly doubt that James got any more reaction than "there goes another goth".

Remember, "Zero tolerance equals zero intelligence." On the other hand, I would like to hear James Herndon articulate just how the makeup expresses "Wiccan religious beliefs." Someone could get a conference paper out of that.
The devil gets all the good topography

A man in California thinks that having a mountain named Mount Diablo has negative effects. (Also linked here.)

"Words have power, and when you start mentioning words that come from the dark side, evil thrives," Mijares told the Contra Costa Times. "When I take boys camping on the mountain, I don't even like to say its name. I have to explain what the name means. Why should we have a main feature of our community that celebrates the devil?"

Back in the mid-1980s when I was in graduate school, I wanted to write a paper on how so many interesting Earth features in the United States had "devil" in their names. For instance, a side canyon to the Arkansas River north of here is called "Devil's Hole," also known as "Big Hole." And of course there is Devil's Tower.

I got busy and never wrote the paper--I could not fit it into any of my course work. But I still think that there is something to be said about Americans' ambivalent relationship to the landscape, which is both sacralized and mistrusted in our mythic mind.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What dog are you?

I don't normally link to Internet quizes, but this one has an amazing retro interface. Click the "Game" tab at upper left.

No extra points if the title puts you in mind of an couplet by Alexander Pope.

Oh yeah, curly-coated retriever.
Labor relations in Harry Potter's world

Wendy A.F.G. Stengel tackles the tricky issues of house-elf slavery and other issues of class in the Harry Potter world in the SF ezine Some Fantastic.

It is tempting to view the major labor conflict of the Harry Potter world—-the status of house elves—-simplistically: “Slavery is bad.” However, the house-elves’ exploitation resonates on many more levels. . . . As many otherwise-sympathetic characters support the use of unpaid house-elf labor, there is clearly more going on. Harry and Hermione have similar mudblood but have very different levels of political awareness; Harry treats Dobby decently, Hermione becomes a firebrand for labor rights, the Weasley children beg for them not to challenge the status quo. From exploring the status of and reactions to the house-elves, we can extrapolate the production and perpetuation of class in the wizarding world.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Pagan Studies update

Three new journal articles related to Pagan Studies and/or nature-based religion:

Lynn Ross-Bryant, "Sacred Sites: Nature and Nation in the U.S. National Parks," Religion and American Culture 15.1 (Winter 2005): 31-62.

Adrian Ivakhiv, "In Search of Deeper Identities: Neopaganism and 'Native Faith" in Contemporary Ukraine," Nova Religio 8.3 (March 2005): 7-38.

Michael Strmiska, "The Music of the Past in Modern Baltic Paganism," Nova Religio 8.3 (March 2005): 39-58.

Available at your favorite university library or through interlibrary loan!

Monday, April 11, 2005

"God, please smite this person"

Sunfell muses on Christian black magic.

The problem is that when magicians do "black" magic, they know there is a price to pay. These people may not have learned that lesson yet. (Thanks to Wildhunt for the link.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Job prospects for Pagan scholars

I am speaking only of religious studies here, and I wish only to point out that a PhD (or terminal master's degree) with an emphasis on Pagan Studies is a poor bet in the academic job market at the present time.

Every year, following the annual meeting, the American Academy of Religion publishes a list of academic positions for which interviews were conducted at the annual meeting, as well as the number of candidates who interviewed for each opening. The top fields and number of positions in each:

New Testament (12), South Asian religions (10), Asian religions (10), Islam (9), Hebrew bible (9), Other (9), Catholic theology (8), History of Christianity/Church history (7).

There are several dozen other categories with somewhere between 6 and 0 openings this year--54 categories in all. "Asian religions" had jumped a lot from 2003; and "Islam," of course, climbed after 11 September 2001. There were no openings in 2004 and 2003 in "new religious movements" and just one in 2003 in "women's studies in religion."

Candidates need multiple arrows in their quivers. As for me, now you know why I teach in the English Department.
Staggering out of the swamp

I recently suggested that my book was in the Underworld. Wrong mythos. Let's say that I just rescused it, bruised, bleeding, and barely alive, from the foul swamp lair of Grendel and Grendel's mother.

Last November, my editor decided it needed some reorganization. (I was OK with that.) He assigned it to a fledgling freelance editor who proceeded to make an absolute hash of it--or part of it. It took her four months to make it through the introduction and first chapter (without ever discussing with me what her concerns might have been).

Instead of considering organization issues, she did all sorts of amateurish sentence-level editing, leaving a morass of italic type, roman type, boldface type, and comments in square brackets that added up to an unreadable end product. I will have completely retype those sections in order to perceive what organizational changes might, in fact, be present underneath all the typographic debris.

Four months wasted. The chance of seeing it in print at this year's American Academy of Religion meeeting seems pretty slim. I still have hope, though; it's not a long book, and it will not present any complicated production issues. But I had hoped to be discussing cover design by this point.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Thunder, perfect Prada

Via PaleoJudaica (scroll to Feb. 24), this fascinating snippet about the most enigmatic of all the Nag Hammadi texts used as a perfume ad.

Some Pagan scholars see in the "I" of the text, "Thunder, Perfect Mind," a goddess figure, perhaps Sophia, the divine personification of Wisdom, perhaps the goddess Isis. Another translation is here.

UPDATE: I fixed the link. Sorry about that.
Prof. Synecdoche on graduate school

I have been thinking of starting a series of posts about Pagans in academia, mainly because I periodically get these naive questions about "Where can I major in Pagan Studies?" (Short answer: almost nowhere, and who would hire you if you did?)

Meanwhile, blogger Professor Synecdoche has a good post with basic truths about graduate education.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

A memory

Newlyweds, M. and I had spent late September through early October 1978 in Ireland, seeing tourist sights and visiting new Pagan friends--Janet and Stewart Farrar, the Fellowship of Isis household at Clonegal Castle, and others.

Homeward bound on an Aer Lingus flight from Dublin to New York, we heard the jumbo jet's captain speak on the intercom.

A new pope had been selected, he told the passengers, a Polish cardinal.

"The next one will be Irish," he added, and laughter rolled through the cabin.

Am I a little teary-eyed for John Paul II or for that long-gone me? Or both?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Felicitas Goodman

Word comes of the passing of Felicitas Goodman on 31 March. She was in her early nineties.

Born to ethnic German parents in Hungary, she attended the University of Heidelburg. She came to the United States after World War II and worked as a scientific translator before entering graduate school as a "nontraditional" student and earning a PhD in anthropology. She taught linguistics and anthropology at Denison University until retiring in 1979.

And then she began to devote herself full time to some very interesting research in the anthropological reconstruction of shamanism, culminating in the publication of her book Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences (Indiana University Press, 1990). Get it if you can, perhaps through some service like Advanced Book Exchange.

I was fortunate enough to persuade her to write the lead chapter of my 1994 anthology Witchcraft and Shamanism.

She purchased some land between Santa Fe and Española, New Mexico, and founded the "Cuyamonge Institute" for the study of shamanism. It never became as large as Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies, but I tend to think of Goodman and Harner as somewhat parallel: anthropologists who "went native." Goodman, however, taught shamanic techniques perhaps more in Europe than in the United States, particularly in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Nikki Bado-Fralick, one of her former academic students, wrote of her today, "I learned from Felicitas that we need to be brave adventurers in what she called the 'alternate realities.' There seemed to be no aspect of the alternate reality that we should not investigate, no spiritual territory that we should not explore. Felicitas warmly and generously gave to others, supporting them in their adventures without pause."

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