Sunday, May 29, 2005

Here's that meme again

A New York Times story on the Rites of Spring Pagan festival (login required) quotes two contemporary scholars of Paganism, Helen Berger and Sabina Magliocco on, among other things, the numbers of American Pagans.

Ms. Magliocco favors the higher number [700,000] based on data like surveys, sales of books with pagan themes and attendance at festivals. She said, "Paganism is one of the fastest-growing religious movements in North America."

The article also discusses the growth of Pagan festivals, which began in hotels in the early 1970s, modeled very much on the science-fiction fan "cons" of the time, and sometimes even with "con" in their names.

I believe the first big outdoor festival was in 1980--the Pan-Pagan festival. If not, they started around then.

The outdoor revival meeting is a theme in American religious history--think of the "brush arbors" of the 19th century--but the growth of a religion through widespread festivals may indeed by something new. When a covener of ours came back from one of the first national festivals in the early 1980s with a new group of songs and chants to share, it was like seeing something sprout before your very eyes.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Updating Zeus

I Still Worship Zeus, a documentary film on Pagans in Greece that was filmed shortly before the Athens Olympics, is now available from National Film Network--handy for both individual and instutional buyers.

New features on the DVD include a trailer and slideshow of production stills. There is more information too at the director's Web site.

Thanks to watching it last winter, I formulated Clifton's Third Law of Religion: "All genuine religions include at least occasional torchlight processions."
Buying books on the Internet

Nothing catches my attention like a post like this, from John J. Emerson's site Idiocentrism. Like Emerson, I usually start with Advanced Book Exchange. (Link via Language Hat.)

Friday, May 27, 2005

The judge in Indianapolis (pt. 2)

Legal experts say the judge who forbade the teaching of Wicca to a child is likely to be overruled.

"This decision should be frightening to people of any faith, because who decides what's mainstream?" said Donna Bays, chairwoman of the Family Law Section of the Indiana State Bar Association. "I have never seen a judge put anything like that in any order involving parties who were in agreement."
Here's a twist on "activist judges"

From the Indianapolis Star:

"An Indianapolis father is appealing a Marion County judge's unusual order that prohibits him and his ex-wife from exposing their child to 'non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals.'"

And we know which "non-mainstream religion" he has in mind. Yes, this judge thinks he can rule on religion in the home. It will be interesting to see what the appeals court thinks.

(As with all newspaper links, this one could change. A tip of the pointy hat to Wonkette.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Taos Notes

M. and I got in the new Jeep, headed up the "secret cutoff" and came over the mountains and down to Taos for a couple of days.

There is always a nostalgia component for me here, dating back to the summers in college when I worked on what you might call the Poets & Writers adobe-bricklaying crew in the early 1970s.

I had a foot in two worlds: by age, I fit in more with the younger hippies. But the people I worked for and lived with were more part of the older Taos bohemia. And there was a chasm between the two.

The older bohemians were artists, writers, etc.--or else they worshipped at the shrine of Art. As the photographer Mildred Tolbert said of her arrival in the late 1930s after a Texas ranch girlhood, "I guess I was just another misfit coming to Taos."

This older group had plenty of wildness: heavy drinking, "alternative lifestyles," etc., but they were more discreet. Often childless, they usually were not involved with the fabric of the community: churches, schools, and the incestuous and nepotistic local politics. They usually treated the locals politely because they needed them. If they followed the D.H. Lawrence approach, they treated the Indians from Taos Pueblo (at least those Indians savvy enough to play the art game) with exaggerated respect. There was actually a lot of out-of-state money here, but it blended in.

The hippies, on the other hand, arrived full of a different set of Psychedelic Wild West fantasies, plus the usual paradisaical utopian fantasies (often involving removing clothing), plopped down in the midst of largely Catholic, socially conservative, and patriarchal northern New Mexico. There were, shall we say, conflicts. Sometimes shots were fired--both directions. The Psychedelic Wild West fantasy included lever-action carbines as well as LSD.

The writer Anna Cypra Oliver covers some of this terrain in her memoir Assembling My Father. Her parents were part of the older hippie group--she and I reckon we must have passed each other often on Maestas Road in Talpa, me a longhair driving the boss's pickup, her a little girl.

And that era passed, and the New Agers arrived in greater numbers (they had been here all along, of course, since the 1940s, at least), and the river-rafter/mountain-biker types, and now, to my surprise, Taos is attracting upper-middle class retirees in greater numbers. Even the incestuous nepotistic politics are changing, some. The Indians, of course, now have a casino, which advertises itself to be New Mexico's only smoke-free casino. You can buy Thai and "rustic French" meals in restaurants. Art galleries outnumber bars and churches combined.

There are still social conflicts and divisions, but I haven't heard of any shooting. Taos has just become more like Bozeman or Durango or many places in other countries too where the lure of beauty and some sort of spiritual atmosphere attracts first the bohemians and adventurers and then the people of money. But that's the dirty little secret: Bohemia requires people of money to sustain it. Someone has to buy the paintings. Someone has to leave money to their descendents so that said descendents can afford to work in art galleries for next to nothing. Someone has to hire the adventure-tourism guides. There is no point in pretending otherwise.

Now we're not looking for "spirituality." We are more interested in the latest book on Southwestern gardening at Moby Dickens or the guy selling oshá from the back of his pickup truck.


Friday, May 20, 2005

The Nature of Magic

Susan Greenwood's new book on the anthropology of magic, The Nature of Magic, has been released by Berg. She previously wrote Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld: An Anthropology (Berg, 2000).

It's on my purchase list--although I still have not read all the books that I bought at last November's AAR-SBL annual meeting.

The publisher says, "This book examines how and why practitioners of nature religion--Western witches, druids, shamans--seek to relate spiritually with nature through 'magical consciousness'. 'Magic' and 'consciousness' are concepts that are often fraught with prejudice and ambiguity respectively. Greenwood develops a new theory of magical consciousness by arguing that magic ultimately has more to do with the workings of the human mind in terms of an expanded awareness than with socio-cultural explanations. "

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

"Luminous beings are we"

Said Yoda. Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News points out that half of all Americans grew up with the phrase "May the Force be with you," all part of the "quasi-religious mishmash" that is the Star War series. (Registration required; get a password from Bug Me Not.

Did George Lucas tap into audience's desire for a new religion? In 1999 he told interviewer Bill Moyers that he wanted "to try to awaken a certain kind of spirituality in young people."

Weiss writes, "Two of the basic story themes for Western culture are redemption through sacrifice and redemption through violence, said Tyron Inbody, a theology professor at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

"Star Wars uses both of those ideas, and adds Eastern motifs about attachment and emotion pulled from Buddhism and Taoism, said Dr. Inbody, who has studied religion in films."

What strikes me as "Pagan" about the Force (which could equally well be claimed by other traditions) is its impersonality. Gary Snyder once quoted a Northwest tribal saying, "The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife."

(Yoda: "As sharp as the edge of a knife the world is.")

In a polytheistic system, you may have a relationship with one or more deities and ignore (and be ignored by) others. There is not the problem of how the all-loving creator who supposedly numbers the hairs on your head lets bad things happen to you.

But now I have invoked Gods and an impersonal Force as well. Which is it? I think it likely, as did some of the ancients, that the Gods too are somehow subject to Fate, or Wyrd or the Force, but in a way that is outside our normal scale of imagining.

(Thanks to Get Religion for the original link.)

Sunday, May 15, 2005

"Community" or fence-building?

A Roman reconstructionist Pagan decides that Pagan "community" is a hopeless notion.

The reason seems to be that too much group identity is built through denigrating other Pagan groups.

What did I, the militant new convert to Reconstructionism, discover about the Greco-Roman spheres of reconstruction? I soon discovered it was not all that different from the neopagan morass which I had left.

It's a pity that people cannot realize that all (neo) Pagan religions are just that, new, relatively, speaking, and that being new is just fine. Religion, from our point of view, is an expression of human creativity in response to All That Stuff In/Out There.

Or as the late psychologist of religion Daniel Noel said in respect to "neo" shamansm, "Ain't nobody here but us neos."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

"that Barbarous Crew"

Cronica reports that "Indians" are not allowed in Boston unless they are incarcerated. The law in question dates from 1675.

Commenters raise a question: could the law mean that Dr. Patel the internist should be thrown into prison? "Original intent" would have to be examined.
World Dream Bank

At last, a safe place for your Antarctica dream dollars. (Link courtesy of Shamanic Shifting around the Web.)
Shamanic links

Can shamanism and blogging co-exist? The Shamanic Ways blog is trying to find out.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Eighteenth Century goes to the movies

"Candidus," the Colonial movie critic, takes on Hollywood's treatment of the 18th century. Here he is on The Patriot:

"In the real war, loyalist civilians were treated as horribly as any patriot civilians. But, you don't hear about that. No, no. Can't have that!"

When it comes to The Last of the Mohicans (1992), it is hard, however, to say much about James Fenimore Cooper that Mark Twain has not already said in his essay "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses."

The only reason that Cooper must have made it into the American literary canon was that the competition was, somehow, worse.

Twain does not tackle The Prairie, but there is a completely silly book. Evidently JFC never saw a prairie. His characters--so-called pioneers--wander in circles. They are 200 miles from civilization, then 400 miles, then 200 miles. The plot repeats itself: captured by Indians, prairie fire, escape from Indians, captured by Indians.

Any literature student asked by a teacher to read Cooper should demand extra credit.

In the movie of Last of the Mohicans, I thought I detected a continuity lapse in a scene where there were X people in a large canoe in one scene, and then X -1 in the next scene. But I was watching in a theatre, so I could not back up and look again. Such a lapse would have been true to Cooper's spirit, though.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Why was the shoe in the well?

I love this sort of news.
These should be easy times

The semester refuses to let go. The director of composition dumps a file folder of papers on me, which I am to read to help her evaluate one of the part-time faculty.

I feel for the instructor, a "freeway flier," someone teaching part-time for miserable Colorado wages ($1,300-$1,500 per course) at several colleges in order to try to make a living. S/he might be teaching as many as seven courses, which is two people's work load for writing classes.

Meanwhile, a former student, a "non-traditional" (in his 40s) stopped by today. He wants to enter the M.A. program.

"So you can make $1,300 per class teaching in the community college?" I asked.

"It beats $6 an hour," he said. Maybe. But perhaps he could get a better-paying job in a rural high school, many of which are desperate for teachers as the Baby Boomers retire. It is possible now to be hired and then to pick up the education courses.

I should be sitting back to read Alan Cameron's Greek Mythography in the Roman World to learn something about how the Greek myths were massaged (and invented) to suit Roman religio-political uses. But I also need to explore why the wipers on my old Jeep CJ-5 have quit. (No, I don't think it's the switch or the fuse that is bad.) Jeep first, then Classics.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Pagan Studies in the Academy

A list of papers to be presented at the Pagan Studies program unit of the American Academy of Religion annual meeting in November is posted on the Pagan Studies web site.

The AAR has not yet published its program book with times and places; that information will be added as soon as it becomes available.
The missing hyperlink

It is customary in the blogosphere to link to items that you are quoting--unless you are afraid, apparently, that your readers might actually follow that link.

For instance, conservative Catholic blogger Amy Welborn (my cyber-neighbor at Blog Heaven) recently viewed with alarm a Wiccan's writing on sexual predators in the Wiccan community.

The comments are . . . interesting.

But what is missing? There is no hyperlink. Had she placed one, readers might have seen that essayist Lisa McSherry mentioned Catholic sexual predators as well. (Read McSherry's entire essay here on the Witches' Voice site.) Everything else that Welborn posts is hyperlinked--until she deals with Wicca.

Selective quoting works best when no one can double-check you.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Vintage clothing patterns and a need to be bitchy

My mother at one point in her life was a high-school home-economics teacher. My older sisters, therefore, learned to sew. They had as much choice in the matter as young Joseph Ratzinger had in joining the Hitler Youth. Clothing patterns were part of the domestic landscape when I was young, which is why I was so delighted with Threadbared, a site born from "a love of all things vintage and all things snarky."

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Student paper gets it right

The Orion, published at California State University-Chico, published an article on Wicca that gets the history right--no "unbroken tradition from the Stone Age" stuff.

Perhaps that's because they interviewed one of the leading scholars, who is right there on their campus.

And don't miss the hard-hitting article on campus squirrels.
Maying in Maine

Michael Bérubé is a Maine photographer whose blog, Another Maine, is a non-touristy photo-documentary of Maine life. (Don't confuse him with academic blogger Michael Bérubé.)

Recently he attended the Popham Beach celebration of Beltaine.

He comments, "As the modern era of NeoPaganism has now been expanding again since the late 1960s, it is interesting to note that such open public celebrations are again as multi-generational an activity today as they were in PaleoPagan days."

(Thanks to Marilyn Pukkila, who is in a couple of the photos.)
Who am I, and what am I doing?

It's a good thing that the semester is finished, because my brain is finished too.

My university sets a different class schedule for finals week than for the other weeks of the semester. Each class meets just once, for two and one half hours. The times are calculated to avoid scheduling conflicts.

At 10:30 yesterday morning I walked from my office into the mêlée of students in the corridor. Some of my own students were standing along the walls outside a locked classroom: there were Tom, Gino, Megan, Cheryl . . .

"Hi," I said,"Do you need me to open that door for you? Do you have a final exam in there?"

I was getting blank looks, looks that asked, "Is he messing with us?" One of the students reminded me, with polite exasperation, that our class had a final, right then and there.


That is a small class, and their "final exam" consisted of presenting Web-based writing projects, so all I had to do was step into another room and grab a portable LCD projector.

Back in January, before I came down with the flu and evidently lost brain cells, I had written and distributed my syllabus and class calendar. Earlier this month, I realized that I had listed an incorrect date for the final exam, so I announced the correct date in class and sent all the students an e-mail too. But I forgot to correct my own appointment book.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005


It's not just the Pagans talking about sacred sex--and its potential spinoff, sacred prostitution.

Here is an articulate Hindu practitioner. (Notice her shrine page.) She blogs as well.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The juice and the buildings

Michael Strmiska draws my attention to an article published 10 years ago on the transformation of the Unitarian church: "Strained Bedfellows: Pagans, New Agers, and 'Starchy Humanists' in Unitarian Universalism."

According to the author, sociologist Richard Wayne Lee, the denomination had been a heavily rationalist group in the 1960s, characterized by Newsweek in 1967 as "atheists who have not shaken the church habit."

The UU leadership of the 1980s made a conscious attempt to incorporate more "spirituality" to appeal to younger Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers, leaving many of the old-line non-theistic humanists feeling pushed to the margins.

The "rapid influx of women into ministry" changed the denomination, and "female clergy served as the principle conduit into UU of neopaganism."

Intuitively, I had tended to see the growth of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans as the injection of their "juice," or energy, into a denomination that happened to own large buildings and meeting spaces, something almost no Pagan group could afford. Lee generally confirms this perception, although his purpose includes an academic definition of "cult" that includes UUs, insofar as it accommodates a number of "cult movements."
Out, sugar demons, out!

One of M.'s students at the community college writes in a psychology paper that while she herself is a diabetic, she controls her diabetes "through diet and exorcise."

Once again we see that the spellchecker is no substitute for literacy. On the other hand, Ted Haggard could add this to his ministry of spiritual warfare.