Thursday, June 30, 2005

The fragrant-blossomed Muses' lovely gift

A previously unknown poem by Sappho has been pieced together. (Via Cronaca.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Dressing like the ancestors

After last week's festival, M. launched into a mini-rant about Pagans' fondness for some form of re-created archaic dress. For instance, the priest at the solstice sunrise ritual was attired in sort of Dark Ages style: loose trousers gathered at the ankle, loose-fitting shirt, cloak, and sword and spear. How is that more Pagan than jeans and sneakers?

It's not just us though. Recently I drove past a Protestant church in the small town where we get our mail, and they had set up tents and two-dimensional plywood camels, and people were lounging around in their own form of ancient Judaean costume. I assume it was some sort of Vacation Bible School event.

M., however, objects to the glorification of the Middle Ages, which she sees as repressive in almost all regards. It's true that since the 1970s, when I first encountered the Craft, there has been an unfortunate bleed-through from the Society for Creative Anachronism, which glorifies the Middle Ages and Renaissance as somehow more vital and creative than Now. Of course, the SCA still enjoys plumbing and electricity; and everyone gets to be an aristocrat, or aspires to be. Even that is fine with me--the bad part is when SCA status influences status in the Pagan community. One is a baroness in the SCA; therefore, one's fellow Pagans should treat one with more regard. I have seen this phenomenon more than once.

Homo religiosus, the religious person, seems to hold the past in higher regard than the present. The older the text or teaching, the more authoritative it is. Past practice, even if impractible today, has a normative effect--it tells us what we might do. For example, where would the contemporary Heathen practice of seiðr be without that one passage from the Elder Edda about the volva with her catskin gloves? How could I be working on my flying ointment paper without the 14th-century story of Lady Alice Kytler, who beat the rap but let her maid be executed--thus demonstrating the true aristocratic temperment, as opposed to the SCA variety.
Gleaming white stone

A part of Colorado that I had never seen before (nor had M.) was the Crystal River valley up from Carbondale through Redstone and Marble.

What you see on the right is not a fragment of the temple of Zeus from some mountainous part of Greece, nor a fragment of the architectural vision of Albert Speer, but a wall from one of the marble mills in the town of the same name. Marble, Colorado, boomed in the early 20th century, furnishing building material for numerous buildings, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Now sculpture students work among the ruins.

You know you are nearing Marble when you turn off Colorado 133 at the sign and begin seeing Dumpster-size chunks of white rock, some marked by drill holes, just scattered in the aspens and willows along the road. The Old West-style Marble General Store has white marble steps rather than creaking planks.

We were unable to visit the quarry itself--the access road was closed by landslides--part of the snowy winter that has now has the Crystal River running high, murky, and unfishable. But no one complains about too much water here.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The smell of fatherhood

A week ago, M. and I were at a festival in northern Colorado. We put the two big dogs in a boarding kennel, but we brought Susie, who used to be my dad's dog. She was a basset hound-something mix, she was dying of cancer at age 13, and this, frankly, was her last outing.

Susie spent most of three days lying on a folded blanket in the shade of some small Douglas firs, but on the first afternoon, she tottered after us on a visit to a friend's campsite. When she got there, she lay down by my friend's chair.

"She likes you," M. said to him. "Maybe it's the familiar scent."

He smokes a pipe, you see--which is why this essay hit me hard.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Witchcraft and Magic: North America

As long as I am promoting books that I myself have not had an opportunity to read yet (but will when I can), look for Helen Berger's new anthology from the University of Pennsylvania Press, covering North America in the "Witchcraft and Magic" series. You can view the table of contents here.

From her introduction:

Contemporary magical religions, which developed and grew in the second half of the twentieth century, initially seemed to be an enigma as they came on the heels of a period in which science appeared to be replacing religion, at least among the educated. In most instances contemporary magical religions have come from abroad, but they have found fertile ground in which to develop in North America. Witchcraft traveled to the United States from the United Kingdom in the 1960s and attracted men and women who were influenced by the counterculture.

I disagree only on one small item: I would replace 1960s with 1950s, insofar as books such as Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today were already having an impact before any British Wiccans arrived.

She Went among the Witches

Waterbrook, Random House's evangelical-publishing operation, has announced Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, a new journalistic survey of Wicca in America.

From the Web site:

Hundreds of thousands of people practice Wicca and other forms of modern Pagan spirituality in America today, and journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders wanted to understand why such belief systems are rapidly attracting followers. When a routine magazine assignment led her to realize that her stereotype of Wiccans as eccentric spiritual outsiders was embarrassingly misinformed, her curiosity compelled her to understand the Wiccan mystique. With the support of a journalism fellowship, Sanders spent a year interviewing neo-Pagans and witches and found that the lure of this emerging spirituality was not the occult, but rather a search for meaning in an increasingly fragmented and materialistic culture.

Publishing history repeats itself. The "routine magazine assignment" sounds just like the genesis of Stewart Farrar's What Witches Do (1969), while "journalism fellowship" echoes the writing of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon (1979).

Adler, I am told, is also at work on her own re-working of DDTM, although I don't know if it will be a third edition or an entirely new book.

What I wonder about is how Sanders ended up with a publisher of chiefly Christian books, and what that placement bodes for this one.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Ashes among the stones

Solstice is passing, but I have one more Stonehenge post, courtesy of the prolific and hardworking Graham Harvey. It is the abstract of a paper he published last year in the journal Mortality, titled "Endo-cannibalism in the making of a recent British ancestor." (Volume 9, No. 3, August 2004, pp. 255-67).

Following his death in 1975, the ashes of Wally Hope, founder of Stonehenge People's Free Festival, were scattered in the centre of Stonehenge. When a child tasted the ashes the rest of the group followed this lead. In the following decades, as the festival increasingly became the site of contest about British heritage and culture, the story of Wally's ashes was told at significant times. His name continues to be invoked at gatherings today. This paper discusses these events as 'the making of an ancestor', and explores wider contexts in which they might be understood. These include Druidic involvement in the revival of cremation, Amazonian bone-ash endo-cannibalism, and popular means of speaking of and to dead relatives. In addition to considering the role of 'ancestors' in contemporary Britain, the paper contributes to considerations of 'ancestry' as a different way of being dead, of a particular moment in the evolution of an alternative religious neo-tribal movement, of the meanings of 'cannibalism', and of the ways in which human remains might be treated by the bereaved and by various other interested parties.

A tip of the pointy hat to Doug Ezzy.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Celebrating the wrong solstice

In Britain, it's time for media coverage of the summer solstice mob at Stonehenge and elsewhere, but some archaeologists think that today's Pagans and friends are celebrating the wrong solstice.

It's all in the pig bones, you see.

The Telegraph newspaper editorializes,"And so this multicultural nanny [English Heritage] appointed by Parliament to nurse our stocks and stones takes a leading place in the summer solstice industry." (Registration may be required.)

Meanwhile, some of the preservation organization's staff think this is the perfect time for a job action.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

What's wrong with this picture?

I will be going to a Pagan festival this weekend, but sometimes I wonder about my fellow nature-religionists.

The site is a campground at more than 8,000 feet elevation; the date is the weekend before the solstice with a forecast of mostly sunny weather.

And then the organizers announce "at the Sun's zenith . . .an adult-only sky-clad optional drawing down of the Sun."

My contribution to the ritual will be a partially full box of tubes of ex-Deutsche Bundeswehr Sonnenschutzcreme. If it's good enough for Hans und Fritz, maybe it will save you all from looking like the sunburn scene in A River Runs Through It.

A friend in California today was telling me of recent rituals in the Berkeley and Sacramento areas, with authentically (?) costumed Druids red-faced and on the verge of heatstroke thanks to their wool garments.

People, people, people, if you are going to practice nature religion, you have to adapt to where you are in actuality, not where you are in your fantasies.

It was not Pagans, however, who organized this weekend's Cañon City, Colo., "Gaelic Festival," although some Pagans whom I know plan to attend.

I lived in Cañon City for six years. It's an outlier of the Chihuahuan Desert. The summers are blistering. And I expect that people will be affecting Scots dress with lots and lots of wool. Maybe the smart ones will stay indoors, drinking in air-conditioned bars.
What says 'Pagan Studies' to you?

Now that my editor has the latest revision of Her Hidden Children on his desk, he is finally ready to talk about cover designs. But what kind of cover is right for a Pagan Studies book?

Designers seem to go one of these ways:

1. A standing stone, as in Michael York's Pagan Theology.

2. A crowd of Pagans, as in the one edition of Drawing Down the Moon that showed a festival at the Stonehenge replica in Washington state, or as in Researching Paganisms, on the right of your screen.

3. A flowing-haired young female Witch with sword or athame, as on Susan Greenwood's Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld, not to mention quite a few others.

4. A close-up photo: Greenwood's Nature of Magic got a much better photographic treatment.

5. A row of cryptic symbols that are not explained, as on Graham Harvey's and my The Paganism Reader, which apparently signifies spiritual diversity.

6. A Pagan-looking illustration, as in Wendy Griffin's anthology Daughters of the Goddess.

7. A tree, something like the oak on the Pagan Studies consultation site.

8. About twenty years ago, I self-published a collection called Nine Apples: A Neopagan Anthology (sorry, no Web link). Its cover was a photographic still life: a stoneware chalice, a gleaming athame, and nine apples, one sliced to show the "star". I still like it, but perhaps it is a little too static.

9. A shot of the Moon amid ragged clouds--but my editor does not wish to make an association to the Llewellyn Publications logo!

At least it's fun to brainstorm this one.

Monday, June 13, 2005

June 13th

Happy birthday, William Butler Yeats. Happy birthday, Gerald B. Gardner. Happy birthday, me; and I'm going to take fly rod and float tube and go annoy some trout, so no more blogging today.

Saturday, June 11, 2005


It really does not matter to me whether Jesus of Nazareth existed or not.

But it is clever from a marketing point of view that the same director who made that movie plans to release one called The Beast on June 6, 2006, "about a Christian girl who discovers evidence that Jesus Christ never existed."

I wonder who else is eying the same release date.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Druid Heights

Erik Davis posts a chapter of his upcoming book Visionary State on the Marin County (Calif.) community of Druid Heights.

The Heights was and is one of those rare places that is known but not known. It was the site of hundreds of amazing parties over the last fifty years and yet remained tucked beneath some freaky beatnik cone of silence, its muddy dirt road still unmarked on many maps.

There is a current of California bohemianism with strong Pagan overtones going back to at least the 1930s, but it was "under the radar" until the 1960s with the emergence of Feraferia and the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn, to name just two groups. I cover some of these "paradisical" Pagans in my own book--which finally was re-sent to the publisher this week, hurray--but one of my next projects will be further investigation of American Pagan movements that predate the arrival of Gardnerian books in the USA. The books, in fact, arrived about a decade before actual Gardnerian Witches and had as much or more impact.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ojo de dios

The new issue, no. 65, of Shaman's Drum reprints a portion of Visions of a Huichol Shaman by the anthropologist Peter Furst.

Furst has spent much time among the Huicholes, who live in Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental and who are sometimes considered one of the least-Christianized tribes. Their religious use of peyote gives us an idea of how it might have been used in pre-Conquest times. You can see historic film footage of Huichol peyoteros in Phil Cousineau's documentary on the Native American Church, The Peyote Road (Kifaru Productions, 1994).

An exhibit of Huichol yarn paintings with shamanic themes is now touring. If you live near Charlotte, North Carolina, go see it while you can.

Huichol people had been making art for a long time by pressing colored yarn onto a beeswax backing, usually on gourds. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Mexican curators and anthropologists encouraged the making of rectangular yarn paintings on wooden panels that could be framed and sold. Some artists developed narrative pictures based on shamanic journeys.

Another Huichol artifact was the yarn-wrapped cross, called a "god's eye" by the early anthropologist Carl Lumholtz--Peter Furst considers that to be a misnomer and calls it a "four-directional protective prayer object." A fancy example is shown here.

Separated from the Huichol context, god's-eyes became an icon of Southwestern-hippie decor in the mid-1960s. As I was starting high school, my stepfather was offered a high-level job in the New Mexico state education department, and I was all set to move to Santa Fe and decorate my white-walled bedroom with god's-eyes. But he took a job in Jamaica instead, and we went there. Later, for many years a small god's-eye, matchsticks wrapped with thread, hung from the rearview mirror of my faithful Ford F-100 pickup truck. I called it my "spiritual compass."

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Thursday, June 02, 2005


It is hard to think about blogging right now. I am halfway through a book re-revision, the outcome of this unfortunate episode. And I am backed up on reading papers for The Pomegranate, but at least that backlog means that papers are coming in. My goal is to finish the revision before leaving for the one local festival that M. and I do attend, right before the solstice.

Meanwhile, count on Jason Pitzl-Waters for current events in Pagandom.

After the festival: rework the flying-ointment paper for AAR and start another one on pre-Gardnerian Paganism in the United States, which is a murky area indeed.