Thursday, September 29, 2005

Witchcraft and the welfare state

Dutch society has entered a period of self-examination after the murder of film director Theo Van Gogh. Many said that Dutch ideals of religious tolerance had been exploited by Muslim extremists.

On the other hand, the government will fund Witchcraft lessons.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Celto-Pagan Music

I am not exactly the go-to guy on Pagan music. Jason Pitzl-Waters, who is an actual DJ, has much broader knowledge, and once he has finished re-doing it, you should drop by his music site, check the links, and download his "Darker Shade of Pagan" mp3 files.

Being more a historian, I have been thinking about the Pagan singer-songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen (1946-1982). (The "dd" is pronounced like a dipthong "th," by the way. That was an SCA name that became Pagan name, and Gwydion is one of a relatively short list of people I know who became their Pagan names in almost all areas of life.)

Gwydion and I were friends for the last five years of his life; this thumbnail photo was taken near Victor, Colo., when he was conducting one of his "faerie shaman" rituals. The Faerie Shaman was the name of his second album, and he is shown here in his performance garb.

Now Serpentine Music is planning a reissue of his recorded music, and owner Anne Hill asked me to write a contribution to the liner notes, which sent me spinning back to the mid-1970s when his Songs for the Old Religion was the first professionally produced and nationally distributed Pagan album--and what a thrill it was to put it on the turntable.

There is so much more now. As I mentioned earlier, some music-lovers have gotten tired of the harps-and-folk guitars approach to Pagan music, and that's OK. I like trance music too.

But out on the misty edge of British Columbia, that Celtic/World Beat harp-driven sound still feels right. There the group Jaiya has issued two CDs with Pagan calendrical themes: Firedance: Songs for Winter Solstice and Beltane: Songs for the Green Time.

Both blend new and traditional tunes. Both, to borrow Robert Graves' summation of the Theme, deal with the single subject of true poetry, Life and Death.

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Prairie Muffins

"Prairie Muffins" disdain birth control, "have aprons and know how to use them," and "do not idolize Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie) or Louisa May Alcott (Little Women); while they may enjoy aspects of home life presented in their books, PMs understand that the latent humanism and feminism in these stories and in the lives of these women is not worthy of emulation."

It's all in the Prairie Muffin Manifesto.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was a dangerous secular humanist. Who would have thought it?

(Via God and Consequences.)

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Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Writing Life

When I was an undergraduate at "Reed's Fine College," someone dropped a piece of wisdom on me that ran more or less like this: "First-rate writers lead second-rate lives, while second-rate writers lead first-rate lives."

I did not want to hear it at the time. I wanted to be colorful and unique and sexually desirable and all that. Later, I started to think that there might be something to it. Your energy is finite. You can put it into your real work (to borrow Gary Snyder's phrase), or you can put it into something else.

The author of the Outer Life blog has some thoughts on the matter too. I think that I will be adding him to the blogroll--I have been reading Outer Life for more than a year now, and it is one of the best-written diarist blogs that I have found.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

Ghost Dancers

From Savage Minds, a joint anthropology blog, some thoughts on Ghost Dancers of the 21st century.

[S]such movements are never about a pure “return to the past” but are, rather, an attempt to “rescue” the past and re-deploy it to create a more satisfying present and future.

The Ghost Dance and its political-spiritual cousins are distinctly modern phenomena, in both their goals and their methodologies. As Saffo writes, “Embracing coveted portions of what one opposes in the service of returning an old order is a signature of the Ghost Dance.” Thus we have nuclear technology, the Internet, and the modern transportation system drafted into service in the interest of restoring the social order—even when the desired social order is Muhammad in Medina, the Jerusalem of the Second Temple, pre-contact North America, or even the New Primitivists’ pre-agricultural nomadism.

It all sounds very much like what Martin Marty and Scott Appleby were saying with the Fundamentalism Project, that fundamentalists use the tools of modernity.

Frankly, I think that most current religion in America is Ghost Dancing--and in a secular but equally mythological way, I live surrounded by Ghost Dancers. Most of them have trophy homes with gates proclaiming the Something-or-other "Ranch."


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Katrina: The Gathering

Popular (nerd) culture strikes back. Via ur-blogger Rebecca Blood.

The National Guard as exorcists

From The Mystery of the Haunted Vampire via Relapsed Catholic, a cheesy local TV news report on National Guardsmen exorcising "little girl" ghosts from an abandoned New Orleans school.

Think of it as the military version of "the priesthood of the believer." (Fast connection needed)

"Voodoo, cannibalism, witchcraft..."

"Wherever soldiers go, there goes the word of Gawd ..." Oh boy, it's the New Model National Guard.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mike Nichols interview

Mike Nichols, whose book on the Wiccan sabbats I mentioned earlier, is the subject of a new interview in The Wiccan Pagan Times.

You will find a permanent linke to TWPT on the sidebar, to the right side of your screen.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Saturday with the Pagans

Rocky Mountain News religion writer Jean Torkelson goes to Denver's Pagan Pride celebration and writes a middle-of-the-road "Pagans are mostly just regular folks" column.

Behind each pagan, a story: Dressed in brooding black, Michael Torres looked like a shadow falling across the sunlit park. Raised in the intense Santeria sect, his family put coconuts under their beds to frighten away spirits. Some branches, not his, sacrifice animals. But he pulled away from that to practice his own "solitary" paganism. He works as a trucker and met his wife in a library.

That's a dangling modifier, Jean. "Raised in the intense Santería sect" looks as though it should modify "Michael Torres," not "family."

Now if we could just get past the "worship nature" phrasing, which is not accurate and reflects, I think, a back-formation from the idea of worshiping a single deity. When it comes to Pagans, I don't think that "worship" is the all-purpose verb that it can be for monotheists. Try honor, enjoy, manifest, hang out with, seek to live in harmony with, or whatever.

Katrina is God/dess's punishment for _________

Religion blogger Richard Bartholemew rounds up varying opinions over just which deity wanted to punish the Gulf Coast (principally New Orleans) and why.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Starhawk is our Jesse Jackson

I don't mean that as a compliment. Jackson has used up his credibility from his earlier civil-rights work by parachuting himself into whatever crisis or disaster comes along, trying to grab some television time for his own agenda.

Now Pagan activist-writer Starhawk is up to the same game (again) with her own response to Hurricane Katrina. Short version: It's President Bush's fault, and Mississippians deserved to die because they do not worship Oya.

And a day later, the levees failed, and the floods came. They failed not from an Act of Goddess, but from a lack of resources. The Bush Administration had systematically cut funding for flood control and for repairing and increasing the strength of the levees. The money went to Iraq.

And Clinton and Bush Senior and so on back to FDR, I am sure. Not to mention that money spent in Louisiana has sometimes been spend in odd ways, ways that benefitted local politicians perhaps more than anyone.

You can see that her real agenda is Bush-bashing, because she brings in Cindy Sheehan, who is totally irrelevant here unless you want to go after Bush. (And let me add by way of disclaimer that as a lifelong Democrat I did not vote for either Bush, father or son.)

What about the Mississippians? Starhawk writes that certain "progressive" Christians were praying and "Orisha priestesses were 'working' Oya, and the hurricane did shift its course, slightly, and lessened its force, down to a Category Four."

That's right, it shifted its course onto Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, and such places, which evidently were more deserving. They are Mississippians, so they must be bigots, right? Not colorful Voodooists as in New Orleans.

Now, weeks later, New Orleans remains under martial law.

That statement is simply false and shows ignorance of what "martial law" is and how it is declared. If the city were truly under martial law, Mayor Nagin would be gagged on the sidelines, not issuing proclamations about who could move back in.

What we learn from Starhawk's rant is that we Pagans do not believe in a punishing Father God, but we do believe in a Mother Goddess who punishes those who voted for George Bush.

Finally, Starhawk is one of those who worships at the shrine of "diversity," but the Pagan movement in fact is much more politically and culturally diverse than she is. Perhaps some day she will acknowledge that fact. Do not regard her views as representative of contemporary Paganism as a whole.

UPDATE: Cindy Sheehan is now calling for Pres. Bush to remove the troops from "occupied New Orleans." Contrary to what one earlier commenter suggested, I do not see Starhawk's mention of her as merely coincidental.

Rags over the River

The Poet contacted me a while back, asking me to take The Visiting Poet flyfishing. All right, I said, and let's ask Recent Graduate as well. Eventually, the Senior was asked to come along too, and the five of us spent Saturday on the Arkansas River.

September and October are the payoff for spring blizzards and summer heat. This day, the temperatures were warm, the rabbitbrush (chamisa) was in golden bloom, and the first leaves were turning golden on the willows too.

The water was low and clear, and the trout were spooky, but we all caught some. And we tested various rhymes for "Orvis," since Visiting Poet has done some product testing for that firm.

Part of the river where we fished is in the crosshairs of High Art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude want to hang fabric across it, a project known locally as "Rags over the River." How wonderful. I find myself agreeing with the Denver Post headline, "Locals say river is art in itself," placed on Rick Tosche's Sunday column (link may expire).

With any luck, however, we can drag this thing out until Christo dies.

Cross-posted to Nature Blog. Tags:

Friday, September 16, 2005

More Crazy Season

The Crazy Season: the weeks leading up to Hallowe'en when the news media rediscover Witchcraft.

Witchcraft and Magic: North America, edited by Helen Berger and mentioned here earlier, has arrived.

One contributor, the sociologist Tanice Foltz, writes on "The Commodification of Witchcraft" (a favorite academic topic, also addressed by other scholars, as here and here). To her credit, Foltz states, "I submit that Pagans' exchange of money for spirituality services such as Wiccan festivals, retreats, and educational programs does not portend a change in the main focus of the religion." Elsewhere in her introduction she speaks of the new media image of Witches as "attractive, youthful, strong, and independent females who openly use their magical powers to fight against evil for the common good."

Fully in the commodified Crazy Season spirit, then, we have Australian media-witch Fiona Horne, using her powers in Playboy, which has a long history of interest in sexy Witches, dating back to at least 1974 when they sent frequent contributor Mordecai Richler to cover one of Llewellyn Publications' "Gnosticon" gatherings.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mayor apologizes to Pagans

The mayor of the High Plains town of Ramah has backed away from interfering with planned Pagan event at the local American Legion hall.

Mayor Tamra Herrara has apologized to a pagan group whose plan for a Halloween gathering cast the small plains town as a modern-day Salem.

The Calhan-based coven of about a dozen members rented Ramah's American Legion Hall for an Oct. 29 fund-raiser for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

The Rev. Tim Tucker, minister of Ramah Baptist Fellowship, tried to get the town board to block the gathering at a work session Aug. 25 called to discuss the pagan celebration.

Herrara's apology followed a scolding Tuesday from fellow trustee Nicole Allen, who said she was embarrassed by the board's behavior at the work session, saying it was an attempt to violate the group's civil liberties.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Curse of the Superdome

All the world has seen how the New Orleans Superdome went from being an overnight shelter for hurricane evacuees to a purgatorial waiting room when the city flooded. But maybe you did not know that the structure was already cursed. (Scroll to Sept.12 entries.)

Monday, September 12, 2005

Pagan Studies conference

The 2005 Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies, which happens the day before the American Academy of Religion annual meeting but is not an official program unit (unlike the Pagan Studies consultation, which is) has a theme of "Revisioning the Past: Reconstruciton, Revitilization and Ethnicity."

Cost is $25 and you can register online.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Dodman's Craft

Before there was an Internet--back around 1980--Mike Nichols of Kansas City published a lively Pagan 'zine. He has been writing and teaching classes on the Craft for decades.

Nowadays, as Wren Walker of The Witches' Voice says in her foreword, if you do a Web search on "Samhain" or "Midsummer," your results page will feature "Mike Nichols." A lot.

Or you could just pick up his new work, The Witches' Sabbats, and get it all in one place in the convenient, battery-free, cross-platform book interface, published by Acorn Guild Press.

The writing is witty--Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon's novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays--and in some places, such as his astrological reading of the story of Llew and Blodeuwedd, has echoes of Robert Graves' search for deeper meanings in myth and folklore.

And it's indexed.

Contemporary Paganism is often referred to as "nature religion," but in practice that most often is a religion of what I call "cosmic nature," in other words, an attempt to attune oneself with cosmic or planetary cycles, most often through seasonal ritual. The Witches' Sabbats is a state-of-the-art handbook for practitioners. It even includes a chapter on building or interpreting outdoor alignments with standing stones or poles.

Animism, Disney, and Morels

It started when someone passed on a quote from an article in the August 2005 issue of Vanity Fair about Disneyland:

I thought about everything it was and it wasn't, the cornucopia of image, illusion, and icon, and realized, very much to my delight, that Disney is a freaking pagan cult, that this goody-two-shoes American institution is promoting a primitive, animist religion dedicated to investing everything with life, to animating everything from teacups to trees, from carpets to houses, from ducks to mice, with the pulse of human aspiration.

Graham Harvey, author of the newly published Animism: Respecting the Living World, commented,

Interesting that 'animism' is still defined as the projection of life onto inanimate objects. Wikipedia's animism article and the discussion pages also evidence the same debate--well, it does now that I've added some stuff about the 'new animism'.

I also thought of what Colorado writer David Petersen said in On the Wild Edge: In Search of a Natural Life, published recently by Henry Holt:

These days, our annual morel quest has matured to the level of ceremony, complete as all hunting is for me, with rituals and taboos. This confession provides, I must hope, a passable transition into a brief explication of my own personal spirituality, which I call neo-animism . . . .In sum, here's how it seems to me: if you depend on wild nature for your physical and mental well-being (as we all do, whether we know it or not); if you desire a sustainable, workable, and healthy human society and crave a sense of belonging, spiritual permanence, and personal worth; and if you agree with Aldo Leopold that the collective human destiny is tied inextricably to the fate of the natural world, then you naturally become a homespun animist. (pp. 122-4).

And speaking of morels, here is a new book available on hunting them.

Cross-posted to Nature Blog.
On the Front Burner*

Lee Gilmore and Mark Van Proyen are the editors of a new anthology, AfterBurn: Reflections on Burning Man

Contributors include the always-perceptive Erik Davis and Sarah Pike, whose work I have mentioned here before.

*Sorry, couldn't resist.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Love and fungus

M. and I went mushrooming today in the Wets. The local news had carried the story of yet another lost mushroom hunter, so she kept reminding me that she had no sense of direction and it was my job to get us back to the Jeep.

We found a couple of good king boletes and also a patch of "Hawk's wing," Sarcodon imbricatus.

It was a new mushroom to us, but I sat down on a stump, whipped out my copy of Mushrooms of Colorado and decided that it would be OK.

Still, before tasting the main dish tonight at supper, I lifted my fork to M. and said, "I want you to know that I always loved you."

"Have some more mushrooms," she replied.

That's how we keep the magic in our marriage.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wicca's Charm revisited

I briefly mentioned Wicca's Charm earlier, but now Jason Pitzl-Waters links to an interview with author Catherine Sanders that includes this priceless evaluation:

It's a great resource for parents trying to understand why their teenager has suddenly started to wear all black and dance in circles around the backyard trees.

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What about the dogs (cats, hamsters, etc.)?

I cannot agree with uber-blogger Glenn Reynolds, who said, "I think you should leave the dogs behind" when evacuating New Orleans (or elsewhere, I presume).

I have a contract with my dogs: You be good dogs, and I will see to your needs, take care of your injuries, and try to guarantee you a good death as well. There is a contract with the cat too, although some provisions are different.

Starving on a rooftop is hardly a good death, for one thing. I can see why some people would rather stay on than leave without their four-legged family members.

But dogs and other animals were left behind, and some people are trying to rescue them, although that effort does not receive the coverage of the people rescue. The Bark's blog has collected a list of Web links to organizations helping out, like the Louisiana SPCA.

Cross-posted to Nature Blog.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

We'll drive cattle through your festival

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, a planned Pagan event in the little High Plains town of Ramah had produced all sorts of bigotry.

Last month, the Secret Garden Coven decided to hold a fall festival as a fundraiser for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Organizer Jerusha Doucette-Johnson said she paid a deposit Aug. 19 on the building. Then she distributed fliers in Calhan, Simla, Ramah and other towns advertising the festival, which will include a ball, craft show and midnight ritual.

...all to be held at that bedrock institution of small-town life, the American Legion hall.

[O]ne man said he didn’t want the pagans pushing their religion down his throat. He then asked whether [Doucette-Johnson] would be open to a Ku Klux Klan meeting in her front yard, she said.... The same man also said he could organize a cattle drive through the area to ruin the festival.

My Aryan fire-and-cattle cult tops your goddess worship, by Indra!

The friend who brought my attention to this article remarked, "Doesn't it seem that Crazy Season (otherwise known as Samhain madness) is starting a littlee early this year?"

I think that she is right. I was in an Albertsons supermarket yesterday, and a clerk was stocking the shelves with black and orange candles and plastic skulls.

UPDATE: A member of the ColoPagan e-mail list who attended the meeting notes, "The Klan comment was actually, 'I should invite the Klan to have a rally outside of this thing.' The American Legion Hall has since agreed to allow the proceedings to take place and over ruled the booking manager who was swayed by the reverend. The reverend was also invited to speak the invocation over the dinner portion, but refused to accept or decline the offer."

There might eventually be more information at the Earth Spirit Pagans web site.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Coyote's Ten Commandments

You know Coyote, right? Culture hero of a thousand misadventures?

Suppose he came down from [sacred mountain of your choice] with 10 commandments. They might look like this. (Thanks to Infidels of Every Denomination.)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Pagan Carnival

Visit The Wildhunt Blog for the latest Pagan Carnival.