Monday, October 31, 2005

Voodoo and Halloween and New Orleans

Some Christian web sites are linking to the ABC news item about Hurricane Katrina allegedly killing the retail voodoo-supply business in New Orleans. Plans for today's celebration continue, however.

Some Pagan Witches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast find themselves more accepted after Katrina. Halloween partiers, meanwhile, cram the French Quarter.

Two months after the monster hurricane's horrifying rampage, Halloween has brought back the French Quarter's thirst for theatric horror and debauchery, its Mardi Goth mojo in the heart of a city long known for its reverence for voodoo and Anne Rice's glamorously gothic vampire novels.

Speaking of Anne Rice, much has been made of her return to her Catholic roots and plans to write a multi-volume novel on the life of Jesus. Religion-beat journalist Terry Mattingly, however, raises an interesting question:

Well now, I wonder — when these books reach the adult life of Jesus — what we will learn about his relationship with Mary Magdalene? I would not be surprised in Rice’s series turns out to be a major event on the Christian left.

In other words, a bigger literary controversy than that over The Da Vinci Code.
Dubya versus the dark forces

My visitor numbers shot way up three days ago: it turns out that my Hurricane Katrina-related discussion of Starhawk's public statement was linked to by a conservative Catholic webzine. The context: whether the president is battling spiritual darkness, or whether both popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI were more correct in opposing the Iraq adventure.

So, welcome, Spirit Daily readers. And do read the whole post. And click the links.

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What the Romans did for us--and keep on doing

Spurred by the latest spate of TV miniseries and feature films, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard looks in the mirror of ancient Rome and describes the different images that it reflects back to us.

This game of defining ourselves against the habits of the "Other" is a very old one indeed. The Romans did it against the Greeks (a load of over-perfumed intellectuals), the Greeks against the Persians (effeminate despots). We are now finding it much safer to look to the remote past--the recent past is, of course, another matter--for our anti-types. For that past cannot answer back, has no government machinery on its side (or not usually), and you can do what you like with it. If they were portraying a modern religion, the lurid, blood-soaked representations of Roman paganism in the new Rome would probably end with the director up before the beak on a charge of "incitement to religious hatred". As it is, it's only Rome, so it doesn't count.

(Tip of the classic Roman straw hat to Archaeoblog). Tag:

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Parade of the Dead

File this under "Things We Miss Out On by not Living Closer to Town": Pueblo's Day of the Dead parade. (Registration required: Bug Me Not is your friend.)

The fact that it happened on a Friday, three days early, merely shows how acculturated el día de los muertos is becoming; it's about as truly Mexican anymore around here as St. Patrick's Day is truly Irish. And of course the latter never was such a big deal in Ireland itself until it bounced back from North America.

You will know that the Day of the Dead is truly Americanized when retail merchants advertise special deals: "Open late on Nov. 2! Everything 20 percent off!" And the traditionalists will moan, "It's supposed to be about family! It's religious!"


Boy genius, borough satyr

When I was in my twenties, a friend introduced me to the writing of Austin Osman Spare, but as solo ceremonial magician rather than as a painter.

The friend was a bit older than I, and he lived modestly in a house he had inherited, had some sort of trust fund, and worked occasionally in the antiques field. Spare's work must have resonated more with him than with me, although he didn't live as "a swine among swine."

The Daily Telegraph (UK) covers the opening of an exhibition of Spare's paintings in London. (Registration required.) The article mentions Spare's initial high standing in the art world but also his interest in magic:

RIGHT: Spare's Portrait of a Woman

He was an outsider from the start. His mother recalled that he didn't play with other boys, preferring the company of a sorceress called Mrs Patterson, whom he described as his "witch mother". In 1904, aged 17, he was hailed by the press as a "boy genius" when his work was shown at the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition. Lionised by some of the foremost artists of his time--George Frederic Watts, Augustus John and John Singer Sargent--he received a scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where one contemporary described him as "a god-like figure of whom other students stood in awe, a fair creature like a Greek god, curly-headed, proud, self-willed, practising the black arts, taking drugs, disdainfully apart from the crowd".

The exhibit is tied to a new biography, Borough Satyr, from Fulgur Ltd..

Coincidentally, The Pomegranate will published a paper on Spare in our May 2006 issue if all goes well.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Witchy Woman

Marin County, Calif., Witch and writer Macha NightMare sits down for a friendly chat with a reporter.

Whatever else one might expect from having coffee with a world-famous practicing witch, one can’t come away from a meeting with Macha NightMare without being certain of one thing: She’s quite religious. Not in the dangerous, frothing, uncomfortable manner one sometimes associates with unhinged religious fervor, but more in the mold of a funny, confident, appealingly eccentric nun, the kind who knows what she believes and is calmly empowered by it, the kind you might meet at a wedding or peace rally, and walk away later feeling glad you’d met her.

It's a better-than-average "Silly Season" article, thanks to an articulate interview subject and a sympathetic interviewer.

Macha notes separately that she herself does not teach Media & Public Relations at Cherry Hill Seminary.

UPDATE: She is interviewed here too. She is the Bay Area's go-to Witch.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

The altar of the . . . intramural volleyball league?

Depending on your persuasion, the following announcement indicates the Paganization of an American university, a celebration of "diversity," a violation of the separation of church [Aztec temple?] and state, "multiculturalism" run amok, or good clean fun.

The student activities board at a university that I know well is holding a Day of the Dead altar-building contest:

Day of the Dead in Mexico represents a mixture of Christian devotion and Pre-Hispanic traditions and beliefs. As a result of this mixture, the celebration comes to life as an unique Mexican tradition including an altar and offerings dedicated to the deceased.

The altar has four levels which are elements of nature — earth, wind, water, and fire. . . .

If your student club, campus organization, or office would like to participate in creating an altar, you MUST reserve a space at ***-****!

Altars must be completed and set up on Wednesday, November 2, no later than 11:30AM!

Please follow the guidelines below when creating your altar.

You may honor a one person or a group of persons (ex. Katrina victims)

There will be voting on site for the best altar! The winner will win $150 from the Student Activities Board!

The English Club officers have announced that they are sponsoring their traditional Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night party, complete with fireworks, so I doubt that they will be altar-building too.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

"Halloween Hoopla"

"What the f*** happened to Halloween?" rants Foamy the squirrel. (Link good until Nov. 3; then check the "Toons" page.)


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

No costumes, please, we're teaching to the test

Some Colorado "educators" are going to great lengths to show how hard they are working to raise standardized test scores. The latest gimmick at some schools is to ban school Halloween parties.

I think for the most part the real reason schools are doing away with Halloween during the day has to do with the disruption and the loss of instructional time," agrees Mike Crawford, principal at Palmer Elementary in Denver.

The hallways at Palmer are decked with yarn-and-construction-paper witches and black bats carrying messages from second-graders on "What drives me batty." But there will be no party; it will be business as usual.

Other schools keep the party but try to make it "educational."

Carson [Elementary] holds a Literacy Day, this year on Friday rather than Monday, Oct. 31. Children get costumes and candy, but the catch is they must dress up as a character from a book and tote said book during the parade.

At least we are hearing less about it being an "occult holiday," but one principal remembers that objection too:

As a veteran educator, he has been hearing Halloween objections, especially religious ones, since the early 1980s. But he says he must respect the [pro-Halloween] majority opinion in his school.

"We're not worshiping anything," he says. "We're playing dress-up."

And he dresses up right along with the kids. Too many of these principals seem to have forgotten that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as the flying nanny sang.

The right Halloween

It's the season when people celebrate Halloween for all reasons, even the bloggers of "The Cotillion," a sort of "Carnival of . . ." for social conservative female bloggers.

They have assembled a tasty selection of vintage artistic and cinematic images and an analysis of the Salem witch trials to serve their causes of trashing the "mainstream media," the lifestyle left, and even Tom Cruise.

OK, I'm with them on the Tom Cruise part. To paraphrase Dorothy Parker's critique of Katherine Hepburn at the start of the latter's career, "He runs the gamut of emotions from A to B."

Hurray for Piglet too.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

The day of the dead

We are approaching one festival where the Pagan and Catholic ritual calendars coincide, and the question of who borrowed from whom might even be more complex than we realize.

The Arizona Republic offers a guide to altars for the Day of the Dead / Día de los muertos.

I have my own take on putting up photos of the deceased: I like to wait a few years first. Does someone really need their sleeve tugged in the Otherworld right away?

Marigolds, champagne, whiskey, etc.--all fine.

(Via Relapsed Catholic.)

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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Silly season roundup

Jason Pitz-Waters samples the Halloween-season coverage of Pagan religions. Check the last link in particular.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Writing on Paganism helps journalist earn award

Freelance writer and religion journalist Kimberly Winston won this year's American Academy of Religion journalism award in the category of "news outlets with more than 100,000 circulation or on the Web."

Her work has included writing on Wicca and Paganism, including a piece that I linked to earlier.

The AAR's magazine notes, "Winston, from Pinole, California, submitted articles on a number of topics: the mainstreaming of Wicca, whether the the influence of the movie The Passion of the Christ was what was feared or hoped for; the campaigning politicians' use of Puritan theology; the trend of modern pagans [sic] reviving ancient religions; and how non-Christians are fighting to save Christmas."

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I still won't shop there

Canadian journalist finds Wicca books on sale at Wal-Mart and views with alarm. (Link from Wren's Nest.)

Somehow I connect this story with another of today's headlines, about the continuing drop in major crime.

Despite variations on this news over the past couple of years, one of my evangelical Christian students wrote in a rough draft what must be a commonplace in her religious community: she wrote that crime is rising. If crime is rising, then it's due to "taking God out of schools" and so forth.

But if crime is falling, what then? Whom do you blame?

Now it is true that Americans' economic situation is generally worsening. Big corporations cut pensions that were supposed to be rock-solid (Delta, General Motors, many others). Health care gets more expensive. Inflation is rising (Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, etc.)

Somehow those declines are not easily blamed on "taking God out of the classroom."

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Both product and producer

An interesting post on "creating a scholarly voice" from Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Sometimes something akin to "scholarly voice" is discussed in the context of the need for scholars to "brand" themselves. That is, it is thought that academics must develop and maintain a unique, immediately recognizable identity for themselves and their work. These two things--"themselves" and "their work"--become largely interchangeable in the branding process: Scholars are both product and producer.

All that is missing is the advice that I got from some more experienced writer at some point: "The first million words are just for practice." Dang, I've used that phrase twice now.

God hates Sweden plus various other countries

Pastor Fred Phelps, that prophet of the Lord, is branching out with new Web sites devoted to countries that his god hates, e.g., America, Sweden, Canada, Madagascar, Nepal. (OK, some of those links won't work--yet.)

Here in Colorado we are blessed with occasional apparitions of Pastor Fred, probably because he can drive fast from Topeka to Colorado Springs without stopping to empty his bladder on unconsecrated ground.

By comparison, James Dobson looks like the Prince of Peace, while Ted Haggard is the Suffering Servant. Phelps makes them look good--it's always handy to have some loony to perform that function for you.

But Phelps would probably be happier as a Wahabi Muslim, where he could get a job that fits his talents.

(Via Harry Hutton.)

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Seventy-two virgins

"The Religious Policeman," my favorite Saudi expatriate blogger, has some ideas about the 72 virgins that supposedly await Muslim martyrs.

His posting is just more fallout from an Arab-language television program that frankly uncovers the link between sex (or lack of sex) and martyrdom. More here, including a quote from a guy who is still in the news: “I don't want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter.”

Aphrodite will not be denied, as I once wrote.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Up and down in Pagan publishing

Lawyer and Wiccan author Phyllis Curott has stirred up a lot of dust in the past couple of months with dark hints of a conspiracy to suppress Pagan books.

Some see too many "Wicca 101" books or not enough editorial integrity.

Elsewhere, Kensington/Citadel laid off the editor in charge of its Pagan titles, ostensibly because the market had cooled, I am told.

And a literary agent whom I know slightly, who represents several Pagan writers, opined, "The market for pagan books has not only cooled, it's gone into the deep freeze. There was a glut of these books because the mainstream of society was hearing about Wicca and Paganism (mostly through media like the movie The Craft and tv shows) and wanted to buy books to learn more about what this religion was all about. After 9/11, we saw the vast majority of these people lose interest in new spirituality and return to the safety and security of the traditional religion that they'd grown up with."

I agree with her that the publishing market is cyclical. And 9/11 changed things. In 2000, I walked around the huge book exhibit at the AAR-SBL annual meeting with Graham Harvey, who commented on the growing number of academic titles on Paganism.

The following November, every publisher had dragged out whatever they had that somehow related to Islam and displayed those books most prominently.

Paganism seemed forgotten. Yet it was at that same meeting that Fritz Muntean, the founding editor of The Pomegranate, and I connected with our new publisher, to name just one development.

As far as Wicca and other forms of Paganism are concerned, it's good to make haste slowly.

The tide of scholarly books is slowly rising: 2006 and 2007 will see significant publications. And in terms of significant books of the past, Margot Adler is reworking Drawing Down the Moon, her groundbreaking survey of the American Pagan scene that was first published in 1979 and revised in the 1980s. I look forward to seeing it.

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Where to donate for earthquake relief

"California Yankee" has a list of organizations helping victims of the Kashmir earthquake. Most accept online donations.

Survey for Canadian Pagans

Unlike the United States, Canada does collect religious information in its census, and Canadian Paganisms are growing quickly, says Síân Reid, a social scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa.

She invites Canadian Pagans to take her online survey.

It is my intention to continue to collect information about neopagans every ten years, in order to track changes in the composition of the movement. This research benefits neopagans by making available systematically collected information about the movement that can be used to respond to anti-pagan discourse, as well as to inform further studies of the movement.

Dr. Reid has published in The Pomegranate and is a legitimate researcher.

And dig the maple leaf version of the traditional Wiccan emblem.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

St. Jude's rejects Pagans' donation

A twist in the story about Pagans on the eastern Colorado prairie who wanted to hold a benefit party to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital

The hospital doesn't want the money. It's "too politicized." They sent a cease-and-desist letter instead.

""I don't think any other religious organization would be treated like this," said the organizer.

I agree: who looks bad, the Pagans who overcame some local opposition or the hospital, which just ends up looking bigoted?

The money raised is going to a charity for elderly residents of the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota instead.


Thursday, October 06, 2005

"Pseudo-factual claptrap . . . half-baked historical revisionism"

The Da Vinci Code movie is viewed with alarm.

It's nice to be a Pagan on the sidelines. Heck, we're still in the parking lot eating chile off the tailgate. Then we'll enter the stadium with our lap robes and hip flasks and watch the game. I've got fifty bucks on Dan Brown.

This post is filler

I don't normally let a week go by without blogging, but thing happened, like being asked by a magazine-editor friend to write a 2,000-word "think piece" on the dilemmas of a being an "evacuee"--from a forest fire in my case, but with obvious relevance to Katrina and Rita.

That took up last Sunday afternoon, which meant I was behind on reading student work . . . and it snowballed.

I also received the "author's marketing questionnaire" for Her Hidden Children, which is a good sign, and I'm scrambling for more photos. If you have any photos of key figures in American Paganism in the 1950s-1970s (or even earlier--Gleb Botkin, anyone), let me know. This weekend, meanwhile, I have to work on the questionnaire.

This Saturday I will take some nature-writing students on a mini-writing marathon in the SE Colorado canyon country. We won't be visiting any of the "Colorado ogham" sites, but we will be near enough that I plan to bring Bill McGlone's photo book of SE Colorado rock art, which includes some examples. (Quick overview of Ogham writing.)