Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bringing back The Faerie Shaman

Anne Hill of Serpentine Music updates us on the progress of a new CD of Pagan songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen's music.

There is nothing like producing an album to make you absolutely sick of whatever music it is you’re producing, no matter what you thought of it before....I definitely hit the wall with listening fatigue towards the end as I always do, but I also came away with a renewed respect for Gwydion’s accomplishments as a songwriter and recording artist.

Earlier post here.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hoodoo and the lost city

M. and I watched The Skeleton Key, a middling thriller starring Kate Hudson. It's the usual "Don't go up those stairs! Don't open that door!" sort of plot, but what gives it its twist--more than the conjured Hoodoo atmosphere that the movie tries to evoke and the echoes of Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby--is the thought that it must have been the last movie partly filmed in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina.

It's like looking at pre-war Berlin or something. We will not see those street scenes again.

Cat Yronwode, owner of Lucky Mojo, was the hoodoo consultant.

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Association of Polytheist Traditions

The APT is a group of mainly reconstructionist Pagan religionists, planning a conference on 13 May 2006, at the University of Central Lancashire. You can find more information on the conference page.

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The plumbing task

If I remember correctly, 60 Minutes did a segment a few years ago on the inadequacies of low-flow toilets, the ones that are mandated to use only 1.6 gallons per flush.

Ours, one of the earlier models and never a great performer--perhaps you've noticed how everyone owns a toilet plunger these days--seemed to be getting more and more feeble.

Recently I visited the Lowe's store in Pueblo to buy a new one. It was like going to a car dealer: there were choices not just in size and color, but in power, internal dimensions, and style of flushing. Thoughtfully, they provided a sort of spreadsheeet for comparing models.

I walked up and down the aisle, comparing, until settling on a mid-price plain white model with the largest "throat" I could find. That extra quarter inch might make a difference.

I installed it yesterday. A job that would take a master plumber maybe 45 minutes takes me three hours, what with coffee breaks, double-checking-the-plumbing-manual breaks, e-mail breaks, and a trip to town to buy a new stool supply line, since the old one was too short.

"Put it in so it doesn't leak, come back, and we'll give you a plumber's license," cracked the white-haired clerk at the hardware store. You don't often find his kind at the big-box stores. Unfortunately, our small-town hardware store does not sell complete toilets, just repair parts.

Now the old toilet sits in pieces on the front porch, giving our home that special House of Mountain William charm. Previously, when I replaced a toilet, I smashed the old one into little chunks, put them in a sturdy carton well-wrapped with duct tape, and set it out for the garbage pickup. Problem solved.

But even toilets can be recycled, I have learned. Now I"ll take the tank, for instance, out to one of the muddy low points in our gravel driveway, raise my sledge hammer, and cue the prison work song:
Riley crossed the water [thunk]
On dem long hot summer days [thunk]
Cover with some other gravel to blend the colors, and it's done--a composted toilet.

Where is the Wiccan connection in all this? I learned how to remove and install a toilet from the high priest of my first coven, when one of the other coveners had a leak in hers, and he took me along as his assistant to replace it. It was the Colorado coven described in the first chapter of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon, although take her enthusiastic description of the back-to-the-land lifestyle with several grains of salt.

UPDATE! Why didn't I think to contact the World Toilet Organization with my toilet-disposal issues? Maye they use unneeded vitreous china fixtures to build roads in the Third World or something. Was I truly "thinking globally, acting locally" when I repaired my own driveway pothole? And I was a week late for World Toilet Day--or has it not been celebrated since 2003?

Professional reading

I am reading this but only because it's my job to keep up with Wiccan autobiography, you see.

He leaned into me, spreading my legs as he stood between them. Heat radiated from his body; I rested my hands on his chest, feeling its hardness, his strength. His hands cradled my face, and this time the kiss was soft and slow, ruthless and persuasive.

Whew! And that's only page 4.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

More AAR blogging

I have plumbing tasks ahead of me, so I will just link to another Pagan Studies colleague's take on her AAR experience this year.

Then I will be back to explain the connection between Wicca and plumbing.


Friday, November 25, 2005

The White Goddess

Lee Gilmore writes of synchronistic experiences involving Robert Graves' "historical grammar of poetic myth," The White Goddess.

First published in 1948, it was for many people a "gateway book" to Goddess religion--it certainly was that for me. (Maybe we should devote a Pagan Studies session to it.)

Lee also reports on her own experiences at this year's AAR-SBL.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

More on Book Design: The Best Iliad Cover Ever

Walking through the enormous book exhibition at the AAR-SBL, I stopped at the booth of Parmenides Publishing, publisher of Classical philosophy and literature.

In conjunction with Stanley Lombardo's audio recordings of his translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, they had the print edition
which I had not seen before.

The famous D-Day photograph and the word "Iliad." It stopped me cold. What a brilliant juxtaposition of image and text. It was a Nietzschean moment of "tragic pessimism." I suppose that I will have to buy that translation.

Give the designer an award.

UPDATE (23 Dec. 05): With the book now in hand, I see that the cover design is credited to Brian Rak and John Pershing. The photo, "Into the Jaws of Death," is simply credited to the U.S. Coast Guard, as I already knew.

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Post-AAR book chat

ABC-Clio is publishing Michael Strmiska's new anthology on contemporary Paganism. I did a book with them in the early 1990s, and my experience was mostly good, especially with unexpected largesse from foreign-rights sales. Given the transnational nature of his book, maybe we should speak of "foreign rites" sales.

OK, weak joke. I just got off the train. Note the cover: are we ever going to get beyond "Pagans standing in a circle"? It's hard to find one visual center of attention in pictures like that. But congratulations to the editor and contributors anyway.

From Equinox, look for Patriarchs, Prophets, and Other Villains, which is not about what anyone might have learned in "seminary school," to quote the Doors' song.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pagan Studies at the American Academy of Religion

Ten years ago here in Philadelphia, a group of 20 or so people sat in a circle of chairs at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The meeting was convened by Dennis Carpenter and Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary to bring together people interested in the academic study of Pagan religion. We did not do much except introduce ourselves.

The following year, Dennis and Selena did not attend (and have not attended since), so I got the job of organizing a follow-up meeting, where we agreed that having a listserv would be a good thing.

Meeting in 1997 in San Francisco, we decided to apply to be an official program unit. We were turned down for two reasons: we had not demonstrated sufficiently that our needs were not met it pre-existing units (e.g., New Religious Movements) and also the AAR was simply not as open to new program units, since they and their older parent, the Society of Biblical Literature, were having some trouble finding meeting venues with sufficient small rooms for the dozens of concurrent sessions. Those were the official reasons for the denial, at least.

So beginning in 1998, we started holding our own pre-meeting session and giving papers. The original 2.5-hour session grew to the full-day Conference on Contemporary Pagan Studies, which will continue in the future.

In 2004 we applied again. This time, the AAR and SBL had agreed to meet separately after 2007, which decision helped with the meeting-space issue. Suddenly new unit proposals were welcomed, and ours, supported by evidence of scholarly activity (papers presented, books and articles published, the existence of The Pomegranate) sailed right through.

Leaving for home today, I'm buoyed by thoughts of this meeting's packed rooms (more than 60 people at both the CCPS and official Pagan Studies session) and the quality of the presentations. We're off and running.


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Blog splat

I am taking a break from blogging for the next eight to ten days because I leave on Wednesday for the intellectual carnival that is the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature combined annual meeting.

It's in Philadelphia this year. Our last meeting there was in 1995, and I spent much of the time walking the steets looking for sites and building associated with the career of Charles Leland, author of Aradia: Or the Gospel of the Witches and Etruscan Roman Remains, among other things.

This year should be different: We have the first official Pagan Studies sessions, plus I will be meeting with my publisher to determine such weighty matters as what comes after the colon in the book title now tentatively known as Her Hidden Children: Paganism and Nature Religion in America. They are telling me that the publication date is March 2006 and that the paperback will be $19.95. As I know more, I will post it.

I am not bothering to take a laptop computer this year, so I will be summarizing our sessions when I get home.

Meanwhile, there is this: one of today's Google searches that sent a visitor to this blog: "Known Hookers With Cops Pueblo." Just another reason why smart searchers always go to the Advanced Search Page.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Under Southern Skies

Doug Ezzy, sociologist and co-editor of Researching Paganisms also edited an anthology by "Down Under" Witches called Practising the Witch's Craft: Real Magic Under a Southern Sky. He writes to say that it is now available from Amazon for the rest of the world.

It ranges from Gardnerians to Goddess Spirituality, city Witches to country Pagans, young to old, and easy to understand to somewhat thoughtful. I think it provides a good representation of the diversity of Witchcraft traditions in Australia.

Apart from where the contributors live and the chapter on the Wheel of the Year, there's not much that's distinctly Australian about it. Australian Craft is noticable for its ecclecticism and absence of established traditions and this is reflected in the chapters.

And then he flatters me by saying that he modeled it on my early-1990s Llewellyn series, Witchcraft Today.

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Saturday, November 12, 2005

Pagan dreams

In the first chapter of The Pagan Dream of the Renaissance, Joscelyn Godwin writes of "a state of mind and soul that arose in fifteenth-century Italy, spread through Europe on certain clearly defined fault-lines, and persisted for about two hundred years, during which, although no one believed in the gods, many people acted as though they existed."

Although these Medicis, Hapsburgs, other aristocrats, and the artists and craftsmen who created the paintings, sculptures, artificial grottos, fountains, temples, and all the other accouterments of this intellectual Paganism did not, in fact, claim to be other than good Catholics, in Professor Godwin's view, they "dreamed" of being Pagans.

In their waking life they accepted the absurdities acknowledged as the essence and credenda of Christianity, all the while nurturing a longing for the world of antiquity and a secret affinity for the divinities of that world.

That same dream underlies three of my favorite novels: John Crowley's Ægypt, Love & Sleep, and Dæmonomania, particularly the first.

And then what happened? Some historians cite the discovery and exploitation of the New World as turning Renaissance Europeans away from contemplation of an antique Golden Age and toward the exploitations of the Age of Exploration. The wars and intellectual struggles of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation took their tolls.

But the work was done. The hermetic texts were saved from the Islamic purge of Constantinople. Great art was created that lives today. The images of the gods were restored after a thousand years of Christian destruction; and as Pagans we know that "acting as if" is more important than "believing."

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Japanese deities

Part of the interaction between the native Japanese religion Shinto and missionary Buddhism, which came from China, was an attempt to correlate Shinto deities with the various past and future Buddhas of Mahayana (Northern) Buddhism.

The "Gods of Japan" photo website has both deities ("kami"> and Buddhas, in great detail.

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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Scarborough Fair

Listening to the Mediaeval Baebes' short version of "Scarborough Fair" on Mirabilis, I got to thinking about the different lyrics of this old song.

The version available at this site make it clear that the singer is asking his lover to perform a series of impossible tasks, for example, to find an acre of land between the ocean's foam and the sandy beach or to plow with the horn of a lamb.

The folksong collector Martin Carthy considered it to be a version of the "Elfin Knight" ballad, like "The False Knight on the Road," in which an elfin/demonic knight asks a young traveler a series of trick questions.

So is the list of herbs a form of herbal magic or part of the more Victorian "language of the flowers," as the first site suggests?

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The altar of the Romantics

ABOVE: An altar for dead military service members, erected by the Social Work Club.

BELOW: The altar of the English Club, featuring Rudyard Kipling (I think), Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen and ... one of the Brontes?

I was wrong in my earlier prediction. A couple of the non-traditional (university-speak for over 25) members of the English Club moved quickly and built a Day of the Dead altar for that university that I mentioned. (Count on the non-traditional students to get things done.) There were seven altars in all; I don't know who won the competition, but the massive edifice for Frida Kahlo in the basement of the Psychology Building was a strong contender, says a Psychology professor of my acquaintance.

The stone circles of Massachusetts

In the 1970s, the publication of Barry Fell's America BC introduced me to the an idea that was then completely out of fashion in mainstream archaeology: That other Europeans besides the Norsemen might have crossed the Atlantic before Columbus. Critics referred to this as "cult archaeology".

That sentiment has eased, but not much. Still, some amateur archaeologists and epigraphers (people who study stone inscriptions) soldier on, collecting data.

Fell, an oceanographer who became interested in ancient sailing voyages, suggested that many enigmatic stone structures in New England were built by Pagan Celts (and/or the Norse settlers in "Vineland").

I honestly have no idea, but this site and its links will give you lots information, photos, and hypotheses.

Unfortunately, without the kind of artifacts that ended up substantiating the Norse sagas, these hypotheses remain untested. As one disparaging archaeologist told me about another site suggested to be pre-Columbean European, "We won't dig what can't be dug."

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

First peyote, now ayahuasca

It took decades of legal struggle for the Native American Church to receive a highly qualified exemption to federal drug law that permitted its members to use the entheogen peyote during the church's meetings.

Now the Supreme Court is hearing argument in another case involving religion and an entheogenic substance.

The core of the case – what happens to the First Amendment right to freely exercise religion when it conflicts with federal law – could change the rules for every religious group in America. A wide variety of religious groups – from conservative to liberal – representing millions of members have filed briefs supporting O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal, or UDV as it is known.

Although ayahuasca has been used in Amazonia for centuries, probably millennia, our government thinks that we have to be protected from it. The Christian Science Monitor summarizes:

Congress determined that a categorical ban on this hallucinogenic substance was required to help protect the health and safety of Americans, including the followers of UDV, from detrimental effects, government lawyers say. "Religious motivation does not change the science," writes Solicitor General Paul Clement in his brief to the court.

The UDV's lawyer counters that even as the NAC has its exemption, so UDV should be treated likewise:

"The government's successful accommodation of the sacramental use of peyote, also a [banned] Schedule I substance, belies its claim that such substances require a categorical ban, even for religious use," Nancy Hollander, an Albuquerque lawyer representing the UDV, writes in her brief.

Ms. Hollander accuses the government of playing fast and loose with the facts in claiming there are adverse health effects to the group's use of sacramental tea. She says the only study of sacramental tea use "found no significant health concerns.

I will try to post more, and I expect that this blog will have something too.

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Music for Samhain

The podcast, .mp3 file, and playlist for Jason Pitzl-Waters' Samhain 2005 radio show are all available here.

And if you have had enough masking, chocolate, and all that, the astronomical cross-quarter point of Samhain will come just after midnight, Mountain Time, on Sunday, November 6. More details at this useful archaeoastronomy site.

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