Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Free countries do not ban blasphemy"

Political blogger Andrew Sullivan has good things to say on the Danish cartoon controversy.

Militant Muslims (and the Saudi government) want Muslims to stop buying Danish products. The Religious Policeman (a Saudi Arab himself) sarcastically notes that the "Muslim Offense Level" has been raised.

It's time to stop by the supermarket and buy some Danish cheese.

Despite what their government does, at least some Norwegians won't roll over for Muslim theocrats. Or any theocrats. let's hope.

UPDATE: Some European newspapers are republishing the "offensive" cartoons.

Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because of "these pictures that have disturbed us, and that are still hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims."

Let's see, that's 1.2 billion times how many euros for hurt feelings? Should we be likewise suing everyone who makes green-faced witch Halloween cards? Or do we just laugh and buy some in a knowing and ironic way?

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Ancestral faces

Compared to their 14th-16th century ancestors, today's English have slightly different faces, reports the BBC, in one of those short pieces that raises more questions than it answers.

Modern people possess less prominent features but higher foreheads than our medieval ancestors.

Is it because back then they were rolling out of their pallets, downing a mug of "small beer" and chewing (with difficulty) some very hard bread before going out to work digging a field or sheering sheep, thus developing powerful jaws?

I find the "increase in mental capacity" argument to be a little weak, since I did not think there was a connection (within the normal human variation) between brain size and intelligence.

Medieval food was tougher and chewier, even for the rich. A recent article in Archaeology discussed the repair done to the Medici family crypt, which had been flooded in the 1966 overflow of the Arno River in Florence. A archaeologist who examined the teeth of Lorenzo de Medici, who must have lived as comfortable life as was possible in 15th-century Italy, said that from his dental wear, one would think he spent his life chewing sawdust.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Down the paratemporal rabbit hole

"The infamous" Brad Hicks writes a great blog post on shifting realities.

Personally, I blame the Fairies.

Sheesh, who knows. Ask me about my lost-time episodes. No, please don't. One of them involves a beautiful Russian girl in a Mercedes two-seater, and everyone would assume that she had to be an interdimensional being.

Tags: Are you kidding?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Fairies, the dead, and book-blogging

Spring semester has started, and teaching does cut into blogging time. And my reading list (for myself) is huge: all the books that I ordered at AAR-SBL (and elsewhere) started arriving in December.

I just finished At the Bottom of the Garden: A Dark History of Fairies, Hobgoblins, and Other Troublesome Things. Author Diane Purkiss is an Oxford historian, primarily of early modern England, and this book is a romp. She does not set out to "explain" fairies, but rather to trace the different ways that they have been depicted--from being rather interchangeable with the Dead to being literary creations, evocations of rural charm, inspiration of Irish nationalism, and advertising gimmicks.

Factoid: Proctor & Gamble won't admit it, but apparently in the early 1930s the company dropped its successful Fairy Soap and Fairy Liquid, previously sold with images of helpful fairies assisting the housemaids, because the term "fairy" was increasingly synonymous with "homosexual."

While dealing with Fairy-like characters in The X-Files, Purkiss oddly misses Jacques Vallee's Passport to Magonia which argued back in 1969 that Fairies and UFO aliens were the same class of interdimensional beings in different guises.

The Trickster and the ParanormalThese are stacked on the dog kennel-nightstand:

Dereck Daschke and Mike Ashcraft, eds., New Religious Movements: A Documentary Reader. Rastafarians! UFO cults! Wiccans! All of us in the study of new religious movements are in it for the spectacle.

Sabina Magliocco, Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. I mentioned it earlier, but I had to send the review copy to someone else and only recently acquired my own.

Robert Cochrane, The Robert Cochrane Letters: An Insight into Modern Traditional Witchcraft. Never mind the oxymoron in the subtitle; it's the subtle and shifty Cochrane in his own words.

Nikki Bado-Fralick, Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual. Taking on Arnold van Gennep's hallowed theory on initiation--and Nikki is the new Pomegranate reviews editor, too.

George P. Hansen, The Trickster and the Paranormal. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Ufologists saw a progression happening, from "saucer" sightings to "alien" sightings to . . . certainly . . . the "third kind"--direct contact. But why is resolution always just beyond our grasp?

David H. Brown, Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. It's not just for Cubans anymore.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

The shock of it all - 2

Earlier post here

I did finish Christine Wicker's Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America.

To be honest, the subtitle should read, "How magic is transforming Christine Wicker."

The book maps closely to Susan Roberts' 1974 book Witches U.S.A.. The author, a middle-aged female journalist, looks for those wacky magical people to interview--Wicker starts in Salem, Mass.--but then finds some rapport with some of them. In Wicker's case, it's hoodoo priestess Cat Yronwode.

So the authorial stance varies: "Reader, let me show you these wacky people--but maybe they know something that we don't."

The section on gathering dirt from Zora Neale Hurston's grave for use in hoodoo is priceless. Susan Roberts went on to be influential in the 1970s Pagan Way movement. It remains to be seen about Wicker and hoodoo. Jason of Zyphre points out a link to an audio interview with Wicker on Yronwode's Lucky Mojo site. Maybe she will stick around.

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And you thought our buildings were Gothic

Will a Goth eucharist bring the Goth kids back into the Gothic buildings?

The candlelit Goth Eucharist services feature a specially written liturgy and music from bands like Depeche Mode, Joy Division and the Sisters of Mercy.

I doubt it, because it's not about the music.

When I was in my early teens down at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, someone tried a "folk [music] Mass." Folk Masses were big in the mid-1960s. Tambourines and guitars in church--whee! I get to bang the tambourine! Cool!

But I still walked out the door at age 15. Not because I was mad about "adult hypocrisy." Not because the probably gay curate tried to molest me in the sacristy--to my knowledge, he never tried anything with any of the altar boys.

But because the Church's explanation of the universe did not make sense to me. Playing "my music" would not have helped.

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Misunderstanding religious freedom

The Christian Science Monitor observes the anniversary of the 1786 Virginia Statute Establishing Religious Freedom with the observation that many Americans have an imperfect idea what "freedom of religion" means.

Dr. Haynes, who advises schools on these issues, offers a vivid example of the misunderstanding found not just among Christians. "American Muslims often tell me how much they appreciate the freedom to practice Islam the way they want to, which they couldn't do in their native country even though it was a Muslim nation," he says. "But then they say, 'What is this nonsense about the separation of church and state - why do we need that?' They don't understand that's why they have their freedom.

Ironically, both Christian and Muslim theocrat wannabes fail to understand that our American religious freedom is the reason that religion is taken more seriously here. When you have government-supported religion, then disliking or rebelling against one means that you wind up disliking or rebelling against the other at the same time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Big stone (or glass) clocks

In the upper right corner of my screen as I type, my Mac's digital clock tells me the time. You, reader, have something similar. But huge, cosmic, stupendous, symbolic, cosmic-nature-religion clocks are still appealing.

Like this one, advertised by its proponents as England's first stone circle in thousands of years.

Or this one, a "tidal-powered Moon clock," envisioned as a matched set, one clock to be built in the Northern and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

Larger than Stonehenge, Aluna’s forty metre wide, five storey high
structure is made up of three concentric translucent glass rings. By looking at how each ring is illuminated, you can follow the Moon’s movements, its current phase and the ebb and flow of the tides. This animation of light is called Alunatime.

A holy relic of St. Duluoz

The first draft of one of the 20th century's most influential books has arrived in San Francisco.

Last week, an airtight black suitcase passed through a security checkpoint at the Indianapolis International Airport on its way to San Francisco. A guard ordered the case opened and found inside a tattered and frayed scroll of yellowed paper 119 feet and 8 inches long.

"Oh I know what this is," the baggage screener said to Jim Canary, a conservator who was accompanying the artifact. "This is one of them religious scrolls, ain't it?"

An acquaintance who is studying to become a library technician was asking M. and me at a party last weekend to name ten most influential books in our lives. M. listed this as one of hers, saying it inspired her to go on the road at age 28 or so, wind up in Colorado and, as it happened, meet me.

One of these days, I will post both of our lists.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Gwydion Pendderwen re-mastered

Earlier posts here and here.

The reissue of Pagan singer/songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen's work in a two-CD set is now available. You can order these works from Serpentine Music.

Anna Korn and I provided some of the liner notes, which include reproduced covers of the original vinyl albums and other photographs. Her longer version is here. To quote Serpentine's web site:

Gwydion was a gifted songwriter and performer, and at the time these albums came out--in 1975 and 1982--they were by far the best examples of Pagan song in existence. This music has continued to be very influential in the resurgence of Pagan culture in the US and beyond. Beyond that, these songs stand the test of time for their artistry and listenability. Now may they continue to inspire future generations of bards and poets.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

The shock of it all

I have started reading Christine Wicker's Not in Kansas Anymore: A Curious Tale of How Magic is Transforming America. (Jason Pitzl-Waters has also mentioned it.)

Alas, I'm too jaded to be shocked! shocked! by her revelation that magic--or at least magical thinking--is everywhere. When I see a chapter heading like "The Waitress Wears a Pentacle," I think instead about the need for a good sociological study of class issues in the Pagan movement.

But that isn't Wicker's purpose. She's in four-wheel drive, barreling down the overgrown road cut in the late 1960s and early 1970s by authors such as Susan Roberts (Witches U.S.A.) and Hans Holzer (The New Pagans).

The revival of interest in the occult and the supernatural is a current example of religious events that some have seen as being of great cultural signifiance and as reflecting serious social conflicts and strains of macroscopic importance.

That's not Wicker writing, but rather sociologist Marcello Truzzi in 1971. He wrote a lot about the "occult revival" back then, although he predicted that it would fizzle out. He is not in Wicker's bibliography.

Can you say "cycles," boys and girls?

Here is Wicker:

People with, shall we say, expanded kinds of awareness are quietly blending among us, cobbling together spiritual lives that more freewheeling than anything else ever seen before.

[Not a trace of irony there.]

The waitress wears a pentacle under her blouse. The computer geek next door is a conjure doc. The mom down the street tells fortunes. Soldiers chant toward gods of war. Nurses send healing power through their hands. You have to know what to look for. You have to search them out, ask the right questions, notice the right signs, but they are there, here, everywhere around us.

[Trust me, your guide. I have walked among the Witches of Omaha, the headhunters of Houston . . . ]

And she is off to the Vampire and Victims Ball in Salem, Mass., just the place that any researcher would start.

If it gets better after Chapter 1, I will let you know.

(Blogging from Rico's Cafe & Wine Bar. In downtown Colorado Springs. Where the demons are. Only I think that they are across the street at Tony's Bar.)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Demons Downtown

The Colorado Springs Independent is out with its annual "You're Sooo Colorado Springs" round-up.

To fulfill my obligation to be a religion blog, I'll list a few observations that readers from outside the "Protestant Vatican" might enjoy.

You're sooo Colorado Springs if . . .

10. You plan to meet friends for coffee and you bring your laptop, cell phone, Blackberrg, iPod, digital camera, and Bible.

9. You think all nonprofits have religious affiliations.

8. You've never been to a church that didn't have a multimedia service.

7. You recognize that there are more churches in town than east-west turn lanes.

6. You can recite at least 20 pages of the Bible from memory, but can't remember to use your turn signals.

5. You think demons will steal your soul if you go downtown.

4. You know the difference between Odd- and Evan- Gelicals.

3. You had so many Bible studies at Starbucks, they have replaced their windows with stained glass.

2. You lobby to change to name of the Garden of the Gods to Garden of the One True God: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.

and number one . . .

1. You're scared to go to Manitou Springs because of the witches.

I mean, that is, like, so Seventies! I have yellowed newspaper clippings about the witches of Manitou. Ah, the persistence of folk memory!

(Ah, the rituals and parties we had in the old Spa Building. . . )

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Monday, January 09, 2006


While I was fretting last night about the forest fire 50 miles south of here (but in similar terrain), a little cold front came through and dropped an inch and a half of snow. (So what is that, an eighth inch of moisture?) And it did help the firefighters.

Classes start in a week, so I am working on syllabi, primarily for the "creative nonfiction" class. The textbook--"handbook" would be a better term--is Perl and Schwartz's Writing True, which I had the opportunity to read in manuscript and found to be superior to the books that I had used.

No book can teach you how to write, but this one has good explanations of subgenres, helpful exercises for getting started (which some students need after years of writing research papers), and, even better, advice on reading other people's writing and commenting intelligently.

For a magic hour around 1 p.m., the sun was on the south end of the front porch, the air temperature reached 40 F. (5 C.), the breeze was negligible, and it was warm enough to read outdoors. I had to juggle book, pencil, reading glasses, binoculars--it was a Project Feeder Watch count day--and a bottle of Corona, but I was actually able to feel somewhat hopeful about the new semester.

Now that everyone has tattoos...

Hardcore Asatruar will want to file grooves in their teeth, as some ancient Vikings did.

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Social networking and the CIA

Blogger.com's featured blog of the day discusses Facebook.com's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency.

Based on the comments, some users could not care less.
A forest fire in January

The same winds that have pushed the grass fires in Oklahoma and Texas for the past couple of weeks have been blowing in southern Colorado too.

Now a forest fire is burning west of Aguilar, just one county south of us. It is called the Mauricio Canyon fire. More here.

As of this evening it was 5,000 acres and basically out of control.

When I go outdoors, the forest floor is just crunchy dry. Even in 2002, the big fire year, we didn't have forest fires in January.

In Denver and other northern parts, however, people are acting like the drought is over, tra-la tra-la. No, it is not.

The writer's ego

There are no really good movies about writing. What is there to show? I did try to fire up my magazine-writing class last semester by showing the first 45 minutes of Almost Famous, both for protagonist William Miller's persistence in getting the interviews and for Philip Seymour Hoffman's wonderful portrayal of the late Lester Bangs, editor of the music magazine Creem.

(To be truthful, Terry Chen as Rolling Stone's then-news editor, Ben Fong-Torres, was fun too.)

"That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter," says Hoffman as Bangs.

Hoffman is back as Truman Capote in Capote, which M. and I saw last week. He is an actor, as opposed to someone who merely plays a glamorized version of himself in different costumes (John Wayne, Tom Cruise, many others.)

Capote was a chameleon with a typewriter, and we see him creating different personae for different situations, all the while collecting material for the most famous work of creative nonfiction of the last century, In Cold Blood.

If you want to see Capote himself playing a sort of self-caricature, find the 1976 spoof-murder mystery Murder by Death.

Or watch Hoffman, who is 5'9½", use every actor's trick to suggest Capote's short stature (5'3"). Hear him mimic Capote's creepy-childish voice and display lip twitches and gestures to create Capote's flamboyantly gay public persona. Capote biographer Gerald Clarke suggests that Hoffman's cinematic Capote is truer to its original than Capote's own.

You can't make a movie about writing. But as a movie about a writer, this one is tops.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

Bodies in the bog

From the Daily Mirror, headlined "Murdered 2,500 Years Ago":

Tortured, maimed and disembowelled, the two savagely slaughtered bodies were a grisly sight for the Irish peat bog workers who unearthed them.

One of the dead men was found in County Meath, Ireland. The other was discovered three months later, just 25 miles away in Co. Offaly.

With soft flesh, fingernails, masses of red hair, teeth and eyeballs still intact, it seemed that the corpses had been freshly buried. And detectives thought they had stumbled across IRA victims. But when state pathologist Marie Cassidy saw the water-logged graves, she suspected the remains were much older than they seemed.

Archaeologist Ned Kelly thinks that they were sacred victims:

"My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings, to ensure a successful reign," says Ned. "And that bodies are placed in the borders surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn [small grain--CSC] and milk.

More from the Irish Times here and from the BBC here.

It's just one more piece of their tradition that today's Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans have thrown overboard.

(Thanks to Mirabilis.ca.)


Monday, January 02, 2006

Passing of a Priestess

Madge Worthington, one of the pillars of Gardnerian Wicca in England, died in November just before her 91st birthday.

Prudence Jones of the Pagan Federation wrote of her in a 90th-birthday tribute:

Madge had come into contact with the Craft in the early 1960s, when she was in her 40s. Here at last was a natural, life-affirming religion, not burdened down with sin and guilt in the way that Christianity seemed to be. Beauty and pleasure were seen as sacred, and Witches were encouraged to be at one with the tides of nature--rather literally in Madge’s case. Brought up in various parts of the old Empire, she had sailed a dinghy from an early age. When she married and settled by the Thames she mortified the male yachtsmen in her area by taking part in their annual race and beating them all by a huge stretch of clear water.

The late Maureen Brown wrote of her as part of the same tribute article:

The most notable thing about her is her love and respect for nature, the Earth and the animals; she has been active in the Green Movement and has over the years donated a small fortune to animal charities.

In 1971 she hosted the first meeting of what became the Pagan Front, forerunner of today's UK Pagan Federation. An online shrine was constructed in her memory here.