Saturday, February 25, 2006

Aphrodite Will Not Be Denied (2)

On the heels of the "cartoon jihad," singer Deeyah's new video may be the next excuse for rioting.Deeyah

Muslim pop singer Deeyah has irked the Muslim world with her provocative new music video that shows her stripping off a burka to reveal her bikini-clad body.

In the clash of civilizations, "fight fire with hotness," says one quoted blogger.

But the video's not all about booty-shaking your way to freedom of expression. The video reportedly features other Muslim and Middle Eastern women who have fought for women's rights. There are women, throughout the video, pictured removing strips of tape from their mouths.

She was born in Norway, but that country's radical Muslim community made life so uncomfortable for her that she moved to the United Kingdom. Death threats continue.

As I once wrote, "Aphrodite will not be denied." You either acknowledge the powers of the gods, or they will assert themselves in uncontrollable ways.

I had thought that Haifa Wehbe was "the Muslim Madonna." But I can't keep up with American pop stars, let alone those from elsewhere.

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Font change

Since my Web-design gurus say that sans-serif fonts are more readable on the screen than serif fonts (the opposite applies on paper), I am trying a switch to (depending on your system) Verdana, Arial, or generic sans-serif.

Archived pages are in the old font. Your comments are welcome.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Followers of the Peacock Angel

Traveler/blogger Michael Totten visits the holiest shrine of the Yezidis.

Some quotes:

Yezidis are ancient fire-worshippers. They heavily influenced Zoroastrianism, and in turn have been heavily influenced by Sufi Islam. The temple at Lalish is their “Mecca.” Hundreds of thousands of remaining Yezidis – those Kurds who refused to submit to Islam – make pilgrimages there at least once in their lifetimes from all over the Middle East and Europe.


Small buildings that I first thought were houses surround the central courtyard. These small buildings are shrines. (Lalish isn’t a village. No one actually lives there.) The shrines are sacred places dedicated to various Yezidi prophets who are said to help people with physical ailments. There is a shrine where you go if you have a back ache. There is a shrine where you go if you have a tooth ache. And so on. The soil inside and under the shrines is supposedly magic.


“Are you friends with Satan?” I said. “Some Muslims have told me Yezidis are friends with Satan.” I didn’t tell him that my driver, who was standing right next to me, had said this only a half-hour ago.

“We are not friends with Satan. This is a common point of confusion. They mean Malek Taus. He is the King of the Angels, and the Yezidis follow his way.”

Malek Taus is some kind of celestial peacock. He supposedly said no to God, who did little more than create the universe from a pearl, when God asked all the angels to pray to Adam. “Adam,” he said (as in Adam and Eve) “was a prophet of God.” But Malek Taus later repented and has been in God’s good graces since.

What’s important about Malek Taus is that he (it?) was given the choice to follow good or evil, just as human beings are given that choice. Malek Taus chose the good path even though he did not have to. He sets the right example, then, for humans to follow.

“Can someone from another religion become a Yezidi?” I said.

“No,” Baba Sheik said. He shrugged his shoulders and cocked his head. “We are the original people,” he said and spread out his arms. “We can’t become a cocktail religion like Islam.” Everyone, including my Muslim driver and translator, thought that was hilarious.

As the one comment indicates, the Yezidis are sometimes called "Satan-worshipers," but in fact they are one of the more exotic ingredients in the stew of Middle Eastern monotheisms.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Supremes uphold entheogenic church

Earlier post here.

The Supreme Court has upheld the right of followers of Uniao do Vegetal (UDV), a religion born in Brazil that uses ayahuasca as its sacrament, to use ayahuasca in the United States.

The feds argued that preventing use of a "controlled substance" was more important than religious freedom, as codified in the Religious Freedom Act of 1993. (The Native American Church, which uses peyote sacramentally, was a major lobbyist for that act.)

The court ruled, however, that the federal govenment did not demonstrate a "compelling interest," in other words, a reason good enough to overrule the established principle of religious freedom. The feds had argued that there was no exception to the Controlled Substances Act, not for a single drop of ayahuasca tea.

As the court's opinion stated, "The Government's argument echoes the classic rejoinder of bureaucrats throughout history: If I make an exception for you, I'll have to make one for everybody, so no exceptions."

A digression. The copy editor working on my book wanted to change every use of "entheogen" to "hallucinogen" or "psychedelic." I am asking him to restore my original wording, for the same reason that prompted Jonathan Ott and others to coin the term. When you say "entheogen," you are saying that these substances can be used as religious sacrements, but when you say "hallucinogen," you are saying, in effect, that they produce only worthless hallucinations and are worthless, if not dangerous. "Psychedelic" started as a useful term, but in the 1965-1975 period it ended up being applied to music, fashion, automotive paint schemes, and so many things that it became useless in its original sense.

Can law reflect that distinction? Not with current "drug war" thinking.

(Hat tip to SCOTUS Blog.)

UPDATE: More comments and links at Get Religion.

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Voodoo, chickens, bird flu

As Jason Pitzl-Waters recently noted, the spread of bird flu connects with the ancient Pagan religion that we know as Voodoo or Voudoun.

You can see more about the religion as practiced in the nation of Benin in this BBC slide show.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Vinland 3

Part 1

Part 2

From the skeptics' point of view, the acceptance of a Norse presence in North America, following the archaeological dig at L'Anse aux Meadows, should have made the Kensington Runestone a non-issue.

"No Kensington stone is needed to prove that the Scandinavians reached America first," wrote James E. Knirk of the University of Oslo, reviewing works by two Kensington supporters for the journal Scandinavian Studies.

But the arcane arguments continue. In a lengthy rebuttal (PDF) to Knirk and other skeptics, Richard Nielsen, the best-prepared of the stone's defenders and author of the book mentioned earlier, marshaled a long series of linguistic defenses for the Minnesota runes.

He argued, with extensive citations, that they did represent "a faithful record of medieval Scandinavian speech" and that their dialect was unknown to the farmer Olof Ohman.

The purported location of the stone's discovery, west of Minneapolis, seems to make little sense in terms of a possible Norse journey up the St. Lawrence River, through the Great Lakes, and into Minnesota, but Nielsen has an explanation for that too.

Writing in the Journal of the West, Nielsen argues that the location makes more sense if, as he believes, the Norse launched trading trips into the interior of North America from Hudson's Bay. Indians from the region (Santee Sioux, Mandans, and others) were known to have used a trading route that went down the Red River to Lake Winnepeg and then by other water routes to Hudson's Bay. The Kensington site, he claims, lies on the portage between the Mississippi watershed and the Red River watershed.

These claims, in turn, tie in the fascinating history of the Norse settlements in Greenland, which did endure for four centuries despite their stubborn insistence on not learning from the Dorset-culture Eskimos and on attempting to maintain a pastoral economy in the near-Arctic.

Personally, I have no strong feelings about the Kensington Runestone's authenticity, although I do suspect that there was more to the Norse exploration than just the L'Anse aux Meadows station.

Instead, Nielsen's passionate "outsider" defense of the stone reminds me of another friend of mine, the late Bill McGlone, and his quixotic study of some Colorado stone inscriptions.

More to come.

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

Giggles in the caves

A respected expert on prehistoric art suggests that many of the Paleolithic cave paintings were made by teenagers, not the mature male shamans usually assumed to be their authors.

“This assumption may be true of a few of the best known and better-drawn images, but these are a small proportion of preserved Paleolithic art,” said R. Dale Guthrie of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

Using new forensic techniques on fossil handprints of the artists and examining thousands of images, “I found that all ages and both sexes were making art, not just the senior male shamans,” Guthrie said. These included hundreds of prints made as ocher, manganese, or clay negatives and a few positive prints made with pigments or mud applied to hands that were then placed on cave surfaces.

“The possibility that adolescent giggles and snickers may have echoed in dark cave passages as often as the rhythm of a shaman’s chant demeans neither artists nor art,” writes Guthrie.

“I was using Paleolithic art both to appreciate the colorful renditions and to find useful and interesting details about Pleistocene animal anatomy,” said Guthrie, professor emeritus of the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A symposium of Paleolithic art scholars in 1979 “... set me on a new course of trying to place Paleolithic art in a larger dimension of natural history and linking artistic behavior to our evolutionary past,” writes Guthrie.

When I was in high school, some friends and I started an "underground" newspaper. Maybe some of the cave art was "underground" in both senses of the word as well. Or were the kids just slapping down handprints--"I was here!"--and the accomplished artists doing the heart-stopping lovely bison and horses? It seems like you would have to pay your artistic dues even in the Paleolithic.

(Via Dienekes' Anthropology Blog.)


Thursday, February 16, 2006

Herding cats

All my Wiccan friends like to talk about how organizing Witches "is like herding cats." Did that line start with Terry Pratchett?

Anyway, it can be done. (Movie, 3MB)

(Via City Comforts)


Monday, February 13, 2006

Vinland 2

Part 1

Fake or not, the Kensington Runestone was fervently defended by one Hjalmar Rued Holand, a local historian. His promotion resulted in a 1940 Smithsonian exhibition and later the creation of a museum in Alexandria, Minnesota.

Nevertheless, expert opinion remained generally skeptical. The 1967 Newfoundland discovery seemed to obviate any "need" for the Kensington Runestone as proof of Norse exploration.

When the stone was recently displayed in Sweden, it was still a sensational draw at the National Historical Museum. The American ambassador diplomatically danced around the authenticity question:

At the opening of the exhibit, in a ceremony attended by more than seven hundred guests and dignitaries, American ambassador to Sweden Charles Heimbold conceded that the runestone may be a forgery, a "strange, early Swedish-American practical joke" that nonetheless served as a symbol of the enduring ties between the United States and Scandinavia.

The runestone has generated enormous interest in Sweden, where it has been the subject of more than 120 articles, and museum attendance records were broken in the first week of the exhibit, which runs until January.

Lars Westman, the journalist whose article on the runestone for the Swedish publication
Vi inspired the exhibition, has jokingly suggested that "perhaps time has arrived" for the restitution of the stone to Sweden, along with the remains of Olof Ohman, the farmer who discovered it while clearing stumps on his farmland over a century ago.

More to come.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

That polytheist infidel with the bow and arrows

Emboldened perhaps by the ongoing cartoon jihad, some radical Muslims are once again going after Valentine's Day cards.

The women were from the Kashmiri Islamic group Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or Daughters of the Community, Kashmir's only women's separatist group, whose members are also known for their fiercely conservative social views.

I can't help but think of some anti-matter universe's version of Dianic separatist Witches, but I digress.

The "Valentine jihad" started a couple of years ago. Now the emboldened jihadis will probably crank up the violence.

Valentine's Day has become increasingly popular in India over the past decade. But it has also become a cultural flash point, opposed each year in India by conservative Hindu and Muslim groups who see it as a reflection of growing permissiveness.

Meanwhile, Focus on the Family thinks its evangelical love bundles are "better than chocolate." Maybe--but not better than champagne.

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Vinland 1

On November 8, 1898, a Norwegian immigrant farmer, Olaf Ohman, unearthed a large stone block covered with runic writing while cutting down a tree on his land--or so the story goes. Ohman lived about 145 miles northwest of Minneapolis. This "Kensington Runestone" was translated most recently as follows:

We eight Goetalanders and twenty-two Northmen are on this acquisition expedition far west from Vinland. We had properties near two stone shelters one day's march north from this stone. We went fishing one day. After we came home, I found ten men red with blood, dead. Ave Maria, save us from evil! I have ten men by the sea to look after our ships fourteen days' travel from this site. Year of the Lord 1362.

Archaeologists have generally regarded the stone as a fake. Recently, however, Fate magazine hopefully announced "Kensington Runestone Proved Authentic" in an article based on the release of a new book by a long-time advocate for the stone's veracity.

Let's look, then, at the skeptics' arguments first. Actually, there are two of them: the runes themselves and the suspicious timing of the discovery.

1. The timing. In 1893, thousands attended the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, marking the four-hundredth (plus 1) anniversary of Christopher Columbus' first trip to the Western Hemisphere.

The fair's Norwegian pavilion included a replica of the Gokstad ship, a 10th-century ship found buried near Oslo in 1880. It's easy to see a message there. Norway was still in a political union with Sweden (dissolved in 1905), but as did other European countries, had its own flourishing romantic nationalist movement. Replicating the Gokstad ship also made the statement, "We Norse were the first to sail the Atlantic."

The Norwegian explorer-scientist Fridtjof Nansen was one of many to pore over the ancient Grænlendinga Saga and Eirik's Saga with their descriptions of voyages to North America around the year 1000. But despite the sagas' evidence (and that of some medieval maps), Norse exploration beyond Greenland was not officially accepted until an archaeological dig in Newfoundland led to undeniable evidence of at least one small settlement--or seasonal work station, depending on the interpretation.

Likewise, the skeptics continue, Ohman's "discovery" of the runestone was part of a typical American tale of immigrants negotiating their place in the new society, a manifestation of "Norwegian pride" more than a genuine artifact. And how coincidental that it closely followed the Columbian Exposition!

2. The skeptics' second argument involves the runes themselves. Even in the 1890s, some Norwegians continued to use runic writing for short inscriptions, part of that "romantic nationalism," perhaps. Ohman also had been trained as a stonemason and had come from an area of Norway (Hälsingland) where runes were used occasionally.

Most of the experts who examined the stone, however, found reasons--too complicated to summarize here--to argue that the language and runes used, while Norse, did not fit with other examples from the 1300s. Their conclusion was that the Kensington Runestone was a clever fake, a prank, and "a memorial to the creativity of Scandinavian immigrants," to quote the editors of Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga.

More to come. Meanwhile, here is a Kensington Runestone links page.

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Pagan bloggy goodness

Stop what you are doing and check out the redesigned Wild Hunt Blog, complete with a new series of posts on contemporary Pagan music.


Friday, February 10, 2006

Beer and Vinland

I sat down last night with a plate of bread, King Oscar sardines and Rosenborg cheese, a couple of bottles of Carlsberg beer (Support Denmark!), and a copy of the Smithsonian's illustrated anthology Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga.

It's all for inspiration: I am working up to a series of posts on archaeology and ethnicity. But events of the last week threw me off course (more about that later, maybe), and so I am offering this post chiefly as a placeholder and to spur myself to start writing.

Meanwhile, if I kept up that hearty diet, I would be rotund. Lacking a longship to row in Northern mists, I had better go outside and shovel snow.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Brothers under the skin

Andrew Sullivan, high-profile political blogger, makes a point that few people would: the Muslims rampaging over those "evil cartoons" and some Christians have a strong family resemblence: "In the end, the real fundamentalists are on the same side."

It's the side that says religious "truth" is more important than your or my freedoms.

Consider, for instance, this Canadian Muslim leader's attack on free speech.

And, Imam Syed Soharwardy, president of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, says he's thankful the kinds of cruel caricatures of his faith's Prophet Muhammad -- which have now run in several European papers -- would likely never be printed in this country.

It doesn't say which Muslim country he comes from, but whichever one it is, I'm sure that its newspapers are under the government's thumb. And he is happy that Canada is heading in the same direction! Can't have any of this dangerous "freedom of the press" stuff! (Brad Hicks has the right idea.)

What can we Pagans do? Stay vigilant and Buy Danish. And toss some Norwegian sardine in the shopping cart too.

During the first week of my rhetoric class I point out that our Western version of rhetoric arose in the same cultural milieu that gave us an admittedly limited democracy--classical Athens. Once the concept had been given a name, it had a life. Classical Athens, I muse aloud, was a polytheistic society where there was no Holy Book to settle all disagreements; consequently, they had to be threshed out by the contending parties in court. I cannot imagine a monotheistic, theocratic society producing democracy as we uphold it.

UPDATE: Another Web site with "Buy Danish" suggestions.

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Oss Oss, Wee Oss!

Several clips from a 1953 filming of the Padstow, Cornwall, May Day "hobby horse" procession are available on the Web. The film was made by Peter Kennedy, George Pickow, and Alan Lomax, an American folklorist.

Some .wmv selections are here.

But the best clip is here, especially for its slightly eerie, archetypal ending, which some people say prefigures The Seventh Seal. UPDATE: This last link no longer works.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

It's your choice not to be addicted

The headline will make sense if you stop by the latest Carnival of the Etymologies.

I was glad to see that I remembered the orign of "forlorn hope" correctly. It's a military term.


Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Canadian Pagan Conference

The second annual Canadian National Pagan Conference will be held May 19-22 in Nova Scotia.

Organizers plan both academic and non-academic presentations, with the latter including

* How to deal with social workers.
* How to get charitable status.
* How to operate a "church".
* Running charities and raising funds.
* How we operate Pagan stores, hold Pagan Pride Days and organize Pagan scout troops for our children.
* And other subjects YOU request!

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