Friday, March 31, 2006

New issue of Diskus is online

Diskus, the online journal of religious studies, is back with new material.

Diskus has always been open to Pagan Studies; for instance, if you scroll down to the contents of issue 6 (2000), you will see a whole issue devoted to Paganism. Both the abstracts and the articles are downloadable.

Toronto Pagan Conference on CD

You can now buy a CD of the recent Toronto Pagan Conference.

The conference's featured guest speakers were Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.

The price is $25 (Canadian), but American buyers could probably send $25 (cash) and tell them to keep the change--it's a fundraiser, after all.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Why Men Really Hate Going to Church

WMHGTC, by Alaska TV writer David Murrow, is the umpteenth try to understand the "feminization" of American Christianity,

The pro baseball player-turned-preacher Billy Sunday (1862-1935) was just one manly man who fought the same fight.

Murrow is a little shaky on pre-Reformation church history: he somehow blames this feminine influence on the rise of the worship of Mary in the 11th-12th centuries. Yet that is the era that saw not only the building of the great cathedrals (partly by male volunteers) but also the rise of the troubadours and the writing of some great religio-erotic poetry.

But he is dead-on--and even humorous--when he identifies the reasons why most men avoid church: the indoor confinement, the lengthy yackety-yack sermonizing, and church language that places heterosexual men in an uncomfortable role:

I saw a new book for Christian men: Kissing the Face of God. An ad for the book invites men to "get close enough to reach up and kiss His face!" Time out--this is a men's book? Yikes! With the spotlight on homosexuality in the church, why do we increase [heterosexual] men's doubts by using the language of romance to describe the Christian walk?

And then there is "praise music." Here I could not agree with Murrow more: "Not only are the lyrics of many of these songs quite romantic, but they have the same breathless feel a Top Forty love songs."

On a recent cross-country drive, I tuned into a "praise music" station for a while. Gods! It was like being slowly drowned in high-fructose corn syrup.

But there is one big problem that calling the pastor "Coach" won't fix. Unlike Paganism, Christianity cannot being avoid the yakety-yak. In the words of Harvey Whitehouse, an anthropologist of religion, it is doctrinal rather than imagistic.

Today's Pagan religions, by contast, are not "routinized" and do not require a lot of explaining. They are imagistic. They affect practitioners through what Whitehead calls "infrequent repetition and high arousal"--why one really knock-out ritual experience at a festival may stay with you for months.

Secondly, Paganism can wed the erotic and the spiritual. Eros is the force of life, but the monotheists want to build high walls around it. It sneaks back in though, as when they encourage the split between "good girls" (madonnas) and "bad girls" (whores) and then create a "ministry" to deal with it.

Good Pagan ritual can be erotic--which does not mean it must lead to personal promiscuity. But we must acknowledge and celebrate that force. Murrow realizes that a "Come hold me and kiss me, sweet Jesus" form of eroticism will not appeal to heterosexual Christian men. But he has no acceptable celebration of eroticism to set in place of that, and he never will.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A cover design at last?

Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in AmericaNo one asked me, but this image has appeared on the web page for my book.

All I asked for was a moon. I think that is a full moon seen through fog. Or something. I can live with it. Now if they would just send the PDF files for indexing.

(If the link above does not work, go here and find it through the site search.)


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Caesar's caesarean, and other myths

How many myths about the ancient world had you always thought were true?

And how did the C in Caesar become soft, anyway? We should be saying "kaiser." (Via Rogue Classicism.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A conference for female psychonauts

For women who want to discuss the shamanic use of entheogens, SheShamans is a gathering planned for June in Geyserville, California. (Via Susie Bright, who had a wittier title.)

Why does the weather that you experience always look so much worse on The Weather Channel? I left home on Monday, supposedly into the teeth of the storm of the season (eight inches or thereabouts had fallen at my house) to find the highways no more than a little slushy all the way up to Greeley in northern Colorado. It's the equinox, and enough solar energy makes its way through the cloud cover to dry the roads if they have been plowed.

On the other hand, I had wanted to so some "thirty years later" photography today near Fort Morgan, Colorado (read the first chapter of Drawing Down the Moon to know why), but the county roads had not been plowed, and I didn't feel like fighting miles of snow/slush mix to get photos that I could shoot at another time of year.

So on east I went, chasing the storm into Kansas to the sound of Andrea Haugen/Hagaláz Runedance keening "Hail to the queen of death / Her shadow walks with you," which is fairly appropriate for this cross-country trip, when I am once again the lector priest.

And the landscape all grey, white, and bits of tan, the sky cut by swirling flocks of larks and solo hunting harriers.
Ho hum, synchronicity

On my way north on Monday, I stopped in at Isis Books. It was my first visit in several years, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the store enlarged and with more books (and stuff) than ever.

I was chatting with owner Karen Charbonneau in the storeroom when she broke off from asking me how M. was doing to take a telephone call. The caller, who wanted to order an item from their mail-order catalog, was calling from the very small town in the Hudson Valley where M. grew up.

Maybe when you work in a metaphysical bookstore this sort of thing happens all the time.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Geoffrey Chaucer hath a blog

Go thou here and proffitt of it. (Via Language Hat.)

UPDATE Ye blog hath moved hym herein.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

From Vinland to 'Celtic America' - Part 5

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Barry Fell's America BC and subsequent books revived interest in American epigraphy, the study of inscriptions allegedly left by pre-Columbian explorers andtraders from across the Atlantic, whether Celtic, Phoenecian, or whomever.

One of his key collaborators in the Southwest was Gloria Farley, who had identified a number of what she believes are pre-Columbian inscriptions along the Arkansas River and is tributaries in Oklahoma and SE Colorado. When she connected with Fell in 1975,she felt justified and encouraged, and Fell gained access to all her work. (Her conclusions are collected in her 1994 book, In Plain Sight: Old World Records in Ancient America.)

McGlone and his Utah-based collaborator, Phil Leonard, and another Coloradan, Ted Barker, assembled their own catalog of "interesting" inscriptions, building on Farley's connections. They produced several books:

McGlone and Leonard, Ancient Celtic America, 1986

McGlone, Ancient American inscriptions: plow marks or history?, 1993

McGlone, et. al., Petroglyphs of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1994

McGlone, et al., Archaeoastronomy of Southeast Colorado and the Oklahoma Panhandle, 1999.

If nothing else, these men and other southeast Coloradans who helped them assembled the most complete catalog of rock area in the area ever made. Petroglyphs, in particular, is a picture book showing samples of rock art ranging from the prehistoric past up through mid-twentieth-century carvings by cowboys, sheepherders, surveyors, and others.

Of all these hundreds of carvings, only half a dozen or so were probably Ogham, McGlone told me. He showed me some sites, and M. and I were present one spring equinox sunset at "Anubis Caves," the Oklahoma Panhandle site where the sun's shadow seems to move in a meaningful sequence across a series of inscriptions and astronomical markings.

I still treasure a hand-drawn map to rock-art sites south of John Martin Reservoir that he gave me years ago.

See for yourself

Scott Monahan, a Denver television producer, created a 1986 documentary which showed on public television, History on the Rocks. It included a panel discussion featuring McGlone and then-state archaeologist John Gooding, who called McGlone a "racist" for even suggesting that some inscriptions might have been made by non-natives. (What a way of shutting down rational discussion!)

Twenty years later, Monahan has updated his documentary with a great deal of new footage. Now called Old News , it is available on DVD, and you may view clips online. I recommend it.

So where are the Pagans in all this?

So we have people making cogent, if not widely accepted, arguments for the creation of European Pagan religious sites in Colorado and Oklahoma at least 2,000 years ago, according to both astronomical and high-tech rock-art dating methods.

I'm not an archaeologist, although I enjoy watching the battle from the sidelines. In my one quasi-archaeological publication, "Colorado Ogham: Exploiting an Archaeological Anomaly," a conference paper published by British Archaeological Reports in 2001, I talked about first, how the struggling High Plains community of Springfield, Colo., created an Equinox Festival around the inscriptions, and second, how the Colorado Pagan community generally ignores them.

I am still not sure why.

In the paper I argued that one reason was geographical: Most Colorado Pagans live in the urban Front Range corridor, and the best-known "Colorado Ogham" site on public land is far away in un-trendy Baca County.

Another reason might be a desire to avoid the political discussion of whether the carvings really are Celtic or were made (somehow) by American Indians. Anglo Pagans generally tip-toe around Native-rights issues.

A third could be that American Pagans seek other avenues to religio-political legitimacy than the presence of ancient monuments.

Scott Monahan's other archaeoastronomy site, with its graphic calendar of the eight solar festivals, generates a lot of emails from Pagan, he tells me. Some complain that the astronomical sabbats are not "traditional." The solar Beltane is not May 1, for instance. "Do they worship the sky or the paper calendar?" he asks.

I would say that "worship" is not the right word, but I see what he is getting at.

A word of skepticism

Frankly, I'm still of two minds about "Colorado Ogham." If the translations are correct, then the inscriptions do convey astronomical information, just like the more famous, larger-scale megalithic monuments of Europe.

But why here? Don't be fooled by the tracings of a possible river route in the video. We must assume that these ancient, Q-Celtic speaking explorers first

1. Sailed the Atlantic
2. Crossed eastern America or else sailed the Gulf of Mexico to the Mississippi
3. Came up the Mississippi to the Arkansas
4. Traveled up the Arkansas into SE Colorado.

While the Arkansas is a river in eastern Oklahoma, in Colorado, fed by mountain snow melt, it can be a raging torrent in May and a trickle in September. There was a reason that the Santa Fe Trail traders used covered wagons and not boats--it is not a navigable river.

Norsemen may have collected furs in Canada for trade, as well as timber for the treeless Greenland settlement, but what did SE Colorado offer? No gold, surely, and few if any natives to trade with. If one was looking for furs, why not go somewhere else closer?

Yet making astronomical observations implies inhabiting a place for a period of time, and why this place, with its blazing hot summers, dry winters, low potential for agriculture, lack of easy mineral wealth, few inhabitants, and so on?

Why make the trip? It makes no sense, whereas sailing from Greenland to Canada does make sense. All I can say is that more study is needed!

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A fine italic hand

After thirty years, the idea of teaching schoolchildren to use a type of italic handwriting instead of (ugh) this seems to have migrated eastward across the Rockies.

Coloradans mainly have the late Reed College art professor Lloyd Reynolds and other Oregon calligraphers to thank.

But the really thankful people might be patients, pharmacists, nurses, and others dealing with doctors who take this course.

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Watch this space

Family business is taking up a lot of my time, but I will be finishing the Vinland / Colorado Ogham series of posts soon.

Monday, March 13, 2006

What? We gardeners?*

Jason Pitzl-Waters has new links to the re-paganized movie of Beowulf and Grendel, previously mentioned here.

As the director points out, the story is a direct ancestor of the classic Westerns like Shane or The Magnificent Seven: a lone hero or group of companions who ride into town, defeat evil, and ride (or sail) off into the sunset.

* The headline is a joke from the aptly named Professor Harper's Old English class at Reed College, which in turn is tied in memory to this strange episode, which led to my blowing a question on a quiz (taken while I was still temporally discombobulated) involving the verb wealdan. All of this in geardagum of course.

Meanwhile, I will want to see this movie.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

"I go to group rituals mainly to spend time with my friends."

If you are Pagan and enjoy answering questionnaires, then Thomas Mitchell, third-year undergraduate in psychology at Nottingham Trent University (England), has one for you.

He comes recommended by Belinda Winder, one of the officers of the UK's Pagan Federation.

Rosemary Kooiman

As one of my friends said, this is about as 'out of the broom closet' as you can get.

When she moved to the Washington area, she and her husband founded the Nomadic Chantry of the Gramarye, primarily to give comfort and support to people involved in the Sports Car Club of America. Today, the Chantry has about 50 members. The Kooimans, car enthusiasts, were active SCCA members and spent most weekends at area tracks, where they helped out with SCCA events and held neopagan circles and celebrations.

Mrs. Kooiman was a member of Mensa, a group that celebrates high intelligence. She compiled a syllabus for a three-year course of study on neopagan beliefs in response to questions from fellow members. She also began teaching classes and holding full-moon circles and celebrations at her Mitchellville home.

She was also active in her late husband's behalf in the effort to get a Pagan headstone for veterans' cemeteries.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Writing on walls

I briefly considered live-blogging the "Wiccan" episode of Wife Swap. But if I did, it would be all "'What a jerk,' M. muttered" and "'Oh! My! God!' M. shrieked."

So I'll leave that to others. But I predict a new meme: instead of Wiccans sacrificing goats, it will be that Wiccans encourage their kids to write and draw on the walls.

Where do they find these people? And why are some people pleased?

UPDATE: Jason Pitzl-Waters learned 10 things about Wicca from watching the show.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Painter of yuck

University Diaries goes after kitschmeister Thomas Kinkade. It's a "theological conundrum."

At least, says the Los Angeles Times, he parties like an Abstract Expressionist. (Link may expire.)

In sworn testimony and interviews, [ex-employees and others] recount incidents in which an allegedly drunken Kinkade heckled illusionists Siegfried & Roy in Las Vegas, cursed a former employee's wife who came to his aid when he fell off a barstool, and palmed a startled woman's breasts at a signing party in South Bend, Ind.


Friday, March 03, 2006

From Vinland to "Celtic America" (Part 4)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Reading of Richard Nielsen's championing of the Kensington Runestone, I was reminded of another independent scholar of marginal archaeology--another engineer, coincidentally--the late Bill McGlone of La Junta, Colorado.

McGlone in turn had been influenced by Barry Fell (1917-1994), a marine biologist and oceanographer. Growing up in New Zealand, Fell had been well aware of the far-sailing Polynesian culture, and he developed a side interest in ancient navigation. He had also learned the Gaelic language while studying at the University of Edinburgh.

(Here are a Wikipedia entry and a detailed obituary with a complete list of Fell's publications.)

In 1976, Fell published America B.C., an unorthodox survey of North American prehistory, which claimed evidence for visits by ancient Phoenicians, Celts, and others. The evidence was chiefly "epigraphic," that is to say, based on inscriptions on rocks and caves, etc., here and there. Fell did not even visit all of them, but in his office at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology collected, transcribed, and in some cases translated inscriptions copied for him by various other people.

Two potential problems arose: sometimes the collectors "improved" the inscriptions, and in other cases, natural features such as cracks in the rock were seen as letters. Still, overall impression of America B.C. and Fell's subsequent two books were intriguing.

American archaeologists were not impressed. Since it was known that no pre-Columbian culture north of the Valley of Mexico had writing, therefore there could not be any writing, and therefore no one studying ancient writing systems. Epigraphy was for archaeologists working Europe, the Middle East, or Asia. American archaeologists studied artifacts, human physical remains, dwellings, and associated evidence such as pollen and tree rings, but not epigraphy.

Only artifacts would prove convincing, just as the sparse artifacts found in the mid-1960s at L'Anse aux Meadows had carried more weight than all the sagas in proving that the Norse had visited North America.

More to come.

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

No marker for Wiccan veteran

A Wiccan sergeant from the Nevada National Guard was killed in action in Afghanistan. Now his widow runs up against the Veterans Administration's refusal to permit a pentacle marker on the graves of Wiccan veterans, notes the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Link may expire, so I will quote at length.)

Stewart's widow, Roberta, said she will wait until her family's religion -- and its five-pointed star enclosed in a circle, with one point facing skyward -- is recognized for use on memorials before Stewart's plaque is installed.

"It's completely blank," Roberta Stewart said, pointing to her husband's place on the memorial.

She said she had no idea the pentacle could not be used on her husband's memorial plaque until she had to deal with the agency after the death of her husband."

Patrick Stewart's dog tags, which Roberta Stewart wears around her neck, carry the word Wiccan on them to identify his religious beliefs. But she said he was never told the Wiccan religion was not officially recognized during his 13 years of military service in different capacities.

"By they way, if you die for your country, your religion won't be recognized, that would be nice to know," Roberta Stewart said.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and its National Cemetery Administration prohibit graphics on government-furnished headstones or markers other than those they have approved as "emblems of belief." More than 30 such emblems are allowed on gravestones and makers in veterans cemeteries, from the Christian cross to the Buddhist wheel of righteousness. A symbol exists for atheists too.

So what is the VA afraid of?

Various Pagan groups have been stonewalled, if you will pardon the pun, by the VA up until now, but enough embarassment will cause the bureaucracy to move.

Of course, not all Pagans are Wiccans, but Wicca, broadly defined, is the largest Pagan grouping, so let's start there.

UPDATE: Jason Pitzl-Waters offers additional information and links.

Bands that will be playing in Hell ...

...are listed in the Field Guide to Evangelicals.

So have evangelical Christians developed a sense of irony, like those upwardly mobile black professionals who decorate with Aunt Jemima and Sambo advertising art?

Maybe so, based on some of the reviews.

Notice the lack of protest marches, burnings, and murders from people who might not like it.

But humor + religion is a dangerous combination. One day you're chuckling at Lark News, and the next day you're at Landover Baptist Church.
Goths once sacked Rome

And Oleg Volk is wondering what that would look like now.

Ah, "Goth," one of few words that is almost as ambiguous as "liberal" or "conservative." I mean, could you read this and then describe what is a "conservative"?

More serious blogging coming this weekend, I promise.