Saturday, July 29, 2006

'It's the jihad, stupid'

I never thought that I would be linking to Michelle Malkin's blog, but she does have any interesting collection of freelance jihadist killers.

But she leaves out one: "Marc Lepine" was not as French-Canadian as his name would suggest. His jihad against decadent, immoral Canadian women engineering students was in 1989.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

More on the Àsatrù prison story

Macha NightMare, one of the people interviewed about the Asatru-related prison stabbing and subsequent scheduled execution in Virginia, gives her own perspective. There is more to the full story than what went out on the Associated Press feed.

Other bloggers have already commented: Dave Haxton here and here, and Jason Pitzl-Waters here.

Patrick McCollum's comments were cut from some versions of the story, I think:

But McCollum, the religious adviser for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said only around 4 percent or 5 percent of Asatruars are white supremacists. And only a small portion of the religion's followers emphasize its warrior aspect, he said.

"They follow the golden rule--treat your neighbor with respect, to respect your elders, to respect your community, that all people have value," he said. "They have a very high moral standard."

(Isn't "Asatruars" a double plural?)

As for the Southern Poverty Law Center, also quoted in one version, they might have done some good for the civil rights movement thirty or more years ago, but now I think that they are just fear-mongering to keep the donations rolling in so that they all have jobs.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Dark Paganism and Deep Blue Religion"

Doug Ezzy's "Spirit of Things" Australian radio interview, "Dark Paganism and Deep Blue Religion," is now available for online listening or download.

A Fight Song for (Procrastinating) Writers

Via the Nielsen Hayden blog, a fight song for writers, to the tune of "The British Grenadier(s)."

But do you know what other tune fits that rousing 18th-century fife-and-drum number? Catherine Madsen's Pagan standard, "Heretic Heart." In fact, I always hear it my head to that tune.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

A Cultural History of Magic Mushrooms

Andy Letcher's Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom is also on my to-buy list.'Shroom' by Andy Letcher

Much stranger than the fictions it has inspired, the world of the magic mushroom is a place where shamans and hippies rub shoulders with psychiatrists, poets and international bankers.

The magic mushroom was only rediscovered fifty years ago, but has accumulated all sorts of folktales and urban legends along the way. In this timely and definitive study, Andy Letcher strips away the myths to get at the true story of how hallucinogenic mushrooms, once shunned in the West as the most pernicious of poisons, came to be the illicit drug of choice.

It fits right in with this. But is "the laboratory" the best place to be having mystical experiences. At least the famous 1962 Good Friday Experiment used a chapel. "Set and setting," remember?


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Graham Harvey speaks on Animism

Pagan scholar Graham Harvey is just back from convention-ing in Australia, where among other things he did this interview on animism on Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. Listen online or download the 23-megabyte mp3 file. Capsule description:

The oldest living religion, Animism, has a new advocate in pagan expert, Graham Harvey. But it's not the old idea of 'beliefs in spirits'. Harvey says that plants, animals, rocks and fish are just some of the significant others we should be communicating with to heighten our cosmic consciousness and environmental awareness. We also hear from practising pagans in South Australia.

The series is called "The Spirit of Things," and next week, I am told, it will feature another Pagan academic, Doug Ezzy of the University of Tasmania.

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Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Drawing down" at big festivals

Dragonfest is the largest Pagan festival in Colorado (there is an SCA reference in the name, I think), set to begin August 6 this year. Usually the state's two main Pagan e-lists light up afterwards as people discuss what went right, what went wrong, whose behavior offended whom, who was profoundly moved by what ritual, and so on.

(I myself have not attended Dragonfest in many years, but I gather that it now attracts about 1,000 people. I stopped going because changes in my work life made early August a poor time to attend festivals of any sort, even the Telluride Mushroom Festival, not because I was offended by anyone or anything. But I attend smaller festivals where some of the same trends are occurring.)

This year, the discussion started early, when an organizer posted a request on the lists for volunteers for "drawing down," to use the common Wiccan term for trance possession. The posting brought immediate response to the effect that since drawing down was one of the central mysteries, how could a "cattle call" via email produce qualified and ethical priestesses; that, in fact, the whole quality of the ritual was declining; and, furthermore, who would or could or should "draw down the Moon" in the day time. (The ritual is planned to begin at 3 p.m.)

Natually, those comments brought counter-comments, in which the critic was accused of suffering from the worst sort of 3rd-degree-initate syndrome, of being unwilling to accept change, and so on.

The event organizers, along with a certain amount of cyber-pouting about being unappreciated, argued that having multiple priestesses early the day reduced the waiting (see below), was easier on the elderly and handicapped, and, most of all, was a necessary religious service to provide. They argued, with some truth, that for a large percentage of attendees, this was the only time (or one of few times) when they could come together in community. The high number of solitary Wiccans and Pagans, they said, meant that these solitaries could not experience this divine communication in a small, intimate coven setting. Their only opportunity comes at a large festival.

In my experience, the large, public drawing-down is handled in one of two ways.

1. Attendees are in a big circle, in a meadow, for instance. The entranced priest or priestess(es) comes around from one to the next. Meanwhile, you stand there, shifting from one foot to the next, wondering if you remembered to make your car insurance payment, waiting for your ten-second encounter. Or else the priestess/ess(es) take positions in the circle, and people go to them, if they wish to.

2. Another method is for the entranced priestesses and their assistant(s) to be settled in tents or pavilions. The querents line up on the bank-lobby model ("Wait here for next available teller"). Or if the priestesses are manifesting different aspects of the Wiccan goddess (maiden, mother, crone), then the querents might select the one whose wisdom they seek. "Walkers" lead the querent to the priestess and back again and stand ready to assist in any way needed. Again, there is often some grumbling about the long waits in line.

There are so many ways that I could discuss this issue, so maybe I wil see which way the comments—if any—flow.

1. For a discussion of ecstatic trance based on personal experience and co-related with social-scientific research, I recommend Chapter 5, "'The Juice of Ritual': Pathways of Ecstasy," in Sabina Magliocco's recent book, Witching Culture.

2. Over the past 25 years, these public drawings-down have come to be central components of at least some festivals. There are parallels with what I understand about divine or spirit possession in Candomblé, Umbanda, or other African-derived traditions, as well as in such healing cults as that of El Niño Fidencio, and probably some Asian traditions well, but I know little about the latter.

What I have seen, though, is a bit of a shift from a focus on big, theatrical participatory rituals--torchlight processions and that sort of thing--to the main event being this mediated officient-client event. It's a change.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Visionary State

Since I am continuing to research pre-Gardnerian Paganism in America, I have got to buy this book. Thanks for the reminder, Lee.

The Da Vinci Code: A Pagan date movie

M. and I are not what you would call "early adopters," other than perhaps when we bought a Jeep TJ right after they were introduced in 1997. (We still have it.) So this is not exactly a cutting-edge review of The Da Vinci Code.

It is rated PG, which could just as well stand for "Partially or Predominately or Pretty Gnostic." Given that two newer films, The Devil Wears Prada and A Prairie Home Companion had opened in Colorado Springs, site of our delayed anniversary Day in the City, I was surprised that M. voted for Da Vinci. But she argued that it would be the best to see on the big screen (the "Euro porn" factor—old buildings, cityscapes, conspiracies) and, of course, we would be voting with our ticket dollars against those who called for a boycott.

Afterwards, eating at Shuga's on South Cascade Avenue, we decided that this was one case where the movie was better than the book. For me, the book just went “in one eye and out the other.” Having read Holy Blood, Holy Grail back when it was published, I knew the whole Priory of Sion story, and not much about Dan Brown’s novel, other than perhaps the initial murder of the curator in the Louvre, stayed with me.

As to the story's cinematic incarnation, Tom Hanks has evolved into the thinking man’s action hero, Audrey Tautou’s wide-eyed “Who? Me?” expression is bearable, and, most of all, Ian McKellen as the duplicitous Grail expert seems to have such a twinkle in his eye, as though he is saying, “Look at me! An old man, yet I have this juicy part. And I don’t have to endure a long fake beard as I did for Gandalf.”)

He is such a pleasure to watch. I was late in discovering him as an actor—I did not realize how good he was until the “English fascist” Richard III of 1995. At that movie's opening scene, when the glass-domed ticker-tape machine chatters out “Richard . . . Gloucester . . . is . . . at . . . Shrewsbury”—or however it went—my jaw dropped, and I said, “This is going to be wonderful.” And it was. (Perhaps it’s time to rent it again.)

Alfred Molina turns in a competent performance as the scheming Opus Dei bishop.

The story of Sophie (Audrey Tautou) fits the archetype of the Lost Princess—one archetype that Jung never mentioned. Back when I was researching Gleb Botkin and the Church of Aphrodite for Her Hidden Children, I read an article discussing the Anastasia claimant, the woman who was known here as “Anna Anderson.”

Botkin, who had known the real Anastasia, the daughter of the last Russian czar, had supported the claimant when she surfaced in Berlin in the 1920s. He was living in New York City at the time, and a newspaper paid his way to Berlin. Later, around 1968, he officiated at her wedding to one of her American supporters, in his capacity as hierarch of the Church of Aphrodite—that was just months before he died.

At any rate, the article said that the Anastasia story captured so many people’s imaginations because of the “lost princess” theme. And if you equate “princess” with “psyche,” you could put a psychologically Gnostic twist on it. Or “princess” with Sophia, of course.

All the mainstream Catholic denouncers of the movie, however, cannot confront one thing. They can go on and on about how the Church canonized Mary Magdalene and does not really oppress women (don't get my ex-Catholic wife started on that), but they refuse to confront how the book and movie speak to a need for the Divine Feminine. They just can't. It's not in their playbook.

I am not equating Paganism with Gnosticism. Briefly, I consider the key difference to be that most Gnosticism considers this world to be a trap, a tomb, a mistake—pick your metaphor. Michael York discusses the difference at length in his book Pagan Theology. It's a short, pithy book, and you should buy it.

But I do think that Pagans, like Gnostics, can stand outside the current religious mainstream and see what is missing.

But be careful with Dan Brown: he does make up some stuff wholesale. Alexander Pope did not give the eulogy at Isaac Newton's funeral.

You want a conspiracy theory? Maybe movies like this are the result of a plot by European ministries of tourism, who know that some viewers will want to see all the locations.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Onward, Pagan soldiers

The issue of Sgt. Patrick Stewart's Wiccan memorial marker "has legs," as I would have said in my newspaper reporter days.

Driving to school today, I heard Carl Kasell update the story on NPR's Morning Edition, and it occurred to me that that was the first time I had heard Wicca mentioned in an NPR newscast, as best I can remember. (I know that I heard it, but I cannot find a link. Hmm...)

NPR was probably following this Washington Post report.

There is the usual bureaucratic bafflegab:

Department spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said VA turned down Wiccans in the past because religious groups used to be required to list a headquarters or central authority, which Wicca does not have. But that requirement was eliminated last year, she noted.

"I really have no idea why it has taken so long" for the Wiccan symbol to gain approval, Schuda said.

His widow, Roberta, is supposed to be meeting this week with some undersecretary-for-something-or-other about the VA's reluctance to admit the presence of Pagan military personnel.

In 1993, after the first Gulf War, Llewellyn published Circles, Groves, and Sanctuaries by Dan and Pauline Campanelli. It's out of print now, of course, thanks to Llewellyn's short-press-run philosophy and the federal tax code. You can find it on Advanced Book Exchange, though.

It included a photo of a soldier's Wiccan circle in the desert of Kuwait (as I recall). I reckoned that that might have been one of the first Pagan rituals celebrated in that part of the world in about 1,300 years.

What I wanted to see was an M1 Abrams tank nicknamed "Chariot of Ishtar" (painted on the hull in English and cuneiform, please) rolling through Baghdad.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Margot Adler Speaks on Paganism Today

Margot Adler's talk from the recent Unitarian Universalist General Assembly is summarized here, together with video links.

Jason Pitzl-Waters has more commentary. Here's mine:

Adler, who became interested in paganism, and in particular, Wicca, during the sixties, remembers that in those days paganism was a coven-based movement. You had to join a coven to find out about paganism. No neighborhood coven? No connection.

She is looking back through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia and perhaps the filter of her own experience. Actually, there were plenty of people in the 1960s or 1970s who were solitary, who had read a book or two and started practising on their own. They believed that somewhere there were covens, but they had not found any. But that lack did not stop them.

The only difference was that solitary Witchcraft did not feel respectable until Scott Cunningham made it more so.

Gerald Gardner's writing reached America in the 1950s, after all, and began having an immediate effect.

'Witch school' Opens

What struck me most about this article on Ed Hubbard's Witch School was not the culture-war angle ("Residents Petitioned and Prayed to Keep It Away"), but the sort-of positive response from Kirk White of Cherry Hill Seminary at the end.

One also could make comparisons with the Frosts' School of Wicca during its heydey of the 1970s-1980s. In both cases, I think that the "enrollment" figures were inflated, but in the case of the Frosts, the content was actually worthwhile.

In the pre-Internet era, however, they took an awful lot of flak over the "mail-order Witchcraft" from traditional Witches--or from people who wanted you think that they were traditional Witches.

When it camed to head counts, the number of people who inquired was huge. The number of people who completed a course was quite small, perhaps because the courses did require some work and self-discipline.

You see the same thing in conventional online higher education. Students think it is easier than going to class. It is not. Ed Hubbard's students are probably no different.

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