Thursday, August 31, 2006

'The Goddess comes through'

Dancers who embody "the Goddess" at this page of QuickTime clips. (Work-safe, so far as I can tell. Downloads 10-15 MB)

When we say the Goddess is dancing, we are not simply talking about archetypical feminine qualities appearing in the human dancers. Nor are we referring to the women themselves as "goddesses." What we feel in the Goddess' dances is a very distinct, sublime Presence.

Do I want to get into the thealogical questions here? Not now. But I suspect that there was one goddess (or aspect, if you will) manifesting in particular, and Sappho knew her name.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


First, there was the discovery that while I had assigned readings according to the page numbers of the 6th edition of a certain book, the bookstore had stocked and the students had bought the 7th edition. So I will spend tomorrow re-doing that syllabus.

Meanwhile, The Pomegranate's copyeditor emails me from England with the unwelcome news that one paper scheduled for the next issue lacked a bibliography--which is my fault for forgetting to tell the author that we needed one. So I had to slam one together from her footnotes this evening, checking some of her citations against the WorldCat database.

I so love that kind of work!

You would think with footnotes that a bibliography is unnecessary for a short paper, but the publisher wants them anyway. It has something to do with other databases of citations in various journals.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Military Pagans in Baghdad

From Witches' Voice, an article on an eclectic Pagan circle among American service personnel in Baghdad:

Ours is a small group of soldiers; on a slow day we number around ten, but when we all show up, we are over twenty strong. We are a cross section of the militaries, Army, Airforce, and Marines; some of us do Intelligence work, some are network administrators, others mechanics. Still others go out on the streets and highways in an attempt to secure this nation. We are of various paths ranging from Greencraft to Asatru; in this place we form our eclectic Circle.

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Pagans in interfaith work

I do not do much interfaith work--I think that I have attended one such luncheon on my life--but some Pagans do, and they do it well.

Grove Harris is one of them, and here she reflects on her experience in an essay subtitled "Exclusions, Dualities, and Contributions."

Hat tip: Arachne. Tags: ,

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto is no longer a planet

It was like the Council of Nicaea, but for astronomers.

After a tumultuous week of clashing over the essence of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union stripped Pluto of the planetary status it has held since its discovery in 1930. The new definition of what is - and isn't - a planet fills a centuries-old black hole for scientists who have labored since Copernicus without one.

What will the astrologers do? Pluto for the last sixty years or so has been regarded as a marker of generations. (For instance, I would be in the "Pluto in Leo" generation.) Now it is a "dwarf planet," like Ceres. Not quite the same thing.

In my vast esoteric library (north turret, third floor), I find Jeff Green's Pluto: The Evolutionary Journey of the Soul. There is going to be some fast thinking in the astrological community, I suspect, but also an opportunity for re-definition and for being the first to say what Pluto "really" signifies.

Update: Salon interviews an astrologer about that very question. (Hat tip: Wild Hunt)

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Monday, August 21, 2006

In northern mists: Beowulf and Grendel

M. and I finally got to see the new Beowulf and Grendel movie. (Earlier entry here.)

All right, it's not the 8th-century poem we all know and love. There are new characters (the Irish priest, the witch, Grendel's son) and new plot points.

But it is still a simply told tale, visually gorgeous, and tinged with the tragic overtone of the Northern tales--no victory is forever.


Strategies for the future

I got up this morning before the dogs (that's early) and drove to the university. The sky was blue, the grass was green, and the beds of annual flowers were at their brightest to welcome the students who return next week.

My normal parking lot was almost empty, and walking to my office, I was the only person in sight. Yet at 8:15, when I entered the big lounge in the student center, it was elbow-to-elbow people. Some time later, sort of fed on coffee and pastries, I sat with several hundred others on armless chairs in a ballroom to hear the new president address us.

I started here as a part-timer in 1992, and he is the fifth president I have worked under in that time, so I am starting to feel a little jaded about university convocation-day speeches. You know the sort of thing: we will increase steel production 20 percent annually for the next five years and build a new hydroelectric dam across the Volga River.

The slide projected on the big screen behind the stage had a montage of images with the words "Strategies for the Future." I suppose that that beats "Strategies for the Past," although one could argue that strategies for discussing the past have some influence on the kind of future that we get.

In my office, the furniture was subtly out of place. When I tried to open the big file drawer in my desk, it bumped into a fixture that it normally will clear. Then it hit me--the floor had been waxed. For the first time in a decade. There must be a new custodian in the building--the old one insisted that her orders were to clean only classrooms. But I thank our new Comrade Leader.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Eros in the classroom

I was talking with one of the librarians at school last week, and although I do not remember how it came up, I said something about the "erotic side" of teaching.

Her eyes widened a little, so I had to explain myself: I do not mean going to bed with one's students. That happens, but not so often as people think (not to me though, as student or as professor).

It looks like I pugged into that ol' devil Zeitgeist, because one of my favorite academic bloggers has a whole post on the subject.

Humorless, irony-impaired PC secularists probably have even more trouble separating Eros from physical sex than do at least some monotheists. Look at the trouble Christina Nehring had with people at her own institution whose worldview demanded that she be framed as "powerless."

Bonus: I learn that Mary Beard has a blog!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Morwics and Mormon magic

John Morehead (of Sacred Tribes, mentioned earlier) blogs about his discovery of "Morwics," Mormons who have adopted Wicca. (He lives in Salt Lake City, it should be noted.)

It seems that ex-Mormons not only gravitate toward evangelicalism and atheism as their religious choice options, but also toward Paganism. This makes sense in terms of a religious logic in that a rejection of what is considered a strict form of Christianity might lend itself toward identification with a variety of nature-based spiritualities such as Wicca.

As he rightly notes, Mormonism has a strong root in Western magic: divination, prophetic dreams, evocation of spirits, the works. This is not something that the LDS church advertises to outsiders. Those 19-year-old "elders" who show up at your door probably will not talk about it. But it's there.

Back when I was in graduate school, I gave some paper on Gerald Gardner and Wicca at the Rocky Mountains-Great Plains regional meeting of the American Academy of Religion. I looked down at the guys in the front row: shiny black shoes, short hair, clean-shaven, Brigham Young University name tags--and listening intently.

(Much more ex-Mormon humor here. Not all work-safe.)

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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The four o'clock creeps

If you are under the age of 40, do not read this entry. It reveals a mystery. Or it tries to.

In the late 1970s, as I wrote about here, M. and I attended several of the Church of Wicca's Samhain Seminars, one of the earliest Pagan hotel-type gatherings in the United States, after Carl Weschcke's Gnosticons. (Their descendent is the United Earth Assembly.)

We were among "the kids." Many of the attendees were older, and a number of men were professional engineers with an interest in fringe and far-out technology. (This was the era of homemade biofeedback gadgetry, among other things.)

One speaker gave a presentation on extreme-low-frequency radio transmissions (ELF) and its possible effects on the human brain. "They" were testing it around 4 a.m., he said, not specifying a time zone.

"Don't you find yourself waking up around then, confused and depressed?" he asked the mostly middle-aged audience--or words to that effect.

I was a little puzzled, because I usually slept soundly all night. M. is a world-class insomniac, so it's no use asking her. "Four o'clock creeps" is her term.

Years passed, and now I understand. Waking at 4 a.m. and lying awake reviewing all the ways in which your life has been a total waste is a normal feature of middle age. Perhaps men are more prone to this affliction than women, but I have not carried out a study. I could be wrong.

I have been reading several books that run headlong into the same question.

Poet, novelist, and screenwriter Jim Harrison threw away a promsing academic career to be a freelancer, and after years of hard times enjoyed some major successes. But he was always on the edge of going over the edge, he writes in his memoir Off to the Side. Fishing, hunting, and periods of solitude helped keep him sane. After a lot of aphoristic writing (sample: "When a writer feels embattled, the next step is paranoia, which is only rarely justified."), Harrison concludes,

I don't feel an ounce of 'closure' about finishing this memoir. I'll just see how far this life carries me. . . . My life could have been otherwise but it wasn't."

If anyone ever asks me to write a memoir, I am going to steal that line: "My life could have been otherwise, but it wasn't."

Edward Abbey, who likewise was an overnight success after twenty years of hard work, wrote in his diary, "Trouble, trouble trouble. Except for sweet things like [his kids] Clarke and Rebecca, my life seems to me a dismal failure. . . 58 years old and I 've never learned to do 'anything practical, useful, sociable.'"

Abbey is quoted in another memoir, Doug Peacock's Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War and Wilderness. The Veterans Administration says that Peacock himself is 100-percent disabled with post-traumatic stress syndrome from his Green Beret days in Vietnam. But he manages to write too, so what excuse do I have?

Dragonfest deaths and Internet privacy

The fact that two people died--both of natural causes--at the big Dragonfest last weekend made one of Denver's two major papers. And a television station.

What I expect will really kick up some dust is that the article quotes postings from one of Colorado's businest Pagan email lists, which has 355 members.

UPDATE: The quotes were probably taken off the Dragonfest forum, which is publicly accessible. But I was not the only one confused about that.

It's another warning that nothing posted on the Web is really private: blogs, lists, MySpace, LiveJournal, whatever.

As for the big, daytime, "drawing down" ritual, from what I have read on that list and elsewhere, it worked for some people and disappointed others.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Christians reaching out to Pagans

Sacred Tribes Journal is an online magazine of "Christian missions to New Religious Movements." Whether those movements asked for missionaries is, of course, a whole 'nother question.

The "Paganism issue" is online, and the editorial introduction says that Pagans themselves should read part 2 first, while would-be missionaries should read part 1. All the articles can be downloaded in PDF format.

That direction is apparently to keep us from being taken aback by material in part 1, such as this from Lisa Woolcott's "Wiccans and Jesus: Making the Message Meaningful."

The great thing about sharing Jesus with someone on a Wiccan-based journey is where interest is shown in dialoguing about the spiritual practices and teachings of Christ. There are some popular writings by pagans and witches that indicate Jesus is a figure of both intrigue and respect, like the pagan authors Fiona Horne, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy, and Anatha Wolfkeepe.

Oddly (to me, at any rate) Woolcott seems to treat popular authors like Horne (I don't know the others, but like Horne, they may be Australian) and insider-scholars like Dennis Carpenter of Circle with equal weight.

But, Ms. Woolcott, what's the use? You want to convince me that Jesus is different from other Middle Eastern savior gods because only he "died for sin." Maybe so--but to me that is a history-of-religions question, not something that affects my life.

Another way to share the gospel is by exploring the symbolism in the “Great Rite”.

But since you completely dodge the erotic aspect of the rite, what I called "embodied nature religion" in Her Hidden Children, you are so far away as to make dialog impossible. If I wanted dialog in the first place, that is. What is the point of even talking about religion with people who are convinced that you are what you are only so that you may be lead to their One True Way? There is plenty of cosmic mystery to go around, enough for all of us and more.

Here's a thought: they could go as missionaries to one of the religions newer than Christianity. You know, the one whose militant followers like to blow up stuff. After all, Christianity has the more powerful goddess.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Post-ritual trauma

At Non-Fluffy Pagans, a great thread on "post traumatic ritual disorder."

Pointy-hat tip to Fiacharrey.

"There is no baby with the bathwater"

Anne Hill (of Serpentine Music) blogs on issues about the Reclaiming tradition. But is it Craft or is it just "progressive" politics?

Can it be true that what started as a grand experiment in creating a spirituality that was Goddess-centered, egalitarian, politically and socially radical would have absolutely nothing to show for it 25 years after the fact? Could it be that a community and religious movement which has been at the center of my identity for over two decades consisted all along of nothing but our intense willingness to believe our own promotional language?

Note the commments, too, including this from Macha NightMare, another of the Bay Area senior Witches:

I agree completely about the lack of standards. I’ve often experienced this as leading to sloppy rituals and sloppy magic. That’s the main reason I’ve avoided public rituals for the most part for many, many years.

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

The corner of the year

When is Lammas?

Predictably, Lammas/Lughnasadh postings popped up on Pagan e-lists and blogs on the 1st of August. But that is just what the calendar says. Astronomically, according to the online astronomical calculator, it comes at 1541 hours GMT on August 7.

But I think it's when the hummingbirds start to leave, and the mewing cries of the juvenile black-headed grosbeaks diminish in the oak brush around the house. Or when the Cordilleran flycatcher fledglings from the nest on our front porch are suddenly gone one morning, after standing outside the nest the previous day checking out their new feathers.

That day--let's call it "bird Lammas"--was July 30th.

Today brought cooler weather and a splatter of rain before noon: "weather Lammas." I remember a friend who lived in Florence, Colorado, telling how the high temperatures seemed to drop a little on the first of August, and she was right, for eastern Fremont County.

If you are timing a ritual, then I suppose you want to watch the astronomical times. But otherwise the corners of the year are more like mini-seasons than single days or nights.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wild Hunt reviews Her Hidden Children

Jason Pitzl-Waters at The Wild Hunt blog has reviewed my new book, Her Hidden Children.

And the rest of his blog is good too, as always.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Megaliths, archaeology, and the 'stoned age'

In graduate school, I took a couple of classes on Mesoamerican religion taught by Davíd Carrasco, an scholar of such edifices as El templo major in Mexico City.

One thing I came away with was that such structures served often to demonstrate how King Somebody's reign was in sync with the gods, the will of Heaven, or however you want to phrase it.

It made me look at places such as Stonehenge with new ideas. Could it really be not so much an observatory as an expression of Royal Will? (Or several Royal Wills, since it was built over centuries?) Ditto such American sites as Casa Rinconada, the huge kiva at Chaco Canyon. Was it as imperialistic as Hitler's Olympic stadium? Was Stonehenge laid out by a Neolithic Albert Speer?

And let's bury once and for all the idea that megalithic structures told farmers when to plant. Farmers and gardeners do not need giant rock arrangements for that. Every locale has its signs in the natural world. "When the oak leaves are the size of a mouse's ear, it is time to plant warm-weather crops" -- or whatever works for you.

All of this is a prelude to an interesting article about a megalithic site in Brittany that offers unusual opportunities for archaeological work.

In most cases, virtually no artifacts or other evidence of the builders has survived, leaving the field wide open for speculation:

As man emerged from the caves and forests to cultivate open ground, he replicated the old, sacred caves by building cave-like tombs. These were made of groups of stones, covered with soil. At some point, in around 4000 to 3500 BC, mankind emerged further into the light. The pattern of stones within the tombs was expanded and uncovered to form ceremonial stone circles.

What happened inside such enclosures has excited fevered speculation for centuries. Human sacrifice? Elaborate astronomical observations? Sexual and drunken orgies? Ceremonies at the winter and summer solstices to encourage the healthy growth of crops? Professor Burl suggests that, far from being elaborate astronomical observatories, most stone-circles are shaped by local topography. They do often, however, have alignments with summer and winter solstices and the movements of the Moon. Professor Burl's best guess on their purpose is a mixture of propitiation of the crop gods and sexual and alcoholic-psychedelic orgies. There is much archaeological evidence that the late Stone Age was also a stoned aged.

Read the whole thing, quick, before the link expires.(Hat tip: Cronaca.)

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