Saturday, December 30, 2006

Top stories of 2006

Visit The Wildhunt Blog for top Pagan news stories of 2006.

Meanwhile, The Georgia Straight, a Vancouver, B.C., weekly, has a huge list of tidbits from 2006 from Canada and the rest of the globe. Some samples:

Simpletons of the sea

The large brains of dolphins, whales, and porpoises are the result of being warm-blooded mammals in a cold environment and not a sign of intelligence, according to Paul Manger of South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand. Manger’s research, published in Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, contends that although aquatic mammals’ brains have a “superabundance” of brain cells called glia for environmental protection, they have few information-processing neurons and the mammals are dumber than goldfish. “If you don’t put a lid on top of the bowl, a goldfish will eventually jump out to enlarge the environment it is living in. But a dolphin will never do that,” Manger wrote.

Bitter brew

Coca-Cola coffee subsidiary Georgia, in an attempt to market a new upscale canned coffee for vending machines in Japan, combined the words deep roasted with espresso to come up with the brand name Deepresso.

Make it your Om page

The Guangxiao Temple, which claims to be the oldest and largest in south China, began an on-line worship system through which users offer virtual incense, fruit, and flowers to a variety of electronic Buddhas. Duties of Buddhist monks now include taking foreign-language and MBA degrees so they can help run temples that are increasingly computerized. “Everything in the temple is now processed on-line. No paperwork. Those who failed to pass the computer test were laid off and reassigned to non-office jobs,” said Hui Jue of the Jade Buddha Temple. “Interacting with the outside world occupies most of our time, so many monks have to use the noon break if they want to do meditation.” (Link seems not to be working)

Go there for many screens of yucks.


Friday, December 29, 2006

The explication of Sheela-na-gig

Sheela-na-gig T-shirt from the Twisted Mythology God ShopSheela-na-Gigs by Barbara Freitag, (Routledge, 2004) caught my eye at the AAR-SBL bookshow because it promised a thorough, cross-disciplinary methology, if not the answer to the origin of the puzzling carvings on old Irish and English churches.

You can buy a Sheela-na-Gig T-shirt too.

Author Barbara Freitag, who teaches at Dublin City University, crisscrosses through archaeology, literature, medieval history, and even a little military history while seeking the origin of these crude carving that usually show either a woman spreading her vagina or else squatting to give birth.

Even the etymology is tricky. Though “Sheela” or “Sheila” is an Irish form of “Cecilia,” (a name brought by the Normans), “gig” is a puzzle. It has variously been defined in dictionaries of slang as meaning the female genitals, a “wanton” girl or prostitute, or anything that whirls around. (The third gives us “whirlygig” as well as “jig,” the dance, plus “gigolo,” a paid dancing partner.)

The British West Indies fleet during the time of the American Revolution included a small ship called Shelanagig. Not exclusively Irish, the statues have also been recorded in Scotland, England, and Wales.

And in 18th and early 19th-century Irish folklore, Sheila was the wife of St. Patrick, not to mention one of the names used as personifying the nation of Ireland itself.

Freitag is reluctant to endorse the sweeping Margaret Murray-style “ancient Pagan goddess” interpretation of the statues, but she does conclude that it is possible “to place the Sheela-na-gig in the realm of folk deities in charge of birth.”

In Ireland particularly, she notes that they cease being carved and are even removed from churches during the reformation of manners (led by the now-legitimate Catholic clergy) that begins at the close of the 18th century and continues through the 19th. “Customary folk practices, wake amusements in particular, were curbed, marriage and sexual behavior were restrained and public order was controlled.”

Sheela-na-gigs is readable and interesting for the fun of following someone working out an intellectual puzzle. Freitag also includes photos of a large selection of Sheelas--they do not all look like the T-shirt image, not at all--plus a catalog of all the known such sculptures whether still extant or merely recorded in the past.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Culture notes from the road

Suddenly, I am an expert on Christmas culture in Pueblo, Colorado. (Link may expire.)

I think that the writer found this questionnaire on my web site. It was given to me by a student a few years ago (some of the questions are now outdated), and so she just assumed that I was a Pueblo native. Actually, Southern Colorado yes, Pueblo no.

M. and I are on the road, having left home Monday afternoon. After an early supper in Salida, we scooted over Monarch Pass, Blue Mesa, and Cerro Summit in light snow and patchy fog in order to put the Continental Divide behind us before the big storm hit.

Then came Utah, where we spent a night in coffee-less Mormon Tremonton, where a video store on Main Street proudly proclaimed, "We have edited movies."

What a relief to make it to Oregon, where I write from a comfortable motel in Pendleton, back in the land of good coffee and wi-fi. Tomorrow, freezing rain and Snoqualmie Pass. M. seems to think that long winter car trips are risky.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Thursday, December 14, 2006

'Religion of peace' attacks dogs, education, liquor, etc.

We worry about people "hoarding" too many dogs. Not in Muslim areas, where having any dog apparently makes you worth killing.

From Thailand, for instance:

Buddhist monks have been beheaded, Buddhist teachers slain, and leaflets distributed around Buddhist villages warning that raising dogs and drinking alcohol are offensive to Muslims.

That makes me a target on three counts, at least. How comforting.

Cross posted to Nature Blog.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Shaman's Drum's new fundraising

Timothy White started Shaman's Drum: A Journal of Experiential Shamanism & Spiritual Healing in the mid-1980s, at the same time that Jay Kinney started Gnosis: Journal of the Western Inner Traditions.

In fact, I met both publishers on the same evening in San Francisco, at a publishing gathering where they introduced their new journals. As a graduate student in religious studies, I ended up writing frequently for Gnosis, but I always subscribed to Shaman's Drum as well.

Both suffered a big hit in the late 1990s when a major distributor went under, owing them both significant sums of money. Jay Kinney closed Gnosis in about 2000 and went on to other projects; Timothy White and his wife, Judy, struggle on in Oregon.

Their latest plan is to organize a series of benefit auctions on eBay, offering such items as "traditional shamanistic craft items (drums, medicine bags and other items), original shamanistic paintings, collector's prints and photos . . . . back issues and/or discount certificatesfor workshops and tours advertised in the magazine."

They are also soliciting donated items to sell.

News of upcoming auctions is supposed to be posted on the Web site. It's not there yet, but check back later.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

A sign of the season

How do you know that Yule is coming? Is it the Christmas music in stores? Is it the Sun setting at 4 p.m., which means I have to stop my project of staining the exterior walls of the new cabin addition?

Or is realizing that you are standing beside a photocopier running off 25 copies of the final exam, which means the semester is almost over--hurray?


Not Left Behind, Left Ahead

The quiet sound is me gloating.

I was surprised at the first sentence though. Are they still forcing us to change? (Are there "ministries"?) Don't they know that our preference is genetic?

Huge Goddess celebration in Mexico

I am referring referring to this event, of course.

As Robert Anton Wilson pointed out many years ago, N.S. de Guadalupe is a real goddess.

Stay on Her good side. You buy the candles in almost any supermarket these days.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Wicca: trendy, phony, and Constitutionally protected

If I were not teaching rhetoric, I would not have found Michael Medved's column on Sgt. Patrick Stewart's pentacle memorial while looking for a good political column for my students to analyze.

After insulting the religion--"it’s a trendy, phony potpourri of druidical, primitive and New Age elements that’s more a pagan cult than an organized faith"--Medved grudgingly admits that "the Constitution leaves no room for the government to discriminate against its adherents."

Uh, OK, thanks, I guess. And we are a Pagan cult, in fact, if you want to be technical about it.

Meanwhile, his fellow columnist Dennis Praeger, who has been bent out of shape over a Muslim Congressman wanting to take his oath of office on the Koran, responds to his critics and adds,

I am a Jew (a non-denominational religious Jew, for the record), and I would vote for any Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, atheist, Jew, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Wiccan, Confucian, Taoist or combination thereof whose social values I share.

A couple of nights ago I guest-lectured via telephone to Jeffrey Kaplan's class in new religious movements at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

I said that I thought that Paganism--Wicca in particular--was becoming the new designated Other on the American religious scene--and these columnists bear me out. Get used to "What about Wicca?"

However, I expect that it will be a long time before the first Wiccan elected to the House of Representatives has to worry about on which book to swear an oath. For the record, no holy book is required anyway.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Be careful what you wish for

Christians in Albemarle County, Va., get permission to put church announcements in school kids' "backpack mail."

Then a Pagan group follows the same, now permitted, procedure.

Alarm ensues.

Sunday, December 03, 2006