Wednesday, February 28, 2007

No apostrophes, no vampire elves

When it comes to reading the titles and cover blurbs of SF/fantasy books, I am with Timothy Burke:

Other things that are likely to drive me off:

1) “Book One in the Dark Swords of Black Terror Trilogy”.
2) Mostly, if the word “vampire” appears anywhere in the cover, title or blurb. It stops being “mostly” if “vampire” appears in the same blurb with “elf”.
3) Titles or blurbs that contain the name of a fantasy kingdom that sounds more like a prescription medicine for depression or impotence.
4) Anything that contains three of the following four elements in the blurb: plucky but innocent young heroine, farmboy with a destiny, dark lord of evil, wise ancient wizard. “Handsome voodoo priest” is a bonus demerit.
5) The word, “Drizzt”.


Monday, February 26, 2007

The tricky side of charisma

Over at GetReligion, a blog devoted to the collision of religion and journalism, Terry Mattingly links to a story of a Pentecostal preacher in trouble.

The details do not concern me. What caught my eye was this part of the linked posting:

Again, in my opinion, this false teaching arose because church leaders saw a need to conceal the widespread sexual immorality in their own ranks. “Touch not mine anointed” is often repeated alongside the Apostle Paul’s statement that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” The latter verse, from Romans, is used to rationalize how a minister can lead a completely dissipated life and still display genuine gifts of God such as the ability to preach or prophesy. The misuse of these verses has done tremendous damage within the Pentecostal-charismatic tradition.

Something that we polytheists should understand -- something that I learned in my first coven -- is that magickal ability or even the favor of the gods is not the same thing as moral character.

When Mattingly calls Rev. Allen "charismatic — in every sense of the word," that is what he is saying, with his Christian terminology. The man has "the juice." But having the juice does not mean that you trust in him other areas.

I suspect that Socrates, for instance, knew that perfectly well. Consequently, he does not discuss it. Every ancient Athenian probably knew that you could be filled with divine power -- enthused -- now and then, but being so enthused did not make you a philosopher.

Monotheists, however, want it all in one package: the Professional Good Man, to borrow a phrase from Elmer Gantry. Consequently, they are always dealing with clergy-corruption issues.

I had not realized that Pentecostal Christians, in particular, used Bible verses to explain away the issue. They ought to just understand that even if someone "displays the genuine gifts of [their] God," he or she may still not be someone to listen to in other areas. Their sheep/sheepherder model of organization gets them in trouble again and again.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes full of Bible people

During the 2002 American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum had a well-timed display of the so-called "James ossuary."

It was a 1st-century CE stone box of a type used in the Middle East back then for storage of cleaned and dismembered skeletons of the dead. This one was inscribed, "James the brother of Jesus," and much excitement was felt over that.

Until it turned out to be a fake. The box was real enough, but the inscription was not.

So you have to wonder about these inscriptions that claim to read "Judah son of Jesus," "Mary," and so on.

Now the Discovery Channel is about to unleash a show about a whole stack of ossuaries. Yes, it's the Jesus Family Tomb.

Ah, biblical archaeology. It's rarely dull. The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" indeed. How the Christian bloggers will blog, the preachers will preach, and the dull thumping sound you hear is an archaeologist beating his head against the wall.

(The title is an homage to Malvina Reynolds, whose songs helped me to survive high school.)

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The eye of power, bwahahaha

I saw this ancient artificial eye discussed sanely in Archaeology magazine, but then there is the "soothsayer or priestess" angle.

Trust The Daily Mail for that.

Archaeologists said the woman was a female soothsayer or priestess and would have transfixed those around her with her eyeball, making them believe she had occult powers and could see into the future.

Take a clue from the ancient priestess and wow 'em at the next psychic fair.


You, of course, are my readers . . .

You educated women and the rest of us who love you, that is.

"The Romantic Life of Brainiacs" says that you are not missing out the way that popular media say that "smart girls" do.

The Cliche: Pity the overschooled old maid and the lonely career woman. Highly educated or high-achieving women are less likely to marry and have children than other women. If they do marry, they are more likely to divorce. Even if they don't divorce, their marriages will be less happy. And, oh, yes, they'll be sexually frustrated, too.

The Reality In fact, educated women nationwide now have a better chance of marrying, especially at an older age, than other women. In a historic reversal of past trends - one that is good news for young girls who like to use big words - college graduates and high-earning women are now more likely to marry than women with less education and lower earnings, although they are older when they do so. Even women with PhDs no longer face a "success penalty" in their nuptial prospects. It might feel that way in their 20s, when women with advanced degrees marry at a lower rate than other women the same age. But by their 30s, women with advanced degrees catch up, marrying at a higher rate than their same-aged counterparts with less education.

Lots more there. Read the whole thing.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Ogham Controversy, Now on YouTube

Selected bits of Scott Monahan's documentary Old News are now available on YouTube, including the trailer (above) or here in a slightly different version.

I tried to summarize this complex alternative archaeological theory of pre-Columbian Celtic explorers/traders on the Southern Plains before.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Welcome to Uhh-merica

"In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Or maybe not. H.G. Wells put his own twist on it in his story "The Country of the Blind."

The proverb's questionable wisdom underlies Idiocracy, a comedy with a plot right out of the Golden Age of science-fiction.

Army Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), statistically average in every way, is volunteered for a hibernation experiment, but through bureaucratic snafus winds up 500 years in the future, where he is now the smartest man on the planet, in a society whose members are no longer able to keep things running and the crops growing -- but what the hell, give 'em something to watch on the Violence Channel, and they are happy. (A prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph), part of the same experiment, seems more willing to adapt.)

It's brutally funny. Watch, for instance, the degeneration of such familiar brand names as Costco, Carl's Jr., and Fudrucker's. (M. would say that they are plenty degenerate already.) And it's also a sly plea for some kind of eugenics.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Revelation on Valentine's Day

What happens when a confirmed Valentine's Day-hater comes across a heart-shaped red candle? Dianne Sylvan tells the story.

Meanwhile, Jason Pitzl-Waters supplies the historical background--and it's not the version that you usually hear.

Labels: ,

Blog Valhalla, Polytheism, Books and More

¶ Yvonne Aburrow's Pagan theologies wiki has what might be the definitive list of active Pagan blogs. I am adding a link on my sidebar.

¶ Speaking of which, this blog now appears on BeliefNet's Blog Heaven page again. Thanks to everyone who made a fuss.

¶Bedside reading: I started, put aside, but will return to John Lamb Lash's Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief.

It is a difficult book for me to evaluate: I sympathize with Lash's point of view, but I think that he distorts some of his sources too much in order to support his views. He wants to use Gnosticism as a path that "can provide the spiritual dimension for deep ecology independently of the three mainstream religions derived from the Abrahamic traditions."

Gnosticism is still concerned with "salvation," a concept largely at odds with polytheism, as John Michael Greer points out (see below). Much Gnostic thinking disparages physical existences as a "mistake," so I am waiting to see how Lash reconciles that with deep ecology and its focus on our relationship with and as a part of nature.

Lash writes his introduction around the life of Hypatia of Alexandria, a Platonic philosopher murdered by a Christian mob in 415 CE. He wants to view her as an "urban shaman," but I see her more as today's tenured professor of mathematics. An intellectual through and through. Note how she elevates philosophy over erotic attraction this story of her teaching, true or not.

Reviewing Not in His Image in the Los Angeles Times, Jonathan Kirch writes:

Lash is capable of explaining the mind-bending concepts of Gnosticism and pagan mystery cults with bracing clarity and startling insight. At moments, however, he slips into a kind of New Age rant as baffling as any mystical text. "What we seek in 'Gaia theory' is a live imaginal dimension," he writes in one such passage, "not a scaffolding of cybernetic general systems cogitation." . . . .

And when he considers what he calls the "sci-fi theology" of the ancient Gnostics, he comes uncomfortably close to affirming that the otherworldly "Archons" of Gnostic myth were authentic extraterrestrials.

An interesting book, but full of special pleading.

¶I am happier with John Michael Greer's A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism, published by the Druidic group Ár nDraíocht Féin.

Greer's arguments for polytheism as offering a better model of the universe (including the evil and suffering in it) than monotheism and his lucid explanation of polytheistic spirituality deserve a wide hearing.

He works hard to show that monotheistic thinkers simply do not comprehend the polytheistic experience, and their arguments against it (unless enforced by violence as in Hypatia's case) simply fail.

Indeed, ancient and modern Pagans alike have the described mystical states in which they have become aware of multitudes of divine beings filling every corner of the cosmos; in the words of the Greek philosopher Thales, they have seen that "all things are full of gods." This is the polar opposite of henotheism; it is also among the most powerful and transforming of Pagan religious experiences.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Medieval Help Desk

Twice as funny today because the university's network has been acting up, and I spent much of the morning in fact on the telephone with various Help Desk technicians.

Tip of the English woolen cap to Fretmarks.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Pagan fiction-writing contest

Llewellyn Publications and BBI media (publisher of PanGaia, Sagewoman and New Witch magazines) are sponsoring a Pagan fiction-writing contest.

Judges are Diana Paxson, Elizabeth Barrette, and Anne Newkirk Niven.

Stories may incorporate aspects of any genre. Previously observed examples of Pagan fiction, which have inspired this Award, include but are not limited to stories about contemporary Pagans and the challenges they face in the ordinary world, mythic fiction, urban fantasy, historical fantasy/alternate history, science fiction about Paganism in the far future, paranormal romance, visionary fiction, weird mystery, and slipstream. Use your imagination.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ted Haggard and Elmer Gantry

Over supper, I suggested to M. that perhaps Rocky Mountain PBS' scheduling of Elmer Gantry as their Saturday night classic movie tonight had something to do with the downfall of the well-known megachurch founder Ted Haggard.

"Of course!" she said. "I assumed that the minute that I heard about it."

This 1960 film version, starring Burt Lancaster, covers only a short part of Sinclair Lewis' novel. To quote Wikipedia:

Although he continues to womanize, is often exposed as a fraud, and frequently faces a complete downfall, Gantry is never fully discredited and always manages to emerge triumphant and to reach ever greater heights of social status. The novel ends as the Rev. Gantry prays for the USA to be a "moral nation" and simultaneously admires the legs of a new choir singer.

The novel traces the opportunistic Gantry through quite a variety of religious organizations, including a New Thought group.

Before there was New Age, there was New Thought, which is essentially the same thing except without the benevolent Space Beings from the Pleiades.

Instead of today's War on (Some) Drugs, Elmer Gantry is set against a background of Prohibition and the corruption of government and public morality that it produced.

Yes, the 1920s may seem like a long time ago, but the novel holds up well as a mirror to the seamy side of American religion. You can recognize all of its characters as you move down the American religious smorgasbord.

As for Ted Haggard, I am sure that he will be back in the public eye some day. He has not given up his Web domain.

Labels: ,

Where are the Irish-speakers--in Ireland?

Now and again among North American Pagans, I run into an earnest student of Gaelic.

When M. and I honeymooned in Ireland (back when the Celtic Tiger was still a kitten), I learned to puzzle out the signage and to go through the door marked "Fir."

But outside of Co. Kerry, I never heard Irish Gaelic spoken conversationally. I did see posters from the Ministry of Something urging people to speak it. The very fact that these posters existed was probably a sign that they were not.

A fluent Irish-speaker recently decided to put his fellow citizens to the test, and the results were not hopeful.

In Killarney, I stood outside a bank promising passers-by huge sums of money if they helped me rob it, but again no one understood.

A century and a half at least have passed since Irish was the common language. Despite the compulsory schooling, I suspect that it is sliding into the antiquarian category. The goddess Bridget will be summoned in English.

Perhaps there is a parallel with the Gaelscoileanna (Irish-language schools) to something I recently heard in Canada. A friend in British Columbia said that she was sending her son to a special bilingual (French/English) school, not because he needed the French so much as because the normal English-language schools were so full of immigrants with poor English skills that the teaching was slower and dumbed-down. I wonder if the Irish parents likewise see these schools as better overall and that is why they choose them.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 08, 2007

This is going out to all my writer friends

True, I drink cheap wine. But I eat good meat. There is an expression for my condition: The wolf is at the door. But I want the wolf at the door. I am tired of living in a world without wolves.

Charles Bowden

Blood Orchid: An Unnatural History of America


Pagans Want Some Bones Back

Borrowing the rhetorical tools developed in North America, British Pagans are becoming increasingly vocal on the issue of "ancestral remains."

British pagan groups are increasingly asking for human remains and grave goods from pre-Christian burials to be returned to them as well. The presence of what they see as their ancestors in dusty drawers or under harsh display lights is an affront to their religion. To them, the bones are living beings, whose existence is bound up with their religious descendants and the sacred land.

I am friends with some of the British Pagan academics who have been pushing this issue hard. On the other hand, ask any geneticist: lots of people, most of them not capital-P Pagans, are descended from those ancient ancestors.

So let us admit that these demands are to a large extent a stunt. We are dealing with self-appointed spokespeople here. David at the Cronaca archaeology blog has other comments.

Labels: , ,

Animal Sacrifice and Authenticity

Last month Classics scholar Mary Beard suggested that contemporary Hellenic Pagans were not quite authentic because they omitted the centerpiece of ancient Paganism: animal sacrifice. (I discussed her critique here, and she responded.)

Orthodox Christian blogger Rod Dreher's recent post--and especially the comments--pretty well illustrate just how squeamish today's population--even omnivores--are about the idea of animal sacrifice.

Other than followers of Afro-Diasporic religions (Santeria, Candomble, etc.), only a tiny number of contemporary Western Hemisphere Pagans perform animal sacrifice.

(Muslims typically perform animal sacrifice for the festival of Eid ul-Adha. Christians, as one of Dreher's commenters points out, believe that Jesus' death ended sacrifice. Jews would not agree, but having centralized their rituals at the Jerusalem Temple--which was then destroyed--they moved to a different religious model.)

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Site feed update

Inspired by the problems with BeliefNet (which still occurred before I touched any of my site feed settings), I have tweaked the settings a little bit, trying to make them more compatible with different browsers and aggregators.

Thanks also to everyone who contacted BeliefNet on my behalf.

Knowledgeable feedback will be appreciated. I am curious to know if the LiveJournal feed that was set up for this blog has vanished into the ether too, but since I am not an LJ user, I cannot check it.


Magic Spells for Professors

I want these!

Just a sample:


* CANCEL MEETINGS. Professors at Level One may cancel department meetings only. (See Appendix 253 for a full list of levels and corresponding meetings.) This spell may be countered by another Professor's Spell of Urgency, and will always be blocked by a Department Chair's Reminder of Contractual Obligations.
* ACCEPT GRADES. -2 to Students' Argument rolls. However, Students with 3 hit dice or more may retaliate with a Spell of Grievance (-3 to Professors' Endurance rolls).
* MAGIC PEN. Increases grading speeds by a factor of at least two.
* SUMMON SENIOR COLLEAGUE. Professors attacked by Red Tape (q.v.) or under a Spell of Bewilderment may conjure up a tenured colleague for assistance. For correct information, perform a DC 12 Bureaucracy check.

(Hat tip: The Little Professor)


You Sexy Witch - 2

No, it's not a porn site but a light-hearted collection of pop-culture witch images.

'Salem Witch,' a World War II American bomber.
Here is some World War II bomber "nose art," for instance.

Some of the images, such as those of Fiona Horne, are not work-safe, however.

I want to see the Halloween party hats mentioned in the upcoming book on Pagan material culture (or on material-culture theory as applied to Paganism) in our Pagan studies series.

Two other issues connect here, at the very least.

One is the idea of the body as "nature" and hence as a locus of nature religion, which I broached in Her Hidden Children but about which a lot more could be said.

Then there is also the complex of reasons why "witch" is typically gendered as female. (And what sort of female?)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Invisible College online magazine

Bridging the gap between the print Pagan magazines of a few years back (Green Egg, anyone?) and Websites that you lose interest in, what with the flaming pentagrams and white-on-black type, The Invisible College is a downloadable magazine in PDF format. Entheogens, trances, shamanism, art . . .

In fact, one contributor is Diane Darling, formerly of Green Egg.

"Invisible College" has a couple of antecedents. Sometimes it is a nickname for The Royal Society. But that nickname itself comes from a time -- typically the 16th century -- when science and esoteric thought were not so far apart, with the same men studying astronomy as science and casting horoscopes.

Fifty-two pages. Worth (dare I say) printing out.

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Lady Sintana

Morning Glory Zell, Tim Zell, Lady Sintana in 1978Morning Glory Zell and Tim/Oberon Zell of the Church of All Words with Lady Sintana (right) at the Church of Wicca Samhain Seminar in 1978. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.)

Jason Pitz-Waters links to a newspaper article about Sintana (Candace Lehrman) and the House of Ravenwood, one of the best-known covens in the Atlanta area.

Ravenwood was also the subject of a book by a group of sociologists of religion: Allen Scarboro, et al., Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994). Being sociologists, the authors concentrated quite a bit on issues of authority--when you have a charismatic and strong-willed founder who claims to have retired, has she really retired?

There is too much Lord-ing and Lady-ing in the Craft, mostly a bleed-through from the Society for Creative Anachronism, and it only gets in the way. British Witches, I have noticed, coming from a land where those titles mean something (like it or not), tend not to use them.

Sintana, however, could get away with it.

Labels: , ,

Death of a Chief Druid

The awen is a symbol of revived Druidry.
Tim Sebastion, chief of the Secular Order of Druids in the UK, died on February 1.
He was always in the swirl of controversy around Stonehenge. This site, although dated, gives a feel for how that has gone.

His order was formed in 1975 and the acronym was chosen deliberately, or so I have been told. Based on my couple of meetings with Tim (the last in a Bath pub in 2004), it seemed that by appearing to not be totally serious, he was able to be very serious.

He also held the Bardic Chair of Caer Badon (Bath) after founding a gorsedd (poetic competition) in 1995.

A ton of British Druid Web sites exist: Here is a sampling.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Plato and the Bloggers

Will you also agree that if [the public] is ill-disposed towards philosophy, the blame must fall on that noisy crew of interlopers who are always bandying abuse and spiteful personalities--the last thing of which a philosopher can be guilty?
The Republic
Chapter 22, translation of F.M. Cornford
(Book Six)


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Piglet is in trouble again

click this picture for moreNo, Kanga has not mistaken him for Baby Roo and is trying to give him a bath.

It's certain Middle Eastern Muslims again who have it in for A.A. Milne's character.

A blogger in Qatar reports that images of Piglet are being censored from children's books. Follow the link for photos of the evidence.

Next step, perhaps: stern imams will thunder in their Friday sermons: "Do not even think of a cartoon pig, or you will be damned!"

The censored Piglet is the colorized, Disney-fied version. The Piglet in the graphic here, however, is based on Ernest H. Shepard's original 1920s pen-and-ink drawings.

Labels: ,

Friday, February 02, 2007

Poem on Bridget's Day

The Winter
(15 Nov. 1966)

Wheelbarrow's tire is flat, muddy ground now sets
A plaster mould around the folded rubber the first
Cold morning of the year.

Philip Whalen

One of the trio of Reed College Beat poets, along with Gary Snyder and Lew Welch, Philip Whalen formlly became a Zen monk in 1973.

For the Second Annual Bridget in Cyberspace Poetry Reading.


Problem copies of Her Hidden Children

I learned a couple of weeks ago that some copies of my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America from the second print run were defective.

They are missing thirty-some pages, including the last chapter and the index. If your copy ends around page 160, you have a bad copy.

Other copies may appear to be missing chapter 6.

Call Rowman & Littlefield Customer Service, 800-462-6420, to get a replacement from the newest print run.

Labels: ,

Thursday, February 01, 2007


• A federal judge won't let the Veterans Administration wriggle out of the lawsuit over grave markers for Wiccan veterans.

The Guardian, a British newspaper, covers the Greek Pagan renaissance.

For years, Orthodox clerics believed that they had defeated Greeks wishing to embrace the customs and beliefs of the ancient past. But increasingly the church, a bastion of conservatism and traditionalism, has been confronted by the spectre of polytheists making a comeback in the land of the gods. Last year, Peppa's group, Ellinais, succeeded in gaining legal recognition as a cultural association in a country where all non-Christian religions, bar Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. As a result of the ruling, which devotees say paves the way for the Greek gods to be worshipped openly, the organisation hopes to win government approval for a temple in Athens where pagan baptisms, marriages and funerals could be performed. Taking the battle to archaeological sites deemed to be "sacred" is also part of an increasingly vociferous campaign.

The article mentions James O'Dell, who also appears in the documentary I Still Worship Zeus.

What happens in Greece first may happen next in the UK or elsewhere in Western Europe. A number of British Pagans have borrowed the rhetoric of American Indian activists about sacred sites and about ancestral remains stored in museums.

• After a couple of years, this blog seems to have been removed from BeliefNet's "Blog Heaven" site, where it used to appear in the "Other Faiths" category at the very bottom of the page.

No one from BeliefNet informed me that my blog was given the boot; I just happened to notice.

When I asked what was going on, someone named Tim Hayne, editorial project manager, said that it was unintentional and tried to make it look like it was my fault for changing something at this end. (Don't tech-support people always try to make problems look like the user's fault?)

Ten days have gone by, but nothing has changed. You won't find Letter From Hardscrabble Creek in Blog Heaven. (Maybe there is a Blog Limbo somewhere.)

But the URL of my site feed has not changed. So I have to wonder if someone at the supposedly interfaith BeliefNet site just cannot stomach an outspokenly Pagan blog.

It's their site and they can run it the way that they want. But why can't they be honest?

Labels: , , ,