Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mars and Venus Are in Love

Ich bin ein siegreicher Unterwasserkommandant.

The July issue of the popular military history magazine Armchair Generalhas my name in it. Two other readers and I were named winners of the "You Command" contest in the March issue, involving a U-boat attack on an Atlantic convoy in 1943.

It's a sort of essay question: You are given a scenario with three tactical options, and you must pick one and justify it in writing. They print excerpts from the winning entries.

So I decided to try, and I won. Everything I know about commanding submarines I learned by reading and by playing Gato and Harpoon -- computer games.

Ensign William Thomas BaileyIt felt odd to write my entry. The man in the photo popped into my head, which was a bit creepy. His name was Ensign William Thomas Bailey. In March 1942 he married the woman who would become my stepmother, and in September 1942 his ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk with all hands. She waited in New Orleans for three more months until it was obvious no miracle was going to bring him back, then eventually went to work for the Army in Honolulu where she led an active social life involving beaches, restaurants, high-ranking officers, and drinks with umbrellas in them.

Mars and Venus are in love.

Armchair General's publisher, Eric Weider, tries to make that point in his July editorial, answering critics who claim that study of military history is "odd or even morbid." The trappings of war are beautiful (airplanes, uniforms, music, etc.), and war is an activity that brings out not just the worst but the best in its participants.

The psychologist James Hillman, whose "polytheistic psychology" has changed my thinking quite a bit, threw himself against the same problem in his recent book A Terrible Love of War. He takes the combat-as-ecstasy (literally being outside your everyday self) line, but also refuses to think that war can be wished away with perfect social engineering.

Notes from a 2002 conference about the book, by someone wrestling with Hillman's message:

What if Aphrodite were akin to Pan? What if she valued, not war, but Ares himself, a man-god, a relationship, a lover, yes, a lover, not a warrior?

• A reviewer at contemplates Hillman's connection between ideological wars and monotheism:

Being reveals itself as "War" in the West not because of Homer's glorification of it, but because it is nourished by the extreme monotheism of Christianity, an "Old Testamament'warrior' God of Jaweh, tacked onto a New Testament without War ("Turn the other cheek, and give your enemy your cloak). . . . Now war has become "Apollonic" because "It was Apollo who chases, but fails to consummate his relations in closeness." Here Hillman does not hesitate to draw the inevitable conclusions from the fact that Ares always lies down with Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love. From ancient Sumner to present day Iraq the story is the same: the thrill, the glory, and the 'erotics" of war pass every other experience in intensity and delight. The hold of war is as powerful as Eros, indeed, IS Eros: "There is no beauty like it, because its beauty is evil" said one soldier, echoing Baudelaire. Can anyone be so foolish as to blieve that this violence is only incidental, only or purely contextual? The much touted "Sex AND violence" of the so called "conservatives"? Do we think that television generates it?

• It has even made it to YouTube.

It's a book that I will need to re-read one day, trying to understand how the energies of the gods show themselves in our lives and our culture.

And I am waiting for a stronger connection to be made between polytheistic psychology and religious polytheism. Too many people who espouse the latter still conduct their mental lives within a more agnostic psychology (think of behaviorism, for instance). The gods, as the poets tell us, have their own agendas, which sometimes rip our lives apart. How do you give them enough, but not too much? Is Ares satiated with computer-game slaughters?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


¶ Now this is a poorly written headline.

¶ As John Leo would explain in "Thoughts on Good Writing", the headline writer needs to "work to avoid the dead idioms that we all seem to carry in our heads."

¶ Weirdest search string to bring someone here in the past month: "Is the vagina of the pagan priestess a holy place?" (punctuation supplied). Discuss among yourselves. This site was the top search result.

¶ They are using laser analysis on the Book of Kells, and, coincidentally, the Vikings are headed for Ireland.

Labels: , ,

Paranoids and Podcasts

Have you spent the last five years missing The X Files?

The technology of Internet broadcasting is not just for Pagan music shows. If, like me, you don't stay up for Coast to Coast AM to get your occasional paranoid conspiracy fix, try some of these:

Journeys with Rebecca offers such content as "UFOs: God from Inner Space" (free download). Angel hair, ectoplasm, mediumship--it's the 1870s again! Put on something violet, light some candles . . .

The Paracast offers "a world beyond science" interviewing long-term paranormal researchers such as "The Truthseeker at Roswell". Probably the most listenable.

The Jerry Pippin Show is big on conspiracies, all the "9/11 was an inside job" etc. "Conspiracy is a not a theory, but a reality of our daily life." (Warning: terrible Web design ahead.)

Fate magazine archives the Hilly Rose Show, one of the classics of "high strangeness." There is a Fate blog, too.

And don't forget that this summer is the 60th anniversary of the alleged Roswell, New Mexico, flying saucer crash. Or it might have been a balloon after all. People are still talking and a new alien theme park is planned. Or should that be "alien-themed"?

More Book Piles

The "what I am reading" book pile challenge is taken up by Anne Hill and Victoria Slind-Flor.

UPDATE: One more, from Daven's Journal.


What Makes a Photo Pagan?

It turns out that a lot of people are working on that question, and they are posting their work on sites like Flickr. Metapagan has a roundup.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Book Pile

The stack of books that I am reading.

Following the example set by Steve Bodio and others, here is my current book pile: part of what I am reading (for research, for reviewing, for pleasure) and in the case of Pharmakognosis, re-reading.

I invite my blogging readers to post their own.

Labels: ,

Friday, May 25, 2007

Reading Augustine on Polytheism

As a Reed College student in my freshman humanities class, I read St. Augustine's Confessions, often considered to be the first autobiography in the Western world.

Augustine did more to shape institutional Christianity in the West (Roman Catholics, Protestants) than anyone except the apostle Paul. The eastern Orthodox churches were not so impressed by him.

I re-read The Confessions when I was working on The Encyclopedia of Heresy and Heretics, because of Augustine's former involvement with the followers of Mani.

Being older and a little wiser--and also Pagan--I was somewhat less impressed by how piously he ditches his Pagan girlfriend, the mother of his son, because his Christian mother (St. Monica) does not like her and wants him to marry a Christian virgin. Monica herself advised Christian women to be sweet to husbands who beat them. You can find her spiritual heirs on the shelves of Christian bookstores today.

Augustine's big book, however, is The City of God, which established him as a theologian. I never had read it, but I have decided to attempt at least the first half, which is his attack on Roman polytheism.

He wrote it around 410, roughly 50 years after Julian, the last Pagan emperor, and a century after the imperial house (except Julian) became officially Christian. Paganism lingered, more in the Western empire than in the East, I think, but no longer enjoyed such government subsidies as formerly.

Its historical context was the Visigoths' attack on Rome. The Visigoths, who had lived in present-day Bulgaria, were tribes allied to Rome, and the attack was part of an attempt by their leader, Alaric, to become supreme Army commander--or maybe more--it was a complicated time of military-political contests for rulership. But the idea of barbarians breaking into Rome was a big shock for the empire, and some people claimed it happened because Rome had abandoned the old gods.

Here is were Augustine seems to "spin" his story, however, in a manner worthy of a Sunday-morning political TV talk show. He did teach rhetoric, after all.

Right off, in Book I, he makes much how the "the barbarians" spared residents of Rome who fled to Christian churches, even Pagans. He writes, "For of those who you see insolently and shamelessly insulting the servants of Christ, there are numbers who would not have escaped that destruction and slaughter had they not pretended that they themselves were Christ's servants."

He was not an eyewitness, but let's assume he was right. But what he does not mention is that "the barbarians" themselves--at least some of them, including Alaric--were Christians.

The only problem is that from Augustine's point of view, they were the wrong flavor of Christians. They were Arian Christians, who believed Jesus was created by God the Father instead of having existed eternally as part of the Trinity. Arianism was big among the Germanic tribes, possibly because it made Jesus more of a "culture hero."

The controversy was long and bitter, so Augustine prefers to write about "barbarians" instead of admitting that they were largely Christian barbarians looting a Christian/Pagan city.

That's Book (in other words, "chapter") One. I might have more to say about his take on polytheism later.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, May 21, 2007


¶ Most of my blogging energy lately has gone into Nature Blog, but here are some links of interest.

¶ Pagan Web sites and podcasts continue to become more sophisticated. Chris Larsen's Odin Lives site includes archived radio shows and a news portal.

¶ If you want to see the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, you will have a hard time with six of them, but the Web gives you a taste.

The Raven's Perch is another podcast, featuring "book reviews, rants, raves, interviews, and anything else" that Wade MacMorrighan feels like including. The most recent podcast is titled "Cookin' with the Kali."

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

If I Had a Hammer . . .

Now that the Veterans Administration has granted the Wiccan pentacle as a grave marker, the quest for Thor's hammer begins.

Pesky polytheists!


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quick Notes

¶ I went away for a high-school graduation and a small family reunion in one of the non-fashionable parts of Colorado, a trip that prompted these thoughts in my other blog.

¶ Ian Jamison, a British Pagan graduate student, seeks people to take The Pagan Environmental Engagement Survey. In some instances, such as the political parties environmental groups listed and the assumption that taxation is the cure for pollution, it has a British slant, but Pagans from other countries will still relate to most of it.

¶ A New York Times article describes Wicca as "a religion under wraps."

Labels: , ,

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wicca and Christianity

I have not yet seen it, but English scholar Jo Pearson has a new book, Wicca and the Christian Heritage. Amazon-UK link here.

From the publisher's catalog:

What is Wicca? Is it witchcraft, Paganism, occultism, esotericism, magic, spirituality, mysticism, nature religion, secrecy, gnosis, the exotic or 'other'? Wicca has been defined by and explored within all these contexts over the past thirty years by anthropologists, sociologists and historians, but there has been a tendency to sublimate and negate the role of Christianity in Wicca's historical and contemporary contexts.

Joanne Pearson 'prowls the borderlands of Christianity' to uncover the untold history of Wicca. Exploring the problematic nature of the Wiccan claim of marginality, it contains a groundbreaking analysis of themes in Christian traditions that are inherent in the development of contemporary Wicca. These focus on the accusations which have been levelled against Catholisicm, heterodoxy and witchcraft throughout history: ritual, deviant sexuality and magic.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baca County Beltane

In the photo, the Beltane Sun (astronomical Beltane--May 5) has recently risen. When it appeared on the horizon, it fit right into the little notch in the rock just below its current position--an alignment that happens only on Beltane and Lammas.

The site, on private land, is known to the students of archaeological sites as "the Sun Temple." I went there last weekend with filmmaker Scott Monahan, researcher Phil Leonard, and Martin Brennan, author of several books on Irish megalithic alignments, including The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stones of Time.

Some people prepare for ritual with baths and meditation, but maybe a 150-mile drive into the gradually darkening prairie works as well. A little synchronicity: on the way to La Junta, I heard the NPR report on the Neolithic temple unearthed in Ireland.

We camped at the site. A wall of lightning flickered silently to the north. Some 200 miles to the east, Greensburg, Kan., was being obliterated, but we did not know it. Our part of Colorado, which had been smashed by blizzards last winter, was warm and quiet. A great horned owl and a screech owl called from the cliffs.

Left: Martin Brennan viewing the sunrise.

On of the cliffs, someone centuries ago scraped the rock smooth and pecked a circle a little bigger than a human head. If you sit precariously so that your head is in the circle, then you see the alignment. A couple of alleged ogham inscriptions are nearby.

I am not qualified to judge the ogham, but I know that more and more (although still few) people visit such sites at the appropriate days. They watch as the old drama of sky, Sun, and rock plays out for a few seconds on a quarter or cross-quarter days. Afterwards, I suspect, they feel a little different about their place on this planet and on the southern High Plains.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, May 06, 2007

This is not my Beltane post

But the Beltane post is coming. Maybe tomorrow. It was interesting--meaningful in a kind of low-key way.

And should I mention that it is snowing? Just another springtime in the southern Colorado foothills.