Friday, June 29, 2007


¶ Is a Celtic bowl the Nazi holy grail? Probably not, but it might inspire a Dan Brown-wannabe.

¶ On Sunday we leave on a trip to the Mendocino coast. We are taking Amtrak most of the way. Some of our friends seem to think that we are eccentric for preferring cross-country trains. After all, air travel is so much smoother.

¶ You knew that chimps and elephants painted. But did you know that trees can draw? (Via Mirabilis.)

¶ Australian writer Glenys Livingstone has put her book on ecospirituality, PaGaian Cosmology, online at the PaGaian website.

¶ Jason Pitzl-Waters is blogging as he works on a book about Pagan music.

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The Street of the Idol-Makers

Last Monday I drove to Denver for the last day of the International New Age Trade Show (West) at the Merchandise Mart, partly to see friends and also to check out the

Books, New Age and World Music, CD's and DVD's, Aromatherapy Bath and Body Preparations, Apparel, Candles, Crystals, Tarots and Divination Tools, Heath and Wellness Herbal Remedies, Incense, Jewelry, Native Traditions, Metaphysical Supplies and Greeting Cards.

I had not visited that show (it's wholesale only) since 1997, when I was signing copies of Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance at the Llewellyn booth. (They were not about to fly John Jones over from England, even though he wrote 75 percent of the book.)

The Llewellyn booth this year was big, but the energy seemed low. Nobody made eye contact. Maybe the staff had partied too hard the night before. I snagged a free 2007 Tarot reader for M. and left.

When M. worked for Celebration Books in Colorado Springs, she also had to work some of their metaphysical fairs--the same stuff, but at the retail level. (The two businesses are now owned separately, I understand.)

Walking the show, I could not help but notice how little has changed in the 20-some years since we first went to a metaphysical fair, other than the shift from videotapes to DVDs.

But there is one big change. In 1981 there was no Pagan merchandise sector. Now here was the Mythic Images booth next to Maxine Miller Studios and Celtic Jackalope (love that name), followed by Sacred Source and Dryad Design.

With all the divine images, it was like the Street of the Idol Makers.

Off to the side was King-Max Products with its bland Chinese manager representing a whole line of Gothy knick-knacks and kannabis kitsch and some very NSFW statuary. (You can't even see it on the website without an account.)

I just wonder if the Chinese worker painting the statuette of a voluptuous woman receiving cunnilingus from a wolf thinks that that is a common occurrence in America.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Eight Things You Did Not Know

I was kicking around the idea with some Pagan bloggers of posting "eight things you don't know about me -- and two of them are false."

It's almost a direct steal from the movie Breach, which I loved. (Big Chris Cooper fan that I am.)

Someone took me up on it, so out of fairness here is my list:

1. I have never worn a tuxedo.

2. My brief first marriage was a disaster. We were both just too immature.

3. I am somewhat allergic to horses, which is a nuisance when you’re a small-town Western kid.

4. My first childhood memory is of rabbits.

5. For four years, owls helped to pay my mortgage.

6. I attended four high schools in grade 11, partly due to having problems with authority.

7. I had no formal Wiccan initiation.

8. I worked several years as a technical writer for a well-known aerospace company while taking graduate classes in religion.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Wiccan Wedding & the Strangeness of Memory

My wedding to M. was conducted by the HP and HPS of our coven at a Forest Service group campground near Colorado Springs. The campground reservation cost $10 or $15 back then, and the wedding finished with a potluck feast. I think we paid for some cheese and champagne. My sister baked a cake. Invitations were photocopied.

M. worked then as a state parole department investigator. The agents from her office brought us some gift or other—and also presented her with a homemade necklace of chicken bones. Cop humor.

My mother, who had been invited (I couldn’t keep her away) brought a bunch of her relatives, who had not been invited. One Southern Baptist cousin pronounced the ceremony “an abomination.” (He manages to be friendly enough, however, on the rare occasions that we see him.)

The attendants passed a tray of (hippie whole-wheat) moon cakes for the guests. Everyone took one except my mother. “Come on, Mother,” my sister said, “When in Rome . . . “

“No,” Mother said, stiffening her Anglican spine, “I’m not Dru-ish.” I guess being outdoors in a grove of pines made her think of Druids.

We had not bothered to explain that this was a Wiccan wedding, wrists tied, blood drops in the chalice, the whole bit. We figured we would just go ahead and do it.

For M.’s Irish-American stepmother, there was no problem: We just said it was “Celtic,” and she was happy. And her father was satisfied simply to see that the wedding license was genuine.

M.’s brother-in-law played his guitar, and her younger brother shot a video. Her family, although nominally Catholic, was never terribly judgmental—except for one odd thing that M. learned only earlier this month.

For thirty years, her sister-in-law has been thinking that Witchcraft involves sacrificing small animals, yet she knows that M. is all for protecting animals. So she has lived with this contradiction for decades. On M.’s recent visit to their home, she said that she had seen some ferrets in our house at the time of the wedding, and she had always assumed that they were the intended sacrificial victims.

But we never had ferrets! We never had any caged animals, just cats (then) and dogs (now).

Memory is a very strange thing. Hopefully all has been made clear now.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Sun High in The Sky

Here is the news from Stonehenge. No human sacrifice though, if that is what is was. But The Guardian gloats:

Today is the summer solstice, and the druids have taken over Stonehenge to commemorate their ancient rites. Today's festival at Britain's most charismatic monument is based on a cultural fantasy, behind which are dark facts.

At the moment of maximum Sun-iness, I shall probably be drinking cappuccino in Colorado Springs somewhere. M. and I need a city day.

For some substance meantime, drop by Quaker Pagan and read Cat's two-parter on her spiritual journey: Part 1 and Part 2.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007


¶ Cthulhu's pact with Russia exposed. Was Tim Powers prescient? (Via Dr. Hypercube.)

¶ "I did everything right out of the Necronomicon, and the candles didn't even flicker." Read it all at Pagan Snark.

¶ And an academic muses on Goth's wan stamina.

¶ An employee of the same metaphysical bookstore where M. once clerked has an odd experience.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Post-travel update

I came home Saturday night the 16th with a flourishing head cold that I probably picked up on the previous Monday's flights between Colorado Springs and South Carolina. It manifested on Thursday morning--that interval seems like about the right incubation time--and made the last three days of the conference I was attending much less fun.

M., meanwhile, had left on June 6 to see relatives in St. Louis. Her return trip on the 11th was disrupted, but this time, Amtrak did right by her--nothing like the trip last winter where we ended up taking a cab from Philadelphia to Washington.

She was supposed to meet the westbound Southwest Chief in Kansas City, but it had derailed on its way from Chicago. This time, Amtrak put her and other delayed connecting passengers in the nearby Westin Hotel. And the next morning she was able to continue on to Colorado.

People on the derailed train were bused to KC. Several told her that the engineer had handled the derailment--possibly caused by vandalism--like a pro. There were no serious injuries, which is one thing that I like about trains: the wrecks are more survivable.

Meanwhile I "enjoyed" a series of virus-laden metal tubes. No big problems, although we sat for twenty minutes on the tarmac in Chicago, passengers fanning themselves with the safety cards from the seatback pockets, while a problem with one engine's bleeder valve (??) was corrected. It was not as bad as Rod Dreher's experience with Delta:

This is going to be a miserable summer for air travel, with sprawling terminals serving as Dante-esque cities of woe. Abandon hope all ye who enter here – and don't forget the Advil.

So I did almost none of the writing that I hoped to do outside the conference sessions, there on a beautiful campus with wireless access everywhere. Yesterday I finished, I hope, an anthology contribution that has been hanging over my head. Now on to some book reviews and an article revision.


Friday, June 15, 2007

The Wee 'Oss in Cornwall and California

Folklorist Alan Lomax's 1953 film of the Padstow, Cornwall, May Day festival, Oss Oss, Wee Oss! is now available on DVD, together with the Pagan hobby horse procession from Berkeley, California, and an updated film from Padstow in 2007.

Order before July 3 for free shipping.

You can also see small video clips from the original 1953 documentaryon the Web.

A nice touch: the two-sided DVD has both NTSC and PAL formats, so it can be watched anywhere.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let's Hear It for BP605.W53!

When you visit a university library that uses Library of Congress call numbers, are you tired of finding books on Wicca in the BF's along with abnormal psychology?

(For example, my book Her Hidden Children is at BF1566 .C55 2006. At least The Paganism Reader made it into the BL's, the religion category.

But now, according to a professional librarian on one of the lists that I read, things are changing:

It took them long enough.... but not nearly as long as the change from Moving pictures to Motion pictures.

If anyone cares, here's what the official subject heading looks like, complete with cross reference and literary warrant:

053 0BP605.W53
150 Wicca
450 Wica
550 Neopaganism
550 Witchcraft

And there's now a specific LC classification number as well. Dewey number is 299.94.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

More Posthumous Recognition for PKD

Maybe he was on to something: "Philip K. Dick: A Sage of the Future Whose Time Has Finally Come" by Brent Staples in the New York Times.

The science fiction writer’s job is to survey the future and report back to the rest of us. Dick took this role seriously. He spent his life writing in ardent defense of the human and warning against the perils that would flow from an uncritical embrace of technology.

I would phrase that slightly differently: SF writers, I think, more often take some aspect of life today and develop its possibilities.

(Via Communion of Dreams.)


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Clifton's Three (So Far) Laws of Religion

Since my blog-pal Gretchin asked about the "laws of religion," here they are.

1. Nothing Ever Goes Away Completely. Every religious doctrine or practice ever invented is still being carried on by someone, somewhere.

2. The Disciple Is More Obnoxious Than The Teacher, which is the spiritual corollary of the old maxim, "The servant is more snobbish than the master."

3. All Genuine Religions Have Torchlight Processions. See, for example, the one at the beginning of this documentary.

Now before all the Buddhists come after me (unless they do have torchlight processions in Sri Lanka or somewhere), let me say that this law is more aesthetic than philosophical. With all the advances in techne over the past millennium, still nothing speaks to the soul like flickering flames moving through the darkness.

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Hunting the Good Graves

Caroline Tully, an Australian Witch, has started blogging with an emphasis on artistic expressions about Pagan religion and remembering the dead.

Under the photo of a Black Sabbath album cover that she found inspirational once upon a time, she writes:

I may as well go on and say that I think my identification as a Witch also has a lot to do with musing on visual imagery, including art. We Witches do love our real-world ritual objects and our "be here now" physicality in the exercise of our religion, don't we?

I concur.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007


¶ All genuine religions have torchlight processions (Clifton's 3rd Law of Religion), but how do you make a torch? This guy has answers. For more Neolithic fun, make your own rock-and-plant-fiber oil lamp. He has instructions for that job too. It's all a metaphor for living.

¶ I have been remiss in not thanking Anne Hill for her review of Her Hidden Children.

¶ Summer library program yanked after claims of witchcraft. That's Greenville, South Carolina. I will be in nearby Spartanburg all next week. Luckily, I do not own any tie-dyed T-shirts. (Via Wren's Nest.)

¶ Some Danish Pagans decided to make a religio-political statement--with a large stone. Take that, Harald Bluetooth!

¶ Some Greek Pagans are now able to use ancient temples, although bureaucratic delays persist.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

I Can't Do What My Father Did

Another meme going around: "I can't do one-quarter of the things my father can."

Fathers born in the 1940s or 50s--and please bear in mind that this will not apply to all of them--seem to demonstrate with much greater frequency the ability to 'Take Care of Things'.

Being in possession of this blanket set of skills crucial for the operational fluency of daily life, they become indispensable to the family unit, developing auras of respect and--notably--competence.

They include, but are not limited to:

* Plunger Operation
* Woodworking
* Toy Repair
* A knowledge of adhesives

Dad had me beat in one area: horsemanship. He could throw a double-diamond hitch on a pack horse in a snowstorm. I never learned any of that.

I think I am his equal in the other stuff. Cars are more complicated now, so it's mainly a matter of changing your own oil, checking tire pressure, and being aware of things changing for the worse.

But wait. They're talking about the guys my son's age -- if I had a son. Hmmm..

Popular Mechanics, as ever, stands ready to fill the gap.

UPDATE: I left out the Wiccan connection.

Much of what I learned about woodworking in particular I learned in 7th and 8th-grade shop classes. And who was behind the push for such "manual" education in the schools? None other than Charles Godfrey Leland, whose three books on Tuscan folklore, witchcraft, and the goddess Aradia helped fuel the 20th-century Wiccan revival.

In Leland's day, it was a rare kid who stayed in school after age 14. He believed that "manual arts" should be part of the curriculum, and he advocated for them a lot.

Via Glenn Reynolds. Men just want to be useful.

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Five (Really More) Thinking Bloggers

Erik at Executive Pagan tagged me with the "Thinking Blogger" meme. That's fair enough, since I hit him with the "book pile photo thing." (Mine's here.)

In fact, I read one of his links too: Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher.

So, setting aside the uber-bloggers like Glenn Reynolds, here are five who make me think or delight me with their writing:

Ambulance Driver is a funny, often moving, and if you're in emergency medicine (which I am not), informative blog about life aboard a Louisiana ambulance.

Rate Your Students, now on summer vacation, is a venting space for academics (which I am). Find out what professors really think of their students' lame excuses.

• If the universe had take a different twist, I would have become a religion journalist, yet Get Religion continues to show me how the job should be -- and more often should not be -- done. In other words, the press just does not "get" religion as a motivating factor in human affairs.

• James Lileks is an artist of blogging, even though I do not share all of his preoccupations.

Querencia is written by three guys preoccupied with falconry, archaeology, the literature of natural history and exploration, Central Asia, and dogs. The "book pile" meme has been fruitfully applied there. They're my blogging heroes.

Here is the original post that started it all.


Book-signing at Isis

Come Saturday, I will venture into the bustling hive of northern Colorado, where all the people drive shiny cars, to give a little talk and sign copies of Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America at Isis Books.

Time: 3 p.m.
Date: Saturday, June 9
Place: Isis Books, 5701 E. Colfax Ave., Denver
(Colfax at Ivanhoe)

Y'all come if you live in the metro Denver area.


Pan's Labyrinth --More Gnostic than Pagan?

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters has written a great deal about the film Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno), praising it in words such as these:

I believe "Pan's Labyrinth" presents a unique opportunity to discuss Pagan/polytheist theology in contrast to the dominant monotheisms. Unlike "The Da Vinci Code", this film isn't bogged down with questions about Christian heresy and Gnosticism and can be referenced without having to talk about our views on Mary Magdalen's marital status. If this film continues to seep into public conversations about faith and religion, Pagan commentators should be ready to move beyond disclaimers regarding Ofelia's actions and instead talk about what elements in the film accurately portray Pagan ideas and beliefs.

Living 25 miles from the nearest movie house, M. and I are big Netflix customers, and last night we finally saw the film now that it is out on DVD.

Neither of us would have called it a "Pagan" movie, faun or no faun. (I will skip the "faun movie" puns.)

To me it was far more Gnostic, although perhaps not so thoroughly Gnostic as The Matrix.

That Ofelia is a "lost princess" seems like yet another telling of the wanderings of Sophia (Wisdom) in the fallen world. Many people respond to that story of separation: "I am not from here. My parents are not my real parents. I belong in a better, purer place." So Gnostic.

The "lost princess" is an archetypal story. It is why so many wanted to believe that young Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the murder of the Russian royal family in 1918 to wander lost and unrecognized for years. The story pulls us. As the Wikipedia article points out, Sophia is the original "damsel in distress."

Gnosticism and Paganism have their points of contact, but they differ in their views of divinity and the material world. In Pan's Labyrinth, the material world is clearly one to be escaped from (and with good reason) and the "real world" is somewhere else.

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