Monday, July 30, 2007

The Dark is Rising . . . on Film

In the heart of the English Fen County, Pluvialis is spitting . . .

. . . chips and blood. I am crackling with furious static. Any minute now, small pieces of paper, coins and pens are going to drag themselves across the tabletop, bent and pulled towards me by the immense, bending-the-laws-of-physics fury I'm experiencing right now.

She has been reading Jason Pitzl-Waters'
comments on the upcoming film version of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising

Let's set it in America?
Let's get rid of "all the Arthurian and Pagan stuff"?
Let's give Will Stanton a twin brother, stolen by the dark?
The Rider a love interest?

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Sunday, July 29, 2007


Time to dump some hot links in the stew pot:

¶ Crikey! Ambulance Driver has done it again! The man's a bloody bloggin' gawd.

¶ I have always been fascinated by Ozti the iceman, whose body was found on an alpine pass between Austria and Italy. I think it was Konrad Spindler, an Austrian anthropologist, who suggested that Otzi was fleeing some kind of inter-clan or inter-village or inter-personal conflict when he died. That Otzi bled to death from wounds suggests that Spindler was right. This book probably applies".

¶ So you are interested in Celtic Studies? Here is your starter kit. Or maybe you just want this .

¶ Everybody wants to belong somewhere!.

¶ Having recently visited the Mendocino coast, M. and I are now watching movies filmed there. Last night it was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming!, a classic Cold War comedy with Carl Reiner (not one of my favorites), a young Alan Arkin, and Eva Marie Saint as a typical early-1960s perky female lead.

Its message is the eternal comic one since Plautus' day: "The grown-ups are silly, but love will conquer all." Arkin and Theodore Bikel, as the commanders of a Russian submarine, gesticulate and scream at each other like comic-opera Italians, nothing like the careful professionals aboard the Red October.

Next, Johnny Belinda with Jane Wyman. Just think, in a parallel universe she was our First Lady during the 1980s.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Vikings Are Coming

Another reconstructed longship is on the whale path headed west, and it has made it to the Orkneys.

The plan is to sail through the Orkney Islands in order, among other things, to avoid the Pentland Firth. That this is not a sailing strategy of recent date is evident from the old Nordic texts. They also describe the dangers of Péttlandsfirdi and speak of the shipwrecks in Svelgr “the most gigantic of all whirlpools”.

A running historical commentary is here.


Animal, Vegetable . . . Wiccan?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is novelist Barbara Kingsolver's new nonfiction book about her family's year of eating locally. Or to quote the blurb: "With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it."

The book has a Web site with more information, recipes, and local contacts. All good.

But consider this excerpt from the late-June chapter on Kingsolver's experiments with cheese-making:

I'm not sure why, since it takes less time to make a pound of mozzarella than to bake a cobbler, but most people find the idea of making cheese at home to be preposterous. If the delivery guy happens to come to the door when I'm cutting and draining curd, I feel like a Wiccan.

Wiccans (a) do clandestine things in the kitchen, (b) make cheese, (c) are preposterous, (d) all of the above?

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Fall of an Intellectual Thug

The University of Colorado has fired Ward Churchill, plagiarist, pseudo-American Indian, and intellectual thug.

In case you have not guessed, I am happy about that.

If a student had committed as much plagiarism as Churchill did, he would flunk the course. (My course, at any rate.)

Some people will try to argue that Churchill was fired for political speech, but he was not. Yes, as some of Ann Althouse's commenters note, the political speech may have caused his other behavior to be investigated.

It is sort of like being stopped for speeding after you robbed a bank.

I learned about Churchill's methods when I was a graduate student at CU-Boulder in the 1980s. He led the lynch mob against a religious-studies professor whose work on Native American religion displeased him, and he played the race card every chance that he had. What an irony that he was faking it.

Churchill wanted to be the dictator who could declare whose scholarship was politically acceptable and whose was not. I suppose that is why Russell Means and some other Indian activists are supporting him--they would like to have that power too.

More recently, the American Indian Movement has given Means the shove. And they have an interesting Web page on Ward Churchill, too.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Drumming to Save Their Lives

Reuters Photo:  A cultural performance is seen in Pimchakh, 40 km (25 miles) from regional capital Petropavlovsk-KamchatskyOn the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East (across from Alaska), indigenous people are engaged in a work of cultural survival.

"Everyone of my generation speaks the Koryak language, knows the customs, dances, dishes like in the ancient times. But some of our children don't know anything at all," said folk performer Lidia Chechulina, slightly breathless after dancing to the beat of a deer-skin drum and the music of her own voice.

Her songs, sung in a guttural language reminiscent of Chinese, describe the beauty of the tundra, volcanoes and the sea, she explains. She adds that songs, one for each person, accompany Koryaks all their lives and act as a charm.

Soviet Communism, with all its Marxist talk about the dignity of labor, etc., had about the same effect on the Siberians peoples as Christianity did on the American Indians--especially when the Bureau of Indian Affairs used to hire missionaries as Indian agents. But then both Christianity and Marxism are monotheisms, in a sense.

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This Will Be My Only Harry Potter Post Ever

Megan McArdle examines the failures of magics and economics in the Harry Potter books.

Yet in the Potter books, the costs and limits are too often arbitrary.

A patronus charm, for example, is awfully difficult--until Rowling wants a stirring scene in which Harry pulls together an intrepid band of students to Fight the Power, whereupon it becomes simple enough to be taught by an inexperienced fifteen year old. Rowling can only do this because it's thoroughly unclear how magic power is acquired. It seems hard to credit academic labour, when spells are one or two words; and anyway, if that were the determinant, Hermione Granger would be a better wizard than Harry. But if it's something akin to athletic skill, why is it taught at rows of desks? And why aren't students worn out after practicing spells?

(Via Instapundit.)


Saturday, July 21, 2007

"Dowsing for the Dead"

I cannot improve on the headline that Dallas religion journalist Rod Dreher put on his own blog post.

But if you hang around dowsers, you will not hear the world "occult" much. The old ones, at least, were a practical bunch, although a newer generation got all wrapped up in "earth mysteries" and "ley lines."

I learned to dowse for underground pipes on a Talpa, New Mexico, construction site at age 20.

M.'s father, a civil engineer, also did some dowsing. We once all attended the national dowsers' convention in Danville, Vermont--which happened to be the town where he grew up.

No one knows why it works, but it does -- although in my opinion, a strong mental desire for a certain outcome is counter-productive. That is why dowsing for gold is not reliable!

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Oss Tales: Creating the Archaic

To watch Oss Tales is to see the difference between a community and a network and the contrast between self-conscious ritual and tradition.

If you are interested in the construction of ritual and of community--and in the history of the Pagan movement--you should buy the DVD, which contains three short films:

1. "Oss Oss, Wee Oss (1953), an 18-minute documentary of the May Day hobby horse procession in Padstow, Cornwall.

This film was made at the same time when Gerald Gardner & Friends were creating Wicca as the "Old Religion," and you can feel that mental atmosphere when the narrator intones that the procession represents "one of our religions when we lived in caves." There are constant references to the unknowable antiquity of the event. "Some say it's 4,000 year old," says Charlie Bate, a member of the family that traditionally "brings out" the [Red] Oss.

2. "Oss Tales" (2007), filmed at the 2004 Padstow May Day event, and including some of the people from the original documentary and their descendants, by American anthropologist Sabina Magliocco and filmmaker John Bishop, who compiled this new DVD.

Unlike the 1953 film, which focuses on an unsubstantiated claim that the Oss goes "back to Pagan times," the newer film touches on some of the social and class issues involved. For one, since 1918 there have been two Osses, the Red and the Blue, and everyone knows who belongs to which faction: "You are born into your color."

The Blue Oss raises money for charity while the Red Oss raises money for beer for its crew. The Blue Oss dances at the manor house while the Red Oss, although invited by the squire, stays in the town. At least the two groups no longer get into fist fights when they meet in the street. Maybe they don't want to scare away the 30,000 tourists.

These and other issues were omitted from the 1953 documentary.

Yet. as the historian Ronald Hutton notes in a brief appearance, the event has a "really archaic spirit" and has become a "genuinely primitive rite." Without any overt, capital-P Paganism, the Padstow event grabs you by the throat, even through the medium of video.

We also learn that professional folklorists have influenced the event and its interpretations since the 1930s, telling Padstownians that their Oss procession was "the relic of a pagan sacred marriage between earth and sky," as Hutton writes in The Stations of the Sun: The Ritual Year in Britain (1996). The earliest record of the Padstow procession is from 1803. In fact, the oldest record of a hobby horse in England dates from the Tudor era, the 1500s, and most hobby horse processions in England and Wales are--or were--associated with Christmas and New Year's rather than with May Day.

There is the fertility connection: a woman "covered" by the horse is supposed to become pregnant soon. And there is a death connection: a decoration of graves in the cemetery before the procession.

3. "Oss Oss Wee Oss Redux: Beltane in Berkeley" (2004) runs 14 minutes and was also made by Magliocco and Bishop.

About a dozen years ago, Pagans in Berkeley, California, started their own Maypole-and-Oss tradition in a park. They started by researching Padstow, and as Oss-dancer Don Frew ruefully admits, they found no clues about ritual. So they took their NROOGD Wiccan rituals from the 1960s and added on to them.

After all, while the Padstow procession is ritualized, its rituals are communal, such as which family brings out the Oss. There is no magic circle. But the Berkeley Oss appears in a self-consciously created ritual rather than a pub and the streets. It is a conscious attempt to create tradition and magic. According to some women interviewed, the pregnancy part works, at least.

But this is America, and there is a separation of Oss and state. Participants discourse about rootlessness and ethnic identity and wanting to belong to something.

In Padstow, your family must have lived in town for at least two generations before you can even dance with the Oss. Think how many Californians that provision would disqualify.

One participant flippantly says that after three years, it was an ancient tradition. Maybe, maybe not. If they can keep it going until their grandchildren are doing it, then as Hutton says of Padstow, it will communicate "something genuinely archaic, whatever [its] actual age."

The disk also inclues a "making of" segment and a study guide. It comes in a two-sided NTSC and PAL format for worldwide use.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some Shinto Priests

A Dutchman has become the only (?) non-Japanese Shinto master in Europe.

His house, which includes the Dutch Yamakage Shinto Shrine, incorporates a "kami-dana" household Shinto shrine and a "shime-nawa" (sacred rope). It is also home to the Dutch Shinto Association.

"When I was approved as a Shinto priest by the Rev. Yamakage, I was told to apply Shinto to Dutch society," de Leeuw said. "So in that sense I decided to change the interior of the shrine a little bit from the interior I knew from Japan.

Coincidentally, I was just reading a book by his teacher, Motohisa Yamakage, The Essence of Shinto. Yamakage seems interested both in explaining Shinto to the West and revitalizing it within Japan. He is old enough (81) to remember what happened when this decentralized practice was co-opted by the imperial government in the late 19th century.

Yamakage quotes one priest with approval:

Shrines should gather parishioners together and not teach them, I believe. We should not give any lectures to those who come to pay respect at the shrine or to visit the office of the shrine. We have to respect their positions or ideas. We should neither criticize them nor force them to follow our ideas. For the shrine is the public facility, and we don't ask which religion or sect they belong to. The shrine is not the place we give more education. It is the place where they freely feel and learn something in their own way.

With so much pressure on contemporary Paganism to follow the "Protestant mode," with designated leaders, "congregations," and so forth, we might want to consider Shinto as a model in some things instead, particularly the idea of a priest serving a shrine instead of a congregation--which was true in ancient Paganism as well.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Read a M*F* Book

You have wonder what Zora Neale Hurston would say at seeing her work promoted in this video:

Maybe she would be cool with it. (Definitely NSFW, by the way.)

(Via an LJ community for desperate librarians.)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Pomegranate 9.1 (June 2007)

Contents of the newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies:

Marisol Charbonneau, "The Melting Cauldron: Ethnicity, Diversity, and Identity in a Contemporary Pagan Subculture."

Carole Cusack, "The Goddess Eostre: Bede's Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)."

• Victor Schnirelman, "Ancestral Wisdom and Ethnic Nationalism: A View from Eastern Europe."

Boria Sax, "Medievalism, Paganism, and the Tower Ravens."

• Mikirou Zitukawa and Michael York, "Expanding Religious Studies: The Obsolescence of the Sacred/Secular Framework for Pagan, Earthen, and Indigenous Religion."

• Book reviews.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

"Travel by Train"

Union Station, Denver
If I had leaned far enough out of my window at the Oxford Hotel to get the full text of the sign at Denver's Union Station, I would have fallen three stories, which would have ruined M.'s and my trip to the Mendocino coast.

And if I had remembered to pack the USB cable to connect camera to PowerBook, I might have published a day-by-day photo journal. And that journal might have bored some readers to death.

So here is a synopsis, with links instead.

We took Amtrak to Sacramento, then drove to Clear Lake, because I have a fondness for down-at-heel resort towns, like Truth or Consequences, N.M., or Manitou Springs, Colo., the way it was when we lived there. We spent one day just zig-zagging around Lake, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties, being auto tourists.

We stayed at a 19th-century B&B, ate beyond our budget, and of course bought wine. And more wine. (I have a sentimental fondness for Pedroncelli, even though it is not one of the fawncy post-wine boom vineyards, based on a strange dream-like experience during my college years.) And beer, just to be fair.

And then retraced our steps.


Occult Renaissance Nears its End (?)

Dump your Llewellyn stock*—the occult renaissance is about to end.

Or so wrote the ceremonial magician Louis T. Culling in his booklet Occult Renaissance 1972-2008, published in 1972 (suprise) by Llewellyn Publications, price one dollar.

He explains his chronology like this:

[T]he entire field of the Occult had a tremendous upsurge of activity and interest beginning roughly in the year 1894 and lasting roughly to 1936. In that year the doors to the "mysteries" were closed and Occultism has been in the "dark ages" though 1971.

That golden era, Culling claims, produced the Theosophical Society and the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, while a silver era from 1900-1936 produced Aleister Crowley's post-GD work as well as that of Dion Fortune, Paul Foster Case, Marc Edmund Jones, and many others. After 1936 came "low-grade claimants and tricksters."

Oddly, Culling avers that "the wave of popular interest in astrology and the various occult subjects occuring from 1968 to 1971 really has no part in the genuine Occult Renaissance that starts in 1972" (emphasis in the original).

It's all based on a 72-year astronomical cycle, with each 72 years representing one degree in the precession of the equinoxes.

The 1972 renaissance was supposed to bring increased understanding of sex magick, a more "receptive and sustaining, hence feminine," version. (Not what you read in Crowley's magickal notebooks, which Culling calls "projective.")

What interests me is that Culling interrupts his discussion of sex magick to talk about ecology, which he defines as "preseving all forms of life for Man's SPIRITUAL TRANSCENDENCE." He illustrates spiritual growth through contact with nonhuman life by a story he wrote for the Defenders of Wildlife magazine in 1966 called "The Trader Coyote." He writes that people who observe Nature closely "study and observe the manifestations of Divine Inteligence operating in Nature so that consciously (and unconsiously, subconsciously) they may make spiritual rapport with nature and become true NATURE WORSHIPPERS." (Capitalization in the original.)

And, yes, he puts in a good word for Wicca, quoting from the Grimoire of Lady Sheba, which Llewellyn had published about the same time.

As an occultist and magician, Culling rejects explanations of the universe as operating by chance. He expects that the great new understanding of the 1972-1998 period will be that a "Directive Intelligence" drives evolutiion and that by understanding this intelligence, we will learn what Man is slated to become.

Here is the irony of prophecy. Indeed, today more and more people reject evolution-by-chance. Instead, they turn to a heavy-handed, literal-minded evangelical Christian version of "intelligent design." Rather than seeking any occult purpose inevolution, they wish to reject it altogether.

In their psyches, advocates of intelligent design feel that there must be something moe than a mechanical universe. So did Culling the occultist. But he wished to proceed with an attitude of exploration and learning, whereas theirs is an attitude of rejection and deliberate ignorance. They have their own low-grade claimants and tricksters.

*That is a joke. Llewellyn is a privately held company.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

On the Road

M. and I are traveling right now, and, genius that I am, I forgot to bring the cable that connects camera to PowerBook, so I cannot even post any pretty pictures. Expect some link-rich posting soon.

I have been reading book proposals and Pomegranate papers. I find it hard to do serious writing while on a pleasure trip, but this kind of work-related reading does not bother me because it is the kind of work that I enjoy. I can probably read more closely because I do not feel pressured, if that makes sense.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

It's Robert Heinlein Week

Maybe you had forgotten that July 7, 1907 was the birthday of SF great Robert Heinlein? I certainly had, but thanks to the InterWebs, now I know.

The always-iconoclastic Steve Sailer gives snapshots of Heinlein's novels, including Stranger in a Strange Land, which had such an effect on the American Pagan movement via the Church of All Worlds:

- Heinlein's 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land evolved much like Nabokov's Lolita. Both writers began working on their respective scandalous magnum opuses about 1949, figuring that while they weren't publishable at present, American norms were changing fast enough that they would be publishable eventually. Both ended up long and self-indulgent.

- After a fast-paced opening, Stranger in a Strange Land bogs down badly. It reads like a few cokeheads lecturing some credulous potheads on everything under the sun. Still, what a great title it has, maybe the best by any novel ever. The Prophet Abraham's description of himself is borrowed to describe a new prophet, a human raised by Martians, who comes to a satirical America. And one plot detail -- how the First Lady's astrologer was influencing the President -- turned out to exactly foreshadow the situation under Ron and Nancy Reagan!

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