Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Witches and Economic Decline in the American Midwest

The GetReligion blog, which covers issues of religion and journalism, takes on coverage of the Witch School's move to Rossville, Illinois. (Full Chicago Tribune story and video here.)

Jason Pitzl-Waters has posted repeatedly about the various Witch School controversies, so see his blog for the background.

Maybe it is because I am still working to unload my late sister's white elephant of a house in a small northern Missouri town, but I feel that this is as much of an economics story as a religious one.

But this is America, and we habitually mis-label our debates. We use the language of race and ethnicity to talk about issues of social class. And we use the language of religion to talk about people's gut-level fears that their little town -- and by extension, them -- just does not matter any more in the America of Wal-Mart and mega-churches.

From GetReligion: A reader of ours, Christopher, mentioned in a note to us that the story is largely about a community dealing with “economic decline, arson, and drugs."

I agree. Although I have never set foot in Rossville, I have been in plenty of places like it.

And it is just too wrenching to their self-image for the Chamber of Commerce types to think of themselves as another Salem, Mass., and to promote Rossville that way!

Instead, they probably hope to attract a new factory. But it is not coming.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rites of Passage

Help a Wiccan college student with a research project on rites of passage by taking this test.

No, I don't know if she has read Coming to the Edge of the Circle or not, or if she still thinks that Van Gennep is the latest thing.

(I do not know the student personally, but I sort of know her through email lists.)

Or you could just find out how fluffy you are. I hope that your score is a negative number.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tribal Gallimaufry

¶ Some people think that modern life is cold and heartless and that it would be better to live in a tribe. But what happens when the tribe's inner circle does not want you? Sometimes it means that you lose your fat monthly check, for one thing.

¶ Blogger/journalist Rod Dreher is heated about about sexy Halloween costumes for little girls. Like a lot of his commenters, I think that the costume pictured would be fun for a kid to wear and sexy only to a pervert.

In 1985, David Garland, now 39, of Liverpool, NSW, did something similar, but in reverse. While bicycling, he was struck by a four-wheel drive. He wasn’t expected to recover from his injuries, but did, only to notice that he could now see and hear things imperceptible to others.

And he ended up Wiccan.

¶ Weirdest search string to bring a reader here lately: this are leaking car, basement, wicca.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Manufactured Conspiracy in Wiccan Publishing

I have started reading Aidan Kelly's Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion, published by Thoth Publications but also available from Amazon.

In simplest terms, it's an enlargement and reworking of Crafting the Art of Magic, Book 1, which Llewellyn published in 1991--Kelly's study of the origins of modern Wicca, based primarily on textual criticism of various versions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

Kelly published one earlier article on the BoS in my own zine, Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which had a run of four issues from about 1984-1986. It is sort of fun to see it referred to again.

Because there was only Book 1 and no Book 2 back 15 years ago, a whole conspiracy theory has arisen, for example, that American Gardnerians somehow had the book suppressed. Even Thoth's copywriters can't resist: the back-cover copy reads, in part, "When the first edition of thisbook was released, conservative Gardnerian Witches attempted to suppress it....Even though its first printing quickly [!] sold out, the original publisher, faced with death threats and boycotts, agreed to abandon the project..."

Horse shit. Elephant dung. Monkey poop. Here are some facts:

1. Llewellyn typically then (and now, I suppose) kept first runs short, usually under 5,000 copies. If sales were good, more copies would be ordered in similar increments. Even one of their top Wiccan authors, Scott Cunningham, was selling only in the mid-five figures at that time.

2. Shortly after Crafting was released, I flew to Minnesota to spend a couple of days with Carl and Sandra Weschcke, who own Llewellyn, and then-acquisitions editor Nancy Mostad, discussing the series that I was editing for them and possible other projects.

On our way to dinner the first night, Carl asked me if I knew when Kelly would send the ms. for Book 2. He wanted to publish it. After thirty years in the occult publishing business, he probably treated the displeasure of his reading public less seriously than he treated Minnesota mosquitoes. Death threats indeed. Controversy is good for publishers, as Thoth is obliquely admitting by trying to manufacture some.

3. But Kelly's own problems at the time prevented him from ever delivering the manuscript. With no Book 2 in the pipeline, Book 1 was allowed to go out of print -- as the majority of Llewellyn titles do after their first press runs. No conspiracy there, just business.

Since Amazon advertises used copies of Crafting at prices from $46 to more than $150, you get much more by buying the new book, despite the cover hype. I have some minor issues with it -- I wish that it more reflected research into Wiccan origins done since the first book was written -- but it is still worthwhile.

Thoth also has reprinted Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki's The Forgotten Mage. It is a key background book in the emergence of contemporary Paganism from the milieu of early 20th-century ceremonial magic and esotericism.

UPDATE 10/25: Greetings if you came here from Wildhunt. (Thanks, Jason.) As I hope I made clear in my response to one commenter, I don't want to turn a discussion of this dubious book marketing into a pro/con discussion about Dr. Kelly and his difficult relationship with other American Gardnerians. Don't want to go there, OK?

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Witches, a Reading List

Library Girl offers a chiefly young-adult reading list on witch fiction.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Switzerland's Last 'Witch' Exonerated

A Swiss woman executed for witchcraft in 1782 is the subject of a new museum. A new book examines her case and calls for judicial exoneration. From Newsweek's article:

In the hamlet of Mollis, population 3,000, a road the width of a single car was renamed Anna Göldi Way for the 225th anniversary of her death on June 13. In a mansion along the road, on a grassy gated lot, a new permanent exhibition at the local museum details Göldi's ordeal. Just as American schoolchildren read Arthur Miller's McCarthy-era parable "The Crucible," about 17th-century superstition and persecution in Salem, Mass., Swiss children learn of Göldi. Europe too was the stage for accusations of sorcery and the burning of outcasts deemed witches by maniacal courts. The death toll is estimated to have been 50,000 in Europe.

Today, historians trying to explain the flights of anxiety that sparked witch hunts blame everything from high inflation to cyclical poor weather and low crop yields to the tensions of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation of the day. But the difference, the shame, of the Glarus story is that when Göldi was beheaded with a sword in 1782, 90 years after Salem, Europe should have known better. "Witch" killings on the continent had dropped off precipitously after 1650. Other Swiss cantons, Geneva in 1652 and Zurich in 1701, had long since executed their last alleged witches. Europe was awash with the Enlightenment, and superstition was meant to have ceded to reason. It was, after all, only about 100 years before Le Corbusier and Paul Klee, Louis Chevrolet and Carl Jung, modern Swiss who are today part of our globalized lexicon.

In a semi-related vein, Jason Pitzl-Waters covers an attempted suit against someone's dead witch Halloween display. No, I don't think it's a "hate crime" either (but Senator Clinton's supporters might, since the "witch" is apparently her).

But read the comments and see what you think.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Slow-Cooked Campfire Gallimaufry

¶ If you are not totally saturated with LOLcat humor, there is always the LOLCat Bible. (Via Boing Boing.)

¶ Download a quick Dutch oven cookbook. Then at your next festival, elbow aside all those half-naked dancers, set your cast-iron Dutch oven in the lambent coals, and enjoy a drink while waiting for baked goodness.

¶ Ready for some retro-Web design? Download traditional tunes from the British Isles, Ireland, and "the colonies" in low-res MIDI format. Then visitors to your Web site can listen to them over and over until they hit the BACK button repeatedly to get away from the noise. (Lyrics also available.) Or maybe you just want to remember how "John Peel" goes.

¶ If you are an alchemist or on the staff at Hogwarts, your name is here. (Hat tip to Stone Circles.)

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Splash of Fall Color

Photo by Chas S. Clifton, Oct. 7, 2007Virginia creeper in autumn color, growing in the willows along Hardscrabble Creek.


Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dream and the Job

In the dream last night I was at some kind of Protestant Christian youth camp, headed by the stereotypical big, extroverted, 30-something youth minister.

A teenaged girl was supposed to be baptized, but the minister had to leave suddenly, so he asked me to baptize her. His request presented two problems:

1. I did not know how this denomination performed the ceremony. 2. Would a baptism by Pagan me be valid anyway?

I shoved issue #2 aside while searching for the book—a sort of combination prayer book and textbook—that would tell me how to perform it. I remember looking up "baptism" in the index: there were multiple page references.

As dreams do, this one trailed off with no clear resolution. The girl was not feeling well and wanted to postpone the baptism—or something.

The deam revealed its meaning, I think, in one detail: my English department colleague J. was in the dream. He was one of the camp counselors. He did not play a part in the dream-plot, but I saw him waiting in line at the camp dining hall.

The dream is not about religion but about my teaching career, which will end (at least for now) when my resignation takes effect at the end of spring semester.

J. is one of the younger professors. He and I have talked about his taking over some of my minor administrative chores and also my office, which is nicer than his (windows!) and more convenient to the classrooms that we both use. In that sense, perhaps, he is "waiting in line."

J. is a strong classroom teacher. A former Marine, he sometimes impersonates his drill instructors in the first-year composition classroom, but in a light-hearted way that the students appreciate. (I don't know that he does it in his critical-theory classes, but maybe I should eavesdrop more.)

As for me, I need to look up whether "burnout" is one word or two. The zest is gone, although I am still looking forward to the spring nature-writing class. Right now, I have a folder full of essays from my creative-nonfiction class to critique. Those students all have some writing talent and their pieces are interesting to read , but I have to flog myself into actually writing the comments on them that they expect. On some level, I am not a "believer" anymore.

Ironically, I am probably looser and more at ease in class now than I ever was, knowing that I have the freedom of the short-timer. Maybe I learned something about how to teach writing in the last fifteen years. But now my time for research and writing is worth more to me than it was fifteen years ago.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Silly (Halloween) Season Has Started

Just one of these for flavor: Cindy Kaie, self-righteous principal of Kohl Elementary School in Broomfield, Colorado, has decreed "no Halloween party."

In a newsletter sent home to parents, Principal Cindy Kaier wrote that the traditional Halloween party celebrated in classrooms each year will be replaced by a fall party on Friday.

And because the party is focused on fall, not Halloween, children can't wear costumes.

Parents expressed frustration that they weren't included in the decision.

Consult the parents? Whatever for? Are they qualified? Do they have advanced degrees in education?

A Denver-area blogger listened to her on a radio talk show and wrote about "control mania."

I heard part of an interview with this Kohl Elementary School principal on a local radio program this morning. Listening to Principal Cindy Kaier would make any normal person retch -- politically correct drivel, educrat-ese jargon, and a smug "we know best" attitude oozed out of this woman's mouth -- this is precisely why public confidence in public education is deteriorating. How teachers who genuinely want to teach and instill the joy of learning in children can stand to work for a self-approving functionary like this is beyond my understanding.

(And that's coming from a Green Party member, not a Rush Limbaugh clone!)

The article was not exactly clear about the cause of the ban. Does "not leaving anyone out" mean "not offending rabid Christians"? Or what?