Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Book Meme

I don't normally do these meme-post-thingies, but I was tagged by the inimitable Steve Bodio at Querencia.

Here is the challenge:

1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.

Mine reads as follows (the ellipses were in the original, which included the block quotation):

Osbert Sitwell was well acquainted with the story. He says that the deserters included French, Italians, Germans, Austrians, Australians, Englishmen, and Canadians; they lived
--at least they lived--in caves and grottoes under certain parts of the front line...They would issue forth, it was said, from their secret lairs, after each of the interminable checkmate battles, to rob the dying of their few possessions...

I tag Jason, Peg, Caroline, Anne, and Jordan. Pass it on.

My book? Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory


Monday, February 25, 2008

Gallimaufry with Bar Graphs

• Learn all about American religious affiliation from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life -- until you get to us. We are in the "Other Faiths" category under (sigh) "New Age." Notice how the Jews and Hindus score highest in education, the evangelical Protestants and JW's lowest.

• Utra Press, the publishers of the journal Tyr now have their own web site.

• Isaac Bonewits is starting his own magick school. Jason Pitzl-Waters has the details.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Mythical Creek with Real Beavers

There is a new syncroblog "call" up on mythology and landscapes.

I am just back from a Sunday afternoon dog walk, and here is the landscape: winter ice slowly melting above a beaver dam on Hardscrabble Creek.

Mythology? I guess I feel sort of deficient in that area today. Spring, ice, stream, beavers -- go for it.


When Librarians Strike Back

A fairly brilliant fund-raising idea in Alamogordo, New Mexico: funding a new library with photos of a local book-burning.

The book burning pitted two opposing points of view. It was "not a book-burning, but a holy bonfire," according to the church's founding pastor, Jack Brock.....On one side [of the street] were Brock and members of his congregation. They burned a few books in the Harry Potter series and other titles, and "pornographic magazines," Brock said in a telephone interview Saturday.

They stated the belief that the books had satanic origins and could influence children to take up witchcraft.

Oh, that "satanic" Potter kid. Let's make him the poster child for libraries and bookstores everywhere.

Wait, he already is! Right: Hogwarts-themed bookstore parade entry, Fourth of July 2007, Mendocino, California.

(Pointy-hat tip to Broomstick Chronicles.)

UPDATE: Bad link fixed (Thanks, Erik).

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction

Winners of a a Pagan fiction contest will be included in a new collection forthcoming from Llewellyn Publications. The contest was co-sponsored by BBI Media, and the judges named three winners:

• Grand prize, $500, and publication in PanGaia magazine, to "A Valkyrie Among Jews" by April

• Second prize, $250, to"Black Doe" by Vylar Kaftan

• Third prize, $100, to "Dead and (Mostly) Gone" by Deborah Blake

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

After the Witch Queen Steps Down: Maxine Sanders' Fire Child

In the 1960s, when Pagan Witchcraft started to gain widespread media attention, Maxine Sanders (b. 1948?) was one of its visible faces. A tall willowy young woman with bleached blonde hair, she was married in 1965 to Alex Sanders (1926-1988) for whom the Alexandrian tradition is named.

He was older, charming, verbal – she was photographed, his words were recorded. That’s her on the cover of my early hardback edition of Stewart Farrar’s 1971 book What Witches Do, long hair flowing, eyes downcast towards the chalice.

Now she talks -- in print as opposed to classes and lectures -- in a valuable autobiography, Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen'.

The book is not what it could have been. Material is not always straight-forwardly organized, punctuation is erratic and unclear, and words usedly mistakenly (“taught” for “taut,” “vice” for “vise,” that sort of thing). I fault the publisher.

Still, this is an important book. Sanders gave her life to the Craft in a way that few have, and she admits she paid a price: two failed marriages (Sanders, in the end, preferred men), financial hardship in the early years, breast cancer, and, most of all, the hardship of being always on-call in her role as priestess.

Marriage with Alex had been rather like a working relationship. Unconsciously, we sacrificed the more personal and sharing aspects of a normal marriage.

To read Fire Child is follow a trail of ups and initiations, rituals and happenings, magical politics, festivals and and visions.

Yet it is also a frank admission of the dangers of magickal religion. Coming from a background of intense, small-group work, she is prone to opinions such as these:

The modern Craft is a victim of its own success. Its tremendous growth since the heady days of the 1960s has outstripped the availability of experienced and reputable teachers, who in former days would themselves have served an arduous apprenticeship before being judged worthy to passon the tradition – and then only to a few.

(And she admits that even in her own group that rule was not always followed.)

Witchcraft is so often perceived as a young person's religion that it is good to read a mature priestess’s thoughts. Maxine Sander has gone through the fires – media celebrity, high-profile religious leadership, magic, suffering. Her book is valuable – “full and candid,” to quote Ronald Hutton’s cover blurb. I recommend it.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gallimaufry with Big Rocks

¶ My copy of Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' arrived, and I will post a full review soon. Short version: Better than I expected.

When the Goddess Ruled the Earth is a new quasi-documentary film on hypothesized Neolithic religion. The trailers are all shots of ancient megaliths with a "voice of God" (sorry) commentary. Looks like orthodox Gimbutas-ism.

My point is that you cannot necessarily tell by looking at a structure the religious views of its builders. You might be able to make an educated guess by analogy with known cultures, but without extensive, obvious archaeological evidence -- and better still, written evidence -- you cannot say. Is the "Venus of Willendorf" a religious artifact or a Paleolithic Barbie doll? Will we ever know?

¶ Fiacharrey, "the Bayou Druid," is making YouTube videos on Celtic Reconstructionism. Here is one.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Seizing Symbols of Love

The Valentine's Day card that I bought for M. would be illegal to Saudi Arabia's Wahabi Muslims.

It would be an acknowledgment that women are more than a necessary evil, household appliances in veils. Maybe it's an incitement to polytheism too. Who knows?

In fact "red items" are a problem.

So if I had Saudi students and marked their papers in red ink, I would be inciting lust or something?

Aphrodite will not be denied.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

"I am a stag of seven tines..."

... chanted the old Irish poet Amergin.

But when this seven-point bull elk exploded from a shadowy ravine about 25 yards from where M. and I were standing, all I could think about was what a sneaky old elk he was.

There we were, two people (and two dogs) standing and talking in low voices while I photographed three mule deer about 75 yards up the slope, when suddenly there was a huge crash down to our left.

"More deer," I thought, but it was just him. His patience had been finally exhausted, and he gave up his cool hiding place.

He angled up through the leafless Gambel oak toward the rimrock. The deer bounced off a few yards and then stopped to watch, as they do.

And I laid down the camera to help M. look for some gloves that she had left on her favorite rock on Saturday -- strong winds had blown them downhill -- and then we walked home again.


Friday, February 08, 2008

End of a Photographic Era

Your kids won't know what "Polaroid" means.

I still have my dad's SX-70 in its leather carrying case. It's an expensive beast to feed, and when the last flashbar is used up, I will probably dump it. In my memory it sits next to his 1969 Jeep Wagoneer.

Some people liked Polaroid cameras for the privacy factor.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shroom the book, Shrooms the movie

Still on the entheogenic theme ...

Andy Letcher, author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, lent his expertise to a horror film in this YouTube video:

I liked his book, so I suppose that publicity for it is a Good Thing.

Actually, Shrooms -- now on DVD appears to fall in the category of exploitation film, in the fine tradition of Reefer Madness.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Ayahuasca Diaries

Two articles on the entheogenic drink ayahuasca, one from National Geographic and one from The Los Angeles Times.

The second site requires registration: BugMeNot can give you a password.

It's definitely your old-school entheogen:

The concoction itself is said to taste so vile that most people fight their gag reflex to swallow it. Devotees liken the flavor to forest rot and bile, dirty socks and raw sewage. Vomiting is so common that indigenous shamans often refer to the ceremony as la purga, or the purge. And ayahuasca can severely test the commitment of its followers: The potion often reveals its celebrated wisdoms only after repeat encounters. The payoff, adherents say, can be life-altering. Debilitating illnesses such as chronic depression or addiction may disappear after just one session, some say. Others say they shed their egos for a night, finally seeing their lives with a startling clarity.

Behind all the publicity lies this Supreme Court decision.

(Via GetReligion)

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Review: Living Gnosticism

Gnosticism, says Canadian Gnostic priest Jordan Statford (and blogger), is not a Jewish or Christian heresy, but stands alone, "too heretical for other faiths. . . . the Secret Church of the Holy Grail."

His new book, Living Gnosticism: An Ancient Way of Knowing, defines it as "a pre-Christian religious tradition that fuse Judaism, Greek philosophy, and the Mystery Schools of the ancient world.

"Originating in the intellectual 'café societies' of Alexandria around 200 BCE, the original Gnostics were Greek-educated Jews, living in Egypt, on the doorstep of the Roman Empire. Theirs was the realm of diverse and interplaying cultures, of ideas and imagination. Gnostics unflinchingly explored the borders of myth and archetype, of metaphors and dreams, of creativity and poetic expression."

(Sometimes he makes them sound like beatniks of the ancient Mediterraean.)

Also included are

• A dictionary of Gnostic terms such as archon and demiurge.

• A ritual calendar that starts with Candlemas, equating Bridget with Sophia, both as "goddesses" of wisdom and creativity, and runs through the feast of the apostle John, December 27. (Not real goddesses but "symbol[s] for an aspect of something greater.")

• A question-and-answer section, viz., "Do Gnostics deny the historical Jesus?"

Answer: He is an archetype; "these stories don't need to be historically true to be valuable."

• An introduction to the various Gnostic churches of North America: the Apostolic Johannite Church, the Ecclesia Gnostica, the Ecclesia Gnostica Mysteriorum, the Gnostic Church of Mary Magdalene, the Order of St. Esclarmonde (a Cathar mystic executed by the Inquisition).

It's an excellent introduction to the topic.

There is no original sin in Stratford's Gnosticism; instead there is a story of loss. (I have suggested before that this story underlies the appeal of such fantasies as Anna Anderson's claim to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia.)

All Gnostics are in exile from heaven; they need to be reminded of their divine spark within; they need to be told that "the system" is not the world. And salvation comes not from faith-there is the rupture with orthodox Christianity-nor from works, but through enlightenment, gnosis.

Stratford wants to contrast Gnosticism with the "credal" or doctrinal religions. I think the opposite term to "credal" (following Harvey Whitehouse) is “imagistic” – not dependent on doctrine but on small-scale experience involving all the senses.

Stratford, in fact, wishes to link one of Gnosticism's arms to contemporary Paganism, but I am not so sure of that.

Ultimately there is a chasm between them. Gnosticism cannot be separated from a belief that the world was simply made wrong: "There's that certainty that something is wrong with the universe, and creeping paranoia that (a) this is somehow not the real world and (b) the forces in charge of this world are hiding something secret, something powerful." It is a religion of psychic exile.

By contrast, Paganism allows sacred relationships "with the tangible, sentient, and/or nonempirical," to use Michael York's definition from Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion.

We may say that there is more to the world than This Side (the "nonempirical" part, but we don't reject any of it. The gods pop up everywhere: Aphrodite in a shoe-store window display, as Ginette Paris once said.

Some Pagans may feel alienated (for good cause), but we have no reason to be in exile. This is our world, the parts that you can see and the parts that you cannot.

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Wiccan to Brief Civil Rights Commission

From a friend:

Patrick McCollum has just been selected to be on a special panel to be one of 6 people to brief the United States Commission on Civil Rights -- for presentation to the United States Congress and to the President of the United States -- about the state of religious discrimination in America.

He will talk about the differential treatment that Wiccans and Pagans receive in government institutions and programs, with the hope that our legislators will enact new policies to further pluralism and end religious discrimination. This briefing will be held in Washington, D.C .on February 8th, 2008 and will become an official part of the Congressional Record.

This is obviously an incredible honor and it will be the first time in US history that a Wiccan has been selected to present a briefing to advise the United States Government. He reports he will also be sworn in to the Goddess, which is also an important first.

More as I hear about it.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

"My late husband was an official in the Ministry..."

Noticed fewer bogus emails from West Africa lately? Maybe this is why.

There is always the old way.

UPDATE: I had to add a link to this picture.