Thursday, June 26, 2008

Denver Post Discovers Local Pagans

Denver's Pagan community is featured in The Denver Post According to chatter on the local listservs, the "leaving a bottle of whiskey" bit was the reporter's misunderstanding.

Not surprisingly, Colorado's hard-working Wiccan chaplains were completely ignored in this Post article, which seems to suggest that only the Middle Eastern Monotheisms™ can rehabilitate state prison inmates.

But at least the newer piece mentions them:

Brennan and Anthony also serve as state prison chaplains. Their services are in demand by 500 self-identified pagans who account for 2 percent of the state prison population. Inmate neopagans include Wiccans, druids and the Asatru, who worship Odin and other Norse gods. In prisons especially, the Asatru can be identified with Nazis, skinheads, patriarchy and racism, yet there are pure forms, Brennan said, which focus on positives — self-empowerment and tribal loyalty — rather than white supremacy.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Good Meat, Good Spice

I have just started reading The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice by Michael Krondl.

And I am so happy that in the first pages he destroys the persistent myth that people in the Middle Ages ate heavily spiced food to disguise its rottenness. He offers several good rebuttals:

• Anyone who could afford exotic spices (e.g., pepper, cinnamon) was well-off enough to afford good meat. The rich could afford to eat fresh meat and spices. The poor could afford neither.

• Medieval cookbooks -- yes, they existed, for the upper classes -- directed cooks to add spices at the end of cooking for a greater olfactory whammy, which negates the idea of concealing or preserving "off" meat.

• Salt is the best cheap, traditional preservative for meat. So why would anyone use expensive imports?

All this is to say that spices weren't the truffles or caviar of their time but were more on the order of today's expensive extra-virgin olive oil. But like the bottle of Tuscan olive oil displayed on the granite counter of today's trophy kitches, spices were part and parcel of the lifestyle of the moneyed classes...

So I gave tonight's quick supper of sardines, garlic, and pasta an extra flourish of pepper. Got to support the spice trade, you know.

Medieval cooking is on my mind since Sunday night, when a colleague from the university absolutely knocked herself out preparing an Elizabethan feast for her "Midsummer Night's Dream" party.

There were lots of sweet-and-sour meat-and-fruit dishes, some wrapped in dough, as pasties but without potato, which would not be correct for the period.

And then some players from a community theatre troupe did scenes from the play outdoors under the pines and Douglas firs.

That's as close to a 16th-century feast as I will ever get.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On the Road in Virginia: Looking for Gleb Botkin

Home of Gleb Botkin in the late 1960s. Photo by Chas S. Clifton

The house in Charlottesville, Va., where the Botkin familiy lived in the 1960s, also the final location of the Church of Aphrodite.

Gleb Botkin's Church of Aphrodite lasted from the 1930s to 1969. (He formally incorporated it in 1939, but I don't know just when it started.)

The church was more Goddess-monotheistic than polytheistic:

Aphrodite, the flower-faced, the sweetly smiling, the laughter-loving Goddess of Love and Beauty, is the self-existent, eternal and Only Supreme Deity, Creator and Mother of the cosmos, the Universal Cause, the Universal Mind, the Source of all life and all positive and creative forces of nature, the Fountainhead of all happiness and joy.

But Botkin rejected such formulas as "love thy neighbor as thyself" and the "so-called Golden Rule," arguing instead that love requires "two mutually responsive poles."

Some of the argument he makes in his thealogical book In Search of Reality could justify polyamory as well, although I don't know if he applied it in that way.

Some of the Charlottesville Pagans still want an historical marker on the house. I don't know who lives there now; when we stopped by, no one was at home but the cat.

Botkin, his wife Nadine and his daughter Marina Botkin Schweitzer are buried just outside Charlottesville, where his marker describes him as the Reverand [sic] Gleb Botkin and includes the astrological symbol of Venus.

The Church of Aphrodite, meanwhile, had both a personal and a literary connection with the California Pagan group Feraferia and hence to the broader Pagan revival of the late 20th century.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Road in Virginia: Monticello

Today to Monticello to visit the First Citizen, Thos. Jefferson, but he was unable to Receive us. Hundreds of his Fellow Citizens waited upon him also, diverting themselves with Tours of the House and Gardens, which are both Marvelous.

M. and I walked up to the house from the parking area. We came to the family cemetery. I saw his tombstone and started weeping and had to move away.

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."

Then we walked in the vegetable garden and orchard. I picked a few cherries—they seem to be going to waste. I hope he won't mind.

The house truly is a marvel. If he lived today, Jefferson no doubt would have a high-tech house with photo-voltaic solar panels, hydroponic gardens, and a garage full of classic and hybrid cars. And he would finally be able to serve fine Virginia wines.

And thence to Charlottesville, where we shall remain the next three Days.

The base of Jefferson's obelisk tombstone is covered with coins. Some kind of unconscious folk-paganism going on there: offerings to the genius of Thomas Jefferson. I would have burned a pinch of incense had any been available.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Travel, Tourism, Pilgrimage

Blogging will be sporadic, or maybe nonexistent, for the next week as I head for the Mysterious East (Virginia) for M.'s family reunion.

I do want to make a little bit of a pilgrimage along the way, and if it happens, I'll blog it.

Right now, I am obsessed with the thought of flying into a strange airport, renting a strange car, and driving three hours at night through a mostly unfamiliar area to find a place that I have never seen before.

Unlike your typical road warrior, I have to do that only about once a year.

Really, it's nothing compared to what some people have faced:

I had decided quite definitely that if I could find the right kind of Kurdish brigand — and the hills around Kuchan were infested with them — then by means of a goodly sum of money which I felt confident of getting, and the promise of some plunder into the bargain, I would be able to get through the mountains with explosives.

Now that is what is meant by "travel, not tourism." It's from The Spy Who Disappeared by Reginald Teague-Jones, a memoir of his months in the Caspian Sea region during the Russian Civil War.

My pilgrimage connects with that era too.

But I all I need is someone helpful at the Avis counter, not Kurdish brigands. (Imagining an Avis counter manned by Kurdish brigands ... Like this?)

At least we can come back by train.


Saturday, June 07, 2008

Feral Iris

I love wild iris, but it's too dry here in the foothills for them to grow on their own. They do better in the higher, wetter mountains.

But some years ago a colleague gave me a gunny sack full of domestic iris rhizomes she had left over after re-digging her flower beds.

Our "landscaping" here consists mostly of holding the trees at bay ("defensible space") plus a vegetable garden, so I turned the iris loose in the woods. I planted them here and there in little gullies and other low spots that I thought might stay damp in a dry year.

And they have held on. In some bad years, they do not bloom at all. This year we are getting a moderate bloom. It's enough. And while sometimes I am a native-plants purist, I don't think these iris are going to colonize Colorado very fast.

And we all know that there are noxious weeds and "noxious weeds." Take bindweed, for instance. As a gardener, I hate it. But my rancher friend says that cattle will eat it in a dry year, so it gets a tacit exemption from all the weed-control programs--around here, at least.

(Cross-posted to my other blog)


Gallimaufry with Native Spirits

Boppin' aroung the Pagan blogosphere in lieu of getting real work done . . .

¶ Lessons about getting spiritually comfortable in new ecological landscapes. I am not sure that I buy all of the writers' asumptions, but it is a good topic to bring up. And as all good Phil Rickman fans know, there are things that can "kill you and eat you" right there in the Celtic homelands.

¶ Still on the Celtic spirituality "over here" theme, Fiacharrey at the Cypress Nemeton thinks about encounters with Christian apologists in two posts, one and two.

¶ John Yohalem's perspective on attending a Passover seder this year.

But if there’s only one god (let’s call him El, the Genuine Article, as in a train high above the streets, or a box of exploding cigars), then he either rolls over and ignores us (the Red King a-dreaming) or he enters history, stirs the pot, tastes it now and then and adds spices to taste. (God-in-a-toque and the divine (Julia) child.) Jewishness is predicated on this interfering god, and interpreting reality through his interferences. (E.g.: Sodom means he’s anti-gay or something else that was done there.)

¶ Anne Hill is anticipating a central listing of Reclaiming-tradition bloggers

¶ The Nine Noble Virtues in LOLCat-ese. Eventually we will be tired of it -- the LOL-speak, not the virtues.