Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I Discover a New Cartoonist

The cartoonist's work is now published in blog form.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Seeing the World with Greek Eyes

"I am a Greek born 2,381 years after my ancestors built and dedicated the Parthenon . . . . I am telling Greek history outside the conventional Christian worldview," writes Eaggelos G. Vallianatos, author of The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes

Born in a Greek village, Vallianatos came to the United States as a young man and earned a doctorate in history at Wisconsin. He has written three other books on globalization and agriculture.

A little bit like Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick's A History Of Pagan Europe, his book moves from a general discussion of Greek religion through the conquest of a disunited Greece by imperial Rome to the fall of the empire as seen by Greek historians, lingering on the late Christian emperors' persecution of the Pagan "Hellenes," those who saw Greek literature, culture, and religion as intertwined.

One appendix discusses and rates works by many noted classicists. Vallianatos likes Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, who "[makes] some difference to our understanding of the dreadful record of Christianity in the Mediterranean," but has no use for Polymnia Athanassiadi: "Her Christian bias shines through in everything she says about Julian." And so on.

As its title suggests, the book is passionate. I have read only as far as Chapter 4, "The Treason of Christianity," because I can take it only in small doses. But I will continue all the way to the end, believe me.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Death No Longer Entrances Me

I did not have time to cruise the whole INATS-West show three weeks ago, but I did walk through the big Llewellyn booth, since it was close by my friends' booth.

I scooped up some of the free stuff, including a flier for "a Gothic Book of the Dead."

It's one of life's little ironies that I missed the whole Goth movement by just a few years. I would have been perfect for it.

I had the look: Tall, slim, dark hair, green eyes, and pale skin -- if I stayed out of the Colorado sun, which I did not do. (Being pale in Portland, Oregon, was pretty easy, however.)

I tended to wear vests and silk scarves, and at age 17 had a seamstress friend sew me a cape -- grey with black lining, which fell somewhere between Elvish and Army of Northern Virginia.

In my late teens and early twenties, I liked to take long walks at night, even through cemeteries. (Living near Portland's Mount Scott cemetery complex was a bonus during my junior year at Reed.) I wrote poetry and thought that the Arnold Bocklin type font was the coolest. You get the picture.

Moving (unknown to me) towards Paganism, which I formally adopted the summer that I turned 21, I might have been attracted to suggestions on how to benefit from a book that discussed, "Meditating on gravestone sculptures, creating a necromantic medicine bag, keeping a personal book of the dead, and other exercises will help you explore the vital, transformative forces of death."

Now, though, I am more likely to say, "You go right ahead -- I'll pass."

This is not to say that the Dead cannot be influential sometimes. But I don't get all gushy about walking in cemeteries anymore. Too many people close to me have died in the last five years, and I have developed a nice sideline in estate and family trust management, not that I ever wanted to do it. You want a "personal book of the dead"? How about the file boxes full of documents in the garage, the resting places of the ka-soul?

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Invention of Scotland...

... or why the kilt was invented for the benefit of factory workers.

Ronald Hutton told some of this story in Witches, Druids And King Arthur, but here is a review of a new book on the invention of Scottish-ness, the late Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Invention of Scotland: Myth and History

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Knee Deep in the Bloody Ford of History

Sometime around age 15 I took home Vol. 49 of the Harvard Classics from the Fort Collins (Colo.) public library and read for the first time Beowulf and The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel. (The Ring saga is in there too, but I had already encountered it.)

is an understandable story, while The Destruction at least introduced me to the concept of geis, which is actually fairly troublesome when you are that age and trying to figure out where the walls are.

Not until my undergraduate years did I discover The Gododdin, which is totally different from the above. Like petals on a blood-soaked daisy, it is a series of short elegies for warriors who fought and died (more or less to the last man) at the battle of Catterick, c. 570 CE in what is now Yorkshire. (Poetic samples are at the link above.)

There is no narrative; it is as though you had short poems about Paul Revere, Molly Pitcher, George Washington, Daniel Morgan, Benedict Arnold, Baron Von Steuben, John Paul Jones, etc., without needing to tell the reader about the American Revolution.

Many critics as well as authors of fiction based on the poem tend to create dichotomies about it such as these:

  • It's the Romano-Celtic (mostly Christian) British versus the (Pagan) Anglo-Saxons, with the Celts carrying faded remnants of Imperial Britannia and the Saxons representing ignorance and barbarism.
  • It represents a nonlinear "Celtic" way of thinking versus the linearity of, say, Beowulf.
  • It is typical of how glorifying "beautiful losers" is part of the Celtic soul or something.
  • It demonstrates the tactical deficiency of mounted fighters without stirrups against the Anglo-Saxon "shield wall." (But cf. Battle of Hastings.)

Recently I picked up John Koch's The Gododdin of Aneirin: Text and Context from Dark-Age North Britain (University of Wales Press, 1997).

I have no background in the Welsh language, so I cannot really follow his discussions of changes in phonetics and orthography over many centuries, nor the 24 types of medieval Welsh poetic meter, for example.

But I do appreciate the point he made about 6th century versus medieval nationalism. In the 6th or 7th centuries, there was none. What is now England and Scotland contained many little kingdoms -- and yes, some were ruled by Old Welsh-speakers and some by Old English-speakers, but they did not line up neatly on ethnic lines.

He argues that there were other Celto-British forces, allied with the Saxons, on the winning side at Catterick, and that another Old Welsh poem represents their heroic versifying about their victory. So much for beautiful losers.

Later, by the Middle Ages (13th century), when the line between England and Wales was drawn on the map and a greater sense of separation existed, The Gododdin was cast as Celts versus Saxons and used to reinforce that sense of separation.

Once again, the lesson is to be careful about projecting our categories backwards on the past, especially on the distant and mostly unrecorded past.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gallimaufry with Ink and Paper

Zines live on. That was me once, even down to the hand-cranked mimeo machine many years ago. A poet friend told me -- in all seriousness -- that "after the revolution" I would still be able to do mimeograph reproduction with used, dirty motor oil. Of course there would be no electricity.

¶ Some people should avoid sword-swinging magic? (Via Law and Magic Blog.)

¶ Jason has that one and more witches in the news for the wrong reasons.

¶ In India, the Virgin Mary is a goddess. (Via Non-Fluffy Pagans.)

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fooling the Cyber-Censors

Yesterday I wrote a review of The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, a collection of papers edited by Hannah Johnston and Peg Aloi, for the upcoming issue of The Pomegranate.

Teen Witches, a fluid and constantly changing group, have been heavily dependent on the Internet, because they are often alone and either ignorant of Pagan groups or not welcome there as full-fledged members--the latter partly a result of the various satanism scares and their blowback onto contemporary Pagans.

In Aloi's own chapter, "A Charming Spell: The Intentional and Unintentional Influence of Popular Media upon Teenage Witchcraft in America," she writes how some of the Net-filtering programs such as Cybersitter blocked words such as "witchcraft" or "neopagan."

Internet censorship and the use of filtering software threatened to shut down teenage pagan internet activity. So one result has been that teens got very creative with the names they gave their sites. Instead of calling it 'Teen Witchcraft Study Group' it would become 'Seekers of the Emerald Moon' or 'Oak Grove Musings.'

Honestly, since I never have had to cope with filtering software, this problem and responses to it were not on my radar. But don't tell me that it is the only reason for some of the extravagant group names one encounters in the Pagan world.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

From Morgue to Magic and Metaphysics

I stopped by the new home of Isis Books on my way to INATS last June 30.

It's the third home for the Denver area's oldest Pagan-oriented bookstore, now about thirty years old.

Chatting with owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison, I asked her what the building at 2775 South Broadway used to be -- Google Maps still shows it as a plain commercial building with columns in front -- until Karen and her husband Jeff turned them into Egyptian pillars.

"A morgue," she said. "The stained glass was already here when we moved in."

They have remodeled the former morgue garage into a set of little offices/therapy rooms that are rented out to various counselors, massage therapists, etc., which is why the sign out front now says "Healing Oasis."

The bookstore is in what used to be the chapel, and there is plenty of room for the mail-order operation.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Casual Labor at the New Age Trade Show

So as I was saying, I briefly visited the INATS West show yesterday, in the capacity of day labor to help the Zells take down their booth on its last afternoon.

(You sit on the curb in front of the liquor store until a guy wearing a wizard's hat and driving a van with California plates comes along and says, "Hey, want to eat at an Ethiopian restaurant?")

The "Street of the Idol-Makers" was shorter than last year's version, due partly to Sacred Source now being owned by the same people as Maxine Miller Studios, or so I'm told.

The emphatically Pagan switch plate on the right was at Dryad Design's booth. Paul Borda has also designed a Green Man version, where the switch forms his tongue.

And suddenly it's all over. Dropped steel pipes from someone's exhibit frame ring like tolling bells. Castles, temples, and crystal caves lined up in rows collapse into bags and shrink-wrapped pallets. The 4-Wheel Parts Truck Fest needs to set up next.


"Order Your Crystal Skulls Now"

Accompanied by a photo of Indiana Jones, that was the message at a rock-and-crystal dealer's booth that I saw yesterday at the INATS West trade show, whose slogan is Connecting Business, Spirit & Sales.

In case you are unsure, microscopic examination shows that the famous crystal skulls were produced on 19th-century machinery. Learn more here.

They do not contain messages from the Pleiadean Brotherhood, street maps of downtown Atlantis, or proof that Elvis and Jesus were the same being.

(Well, maybe I could argue the last in a freewheeling archetypal way. Alcohol not necessary but helpful.)