Saturday, September 27, 2008

Packing for Cold and Beasts

As a post-equinoctal thunderstorm comes over the ridge, M. and I are packing for a little road trip to see some charismatic megafauna.

I have checked my camera gear, but I really should test the bear spray. (You can guess where we are headed.)

Blogging will be slow or sporadic for the next week.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

Encountering the Evil Librarian

She is evil because when I stopped by her office for a chat, she forced me to look at four large cartons of books recently "weeded" from the university's literature and criticism shelves, forced me, I tell you, with the magic words, "They're free. Take as many as you want."

Many (not all) were by little-known writers and critics of the 1890s-1920s. I knew of George Moore, of course, and also recognized the seagoing novelist William McFee, because I had been given one of his tramp-steamer novels, In the First Watch (1946), as a kid. Here was a book of his magazine pieces, Swallowing the Anchor (1925).

And the rest of my finds:

Pierre and His People: Tales of the Far North (1894) by a Canadian, Gilbert Parker, who turns out to have been a British propagandist, working in secret to bring the United States into World War One.

Avowals (1919) by George Moore, the Irish novelist and poet.

Light Freights (1901) by W.W. Jacobs, best known for one of the most chilling short stories of all time, "The Monkey's Paw," but chiefly a writer of sea stories.

The Phantom Future (1897), by Henry Seton Merriman, which Wikipedia says was the pen name of one Hugh Scott, a popular novelist at the turn of the last century.

One box also held a six-volume collection of the poems of Algernon Swinburne, the Decadent and somewhat small-p pagan poet of the Victorian era.

But someone had already spoken for them: the very Catholic Irish-American literature professor, a great admirer of Cardinal Newman, etc. Given Swinburne's heretical and fairly erotic writing -- lots of sex and death -- you might say he was an original Goth -- is this a window into Professor X's secret kinky side?


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Shamanism and PTSD

A recent article in the weekly Colorado Springs Independent discusses using Michael Harner-style (I assume) shamanic techniques for veterans with PTSD.

Haggins says alternative practices heal what regular therapy cannot. Through shamanic ritual, he says, he can literally return a part of a soul shed on the battlefield. This is the procedure that Unverzagt, hesitantly, agreed to undergo in January.


Friday, September 19, 2008

Crossing a Different Divide

A typical prairie slough in the Sheyenne River drainage. Cookie, a German wirehaired pointer, is looking for sharp-tailed grouse.

I left my hosts' home in North Dakota on Wednesday for the two-day drive home. On I-94 east of Jamestown, N.D., I saw a sign proclaiming the Continental Divide, elevation 1,400-something feet.

"What the hell?" I thought, being a good Coloradan. "What is the Continental Divide doing here? And so low!"

Then it hit me: I had spent the previous few days along and near the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River of the North, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, which in turn discharges into Hudson Bay.

In other words, I had just crossed from the Arctic Ocean drainage back into the Atlantic Ocean's. Almost immediately the land became drier, with fewer sloughs, and I started spotting a few center-pivot sprinklers. Yikes, the Arctic! And without even entering Canada.

Autumn, however, has progressed farther here in southern Colorado: willows and Gambel oaks are turning color.


Monday, September 15, 2008

The Pulley that Broke the Plains

Photo by Chas S. Clifton

A close-up of pulleys and chains on that operated an old McCormick combine, one designed to be tractor-pulled rather than self-propelled.

I am no expert on agricultural implements, but I suspect that it dates from the 1950s, no later.

It seems to be part of the prairie aesthetic to park obsolete threshing machines, etc., on tops of knolls, either as local landmarks or memorials to farming as it was. (Or because the nearest scrap-metal dealer is 70 miles away.) This one is near Finley, North Dakota.

This post's title is a weak allusion to the movie The Plow that Broke the Plains, made during the Dust Bowl and something anyone interested in North American ecology should watch.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Prairie Fog

Two days ago: morning fog creeping west from the Missouri River, south of Fort Pierre, South Dakota.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

On the Road

Blogging will be sketchy for the next week, as I am on the road, my destination being first, a small town and an old friend in eastern North Dakota -- and then possibly the Turtle Mountain area of that state.

Tonight I fetched up in Valentine, Nebraska (more than halfway there!), which in some respects is a typical Plains town that smells like cows and diesel fuel, but which is surrounded by some fascinating country, including the Sand Hills.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Windy Wedding Day

I conducted the fourth wedding of my priestly career (joke) today. This one, unlike the first two, might last.

The bride and groom did all the work, really. All I had to do was gather the spectators and read a couple of Wendell Berry poems in competition with the west wind.

The couple had chosen a breezy ridge top with an ohmygawd view of the upper Huerfano Valley and the Sangre de Cristo range.

Like champagne, Black Forest cake packs a bigger wallop at 10,000 feet than it does at sea level.

M. and I had to drive up through our favorite mushroom-hunting territory to get there. We took a brief stroll in the woods on the way down--saw nothing good.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Fairies of Torchwood

I never joined the Doctor Who cult, although I had friends who remembered every episode and could debate whether Peter Davison made a better Doctor than William Hartnell.

At a post-INATS dinner, however, a publisher friend said that I had to see Torchwood, a Doctor Who spin-off. He compared it to the X-Files. Netflix had it, so I ordered Season One (2006).

We-l-l-l. The X-Files it's not. Underneath the aliens and "time rifts" and occasional goriness, it's not as dark--there is not the sense of hopelessness against greater forces and the personal doubts that pervade the world of agents Scully and Mulder.

In fact, every time that I see the four main Torchwood operatives running down the street -- they seem to run a lot, for running and frenetic music cover up plot slippages and cheesy special effects -- I want to sing along, "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees."

But I heartily approved of the episode called "Small Worlds."

Every time I see someone who gets all mushy about fairies, I want to remind them, "The fairies are not your friends, anymore than the coyotes are your friends." You can interact with them, but under other circumstances they would eat you. They are a different life form, and they are not All About Us.

Labels: ,

Review: Written in Wine

Dionysos, writes Sannion of the Library of Neos Alexandria, "is a maddeningly complex god to figure out." And so he gets an anthology: poetry, fiction, hymns, essays, ritual from a group of Hellenic revivalist Pagans: Written in Wine: A Devotional Anthology for Dionysos

I like that approach for several reasons.

For one, contemporary Pagans must remember that our model of clergy is different from those of the monotheists. We start with service to deity, which is not the same as "pastoring" (herding sheep).

For another, we are drawn (or chosen) by different deities at different times. Sometimes, as Wiccan writer Judy Harrow says of herself, we are "serial henotheists."

Harrow herself produced an excellent book in 2003, Devoted To You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice — the title is a slight misnomer, since two of four contributors, Alexei Kondratiev and Maureen Reddington-Wilde, are reconstructionist Pagans.

I once said that we needed poets, not theologians, and much of the poetry in Written in Wine is good stuff. Theokleia's "Come Dionysus" needs to be chanted by drunken, torch-lit devotees, while the collection also includes new translations of some ancient hymns to Dionysos as well.

The book includes stories and essays as well: I was impressed by Sarah Kate Istra Winter's "What It Means to be a Maenad" and, somewhat parallel to it, Tim Ward's "Dionysos on Skyros" with its questions of how a man moving toward middle age might still manifest the god.

I mentioned Ginette Paris, known for three excellent works of polytheistic psychology: Wisdom of the Psyche: Depth Psychology after Neuroscience, Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia, and Pagan Grace: Dionysus, Hermes, and Goddess Memory in Daily Life.

Those books can help you see how divine energies penetrate the psyche and also manifest unexpectedly in everyday life, but Written in Wine is for the times when you want to call them forth—now!

Labels: , ,

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Polytheism and Punctuation

Have you seen the new ads for Gillette's Venus-brand razors?

Do you think some copywriter once read some classic of pop-psychological polytheism, such as Goddesses in Everywoman: Powerful Archetypes in Women's Lives?

Or perhaps more amazingly, what if someone read Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia?

Gods below! Polytheistic myth as psychology -- in the marketplace!

Note the correct use of the apostrophe-in-direct-address in the Gillette page's title bar. A lot of sloppy writers forget that punctuation can have a semantic purpose. There is quite a bit of difference between "Let's eat, Susan" and "Let's eat Susan."


Monday, September 01, 2008

Lucifer Rising

I took a little trip back into the 1970s today to watch occult/underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising.

It is not about Satanism but more about invoking energies of nature, a highly symbolic short film with not a word of dialog on the soundtrack.

Or you could say that it is about the aesthetics of ceremonial magick.

You can watch a low-quality version online, but I rented it as part of a Kenneth Anger collection from Netflix.

Even the story of its music is a masterpiece of Psychedelic Age gossip, involving a composer imprisoned for murder as part of the Manson Family, after Anger's first choice, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, failed to deliver.

Another article on Anger's use of color symbolism is here.

Labels: ,