Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gallimaufry with Stamps on It

¶ The US Postal Service threatens to cut Saturday delivery, blaming the economy. I have been doing my part for the USPS--I started selling stuff on eBay. eBay must be the best thing to happen to the Postal Service in the last decade--all those people sending packages.

¶ An elaborate Web site about ancient Egypt, although perhaps it was created just to sell Egyptian-themed jewelry.

Ten myths about copyright. Do you know what "fair use" really means?

¶ Also on a literary theme: Neil Gaiman's thoughts on literary agents. My answer to the question, "How do you get an agent?" is "Try your friends' agents first." That may sound like a chicken-and-egg response, but in my experience, writers hang out with other writers. Or writing teachers.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Gallimaufry with Old Bones

¶ Some British Pagans want to rebury a 4,000-year-old skeleton. It seems to me that they are just parroting NAGRPA language without realizing that (to borrow from another blogger) that the Archbishop of Canterbury has as much "blood" claim to the bones as they do.

¶ George Plimpton was an American writer of what was once called "new journalism" and is now called creative nonfiction. But this article about him in The Nation also points out to what extent famous literary journals were subsidized by the CIA as part of the culture war with the Soviet Union. Who says our government does not support the arts?

¶ Anne Hill defines "California Cosmology" and its evil twin.

Apparently "analog" now means "natural." I missed that.

So is the “planetary consciousness” of neotribal gatherings like Boom just window dressing for the same old hedonistic consumption and pursuit of distraction? Perhaps. But as a self-consciously visionary environment, Boom necessarily foreshadowed the apocalypse as much as the eco-dream.

¶ A wall painting at the Neolithic town of Catal Huyuk was often called the world's oldest map. But what if it is not a map at all? Would that mean that map-making was not practiced by "peaceful ancient matriarchies" but was invented by them evil Kurgans?

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Pagan Studies at AAR 2009

For lack of an original post today, here are the "calls" for the sessions at next November's American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal that involve Pagan Studies.

At some time I want to discuss here where our little sub-discipline might be going, but it won't be today -- I just have too much on my desk.

Given disciplinary boundaries, getting the joint session with Indigenous Religious Traditions was a bit of a coup. It meant overcoming some people's resistance to the "P-word."

Contemporary Pagan Studies Group

This Group invites proposals that address the issue of idolatry, namely, examining the roles that material objects have played in religious life - in particular, the inventive strategies that people and/or cultures have used in their attempts to create images of and for worship. For a second session, we request papers that investigate the influence of literature, especially science fiction/fantasy, on contemporary paganisms. Papers that stress mutually interdependent relations are also welcome. In addition, a joint session of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group and this Group will consider papers that explore common or shared perspectives in sacred practices. Each tradition has a heritage of employing tangible material in activities of reverence, ritual, worship, etc. We invite papers that help us understand where, how, and if the overlaps are truly shared perspectives.

Indigenous Religious Traditions Group

This Group continues to be interested in the utility or difficulties of Western conceptual categories - sacred, cosmology, possession, and others. We are also interested in the conceptualization of "indigenous;" including the invention/production of new indigenous religions. We invite paper submissions that engage the idea of "encounters" between indigenous cultural communities and groups of/from Western civilization, between indigenous communities and other non-Western cultures. In these broad perspectives, we will receive research-based papers focused on cultural and religious exchanges between encountering groups. Special preference will be given to papers that highlight exchanges that have occurred in Canada. In a joint session with the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, we invite abstracts on tangible sacrality in the performance of ritual or worship. This proposed joint session seeks to explore perspectives on whether contemporary paganism and indigenous religious traditions could or should share a mutual discourse.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Copyediting Religion

Orthographic payback is a bitch.

For years--starting when I wrote for Gnosis in the 1980s--I was one of those pushing for the capitalization of the words Witch and Pagan when used to describe first, the followers of the new, self-consciously created polytheistic mystery religion and, second, Pagan as a more general term for both old and new polytheism.

When I wrote The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics in the early 1990s, I won the capitalization battle over "Paganism," but lost on changing BC/AD to BCE/CE.

It should be noted that some Pagan scholars prefer "pagan," either because they are English or because they see "paganism" as a way of being religion in which people of all faiths participate. For instance, making a pilgrimage to a saint's tomb is "pagan" in Michael York's view.

But now I am editing and laying out an anthology intended as a college textbook on world religions. And almost everyone has their capitalization quirks.

The writer on Judaism wants write not merely "Israel" but its full diplomatic name: "State of Israel." Oddly enough, she does not insist on "Federal Republic of Germany."

The writer on Mormonism wants to capitalize priesthood, as in Aaronic Priesthood, while all the other contributors lowercase it, e.g., Zoroastrian priesthood.

The writer on Islam has a whole capitalization list for me too. The Baha'i wants Baha'i Faith capitalized--which is fine--but also "faith" when it stands alone. And of course the expert on Christianity wants Church to be "up," even though that runs contrary to the stylebook, which specifies, for instance, "the early church."

And so on.

Unfortunately the The Chicago Manual of Style does not pronounce on all these issues (except "church"), sending me to other sources, such as the The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion, in order to try to keep the book consistent.

Wouldn't it be easier to handle these issues in German, with its capitalization of all nouns, or in Spanish, which is, as we editors say, very "down style"?

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Gallimaufry with Frankincense.

¶ Burn more frankincense in your rituals: it is psychoactive.

¶ From this side of the pond, I would say that if not enough young people are not taking up Morris dancing, they are not getting drunk enough first. (In England?! -- ed.) Will it be only the Pagans and that sort who keep it going?

¶ Five top faked memoirs of recent years.

¶ Aiieee, it's the end of the world! The solar storm will wipe out all our gadgetry!

¶ Aiieee, it's the end of the world! The Ice Age is coming!

So learn some basic skills and have a plan, I reckon. And burn frankincense.

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The Pentagram in 1964

I have more reviews coming, but for now, here is a PDF download of the first issue of The Pentagram, August 1964, price two shillings.

As far as I know, it was the first attempt to create a publication for the various branches of British Witchcraft, then only about fifteen years old, and it lasted but a short time.

Consider the paucity of the reading list on page 3.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mercury is Retrograde--Use It

For the astrologically minded among you, Mercury went retrograde today, meaning that its apparent motion as view from earth is the opposite of normal.

Every time this happens, the Colorado Pagan email group gets a few "Horrors! Mercury is retrograde!" messages. Astrologers like Lynn Hayes have a standard message:

Meanwhile, Mercury turns retrograde on January 11th where it will remain through January 31. Mercury Rx periods are famous for communication glitches and machinery failures. Often these are due to user error, as our brains function differently during the three weeks, four times a year, when Mercury is retrograde. If you must enter into a contract or begin a new job or project during this period, do everything you can ensure that all agreements are clear and in writing. Read all of your instruction manuals, and don't be surprised if your phone messages don't reach their intended destination. Just shrug your shoulders and laugh: "Mercury is retrograde!!"

I find retrograde-Mercury periods refreshing, actually. As someone with a Mercury-ruled horoscope (and therefore an expert, no?) I offer this alternative reading:

In my experience, this is a great time to clear your desk. Write that difficult letter that you put off writing. Tie up loose ends. Keeping plugging along at ongoing projects. Complete some task that you have been meaning to do since whenever.

This is your second chance.


Friday, January 09, 2009

It's Been Linked with the Darkness!

Confront your misgivings! Join the Rev. Peter Owen-Jones, Anglican priest, into this journey into the deepest heart of darkness -- among some ordinary-seeming Australian Witches.

"I'm aware of certain objects, quite frankly, that have always disturbed me."

A giggle-worthy proof that pith-helmet anthropology of religion lives on. Will the Rev. Owen-Jones go skyclad?

(Via Caroline Tully.)

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

A Surrealist Hymn to Aphrodite

Blogger like to write about the weird search terms that bring in readers.

Similarly Sannion turned the subject lines of messages caught in his email spam filter into what amounts to a hymn to Aphrodite Pandemos -- through the Surrealist technique of random assemblage.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Needed: Druids with Scuba Gear

Yes, the news of a possible stone circle under Lake Michigan has been "surprisingly under-reported."

If verified, the carvings could be as much as 10,000 years old – coincident with the post-Ice Age presence of both humans and mastodons in the upper midwest.

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Additional Ways to Read this Blog

On the right side of the page, you will see links for "Letter from Hardscrabble Creek's Atom feed and LiveJournal feed. The RSS feed is here.

I have now added links that let you subscribe to this blog on Kindle and to become a fan on Facebook.

I am not sure what the benefits of becoming a fan on Facebook are, so if you know, enlighten me.


Pagans are not a Community nor a Tribe -- Not Yet

The lively discussion at The Wild Hunt over "moving on from Paganism" should put an end to the notion that Pagans constitute a "tribe" or a "community."

Not yet, anyway. We are still part of modern society with its cafeteria spirituality.

Many Pagans, such as Emma Restall Orr in her book that I recently reviewed, are fond of the idea of "tribe."

Jews, for example, are a tribe (or several). A Jew might never cross the threshold of shul, synagogue, or temple--may even be an avowed atheist--but he or she is still a Jew. Only conversion to one of the other Abrahamic faiths might change that fact -- after a time -- and even then, you still have "crypto-Jews" popping up. (Everyone wants to be special.)

A Navajo Indian might follow traditional religion, Mormonism, some kind of Christianity, or the Peyote Road, but is still a Navajo.

What we have is a network, not a community nor a tribe. Maybe in a few generations that will change, who knows? (For you anthro and sociology majors, it is the Gemeinschaft / Gesellschaft issue, no?)

Everytime I hear someone going on about "the Pagan community," I say to myself, "Not yet." Not when you can walk in and walk out so easily.


Monday, January 05, 2009

Another Reason that I am Glad I Stopped Teaching

Evanthia O. Rosati was in the English-teaching racket longer than I was, and she has heard it all.

Whenever I am at a party or first introduced to anyone, I pray no one will mention my line of work. The party could be at full swing, music loud and the bass shaking the walls. I might be enjoying myself. Then someone says I teach English. All speaking stops as partiers adjust their vocabulary to English teacher level. The gentleman with the chip dip hanging off his cheek is now saying, "From whence I came…." . . . . Playful people become anxious adults once they become aware of the dreaded English teacher in their midst. In desperation, I yell out, "I don't have a shrine to Shakespeare in my backyard." (It's in the side yard; why give away all my secrets?) It's no use. The area clears anyway.

So true. These days I say I am a freelance book editor, which is at least partly true, and most people have no preconception about what I do.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Review: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics

Emma Restall Orr is one of the leading figures of British Druidry, and her book Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics may be seen as an attempt for formalize the vaguely expressed ethical precepts ("If it harm none," etc.) that characterize contemporary Paganism(s).

Orr herself admits that "Paganism can appear fragmented " but that its diversity of belief and approach "is not always helpful those trying to grasp comprehension from the outside" (11). (I think she means, "Comprehend it from the outside.)

As have a number of other Pagan writers, she feels moved to act partly by social pressures. In order for Pagans and their concerns (e.g., "appropriate care of ancient monuments and artefacts"), "it is useful to be able to stand with one voice before the benches of a nation's authority" (11).

She wants to locate her ethics in nature. This "nature" is primarily planetary as opposed to cosmic—and she makes an argument about hurricanes and tsunamis that I would agree with completely: "The *Pagan acceptance of nature's destructive power is not about resignation, but reverence." You can have a relationship with planetary nature, but it is not all about you.

Asterisk-Pagan is Orr's special spelling for a Paganism with "a devotional reverence for nature" (35), and it is essentially countercultural and antinominan, mixed with a heavy dose of romantic tribalism.

But the more I read Living with Honour, the more I became aware of two huge omissions. One is Pagan philosophy. Orr knows that she does not want to return to a bloody, heroic duel-fighting "death before dishonor" type of tribal culture, as appealing as it looks from a distance of 2,500 years. So the book is not really rooted in the Northern European Iron Age cultures, despite a couple of nods in that direction.

Yet she almost completely ignores centuries of Pagan thought on ethics and philosophy from the Greco-Roman tradition!

The Stoics get a paragraph or two, and Epicurus one sentence that demonstrates the common modern misunderstanding of his teaching. The rest of the time, the reader is fed bits of the usual grumpy, depressed, and misogynistic 18th-20th-century gang: Schopenhauer, Hegel, Nietszche. (I will make an exception for Emmanual Lévinas, whose work has informed some other contemporary Pagan thought as well.)

The ancient philosophers ranged from the hardest of "hard polytheists" to skeptical materialists like Epicurus to the "honor the gods and do your duty" attitude of the Roman Stoics. And they had a great deal to say about living ethically in friendship, in marriage, and in civic life--even when (as under the worst emperors) one was caught up in a corrupt governmental system.

Why leave them out in favor of Schopenhauer, Martin Buber, or A.J. Ayer?

By contrast, Orr's book says much about cosmos and "the Other" in an abstract sense, but neglects the polis—the world of civic and social relationships. That is the second omission.

It may be that Orr finds participatory politics distasteful--"American democracy is acknowledged as a farce," she proclaims (6)--and would rather limit her wants and watch badgers. (Doing so would be Epicurean in the truer sense.) She admits to a fondness for philosophical anarchism.

But by neglecting the "political" (in the broadest sense of life in community) part of life, she has nothing to say on issues of rights and responsibilities, on how to be an engaged and "political" citizen.

Indeed, she rejects "any idea of duty" (323). If I ever have to teach another 8 a.m. lecture class but would rather sleep, I will remember that I have no duty to the university or to my students. I can just send them a group email and tell them to read the book on their own.

When Pagans (and *Pagans) come before "the benches of nation's authority," we need to make a simple case. Although a tiny religious minority, we will pull our weight. We do not ask for to be excused for our specialness, with sharia courts and kicking everyone else out of the public swimming pool.

Unlike fundamentalists of various sorts, we do not fear academic learning--Pagans invented the academy. And democracy. And Western philosophy.

Many of us are willing to take up arms for our nation, and we support our warriors. In all social realms, we are here, and we participate.

Thus, while I find much to like in Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics--I do enjoy seeing intelligent writers wrestle with the issue of just what "nature religion" is--I cannot help but see it as crippled by its rejection of still-relevent Pagan ethical traditions.

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