Friday, February 27, 2009

Awaiting a Movie about Hypatia

Hypatia of Alexandria, born c. 355 (?) and murdered by a Christian mob in 415, was a Neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician—math and philosophy were more intertwined then than they are today.

Her life and death are part of the plot of Agora, a forthcoming movie directed by Alejandro Amenábar. You can see a trailer here (thanks to Jason Pitzl-Waters for the tip).

Her killers were fired up by one Cyril, a bishop of Alexandria and now a saint of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Hypatia, after all, was not a Christian, was upper-class, was an intellectual, and worst of all, was a female intellectual.

(Patriarch issues fatwa, followers riot and kill -- the usual pattern.)

In the movie, a slave falls in love with Hypatia. Not very likely: one of the old stories told about her is that when one of her students was attracted to her, she threw a used menstrual rag in his face. It was a philosophical lesson--that he should love eternal beauty, not the beauty of the flesh.

Hypatia of Alexandria is supposed to be a good reconstructed biography. For a shorter discussion of sources about her life, go here.

I want to see Agora but I am also a little afraid to see it. It might push too many buttons. Sometimes I think the fourth century CE is still with us in the cultural-religious conflicts we see around us.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gallimaufry with Ink

¶ Kitty Burns Florey advocates teaching handwriting in schools: "Educators I talked to claim that kids master reading more easily when they write a word as they learn it: the writing process keeps their attention focused as they match symbol to sound."

¶ In my former home of Manitou Springs, Colo., a goddess figure is re-named.

¶ I knew about Graham Harvey's book Animism: Respecting the Living World,but I did not realize that he had created an excellent Web site to go with it.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thorn and Pagan Magazine Publishing

I like magazines. I have worked for three, owned one (still going), and sold freelance articles to a bunch of others. I taught university classes in magazine-writing and production.

So when Vol. 1, No. 1 of Thorn, subtitled Paganism in the Silicon Age, hit my mailbox, I was eager to read it.

Having made various cynical comments in the past about "Wicca as fashion statement," I was a little amused to see two fashion layouts in the magazine. One, "Creation Myth: Intelligent Designs from the Descendants of the Sun Gods," showcased Peruvian textiles. The models looked like models, and I am not sure where the photos came from. (Ex-editor that I am, I always look closely at credits, trying to determine what was in-house content and what was not.)

More fashion. The magazine's centerspread, "Phos: Primal Wear in the Forest," shows two designer/models looking sullen and "alternative" in their own designs. No word on where to buy them--or if you can--whereas the Peruvian clothes were at Saks.

Don't get me wrong. I like Thorn. It's a generational thing—in the publishing sense.

Having worked much of last summer on Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal, I had plenty of time to reflect on its content. Green Egg was -- and is -- about visions of Pagan spirituality and culture, much of it speculative.

Thorn, however, takes Pagan culture for granted. As far as I can tell, that is a Good Thing. Not that such culture is a finished product, no way. And it is still minuscule in the overall picture. But it exists.

The magazine has good writers, a wide range of articles, and most of all, the opportunity to help define what Pagan culture is. Blogs like this one are fast but fragmented. Books can take a long-range thoughtful look at what has happened and what might happen. Magazines, meanwhile, have enough lead time to get thoughtful articles but come out frequently enough to be more or less current.

From a media point of view, I think there should be a place for Thorn—and for its competitors, such as PanGaia, newWitch, and, yes, Green Egg.

I like the fact that you can subscribe with PayPal, but being conservative about these things, I would include a blow-in or bind-in card for people who want to use other payment methods.

Since Thorn is published quarterly, it is alternating print issues with online issues--the February 2009 issue is now available, with a report from PantheaConm, an interview with paranormal-romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon, and a thoughtful piece on the threat from racial-supremacists to the Pagan movement.

I have mixed feelings about this approach. Magazine-guru Samir Husni, a journalism professor who studies the industry, pans the whole e-zine concept: "So it is beyond me to understand why people, very creative people, spend so much time to create what they call “e-zines” that do nothing but imitate ink on paper."

He wants the Web to do what it does well—short prose, sound, video—and print to do what it does well.

Green Egg has switched to sending subscribers a PDF file of the print magazine—you print it yourself. Switch email addresses, though, and you're in trouble.

I want there to be a place for print magazines with good artwork and articles that you can curl up with, so I subscribed to Thorn and wish it well.

A publisher friend of mine says that Sunset magazine helped define "Southern California" for a generation. We need the Pagan magazines to do the same for Pagan culture generally.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

A Cathedral Re-discovers Mystical Religion

My laugh-out-loud moment Sunday came when reading an article in the Denver Post titled "Finding Faith in the Wilderness." (The full name of the Episcopal cathedral in Denver is St. John's in the Wilderness.)

Below, dozens of candles flicker near icons in the dark nave. Incense hangs in the air. Congregants can choose to sit in a pew or on thick cushions at the foot of a simple altar. A stringed Moroccan oud gives even traditional songs of praise an exotic twist, but there is also world music, chant and jazz.

"We're using the cathedral in new ways, making it more inviting and even sensual," said the Rev. Peter Eaton. "It's meant to celebrate and bring alive all the human senses. We think that, in metro Denver, there is nothing else like us."

In other words, a "a more mystical and meditative feeling than what big-box churches or traditional Protestant services provide." In other words, liturgy, sacred theatre -- what they used to be good at before the Episcopalians developed a bad case of Vatican II-envy back in the 1960s and started trying to be "relevant."

I have quoted anthropologist Harvey Whitehouse's distinction between "episodic" and "doctrinal" religion before. Sacred theatre is episodic. Having processions with torches and banners is episodic. (Clifton's Third Law of Religion: All real religions have torchlight processions.)

The point of this post is not to make fun of Episcopalians, however. I merely want to emphasize the point that vivid experiences count for more than doctrine or theologizing. We Pagans should not forget that fact.

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Handbook of Contemporary Paganism in Print

My contributor copy of the new Handbook of Contemporary Paganism from Brill arrived. (You can tell from the price that it is intended primarily for the institutional market.) Here is the table of contents:
"The Modern Magical Revival," Nevill Drury

"The Influence of Aleister Crowley on Gerald Gardner and the Early Witchcraft Movement," Henrik Bogdan

"Earth Day and Afterwards: American Paganism’s Appropriation of ‘Nature Religion'," Chas S. Clifton

"Re-enchanting the World: A Weberian Analysis of Wiccan Charisma," Robert Puckett

"Contemporary Paganism by the Numbers," Helen A. Berger

“'A Religion Without Converts' Revisited: Individuals, Identity and Community in Contemporary Paganism," Síân Reid

"The Wild Hunt: A Mythological Language of Magic," Susan Greenwood

"Reclamation, Appropriation and the Ecstatic Imagination in Modern Pagan Ritual," Sabina Magliocco

"Alchemical Rhythms: Fire Circle Culture and the Pagan Festival," J. Lawton Winslade

"Pagan Theology," Michael York

"Drawing Down the Goddess: The Ancient {Female} Deities of Modern Paganism," Marguerite Johnson

"The Return of the Goddess: Mythology, Witchcraft and Feminist Spirituality," Carole M. Cusack

"Witches’ Initiation—A Feminist Cultural Therapeutic?" Jone Salomonsen

"Animist Paganism," Graham Harvey

"Heathenry," Jenny Blain and Robert J. Wallis

"New/Old Spiritualities in the West: Neo-Shamans and Neo-Shamanism," Dawne Sanson

"Australian Paganisms," Douglas Ezzy

"Celts, Druids and the Invention of Tradition," James R. Lewis

"Magical Children and Meddling Elders: Paradoxical Patterns in Contemporary Pagan Cultural Transmission," Murphy Pizza

"Of Teens and Tomes: The Dynamics of TeenageWitchcraft and Teen Witch Literature," Hannah E. Johnston

"Rooted in the Occult Revival: Neo-Paganism’s Evolving Relationship with Popular Media," Peg Aloi

"Weaving a Tangled Web? Pagan Ethics and Issues of History, ‘Race’ and Ethnicity in Pagan Identity," Ann-Marie Gallagher

"‘Sacred’ Sites, Artefacts and Museum Collections: Pagan Engagements with Archaeology in Britain, "Robert J. Wallis and Jenny Blain

"Wolf Age Pagans," Mattias Gardell

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Youth without Youth

My movie-fu was strong the other night. I watched the opening sequence of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth without Youth (2007), all dissolving clocks and such, and said to M., "It's the 'terror of history.' Where is Mircea Eliade when we need him?"

And it turned out to be made from one of Eliade's novellas.

I have read most of his religious-studies books but (I think) only The Forbidden Forest and The Old Man and the Bureaucrats from among his fictional works.

Bryan Rennie, who has written several books on Eliade, summarizes Eliade's views on time and history:

Eliade contends that the perception of time as an homogenous, linear, and unrepeatable medium is a peculiarity of modern and non-religious humanity. Archaic or religious humanity (homo religiosus), in comparison, perceives time as heterogenous; that is, as divided between profane time (linear), and sacred time (cyclical and reactualizable). By means of myths and rituals which give access to this sacred time religious humanity protects itself against the 'terror of history', a condition of helplessness before the absolute data of historical time, a form of existential anxiety.

When I was in graduate school in the 1980s, two of my professors had been Eliade's students at Chicago, and although they had developed their own ideas, his influence lingered. One brought him to our campus for what must have been one of his last talks and book-signings; the whole event had a rather funereal atmosphere even though the the guest of honor was still breathing.

So what about the movie?

I said that Pan's Labyrinth was gnostic, but this one is more so, in a different sense.

The key to appreciating Youth without Youth then is the idea of circularity and return. It is a love story, but not a linear story. Nor is it (except briefly) about reincarnation in an obvious way. Its dream-logic tries to confront the time-trap of mundane life.

Perhaps if Indiana Jones were a cinematic historian of religion rather than an archaeologist, he would be in this movie. It has Nazis too. But there would be no hair's-breadth escapes.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Not Being a Textual Religion

People who think that a "real religion" has holy books often do not understand Paganism, whether old or now.

Gus diZerega, who is now blogging at BeliefNet, takes on that attitude in his latest post, "A Pagan View on Sacred Authority."

Fundamentally we are an oral and experiential tradition. We Wiccans have Books of Shadows, but they are more like ritual cookbooks that sacred texts along Biblical or even theological lines. Similar texts dominate in Brazil among the African Diasporic traditions. Dogma is not particularly important, compared to ritual and experience. This also appears to have been the case in [ancient] Rome.

Read the whole thing.

Incidentally, it is good to see that BeliefNet has a Pagan blogger again. It used to be me, but I was purged along with other non-monotheists. Now the site's owners seem to be trying to broaden its blogroll once again. You still have to scroll to the very very bottom to find the Pagan blogger.

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The Scourge of Fundamentalists Everywhere

It is the time of year when fundamentalists of various sorts get their (Brit.) knickers in a twist over Valentine's Day.

In India, said knickers will be pink, thanks to an ingenious counter-protest.

Aphrodite will not be denied.


Monday, February 02, 2009

Review: Good Witches Fly Smoothly

There are a lot of books about religious Wicca out there. There are a lot of books about practical magic, spells, etc. There are very few books about what happens next, but Good Witches Fly Smoothly: Surviving Witchcraft is one of them.

Mistake 27: Using a mind key that can be misinterpreted. (Otherwise known as the Law of Unintended Consequences or "be careful what you ask for." Here's my version.)

Whether it is called witchcraft or sorcery, the material taught by Gavin and Yvonne Frost through their School of Wicca has always been highly practical. Gavin did start out as an engineer, after all.

Mistake 35: Helping nonentities with no credentials to inflate their egos.

Good Witches Fly Smoothly distills several decades' worth of magical tales from their own experience and those of their students.

"In each case," they write, "the outcome was unexpected. In each case, authors' analysis reveals what went wrong and why."

Mistake 78: The mistake Flo made was believing everything Chester, as a [spirit] guide, told her without keeping her mind in gear.

If you have ever suffered through some vague airy ritual for "healing the planet" or "world peace," you will appreciate this book. It is practical to its fingertips.

Mistake 88: The intent of the ritual became polluted because they felt they had to have the orgasm to achieve the goal. No orgasm, no car was the assumption.

I have sprinkled four of the authors' summaries through this brief review. There are 99 of them in the book. Get it and read them all.

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