Friday, September 25, 2009

Did a 'Pagan' Bury the Staffordshire Hoard?

The "Staffordshire Hoard" is a cache of 7th-century Anglo-Saxon sword jewels and other items recently found in England (and a great boost for metal-detector sales, no doubt).

The caption on one slide of the golden hoard suggests that because a gold cross was folded in on itself before burial, the person who buried the treasure might well have been (wait for it) a "pagan."

England was becoming Christian by then, although the Norse were not. But I think he (?), whether Pagan or Christian, might as well have been looking at the cross as so much gold rather than superstitiously thinking he would be smitten if he deformed it.

Here is another slide show. Magnificent stuff. How long until we see Ren Faire reproductions?

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Web Ouija

The Museum of Talking Boards is a online museum of Ouija boards and related items.

And there is an online Ouija board too. Not the same as two 13-year-olds with a candle, though. (Pointy-hat tip to Pitch.)

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

I Got the Whole Nine Yards, Scot Free

Nine well-known phrases whose origin most people get wrong.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Thor versus the Cathedrals

A complete translation of psychologist Carl Jung's personal workbook, the "Red Book," is about to be published.

Some people feel that nobody should read the book, and some feel that everybody should read it. The truth is, nobody really knows. Most of what has been said about the book — what it is, what it means — is the product of guesswork, because from the time it was begun in 1914 in a smallish town in Switzerland, it seems that only about two dozen people have managed to read or even have much of a look at it.

Of those who did see it, at least one person, an educated Englishwoman who was allowed to read some of the book in the 1920s, thought it held infinite wisdom — “There are people in my country who would read it from cover to cover without stopping to breathe scarcely,” she wrote — while another, a well-known literary type who glimpsed it shortly after, deemed it both fascinating and worrisome, concluding that it was the work of a psychotic.

So for the better part of the past century, despite the fact that it is thought to be the pivotal work of one of the era’s great thinkers, the book has existed mostly just as a rumor, cosseted behind the skeins of its own legend — revered and puzzled over only from a great distance.

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters calls it the "most important grimoire of our modern age."

Orthodox Christian blogger Rod "Crunchy Con" Dreher essentially thinks it will release gnostic demons, leading to the downfall of Christian civilization.

Gnostic and occult ideas are obviously the predominant feature of Jungian thought. Nonetheless, most people remain unaware of the fact that the occult ideas on which Jung worked were hardly original discoveries of his, as Jung leaves the impression they were; such ideas were ubiquitous in the decaying culture centers of Middle Europe in the years prior to World War II. Most people remain equally unaware that occult practices also lie at the heart of Jung's own theory, clinical practice, and inner experiences. For the most part this is because these ideas have been presented in the Jungian literature, are explained in Jungian training, and when they appear in patients' dreams will be interpreted almost exclusively in symbolic terms, not literally. So, for example, an alchemical picture of a man and woman coupling in a bath-or a dream of something similar-will be taken solely as a metaphor, of a "union of opposites."

It can and should be argued that even so, these occult ideas tend to undermine moral standards.

Dreher goes all Lovecraftian on this one, as do some commenters.

Since I have a lovely equinoctial head cold, I think that I shall crawl into bed with some bourbon-fortified coffee and re-read the whole New York Times article about the new edition.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Not-Quite-Pagan 'Pioneer Day' Parade

Think of a typical American small-town parade: the Apple Queen and her court in a convertible, the honorary marshalls (some respected elderly couple) in an antique car, the high-school band kids' faces earnest and nervous under their shakos, Shriners in miniature cars, a military vehicle or two, horses, alpacas, old tractors, Boy Scouts, a gaggle of Model A Fords, local political candidates, the Christian Motorcyclists Association on their holy Harleys . . .

My foothills volunteer fire department has put our brush truck in the parade. We are four adults—two men, two women (one a firefighter and the other a wife of)—and a gaggle of kids in home-produced T-shirts with the department's name.

We are toward the back of the line-up, so I have plenty of time to pace up and down beside the truck, wondering if such as parade fits any of Michael York's definition of Pagan cultic practice or if it would do better as "pagan" in Camille Paglia' sense--which has more to do with the body, with display, with the Dionysian--than with any sort of formal polytheism.

We are not too Dionysian here—I will walk alongside the truck tossing hard candies and bubble gum to the kids on the curb—not like a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade with the doubloons, beads, and sexual interplay.

But despite the "praise band" on a trailer up ahead and the aforementioned motorcyclists, it is more a day for the Classical virtues than the Christian ones.

If an ethnographer could write a "thick description" of the parade in the style of Clifford Geertz, how many layers there would be!

For one thing, our fire department's participation in the parade began relatively recently, three or four years ago, as part of the asst. chief's campaign of professionalization and getting the larger town's dept. to take us more seriously in mutual-aid situations.

And having led the parade with their apparatus, now parked in a side street, those guys sit in lawn chairs in front of the firehouse and grin and wave as we pass by.

I spot M. on the sidewalk outside our favorite coffeehouse (just where I would have expected her to be) and hand her a sucker, which Fisher will later snatch off the kitchen counter and eat, wrapper and all, giving himself cherry breath.

When we re-unite at home, she tells me that the parade seemed "interminable" and that she had wondered awhile if she had somehow missed our unit, which in fact was 84th out of about a hundred.

And she spoke of seeing the old guys from the state veterans' home, riding on folding chairs on a flatbed truck, how when she saw them pass by she unexpectedly broke into tears. (Me too.)

As the man said, Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal: But the good name never dies of one who has done well.

Those are the virtues we celebrate, proceeding down Main Street under a bright southern Colorado sun.

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Fisher at Carhenge

On the way home from North Dakota, Fisher and I stopped at Carhenge. The Wikipedia article compares it to its inspiration in England.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Can't Stop Chuckling...

... about the prospect of riding with the other volunteer firefighters in a nearby town's "Pioneer Days" parade tomorrow. How long since I was in a parade?

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Go Ask Alice

("We had Psychedelia," M. says. "And what do they have now? Tweeting!")


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Late Harvest

Church sign in Finley, North Dakota. Photo by Chas S. Clifton
Pastor Flaten displays a firm grip of the obvious, this week when the sound of grain driers dominates the town and grain cars clank on the railroad tracks. That sermon will just write itself, you betcha.

The actual harvest—the one that feeds us—is running late, however.

All of this is prelude to saying that I am on the road, but more serious blogging will resume in a few days.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood is Older than You Think

The story of Little Red Riding Hood, usually dated to the 16th or 17th century, may be much older, says an anthropologist who studied multiple versions from around the world.

Professor Jack Zipes, a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota who is an expert on fairy tales and their origins, described [Dr. Jamie Tehrani's] work as “exciting”. He believes folk tales may have helped people to pass on tips for survival to new generations.

He said: “Little Red Riding Hood is about violation or rape, and I suspect that humans were just as violent in 600 BC as they are today, so they will have exchanged tales about all types of violent acts.

“I have tried to show that tales relevant to our adaptation to the environment and survival are stored in our brains and we consistently use them for all kinds of reference points.”

I had heard it argued lot of the classic European fairy tales reflect the social destruction of the Thirty Years War (1618–1648)--disease, fighting, looting.

But apparently "Little Red Riding Hood" counts as ancient Pagan wisdom.

(Via Arts and Letters Daily.)


Sunday, September 06, 2009

Paganism is Fa-abulous

So says the News of the World, so consider the source.

Both Emma and Amie are in the throes of planning their weddings for next year - or hand-fastings, as they're called in pagan circles, because the couple's hands are tied together during the ceremony.

Both are planning outdoor ceremonies officiated by a high priest and priestess, using pagan vows they'll compose themselves. Emma's gown will be green "to symbolise new beginnings", while Amie has plumped for a purple medieval-style dress, followed by a hog roast on the beach. Conventional it isn't - but if paganism continues to grow, hand-fastings could be the next big thing.

Emma has Pagan tattoos!

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Pagan Census, revisited

Three researchers are working to update Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, originally published in 2003.

Helen Berger, one of the researchers, writes, "This survey builds on an earlier one completed over twenty years ago, primarily in the United States, which was conducted by Helen A. Berger and Andras Arthen (of the EarthSpirit Community) entitled the Pagan Census.

"A number of scholars have noted that it would be helpful to have a follow-up of that survey to see if and how the community has changed or remained the same. The survey that follows uses many, although not all of the same questions that were in the original survey to provide that comparison. There are also new questions, for instance about the Internet, something that was of little interest 20 years ago but is now, and some from other studies, that again permit a comparison. This has resulted in the survey being somewhat long--we appreciate your taking the time to complete it."

Please feel free to spread this URL around the Pagan Web to get as wide a variety of respondents as possible.

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Steampunk Challenge

Entries in a steampunk design challenge. I rather like "Amazon 1821." And this one. There are multiple pages.

I suppose it was reading The Witches of Chiswick that made me a fan of the genre -- Her Majesty's Electric Fusiliers and all that. (Via Boing Boing.)


Friday, September 04, 2009

Rivers of (True) Blood.

Ever resolutely two years behind the pop-culture curve, M. and I recently watched some of True Blood, season 1. We had already read a little of Charlaine Harris (one novel for me, two for her), so we knew about the whole Sookie Stackhouse milieu of "vamps" and "weres" and Harris' whole bodice-ripping-and-biting atmosphere.

We knew, for example, that the collie dog was really Sam the restaurant owner, who is a were-collie. (Our collie is a ninja collie--much easier to deal with.)

(If Louisiana did not exist, would it be necessary to invent it?)

Partway through the opening sequence, we realized thatTrue Blood was based on Harris' novels, and our expectations immediately cratered. Been there, done that.

But it ... like Buffy ... like Twilight ... has the critics wondering, "What's with this vampire craze, anyway?"

When “True Blood” appeared, it was easy to assume it was a metaphor for late-stage capitalism gone haywire, not simply because it began with an insolent store clerk reading Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” but also because the show seemed predicated on an interest in the retail addict’s belief that we’re made of what we buy.

Read the rest on "reactionary gender politics," etc.

Via GetReligion.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Sex and Witchcraft

The popular image of the sexually alluring witch goes back to Circe at least, was notable in the early modern period in the work of artists such as Hans Baldung, and got a big boost from Jules Michelet.

It keeps popping up today. Sometimes it is lightly disguised, as in the Craigslist posting blogged about here, where what the original poster seems to want is not a Tarot reader but a softcore porn model.

"Red Witch," an Australian blogger, has been collecting popular culture images of female witches (some of them NSFW, not surprisingly), with thoughts of doing a book.

Anyway, I started collecting the stuff you’ve see on this blog because it seemed there had been an evolution in the representation of witches, and I wondered whether the polarized version that I was familiar with (witches are either good/bad, young/old, sexy/hag) was actually the mid-point of an evolution in which the Witch is at first only bad/old/hag, then becomes either good/young/sexy or bad/old/hag, and then is only good/young/sexy. Since nobody that I knew of—and my collection on witchcraft was pretty complete even then—had discussed the history of the representation of witches, and the importance of good/young/sexy witch imagery to the growing social acceptance of witchcraft and Wicca, I wanted to understand it better.

Matilda, who appears to be in the UK, has some flirtatious fun with the witch archetype on her web site.

As far as the modern religion of Wicca is concerned, the sexual element was there from the beginning, when Gerald Gardner and his priestess/paramour Edith Woodford-Grimes created the "Southern Coven of English Witches." Where was his wife, Donna? Not interested in nudism, free-thinking, ceremonial magic, esoteric religion, and running a witchcraft museum, apparently.

(A good scholarly biography of Gardner as founder of a new religion still needs to be written. I would love to see it in the Pagan studies book series that I co-edit.)

At least Wicca is somewhat honest about its sexual element, with the centrality of the Great Rite and all. The fact is, however, that religion often has a sexualized component.

Every time that a Catholic priest, Pentacostal preacher, or Lutheran minister gets caught having sex with the wrong person, it is treated as a deviation from the standard. But sometimes spiritual practices lead to a stronger sexual vibe--and then what do you do with it?

I learned in graduate school, finally, from a professor of Asian religions why monks and nuns there often wear saffron robes. The color signifies their spiritual "heat." It's a warning—keep away!—like an orange road cone.

The East has sex scandals too—Sai Baba's is just one example.

In Christianity, however, the professed religious often wear black, brown, or white—neutral colors. "Nothing happening here." (Except for some of those Pentacostals ...)

Wicca tries to seize the hot wire and direct the current. When that works, it can be life-changing. When it does not work, you get the usual run of social and interpersonal problems.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Doreen Valiente remembered

Hecate reminds us that ten years have passed since the Wiccan world lost Doreen Valiente, who still does not get enough credit for her part in creating the religion.

I corresponded with her some in the 1980s, but, ironically, arrived in her home of Brighton just weeks after passing. Riding city buses with E. John Jones, he would point and say, "Doreen used to live on that street," or "Doreen had a flat in that building."

I got the impression at third-hand that there was a bit of struggle over who would become the official custodian of her papers and thus her memory--perhaps one of my British readers could enlighten us on that.

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