Saturday, January 30, 2010

How to Report the News

You know it's true. (YouTube video.)

Via, most recently, Snowflakes in Hell.)


Friday, January 29, 2010

Only in New Orleans

For Any Roman Reconstructionists Reading This

Make sure that you get the night-time garments (or lack of) right.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nature Religion at the Air Force Academy

The Air Force Academy chapel will add a worship area for followers of Earth-centered religions during a dedication ceremony scheduled to be held at the circle March 10.

Gus diZerega notes it too.

Considering some of the previous church-and-state issues at the academy, this is major news.

Hmm. I might be able to work that into a talk that I might possibly be giving later that month in Colorado Springs.

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W(h)ine and Yoga

"Cakes and wine" grounds you after ritual. Now some yoga classes are offering food (and sometimes wine) afterwards, and purists are in a knot.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Around the Pagan Blogosphere

• "Hard versus Soft Polytheism is a False Dichotomy."

• A recently discovered statue described as the god Odin and welcomed by some reconstructionist Norse Pagans, is--by Viking Period artistic conventions--either a woman or the goddess Freya, says a Swedish archaeologist. 

• The Necronomicon: "It's like the Bible but different" (YouTube video). Via

• At The Soccer Moms' Guide to Wicca: Unintentionally outed by the school district.

• Something that I wish more people would think about about: When is a wild animal an omen, and when is it just a wild animal?

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Canadian Pagan Conference Set for Guelph

News release:

The Canadian National Pagan Conference brings together Canadian activists, clergy and scholars interested in the neo-Pagan and revived pagan religions in Canada. These include, but are not lmited to Goddess spirituality, Wicca, Asatru and the Heathen paths, Romuva, Druidry and the Afro-diasporic religions.

A large part of the conference is peer-to-peer workshops on a number of issues important to the members of these religions: parenting, aging, family and sexuality, legal status and recognition, temple organization, and others.

However, integral to the conference from the beginning has been the academic stream of presentations of original research on Pagan paths in Canada (or elsewhere when presented by Canadian Pagan scholars). Research in the demographics of the neo-Pagans, the cultural and political influence of occultism, sexuality and Wicca, and other issues has been presented. The Conference presentations are peer-reviewed and cross-disciplinary (Religious Studies, Sociology and History have been well-represented).

Papers on any aspect of the history or current state of Paganism and neo-Paganism in Canada are welcome. Please send an abstract (250 words) and a brief CV of yourself to Sam Wagar, the academic co-ordinator. Both academics and non-academics are welcome to present research.

More information on the conference, which is happening at the University of Guelph over the Victoria Day long weekend, can be had from the website.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Pagan Festival Just up the Road

Earlier this month, I was reading the Cañon City Daily Record—a humdrum piece about a city council meeting in the nearby town of Florence—when this jumped out at me:

"We are welcoming to a great variety of spiritual seekers who would classify themselves in many ways, including alternative spirituality, metaphysical, holistic wellness, new age, neo-pagan Earth religion, ecospirituality, native American tradition, Buddhist, Sufi, meditation and yoga practitioners, tribal drumming musicians, feminist Goddesses spirituality, and Kabbalah mysticism.”

Whoa! I thought. Pagans in Florence? (Actually, there are a handful.)

It turned out that the Beltania festival, which had been in northern Colorado, is moving south. We are, after all, a less-fashionable and hence cheaper part of the state.

The Florence Mountain Park hosts a couple of mountain-man rendezvous each summer, and if the city is OK with those guys firing full-size blackpowder cannon, then they should be OK with all-night drumming too.

I mentioned last October how the closing of the private Wellington Lake campground southwest of Denver was forcing at least three Pagan events to seek new venues.

If this trend continues, M. and I won't have to drive so far to attend some of them.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Having Sex with Ghosts

Someone once wrote that you should never become sexually involved with anyone crazier than you are.

You probably should not get involved with anyone deader than you are either.

But if you do, there is a website about it: "Sex with Ghosts."

It is also in my current findings that woman are more apt to be involved in ghostly sexual encounters with men though I personally believe men or less likely to come forward fearing ridicule.

Yep, and those women buy all the Charlaine Harris novels too.

There is a long tradition in Western occultism about sucubbi (female) and incubi (male), and the general advice is, "don't do it."


Sunday, January 17, 2010

You Cannot Think Those Thoughts!

A scholar co-edits a collection of essays on Buddhist warfare and "touches a nerve" to put it mildly.

Our intention is not to argue that Buddhists are angry, violent people—but rather that Buddhists are people, and thus share the same human spectrum of emotions, which includes the penchant for violence.

Setting immigrant Buddhism (Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.) aside, most Americans' view of the Buddhism comes from intellectuals like D.T. Suzuki or various elite teachers, roshis, etc.

We Americans never saw Buddhism(s)  in its original cultural contexts.

As I recall, some medieval Japanese monasteries used to send out armed monks to fight in various political struggles, just to name one instance.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Martha Coakley Sounds like a Salem Witch-Hunter

During the 1980s, real people went to real prisons on the strength of children's fantasies. Many of these were people who operated preschools and had devoted their lives to child care.

The 1987-90 McMartin Preschool trial, described as the most expensive criminal trial in American history, produced no convictions--but you can imagine the effect on the defendants' lives.

The West Memphis Three were victims of the same prosecutorial hysteria over "satanism."

The Amirault family trial in Massachusetts was another. To quote Dorothy Rabinowitz, author of No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times:

The accusations against the Amiraults might well rank as the most astounding ever to be credited in an American courtroom, but for the fact that roughly the same charges were brought by eager prosecutors chasing a similar headline—making cases all across the country in the 1980s.

Those which the Amiraults' prosecutors brought had nevertheless, unforgettable features: so much testimony, so madly preposterous, and so solemnly put forth by the state. The testimony had been extracted from children, cajoled and led by tireless interrogators.

It's like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. "Spectral evidence."

On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy.

The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults' case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind.

She is a Democrat, I'm a Democrat. But I don't care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.

For that reason alone--for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters--if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.

UPDATE: Civil-liberties writer Randy Balko examines Coakley's record. It sounds like she believes that the cops are always right and the courts never make a mistake.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Dark of the Moon

I tend to get into some bad places psychologically when it's the dark of the Moon and work is not going well. "No one respects me, no one pays any attention to what I say"—that sort of thing.

The best cure is to take a dog (who may or may not pay any attention but who can be bribed) and go for a hike, interrupted with geocaching, as described at the other blog.

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Writing English as a First Language

Some writing is bland because it does not take chances. Other writing is bland because of poor technique.

William Zinsser deals with the second in this talk to international students in the Columbia University journalism school: "Writing English as a Second Language."

Actually, writing—as opposed to speaking—is a "second language." That is why it must be learned even by native speakers.

Here he is on bureaucratese—and translating bureaucratese into English is something every reporter must do.

First, a little history. The English language is derived from two main sources. One is Latin, the florid language of ancient Rome. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe. The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free.

How do those Latin words do their strangling and suffocating? In general they are long, pompous nouns that end in -
ion—like implementation and maximization and communication (five syllables long!)—or that end in -ent—like development and fulfillment. Those nouns express a vague concept or an abstract idea, not a specific action that we can picture—somebody doing something. Here’s a typical sentence: “Prior to the implementation of the financial enhancement.” That means “Before we fixed our money problems.”

Believe it or not, this is the language that people in authority in America routinely use—officials in government and business and education and social work and health care. They think those long Latin words make them sound important. It no longer rains in America; your TV weatherman will tell that you we’re experiencing a precipitation probability situation.

He almost sounds like some Norse reconstructionist Pagan bashing the "soft Mediterranean cultures" there, doesn't he.

But don't blame the Roman Empire. Blame the writers of the 16th-19th centuries who imported Latin terms because they sounded grander and because they had all studied Latin in school.

Write with Anglo-Saxon action verbs as much as possible, and your writing will be better. You can deposit that knowledge with certainty in your financial institution take it to the bank.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Too Much Pagan Writing is Too Bland

I wish Pagan writers would stop giving advice and writing bland how-to articles.

A lot of what makes Pagan magazine publishing is its bias towards advice-giving. That and poor graphic design, in some cases.

Look at Circle magazine, for example. Circle reminds me too much of the bland publications of cookie-cutter financial advice that mutual-fund companies, credit unions, etc. send out.

I feel as though I have read almost everything in it before. "How to use your cauldron." "The Celtic legend of Whatever."

I tend to skim the "Passages" section and the "Lady Liberty League Report," and then it goes on the shelf.

Its graphic design, unfortunately, reflects its early 1980s incarnation as a tabloid newspaper.  Boring. When they shrank the size to 8 x 10, it did not get the makeover it desperately needed.

Of course, there is a rule in commercial magazine publishing that after two years every topic is new again.

But what is missing is personality. The Cauldron, which is still more in the "zine" class (originally it was typed and reproduced by mimeograph on the cheapest paper) shows the personality of its editor, Mike Howard.

American Pagan writers seem too afraid of being "personal." Instead, they churn out bland how-to stuff.

When I edited some books for Llewellyn in the 1990s, "too personal" was the kiss of death—the term they used when they wanted to reject a piece of writing. They probably would have called the The Confessions of Aleister Crowley "too personal."

The new Witches & Pagans at least has columnists. I turn to Kenaz Finan or Judy Harrow or R.J. Stewart before tackling the main features. I want stories and the "too personal" more than I want the how-to stuff. Sometimes I even get it.

But their Web site needs updating. Thanks to the Web, publishing a magazine is now twice as much work as before.

I thought Thorn was cool, so I subscribed and promoted it, only to see it go "online only," which most likely is the kiss of (slow) death.

The nascent Pagan Newswire Collective that Jason Pitzl-Waters is organizing has a worthwhile purpose: to make it easier for Pagans to define Paganism in the media marketplace. (Jason's own blogging is newsy, which makes it a daily read.)

Where the PNC will find outlets I am not yet sure. All journalism is in turmoil right now, and journalism about religion even more so—even though so many news stories have unexplored or unexplained religious dimensions.

Meanwhile, I go on looking for good writing that happens to be Pagan, rather than "Pagan writing."

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bloggers Frighten 'the Authorities'

Governments in more and more countries are afraid of "unregistered" (sic) bloggers.

China was still the leading Internet censor in 2009. However, Iran, Tunisia, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Uzbekistan have all also made extensive use website blocking and online surveillance to monitor and control dissent. The Turkmen Internet remains under total state control. Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer remains in jail, while well-known Burmese comedian Zarganar has a further 34 years of his prison sentence to serve.

However, the Report also notes that democratic countries have not lagged far behind, instancing the various steps taken by European countries to control the internet under the guise of protection against child porn and illegal downloading. It also notes that Australia intends to put in place a compulsory filtering system that poses a threat to freedom of expression.

Some people think that blogging and tweets will overthrow governments. Eh...not so fast.


Saturday, January 09, 2010

It's Cool to be Medieval

At least according to critic Philip Hensher, writing in a British newspaper, who says that medieval is the new black:

It’s never easy to account for fashion, but perhaps some real factors have contributed to the reading matter of 2010. This last year has seen a world-wide fear of a destructive plague, in the shape of swine flu. The court of our leader has grown increasingly suspicious, withdrawn and riddled with the sort of plots usually termed Byzantine. The coffers are empty, and an expensive foreign war against parts of the Muslim world has to be paid for somehow. It all sounds a little bit medieval, and that is what we’ve been reading about.

Other disasters have been weighing heavily on our minds, and refer back directly to the Middle Ages. In the climate change debate, both sceptics and proponents have spent a lot of time debating the significance for our own times of two parts of the period. The first is what has been termed the Medieval Warm Period, from between 800 to 1300, the second the Little Ice Age that followed it. Those in the Christopher Booker and George Monbiot camp, one which blames humans for climate change, have spent a lot of heated discussion dwelling on these facts, and the debate has found its way into creative works in surprising ways. We think about future catastrophe as a consequence of our past sins in very medieval ways.

There is more, largely about novels.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Some Newish Online Pagan-Related Magazines

• The new Pagan Edge offers "lifestyles and passions of the modern Pagan." The special subscription price is good until January 10th.

Penton has been published in South Africa for a while. They are up to issue 45 and have a nice, straightforward navigation system.

Sannion links to a possibly forthcoming online magazine about ancient Egypt.

• Through January 19th, Patheos' "Public Square" is devoted to "Religion and the Body."

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A Man and an Elm Tree

The ancestors would have made something of this story, something involving daimones and dryads.


Saturday, January 02, 2010

Suicide Squirrel & Other Musings

Today got off on a weird note: I got up, fed the dogs, and walked the dogs, only to come home from the dog walk (M. still asleep) and find the electricity off.

I called our electric co-op, and was promised that the linemen would be informed.

After M. awoke, I wheeled out the generator, which is pretty noisy, and  restored power. Having a well with an electric pressure pump means that a lack of electricity cuts into morning washing and cooking.

An hour later, a lineman from the San Isabel Electric Association was knocking at the door. His one-word diagnosis: "Squirrel."

This afternoon one of the dogs found and brought me the unfortunate electrocuted squirrel. All winter it had been eating out of our bird feeders, and this was how it repaid us (he thought anthropocentrically).

Eventually I was able to get to work on this new journal layout job, which is progressing by fits and starts—I have a whole string of "What do you want me to do about X, Y, and Z?" questions for the publisher.

For break time, I sometimes wonder around the Web--and sometimes haul firewood.

Today I learned to my surprise that BeliefNet has snark, in the form of the blog Stuff Christian Culture Likes (obviously a take-off on SWPL).

Funny enough, but will the day come when Pagan clergy--thinking of here of all those people who can't wait to be salaried Pagan clergy--worry about "being relevant" in their clothes and marketing?

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Our Secret Order Will Rule the Empire

What is it with secret societies and magical orders in the movies these days? The Da Vinci Code. National Treasure: Book of Secrets. . . I could go on.

Now M. and I are back from watching the new Sherlock Holmes, which felt like "screenplay by Dan Brown and Dion Fortune, from the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle."

The villain, Lord Blackwood, is a cross between Aleister Crowley and Benito Mussolini.

Historians of costume, if you are out there: do not Irene Adler's dresses with the elaborate bustles seem about 15-20 years out of date for the time of the movie? (I date it to the late 1880s, since Tower Bridge is under construction, assuming that is the bridge in the movie.

Good movie though, with lots of little bits of cinematic homage to "the canon," such as the pocket watch with pawnbrokers' marks or the steam launch on the Thames.

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