Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Christian Minister Says the Right Things (Mostly)

The US Air Force Academy's official site for Pagan ritual has received a lot of attention. I first mentioned it on January 27 when I saw the Air Force news release.

In faraway Virginia*, Eugence C. Buie, a retired Disciples of Christ minister, wrote an op-ed piece criticizing his local newspaper's own editorial about the USAFA stone circle:

It is unseemly to make fun of things we may not understand, particularly religions chosen and valued by others. That is not a strange thing to say in America where it used to be customary to honor and respect everyone’s “freedom of choice,” especially where religious beliefs and practices are concerned.
Some people I know jumped on one phrase in the piece, "Granted, some kinds of Wiccan worship could be considered evil." Frankly, I have no idea what he meant, since he just tosses that line out there without any further explanation. Sex in the circle? Drumming all night? Wearing too much crushed velvet?

(And, yes, he is conflating Wicca and to some extent Druidism with all Paganism.)

It's a tribute to all the Pagans who do interfaith work that people like Buie are, however grudgingly, started to respect our right to be here.

Getting one Pagan blog—Jason Pitzl-Waters' Wild Hunt— ncluded in a survey of the religious blogosphere is progress too. (I remember when BeliefNet wanted my own blog on their Blog Heaven page but some months later purged it along with other non-monotheist blogs, no explanation given.)

* Virginians are not required to comment.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Air Force Academy "Turns Back Time"

Back on January 27th, I mentioned that the US Air Force Academy, located near Colorado Springs, had created a ritual space for followers of Pagan religions.

Jason Pitzl-Waters has been keeping up on various reactions, including some form of magic performed by (presumably) evangelical Christians, who think that putting two large crossed bits of lumber on the circle will somehow negate it. (My first thought: firewood!)

At least one writer to the Colorado Springs Gazette accuses the Air Force of romanticizing druids who performed human sacrifice.

It is shocking to contemplate a revival of druidic sacrifice. Can you imagine the Air Force procurement process for victims? Would there be a no-bid process or would there be competitive bidding?

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Magical Dolls and Missionary Board Games

From Publishers Weekly, a short review of a new book co-authored by Nikki Bado-Fralick, my co-editor in the Pagan Studies book series (This book is not a part of that series, however!)

Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls by Nikki Bado-Fralick and Rebecca Sachs Norris, Baylor Univ.

For Bado-Fralick and Sachs Norris (religious studies professors at Iowa State University and Merrimack College, respectively), religious games and dolls are charged with “the magic of childhood combined with the mystery of religion.”

The authors brilliantly use their subject to reveal a complex interplay between worship and the workings of popular culture. A detour into ancient divination practices using dice, magical dolls, and sports as ritual shows these items to be anything but superficial, and raises a central question: why do religious playthings often evoke feelings of unease?

Like the religious toys it analyses, this book is at once fun and serious business. Dolls like Buddy Christ and Nunzilla or unwinnable Buddhist board games may produce a few perplexed laughs, but a game like Missionary Conquest, won by setting up the most global missions, has an undeniably colonialist edge.

The authors also use toys and dolls to explore consumerism, feminism, politics, and the nature of ritual and play. In this readable and fresh look at religious culture, the authors are critical and respectful. They’d rather cast dice than throw stones.

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Don't Visualize, Organize!

That is the takeaway message from Barbara Ehrenreich's new book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

Like much of Ehrenreich's writing, it is fueled by righteous anger.

First, as a breast cancer patient, she is disgusted by the happy-face positive thinking of what she calls "pink ribbon culture":

The cheerfulness of breast cancer culture goes beyond mere absence of anger to what looks, all too often, like a positive embrace of the disease  (27).

From there it's often into the "motivational" business culture that routes laid-off employees into seminars where they learn to be "a brand called you."

And there is "prosperity theology" in the churches, a/k/a "God wants you to be rich," and "positive psychology" for the non-churchgoing.

Not to mention the "prices will always go up" thinking that contributed to the recent real-estate bubble!

And in Ehrenreich's view, it's 99 percent bullshit, a new synthetic Big Pharma opiate of the masses that prevents people from clearly seeing their economic and political quandaries.

She does give some space to a fairly mainstream history of creative visualization (or whatever you want to call it) via New Thought, Christian Science, and so on.

Reading Bright-sided as an adherent of a magical religion, I obviously have some disagreements with Ehrenreich's wholesale condemnation.  These things work, sometimes with unexpected results--hence the old admonition to be careful what you ask for.

So where do we draw the line between possible and not possible? I do think that "visualize world peace" is a fruitless task, although one may act in a peaceful manner. And whatever you seek under the idea that "thoughts are things" has to be backed up and affirmed by tangible actions.

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

What a Difference the Suffix '-ess' Makes

Following a link from another religion blog, I dropped into today on Beauty Tips for Ministers (subtitled "Because you're in the public eye, and God knows you need to look good.")

I read this:

SO many of you have written to let me know that TLC will be airing an episode of “What Not To Wear” this Friday during which they make over a young, beautiful Episcopal priest.

And I was thinking, "Well, this is going in a homoerotic direction" when the truth hit me.

But I suppose if you want to be chased out of an Episcopal church by a bishop swinging his crozier, start talking about the "young, beautiful priestess."

What difference that "-ess" makes. You know why, don't you?


It does not matter if you are speaking of the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome or someone more contemporary. To the monotheistic mind, the word "priestess" seems to conjure up "fertility rites," flowing hair, and orgiastic drumming. Ishtar! Jezebel!

Traditional Episcopalians and other Christians opposed to the ordination of women have used "priestess" as a slur before--and maybe they still do.

No, having women in sacramental, priestly roles is pretty scary, and so the only thing to do is to pretend that they are men under those robes.

Never before has a chasuble looked so much like a burqa.

(And one Episcopal priestess-in-training fears that vestments designed for men make her butt look too big--but that is a separate issue.)

The issue is that religion can be very sexy. Religio-magical power can be felt as erotic power, which why clergy often get into scandalous situations.

Female beauty plus sacramental (i.e., magical) power? There is nothing in the Book of Common Prayer about handling that!

So must they just pretend it's not there?

And what do we Pagans do?

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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.


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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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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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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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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Saturday, December 26, 2009

What You Know about Christmas Might Be Wrong

The idea that Christmas celebrations are largely lifted from earlier Paganisms is pretty well embedded in the culture, even among people who don't have a dog in that fight.

So let Biblical Archaeology Review stir things up a little with the idea that the Dec. 25 (or Jan. 6 for the Orthodox) date was not necessarily chosen to ride piggyback on Sol Invictus or Mithras but is based on Jewish tradition instead, one carried on by early Christians:

Around 200 C.E. Tertullian of Carthage reported the calculation that the 14th of Nisan (the day of the crucifixion according to the Gospel of John) in the year Jesus died was equivalent to March 25 in the Roman (solar) calendar. March 25 is, of course, nine months before December 25; it was later recognized as the Feast of the Annunciation—the commemoration of Jesus’ conception. Thus, Jesus was believed to have been conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. Exactly nine months later, Jesus was born, on December 25.

Read the whole thing.

Finally, Hank Stuever is the author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present. You can read an excerpt here in the Washington Post "Style" section.

I know that I am in the same country as those "gated-community supermoms who [have]  volleyball schedules, tutor times and carpool arrangements abuzz in the BlackBerry that is [their] brain," because I have sat in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport and watched them clatter by.

This fact struck me though: Amid all the crafts-making and bazaar-holding and home-decorating, they don't know how to sew?

"It's the sparkle, spirit, and style of American Girls, yesterday and today!" intones a recorded narration as the lights go down. A Junior League member and a teenage beauty pageant winner emcee. While each young model, carrying a doll, takes her little turn on the catwalk, we learn her American Girl back story. Here's Josefina, who lived on a ranch in northern New Mexico in the 1820s. She had to sew her own clothes.

"Who here knows how to sew their own clothes?" the emcee asks. "Raise your hands."

In a room of several hundred families, nobody raises a hand.

"Moms? Anyone here ever sew? Anyone have a sewing machine?"

No hands.

"Well then, you can just imagine how hard life was."

Weird, eh? Even I have an old sewing machine for repair jobs. It makes life easier, just as my chainsaw and power screwdriver do.

UPDATE: If you have read this far and are not still muttering about Druids, take Stuever's Christmas-shopping survey.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Creeping Pantheism

Highbrow journalist Ross Douthat is bothered by creeping pantheism.

In a recent New York Times piece, he calls pantheism "Hollywood's religion of choice."

The "news hook" for his column is the new movie Avatar, which repeats the Pocahantas story once again. Some critic called it "Dancing with Smurfs."

To Douthat, "Avatar is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world."

And that bothers him. He likes the certainty of the monotheistic religions (he is Roman Catholic), even when you sense that he does not subscribe to all of even the Catholic church's dogma:

[P]antheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

I do not mean to dismiss his anguish:

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality.

I am not sure that all Pagans have reconciled themselves to that truth either.

Do you ever sing,

We all come from the Goddess,
and to her we shall return,
like a drop of rain
flowing to the ocean

and wonder if there is too much loss of individuality there? I think that that is something like what Douthat is trying to articulate.

UPDATE: Another blogger watches Avatar and says that minus the sci-fi elements, it is a movie that Wendel Berry or even J.R.R. Tolkien might have approved of, for it presents a fully integrated culture in contrast to "our world of Facebook friends and warehouse shopping clubs."


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cue the tablas and whale music

My title is lifted from Charles Blow's column in the New York Times, noting that the recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life report on American religiosity shows that things are pretty darn heterodox in the pews (no pun intended).

When 28 percent of Roman Catholics say that they believe in reincarnation (really?!), or nearly a fifth of Americans say they have seen a ghost, then perhaps American religion is "a mash-up of traditional faiths, fantasy and mythology."

Sounds almost Pagan.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

It's Thanksgiving-Put Your Mask On

I have a long-standing interest in masks and masked ritual, going back to when I helped Evan John Jones with Sacred Mask Sacred Dance.

So consider than on the East Coast a century ago, Thanksgiving (or at least the last Thursday in November), rather than Halloween, was the time for masking and trick-or-treating.

Thanksgiving itself was a sort of irregular, off-and-on holiday until it was deliberately fixed to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season during Franklin Roosevelt's administration.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's That Time of Year!

Are you ready for the cameras and notepads? It's the time of year when journalists notice the Pagans!

ReligionLink is on the job with story ideas. At least they admit that they are recycling their resource list from 2004. (No, that's not my telephone number anymore, sorry.)

"Oh, my" indeed.

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Elizabeth Clare Prophet and Me

Yesterday M. pointed out to me a small AP story in Sunday's Denver Post that I had overlooked: the death of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, head of the Church Universal and Triumphant, one of the chief motivators of the "cults scare" of the 1970s-1980s.

("Suffered from dementia for years" -- there may be some cynical chuckles at that line from ex-CUT members and their families, even though it was Alzheimer's dementia.)

Her hometown newspaper in New Jersey offers photos of her at various ages and more links.

But I owe her thanks for sending me to graduate school, for in the 1970s, when I came back to Colorado after my undergraduate years at Reed, CUT (then called "Summit Lighthouse") was headquartered at One Broadmoor Avenue, Colorado Springs, a prestigious address, in a red-brick 1930s mansion built by some Oklahoman oilman.

I had never heard of Summit Lighthouse and as a Pagan was not too interested in quasi-gnostic metaphysical magical chanting--they called it "decreeing"--but a visiting friend wanted to see it, and so we went.

We picked up some pamphlets and got a tour of the public rooms from some of the followers, who despite the content of the teachings, had a definite Young Republican vibe too them. We did not meet Elizabeth Clare Prophet herself.

(If there was magic worked on behalf of President Reagan, CUT was working it.)

Later, as a reporter for the Colorado Springs Sun, I was approached by Mrs. Prophet's disaffected ex-secretary, who offered herself as a source for a feature story on the group. Mrs. Prophet herself did not do interviews--as high as an outsider could go was the group's spokesman, Murray Steinman.

And I was introduced to the whole network of "anti-cult" groups, parents' groups, and so on, not to mention one stream of American metaphysical religion, going back to the "I Am" movement and even farther.

Writing that story (and a couple of others on other groups) gave me more satisfaction than my regular work on the business beat. I credit them with nudging me towards an eventual decision to go to graduate school in religious studies, because I realized that as a newspaperman I could not really examine new religious movements in any depth.

Later, too, my chief interest in CUT was whether they would sell some of the land they bought for their "end of the world" retreat north of Yellowstone National Park in a deal arranged by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to keep an elk-migration corridor open.

Metaphysical movements come and go, but the elk should endure.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third Death in James Ray Sweat Lodge Case

Yet another of the sixty-plus people crammed into James Arthur Ray's Sedona sweat lodge has died. She evidently was one of his true believers:

The Rev. Meredith Ann Murray of Bellingham, Wash., who has completed all of Ray's retreats, said [Liz] Neuman was among Ray's earliest followers and had attended dozens of his events.

According to Ray's Web site, Neuman was the leader of the Minneapolis-area "Journey Expansion Team." The teams, developed by Ray's friends and followers around the country, meet to exchange ideas on his principles. The next Minneapolis-area meeting is scheduled for Oct. 23.

But here is the delicious part. Ray, facing homicide charges, is evidently bobbing and weaving:

In his first public appearance Tuesday in Los Angeles, Ray told a crowd of about 200 that he has hired his own investigative team to determine what went wrong.

Sheesh, Veronica Mars could tell him what went wrong. He was greedy and heedless of the safety of his followers.

Sweat lodges have been around for a long time in many places. I see them as part of the old Stone Age circumpolar religion, along with flat-headed drums and a special relationship with bears.

Whether used for physical health, for contacting the spirits, or both together, they are a small-scale magical technology. It sounds as though Ray tried the "megachurch" approach to sweat lodges--at $9,000-plus per person.

Aside from all the issues that this case raises, it speaks as well to the difficulty of turning small-scale mysteries into congregation-size events.

UPDATE: Tim Giago, a veteran American Indian journalist in South Dakota, asks why, if traditional sweat-lodge ceremonies are so special and good, are they not doing more good for the Lakota:

Arvol [Looking Horse], why are the sacred rites you represent not being used to bring our own people back from the brink? Why aren't they being used to bring back the good health our people once enjoyed? Why is there an unemployment rate of 80 percent on the lands you call home? Why is there such a high rate of STD's and teen pregnancies in Lakota country?

What good does it do to speak out and criticize an event that happened in Sedona, Arizona, when it had no lasting impact upon the Sioux people? Aren't there terrible things happening in our own homelands, right under our noses, to worry about and try to change?

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Friday, October 16, 2009

That Theodish Political Candidate

Sarah Pike of California State University, Chico evaluates Dan Halloran's run for a New York City Council seat as an "out" Pagan and concludes, "Since for many Americans, the Republican Party is inseparable from conservative Christianity, Neopagans were surprised that the party stood by Halloran, and took it as a sign that not only is the makeup of the religious left and the religious right shifting, but that the country as a whole is becoming more receptive toward their religion."

I'll be seeing Sarah next month at the American Academy of Religion annual meeting, and I shall have to ask her about this "Neopagan" usage. Following Graham Harvey, who argues that "Neo-" is outmoded now, the favored term (in academia, at least) is "contemporary Pagan."

But she has written a good opinion piece—read the whole thing. The comments display the usual Pagan hair-splitting and in-fighting.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Ted Haggard is Back

You can't keep a good drama queen down.

Ted Haggard, the disgraced pastor of the New Life megachurch in Colorado Springs, whom you might of thought would never occupy a pulpit again, but rather skulk around Phoenix, Arizona, peddling life insurance, is ba-a-a-ack.

Ted Haggard, who proves that the Elmer Gantry archetype is alive and well in American Christianity.

Ted Haggard, who thinks downtown Colorado Springs is controlled by demons.

Ted Haggard, who, to his credit, thought that evangelical Christians should embrace environmentalism, but then got busy with meth and gay escorts.

Really, he belongs in a convertible with a sash (Drama Queen 2008) doing his best parade wave ("elbow elbow wrist wrist").

Really, he is Colorado's gift to religious journalism. What will he do next?

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

'Cultural Appropriation' is not a Religious Issue

Part One here.

Arguments about "cultural appropriation" are usually dishonest.

Although they often take place in venues devoted to religion, spirituality, and magic, they are not about religion, spirituality, or magic.

Instead, they are political arguments about cultural survival, usually taking the form, "We/You took everything from them/us, and now we/you want to take their/our spirituality too!"

Let me propose a hypothetical bit of "cultural appropriation."

I fetch the old Catholic missal off the shelf, blow the dust off (Colorado is dusty), and open it to the ritual for the Eucharist.

I find items to serve as chalice, platen, and all the other necessaries, make myself some cheat cards for the Latin, set up my altar, and proceed to celebrate the Tridentine Mass.

Cultural appropriation? I doubt that the Vatican will be too disturbed, and I will not need to watch out for albino assassin monks.

Is it not "cultural appropriation" when the so-called victim is large and powerful? If so, that makes me think that all talk about appropriation is merely politics.

So what are the consequences of my unsanctioned Mass? From the Catholic Church's viewpoint, Aquila non capit muscas, I suspect. Any other consequences?

Now you can discuss the religious, spiritual, or magical issues.

Postscript: This post is somewhat based on a dream I had months ago, in which I was called up to baptize someone in some Protestant denomination, and of course I was thinking (a) what baptismal ritual do these people use and (b) since I am a Pagan, will it be "valid"?


It's Time to Critique "Personal Growth"

Jason Pitzl-Waters offers more links on the Sedona sweat-lodge deaths, including to the Beyond Growth blog, which has been critiquing James Arthur Ray for some time.

(Related: I want to read Barbara Ehrenreich's newest, Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.)

I sometimes wonder at the whole concept of "growth." Did Socrates talk about "growth"? I don't think so. Wisdom, yes, attained by philosophical inquiry, life experience, and maybe the gift of the gods—chiefly the first. I expect he would have scorned a workshop that involved putting a couple dozen people (Correction: 64 people) in a sweat lodge and heating it until they collapsed. Not much logos there. Not much inquiry. Not much virtue.

While I am waiting for the book, I think I shall be reading the blog.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Who Cares about 'Cultural Appropriation'?

Some of the reaction in the Pagan blogosphere to the "shamanic" casualties in Sedona have trotted out that old horse named Cultural Appropriation.

A couple of months ago, one of the Pagan lists in which I participate had a whole discussion of "cultural appropriation." Cultural Appropriation was led by the halter and trotted around the ring, and all the usual arguments were made:
  • All our ancestors were tribal once.
  • I can understand Native Americans being upset.
  • All the spiritual leaders I know and who have been teaching their spiritual truths for decades welcome students, and their interest is what is important, not what their culture is, nor what they do with the teachings.
  • Now, I follow Celtic dieties because THEY came to me. I didn't go seeking after them. They spoke to me in English and have never demanded that I learn a different language to speak with them.
  • And of course someone brought up the new Pagan book on the topic, Talking About the Elephant.
Eventually that discussion thread wore itself out. Not two weeks later, someone posted an announcement for a Sun Dance:

The Sun Dance is a ritual of community and praise for the sun and the great spirit that the natives of this continent felt drew them together. Regardless of our faith, everyone can appreciate the sun's power and importance to all life on Earth. So this will be an upbeat celebration of the sun, the summer we have just had and community. It is also a ritual praising the sun and saying farewell for another year.

Since there is no one ritual for the Sun Dance, and so many tribes viewed and practiced this event differently, we will have a blending of many traditions in our Sun Dance. Please bring drums, bells, noise makers, whistles, rain sticks, musical instruments, or anything else you'd like to celebrate and make a joyful sound with. This event will be outdoors so please wear appropriate clothing as the weather dictates. Also, as part of the ritual involves body and face painting, if possible please wear something that gives you access to your collarbones.

And ol' Cultural Appropriation stayed in his stall. No one said a word online.


In the long run, religious creativity will always trump the kind of finger-pointing accusations that you hear about "cultural appropriation" — even before you come to the theological argument that "the gods choose whom they will."

We have freedom of religion. You cannot stop someone from holding a Sun Dance and calling it such unless you show up and threaten bodily harm. You can threaten other sorts of consequences—that it will offend the spirits or the Grandfathers and someone will suffer—but you cannot guarantee such threats. What if the spirits like the other person better?

As Shawn Spencer, the fake psychic detective, says in the TV series Psych, séances—or in this case, Sun Dances—are like garage sales and plastic surgery: Anyone can have them.

Pagans are well-placed to realize that religion is a creative activity. Writers incorporate the influence of other writers, musicians "steal" from other musicians, actors learn from other actors—why should religious practitioners be any different.

I have complained about some "plastic shamans" in my time too, but to what effect? Just do it. See what happens.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Can You Sue Your Shaman?

Two dead, others sickened after lengthy sweat lodge ceremony at the Angel Valley Retreat Center in (where else?) Sedona, Arizona, which advertises, "Angel Valley offers the opportunity to 'retreat' from the 'bus-i-ness' of life while providing the optimal condition and the services to assist in connecting with and expressing who you are, being your True Authentic Self."

From the AP story:

Authorities said self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray rented the facility and was hosting the group inside the dome, a low-lying structure covered with tarps and blankets. In a testimonial on the retreat's Web site, Ray said it "offers an ideal environment for my teachings and our participants."

On Ray's Web site, a guide for participants of the five-day "Spiritual Warrior Event" includes a lengthy release of liability that acknowledges participants may suffer "physical, emotional, financial or other injuries."


Monday, October 05, 2009

Gallimaufry with Bison

• I have been traveling--and writing about it at the other blog. So for now, some links.

• Raw food and Linux: Interview with two Pagans. Raw food is fine, but it's easy to look good if you are in your twenties and have the bone structure ... As for Linux, that's fine too, but I have no real reason to switch from Mac OS X. Just not geeky enough—or you could say that I prefer to be geeky about other things.

• Jordan Stratford claims the steampunk aesthetic for Gnosticism. Next, raw food and Linux.

• Boing Boing is hosting guest-blogger Mitch Horowitz, author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation.

Is it the pop version of Catherine Albanese's A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion? I need to read it and find out. (via The Wild Hunt).

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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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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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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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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pagan Content on Patheos: John Muir was Pagan??

USA Today's religion blogger, Cathy Lynn Gross, visits the Patheos religion web site and discovers (shock!) that it has a Pagan portal with actual Pagan content.

The article that catches her attention is "John Muir was a Pagan."

I admire John Muir, but I do not see him as a capital-P Pagan, follower of a non-monotheistic religion. He might well have been a small-P "pagan"-- a non-Christian, a pantheist.

Get over to Patheos and stir things up before they shut it down. I wonder if starting a religion portal in the midst of a recession was a good business plan -- were the Brunnicks counting on people to turn to religion when their money ran out? They laid off the Pagan gateway manager, a graduate student in religion, a couple of months ago.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

All Great Men Were ... Rosicrucians?

It's the 100th anniversary of modern Rosicrucianism.

For all their concern about tracing lineage, however, it is possible to find beneath the umbrella of modern Rosicrucianism just about any belief, philosophy or superstition you might care to name – pantheism, reincarnation, alchemy, psychic power, astral out-of-body travel, telepathy. There are Cosmic Ray Coincidence Counters and Sympathetic Vibration Harps. And you can corral just about any historic hero – Plato, Dante, Descartes, Newton – into secret membership of the movement (unbeknown, of course, to the dull minds of conventional historians).

For all the snarkiness, at least one serious historian of esoteric movements is quoted in the article.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Movie for Reconstructionists

That would be Rain in the Mountains.

Described by reviewers as a "quirky indie comedy," it is about trying to go back to the old, ancestral ways.

And that guy hanging from the tree and telling people their destinies? Hmmm. The screenwriter, you will note, was an Anglo, not an Indian.

Netflix has it.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009


Yes, I did take the tour of the Cathedral of the Madeline. After a day of listening to talks on Mormon violence--and violence against Mormons--the cathedral felt like Goddess religion. (The Lady Chapel, after all.)

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Blogging CESNUR, 2

Yesterday's CESNUR plenary session focused on Western esotericism, which is getting more respect as a "player" in history.

Gordon Melton passed out a fancy diagram of the Western esoteric tradition, including everyone from Swedenborgians to flying saucer religions to Wiccans.

Wicca was placed under ritual magic, although at some distance. Fair enough: ritual magic is an important root. But I think there needs to be a long dashed line connecting to classical Paganism (which was not on the chart), indicating a connection that was literary rather than person-to-person.

For those of you familiar with new religious movements sessions, yes, "Ragged Brian" is here.

Trying to decide whether to take the tour of the (warning, Flash) Cathedral of the Madeline tomorrow to renew my acquaintance with ecclesiastical architecture. ("I think the woods are more impressive," says M., the dedicated animist.)

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On the Road

I leave today for the annual CESNUR conference on new religious movements, to be held this year in Salt Lake City, so you know which not-so-new-anymore religious movement will be heavily discussed in the presentations.

My paper is a thrown-together mess, but at least it has me thinking about how it could become the introduction to a book that I could write—or co-write, perhaps. More on that as it develops.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Back from the Florida Pagan Gathering

I have not tried to sleep over all-night drumming since I was a little kid, when my district-ranger father would let the Indians from the Pine Ridge Reservation put up a temporary dance arbor each year on Forest Service land by our house, across from the Indian Health Service hospital in Rapid City.

That was Plains-style drumming--Boom Boom Boom--mixed with the jingle of ankle bells, and this was polyrhythmic drumming, but the principle was the same: treat it as white noise and go to sleep.

A few margaritas from the pirates' camp helped the process along. Pirates in Florida are iconic.

I am back from the Florida Pagan Gathering, whose organizers inexplicably decided that my research pre-occupations (What is "nature religion"? Why did people claim that witches used flying ointments?) were worth flying me halfway across the country at Beltane so that I could talk about them to the dozen or so people (out of 700) who wanted to hear about them. Thanks, everyone!

FPG is a big, well-organized event held at a 4H camp owned by the University of Florida. It has room to grow there, and the organizers want to grow it.

A comment that Margot Adler made in one of her talks has stuck with me. At one time (pre-1980) covens and other Pagan groups were mostly separate. Then came the era of national festivals--I remember one of our coveners coming back from one of the first Pan-Pagan festivals in 1980 or '81, walking two inches off the ground and full of new chants and songs to teach the rest of us.

That era established a sort of common ritual and musical culture, she noted, whereas now we are into the era of semi-professional and professional entertainment, and the brief common culture is diminishing. On the other hand, hearing Spiral Rhythm do the calypso version of "Eko Eko Azarak" was sort of a kick.

I have been working alone in my little house in the woods all winter, and FPG was "bright lights, big city" to this guy. It has been ages since I attended a big festival and got that "temporary autonomous zone" rush.

UPDATE: Coincidentally (there are no coincidences) Cat Chapin-Bishop is blogging on the phenomenon of Pagan celebrity. Two of us who were at FPG have already chimed in in the comments.

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Cheesecake is Divine

God Cafe, Eustis, Florida. Photo copyright 2009 Chas S. Clifton

The God Cafe in Eustis, Florida. Closed on Sundays. Here is some background.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Jack Chick, the Movie

I have my own collection of Jack Chick pamphlets, but to make collecting more sporting, they have to be found in public places: left inside a library book about Wicca or on a public park bench, that sort of thing.

Maybe God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick will create more collectors of "all things Chick including the art, artists, writers, controversies, death threats, witch spells, Illuminati, Catholic assassins and more!"

(Hat tip: Jason's other blog.)

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Yahoo Group for Pagan Veterans

Some American Pagan military veterans feel that established organizations such as the American Legion and VFW are too heavily Christianized, so they have started a Yahoo group as a first step towards forming a separate organization.

It is the old dilemma -- change from within, or go outside "the system"?

If you are a Pagan veteran and wish to participate, there is more information here.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wikipedia's Gnostic Kerfuffle

Jordan Stratford, Gnostic priest and writer in Victoria, B.C., blogs about possible prejudice against present-day Gnosticism on the part of the Wikipedia cabal.

My own experience with Wikipedia is tiny -- making minor edits on three or four articles -- but I know that there are people who must spend hours every day on it.

Other stories about "revert wars" and similar cyber-squabbles involving political figures are common enough, so I can believe that one or two judgmental editors could mess with (in this case) Gnosticism too.

For some reason, Pagan-related articles have fared better. But I know that some of the Pagan editors are the same folks who were on the former Compuserve Pagan forum circa 1990--people who spend an awful lot of time in cyberspace.

As for modern Gnosticism, another trove of articles exists at the website of the former Gnosis magazine. Founding editor Jay Kinney is himself a priest of the Ecclesia Gnostica, a contemporary Gnostic church started by Stephan Hoeller (who thus far is still in Wikipedia.)

There might be a lesson here about depending too much on Wikipedia?

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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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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yes, Hypatia, There is a Santa Claus

This fellow -- Santa Claus, Father Christmas -- has joined the lineup of graven images on our polytheistic/animistic mantel. That's Hermes' foot at the far left, followed by an ossuary jar of sharp-shinned hawk bones, and Hekate on the right.

We all know that Santa's name derives from the Dutch form of St. Nicholas, but what need have we Pagans of a saint whose titles include "Defender of Orthodoxy" (versus the Arian Christians) and whose biographers proudly proclaim that he destroyed Pagan temples. So forget that part.

The connection with Odin is fascinating but fragile. Others go off on different tangents.

As the scripture states, "He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus."

On the other hand, I really have no problem with calling this time of year "Christmas" in casual conversation. When I was in my twenties, I rigorously drew a line and would only say "Yule." Now I am more casual.

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Saturday, November 08, 2008

Seeking the Blessing of the Wolves

A few years ago, when I was on the board of a local environmental-education group, I helped organize a couple of presentations by the staff of Mission: Wolf, a sanctuary located one county south of me. As part of their mission, "Socialized ambassador wolves travel nationally, offering public education while stimulating people to care about and respect nature."

Often they have the audience sit in a circle on the floor, if the group is small enough, and the leashed ambassador wolf comes around to give each a quick sniff. If you get a wolf kiss (and I have), that's supposed to be something special.

One day last summer, M. and I were at the farmers' market in Florence, Colo., and people from a different, smaller, wolf sanctuary were there. They seemed less focused on environmental ed. and more on magic, in the form of "Cheyenne, the Healing Wolf."

I don't see it on the web site, but the people from this second sanctuary insisted that their oldest wolf could diagnose cancer and other illnesses. They were less into teaching about wolves in the wild and more into presenting these predators as healing beings.

Third, at the beginning of October, M. and I returned to Yellowstone National Park for the first time in some years. Our last visit, in fact, came just before the reintroduction of wolves to the park in the mid-1990s.

And how the northern edge of the park, in particular, had changed. There were wolf tourists. Every pull-out between Mammoth Hot Springs and the northeast entrance contained serious-looking individuals with spotting scopes and expensive telephoto lenses, scanning the hillsides of the Lamar Valley. The nearby Slough Creek Campground, which used to be half-empty in autumn, is always full.

Imagine, if you have not seen one, a full-size tour bus with wolves painted on it, picking up forty or so hikers who have been on a wildlife walk to look for . . . wolves, of course. When someone sees a wolf, the news spreads around the park by "bush telegraph."

Not everyone is keen on wolves, however. I spotted this sticker on a truck in Cooke City, Wyo., just outside the park.

Cat Urbigkit's Yellowstone Wolves: A Chronicle of the Animal, the People, and the Politics is a definitive history of the issue.

But I think that is the minority view. It is as though we have flipped 180 degrees from when Barry Lopez wrote Of Wolves and Men in the 1970s. He was trying to convince readers that wolves were more than mere vermin. Now they are emissaries of nature religion, furry saints.

American nature religion often has a therapeutic slant, that's for sure. "The wolf will heal you." It's a change from "The wolf will eat you," but is it any more truthful from the wolf's point of view?

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Off to AAR

I post this from the Wireworks cafe in Pueblo, partway through our journey to the train station.

I hope that I have everything I need for a successful conference session:
  • two printouts of my paper, plus copies of the photos that go with it, on both CD and flash drive
  • registration materials
  • photos of dead people
Doing a paper on the Day of the Dead at two Southwestern universities, plus attending a Samhain ritual. Too much?

I'll try to post more as the meeting continues.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Joe Biden Freaked by Naked Goddess

This happened just down the road from me, but I had to read The Wild Hunt to learn about it.

Vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden was apparently unable to give his standard speech in the presence of a statue of the goddess Diana in downtown Pueblo, so the goddess was covered by black cloth and hidden by a flag.

"Is he just as bad as Palin?" M. asked.


UPDATE: Joe Biden as channeled by Iowahawk.

"I'm not going to lie to you - it doesn't take a weatherman to know that hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, a hard rain is gonna fall, all along the watchtower," said the Delaware Senator, strumming on a pantomime guitar. "There will be a point -- maybe one week, maybe two weeks after the inauguration -- when the opinion polls will look bad. Really horribly bad. Despite our best efforts, a couple of mid-size cities will inevitably be vaporized. People will be complaining. 'Why are you nationalizing the Safeway?' 'When is Omaha going to stop glowing?' 'Why do the Chinese soldiers keep asking for my papers?' When this happens, we will need you to keep supporting us because, trust me, you really won't want to be observed not supporting us."

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Passing of Feraferia's Fred Adams

I learned today of the passing on August 9 of Frederick McLaren Adams, co-founder of the Southern California Pagan group Feraferia in the 1960s.

(Right: Fred and Svetlana Adams at a Feraferia ritual during the late 1960s.)

Although later cross-fertilized by Gleb Botkin's Church of Aphrodite, Feraferia ("wilderness festival") was a unique creation, with its roots in ancient Greek religion, in Adams' own visionary experiences of the gods, in the writings of Robert Graves, and also in the California "Nature Boys" tradition, of which I plan to write more later.

(Right, Fred Adams in about 2005.)

I have a framed front page of the Autumn 1968 issue of the Feraferia journal hanging over my computer desk. Its subtitle reads "The Charisma of Wilderness, Seasonal Celebration, Visionary Ecology." Forty years ago -- before most Pagans were even using the term "nature religion."

(Photos courtesy of Harold Moss.)

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

On the Road in Virginia: Looking for Gleb Botkin

Home of Gleb Botkin in the late 1960s. Photo by Chas S. Clifton

The house in Charlottesville, Va., where the Botkin familiy lived in the 1960s, also the final location of the Church of Aphrodite.

Gleb Botkin's Church of Aphrodite lasted from the 1930s to 1969. (He formally incorporated it in 1939, but I don't know just when it started.)

The church was more Goddess-monotheistic than polytheistic:

Aphrodite, the flower-faced, the sweetly smiling, the laughter-loving Goddess of Love and Beauty, is the self-existent, eternal and Only Supreme Deity, Creator and Mother of the cosmos, the Universal Cause, the Universal Mind, the Source of all life and all positive and creative forces of nature, the Fountainhead of all happiness and joy.

But Botkin rejected such formulas as "love thy neighbor as thyself" and the "so-called Golden Rule," arguing instead that love requires "two mutually responsive poles."

Some of the argument he makes in his thealogical book In Search of Reality could justify polyamory as well, although I don't know if he applied it in that way.

Some of the Charlottesville Pagans still want an historical marker on the house. I don't know who lives there now; when we stopped by, no one was at home but the cat.

Botkin, his wife Nadine and his daughter Marina Botkin Schweitzer are buried just outside Charlottesville, where his marker describes him as the Reverand [sic] Gleb Botkin and includes the astrological symbol of Venus.

The Church of Aphrodite, meanwhile, had both a personal and a literary connection with the California Pagan group Feraferia and hence to the broader Pagan revival of the late 20th century.

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Sunday, June 15, 2008

On the Road in Virginia: Monticello

Today to Monticello to visit the First Citizen, Thos. Jefferson, but he was unable to Receive us. Hundreds of his Fellow Citizens waited upon him also, diverting themselves with Tours of the House and Gardens, which are both Marvelous.

M. and I walked up to the house from the parking area. We came to the family cemetery. I saw his tombstone and started weeping and had to move away.

"Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia."

Then we walked in the vegetable garden and orchard. I picked a few cherries—they seem to be going to waste. I hope he won't mind.

The house truly is a marvel. If he lived today, Jefferson no doubt would have a high-tech house with photo-voltaic solar panels, hydroponic gardens, and a garage full of classic and hybrid cars. And he would finally be able to serve fine Virginia wines.

And thence to Charlottesville, where we shall remain the next three Days.

The base of Jefferson's obelisk tombstone is covered with coins. Some kind of unconscious folk-paganism going on there: offerings to the genius of Thomas Jefferson. I would have burned a pinch of incense had any been available.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Process Theology and Feminist Wicca

In her new book, Hidden Circles in the Web: Feminist Wicca, Occult Knowledge, and Process Thought, Denver priestess and theologian Constance Wise argues that process theology is uniquely appropriate for Paganism.

When we speak of the "Web of Being," she writes, "the interconnectivity of events posited by process though is so expansive across both time and space that it can scarcely be grasped by human thought. On the other hand, process cosmology provides a clear way to talk about the Web (114)."

Process thinkers' understanding of deity leans towards the abstract. It is not "hard polytheism." But process thought does offer a useful and challenging way to think about inter-connectedness and the Goddess.

It is the fourth book in AltaMira's Pagan Studies series.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Man of Faith (the brochure says so)

Barack Obama drapes himself in his Christian credentials.

Apparently when Mike Huckabee (a former pastor) did much the same thing, he was appealing to the worst impulses of the Religious Right. When Obama does it, there is no problem. Apparently.

I want to see Obama posed on the steps of the Parthenon -- the one in Nashville -- speaking about classical values. A little speech about arete. Then I would vote for him for sure.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

A Day for Desk Work

It is a damp, grey day here on Hardscrabble Creek, with the temperature struggling to climb out of the 40s F. It's a good day to be indoors editing Pomegranate articles. Were the weather warm and sunny, I would want to be doing chores outdoors--all the little jobs that built up over the winter.

Meanwhile, some links:

¶: Articles on Pagan infiltration of Quaker meetings and other creeping Paganism from Christianty Today and Modern Reformation. Via Cat Chapin-Bishop, who is quoted in the former, being one of the infiltrators.

¶ Beyond mere steampunk: Building a Victorian computer. Via Mirabilis.

¶ Bablestone posts on the difficulties of deciphering Ogham inscriptions. What looked like a description of a battle might in fact be a simple grave marker.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gallimaufry and the iMac

¶ Metaphysical writer Louise Hay is profiled in the New York Times: "Queen of the New Age." (Hat tip: Jordan Stratford.)

¶ I can tell that you are reading only 20 percent of my blog.

¶ Ten years ago, the look of personal computing changed forever. "As far from the cable-twined tangle of beige boxes as you could imagine, its smooth-as-an-egg blue-and-white all-in-one shape was compelling and futuristic."

¶ When I saw Jason's post about people choosing to have Pagan weddings for what amount to aesthetic reasons, I was reminded of a news article I linked to in 2006 about Westerners performing fake Christian ceremonies in Japan.

Back in our days as active coven leaders (20+ years ago), M. and I did marry a sort-of Pagan American guy and the daughter of a Thai UN official. Her family treated it as an unusual ethnographic spectacle, but we got a great Thai dinner out of the experience.

No, the marriage did not last. I think we are 1 for 3 on handfastings. You had better choose someone else.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Hopi Orpheus

Writing my post about the Inquisition and the church at Quarai, I reviewed the history of the Pueblo Revolt, which led me to the work of Ekkehart Malotki, a specialist in Hopi language and oral literature. I ended up reading his Hopi Stories of Witchcraft, Shamanism, and Magic, which are full of shapeshifting, potions, evil sorcerers--all the usual stuff. Malotki collected these stories in the 1980s.

One story, "The Man Who Traveled to Maski, Home of the Dead, to Bring Back His Wife," maps almost perfectly onto the story of Orpheus and Eurydice.

I could make several stories out of that coincidence:

1. Aha, it's another example of trade links between Mediterranean world and the American Southwest 2,000 years ago, but the tenured professors won't accept the evidence that is in front of their eyes!

2. Or maybe a century ago some Hopi kid got sent off to boarding school, found solace in a book of Greek myths in the school library, and came back and told the story, giving it a Hopi gloss, and soon it became "traditional."

3. Or maybe going to the Land of the Dead to bring home your dear one is not a good idea and usually ends up tragically, regardless of the culture.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

What Lies Ahead

Here are a couple of links. Meanwhile, expect a series of new book-related posts, now that spring semester is finally coming to a close.

¶ What was it like to live in a Norse longhouse in Vinland or Iceland? Re-enactors have ideas.

¶ At least Pope Benedict understands that religion thrives better without governmental support.


The Inquisition in New Mexico

This ruined church, Nuestra Señora de La Purisima Concepción de Cuarac, stands at the edge of the Southern Plains, southeast of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It is one of three large mission churches built in the early 1600s by forced labor from the Indians who lived at the adjacent villages. The interior is about 100 feet long.

It is now part of Salinas Pueblos National Monument.

Constructed by the Franciscan order, it was also the location of the Inquisition in New Mexico, which could bring charges of heresy, witchcraft, etc., against the few thousand Spanish colonists in the province.

The remote Spanish colony of New Mexico suffered from two command structures: one religious and one secular-military, with frequent "turf wars" between them -- all very medieval.

You can imagine the conflicts:

Don Somebody y Somebody de Someplace, encomendero: "I need los indios to to work for me, to herd my livestock and build my new house."

Fray Somebody, Franciscan priest: "Oh, no, señor, they must work building the new rooms on the church. Such labor helps in the conversion of their heathen souls."

(Los indios, in Tiwa: "Do we ever get to hoe our own corn fields?")

Fray Somebody, playing his trump card: "And we have reports that you have permitted los indios to perform their devilish kachina dances. Could it be that you are sliding into heresy? We have prepared these documents for the holy Inquisition. . . ."

Meanwhile, the Apaches and Comanches of the Plains, having mastered the horse-riding lifestyle, started playing the game of "Let's attack the settled agriculturalists, kill them, and take their stuff."

The Spanish were spread too thin to fight them off, and arming the Pueblo Indians went against their plan of keeping the Indians subservient and helpless.

Between raids and drought, things got so bad at the three Salinas pueblos that the Franciscans pulled the plug. In 1677, the priest at the church in the picture, Fray Diego de Parraga, locked the doors and rode off in a cart with all the altar goods and the church bell, accompanied by the remaining residents of the pueblo of Quarai (Cuarac). They went to Isleta, where the people spoke the same language.

And then three years later came a significant event in American Pagan history: the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, when all the missionized Indians of New Mexico and northern Arizona revolted simultaneously.

The revolt's cultural effects linger to this day, as David Roberts explains in The Pueblo Revolt : The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Heart Has Its Reasons--For Wanting a Beer

Stories like this one about a heart transplant may seem like fodder for Fate magazine.

But they do raise interesting questions about the whole body-soul split, which is basic to all those religious traditions that teach we are spirits temporary in bodies--or trapped in bodies, as some would have it.

Was it possible that my new heart had reached me with its own set of tastes and preferences? It was a fascinating idea. During those early days, I had no idea that I would look back on this curious comment as the first of many mysteries after the transplant.

UPDATE: Purely by coincidence (really!) Yvonne Aburrow is thinking about organ donation. Consider the implications.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gallimaufry with Beheaded Statues

¶ When monotheists turn violent (which is often): Mormon missionaries vandalize Catholic shrine in southern Colorado. Mormon higher-ups ask forgiveness of Blessed Mother. That was a joke. Actually, they apologized to the San Luis, Colo., town board: one quasi-theocracy to another. They also want to build a huge church in the little town.

¶ Indigenous religious leaders meet about environmental crises. News of the meeting did not apparently make it to the BBC, for instance. I applaud what they are doing, but, unfortunately, they need better media relations. Or else to invite some Pagan bloggers such as Jason.

¶ Wicca is the "designated Other" for comics artists too.

¶ Maybe the Church of Google monotheists would not behead unbelievers.

No pardon for Helen Duncan, convicted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act. (Earlier post here.)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Gallimaufry with Bar Graphs

• Learn all about American religious affiliation from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life -- until you get to us. We are in the "Other Faiths" category under (sigh) "New Age." Notice how the Jews and Hindus score highest in education, the evangelical Protestants and JW's lowest.

• Utra Press, the publishers of the journal Tyr now have their own web site.

• Isaac Bonewits is starting his own magick school. Jason Pitzl-Waters has the details.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Wiccan to Brief Civil Rights Commission

From a friend:

Patrick McCollum has just been selected to be on a special panel to be one of 6 people to brief the United States Commission on Civil Rights -- for presentation to the United States Congress and to the President of the United States -- about the state of religious discrimination in America.

He will talk about the differential treatment that Wiccans and Pagans receive in government institutions and programs, with the hope that our legislators will enact new policies to further pluralism and end religious discrimination. This briefing will be held in Washington, D.C .on February 8th, 2008 and will become an official part of the Congressional Record.

This is obviously an incredible honor and it will be the first time in US history that a Wiccan has been selected to present a briefing to advise the United States Government. He reports he will also be sworn in to the Goddess, which is also an important first.

More as I hear about it.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Why I became a Pagan"

The advent of the Web has made survey-taking much easier, and so when some graduate students want to interview Pagans, they just post a survey on SurveyMonkey.

This link came to me from a trusted source, so I plan to take it myself once I have the free time.

It is interesting how methodology has changed. No one has to go to festivals and try to cajole people into answering a questionnaire anymore.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Is This a Nation of Only Monotheistic Believers?

Under the United Blogging Act of 2005, I should have said something about Mitt Romney's speech about how being a Mormon does not make him unfit to be president.

Hrafnkell picked up on a news release from Americans United, a group that did a lot for us during the pentacle grave-marker quest. The nugget:

“I was particularly outraged that Romney thinks that the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly, “ Lynn said. “That’s a gross misunderstanding of the framework of our constitutional system.

“I think it is telling that Romney quoted John Adams instead of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison,” [the Rev. Barry W.] Lynn continued. “Jefferson and Madison are the towering figures who gave us religious liberty and church-state separation.

In Romney's world, contrary to what comes out of his mouth, there is a religious test for president:

"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages,[sic] and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.

And who did he leave out? I can think of a few religious traditions...

UPDATE: And the non-religious, of course, as Ann Althouse points out in her discussion of the speech.

UPDATE 2: Timothy Burke has the best summary of the Romney speech.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Varieties of Thanksgiving Day

A Florida teacher wants to challenge the usual First Thanksgiving story with one about the Spanish in St. Augustine.

But [Robyn] Gioia, 53, has written a children's book, and just the title is enough to peeve any Pilgrim: America's REAL First Thanksgiving.

"It was the publisher who put real in capital letters," she says, "but I think it's great."

What does REAL mean? Well, she's not talking turkey and cranberry sauce. She's talking a Spanish explorer who landed here on Sept. 8, 1565, and celebrated a feast of thanksgiving with Timucua Indians. They dined on bean soup.

Couple of problems with that. While the Pilgrims occupy much more mythic space than their numbers justify (do you ever hear about the parallel Anglican colonies and their celebrations?,), the Spanish soldiers and missionaries in Florida occupy none, outside of Florida, where I suppose that they inspire the names of subdivisions. They came, they massacred some French Protestants, and eventually they gave up the territory.

We read about Ms. Gioia's efforts on the train coming home. On T'giving morning, M. called me to breakfast.

"Is it a Calvinist breakfast or a Papist breakfast?"

"Oatmeal and burned biscuits -- what do you think?" she replied.

"Only the Elect will be saved," I said.

And then we had bean soup at supper. As for the people who think that Thanksgiving should be a "day of atonement" or "day of mourning," let them eat cold tofu in the dark. I see too many people trying to make it back to the family home on this one day--a day that is more about social bonds than about history or religion. I, for one, cannot condemn them.


Monday, November 19, 2007

An Immigrant's Story

So here I am at the final joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature. The book show is always one of the best parts. It is of the size that is usually measured in "football fields."

Naturally books relating to Christianity dominate, as is true of the many multiple sessions where people are presenting papers.

I walk around, and I feel like an immigrant who has successfully integrated himself into his new country must feel. I recognize "the old country." Sure, the pop songs have changed and the postage stamps look different now, but I remember how to understand the language and even to speak it sometimes. (It's an effort.)

"Revelation" "Prophet" "Authority" "Redemption" "Church" -- I remember those words. But my new language does not need them.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other things to talk about. The new religious movements sessions are always fun--they attract those of us who enjoy religion as spectacle. On Saturday, for instance, I was introduced to the international vampire self-study project. Self-labeled vampirism -- quantified!


Gallimaufry with Geats

¶ Slate reviews the new 3-D Beowulf movie in heroic verse! I liked Beowulf and Grendel. Comparison will be fun.

¶ Staying in a San Diego waterfront hotel is like living in a Tom Clancy novel. Marines in dress blues suddenly fill the lobby. Helicopters and jets dash overhead. On Saturday morning I woke up to see the USS Nimitz moored across from us at Coronado Island.

But from the convention center I look over to a certain apartment complex on Coronado, where someone once important to me lived. Vanished youth, etc. M. is wryly accepting. She has her nostalgia moments too, after all.

¶ Jason Pitzl-Waters links to a news story about what happens when a church is "marital property".

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