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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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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The World of Esotericism

The University of Amsterdam has one of just a few graduate programs in the study of Western Esotericism, which is often contrasted with Christianity as follows (from a lecture handout based on work of Antoine Faivre).


Personal deity                              
                         Impersonal deity
Creation of the world by fiat        
                       Emanation of world in stages
Material and evil are real             
                      Material and evil ultimately unreal
Humans as creatures                  
                      Humans as divine sparks
                       Entrapped souls
                       Ignorance, forgetfulness
                      spiritual disciplines/exercises
Afterlife in heaven or hell             
                      Afterlife in new learning situation

(Note, I do not consider Paganism and esotericism to be identical, although many esoteric elements show up in contemporary Paganisms.)

All of this is a lead up to a fascinating web page put by the esotericism program at the University of Amsterdam, showing relationships between esoteric thought, music, art, and philosophy.

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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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Monday, September 21, 2009

Thor versus the Cathedrals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Late Harvest

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

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

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

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Greek Orthodox Cover-up of Parthenon Defacing

Via Richard Bartholomew: Orthodox clergy in Greece demanded -- and got -- removal of a film segment in the Parthenon visitor center that showed their predecessors smashing Pagan statuary, etc., centuries ago.

UPDATE: (Via Jason) The museum backed down and is restoring the original film.

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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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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Your Prayers, Our Magic--Do They Always Help?

It's a common argument among Pagans--Witches in particular--when conversing with monotheists to say something like, "What you call prayer, we call spells," or words to that effect.

No doubt we think ours are better. No one is testing them, but there have been a number of studies attempting to quantify the effects of "intercessory prayer," usually meaning prayer for people facing health crises.

Some seemed to show that such prayer helped, results that were seized upon by Christians.

But the results of one are not so simplistic, reports Christianity Today magazine. (I urge you to read the whole thing.)

The study received some attention at the time [three years ago], but seemed to have escaped the notice of many Christians, probably because of its surprising—and for Christians, disturbing—conclusions.
. . . .

The result: The group [of surgical patients] whose members knew they were being prayed for did worse in terms of post-operative complications than those whose members were unsure if they were receiving prayer. The knowledge that they were being prayed for by a special group of intercessors seemed to have a negative effect on their health.

Where does that leave people who say that you should get permission before "working" for anyone?

The authors then turn theological:

Our prayers are nothing at all like magical incantations [!]. Our God bears no resemblance to a vending machine. The real scandal of the study is not that the prayed-for group did worse, but that the not-prayed-for group received just as much, if not more, of God's blessings. In other words, God seems to have granted favor without regard to either the quantity or even the quality of the prayers.

And then they have to jump through more theological hoops to answer the obvious question, "Then why pray at all?"

Obviously, that is not our theology. Pagans do not expect the gods to conform to our standards of either/or logic.

But try reading the article and substituting our language for its authors'. How would you respond?

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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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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Compliments in One Week

Two nice bits of feedback this week, which are rare enough in the academic-writing life.

First, someone emailed me about The Encyclopedia of Heresies and Heretics, which was my first big project after grad school, back in the early 1990s.

I am a fan of medieval history and refer to it on a regular basis. As other books get read and put back upstairs, the Encyclopedia stays downstairs, because I continue not to be able to keep the early Christianities clear in my mind.

Wow. And guess what, I cannot always keep them clear either.

That book was not written for love but for money -- a friend was acquisitions editor for the original publisher, ABC-Clio, and one day when I was in Denver, he took me to lunch and gave me the "What can you write for us?" speech.

I won't say it is a great book or a classic or anything, but it did make money and it did get me over the hump to where I was writing for an audience, not writing for my professors.

Then on Wednesday I went to the nearest PetsMart store for dog food and sunflower seeds (wild bird food). The store manager came to help out by serving as a cashier since the check-out line was growing.

He majored in English and took my rhetoric class a few years ago. I was in his line in the store, and when I came to the counter, he started telling me how useful the class had been, how he still uses some of the concepts of classical rhetoric when he does training classes, and so on.

Be still, my heart. If you want to make your old professors happy, tell them that you use (or at least occasionally think about) what they taught.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Awaiting a Movie about Hypatia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Monday, January 19, 2009

Copyediting Religion

Orthographic payback is a bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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Friday, January 09, 2009

It's Been Linked with the Darkness!

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

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

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

(Via Caroline Tully.)

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gallimaufry and an Omelette

¶ Twitter, It’s the CB radio of the 2000’s. That's funny if you remember the CB radio craze of the 1970s.

Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal is shipping now -- my contributor copy just arrived. Oberon Zell's layout suggests the original pages, blending different decades into a coherent whole -- with lots of Arnold Bocklin type, on the principle that everything old is new again. (Is it coincidence that Böcklin himself loved Pagan themes in his art?)

Anyway, go buy one and dive in.

¶ I share James French's skepticism about Pagan-Christian dialog but some people obviously think it is worthwhile.

¶ Caroline Tully reprints some cogent thoughts on the role of the priestess--from 108 years ago. "What do we find in the modern development of religion to replace the feminine idea, and consequently the Priestess?"

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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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Monday, July 28, 2008

Seeing the World with Greek Eyes

"I am a Greek born 2,381 years after my ancestors built and dedicated the Parthenon . . . . I am telling Greek history outside the conventional Christian worldview," writes Eaggelos G. Vallianatos, author of The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes

Born in a Greek village, Vallianatos came to the United States as a young man and earned a doctorate in history at Wisconsin. He has written three other books on globalization and agriculture.

A little bit like Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick's A History Of Pagan Europe, his book moves from a general discussion of Greek religion through the conquest of a disunited Greece by imperial Rome to the fall of the empire as seen by Greek historians, lingering on the late Christian emperors' persecution of the Pagan "Hellenes," those who saw Greek literature, culture, and religion as intertwined.

One appendix discusses and rates works by many noted classicists. Vallianatos likes Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, who "[makes] some difference to our understanding of the dreadful record of Christianity in the Mediterranean," but has no use for Polymnia Athanassiadi: "Her Christian bias shines through in everything she says about Julian." And so on.

As its title suggests, the book is passionate. I have read only as far as Chapter 4, "The Treason of Christianity," because I can take it only in small doses. But I will continue all the way to the end, believe me.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Religion of Beer

As "religion," beer predates Christianity and Islam. And it is back on sale in Iraq.

(In some areas, as I understand, the sellers of alcoholic beverages come from Iraq's dwindling Christian community. I do not know if that is the case here.)

Via Instapundit.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gallimaufry to Fill Space

Back from a week on the road to a full inbox and a desk covered with bills to pay, I offer a few links for your kind attention:

¶ Attention Kemetic reconstructionists: Don't let your temple-builders become anemic.

¶ A list of things that offend Muslims. Anyone want to try the Pagan equivalent? I think it would be a lot shorter. Piggy banks and Easter eggs don't bother me. Can you imagine Pagans rioting in the streets over the crappy remake of The Wicker Man and giving director Neil LaBute the Theo Van Gogh treatment? I can't either. We prefer to just make fun of it.

¶ This will go onto my must-see list: Jason Pitzl-Waters notes an upcoming movie about the philosopher Hypatia. An uncompromising Neoplatonist, from what I understand, she was murdered by a Christian mob after some bishop put out a fatwa against her.

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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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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Witchcraft on the Screen and on the Page

Pagan performance-studies scholar Jason Winslade is interviewed at the TheoFantastique blog on Witchcraft and the entertainment industry:

Let me first say that I have a hard time coming up with any examples of “real witchcraft” or “real magic” in television or films. As you rightly state in your blog, any portrayals of these phenomena are inevitably fantasy with fancy special effects and things flying around. Any practitioner will tell you that this does not happen. At least they do not in the waking world. (Of course, this begs the question what “real magic” actually is – ask 3 practitioners and you’ll get 5 answers. Certainly "real" magic, with the exception of ritual, is much more of an internal process, and thus doesn’t lend itself to special effects extravaganzas). Some programs may incorporate sound magickal philosophy and metaphysics but their application is ultimately fantastical.

TheoFantastique is written by John Morehead, who also writes Morehead's Musings, where he has a special interest in Christian evangelism to new religious movements.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Drumming to Save Their Lives

Reuters Photo:  A cultural performance is seen in Pimchakh, 40 km (25 miles) from regional capital Petropavlovsk-KamchatskyOn the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia's Far East (across from Alaska), indigenous people are engaged in a work of cultural survival.

"Everyone of my generation speaks the Koryak language, knows the customs, dances, dishes like in the ancient times. But some of our children don't know anything at all," said folk performer Lidia Chechulina, slightly breathless after dancing to the beat of a deer-skin drum and the music of her own voice.

Her songs, sung in a guttural language reminiscent of Chinese, describe the beauty of the tundra, volcanoes and the sea, she explains. She adds that songs, one for each person, accompany Koryaks all their lives and act as a charm.

Soviet Communism, with all its Marxist talk about the dignity of labor, etc., had about the same effect on the Siberians peoples as Christianity did on the American Indians--especially when the Bureau of Indian Affairs used to hire missionaries as Indian agents. But then both Christianity and Marxism are monotheisms, in a sense.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Reading Augustine on Polytheism

As a Reed College student in my freshman humanities class, I read St. Augustine's Confessions, often considered to be the first autobiography in the Western world.

Augustine did more to shape institutional Christianity in the West (Roman Catholics, Protestants) than anyone except the apostle Paul. The eastern Orthodox churches were not so impressed by him.

I re-read The Confessions when I was working on The Encyclopedia of Heresy and Heretics, because of Augustine's former involvement with the followers of Mani.

Being older and a little wiser--and also Pagan--I was somewhat less impressed by how piously he ditches his Pagan girlfriend, the mother of his son, because his Christian mother (St. Monica) does not like her and wants him to marry a Christian virgin. Monica herself advised Christian women to be sweet to husbands who beat them. You can find her spiritual heirs on the shelves of Christian bookstores today.

Augustine's big book, however, is The City of God, which established him as a theologian. I never had read it, but I have decided to attempt at least the first half, which is his attack on Roman polytheism.

He wrote it around 410, roughly 50 years after Julian, the last Pagan emperor, and a century after the imperial house (except Julian) became officially Christian. Paganism lingered, more in the Western empire than in the East, I think, but no longer enjoyed such government subsidies as formerly.

Its historical context was the Visigoths' attack on Rome. The Visigoths, who had lived in present-day Bulgaria, were tribes allied to Rome, and the attack was part of an attempt by their leader, Alaric, to become supreme Army commander--or maybe more--it was a complicated time of military-political contests for rulership. But the idea of barbarians breaking into Rome was a big shock for the empire, and some people claimed it happened because Rome had abandoned the old gods.

Here is were Augustine seems to "spin" his story, however, in a manner worthy of a Sunday-morning political TV talk show. He did teach rhetoric, after all.

Right off, in Book I, he makes much how the "the barbarians" spared residents of Rome who fled to Christian churches, even Pagans. He writes, "For of those who you see insolently and shamelessly insulting the servants of Christ, there are numbers who would not have escaped that destruction and slaughter had they not pretended that they themselves were Christ's servants."

He was not an eyewitness, but let's assume he was right. But what he does not mention is that "the barbarians" themselves--at least some of them, including Alaric--were Christians.

The only problem is that from Augustine's point of view, they were the wrong flavor of Christians. They were Arian Christians, who believed Jesus was created by God the Father instead of having existed eternally as part of the Trinity. Arianism was big among the Germanic tribes, possibly because it made Jesus more of a "culture hero."

The controversy was long and bitter, so Augustine prefers to write about "barbarians" instead of admitting that they were largely Christian barbarians looting a Christian/Pagan city.

That's Book (in other words, "chapter") One. I might have more to say about his take on polytheism later.

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wicca and Christianity

I have not yet seen it, but English scholar Jo Pearson has a new book, Wicca and the Christian Heritage. Amazon-UK link here.

From the publisher's catalog:

What is Wicca? Is it witchcraft, Paganism, occultism, esotericism, magic, spirituality, mysticism, nature religion, secrecy, gnosis, the exotic or 'other'? Wicca has been defined by and explored within all these contexts over the past thirty years by anthropologists, sociologists and historians, but there has been a tendency to sublimate and negate the role of Christianity in Wicca's historical and contemporary contexts.

Joanne Pearson 'prowls the borderlands of Christianity' to uncover the untold history of Wicca. Exploring the problematic nature of the Wiccan claim of marginality, it contains a groundbreaking analysis of themes in Christian traditions that are inherent in the development of contemporary Wicca. These focus on the accusations which have been levelled against Catholisicm, heterodoxy and witchcraft throughout history: ritual, deviant sexuality and magic.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

The tricky side of charisma

Over at GetReligion, a blog devoted to the collision of religion and journalism, Terry Mattingly links to a story of a Pentecostal preacher in trouble.

The details do not concern me. What caught my eye was this part of the linked posting:

Again, in my opinion, this false teaching arose because church leaders saw a need to conceal the widespread sexual immorality in their own ranks. “Touch not mine anointed” is often repeated alongside the Apostle Paul’s statement that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” The latter verse, from Romans, is used to rationalize how a minister can lead a completely dissipated life and still display genuine gifts of God such as the ability to preach or prophesy. The misuse of these verses has done tremendous damage within the Pentecostal-charismatic tradition.

Something that we polytheists should understand -- something that I learned in my first coven -- is that magickal ability or even the favor of the gods is not the same thing as moral character.

When Mattingly calls Rev. Allen "charismatic — in every sense of the word," that is what he is saying, with his Christian terminology. The man has "the juice." But having the juice does not mean that you trust in him other areas.

I suspect that Socrates, for instance, knew that perfectly well. Consequently, he does not discuss it. Every ancient Athenian probably knew that you could be filled with divine power -- enthused -- now and then, but being so enthused did not make you a philosopher.

Monotheists, however, want it all in one package: the Professional Good Man, to borrow a phrase from Elmer Gantry. Consequently, they are always dealing with clergy-corruption issues.

I had not realized that Pentecostal Christians, in particular, used Bible verses to explain away the issue. They ought to just understand that even if someone "displays the genuine gifts of [their] God," he or she may still not be someone to listen to in other areas. Their sheep/sheepherder model of organization gets them in trouble again and again.

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Little boxes, little boxes, little boxes full of Bible people

During the 2002 American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Toronto, the Royal Ontario Museum had a well-timed display of the so-called "James ossuary."

It was a 1st-century CE stone box of a type used in the Middle East back then for storage of cleaned and dismembered skeletons of the dead. This one was inscribed, "James the brother of Jesus," and much excitement was felt over that.

Until it turned out to be a fake. The box was real enough, but the inscription was not.

So you have to wonder about these inscriptions that claim to read "Judah son of Jesus," "Mary," and so on.

Now the Discovery Channel is about to unleash a show about a whole stack of ossuaries. Yes, it's the Jesus Family Tomb.

Ah, biblical archaeology. It's rarely dull. The "Lost Tomb of Jesus" indeed. How the Christian bloggers will blog, the preachers will preach, and the dull thumping sound you hear is an archaeologist beating his head against the wall.

(The title is an homage to Malvina Reynolds, whose songs helped me to survive high school.)

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Fundie art and sex

I knew Jeff Sharlet from Killing the Buddha and his great Harper's piece on New Life Church in Colorado Springs. It turns out that he has a quirky personal blog too: Call Me Ishmael.

Check out his comments on Christian fundamentalist art.

My tentative theory: As religious art traditionally uses eroticism to channel worldly desires toward spiritual concerns, contemporary fundamentalist art uses eroticism to channel sex -- the visual currency of power in an advertising culture -- away from women and toward men. Either that, or it's a vast gay conspiracy.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

A fall from a height

I am in Colorado Springs today, where famous evangelical pastor Ted Haggard's fall dominates the news.

Frankly, to borrow the name of a better-known blog, I just don't "get" his kind of religion. A 14,000-member megachurch? Why? So you can sit on your butt and be preached at and sung at among a huge crowd of strangers?

My dislike for Haggard's approach is more than theological. It is partly aesthetic--the whole megamall megachurch entertainment thing. And it's partly because of the way that New Lifers regarded the most interesting parts of Colorado Springs (such as the Old North End and Tejon Street) as controlled by Satan or something. I wrote elsewhere that they do not understand the gods of the city, only the gods of the suburban shopping mall.

One excerpt: "[Jeff] Sharlet makes a good case for New Lifers as exurban parasites, taking the services that the city provides but being unwilling to pay for them, either financially or psychically."

Anyway, he is toast now, although there will probably be some sort of public-repentence-as-career move. From a Christian perspective, LaShawn Barber's coverage is about the best.

And that's the news from "Fort God."

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Leaving the meat uncovered

Sheik Taj Din al-Hilaly, Australia's senior Islamic cleric, explains rape and how women serve Satan:

“If you take uncovered meat and put it on the street, on the pavement, in a garden, in a park, or in the backyard, without a cover and the cats eat it, then whose fault will it be, the cats, or the uncovered meat’s? The uncovered meat is the disaster.

I just felt that I needed to share that. Pagan cat-owners, please don't be offended.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Who's a Celt now? - 3

"Celtic Spirituality" as religious outbidding.

During the recent Spanish Peaks Celtic Music Festival, St. Benedict Episcopal Church in La Veta, Colorado, took out a small ad in the program for their Celtic Spirituality weekend.

Yes, before the contemporary Pagan movement was underway, various Anglicans were pushing "Celtic spirituality" as a way to make an end run around the Roman Catholics. Their claim that the Church of England was rooted in the so-called Celtic church permitted claims such as this:

[The Church of England] preserved a tradition of [Celtic and Anglo-Saxon] scholarship which Rome had lost, together with a love of discipline which the Celt never had. The result was a vigorous, dignified, and self-reliant national Church.

Arthur G. Willis and Ernest H. Hayes, Yarns on Wessex Pioneers (1954)

Best of both worlds, you see. It's all about Celtic special-ness.

Whereas the Vatican may claim the keys of St. Peter, Celtic spirituality lets one claim a link to the ancient, noble Druids (one of several interpretations of Druids, as will be neatly enumerated in Ronald Hutton's upcoming book on them). See, for instance, this "Christ as Druid" prayer, attributed to St. Columba, but I wonder.

By claiming that Druids were peacefully converted and led their Pagan peoples into Christianity, the "Celtic church" casts itself as the irenic alternative to "convert-or-die" monotheisms.

Celtic Christians want to be like Druids, because one interpretation of Druids is as proto-monotheists. That interpretation came from writers who never met a Druid, as Stuart Piggott explained forty years ago.

Some Episcopal clergy became a little too enthusiastic about Druidry and learned the hard way where the borders were.

I do not want to be too hard on the American Episcopalians. That church has been slowly self-destructing since the 1960s, when it became infected with a bad case of Vatican II-envy.
More to come.

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Monday, November 08, 2004

One Druid Down

Fr. William Melnyk, the Episcopal priest in Pennsylvania who was also an active Druid, has resigned.. His wife, Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk, also a Druid and Episcopal priest (no "-ess" allowed), faces disciplinary action.

My last post on this issue is here. Notice that the man must suffer more; women lead us into temptation, but a man is more morally culpable. Thus says the patriarchy.

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Friday, March 12, 2004

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc�s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, "After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up," having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

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Friday, October 17, 2003

Inspiration in Paganism

"I had been a Christian pastor for 15 years when I found true inspiration in Paganism." And he has written a book. His use language on the Web page, at least, shows some background in evangelical Christianity.

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