Friday, March 05, 2010

The City Dionysia in Colorado Springs.

"Just when you thought you knew what Colorado Springs was all about," commented a poster on one of the Colorado Pagan email lists.

It was the City Dionysia festival, complete with a performance of Euripides' The Bacchae.

There is, of course, a Facebook page, where you can see some photos.

I missed it by going camping, an homage to a different god. Maybe next year.

You have to admit that this event nicely counters the usual "Fort God" image that is commonly encountered.

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Monday, March 01, 2010

Deep Snow, Deep Winter

I spent the last three days camping with friends up on the Arapaho National Forest.

I have done a little deep-winter camping before, but never before on skis with a sled.

I learned that my sleeping bag is not really warm enough for -18 F. (-27 C.) nights. Must remedy that.

Even after that short time, it is hard to make the transition back to the writing life. And things like Facebook--or even blogging--seem so trivial.

But I am developing some new blog posts, so check back after a couple of days.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

Celebrating the Season, However You Do It

Anne Hill has her annual Brigid Poetry Festival going—check the comments for linkage.

Me, I just had to get Out. Cabin fever was setting in, and walking the dogs close to home or going up on the ridge to cut firewood just was not curing it.

So we strapped the touring skis to the Jeep, loaded the dogs, and drove up to a higher, snowier place to ski a few miles, get sunburnt, and have one minor dog incident when they discovered a partly eaten snowshoe hare (maybe a bobcat's leavings).

Naturally they ate it. They need to demonstrate now and then that they understand that dog food does not always come in cans and sacks.

We stopped at Amicas in Salida for pizza. I found myself watching a grey-haired couple waiting to order. He looked to be in his eighties, yet he was wearing  up-to-date "powder overalls" (like this).

I wondered if he just wore them for practical reasons, or was he someone who tore up the slopes at A-Basin or Winter Park in his younger years? Or even one of the fast-dwindling group of old men who wear sun-faded 10th Mountain Division patches sewn to the sleeves of high-tech ski jackets?

The earth keeps spinning.

After a couple of pints of Headwaters IPA (me) and some cabernet sauvignon (her) and sufficient pizza, we feed some crust to the dogs back in the Jeep, as a promise of the dinner (from a sack) waiting for them at home.

We started down the canyon of the Arkansas River, and M. remarked that it was not yet dark at 5:30 p.m. 

The earth keeps spinning, whirling us on to the next thing.


Friday, January 22, 2010

A Pagan Festival Just up the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Cattle Mutilations and Occult Weirdness

A recent "cattle mutilation" report had the gang at Querencia turning to me, because evidently I am their go-to guy on weirdness.

After a couple of weeks had passed, I cranked out a four-part blog post series at my other blog:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

But I left something out: what I called my "Berlitz full-immersion summer course in occult weirdness."

I did write about that aspect of the experience for Fate magazine back in 1988. But I seem to have outsmarted myself and "filed" that issue in some very special place. It is not in the Box of Magazines in Which I Published Articles.

Naturally it is not available online, being from 1988. Too bad, because I had thought of scanning the pages and putting them on the web site.

Perhaps I could find a copy somewhere if there was sufficient demand.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

One Night during the Cold War

I was walking around today in Manitou Springs, once a spa-resort town, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs.

You should know that there are no springs in Colorado Springs--real-estate developers lied in the 1870s too. The springs are in Manitou.

But Colorado Springs has several important military installations: Fort Carson, NORAD, and so on.

Manitou is in a tight valley, and Ruxton Avenue, one of the main streets, goes up a side canyon, where the sun rarely clears the snow and ice, so you step carefully past the little storefronts where various hopeful artsy types open galleries and craft shops and then are gone six months later.

I looked down at one of the Victorian houses across the creek, and a memory of the Cold War years came back.

It was winter then too. M. and I, not long married, lived elsewhere in Manitou.

One night in the early 1980s, I was visiting friends who rented that particular house then, and I came out around 10 p.m to see a narrow view of the sky to the north.

The sky was glowing blood red.

Faster than you can read these words, I thought, "That's it. Soviet missiles have hit Denver. We're next. We'll all be dead before I can get home to say goodbye to her."

Then my rational mind belatedly suggested, "Maybe it's the Northern Lights."

At 38 degrees-something north, we do not see the aurora borealis often—in fact, almost never.

Had it not been for the planetarium shows I had watched as a kid at the natural history museum in Denver, I might not have known what I was seeing.

I went home then to find M. also a little shaken by the sight. After we reassured ourselves that we were still alive, we watched the aurora until it faded. It was front-page news in the next day's local papers.

It all came back to me as I walked back down to the main thoroughfare to look for her Christmas present. We're still alive.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dining above the Dead

I opened the Cañon City Daily Record on Monday and learned that M. and I have been dining above the dead.

One of our two favorite cafes in the nearby town of Florence, Colo., is the Aspen Leaf Bakery, which, it turns out, is the second-most haunted locale in that county. (The first is the Prison Museum, a former women's prison, in Cañon City. Funny about that.)

According to the article, local ghost-hunters say the basement of the Aspen Leaf's building seems to be a "meeting space" for spirits. "No one's died there," said one ghost-hunter. "So they're just hanging around."

The Daily Record offers no link (typical!) but at the Cañon Ghost Trackers web site, you can follow their investigations and listen to their audio evidence.

NOTE:  If all the audio recordings start playing at once (depending on your browser settings), that does indeed sound spooky.

My own experience has been more one of meta-ghost-hunting. And I left out of the book what I thought was the spookiest building of all.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Colorado Pagans and News Media Coverage

I noticed a couple of instances in the past month where Colorado Pagans seem to be getting fairer coverage in the news. One was the item about the Pagan Student Alliance at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

(But as a former university professor, I have seen clubs come and go. Only clubs with strong support from a department or a particular professor last more than a year or two, typically.)

A Denver Post story today describes the work of a hospice chaplain and contains this paragraph:

Her patients come from all spiritual traditions and have included a Buddhist priest, a Druid high priest and a Sufi spiritual leader. But end-of-life spiritual care, she emphasizes, isn't necessarily about religion.

So the Druid is one of the exotic Others, but at least the Post did not put "high priest" in quotation marks.

And Tina Dowd sounds like a true priestess herself.

UPDATE: Here is one description of running a university Pagan students' club.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colorado Pagans To Lose Festival Site

A television news report says that the private Wellington Lake campground, site of Dragonfest and several other Colorado Pagan festivals, is closing for the winter and possibly permanently.

The campground was operated by a concessionaire, Castle Mountain Recreation. The lake itself is part of the Denver suburb of Thornton's water system.

The closure would affect the nearby town of Bailey, the last stop before the lake for those coming from the Denver area.

Rumor has it that the closure is indeed permanent and that some other use is planned for the site—luxury mountain homes?

More when I hear about it.

UPDATE, October 19th: A massive yard sale of all equipment, boats, trucks, etc. from Wellington Trading Post will be held at Wellington Lake from 9-6 each day, Oct. 23-25. That sounds pretty final.

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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, September 20, 2009

The Not-Quite-Pagan 'Pioneer Day' Parade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Can't Stop Chuckling...

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

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Just Another Saturday

Wake up, feed the dogs, make coffee. Take Fisher, the newly adopted (last May) Chessie, for a walk. (Shelby, the ninja-collie, goes to visit her Rottweiler friend Bruno on her own.)

Start working on laying out an article for Pomegranate 11.1 in Adobe InDesign.

M. gets up. We eat breakfast. I cut the grass at the rental cabin, which takes about 45 minutes. Drink water and cool down on the porch. (M. takes a a walk into the national forest, sans dogs.) Back to Pomegranate.

The article is about Paganism in Eastern Europe. At one point the writer uses letters that occur only in Polish, like the L-with-a-slash (sounds like "w"). They are not found in Book Antiqua, the journal's normal font, so can I sneak in a couple of letters from Times, which has everything?

The telephone rings. It's a fire department call. (I joined the local volunteers last January.) But it's not the usual telephone-tree person. Something about an accident up the canyon, but the caller is not clear about how we are responding.

I call the sheriff's office to check. Yes, they know about the accident. Someone is responding. The problem is, because of the location, it could be one of three departments.

"Thanks," I say. Do I go? What to do? The phone rings again.

It's T., our asst. chief. He has been asked to back up on a vehicle extrication--"jaws of life" and all that. He'll meet me at the little country store down on the state highway.

I'm running around, pulling on my turnout pants and boots, grabbing the coat, helmet, and supply pack, throwing them into the Jeep, yelling at Fisher that no, he can't come.

I drive the mile to the store, re-lace my boots. T. rolls up in the brush/rescue truck. (It's all we have, plus a tender.) He turns on the overhead lights, and we're rolling up the canyon, diesel engine laboring.

At the accident scene, the ambulance crew ready to load the victim. There was no extrication--he was riding a motorcycle! He went off a twisty curve and has a broken femur. Irony: he is a medical doctor, an anesthesiologist.

Everyone--rescue-truck crew from the other department, the Forest Service law-enforcement ranger who had been nearby, the sheriff and a couple of deputies--shoots the breeze for a few minutes and then disperses.

T. drops me back at the store. I can't wait to get home and get out of the heavy gear.

Half an hour after the first call, I decide that sneaking in the Times italic will work well enough. There is a smidgen of Hungarian in the article too, but Book Antiqua can handle it.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Photos from the Edges of the Festival

M. and I have returned from the smallest of the three Colorado Pagan camp-out festivals held at Wellington Lake, a large private campground. Wellington Lake is dominated by a large rock formation called (imaginatively) The Castle.

The photo above, however, is the west (back) side, which most festival attendees never see. But if you are a boundary-crossing transgressive Hagazussa, then, perhaps you might find yourself on the Rolling Creek Trail into the Lost Creek Wilderness.

RIGHT: Some Pagans spend so much time at Wellington Lake that they feel a certain sense of ownership.

LEFT: The wet weeks of June meant that more mushrooms were available in the forest than usual for this time of year, including this and other boletes.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ave Smokey

We encountered an American demigod up in Salida, Colorado, during FIBARk today. The woman in the black T-shirt would appear to be an attending priestess, since her shirt has a Forest Service emblem on it.

Apparently he blesses dogs as well as preventing forest fires.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cattle Mutilations: Déjà Vu All Over Again

I almost hate to write this post. It's déjà vu all over again.

Such was my reaction to a recent headline in the Pueblo Chieftain: "Two More Cows Found Mutilated."

Eastern Colorado was central to the "cattle mutilation" meme of the 1970s. I was younger and wishing that one day I would be a newspaper reporter so that I could really learn what was going on.

Later, after the furor died down, I did write for the (now defunct) Colorado Springs Sun. And at one point I assigned myself a retrospective article about "mutilation madness" that eventually spawned a feature in dear old Fate magazine.*

The Sun version left out my youthful experience with a lodge of Thelemic ceremonial magicians who planned to use magick-with-a-k to find the so-called mutilators and collect the Colorado Cattlemen's Association reward money (which never was collected.)

I write "meme" for a reason, and the Chieftain article illustrates it perfectly. The news media tend to follow these "rules" of reporting topics that are pre-judged to be non-serious.

1. Assume that these events are paranormal, inexplicable, or silly.

2. Treat anyone--such as a self-proclaimed UFO expert--as a legitimate source.

It happened in the 1970s, and it's happening now. The only part that is missing is the post-Vietnam War narrative in which crazed Huey pilots conduct crazed nighttime mutilation missions to get the adrenaline rush that they got in 'Nam. (Think Iraq and give it time.)

When I did become a journalist, I decided that the reason that editors did not take the whole cattle mutilation narrative seriously was that

  • it was rural
  • it did not fit into a neat box (sports, crime, politics)
  • it was rural
  • it was difficult to cover, and there were no official spokespeople
  • it was rural
  • it was non-serious, "soft," involving UFOs and what-not.
Consequently, the reporters involved were not necessarily the A-Team. At the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, the main reporter was a middle-aged feature writer, a friend of my dad's, who had mastered the art of being inconspicuous and inoffensive. She never rocked the boat and always wrote down what her sources told her. (She did have a more interesting life outside the newsroom, however.) Her stories were treated more as entertainment than as "hard news" -- and yes, the blatant phallicism of that term is entirely appropriate.

What strikes me about this newest story is the totally uncritical acceptance of the old 1970s narrative.

The mutilations are carried out with "surgical precision." Oh yeah? Did you ask any surgeons, veterinary or otherwise? Did you know that a cut in flesh, left to sit in the sun for a day or two, will swell and look smoother (more precise), even if made with canine teeth?

There is "no blood." Have you studied what happens to blood in a corpse, how it pools at the lowest point and coagulates?

And who is interviewed? Some UFO expert.

Who is not interviewed? An expert on four-footed predators. A specialist in veterinary necropsy (your local vet is not a specialist). An expert on narrative frames applied to inexplicable events, such as "satanic panics, " witch hunts, and other folklore.

The last is perhaps the most important. The woo-woo factor, you know.

A couple of days after the Chieftain article, another piece appeared in the Denver Post: "Wild Dogs Terrorize Eastern Plains."

Delivery drivers have been stranded in their vehicles, cattle stampeded and stockmen have lost sheep, goats, lambs, calves and even pet dogs, county officials say.

Do you suppose there might be a connection? There could be other explanations, equally mundane.

But once the woo-woo narrative frame is imposed, events are seen as strange and mysterious, revealing our fears about satanists, Vietnam veterans, or whatever the latest scary thing is.

* Chas S. Clifton, “Mutilation Madness,” Fate, June 1988: 60-70.

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Friday, March 06, 2009

Blogging in Fire Season

My days this week were split between book-editing, another writing project, and fire-fighting -- or worrying about fires.

In late January I joined the little rural volunteer fire department, which seems in a way to embody what the Founders meant by "militia" back in the 18th century.

M. and I also signed up as volunteers for the Colorado Division of Wildlife -- we have had one training day and no projects yet, but that will change.

Tonight, Saturday, and Sunday I will be involved with more wild-land fire training. That is our main concern -- stopping wild fires that threaten structures -- rather than structure fires as such.

I have a stack of books to review. It is a lot easier to think about writing on a day like today: cloudy, a wisp of drizzle in the air, not much wind.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gallimaufry with Ink

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

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

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

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Death by Self-Castration?

The bones of a priest of Cybele who lived in Roman Britain suggest that his career as a devotee of the goddess might have been short.

Experts in Roman religion believe that the Yorkshire cleric belonged to the officially sanctioned and important religious cult of a mother goddess called Cybele, who originated in Anatolia, present-day Turkey.

The cult was based on the great mother goddess and her toy-boy lover Attis who, guilt-ridden for having sexually betrayed her, went mad, castrated himself and, consequently, died.

The cult's tradition dictated that its priests had similarly to mutilate themselves in painful solidarity with Attis, often using a piece of flint or a sharp fragment of pottery. Ritual clamps were then used to staunch the blood, but Cybelean priests often died in the process.

Has the worship of Cybele been revived? With better medical care? There could have been a temple in Trinidad, Colorado, among other places.

(Via Rogue Classicism.)

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Gallimaufry in Traffic

¶ So M. and I are in traffic behind a Cadillac SRX with the vanity license plate "S-N-M" and a custom-painted "Sanguine Addiction" above the license-plate holder. That's a Colorado metal band, but the driver did not look like any of the musicians. Here is what we were arguing about: Did the big wholesome Denver Broncos logo in the vehicle's rear window add or detract from the overall effect?

¶ The Colorado Springs Gazette ran an autumn equinox story on the alleged Ogham writing in Crack Cave and other SE Colorado sites. For videos of this and other sites, see Scott Monahan's video page. (Yep, that's me in one with Martin Brennan.) Am I a "believer"? Not exactly. I remain perplexed -- and perplexed at how Colorado Pagans ignore these sites too.

¶ Anne Hill, on my blogroll at Blog O'Gnosis, is now also blogging about dreams at the Huffington Post.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Finding Relief from Political Advertising

Colorado is considered an important swing state in this year's election (that's a first!), so lots of money is being poured into television advertising, both in the presidential race and in the race for retiring Senator Wayne Allard's seat.

The other problem that our state laws make it almost too easy to initiate ballot issues, meaning that this year's paper ballot is three (legal-sized) pages long. County clerks warn of long waits on election day.

Since M. and I will be traveling on Election Day anyway -- on a train between Chicago and La Junta, Colo., if all goes according to plan -- we voted by mail this year for the first time ever.

I will miss the ritual of going down to the old schoolhouse to vote, although there were some problems last time.

But all of a sudden, the back-to-back political ads on TV don't bother me as much. It is as though they are advertising remedies for a disease that I don't have. What a relief.


Sunday, September 07, 2008

A Windy Wedding Day

I conducted the fourth wedding of my priestly career (joke) today. This one, unlike the first two, might last.

The bride and groom did all the work, really. All I had to do was gather the spectators and read a couple of Wendell Berry poems in competition with the west wind.

The couple had chosen a breezy ridge top with an ohmygawd view of the upper Huerfano Valley and the Sangre de Cristo range.

Like champagne, Black Forest cake packs a bigger wallop at 10,000 feet than it does at sea level.

M. and I had to drive up through our favorite mushroom-hunting territory to get there. We took a brief stroll in the woods on the way down--saw nothing good.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

From Morgue to Magic and Metaphysics

I stopped by the new home of Isis Books on my way to INATS last June 30.

It's the third home for the Denver area's oldest Pagan-oriented bookstore, now about thirty years old.

Chatting with owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison, I asked her what the building at 2775 South Broadway used to be -- Google Maps still shows it as a plain commercial building with columns in front -- until Karen and her husband Jeff turned them into Egyptian pillars.

"A morgue," she said. "The stained glass was already here when we moved in."

They have remodeled the former morgue garage into a set of little offices/therapy rooms that are rented out to various counselors, massage therapists, etc., which is why the sign out front now says "Healing Oasis."

The bookstore is in what used to be the chapel, and there is plenty of room for the mail-order operation.

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Denver Post Discovers Local Pagans

Denver's Pagan community is featured in The Denver Post According to chatter on the local listservs, the "leaving a bottle of whiskey" bit was the reporter's misunderstanding.

Not surprisingly, Colorado's hard-working Wiccan chaplains were completely ignored in this Post article, which seems to suggest that only the Middle Eastern Monotheisms™ can rehabilitate state prison inmates.

But at least the newer piece mentions them:

Brennan and Anthony also serve as state prison chaplains. Their services are in demand by 500 self-identified pagans who account for 2 percent of the state prison population. Inmate neopagans include Wiccans, druids and the Asatru, who worship Odin and other Norse gods. In prisons especially, the Asatru can be identified with Nazis, skinheads, patriarchy and racism, yet there are pure forms, Brennan said, which focus on positives — self-empowerment and tribal loyalty — rather than white supremacy.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008

Feral Iris

I love wild iris, but it's too dry here in the foothills for them to grow on their own. They do better in the higher, wetter mountains.

But some years ago a colleague gave me a gunny sack full of domestic iris rhizomes she had left over after re-digging her flower beds.

Our "landscaping" here consists mostly of holding the trees at bay ("defensible space") plus a vegetable garden, so I turned the iris loose in the woods. I planted them here and there in little gullies and other low spots that I thought might stay damp in a dry year.

And they have held on. In some bad years, they do not bloom at all. This year we are getting a moderate bloom. It's enough. And while sometimes I am a native-plants purist, I don't think these iris are going to colonize Colorado very fast.

And we all know that there are noxious weeds and "noxious weeds." Take bindweed, for instance. As a gardener, I hate it. But my rancher friend says that cattle will eat it in a dry year, so it gets a tacit exemption from all the weed-control programs--around here, at least.

(Cross-posted to my other blog)


Saturday, February 09, 2008

"I am a stag of seven tines..."

... chanted the old Irish poet Amergin.

But when this seven-point bull elk exploded from a shadowy ravine about 25 yards from where M. and I were standing, all I could think about was what a sneaky old elk he was.

There we were, two people (and two dogs) standing and talking in low voices while I photographed three mule deer about 75 yards up the slope, when suddenly there was a huge crash down to our left.

"More deer," I thought, but it was just him. His patience had been finally exhausted, and he gave up his cool hiding place.

He angled up through the leafless Gambel oak toward the rimrock. The deer bounced off a few yards and then stopped to watch, as they do.

And I laid down the camera to help M. look for some gloves that she had left on her favorite rock on Saturday -- strong winds had blown them downhill -- and then we walked home again.


Monday, December 31, 2007

The Scary Countryside

Jason Pitzl-Waters notes an upcoming Guillermo del Toro movie:

The duo will be co-producing Born, a film adaptation of [Clive] Barker's story about a family who gets more than they bargained for when they move to the English countryside.

The scary countryside is a staple of British--and frequently North American--film-making. Perhaps that cliché is the flip side of the Frazerian notion of the countryside as repository of ancient beliefs and practices.

In movies, ancient practices are always scary. When my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America was in production, the first cover design (not used) was referred to as the "Children of the Corn cover" in honor of the movie stereotype.

Urban directors make these pictures for urban audiences -- who already harbor odd fears about nature and wildlife, like purse-snatching elk.

In British film, every picturesque village is controlled by a secret cabal of child-sacrificing Satanists, disguised, for instance, as the local branch of the Women's Institute.

The editor and publisher of our county newspaper came to dinner last night (they are married to each other) and we got to talking about this very cinematic phenomenon.

We decided that the secret cabal in charge hereabouts would have to be the [Blank] County Cattlewomen. Don't get yourself on their bad side.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Splash of Fall Color

Photo by Chas S. Clifton, Oct. 7, 2007Virginia creeper in autumn color, growing in the willows along Hardscrabble Creek.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Wind that Shakes the Pine Trees

It's a sunny day with a brisk wind blowing. Pine needles are in the air. M. and I both slept in a little last night after returning at midnight from one of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival concerts.

We went to one last year too, to hear Kim Robertson's harp and to watch Jerry O'Sullivan fight the uilleann pipes and win.

It's truly a little odd to hear stars of the Celtic music scene play in the old coal-mining town of Walsenburg, which is definitely in the non-fashionable part of Colorado, for all that they are trying to promote it now as "gateway to the Southwest."

Last night the harpist was Lynn Saoirse, while Seamus Connolly played fiddle and emceed. Add cellist Abby Newton, her fiddler daughter Rosie, Connolly's Maine neighbor Kevin McElroy, John Mullen, and the duo of Kim McKee and Ken Willson, who have moved to the area and whom my Celtic music-loving colleague wants to bring to campus.

Now: house-cleaning, cabin-cleaning, desk-cleaning, and somewhere I there I have to read essays from my creative-nonfiction class.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Feral Apples

Picking feral apples.The equinox is for apples. First M. and walk the small ravine that cuts through our land--that is where the feral apple trees grow.

I think of them as growing from apple cores tossed from someone's pickup window 50 years ago, but really I have no idea.

As Sally the witch says of the magicians' orchard in Robert Graves' Watch the North Wind Rise, these trees have been left in peace.

Only one of the feral trees has borne really well, and I will need a longer pole than my garden cultivator to knock down the high apples. "Wait until after the first frost," M. suggests.

And then we cross the road to a neighbor's house where two planted trees are sagging dangerously with apples. Why haven't the bears arrived? Maybe they will tonight. We fill our bucket in just a few minutes. Apples apples applesapplesapples.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Quick Notes

¶ I went away for a high-school graduation and a small family reunion in one of the non-fashionable parts of Colorado, a trip that prompted these thoughts in my other blog.

¶ Ian Jamison, a British Pagan graduate student, seeks people to take The Pagan Environmental Engagement Survey. In some instances, such as the political parties environmental groups listed and the assumption that taxation is the cure for pollution, it has a British slant, but Pagans from other countries will still relate to most of it.

¶ A New York Times article describes Wicca as "a religion under wraps."

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Baca County Beltane

In the photo, the Beltane Sun (astronomical Beltane--May 5) has recently risen. When it appeared on the horizon, it fit right into the little notch in the rock just below its current position--an alignment that happens only on Beltane and Lammas.

The site, on private land, is known to the students of archaeological sites as "the Sun Temple." I went there last weekend with filmmaker Scott Monahan, researcher Phil Leonard, and Martin Brennan, author of several books on Irish megalithic alignments, including The Boyne Valley Vision and The Stones of Time.

Some people prepare for ritual with baths and meditation, but maybe a 150-mile drive into the gradually darkening prairie works as well. A little synchronicity: on the way to La Junta, I heard the NPR report on the Neolithic temple unearthed in Ireland.

We camped at the site. A wall of lightning flickered silently to the north. Some 200 miles to the east, Greensburg, Kan., was being obliterated, but we did not know it. Our part of Colorado, which had been smashed by blizzards last winter, was warm and quiet. A great horned owl and a screech owl called from the cliffs.

Left: Martin Brennan viewing the sunrise.

On of the cliffs, someone centuries ago scraped the rock smooth and pecked a circle a little bigger than a human head. If you sit precariously so that your head is in the circle, then you see the alignment. A couple of alleged ogham inscriptions are nearby.

I am not qualified to judge the ogham, but I know that more and more (although still few) people visit such sites at the appropriate days. They watch as the old drama of sky, Sun, and rock plays out for a few seconds on a quarter or cross-quarter days. Afterwards, I suspect, they feel a little different about their place on this planet and on the southern High Plains.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

This is not my Beltane post

But the Beltane post is coming. Maybe tomorrow. It was interesting--meaningful in a kind of low-key way.

And should I mention that it is snowing? Just another springtime in the southern Colorado foothills.


Monday, April 30, 2007

What I Will Be Doing for Beltane

Yes, "will be doing." Some people look at the calendar and say that Beltane is this evening and tomorrow. Others celebrated last weekend, according to the "weekend nearest the cross-quarter day" rule. Only by that rule, it comes next weekend.

By the Sun, it falls on Saturday the 5th, as this archaeastronomical Web site will show you.

I plan to visit one of the archaeastronomical sites in southeastern Colorado of which I have written before. This one, the Sun Temple, as the contemporary researchers call it, will be new to me. Something is supposed to happen there on the cross-quarter days. I hope to post photos and/or video links next week.

Meanwhile, you may decide if Beltane and the other cross-quarter and quarter days is

a. Calculated by the solar/astronomical calendar.
b. Calculated by the secular calendar and celebrants' work schedules.
c. A week-long season, so the day does not matter.

If (a) or (b), is it better to celebrate early to get "rising energy" or as close to the actual moment as possible?

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Spring Runoff

Spring runoff fills Hardscrabble Creek,
Wild plum blossoms scent the air—
not quite sweet.

28 April 2007


Saturday, March 31, 2007

Martin Brennan at Anubis Caves

Boulder, Colorado, resident Martin Brennan is known for writing visionary books about ancient megalithic monuments, such as The Boyne Valley Vision.

A new video clip shows him discussing the mysterious carvings that appear to be synched to the equinoctial sunset shadows at "Anubis Caves," a site in the Oklahoma Panhandle. You can view them at filmmaker Scott Monahan's site or at the Mythical Ireland site.

The case for a Celtic connection was made by Barry Fell, Gloria Farley, and the late Bill McGlone, particulary in his book Ancient American Inscriptions: Plow Marks or History?

I have discussed this issue before. It truly baffles me. McGlone makes a plausible argument for the transatlantic origin of these symbols and writings, except . . . .

Why here? Why in far western Oklahoma and southeastern Colorado? There were no great trading cities here 2,000 years ago and no gold nuggets lying on the ground. According to conventional archaeology, there were only a few people here, living the simplest hunter-gatherer lives. They were probably similar to the people encountered by the Coronado expedition in the 1540s living along the rivers (little rivers, mostly) of the High Plains and hunting buffalo when they could.

It's a hell of a long way to go for a Druidic vision quest.

Nevertheless, the other more contemporary puzzle is why these alleged Celtic inscriptions are so ignored by contemporary Colorado Pagans, most of whom have never heard of them. If you had Stonehenge only four hours' drive from metro Denver, wouldn't you go there now and then?

UPDATE: While I concentrated on the alleged Celtic presence in the Southern Plains, I should point out that other students of the inscriptions claim a Punic (Phoenician or Libyan) presence also. It is hard to discuss all this without getting into the politics of diffusionism and the turf battles between Old World and New World archaeologists, all beyond the scope of this blog.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Ogham Controversy, Now on YouTube

Selected bits of Scott Monahan's documentary Old News are now available on YouTube, including the trailer (above) or here in a slightly different version.

I tried to summarize this complex alternative archaeological theory of pre-Columbian Celtic explorers/traders on the Southern Plains before.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Demons Downtown

The Colorado Springs Independent is out with its annual "You're Sooo Colorado Springs" round-up.

To fulfill my obligation to be a religion blog, I'll list a few observations that readers from outside the "Protestant Vatican" might enjoy.

You're sooo Colorado Springs if . . .

10. You plan to meet friends for coffee and you bring your laptop, cell phone, Blackberrg, iPod, digital camera, and Bible.

9. You think all nonprofits have religious affiliations.

8. You've never been to a church that didn't have a multimedia service.

7. You recognize that there are more churches in town than east-west turn lanes.

6. You can recite at least 20 pages of the Bible from memory, but can't remember to use your turn signals.

5. You think demons will steal your soul if you go downtown.

4. You know the difference between Odd- and Evan- Gelicals.

3. You had so many Bible studies at Starbucks, they have replaced their windows with stained glass.

2. You lobby to change to name of the Garden of the Gods to Garden of the One True God: Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, Amen.

and number one . . .

1. You're scared to go to Manitou Springs because of the witches.

I mean, that is, like, so Seventies! I have yellowed newspaper clippings about the witches of Manitou. Ah, the persistence of folk memory!

(Ah, the rituals and parties we had in the old Spa Building. . . )

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Pagan with a Small 'p'

Pueblo, Colorado, is a perplexing city. As Pueblo Chieftain columnist Chuck Green wrote in today's paper, it "suffers from a traditional inferiority complex, looking like a haggard woman when a little bit of care could reveal an attractive lady. Sometimes it seems like the city has accepted some self-fulfilling subordination imposed by outsiders."

And yet some local organizations just produced a outstanding performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana.

Go figure: it's a shot-and-a-beer, get-pregnant-and-drop-out-of-high-school city with an equally flourishing "high culture" side.

Orff (1895-1982) was a German composer who believed in creating powerful, sensual music that could be performed by nonprofessionals. One organization still carries on his music-education principles.

The "carmina" are medieval songs from a collection found in a German monastery, but their world view is not Christian. It is a frank admittance that sometimes you are up, and sometimes, no matter how you strive, the universe has decided that today is not your day. So you drink a toast to Lady Fortune, and you keep on keeping on.

The gods may favor you, or they may not; meanwhile, "Hail, light of the world. Hail, rose of the world. Blanchefleur and Helen, noble Venus!"

The performers ranged from professional singers to dedicated amateurs (The Pueblo Choral Society) to university students (the solid CSU-Pueblo Percussion Ensemble) to kids (the South High School Cecilian Choir and the Sangre de Cristo Ballet Theatre)--nearly 200 performers in all.

From the first crashing notes . . . O Fortuna velut luna statu variabilis (O Fortune, you are changeable like the Moon), I was carried away. Back to the fog-wrapped dormitory at Reed College where I first heard the Carmina Burana on my girlfriend's stereo, back to the final scenes of John Boorman's Excalibur back to, yes, even the credit-card commercial where the barbarians invade the shopping mall. So what--Orff' s music stands like a wall.

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Monday, February 02, 2004

Some Hae Meat

On Saturday the 24th of January, a colleague invited me and the notorious M.C. to the "Burns Nicht Supper," an annual event in many locations around the world, celebrating the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns. Go here for a typical evening's program, Alberta version.

"You'll see," she said. "The Presbyterians provide the organization, and the Pagans provide the music and energy" . . . or words to that effect.

I tied on my dress Gordon necktie (Victorian invention, all that specific clan tartan stuff); the notorious M.C. combed her red hair and dressed in black, and off we went, to the dining hall of The Retired Enlisted Association in Colorado Springs, a suitably banner-hung and martial venue. Aside from one singer/guitarist and his companion, who set off my . . . what's the Pagan equivalent of "gaydar"? . . . I would say that the Presbyterian influence dominated the evening.

All the elements were there: the haggis was piped, the toasts were drunk, and the wee laddies and lassies danced around basket-hilted broadswords as large as they were. I give the Scottish Society of the Pike's Peak Region credit for this: they are not afraid to let children handle large edged weapons. Imagine such a thing in a public school in this safety-crazed age.

But eventually it all wore on us, and we slipped away before "Auld Lang Syne" was sung, pleading the long drive home.

The same Scottish Society of the Pike's Peak Region will be "kirkin' the tartan" in our former home of Manitou Springs come April 3. A little research reveals that this seemingly ancient "tradition" was invented early on in World War II to build American support for the British cause, in the months before the Pearl Harbor attack brought us into the war. Now it has become a major American and Canadian tourist event: here is one example from Nova Scotia.

As for the Pagans, I think that they are at the Highland Games that are spreading everywhere.

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Pueblo's Hipper Image

Pueblo, Colorado, where I am employed, has seen its reputation slowly changing. While this column by Colorado Springs Independent columnist John Hazlehurst is actually a reproof of his own city, with Pueblo playing the role of "noble savage," it's part of a trend. As the northern Colorado Front Range region becomes more malls, subdivisions, and freeways, suddenly non-trendy blue-collar Southern Colorado is looking better, more "authentic."

Maybe Pueblo will become "Santa Fe in the Rockies." (But, John, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is already in the Rockies.) If so, trendoid newcomers will have to learn "Pueblonics" -- how to say "youse guys" with a Hispanic accent and how to apply such similes as "X was like a Bojohn wedding," or "Y is bigger than the Cannon Game."javascript:void(0)

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Sunday, September 28, 2003

That Auction

Just a follow-up to yesterday's post: We went to the auction, so I can see that I've seen that particular elephant.

I think I was last at the Pines Ranch the summer of 1975, when I drove there in Dad's Chevy Vega from Colorado Springs, got permission to park it near the lodge, and walked up through the nearby summer cabins, onto the Rainbow Trail, and thus to Lake of the Clouds.

Obviously, it has changed a little. I spotted the two-story Victorian lodge with the porch that I remembered, but that whole fake Western town/office/dining hall/swimming pool complex was not there then.

As for the art, I have nothing against representational art (one of my favorite painters of all time is still John Singer Sargent), but I want it to move me somehow, to go beyond mere postcard prettiness. (I love Sargent's nervous intensity.) One more office-credenza-size bronze bull elk or mounted-cowboy-with-packhorse does not do much for me.

It was 95 percent standard middle-range-Taos-art-gallery stuff, well-executed but predictable. Back in the 1970s we started calling some of that genre "oil company boardroom art"-- romantic views of the country that they are now cutting up with roads and drill pads. My checkbook stayed in my pocket. OK, I had tentatively set a spending limit in the hundreds, and pretty much everything was in the $1,200-$2,500 range; and I would have to be deeply in love to spend that kind of dough.


Saturday, September 27, 2003

A Greenhouse

Big news that is not about writing: the new greenhouse kit is here--four big cardboard cartons lying beside the driveway. I hope this weekend to spread gravel where it is going to sit, and then I can assemble it next Friday or Saturday. The weather forecast is dry, luckily--and the aspens are turning now, streaking the ridges with gold.

We have always had vegetable and flower gardens. We grow food to eat and some plants just because they are dramatic and drought-resistant (wormwood, various sturdy asters), and we grow some medicinal herbs. Since the greenhouse will not be heated, it will not provide year-around production, I reckon; but it should stretch the season for salad greens, at least.

This afternoon Mary and I are going to an art auction to benefit the local conservation land trust, which I do support with donations, even though I feel like they tend to ignore this end of the county. Mary is not thrilled about hob-nobbing with the "trophy house" crowd (if that truly is who attends), but I think that we will see at least a few familiar faces from our service on the board of another nonprofit organization a couple of years ago.

There will be painting demonstrations, which seems weird to me. Can you imagine a writing demonstration? It's the finished product that matters. (My father, who was a representational painter, would disagree with me on that--but I am not interested in studying another painter's technique.)

The art will be primarily representational and/or "Western," I suppose, but maybe we'll find a local version of Robert Bateman--someone whose paintings of the natural world are not only superbly executed but also have a sense of Mystery to them. I'll take the checkbook, set a modest spending limit, and see what happens.

To use my favorite 19th-century expression, I just need to "see the elephant."


Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Autumn Winds

I came home this evening with the usual disconnected, uprooted feeling that I have after a long day in the classroom. The danger is that I'll sit down with a book or the television, have a glass of wine, another . . . another, and be too fuzzy for any serious work.

To avoid that outcome, I decided to cut firewood. The little Husqvarna chainsaw is finally out of the saw-repair shop (it had a midlife crisis), parts having finally arrived from Sweden by sailing ship.

Racing against sundown, I started cutting pine and juniper limbs that had been sitting in a stack all summer after the branch-breaking blizzard in March. The west wind carries a suggestion of moisture--the first snow for the high mountains? Rain for us? It's the 9th, but that wind felt equinoctial.

Last Sunday, the 7th, Mary and I were invited for a potluck brunch at "the squire's." That's how we think of him: a rich doctor with a ranch at the end of our road, and a couple of others in Colorado, British Columbia, and maybe somewhere else. The guests included some of our neighbors (his former employees), the publisher of the county newspaper and his wife, a German exchange student, and a few other locals. It was interesting how much the conversation focused on vegetable-gardening and greenhouses. (Coincidentally, we had just ordered one ourselves from Seeds of Change after the contractor who was supposed to build one for us flaked out.). I keep thinking about how all these people, most of whom are comfortably well off, were talking like survivalists.

The next day I talked with another friend at the other end of the county, a fulltime freelance writer, who has horses and burros, but primarily for pleasure, and suddenly he is talking about large-scale greenhouses, production growing of "micro-greens" for the local organic growers' cooperative, and how much land he could legally irrigate under his well permit.

Another friend down by Durango slipped the phrase "small livestock" into his last message, without being more specific. He's the former Western field editor for Mother Earth News, so I think that he might be on to something. This is starting to feel a lot like the 1970s all over again; I get that feeling every time I see a newspaper article about the possibility of fuel-cell cars. There is something in the wind saying that a degree of self-sufficiency is going to be in style again.

What Mother Earth News says about harvesting rainwater is technically a violation of Colorado's byzantine water laws, but we do it anyway. Now we need a bigger tank.