Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gallimaufry with Confusion

• The latest weird search query to bring a visitor to this blog: "Is New Mexico a polytheistic, monotheistic, or animistic religion?" Hello? New Mexico is a state. No wonder that for years New Mexico Magazine has had a standing column on geographical confusion called "One of Our 50 is Missing."

• A
TheoFantastique [Morehead] : Cinema has also changed in its depiction of the witch. Are fairytale depictions as in Harry Potter, as well as those which depict the empowerment of the feminine perhaps the most common modes of expression in contemporary film?

Carrol Fry: Yes, the empowerment of the feminine is the most popular adaptation, whether the film is supportive of critical. I’m sure this has to do with attracting an audience for the film. But Pagans might well feel that Hollywood slights their spiritual paths by concentrating nearly exclusively on feminist Wicca, and then just on the most sensational elements. By the way, there’s a strong subtext of feminist Wicca in
that no one much notices, most obviously in Sophie’s (named for Sophia from the Gnostic tradition) blunders into a Wiccan ceremony in which her grandfather is “drawing down the moon” as a coven ceremony. There are a few other witch films that are not part of the culture wars, romantic films such as I Married a Witch
and Bell, Book and Candle that are neither the silly version of witches (that have nothing to do with Neo-Paganism[sic]) such as the Harry Potter novels and films nor adaptations of Wicca.

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Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Difference between Santa Fe and Taos

Looking back to the artists and writers of 1930s-40s Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico writer Paul Horgan observed,

Between Santa Fe and Taos there was a sense of rival constituencies, and sensitive persons tended to be loyal to the powers, virtues, and dangers of one place or the other. Santa Fe was more worldly, more sophisticated. Taos believed itself to be animated by an energy that was actually occult.

Blame D.H. Lawrence and Mabel Dodge Luhan for creating much of the "Taos energies" narrative.

Having lived briefly in Taos and having visited both places off and on since my teens, I think that Horgan's distinction still applies.

Put me in the Taos group: Santa Fe's Spanish-imperialist past still lingers.

I stop for coffee in Taos, and the guy at the next table is talking about how parallel universes influence ours. In Santa Fe, it's where they came from and what glamorous destination awaits them next.

In fact, I became a capital-P Pagan in Taos. Actually, it was in the nearby village of Talpa--but still Taos County. (I see I said that once already. Where are the adobes of yesterday?)

Horgan is quoted in Barbara Harrelson's Walks In Literary Sante Fe: A Guide to Landmarks, Legends and Lore which is itself an extended bibliographic essay-with-maps about the former provincial and current state capital.

The next time I visit, I want to follow some of her walks.

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Inquisition in New Mexico

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

It is now part of Salinas Pueblos National Monument.

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

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

You can imagine the conflicts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Time Warped in Taos

A slow day today: a couple of hours at the Wired coffeehouse in Taos, N.M., a visit to the art gallery where a friend was "working" on a slow Easter Sunday (in other words, M. and I were the only people to drop by) and continued reading of Stephen Oppenheimer's book at World Cup Coffee and on a bench in the central Plaza after the sun came out.

Just back from drinks at the Sagebrush Inn, where we normally might have stayed, but it was full due to spring break and the sudden influx of snowboarders, now that they are permitted at Taos Ski Valley.

It's good to come to Taos. We have friends here, and it the super-secret cut-off road is not snowed in, it's only 175 miles from our house.

The trouble is that I keep running into this guy here. He is tall with long hair in a ponytail, dressed in denim with a white straw cowboy hat.

He is me from thirty-some years ago, when I worked a construction job for a couple of summers.

It is here (well, Talpa actually) that I decided I really was a Pagan -- possibly the only one in the world. (Don't laugh, it was the early 1970s.)

But he keeps creeping into my mind every time that I visit. Sometimes it is minor stuff, as when I suggested to M. that we eat lunch at El Patio, a restaurant that for many years has been known as the Alley Cantina.

So I look for restaurants that are here no longer, expect to see people that are here no longer.

He was at a loss about his future, so I wish that I could tell that it has turned out all right so far.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Right Architecture for Reading

M. and I played hooky and went to Taos last weekend. I spent part of two mornings reading In Search of Zarathrustra (interview with author Paul Kriwaczek here).

The book is both an exploration of how Zorastrian ideas influenced Western monotheisms and an travel book about Iran, Afghanistan, and other regions of Central Asia.

It seemed right to read it on the patio of El Pueblo Lodge, surrounded by adobe walls, because as Kriwaczek reminds his readers, the word paradise comes from the Persian for walled garden, and many of those walls must have been mud brick.

The old parts of Taos follow the Middle Eastern/Mediterranean model: walled off from the street and easily fortified. I am acutely aware of the difference when I come home to my own house, built in the Celto-Germanic model: rectangular and decorated with antlers.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

On the Road

I'm traveling in southern New Mexico. Blogging will resume shortly.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ojo de dios

The new issue, no. 65, of Shaman's Drum reprints a portion of Visions of a Huichol Shaman by the anthropologist Peter Furst.

Furst has spent much time among the Huicholes, who live in Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental and who are sometimes considered one of the least-Christianized tribes. Their religious use of peyote gives us an idea of how it might have been used in pre-Conquest times. You can see historic film footage of Huichol peyoteros in Phil Cousineau's documentary on the Native American Church, The Peyote Road (Kifaru Productions, 1994).

An exhibit of Huichol yarn paintings with shamanic themes is now touring. If you live near Charlotte, North Carolina, go see it while you can.

Huichol people had been making art for a long time by pressing colored yarn onto a beeswax backing, usually on gourds. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Mexican curators and anthropologists encouraged the making of rectangular yarn paintings on wooden panels that could be framed and sold. Some artists developed narrative pictures based on shamanic journeys.

Another Huichol artifact was the yarn-wrapped cross, called a "god's eye" by the early anthropologist Carl Lumholtz--Peter Furst considers that to be a misnomer and calls it a "four-directional protective prayer object." A fancy example is shown here.

Separated from the Huichol context, god's-eyes became an icon of Southwestern-hippie decor in the mid-1960s. As I was starting high school, my stepfather was offered a high-level job in the New Mexico state education department, and I was all set to move to Santa Fe and decorate my white-walled bedroom with god's-eyes. But he took a job in Jamaica instead, and we went there. Later, for many years a small god's-eye, matchsticks wrapped with thread, hung from the rearview mirror of my faithful Ford F-100 pickup truck. I called it my "spiritual compass."

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Taos Notes

M. and I got in the new Jeep, headed up the "secret cutoff" and came over the mountains and down to Taos for a couple of days.

There is always a nostalgia component for me here, dating back to the summers in college when I worked on what you might call the Poets & Writers adobe-bricklaying crew in the early 1970s.

I had a foot in two worlds: by age, I fit in more with the younger hippies. But the people I worked for and lived with were more part of the older Taos bohemia. And there was a chasm between the two.

The older bohemians were artists, writers, etc.--or else they worshipped at the shrine of Art. As the photographer Mildred Tolbert said of her arrival in the late 1930s after a Texas ranch girlhood, "I guess I was just another misfit coming to Taos."

This older group had plenty of wildness: heavy drinking, "alternative lifestyles," etc., but they were more discreet. Often childless, they usually were not involved with the fabric of the community: churches, schools, and the incestuous and nepotistic local politics. They usually treated the locals politely because they needed them. If they followed the D.H. Lawrence approach, they treated the Indians from Taos Pueblo (at least those Indians savvy enough to play the art game) with exaggerated respect. There was actually a lot of out-of-state money here, but it blended in.

The hippies, on the other hand, arrived full of a different set of Psychedelic Wild West fantasies, plus the usual paradisaical utopian fantasies (often involving removing clothing), plopped down in the midst of largely Catholic, socially conservative, and patriarchal northern New Mexico. There were, shall we say, conflicts. Sometimes shots were fired--both directions. The Psychedelic Wild West fantasy included lever-action carbines as well as LSD.

The writer Anna Cypra Oliver covers some of this terrain in her memoir Assembling My Father. Her parents were part of the older hippie group--she and I reckon we must have passed each other often on Maestas Road in Talpa, me a longhair driving the boss's pickup, her a little girl.

And that era passed, and the New Agers arrived in greater numbers (they had been here all along, of course, since the 1940s, at least), and the river-rafter/mountain-biker types, and now, to my surprise, Taos is attracting upper-middle class retirees in greater numbers. Even the incestuous nepotistic politics are changing, some. The Indians, of course, now have a casino, which advertises itself to be New Mexico's only smoke-free casino. You can buy Thai and "rustic French" meals in restaurants. Art galleries outnumber bars and churches combined.

There are still social conflicts and divisions, but I haven't heard of any shooting. Taos has just become more like Bozeman or Durango or many places in other countries too where the lure of beauty and some sort of spiritual atmosphere attracts first the bohemians and adventurers and then the people of money. But that's the dirty little secret: Bohemia requires people of money to sustain it. Someone has to buy the paintings. Someone has to leave money to their descendents so that said descendents can afford to work in art galleries for next to nothing. Someone has to hire the adventure-tourism guides. There is no point in pretending otherwise.

Now we're not looking for "spirituality." We are more interested in the latest book on Southwestern gardening at Moby Dickens or the guy selling oshá from the back of his pickup truck.


Friday, April 01, 2005

Felicitas Goodman

Word comes of the passing of Felicitas Goodman on 31 March. She was in her early nineties.

Born to ethnic German parents in Hungary, she attended the University of Heidelburg. She came to the United States after World War II and worked as a scientific translator before entering graduate school as a "nontraditional" student and earning a PhD in anthropology. She taught linguistics and anthropology at Denison University until retiring in 1979.

And then she began to devote herself full time to some very interesting research in the anthropological reconstruction of shamanism, culminating in the publication of her book Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and Other Ecstatic Experiences (Indiana University Press, 1990). Get it if you can, perhaps through some service like Advanced Book Exchange.

I was fortunate enough to persuade her to write the lead chapter of my 1994 anthology Witchcraft and Shamanism.

She purchased some land between Santa Fe and Española, New Mexico, and founded the "Cuyamonge Institute" for the study of shamanism. It never became as large as Michael Harner's Foundation for Shamanic Studies, but I tend to think of Goodman and Harner as somewhat parallel: anthropologists who "went native." Goodman, however, taught shamanic techniques perhaps more in Europe than in the United States, particularly in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.

Nikki Bado-Fralick, one of her former academic students, wrote of her today, "I learned from Felicitas that we need to be brave adventurers in what she called the 'alternate realities.' There seemed to be no aspect of the alternate reality that we should not investigate, no spiritual territory that we should not explore. Felicitas warmly and generously gave to others, supporting them in their adventures without pause."

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Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Leaving Lammas

What was the "moment" of Lammas this year? Not a formal ritual, but walking down an overgrown logging road in the Wet Mountains, looking for mushrooms in the grey-green firs. A soft, misty rain started to fall, enough that I had to dig my GI poncho out of my pack and put it on. The poncho always makes me feel a little sacerdotal--after all, the Christian priest's chasuble originated as a traveler's poncho or mantle, whatever you want to call it. I could break the mushroom and hold out a fragment: "Take and and eat this in remembrance . . ."

(The old liturgy. I'm dating myself. A past life, so to speak.)

School of the Seasons is a web site with information on "on spiritual practices and creative pursuits that match the energy of each season" and an email newsletter. (Thanks to Gaian Tarot Artist for the link.)

If you want to know the peak of the energy of each cross-quarter day, check this archaeoastronomy site. Many people, including Waverly Fitzgerald at the site linked above, seem to prefer the calendrical day--the 1st of August, whereas the actual midpoint is usually about six days later. The solution is to simply make it a "season" rather than a day!

By the time that the day itself came, M. and I had loaded the Jeep and driven down to Taos for a long weekend with friends. If you're in Taos and need a wireless connection that comes with a view of a blooming xeriscape flower garden, try the Wired cafe, tucked in behind Raley's supermarket on Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

And at home the wild Liatris is blooming, the signal of summer's end.

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