Saturday, January 16, 2010

Martha Coakley Sounds like a Salem Witch-Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Montréal Magical Mercantile Tour

A group of Pagan Studies scholars started Friday at the big John Waterhouse exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It offered the largest selection of his paintings ever, plus sketches, drawings, and letters. When the docent suggested that "The Magic Circle" was not really about religion, she was quickly corrected. Poor, well-meaning, volunteer docent!

Then off to the first magical establishment, where we also got a presentation on the work of the Montréal Pagan Resource Centre.

And what's this? Another Waterhouse painting on a book cover! Extra points if you know which of his paintings has served as cover art for which book.

The shop cat stood guard while someone behind the curtain received a Tarot card reading.

Elsewhere, the price of gri-gri was $9.95 per sachet.

The door to the basement temple promised mysteries underground.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Harry Potter Fans not all that into Magic, Witchcraft

Glancing back at Oberon Zell's sporadic blog, I see mention of the "Azkatraz" Harry Potter convention in San Francisco last July. (Scroll down to the "Escape from Azkatraz" subhead in Aug. 1, 2009 entry.)

The Zells took a vendor space for their Mythic Images business of New Age, Pagan, and Goddess-oriented images, etc.

But it was not a very successful show, as Oberon notes:

And that gets me to the second important lesson we learned: Harry Potter fans aren’t interested in Wizardry, Witchcraft, Magick, an online school, or anything that isn’t specifically and only about the Harry Potter stories and characters. The only successful vendor was the one selling licensed trademark Harry Potter merchandise—such as Hogwarts House patches and regalia, movie replica wands, Harry Potter games and toys—and pointy hats. I bought a really nice new one,as well as several books from the book vendors. And we sold two copies of the A Wizard's Bestiary: A Menagerie of Myth, Magic, and Mystery by managing to convince some folks that the magickal beasts featured in the Harry Potter stories could be found in this book. This is true, and I do hope they’ll go on to read about other beasties as well.

I don't doubt his observations. It's not that the Harry Potter books "drive children to witchcraft," it is more that some Pagan Witches hope that Potter-readers will wonder what real witchcraft is. Most, however, probably will not, having enjoyed the stories just as stories.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Sex and Witchcraft

The popular image of the sexually alluring witch goes back to Circe at least, was notable in the early modern period in the work of artists such as Hans Baldung, and got a big boost from Jules Michelet.

It keeps popping up today. Sometimes it is lightly disguised, as in the Craigslist posting blogged about here, where what the original poster seems to want is not a Tarot reader but a softcore porn model.

"Red Witch," an Australian blogger, has been collecting popular culture images of female witches (some of them NSFW, not surprisingly), with thoughts of doing a book.

Anyway, I started collecting the stuff you’ve see on this blog because it seemed there had been an evolution in the representation of witches, and I wondered whether the polarized version that I was familiar with (witches are either good/bad, young/old, sexy/hag) was actually the mid-point of an evolution in which the Witch is at first only bad/old/hag, then becomes either good/young/sexy or bad/old/hag, and then is only good/young/sexy. Since nobody that I knew of—and my collection on witchcraft was pretty complete even then—had discussed the history of the representation of witches, and the importance of good/young/sexy witch imagery to the growing social acceptance of witchcraft and Wicca, I wanted to understand it better.

Matilda, who appears to be in the UK, has some flirtatious fun with the witch archetype on her web site.

As far as the modern religion of Wicca is concerned, the sexual element was there from the beginning, when Gerald Gardner and his priestess/paramour Edith Woodford-Grimes created the "Southern Coven of English Witches." Where was his wife, Donna? Not interested in nudism, free-thinking, ceremonial magic, esoteric religion, and running a witchcraft museum, apparently.

(A good scholarly biography of Gardner as founder of a new religion still needs to be written. I would love to see it in the Pagan studies book series that I co-edit.)

At least Wicca is somewhat honest about its sexual element, with the centrality of the Great Rite and all. The fact is, however, that religion often has a sexualized component.

Every time that a Catholic priest, Pentacostal preacher, or Lutheran minister gets caught having sex with the wrong person, it is treated as a deviation from the standard. But sometimes spiritual practices lead to a stronger sexual vibe--and then what do you do with it?

I learned in graduate school, finally, from a professor of Asian religions why monks and nuns there often wear saffron robes. The color signifies their spiritual "heat." It's a warning—keep away!—like an orange road cone.

The East has sex scandals too—Sai Baba's is just one example.

In Christianity, however, the professed religious often wear black, brown, or white—neutral colors. "Nothing happening here." (Except for some of those Pentacostals ...)

Wicca tries to seize the hot wire and direct the current. When that works, it can be life-changing. When it does not work, you get the usual run of social and interpersonal problems.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Crushed Velvet, Anyone?

A British newspaper posts a slideshow of tryouts to be the "Wookey Hole Witch," an event that came to the attention of the American Pagan blogosphere earlier this month. Watch it if you dare.

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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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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

1734 and All That

A missive showed up in my inbox lately, written by some Wiccan Web denizen, who although in a coven (this part was confusing) had had some sort of vision or revelation involving the number 1734, which led him/her/it to my Witches' Voice piece on the so-called "1734 Tradition."

I say "so-called" because I think that there is less there than meets the eye. I am too young to have known its founder, Robert Cochrane, but I did know people who knew him, such as Evan John Jones -- who himself was never sure of Cochrane's bonafides.

Something you learn along the path is that magickal ability does not always come packaged with moral uprightness. Actually, the Catholic Church says much the same thing in its doctrine of ex opere operato, meaning that the sacrament is still effective even if the priest is a sinner.

In North America, the "1734" (it's a message, not a date) tradition derives from a series of letters that Cochrane sent over a few months in the mid-1960s to Joe Wilson, then serving in the US Air Force. The two never met; Cochrane's suicide interrupted the correspondence.

When you read those letters--or Cochrane's lengthier correspondence with the English magician William Grey--you can see him hinting at Great Mysteries, playing a game of "I'll tell you one of my secrets if you tell me one of yours first," and suggesting that students try a new technique, which, if it is successful, the teacher will then claim to have known about all along.

He had the mojo, but he also (somewhat like Alex Sanders) had an inferiority complex about the Gardnerian Witches, who had a ten-year head start. His response was to claim access to traditions more secret, more traditional, more ancient--and then try to find evidence for them.

On this side of the pond, Gardnerian Witchcraft had arrived in book form in the 1950s and in person (the Bucklands) in the early 1960s. The interest in the Craft, however, was far greater than one "legit" Gardnerian coven could meet. Consequently, all sorts of new forms of American Wicca sprang up. The Cochrane-Wilson letters were copied and passed around, becoming one form of non-Gardnerian "traditional Craft" that people could recycle to show that they too had the Real Old Stuff.

This new mix of Pagan, ceremonial magical, old-school occultism, and other elements flourished in Southern California, of course. If you read Ann Finnin's The Forge of Tubal Cain, you get a lively who-said-what-to-whom first-person narrative of the Los Angeles-area Craft scene in the 1970s--including some discussion of links between the Society for Creative Anachronism, other SF-fantasy fandom and the Pagan movement, an area that has not been researched enough.

Finnin and her husband Dave have been group leaders for more than 30 years, and part of The Forge of Tubal Cain is devoted to issues of running a coven, avoiding problems, building a group mind, and so forth.

The remainder of the book gives portions of the training and ritual used in their group, the Roebuck, which may be seen as an extensive ritual and religious system based partly on Cochrane's sketchy teaching and inspiration. I recommend it, primarily as a chance to hear the thoughts of Craft elders talking about the things that work and the things that don't.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Review: Good Witches Fly Smoothly

There are a lot of books about religious Wicca out there. There are a lot of books about practical magic, spells, etc. There are very few books about what happens next, but Good Witches Fly Smoothly: Surviving Witchcraft is one of them.

Mistake 27: Using a mind key that can be misinterpreted. (Otherwise known as the Law of Unintended Consequences or "be careful what you ask for." Here's my version.)

Whether it is called witchcraft or sorcery, the material taught by Gavin and Yvonne Frost through their School of Wicca has always been highly practical. Gavin did start out as an engineer, after all.

Mistake 35: Helping nonentities with no credentials to inflate their egos.

Good Witches Fly Smoothly distills several decades' worth of magical tales from their own experience and those of their students.

"In each case," they write, "the outcome was unexpected. In each case, authors' analysis reveals what went wrong and why."

Mistake 78: The mistake Flo made was believing everything Chester, as a [spirit] guide, told her without keeping her mind in gear.

If you have ever suffered through some vague airy ritual for "healing the planet" or "world peace," you will appreciate this book. It is practical to its fingertips.

Mistake 88: The intent of the ritual became polluted because they felt they had to have the orgasm to achieve the goal. No orgasm, no car was the assumption.

I have sprinkled four of the authors' summaries through this brief review. There are 99 of them in the book. Get it and read them all.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

The Pentagram in 1964

I have more reviews coming, but for now, here is a PDF download of the first issue of The Pentagram, August 1964, price two shillings.

As far as I know, it was the first attempt to create a publication for the various branches of British Witchcraft, then only about fifteen years old, and it lasted but a short time.

Consider the paucity of the reading list on page 3.

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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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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Book Posts in the Works

I am spread a little thin these days, and the below-zero (F.) weather the last few days threw some complications my way too.

Two book reviews are in the works. Here are the previews:

Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick, The Biography of Stewart Farrar by Elizabeth Guerra. Workmanlike biography of one of the key Wiccan figures of the late 20th century.

Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics by Emma Restall Orr, noted British Druid. I am part-way through it and thus far under-whelmed, but I will complete it and write a proper review.

• Meanwhile, if you are a university library (or rich), consider the Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Jim Lewis and Murph Pizza. Yes, that's the price. If you thought that American reference books were expensive, consider the Dutch!

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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Playing with Databases

A search of the WorldCat library database using the subject category "Witches -- Fiction" turns up 1,286 hits, once children's books have been filtered out, and specifying English-language titles. (Adding films, archival materials, sound recordings, etc., boosts the total to more than 1,500.)

The Widows of Eastwick is at the top of the list, as ranked by number of libraries holding the book. Anne Rice is heavily represented in the first listings as well.

If you have read all 1,286, let me know, and I will see that you get a prize.

This is what happens when I go looking to make an interlibrary loan request for one particular book.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

A Ritual with Swan's Eggs

The November/December 2008 issue of Archaeology magazine contains an article titled "Witches of Cornwall," about odd, ritualistic or votive burials of skins, eggs, and other items at a place called Saveock Water.

These burials took place from the 1640s at least through the 1950s.

There is as yet no link to the article (so ask a librarian), but this site gives some of the same information.

The writer, Kate Ravilious, creates a purely hypothetical spell that might have accompanied one of the offerings:

Take a swan and wring its neck. Skin the bird and, under a full moon, lay its skin in a shallow hole with the feathers face-up. Add eggs--five for every child you want to bear. Atop each egg, place the talon of a blackbird and a black stone. Circle the hole three times, clockwise, then close it with a clod of earth. As soon as you are with child, empty the hole, or terrible things will come to pass.

(Wringing the neck of an angry adult swan might be harder than Ms. Ravilious realizes, however. Apparently her magic is not for the faint-hearted.)

Archaeology put a link up.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

These Witches Have No Covens

The New York Times profiles a California water witch (dowser).

How many rural witches are still around is an open question. Water witches have no trade unions — or covens. Few advertise, or dowse full time.

I learned dowsing on a construction job, and I had no "intuitive sense" of where the rural gas line in question was, so I do not buy that explanation of how it works.

There is a national society of dowsers, headquartered in the same little Vermont town where M.'s father grew up. (A civil engineer by profession, he accepted dowsing too.) It used to be all practical dowsers like this guy, but in recent decades the "earth energies" crowd seems to have a growing impact.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fooling the Cyber-Censors

Yesterday I wrote a review of The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, a collection of papers edited by Hannah Johnston and Peg Aloi, for the upcoming issue of The Pomegranate.

Teen Witches, a fluid and constantly changing group, have been heavily dependent on the Internet, because they are often alone and either ignorant of Pagan groups or not welcome there as full-fledged members--the latter partly a result of the various satanism scares and their blowback onto contemporary Pagans.

In Aloi's own chapter, "A Charming Spell: The Intentional and Unintentional Influence of Popular Media upon Teenage Witchcraft in America," she writes how some of the Net-filtering programs such as Cybersitter blocked words such as "witchcraft" or "neopagan."

Internet censorship and the use of filtering software threatened to shut down teenage pagan internet activity. So one result has been that teens got very creative with the names they gave their sites. Instead of calling it 'Teen Witchcraft Study Group' it would become 'Seekers of the Emerald Moon' or 'Oak Grove Musings.'

Honestly, since I never have had to cope with filtering software, this problem and responses to it were not on my radar. But don't tell me that it is the only reason for some of the extravagant group names one encounters in the Pagan world.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pointy Hats and Pacifism

My favorite Bay Area witchy bloggers seem curiously quiet about the appropriation of witchy imagery by the antiwar protesters at Code Pink.

I don't normally get into politics on this blog, but whatthehell.

From a rhetorical standpoint, I am not sure if anyone's set political views have been changed by street theater -- giant puppets and all that stuff.

You can see from the comments that the Code Pink women are not doing the Craft or the larger Pagan movement any good.

Do you think they would have chosen to dress up as Catholic cardinals or Shiite mullahs? How about some big-nosed Jews?

Or how about dressing in buckskins and feather headdresses, while waving rubber tomahawks in an "antiwar dance." Oh no, they would never do that. It might be offensive.

No, they pick the stereotype green-faced Halloween witch instead. They parody our religion for their futile cause. Somehow I don't feel the compliment.

One ex-military Pagan wrote to conservative columnist Michelle Malkin to say he was embarrassed by Code Pink too.

And that is the thing about today's Pagans: for every lefty pacifist there is one (or probably more) military Pagan.

I wrote a paper on this topic once, during the flap over Wiccans at Fort Hood.

UPDATE, 13 May: One commenter suggests that the green faces may have been PhotoShopped in on Malkin's page. He could be right; and if so, image manipulation hurts her credibility. However, a photo from the Berkeley Daily Planet, certainly no right-wing source, does show pointy hats and cloaks--but it is from an earlier Code Pink protest. Newer photos seem harder to come by--I suspect that the Berkeley news media by now regard Code Pink as just part of the weather and turn instead to stuff like fraternity stabbings.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Cora Anderson

Cora Anderson, co-founder of the Feri (Faerie) tradition of Witchcraft with her late husband, Victor, has left this life at the age of 93.

Jason Pitzl-Waters links to some tributes to her. There is more at the Andersons' LiveJournal community and at Thorn Coyle's blog.

Her book Fifty Years in the Feri Tradition is still available. I think I will take another look at my copy.

I did not know the Andersons, except for hearing stories from Gwydion Pendderwen of his apprenticeship with Victor. One major source of the Feri Craft was Max Freedom Long's take on Hawaiian huna magic. (Wikipedia entry here.) From what Gwydion said, the Andersons were wildly eclectic, typical of Craft teachers of the mid-twentieth century. Bear that in mind when you read her book.

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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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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Pomegranate 9.2

I've been remiss in not noting the contents of the latest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. Videlicet:

• "The Quandary of Contemporary Pagan Archives,"
Garth Reese,

• "The Status of Witchcraft in the Modern World," Ronald Hutton,

• "Kabbalah Recreata: Reception and Adaptation of Kabbalah in Modern Occultism," Egil Asprem

• "Putting the Blood Back into Blót: The Revival of Animal Sacrifice in Modern Nordic Paganism," Michael Strmiska.

And the book reviews.

Abstracts are online, and the book reviews may be downloaded in their entirety.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

After the Witch Queen Steps Down: Maxine Sanders' Fire Child

In the 1960s, when Pagan Witchcraft started to gain widespread media attention, Maxine Sanders (b. 1948?) was one of its visible faces. A tall willowy young woman with bleached blonde hair, she was married in 1965 to Alex Sanders (1926-1988) for whom the Alexandrian tradition is named.

He was older, charming, verbal – she was photographed, his words were recorded. That’s her on the cover of my early hardback edition of Stewart Farrar’s 1971 book What Witches Do, long hair flowing, eyes downcast towards the chalice.

Now she talks -- in print as opposed to classes and lectures -- in a valuable autobiography, Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen'.

The book is not what it could have been. Material is not always straight-forwardly organized, punctuation is erratic and unclear, and words usedly mistakenly (“taught” for “taut,” “vice” for “vise,” that sort of thing). I fault the publisher.

Still, this is an important book. Sanders gave her life to the Craft in a way that few have, and she admits she paid a price: two failed marriages (Sanders, in the end, preferred men), financial hardship in the early years, breast cancer, and, most of all, the hardship of being always on-call in her role as priestess.

Marriage with Alex had been rather like a working relationship. Unconsciously, we sacrificed the more personal and sharing aspects of a normal marriage.

To read Fire Child is follow a trail of ups and initiations, rituals and happenings, magical politics, festivals and and visions.

Yet it is also a frank admission of the dangers of magickal religion. Coming from a background of intense, small-group work, she is prone to opinions such as these:

The modern Craft is a victim of its own success. Its tremendous growth since the heady days of the 1960s has outstripped the availability of experienced and reputable teachers, who in former days would themselves have served an arduous apprenticeship before being judged worthy to passon the tradition – and then only to a few.

(And she admits that even in her own group that rule was not always followed.)

Witchcraft is so often perceived as a young person's religion that it is good to read a mature priestess’s thoughts. Maxine Sander has gone through the fires – media celebrity, high-profile religious leadership, magic, suffering. Her book is valuable – “full and candid,” to quote Ronald Hutton’s cover blurb. I recommend it.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Gallimaufry with Big Rocks

¶ My copy of Fire Child: The Life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' arrived, and I will post a full review soon. Short version: Better than I expected.

When the Goddess Ruled the Earth is a new quasi-documentary film on hypothesized Neolithic religion. The trailers are all shots of ancient megaliths with a "voice of God" (sorry) commentary. Looks like orthodox Gimbutas-ism.

My point is that you cannot necessarily tell by looking at a structure the religious views of its builders. You might be able to make an educated guess by analogy with known cultures, but without extensive, obvious archaeological evidence -- and better still, written evidence -- you cannot say. Is the "Venus of Willendorf" a religious artifact or a Paleolithic Barbie doll? Will we ever know?

¶ Fiacharrey, "the Bayou Druid," is making YouTube videos on Celtic Reconstructionism. Here is one.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Gallimaufry at Cleo's

¶ Everything about Cleopatra. (The famous Cleopatra was actually the seventh ethnic Greek queen of Egypt of that name.)

¶ Everything about Alexander the Great.

¶ Those and more web directories at Isidore of Seville.

¶ Dianne Sylvan's "list of things I don't/do care about." As one of the comments said, it would make a good poster. (Via Executive Pagan).

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Gallimaufry: It's Traditional

¶ When an ill-informed blogger writes that "Wicca Attempts to Control Life" on a right-wing site, commenters weigh in. The gist: (a) religion has nothing to do with politics or (b) all religions are bogus. It's nice to see street-level libertarianism thriving.

¶ Maxine Sanders' new autobiography Fire Child: The life & Magic of Maxine Sanders, 'Witch Queen' is on my to-read list. She says the first mid-1990s draft was it badly written, self-indulgent and absolute rubbish. And then she adds something that is true of all memoir-writing:

When I did start work on Fire Child there were details that were not recorded in my magical diary and should have been. However, magical life is often repetitive and would have proved boring to the reader. On reflection, the differences between memory and diary entries made fascinating personal analysis.

Update: Another reviewer discusses some inconsistencies in the book but still recommends it.

¶ Volume 3 of TYR Myth-Culture-Tradition has been published, and I am just starting to read it.

This third issue is a big one, 530 pages, with articles such as Nigel Pennick on "Weaving the Web of Wyrd," Joscelyn Godwin on "Esotericism without religion: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials," and Christopher McIntosh on "Iceland's Pagan Renaissance," plus many pages of book and music reviews. Impressive.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Gallimaufry with Rice

¶ How is your vocabulary? I donated 300 grains of rice the first time that I tried this online game. Then the AI started serving up all these Latinate terms. Level 50 is the top?? (Hat tip: Odious and Peculiar.)

¶ Ancient Egyptians dealt with zombies too. (Hat tip: Glenn Reynolds.) Pluvialis agrees: we need to know these things.

¶ Hecate is getting testy about media Witches. I think there is a Gresham's Law of spokespeople: the weird drive out the sensible.

¶ Deborah Oak wonders if Elvis is a god yet.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Witches and Economic Decline in the American Midwest

The GetReligion blog, which covers issues of religion and journalism, takes on coverage of the Witch School's move to Rossville, Illinois. (Full Chicago Tribune story and video here.)

Jason Pitzl-Waters has posted repeatedly about the various Witch School controversies, so see his blog for the background.

Maybe it is because I am still working to unload my late sister's white elephant of a house in a small northern Missouri town, but I feel that this is as much of an economics story as a religious one.

But this is America, and we habitually mis-label our debates. We use the language of race and ethnicity to talk about issues of social class. And we use the language of religion to talk about people's gut-level fears that their little town -- and by extension, them -- just does not matter any more in the America of Wal-Mart and mega-churches.

From GetReligion: A reader of ours, Christopher, mentioned in a note to us that the story is largely about a community dealing with “economic decline, arson, and drugs."

I agree. Although I have never set foot in Rossville, I have been in plenty of places like it.

And it is just too wrenching to their self-image for the Chamber of Commerce types to think of themselves as another Salem, Mass., and to promote Rossville that way!

Instead, they probably hope to attract a new factory. But it is not coming.

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

Witches, a Reading List

Library Girl offers a chiefly young-adult reading list on witch fiction.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Switzerland's Last 'Witch' Exonerated

A Swiss woman executed for witchcraft in 1782 is the subject of a new museum. A new book examines her case and calls for judicial exoneration. From Newsweek's article:

In the hamlet of Mollis, population 3,000, a road the width of a single car was renamed Anna Göldi Way for the 225th anniversary of her death on June 13. In a mansion along the road, on a grassy gated lot, a new permanent exhibition at the local museum details Göldi's ordeal. Just as American schoolchildren read Arthur Miller's McCarthy-era parable "The Crucible," about 17th-century superstition and persecution in Salem, Mass., Swiss children learn of Göldi. Europe too was the stage for accusations of sorcery and the burning of outcasts deemed witches by maniacal courts. The death toll is estimated to have been 50,000 in Europe.

Today, historians trying to explain the flights of anxiety that sparked witch hunts blame everything from high inflation to cyclical poor weather and low crop yields to the tensions of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation of the day. But the difference, the shame, of the Glarus story is that when Göldi was beheaded with a sword in 1782, 90 years after Salem, Europe should have known better. "Witch" killings on the continent had dropped off precipitously after 1650. Other Swiss cantons, Geneva in 1652 and Zurich in 1701, had long since executed their last alleged witches. Europe was awash with the Enlightenment, and superstition was meant to have ceded to reason. It was, after all, only about 100 years before Le Corbusier and Paul Klee, Louis Chevrolet and Carl Jung, modern Swiss who are today part of our globalized lexicon.

In a semi-related vein, Jason Pitzl-Waters covers an attempted suit against someone's dead witch Halloween display. No, I don't think it's a "hate crime" either (but Senator Clinton's supporters might, since the "witch" is apparently her).

But read the comments and see what you think.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

The Occult Experience

In my office with the fast Ethernet connection, I downloaded the 1987 documentary The Occult Experience. It is available on various bittorent servers, such as here. (There was tie-in with Nevil Drury's 1987 book of the same name, I believe.)

Lots of the film is actually older. Some footage goes back to the 1960s, such as a brief appearance of Isaac Bonewits during his Church of Satan experience. There's Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter and her coven trooping through the Wisconsin snow and some New York Witch mispronouncing "Samhain," Alex "king of the witches" Sanders, The Temple of Set, and Janet Farrar teaching some students while Stewart smokes cigarettes in an armchair before robing.

One of the Farrars' initation rituals is shown at length, and there is also a segment on the Australian Witch and artist Rosaleen Norton.

Also included: Z Budapest and her Dianic coven of the time, explaining how women used to curse warmongers, Luisah Tesh talking hoodoo, the Fellowship of Isis at Clonegal Castle, and Michael Harner of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. But what the filmmakers really love is the work of H.R. Giger.

What those Australian Pentecostals are doing in there, I'm not sure, except for the speaking in tongues and the exorcism. The latter just goes on and on ("Push it, Petra. In the name of Jeee-zuss, come out!"). Talk about savage rites!

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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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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Hunting the Good Graves

Caroline Tully, an Australian Witch, has started blogging with an emphasis on artistic expressions about Pagan religion and remembering the dead.

Under the photo of a Black Sabbath album cover that she found inspirational once upon a time, she writes:

I may as well go on and say that I think my identification as a Witch also has a lot to do with musing on visual imagery, including art. We Witches do love our real-world ritual objects and our "be here now" physicality in the exercise of our religion, don't we?

I concur.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Teen Witches and Sociologists

Cover of Teenage Witches, by Helen Berger and Douglas EzzyTeenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self, a sociological study of young Pagan Witches, will be shipping in a few days from Rutgers University Press.

I have heard co-authors Helen Berger and Doug Ezzy give presentations from their research, which is excellent.

From the Rutgers University Press catalog:

As Helen A. Berger and Douglas Ezzy show in this in-depth look into the lives of teenage Witches, the reality of their practices, beliefs, values, and motivations is very different from the sensational depictions we see in popular culture. Drawing on extensive research across three countries-the United States, England, and Australia-and interviews with young people from diverse backgrounds, what they find are highly spiritual and self-reflective young men and women attempting to make sense of a postmodern world via a religion that celebrates the earth and emphasizes self-development.

Not to be confused with Silver Ravenwolf's Teen Witch.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Revelation on Valentine's Day

What happens when a confirmed Valentine's Day-hater comes across a heart-shaped red candle? Dianne Sylvan tells the story.

Meanwhile, Jason Pitzl-Waters supplies the historical background--and it's not the version that you usually hear.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

You Sexy Witch - 2

No, it's not a porn site but a light-hearted collection of pop-culture witch images.

'Salem Witch,' a World War II American bomber.
Here is some World War II bomber "nose art," for instance.

Some of the images, such as those of Fiona Horne, are not work-safe, however.

I want to see the Halloween party hats mentioned in the upcoming book on Pagan material culture (or on material-culture theory as applied to Paganism) in our Pagan studies series.

Two other issues connect here, at the very least.

One is the idea of the body as "nature" and hence as a locus of nature religion, which I broached in Her Hidden Children but about which a lot more could be said.

Then there is also the complex of reasons why "witch" is typically gendered as female. (And what sort of female?)

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Lady Sintana

Morning Glory Zell, Tim Zell, Lady Sintana in 1978Morning Glory Zell and Tim/Oberon Zell of the Church of All Words with Lady Sintana (right) at the Church of Wicca Samhain Seminar in 1978. Photo by Chas S. Clifton.)

Jason Pitz-Waters links to a newspaper article about Sintana (Candace Lehrman) and the House of Ravenwood, one of the best-known covens in the Atlanta area.

Ravenwood was also the subject of a book by a group of sociologists of religion: Allen Scarboro, et al., Living Witchcraft: A Contemporary American Coven (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994). Being sociologists, the authors concentrated quite a bit on issues of authority--when you have a charismatic and strong-willed founder who claims to have retired, has she really retired?

There is too much Lord-ing and Lady-ing in the Craft, mostly a bleed-through from the Society for Creative Anachronism, and it only gets in the way. British Witches, I have noticed, coming from a land where those titles mean something (like it or not), tend not to use them.

Sintana, however, could get away with it.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

You sexy witch - 1

The GetReligion bloggers wrestle with the alleged trend towards sexy witch costumes. ("Bring 'em on," in the words of our Beloved Leader.)

Is that Morgan Fairchild in the illustration? Or just a generic blonde?

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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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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Wicca's Charm revisited

I briefly mentioned Wicca's Charm earlier, but now Jason Pitzl-Waters links to an interview with author Catherine Sanders that includes this priceless evaluation:

It's a great resource for parents trying to understand why their teenager has suddenly started to wear all black and dance in circles around the backyard trees.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

She Went among the Witches

Waterbrook, Random House's evangelical-publishing operation, has announced Wicca's Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, a new journalistic survey of Wicca in America.

From the Web site:

Hundreds of thousands of people practice Wicca and other forms of modern Pagan spirituality in America today, and journalist Catherine Edwards Sanders wanted to understand why such belief systems are rapidly attracting followers. When a routine magazine assignment led her to realize that her stereotype of Wiccans as eccentric spiritual outsiders was embarrassingly misinformed, her curiosity compelled her to understand the Wiccan mystique. With the support of a journalism fellowship, Sanders spent a year interviewing neo-Pagans and witches and found that the lure of this emerging spirituality was not the occult, but rather a search for meaning in an increasingly fragmented and materialistic culture.

Publishing history repeats itself. The "routine magazine assignment" sounds just like the genesis of Stewart Farrar's What Witches Do (1969), while "journalism fellowship" echoes the writing of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon (1979).

Adler, I am told, is also at work on her own re-working of DDTM, although I don't know if it will be a third edition or an entirely new book.

What I wonder about is how Sanders ended up with a publisher of chiefly Christian books, and what that placement bodes for this one.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Joseph Wilson: A Craft Pioneer's Life

Joseph Wilson published one of the first American Pagan newsletters, The Waxing Moon, in the 1960s and through his correspondence with Robert Cochrane, established the "1734" tradition or current or call-it-what-you-will in American Craft. (Another version of 1734 history is here.

His spiritual autobiography is now appearing serially in The Cauldron, but you may read the whole thing online here at his Toteg Tribe site. I recommend it. American Paganism suffers from too much how-to in relation to the what-happened.

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Teen Witches

Some people are saying that the "teen witch" craze, symbolized by the 1996 movie The Craft, has peaked. I don't think so. My latest Llewellyn Publications reviewer's catalog recently arrived, and I saw that Silver Ravenwolf's Teen Witch had been redesigned. Whereas the former cover art had something in common with the poster/box art for The Craft, the new cover seems more in common with last year's movie Thirteen.

It's all about Pouty. Adolescent. Sexuality.

In his review essay "Sifting the Ashes," an expose of the tobacco industry (collected in the book How To Be Alone, Jonathan Frantzen desconstructs the industry-funded anti-smoking ads aimed at teens and comments how "several antitobacco newspaper ads offer . . . the image of a preadolescent girl holding a cigarette. The models are not real smokers, yet despite their phoniness, they're utterly sexualized by their cigarettes. The horror of underage smoking veils a horror of teen and preteen sexuality."

Witchcraft, the new cigarette?

On a more positive note, a Colorado Witch describes sitting in on an interview of several teen Wiccans by a National Public Radio reporter.

"I spent the afternoon in the upstairs of the Oh My Goddess coffee house in Denver, listening to Barbara Bradford Hagerty of NPR interview 6 teenage Wiccans and one Christian teen learning about Wicca. She was amazed at how articulate, intelligent, and self-aware they were. She's planning on doing a segment or show about teens and Wicca. They wouldn't stop talking! She used more than one minidisc to record, which she says never happens in an interview. The 6 Wiccan teens were all raised Wiccan, more or less.

"She spoke briefly to most of the parents and to me; she may talk to me again in a couple of days if she can on her way to the airport. She is a colleague of Margot Adler's, and therefore actually knew something about the topic. She asked each of the Wiccan teens if they thought it was a phase that they would grow out of, and the general consensus was 'No. This is who I am.' It was an amazing experience.

"Based on the kids that were there today, I have to say I think that the future of Paganism is in pretty capable hands."

UPDATE 4/29/07: I had not looked at this post for a while, but it appears to me that the cover displayed, which is on Llewellyn's web site, is not the one that I described as "pouty" a couple of years ago. Does anyone know for sure?

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