Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mark Teppo on Magick and Fiction

I noticed this post about Mark Teppo and urban magick on Instapundit, linking to an Amazon blog item about his thoughts on the nature of magick.

Like I said, the definition [of magick] is a bit slippery, and it might be a bit much to attribute to the writing of a pulpy occult noir book the grandiose intent of creating magick, but that's part of what inspired the Codex of Souls. Not so much making magick, but rediscovering the possibility of it. Instead of holding such strangeness at arm's length and pretending that we're an entirely rational species, I wanted to embrace our esoteric history. Let it all be true. Why not? It's a matter of faith, isn't it? One of the things that separates us from the beasts with smaller brains is the ability to believe in something that isn't there, and you can argue that when we learned how to dream, our brains got bigger.

Sounds interesting. Have any of you read his books? What do you think? How do they stack up against, say, Charles De Lint?

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gallimaufry with Chariots

• Icelandic Pagans curse the nation's economic rivals. See what happens when you mix polytheism and international banking? (Via Pagan Newswire Collective.)

• I do like what Iceland may do for freedom of the (online) press.

• We are the Empire, and we have the chariot-racing to prove it. Video no. 2 is the better one. Go Greens. (Via LawDog.)

• American pop culture is not keen on reincarnation as a plot device?

• Once again, Wicca as "the Other" gets tangled up with current political debate

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Freelancers, Move to the Library!

An op-ed piece in Sunday's Denver Post made an interesting suggestion. People who work—or want to look like they are working—in coffee shops ought to move to their public libraries instead.

Then coffee shops could go back to being coffee shops—places of intellectual ferment and conversation, instead of solo customers taking up a booth or table while they stare into their screens.

And libraries would have a new clientele of media-savvy communicators to lobby for them.

Cafes have always served as venues for contemplation and composition, though historically conversation has shared an equally prominent place at the table. But with the increasing availability of cheap and free wireless access in cafes, and the recession-laden economy rendering private work spaces less affordable, the cafe has become an obvious alternative for virtual workers. The phenomenon's effect on cafe owners has been well-documented. There is a delicate balance between filling seats, particularly during daytime hours, and the cafe's need to turn a profit through a steady turnover of customers.

The ubiquitousness of technology has had consequences far beyond the complex relationship between cafe owners and their customers in-residence. It has perceptibly drained cafes of a more traditional social atmosphere for engaged, dynamic and discursive exchanges. Stephen Miller, author of Conversation: A History of a Declining Art, has documented the fall and labeled those de rigeur accoutrements of modern living — the cellphone and the iPod — as "conversation avoidance mechanisms" or worse, "a distraction that undermines conversation."
A few years ago, my university library installed a coffee bar and wireless Internet—the latter part of a campus-wide project. It was like civilization!

Now the building is gutted for remodeling, but I expect to see the coffee bar back.

Some public libraries have added coffee bars. More of them should.


Monday, February 08, 2010

I'm Glad That is Settled

From my current reading, Essentials of Fire Fighting:

As you look at the world around you, the physical materials you see are called matter. It is said [passive voice!] that matter is the "stuff" that makes up our universe.


Maybe instead of being a volunteer firefighter I should be editing the textbooks.

Anyway, got to study for the test on Saturday.


Friday, January 15, 2010

Writing English as a First Language

Some writing is bland because it does not take chances. Other writing is bland because of poor technique.

William Zinsser deals with the second in this talk to international students in the Columbia University journalism school: "Writing English as a Second Language."

Actually, writing—as opposed to speaking—is a "second language." That is why it must be learned even by native speakers.

Here he is on bureaucratese—and translating bureaucratese into English is something every reporter must do.

First, a little history. The English language is derived from two main sources. One is Latin, the florid language of ancient Rome. The other is Anglo-Saxon, the plain languages of England and northern Europe. The words derived from Latin are the enemy—they will strangle and suffocate everything you write. The Anglo-Saxon words will set you free.

How do those Latin words do their strangling and suffocating? In general they are long, pompous nouns that end in -
ion—like implementation and maximization and communication (five syllables long!)—or that end in -ent—like development and fulfillment. Those nouns express a vague concept or an abstract idea, not a specific action that we can picture—somebody doing something. Here’s a typical sentence: “Prior to the implementation of the financial enhancement.” That means “Before we fixed our money problems.”

Believe it or not, this is the language that people in authority in America routinely use—officials in government and business and education and social work and health care. They think those long Latin words make them sound important. It no longer rains in America; your TV weatherman will tell that you we’re experiencing a precipitation probability situation.

He almost sounds like some Norse reconstructionist Pagan bashing the "soft Mediterranean cultures" there, doesn't he.

But don't blame the Roman Empire. Blame the writers of the 16th-19th centuries who imported Latin terms because they sounded grander and because they had all studied Latin in school.

Write with Anglo-Saxon action verbs as much as possible, and your writing will be better. You can deposit that knowledge with certainty in your financial institution take it to the bank.


Wednesday, December 02, 2009

This Blog Post is Inappropriate

Edward Skidelsky nails it: the smarmy bureaucratic coercion of the word "inappropriate".

From Arts & Letters Daily, in the blogroll.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writers and Money

I am back from the American Academy of Religion meeting in Montreal, of which more later, where I also collected a freelance-editing check that I was owed.

When I collected nine days' worth of mail at the post office, I was happy to see that another check that was "in the mail" was in fact in the mail.

It's not always that way, as SF writer John Scalzi makes clear in this blog post about writers and money.

3. Writer pay is generally low and generally inconsistent. And if one writes fiction for some/all of one’s writing output, especially so. I’ve written in detail about writing rates and payment before so it’s not necessary to go into detail again right at the moment. But what it means is that if one is a writer, one does a fair amount of work for not a whole lot of money, and then has to wait for that payment to arrive more or less at the pleasure of the person sending the check. Unfortunately, writers like pretty much everyone else have fixed expenses (mortgage/rent, bills etc), and those people generally do not wait to be paid at the pleasure of the writer; you pay your electric bill regularly or you don’t get electricity.

I am reminded of a writer friend's favorite line: "My retirement plan is a family history of early heart attacks."

So far, however, he has outlived his father.

The only worse idea than writing is getting a PhD in Pagan studies. At least a couple of times a month I hear from someone who wants to do that and who wants advice on which graduate school to choose.

It's cheaper to go to the tattoo shop and have them tattoo "Unemployable in Academia" somewhere on your body.


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Writing Life Pulls Off the Siding onto the Main Line

I think of it as my secret Chicago hideout: the "you have to know where to look" Metropolitan Lounge in Chicago's Union Station. I'm not in town enough to justify a membership in the University Club, even if their building does look like Batman should be perched on the parapet. (The main clause there was a joke, readers.)

I've started mapping out what might be the next book after Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America. For two years, I have been trying to get started on a different project, accumulating stacks of research material, but writing only lightweight paper on the topic.

Maybe, to keep the railroad metaphor going, I was on the wrong track. (Wait, no, that is probably an animal-tracking metaphor.)  Now I feel a lot more energized, ready to kick some proposals around when I arrive at the American Academy of Religion meeting.

If it goes, I will post some appeals for particular, specialized information here as a form of "crowd-sourcing."

It feels good to have some direction again.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fate Magazine Reanimated

When pre-writing the blog post on dining above the dead (something best done while walking the dogs), I was thinking about how it was perfect for Fate magazine.

Digression 1: Dog-walking is not all that meditative, because Something Always Happens, like this morning when they charged off through nine-inch-deep snow to try to catch some wild turkeys.

Digression 2: If the reporter were on the ball, she would re-write her story for Fate or another magazine. Get paid twice for the same work—that is the secret of freelancing.

So it occurred to me, crossing the gully between the county road and my house on Tuesday night pre-bed dog walk, that I had not seen a copy of Fate since last spring. Had it been sucked into the magazine death pool?

I checked the Web site, however, and it promised a new issue soon.

Editor-in-chief Phyllis Galde tells me, "The July/Aug is at the printer, and we will turn around immediately and get the Sept./Oct. one printed."

She promises an "awesome" new Web site but complained that the Web designer and the printing plant crew were all sick with the flu.

So Fate is reanimated, I hope. I miss it. Where else can you get a good ghost story?

The graphic has nothing to do with the magazine. Just some Halloween cheer. You can get it on a T-shirt.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gallimaufry with Snow

Snow has been falling all day, and I am working on a lengthy book review, so here are some links:

• Sannion has the best idea for a New Testament zombie novel, and everyone wants him to write it. Already, I would not look at the book of Acts the same again ever.

• Hrafnkell Haraldsson has produced a string of thought-provoking posts, so go read A Heathen's Day.

• Witchdoctor Joe writes on "Samhainophobia Vs Samhainsensationalism."

• The photo is part of our outdoor shrine.

• I have visited England twice but never been to Glastonbury. Still, I keep an eye on its thriving retail scene through this blog.

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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 24, 2009

I Got the Whole Nine Yards, Scot Free

Nine well-known phrases whose origin most people get wrong.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

10 Books That Don't Get Enough Respect

Via Prof. Reynolds, Brian Francis Slattery's "ten books that don't get enough respect."

And the only one that I have read is Little, Big, because I have been a John Crowley fan since high school.

Some of the others looks interesting. Nostromo is in the class of "always heard of it but never read it."


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Priestess Honored by Cherry Hill Seminary

Judy Harrow, Wiccan priestess and teacher, has been honored by having Cherry Hill Seminary's online library named for her.

Don't go looking for the libary yet--it is under construction. And it will be entirely digital, since Cherry Hill offers primarily online classes.

CHS blurbs thusly:

A Wiccan priestess since 1977, Harrow founded Proteus Coven in 1981, and held several leadership offices for Covenant of the Goddess, on both national and regional levels, including National First Officer in 1984. She founded the Pagan Pastoral Counseling Network in 1982, and served as the first editor of the Network's publication. Harrow co-created a successful workshop series, "Basic Counseling Skills for Coven Leaders," which grew into a series of intensive workshops for Pagan elders on a range of topics. She also founded the New York Area Coven Leaders' Peer Support Group, and served as Program Coordinator for the first Mid-Atlantic Pan-Pagan Conference and Festival, as well as several other Pagan gatherings.

I would add that Judy has been preaching about the need for professional counseling education for coven leaders as long as I have known her, and she followed her own advice.

She is also the author or editrix of Spiritual Mentoring: A Pagan Guide, Devoted To You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice, and Wicca Covens: How to Start and Organize Your Own.

One bit of bibilographic essay writing missing from that list is her contributions to the 50th anniversary edition of Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today. Since we are still waiting for a scholarly biography of Gardner, her two essays included in that edition, "Looking Backward: Gardner's Sources" and "Looking Forward: Gardner's Hunches," should be read by everyone studying Wiccan history.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

On the Road

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

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

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Friday, May 08, 2009

Concentration and Its Enemies -- II

I blogged recently on concentrating on one's work in an online world ... wait, I have to check some blogs ... OK, I'm back.

At John Tierney's blog the discussion continues. All sorts of perspectives:

Fortunately, I am able to focus, but one of the reasons is because I have schizophrenia, although now it is in remission

What are the dogs barking at?

Another commenter says,

I sometimes find that low-volume, rhythmic, bass background sounds (e.g., the thrumming of an airplane’s engine, some examples of techno music) help me to concentrate, or, at least, to concentrate on material that doesn’t require my full attention.

I concur. (movie reference--got to look it up.) An iPod loaded with "trance" or some techno music can indeed put me in a bubble where I can get some kinds of work done.

Hey, look, a kitty!


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Concentration and Its Enemies

When I compare working at home now to the last time I did it (1990-1992), I can see the difference in three letters: DSL.

When email meant dial-up and Compuserve charging me by the minute, I monitored my online time carefully.

Now concentration comes harder. Sometimes I work in the guest cabin, because it has no telephone -- not even a cell-phone signal -- and of course no Web access.

Furthermore, says Winifred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, "multitasking is a myth."

“You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Boy and his Dog

Jason Pitzl-Waters blogs on the PanGaia-newWitch merger, a sign of the times.

I knew the announcement was coming but decided to respect the publisher's embargo, something that I prided myself on not doing back when I was a reporter in a two-newspaper city (which now feels like saying "back when I rode for the Pony Express.")

For those of you who read the newest--and last--PanGaia and the article "The Brightest Lights in Our Sky: Today's Most Influential Pagans," let me say that I am humbled to be included.

And the "friend" in the photo is Jack. Chesador's Hardscrabble Jack, to use his full name, which no one ever does. He will, however, answer to "Jack--yes, you, damn it--do you see any other Chessie named Jack?"

Today was his thirteenth birthday, and M. and I toasted him with champagne at dinner.

In about two weeks, I will be at the Florida Pagan Gathering, where I am scheduled to give a couple of talks, which prospect is fairly terrifying. Must write, must write.

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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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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two Compliments in One Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 27, 2009

For My UK Readers

(And others as well)

The Ladybird Book of The Policeman.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Call for Contributions: Women in Magic

This call for contributions to an edited collection comes from editor Brandy Williams' blog.

Megalithica Books, an imprint of Immanion Press (Stafford, U.K./Portland, OR, U.S.A) is seeking submissions for an anthology on women working in the magical communities, particularly in communities where women have not been extensively published or in which women face stereotyping and misunderstanding within and without the community. These communities include (but are not limited to) groups and individuals working in the Golden Dawn, Thelemic, Aurum Solis, Alchemy, Chaos, and Experimental Fields.

Women have been involved in traditional and ritual magic since the late Victorian era. However women are often viewed as tangential to these communities or as soror mysticae, assistants to the magician. Today women are actively involved in ceremonial magical groups and lodges, alchemy, chaos magic, and Experimental Magic, overcoming stereotypes and creating new visions of magic within the communities.

Go here for the whole thing.

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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, January 29, 2009

Gallimaufry with Stamps on It

¶ The US Postal Service threatens to cut Saturday delivery, blaming the economy. I have been doing my part for the USPS--I started selling stuff on eBay. eBay must be the best thing to happen to the Postal Service in the last decade--all those people sending packages.

¶ An elaborate Web site about ancient Egypt, although perhaps it was created just to sell Egyptian-themed jewelry.

Ten myths about copyright. Do you know what "fair use" really means?

¶ Also on a literary theme: Neil Gaiman's thoughts on literary agents. My answer to the question, "How do you get an agent?" is "Try your friends' agents first." That may sound like a chicken-and-egg response, but in my experience, writers hang out with other writers. Or writing teachers.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Gallimaufry with Old Bones

¶ Some British Pagans want to rebury a 4,000-year-old skeleton. It seems to me that they are just parroting NAGRPA language without realizing that (to borrow from another blogger) that the Archbishop of Canterbury has as much "blood" claim to the bones as they do.

¶ George Plimpton was an American writer of what was once called "new journalism" and is now called creative nonfiction. But this article about him in The Nation also points out to what extent famous literary journals were subsidized by the CIA as part of the culture war with the Soviet Union. Who says our government does not support the arts?

¶ Anne Hill defines "California Cosmology" and its evil twin.

Apparently "analog" now means "natural." I missed that.

So is the “planetary consciousness” of neotribal gatherings like Boom just window dressing for the same old hedonistic consumption and pursuit of distraction? Perhaps. But as a self-consciously visionary environment, Boom necessarily foreshadowed the apocalypse as much as the eco-dream.

¶ A wall painting at the Neolithic town of Catal Huyuk was often called the world's oldest map. But what if it is not a map at all? Would that mean that map-making was not practiced by "peaceful ancient matriarchies" but was invented by them evil Kurgans?

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Copyediting Religion

Orthographic payback is a bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Another Reason that I am Glad I Stopped Teaching

Evanthia O. Rosati was in the English-teaching racket longer than I was, and she has heard it all.

Whenever I am at a party or first introduced to anyone, I pray no one will mention my line of work. The party could be at full swing, music loud and the bass shaking the walls. I might be enjoying myself. Then someone says I teach English. All speaking stops as partiers adjust their vocabulary to English teacher level. The gentleman with the chip dip hanging off his cheek is now saying, "From whence I came…." . . . . Playful people become anxious adults once they become aware of the dreaded English teacher in their midst. In desperation, I yell out, "I don't have a shrine to Shakespeare in my backyard." (It's in the side yard; why give away all my secrets?) It's no use. The area clears anyway.

So true. These days I say I am a freelance book editor, which is at least partly true, and most people have no preconception about what I do.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Review: Living with Honour: A Pagan Ethics

Emma Restall Orr is one of the leading figures of British Druidry, and her book Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics may be seen as an attempt for formalize the vaguely expressed ethical precepts ("If it harm none," etc.) that characterize contemporary Paganism(s).

Orr herself admits that "Paganism can appear fragmented " but that its diversity of belief and approach "is not always helpful those trying to grasp comprehension from the outside" (11). (I think she means, "Comprehend it from the outside.)

As have a number of other Pagan writers, she feels moved to act partly by social pressures. In order for Pagans and their concerns (e.g., "appropriate care of ancient monuments and artefacts"), "it is useful to be able to stand with one voice before the benches of a nation's authority" (11).

She wants to locate her ethics in nature. This "nature" is primarily planetary as opposed to cosmic—and she makes an argument about hurricanes and tsunamis that I would agree with completely: "The *Pagan acceptance of nature's destructive power is not about resignation, but reverence." You can have a relationship with planetary nature, but it is not all about you.

Asterisk-Pagan is Orr's special spelling for a Paganism with "a devotional reverence for nature" (35), and it is essentially countercultural and antinominan, mixed with a heavy dose of romantic tribalism.

But the more I read Living with Honour, the more I became aware of two huge omissions. One is Pagan philosophy. Orr knows that she does not want to return to a bloody, heroic duel-fighting "death before dishonor" type of tribal culture, as appealing as it looks from a distance of 2,500 years. So the book is not really rooted in the Northern European Iron Age cultures, despite a couple of nods in that direction.

Yet she almost completely ignores centuries of Pagan thought on ethics and philosophy from the Greco-Roman tradition!

The Stoics get a paragraph or two, and Epicurus one sentence that demonstrates the common modern misunderstanding of his teaching. The rest of the time, the reader is fed bits of the usual grumpy, depressed, and misogynistic 18th-20th-century gang: Schopenhauer, Hegel, Nietszche. (I will make an exception for Emmanual Lévinas, whose work has informed some other contemporary Pagan thought as well.)

The ancient philosophers ranged from the hardest of "hard polytheists" to skeptical materialists like Epicurus to the "honor the gods and do your duty" attitude of the Roman Stoics. And they had a great deal to say about living ethically in friendship, in marriage, and in civic life--even when (as under the worst emperors) one was caught up in a corrupt governmental system.

Why leave them out in favor of Schopenhauer, Martin Buber, or A.J. Ayer?

By contrast, Orr's book says much about cosmos and "the Other" in an abstract sense, but neglects the polis—the world of civic and social relationships. That is the second omission.

It may be that Orr finds participatory politics distasteful--"American democracy is acknowledged as a farce," she proclaims (6)--and would rather limit her wants and watch badgers. (Doing so would be Epicurean in the truer sense.) She admits to a fondness for philosophical anarchism.

But by neglecting the "political" (in the broadest sense of life in community) part of life, she has nothing to say on issues of rights and responsibilities, on how to be an engaged and "political" citizen.

Indeed, she rejects "any idea of duty" (323). If I ever have to teach another 8 a.m. lecture class but would rather sleep, I will remember that I have no duty to the university or to my students. I can just send them a group email and tell them to read the book on their own.

When Pagans (and *Pagans) come before "the benches of nation's authority," we need to make a simple case. Although a tiny religious minority, we will pull our weight. We do not ask for to be excused for our specialness, with sharia courts and kicking everyone else out of the public swimming pool.

Unlike fundamentalists of various sorts, we do not fear academic learning--Pagans invented the academy. And democracy. And Western philosophy.

Many of us are willing to take up arms for our nation, and we support our warriors. In all social realms, we are here, and we participate.

Thus, while I find much to like in Living With Honour: A Pagan Ethics--I do enjoy seeing intelligent writers wrestle with the issue of just what "nature religion" is--I cannot help but see it as crippled by its rejection of still-relevent Pagan ethical traditions.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Review: Stewart Farrar: Writer on a Broomstick

Stewart Farrar was constantly writing (journalism, fiction, radio and TV scripts, and more) and recording events--even notes on every Wiccan circle in which he participated. When he and Janet visited our home in 1991 (their first speaking tour in the US), he narrated each day's events into a micro-cassette recorder, and I wondered if he would ever transcribe all those notes!

It should come as no surprise to readers of Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick that he identified with the Egyptian scribe-god Thoth and even believed that he had followed the occupation of scribe in a past life in pharaonic Egypt.

The story of how he visited Alex and Maxine Sanders' coven to write a magazine article, stayed, met Janet Owen (34 years his junior), and eventually married her as they led their own hived-off group has become a Wiccan staple.

But as a good biographer should, Elizabeth Guerra starts with his upbringing as a bright, sexually repressed (he made up for that later) boy in a Christian Science home, where the message was that illness results from one's own bad thoughts.

"This tenet remained with Stewart throughout his life," Guerra writes, describing how it ate at him after he suffered a stroke in old age.

As an adult, Farrar made his living playing the typewriter--even as an artillery officer in World War II he authored instructional manuals.

His initiation into Witchcraft and marriage to Janet brought on a creative surge. He wrote a series of magic-flavored novels and, with her assistance, a series of books on Wiccan practice.

There had been writers who were Wiccan before (Margaret St. Clair, to name just one), but now a professional journalist set out to describe and systemize everything. Consider this description from the catalog of Eight Sabbats for Witches's North American publisher:

Presents the detailed and dramatic rituals for each of the eight Sabbats - the seasonal ceremonies and festivals intimately linked with the waxing and waning rhythms of the natural year. Using their Book of Shadows (the witch's inherited handbook) as their starting point, practicing witches Janet and Stewart have added mythological and folkloric material, much of it personally gathered.

To complete the picture, they also give in full detail the rituals for Casting and Banishing the Magic Circle, and the often misunderstood Great Rite of male-female polarity. They include moving rituals for Wiccaning (the witches' equivalent of Christening), Handfasting (the witch wedding), and Requiem (funeral).

In a sense, it's technical writing and (although he never called himself one) doing theology. That's what happens when you try to impose intellectual coherence on religious experience.

One might say that the Farrars' work moved British Traditional Witchcraft (in the North American sense) a long way toward being a complete religious system.

Similarly, in the 1980s the Farrars gave space in their book The Witches' Way: Principles, Rituals and Beliefs of Modern Witchcraft to Doreen Valiente's attempt to track down the facts of Gerald Gardner's claimed 1939 initiation. Stewart always wanted to get the facts straight. As Guerra writes,

As a journalist, Stewart could never tolerate plagiarism. His attitude was that if you were going to educate people, then educate them: do not feed them lies, falsely claiming others' material as your own, and do not hide behind ego, because it does nothing to further the cause of education.

We need biographies or autobiographies of key Pagan figures, as I have argued before. Guerra's biography of Stewart Farrar (which includes tributes from others who knew him) is a worthwhile addition to our bookshelves.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Kink on Other Planets

Plain vanilla me, I have read none of the ten kinkiest science fiction books.

I give myself one point for knowing about the Gor series and knowing that there are people who like to act them out.

If you have read any of them, feel free to comment.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Galimaufry with "Season's Greetings"

¶ The Bad Witch mulls the issue of Pagan Yuletide songs and greeting cards. But, please, no e-cards. Nothing says "I couldn't be bothered" like an e-card.

¶ I am reading Keith Hartman's The Gumshoe, the Witch, and the Virtual Corpse. It's not as noir as it thinks it is, but it's a fun read if you like cozy gay Wiccan Baptist futuristic Southern mysteries.

¶ Don't laugh, kids--this will be you some day. Rock stars of the 1960s and 1970s in their parents' homes.

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Shrine Haiku #1

Deer turds at the entrance
to the outdoor shrine --
that's who's worshiping?


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spinning Flaming Pentacles

Writer Dianne Sylvan blogs on her early Pagan days -- books, groups, Marion Zimmer Bradley ...

But my favorite paragraph was this one:

Good god, Pagan websites used to suck. Remember MIDI files of Enya and spinning flaming pentacles? Black star-flecked background with violent purple lettering in 20 point font? Remember when cut-and-pasting Scott Cunningham was all you had to do to make your Geocities site popular?

Oh yeah. But I think I still have a folder of flaming-torch and spinning-pentacle GIF files somewhere on my hard drive. Do you think they might ever become retro-cool?


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Green Egg Omelette Available for Pre-order

Green Egg Omelette: An Anthology of Art and Articles from the Legendary Pagan Journal will be shipping soon and can be pre-ordered from Amazon with the link above or from the publisher.

Oberon Zell did the heavy lifting: tracking down long-lost contributors, making editorial decisions, and laying out the pages. I wrote a general introduction and shorter introductions for each chapter.

The chapters are organized thematically, with such themes as New Pagans; Old Pagans; Magick, Arts & Crafts; Gender and Sexuality; Power & Politics; and of course a Fiction chapter.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Encountering the Evil Librarian

She is evil because when I stopped by her office for a chat, she forced me to look at four large cartons of books recently "weeded" from the university's literature and criticism shelves, forced me, I tell you, with the magic words, "They're free. Take as many as you want."

Many (not all) were by little-known writers and critics of the 1890s-1920s. I knew of George Moore, of course, and also recognized the seagoing novelist William McFee, because I had been given one of his tramp-steamer novels, In the First Watch (1946), as a kid. Here was a book of his magazine pieces, Swallowing the Anchor (1925).

And the rest of my finds:

Pierre and His People: Tales of the Far North (1894) by a Canadian, Gilbert Parker, who turns out to have been a British propagandist, working in secret to bring the United States into World War One.

Avowals (1919) by George Moore, the Irish novelist and poet.

Light Freights (1901) by W.W. Jacobs, best known for one of the most chilling short stories of all time, "The Monkey's Paw," but chiefly a writer of sea stories.

The Phantom Future (1897), by Henry Seton Merriman, which Wikipedia says was the pen name of one Hugh Scott, a popular novelist at the turn of the last century.

One box also held a six-volume collection of the poems of Algernon Swinburne, the Decadent and somewhat small-p pagan poet of the Victorian era.

But someone had already spoken for them: the very Catholic Irish-American literature professor, a great admirer of Cardinal Newman, etc. Given Swinburne's heretical and fairly erotic writing -- lots of sex and death -- you might say he was an original Goth -- is this a window into Professor X's secret kinky side?


Friday, September 05, 2008

Review: Written in Wine

Dionysos, writes Sannion of the Library of Neos Alexandria, "is a maddeningly complex god to figure out." And so he gets an anthology: poetry, fiction, hymns, essays, ritual from a group of Hellenic revivalist Pagans: Written in Wine: A Devotional Anthology for Dionysos

I like that approach for several reasons.

For one, contemporary Pagans must remember that our model of clergy is different from those of the monotheists. We start with service to deity, which is not the same as "pastoring" (herding sheep).

For another, we are drawn (or chosen) by different deities at different times. Sometimes, as Wiccan writer Judy Harrow says of herself, we are "serial henotheists."

Harrow herself produced an excellent book in 2003, Devoted To You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice — the title is a slight misnomer, since two of four contributors, Alexei Kondratiev and Maureen Reddington-Wilde, are reconstructionist Pagans.

I once said that we needed poets, not theologians, and much of the poetry in Written in Wine is good stuff. Theokleia's "Come Dionysus" needs to be chanted by drunken, torch-lit devotees, while the collection also includes new translations of some ancient hymns to Dionysos as well.

The book includes stories and essays as well: I was impressed by Sarah Kate Istra Winter's "What It Means to be a Maenad" and, somewhat parallel to it, Tim Ward's "Dionysos on Skyros" with its questions of how a man moving toward middle age might still manifest the god.

I mentioned Ginette Paris, known for three excellent works of polytheistic psychology: Wisdom of the Psyche: Depth Psychology after Neuroscience, Pagan Meditations: The Worlds of Aphrodite, Artemis, and Hestia, and Pagan Grace: Dionysus, Hermes, and Goddess Memory in Daily Life.

Those books can help you see how divine energies penetrate the psyche and also manifest unexpectedly in everyday life, but Written in Wine is for the times when you want to call them forth—now!

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Warrior

Some of the littlest things are big to Jeff Deck, who is traveling the country in search of mistakes.

May angels bear him up.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Ambulance Driver has tagged me in a post about teaching.

I let his request rattle around in my brain during spring break, hoping for inspiration. And by doing so, I violated Rule 1, which is "Don't wait for inspiration. Start writing." (But, Professor, I was on vacation!)

AD writes, "If I had but one message I could pass on to my students and my child, what would it be? What lessons am I most passionate about?"

Here are the full meme directions:

  • Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
  • Give your picture a short title.
  • Title your blog post "Meme: Passion Quilt."
  • Link back to this blog entry.
  • Include links to 5 (or more) educators.

As I wrote recently, I am leaving the classroom. Passion is at a low ebb right now: I just want to get through the next month.

What keeps me going

What keeps me going is this: More time in the woods. No more saying that I can't go hiking or hunting or fishing because I have papers to grade.

So as a teacher of (among other things) nature-writing, I would like my students to know that at least some of the time you need to be in your "Pleistocene body," walking, moving, looking, listening.

And when you do write--anything--all the clichés are true:

"Once you pass your twentieth birthday, technique counts for more than inspiration." (And if you are in rhetoric class, it counts more before you are 20.)

"Books are our grandparents (thanks to Gary Snyder for that one).

"Writing is thinking."

"Use an action verb."

And my favorite: "The first million words are just for practice."

Now that I have stumbled through that (I suck at profundity), I tag Cat Chapin-Bishop, Gus diZerega, Macha, Anne Hill , and Mary Scriver.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction

Winners of a a Pagan fiction contest will be included in a new collection forthcoming from Llewellyn Publications. The contest was co-sponsored by BBI Media, and the judges named three winners:

• Grand prize, $500, and publication in PanGaia magazine, to "A Valkyrie Among Jews" by April

• Second prize, $250, to"Black Doe" by Vylar Kaftan

• Third prize, $100, to "Dead and (Mostly) Gone" by Deborah Blake

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Friday, January 04, 2008

In lieu of doing actual work ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jezebel the Polytheistic Princess

I am reading Lesley Hazleton's Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen, which I picked up at the Doubleday booth at the AAR-SBL meeting.

Somewhat as Robert Graves did in King Jesus decades ago--but with better sourcing--she takes a familiar Bible story and re-tells it from a different perspective.

Jezebel (Phoenician "Itha-Ba'al" -- woman of the Lord) was a Phoenician princess united in a political marriage with Ahab, who was actually one of the more militarily and successful Israelite kings of the Omride dynasty. The Bible slams him for not being hard enough on polytheists, however.

As queen and then as queen mother, she plays the political game as best she can before falling victim to monotheistic religious violence incited by the prophet Elijah. It's telling that Hazleton describes Elijah as issuing a fatwa against her: He is nothing but a forerunner of the Islamic preachers of today, urging the young men to blow themselves up in the name of Allah. When the Bible speaks of "companies of prophets," I see the Taliban.

The story is told in the the Book of Kings, which Hazleton supplements with what archaeology has since learned about the kingdom of Israel.

It has been many years since I looked at 2nd Kings. It is supposedly a chronicle of Israel and Judah, but as Hazleton says, "It has the logic of a dream." But I was reading Jezebel with the Bible in my lap for cross reference (Hazleton provides ample citations.)

Jezebel's grandniece,known to the Greco-Roman world as Dido, helped to establish the city of Carthage, Rome's military and commercial rival. But Dido's real name was Elitha, which via the Carthaginian colonies in Spain became "Alicia," or so Hazleton claims. Meanwhile, Jezebel--Itha-Ba'al--became "Isabelle" (or Isabella or Isobel) by the same route.

Margaret Murray, the English archaeologist who cast Paganism as the "Old Religion" in early modern Europe, claimed that "Isobel" and its variants (along with Joan) was among the most common names of women tried as witches. (Is that why Björk chose it?) But, really, I think that that was because it was a popular name, not because it was a "witch name."

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Gallimaufry with Cocktails

¶ Having watched most of the "Thin Man" movies out of sequence, M. and I finished tonight with the last of them, Song of the Thin Man. It is notable for its proto-hipster dialog in some scenes and what I am sure are well-veiled cannabis references, slipped past the Hollywood censors of the day. I have a vision of a 21-year-old Allen Ginsberg, watching it and going "Yeah, yeah!" "Best minds of my generation," check. [Hidden] drug references, check. [Euphemized] "negro streets," check. Insane asylum, check. Jazz, check. It's almost all there. But no overt references to Patterson, New Jersey.

¶ A friend writes, "I am finally reading Her Hidden Children!! It is wonderful, Chas. Intelligent, concise, thoughtful, and respectful as well. Lovely, bravo, you are my hero. It is well written and pleasant to read. Your style flows like water over glass, never stumbling over complexities or data."

I can't marry her, so do I put her in my will? Flattery goes to a writer's head like a big glass of cheap sherry!

¶ You should bookmark Jason Pitzl-Waters' music blog, A Sweeping Curve of Sound. "Music, Blasphemy, Idolatry." I'm in. Links abound, including to his Pagan music podcasts.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Manufactured Conspiracy in Wiccan Publishing

I have started reading Aidan Kelly's Inventing Witchcraft: A Case Study in the Creation of a New Religion, published by Thoth Publications but also available from Amazon.

In simplest terms, it's an enlargement and reworking of Crafting the Art of Magic, Book 1, which Llewellyn published in 1991--Kelly's study of the origins of modern Wicca, based primarily on textual criticism of various versions of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows.

Kelly published one earlier article on the BoS in my own zine, Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which had a run of four issues from about 1984-1986. It is sort of fun to see it referred to again.

Because there was only Book 1 and no Book 2 back 15 years ago, a whole conspiracy theory has arisen, for example, that American Gardnerians somehow had the book suppressed. Even Thoth's copywriters can't resist: the back-cover copy reads, in part, "When the first edition of thisbook was released, conservative Gardnerian Witches attempted to suppress it....Even though its first printing quickly [!] sold out, the original publisher, faced with death threats and boycotts, agreed to abandon the project..."

Horse shit. Elephant dung. Monkey poop. Here are some facts:

1. Llewellyn typically then (and now, I suppose) kept first runs short, usually under 5,000 copies. If sales were good, more copies would be ordered in similar increments. Even one of their top Wiccan authors, Scott Cunningham, was selling only in the mid-five figures at that time.

2. Shortly after Crafting was released, I flew to Minnesota to spend a couple of days with Carl and Sandra Weschcke, who own Llewellyn, and then-acquisitions editor Nancy Mostad, discussing the series that I was editing for them and possible other projects.

On our way to dinner the first night, Carl asked me if I knew when Kelly would send the ms. for Book 2. He wanted to publish it. After thirty years in the occult publishing business, he probably treated the displeasure of his reading public less seriously than he treated Minnesota mosquitoes. Death threats indeed. Controversy is good for publishers, as Thoth is obliquely admitting by trying to manufacture some.

3. But Kelly's own problems at the time prevented him from ever delivering the manuscript. With no Book 2 in the pipeline, Book 1 was allowed to go out of print -- as the majority of Llewellyn titles do after their first press runs. No conspiracy there, just business.

Since Amazon advertises used copies of Crafting at prices from $46 to more than $150, you get much more by buying the new book, despite the cover hype. I have some minor issues with it -- I wish that it more reflected research into Wiccan origins done since the first book was written -- but it is still worthwhile.

Thoth also has reprinted Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki's The Forgotten Mage. It is a key background book in the emergence of contemporary Paganism from the milieu of early 20th-century ceremonial magic and esotericism.

UPDATE 10/25: Greetings if you came here from Wildhunt. (Thanks, Jason.) As I hope I made clear in my response to one commenter, I don't want to turn a discussion of this dubious book marketing into a pro/con discussion about Dr. Kelly and his difficult relationship with other American Gardnerians. Don't want to go there, OK?

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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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Monday, October 08, 2007

The Dream and the Job

In the dream last night I was at some kind of Protestant Christian youth camp, headed by the stereotypical big, extroverted, 30-something youth minister.

A teenaged girl was supposed to be baptized, but the minister had to leave suddenly, so he asked me to baptize her. His request presented two problems:

1. I did not know how this denomination performed the ceremony. 2. Would a baptism by Pagan me be valid anyway?

I shoved issue #2 aside while searching for the book—a sort of combination prayer book and textbook—that would tell me how to perform it. I remember looking up "baptism" in the index: there were multiple page references.

As dreams do, this one trailed off with no clear resolution. The girl was not feeling well and wanted to postpone the baptism—or something.

The deam revealed its meaning, I think, in one detail: my English department colleague J. was in the dream. He was one of the camp counselors. He did not play a part in the dream-plot, but I saw him waiting in line at the camp dining hall.

The dream is not about religion but about my teaching career, which will end (at least for now) when my resignation takes effect at the end of spring semester.

J. is one of the younger professors. He and I have talked about his taking over some of my minor administrative chores and also my office, which is nicer than his (windows!) and more convenient to the classrooms that we both use. In that sense, perhaps, he is "waiting in line."

J. is a strong classroom teacher. A former Marine, he sometimes impersonates his drill instructors in the first-year composition classroom, but in a light-hearted way that the students appreciate. (I don't know that he does it in his critical-theory classes, but maybe I should eavesdrop more.)

As for me, I need to look up whether "burnout" is one word or two. The zest is gone, although I am still looking forward to the spring nature-writing class. Right now, I have a folder full of essays from my creative-nonfiction class to critique. Those students all have some writing talent and their pieces are interesting to read , but I have to flog myself into actually writing the comments on them that they expect. On some level, I am not a "believer" anymore.

Ironically, I am probably looser and more at ease in class now than I ever was, knowing that I have the freedom of the short-timer. Maybe I learned something about how to teach writing in the last fifteen years. But now my time for research and writing is worth more to me than it was fifteen years ago.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gallimaufry in italiano

¶ I have nothing against the Good People, but I don't think they belong in law courts.

¶ Wicca: it really is a fashion statement.

¶ Francesca Howell, author of Magic with Gaia, speaks at an Italian Paganism conference (YouTube). Crappy video, probably from a cell phone, but interesting English and Italian soundtrack. How do you say "public outreach" in Italian, anyway? She was formerly at Naropa University but currently is living in Milan.

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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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Monday, July 30, 2007

The Dark is Rising . . . on Film

In the heart of the English Fen County, Pluvialis is spitting . . .

. . . chips and blood. I am crackling with furious static. Any minute now, small pieces of paper, coins and pens are going to drag themselves across the tabletop, bent and pulled towards me by the immense, bending-the-laws-of-physics fury I'm experiencing right now.

She has been reading Jason Pitzl-Waters'
comments on the upcoming film version of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising

Let's set it in America?
Let's get rid of "all the Arthurian and Pagan stuff"?
Let's give Will Stanton a twin brother, stolen by the dark?
The Rider a love interest?

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Animal, Vegetable . . . Wiccan?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is novelist Barbara Kingsolver's new nonfiction book about her family's year of eating locally. Or to quote the blurb: "With characteristic poetry and pluck, Barbara Kingsolver and her family sweep readers along on their journey away from the industrial-food pipeline to a rural life in which they vow to buy only food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it."

The book has a Web site with more information, recipes, and local contacts. All good.

But consider this excerpt from the late-June chapter on Kingsolver's experiments with cheese-making:

I'm not sure why, since it takes less time to make a pound of mozzarella than to bake a cobbler, but most people find the idea of making cheese at home to be preposterous. If the delivery guy happens to come to the door when I'm cutting and draining curd, I feel like a Wiccan.

Wiccans (a) do clandestine things in the kitchen, (b) make cheese, (c) are preposterous, (d) all of the above?

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

This Will Be My Only Harry Potter Post Ever

Megan McArdle examines the failures of magics and economics in the Harry Potter books.

Yet in the Potter books, the costs and limits are too often arbitrary.

A patronus charm, for example, is awfully difficult--until Rowling wants a stirring scene in which Harry pulls together an intrepid band of students to Fight the Power, whereupon it becomes simple enough to be taught by an inexperienced fifteen year old. Rowling can only do this because it's thoroughly unclear how magic power is acquired. It seems hard to credit academic labour, when spells are one or two words; and anyway, if that were the determinant, Hermione Granger would be a better wizard than Harry. But if it's something akin to athletic skill, why is it taught at rows of desks? And why aren't students worn out after practicing spells?

(Via Instapundit.)


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Read a M*F* Book

You have wonder what Zora Neale Hurston would say at seeing her work promoted in this video:

Maybe she would be cool with it. (Definitely NSFW, by the way.)

(Via an LJ community for desperate librarians.)

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Occult Renaissance Nears its End (?)

Dump your Llewellyn stock*—the occult renaissance is about to end.

Or so wrote the ceremonial magician Louis T. Culling in his booklet Occult Renaissance 1972-2008, published in 1972 (suprise) by Llewellyn Publications, price one dollar.

He explains his chronology like this:

[T]he entire field of the Occult had a tremendous upsurge of activity and interest beginning roughly in the year 1894 and lasting roughly to 1936. In that year the doors to the "mysteries" were closed and Occultism has been in the "dark ages" though 1971.

That golden era, Culling claims, produced the Theosophical Society and the Holy Order of the Golden Dawn, while a silver era from 1900-1936 produced Aleister Crowley's post-GD work as well as that of Dion Fortune, Paul Foster Case, Marc Edmund Jones, and many others. After 1936 came "low-grade claimants and tricksters."

Oddly, Culling avers that "the wave of popular interest in astrology and the various occult subjects occuring from 1968 to 1971 really has no part in the genuine Occult Renaissance that starts in 1972" (emphasis in the original).

It's all based on a 72-year astronomical cycle, with each 72 years representing one degree in the precession of the equinoxes.

The 1972 renaissance was supposed to bring increased understanding of sex magick, a more "receptive and sustaining, hence feminine," version. (Not what you read in Crowley's magickal notebooks, which Culling calls "projective.")

What interests me is that Culling interrupts his discussion of sex magick to talk about ecology, which he defines as "preseving all forms of life for Man's SPIRITUAL TRANSCENDENCE." He illustrates spiritual growth through contact with nonhuman life by a story he wrote for the Defenders of Wildlife magazine in 1966 called "The Trader Coyote." He writes that people who observe Nature closely "study and observe the manifestations of Divine Inteligence operating in Nature so that consciously (and unconsiously, subconsciously) they may make spiritual rapport with nature and become true NATURE WORSHIPPERS." (Capitalization in the original.)

And, yes, he puts in a good word for Wicca, quoting from the Grimoire of Lady Sheba, which Llewellyn had published about the same time.

As an occultist and magician, Culling rejects explanations of the universe as operating by chance. He expects that the great new understanding of the 1972-1998 period will be that a "Directive Intelligence" drives evolutiion and that by understanding this intelligence, we will learn what Man is slated to become.

Here is the irony of prophecy. Indeed, today more and more people reject evolution-by-chance. Instead, they turn to a heavy-handed, literal-minded evangelical Christian version of "intelligent design." Rather than seeking any occult purpose inevolution, they wish to reject it altogether.

In their psyches, advocates of intelligent design feel that there must be something moe than a mechanical universe. So did Culling the occultist. But he wished to proceed with an attitude of exploration and learning, whereas theirs is an attitude of rejection and deliberate ignorance. They have their own low-grade claimants and tricksters.

*That is a joke. Llewellyn is a privately held company.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

It's Robert Heinlein Week

Maybe you had forgotten that July 7, 1907 was the birthday of SF great Robert Heinlein? I certainly had, but thanks to the InterWebs, now I know.

The always-iconoclastic Steve Sailer gives snapshots of Heinlein's novels, including Stranger in a Strange Land, which had such an effect on the American Pagan movement via the Church of All Worlds:

- Heinlein's 1961 Stranger in a Strange Land evolved much like Nabokov's Lolita. Both writers began working on their respective scandalous magnum opuses about 1949, figuring that while they weren't publishable at present, American norms were changing fast enough that they would be publishable eventually. Both ended up long and self-indulgent.

- After a fast-paced opening, Stranger in a Strange Land bogs down badly. It reads like a few cokeheads lecturing some credulous potheads on everything under the sun. Still, what a great title it has, maybe the best by any novel ever. The Prophet Abraham's description of himself is borrowed to describe a new prophet, a human raised by Martians, who comes to a satirical America. And one plot detail -- how the First Lady's astrologer was influencing the President -- turned out to exactly foreshadow the situation under Ron and Nancy Reagan!

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Friday, June 29, 2007


¶ Is a Celtic bowl the Nazi holy grail? Probably not, but it might inspire a Dan Brown-wannabe.

¶ On Sunday we leave on a trip to the Mendocino coast. We are taking Amtrak most of the way. Some of our friends seem to think that we are eccentric for preferring cross-country trains. After all, air travel is so much smoother.

¶ You knew that chimps and elephants painted. But did you know that trees can draw? (Via Mirabilis.)

¶ Australian writer Glenys Livingstone has put her book on ecospirituality, PaGaian Cosmology, online at the PaGaian website.

¶ Jason Pitzl-Waters is blogging as he works on a book about Pagan music.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Let's Hear It for BP605.W53!

When you visit a university library that uses Library of Congress call numbers, are you tired of finding books on Wicca in the BF's along with abnormal psychology?

(For example, my book Her Hidden Children is at BF1566 .C55 2006. At least The Paganism Reader made it into the BL's, the religion category.

But now, according to a professional librarian on one of the lists that I read, things are changing:

It took them long enough.... but not nearly as long as the change from Moving pictures to Motion pictures.

If anyone cares, here's what the official subject heading looks like, complete with cross reference and literary warrant:

053 0BP605.W53
150 Wicca
450 Wica
550 Neopaganism
550 Witchcraft

And there's now a specific LC classification number as well. Dewey number is 299.94.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

More Posthumous Recognition for PKD

Maybe he was on to something: "Philip K. Dick: A Sage of the Future Whose Time Has Finally Come" by Brent Staples in the New York Times.

The science fiction writer’s job is to survey the future and report back to the rest of us. Dick took this role seriously. He spent his life writing in ardent defense of the human and warning against the perils that would flow from an uncritical embrace of technology.

I would phrase that slightly differently: SF writers, I think, more often take some aspect of life today and develop its possibilities.

(Via Communion of Dreams.)


Wednesday, June 06, 2007


¶ All genuine religions have torchlight processions (Clifton's 3rd Law of Religion), but how do you make a torch? This guy has answers. For more Neolithic fun, make your own rock-and-plant-fiber oil lamp. He has instructions for that job too. It's all a metaphor for living.

¶ I have been remiss in not thanking Anne Hill for her review of Her Hidden Children.

¶ Summer library program yanked after claims of witchcraft. That's Greenville, South Carolina. I will be in nearby Spartanburg all next week. Luckily, I do not own any tie-dyed T-shirts. (Via Wren's Nest.)

¶ Some Danish Pagans decided to make a religio-political statement--with a large stone. Take that, Harald Bluetooth!

¶ Some Greek Pagans are now able to use ancient temples, although bureaucratic delays persist.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007


¶ Now this is a poorly written headline.

¶ As John Leo would explain in "Thoughts on Good Writing", the headline writer needs to "work to avoid the dead idioms that we all seem to carry in our heads."

¶ Weirdest search string to bring someone here in the past month: "Is the vagina of the pagan priestess a holy place?" (punctuation supplied). Discuss among yourselves. This site was the top search result.

¶ They are using laser analysis on the Book of Kells, and, coincidentally, the Vikings are headed for Ireland.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007


¶ Here in Colorado, Rocky Mountain PBS' group of stations weights their offerings heavily toward programs like Lawrence Welk and Antiques Roadshow. When they really want to be cutting edge, such as during fund drives, they run a John Denver special.

Having once been peripherally connected with the antiques trade, I actually enjoy Antiques Roadshow sometimes. M., however, makes some comment about the "white-shoe crowd" and leaves the room. I wish I had been watching when an Austin Osman Spare painting was discussed. Did anyone mention ceremonial magic and Borough Satyr?

PanGaia managing editor Elizabeth Barrette has a a new poem published in the fantasy webzine Lorelei Signal. She also has a book in the work on writing Pagan spells, poetry, and ritual texts. She reminds us that PanGaia's fiction-contest deadline is June 24.

¶ This may be just too obvious, but anyway... If you work at an organization that is cyber-security obsessed, where you frequently have to change your network password, why not encode a magical intention into your password? For a writer, something like "Public@tion08". And, look, it's a "strong" password with a non-alphanumeric character.

¶ BeliefNet's Blog Heaven site has been cleansed of non-monotheists. No Buddhist bloggers, no Hindus, no Pagans. And yet I hear that BeliefNet is still trying to get some Pagans to write essays for the main site. Do we even need them, with all the Pagan sites and forums out there?

¶ Stop whatever you are doing and read this. Then bookmark the blog. It is one of the best out there.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Dionysus, Jesus, Castaneda

After watching the BBC take on anthropologist - novelist - sorcerer Carlos Castaneda, M. and I rented another documentary about him. Enigma of a Sorcerer was released in 2002. It is available through Netflix, but it is only for the hardcore student of neo-shamanism as phenomenon.

Since it is only a collection of interviews (including the late Dan Noel), someone had the bright idea to put pulsating "psychedelic" backgrounds behind each talking head. "I need Dramamine," M. said, turning away from the screen.

Amy Wallace, one of Castaneda's inner circle of lovers-students in the 1990s and author of a memoir about that time, was another of the persons interviewed.

Watching both videos, however, you see how Castaneda was somehow possessed by Dionysus--just like every other death-defying savior with a circle of women: Krishna, Jesus, Joe Smith, Carl Jung (compare his "valkyries" to Castaneda's "witches.") Gurdjieff too, probably.

Soteriology--the various doctrines of salvation--all suggest the story of the God of variousness whose salvific function is well known in the Orphic cult. His name is Dionysus.

So writes David L. Miller (not to be confused with this David Miller) in The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses (1974), a book a little ahead of its time.

All promised the overcoming of death. Castaneda, according to the interviews, offered a non-ordinary death--to disappear "bodily into the Second Attention"--to his followers. After he expired from liver cancer in 1998, at least one of his lovers went alone to Death Valley, where her bones were later found. Three of the "witches," Florinda Donner Grau, Taisha Abelar, and Carol Tiggs, also killed themselves, Wallace claims. But she offers no details as to when and how--she just thinks that they must have done so.

Actually, had the BBC wanted to do real journalism, they could have found out who cashes the royalty checks from all of Castaneda's books. I assume that they go to Cleargreen, Inc., the organization that he set up to incorporate his teaching methods.

Castaneda even has his own "Saint Paul," Victor Sanchez, who fills the role of the person who never met the Teacher but who claims to be passing on his methods.

Maybe the woman we call Mary Magdalene was either a composite figure or possibly only one of a group of her Dionysian teacher's intimates. There could be a book there . . .

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

See, this is fame

In the postal mail and email:

1. Two fat envelopes bearing mss. of how-to Witchcraft books from publishers who want my name on a cover blurb. Neither came from Woodbury, Minnesota, however. How quickly they forget, eager to move on to the hot new titles in astral sex.

2. An email from someone who shares my surname. My name had come up both her genealogical research and her Pagan research, so "[I] believe that I am supposed to contact you." Her son is a "sorcer" with a "great destiny" too. Yowie.

They claim descent from the Cliftons of Cornwall. Maybe so. It's a geographical name (meaning, literally, farm under/by the cliff), so it can pop up anywhere the Angles and Saxons went, but my family lore always said that we came from some Cliftons in the north of England, possibly County Durham.

Of course, family lore and $2 will get you a cup of Starbucks coffee.

3. A Colorado author wrote me a letter, wanting permission to reprint photos from my first-ever book(let), Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek.

"You are hard to track down!" she writes.

If only. See item no. 2.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I could not write books without them.

The interlibrary loan librarians.

Even more heartening is [the] observation that interlibrary lending is "the only professional service I can think of in which the provider pays the cost." The faith our libraries show in the ability of that service to somehow, someday, contribute to a greater good is remarkable, and yet usually goes unremarked.

The greatest resource sharing our libraries practice is sharing their faith in us.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Prince Charles, thatch, and the collapse of civilization

The Prince of Wales recently was quoted as saying McDonald's restaurants "should be banned" (in the United Arab Emirates, if not the UK).

What do we call that, "nutritional mercantilism"?

Although I admire him for his environmental work and his line of organic foods, I laughed pretty hard at Steve Stirling's fictionalized version of the prince in A Meeting at Corvallis, the final book of his post-Collapse trilogy. (Yes, I know, trilogies . . . )

I have mentioned Stirling's fairly realistic Wiccan characters, but the third book offers an England where now-King Charles rules, and he has imposed his aesthetic taste on as much of the nation as he controls. Houses must have thatched roofs, while farmers and laborers must wear the old cotton smock when they work outdoors. "De national dress, mon," says a Jamaican immigrant turned farmer.

Update: Alice Thomson calls the prince a true prophet.

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