Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Not-Quite-Pagan 'Pioneer Day' Parade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Can't Stop Chuckling...

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

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

Paganism is Fa-abulous

So says the News of the World, so consider the source.

Both Emma and Amie are in the throes of planning their weddings for next year - or hand-fastings, as they're called in pagan circles, because the couple's hands are tied together during the ceremony.

Both are planning outdoor ceremonies officiated by a high priest and priestess, using pagan vows they'll compose themselves. Emma's gown will be green "to symbolise new beginnings", while Amie has plumped for a purple medieval-style dress, followed by a hog roast on the beach. Conventional it isn't - but if paganism continues to grow, hand-fastings could be the next big thing.

Emma has Pagan tattoos!

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The New York Times Wants You to Stay Helpless

Don't turn your soft, computer-tapping hands away from the keyboard and pick up a hammer. That seemed to be the message in Sunday's New York Times. Self-reliance is dangerous.

This woman made a mistake when replacing a toilet. So, therefore, she should not learn from her mistake and do it right the next time. She could call a plumber instead.

When in doubt, do nothing. Call the authorities.

Then there is this story about a peril for urban gardeners -- lead in the soil from the days of leaded gasoline and older paints. The hazard could be real -- and the article presents some fixes -- but I cannot help thinking that the underlying message is "Don't even try growing your own food."

Remember, boys and girls, the government and the official state-approved priests always know what is best for you.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fame and Pagans

An essay by Cat Chapin-Bishop on seeking fame as a Pagan has gotten some attention. Her Quaker side is conflicted by the idea of being a "Big-Name Pagan," thanks to the Quaker ideal of not seeking worldly glory.

I do not see anything wrong with seeking fame if we define it as "excellence." After all, if you strive for years to do X and have some skill at it, you will eventually be recognized by the community of "People Who Do X."

Put Pagan authors, etc., in that group: we are not known that much outside of Pagandom.

There is of course an unhealthy form of fame-seeking. We all know the people who think that they deserve the front of the line based on their celebrity.

Here is one difference, perhaps: Teaching.

My favorite philosopher, Gary Snyder, once wrote that while artists and writers in a sense occupy the top of the cultural food chain, they are in turn eaten -- scavenged -- by their students.

So maybe teaching X after you are famous for it is one protection against fame's unhealthy self-delusion. Give it all away.

Paganism does not require us to creep around in grey clothing saying, "Oh, I am no one special."

On the other hand, all fame is fleeting -- unless you are offered a deal like Achilles: short life and fame or a long life.

He chose the former and now, something like 3,200 years later, Brad Pitt plays him in a movie.

But for most humans, fame is just the foam on the cappuccino. You may enjoy it, but you should not mistake it for the real drink.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Performance Studies and Reality Television

Living a cable channel-free life, I never saw Mad Mad House, but if you did and you want to read a performance studies-based analysis, I direct you to Jason Winslade's "You’ve Got to Grow or Go": Initiation, Performance, and Reality Television" (PDF file).

At the center of his analysis are the reality show's "alternate" characters, including the prominent Australian Witch Fiona Horne:

The five Alts were Fiona the Witch, Ta’Shia the Voodoo Priestess, Don the Vampire, Art the Modern Primitive and Avocado the Naturist. The use of just the first names and their “Alt” title was prominent in the show’s promotional materials and title sequence, in which their heads were placed paper doll-like (in South Park fashion) on small drawn bodies in cartoonish settings accompanied by equally cartoonish sound effects. For instance, a bubbling cauldron sound and a witch cackle accompanied Fiona’s brief scene. Further, these constructed characters exist as iconic figures in such settings as the Deliberation Room, where their gaudily painted portraits also feature prominently in the title sequence. These touches unapologetically fetishize and exoticize these characters and their “alternative” beliefs, perhaps to present them as more of a challenge to the mainstream contestants, who were predominantly young, white, upper middle class, and, if they had any religious affiliation, Christian.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ce potiron extraordinaire

This pumpkin was grown at Country Roots Farm. Now M. has sliced and gutted it, and it is transformed into pie.

Happy Thanksgiving, the "most civilized holiday of them all."


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Good Meat, Good Spice

I have just started reading The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spice by Michael Krondl.

And I am so happy that in the first pages he destroys the persistent myth that people in the Middle Ages ate heavily spiced food to disguise its rottenness. He offers several good rebuttals:

• Anyone who could afford exotic spices (e.g., pepper, cinnamon) was well-off enough to afford good meat. The rich could afford to eat fresh meat and spices. The poor could afford neither.

• Medieval cookbooks -- yes, they existed, for the upper classes -- directed cooks to add spices at the end of cooking for a greater olfactory whammy, which negates the idea of concealing or preserving "off" meat.

• Salt is the best cheap, traditional preservative for meat. So why would anyone use expensive imports?

All this is to say that spices weren't the truffles or caviar of their time but were more on the order of today's expensive extra-virgin olive oil. But like the bottle of Tuscan olive oil displayed on the granite counter of today's trophy kitches, spices were part and parcel of the lifestyle of the moneyed classes...

So I gave tonight's quick supper of sardines, garlic, and pasta an extra flourish of pepper. Got to support the spice trade, you know.

Medieval cooking is on my mind since Sunday night, when a colleague from the university absolutely knocked herself out preparing an Elizabethan feast for her "Midsummer Night's Dream" party.

There were lots of sweet-and-sour meat-and-fruit dishes, some wrapped in dough, as pasties but without potato, which would not be correct for the period.

And then some players from a community theatre troupe did scenes from the play outdoors under the pines and Douglas firs.

That's as close to a 16th-century feast as I will ever get.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Leaving Lammas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, March 12, 2004

Aphrodite Bats Last

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

Key paragraphs:

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

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

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

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Thursday, December 04, 2003

Pueblo's Hipper Image

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

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

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