Friday, January 01, 2010

Our Secret Order Will Rule the Empire

What is it with secret societies and magical orders in the movies these days? The Da Vinci Code. National Treasure: Book of Secrets. . . I could go on.

Now M. and I are back from watching the new Sherlock Holmes, which felt like "screenplay by Dan Brown and Dion Fortune, from the stories by Arthur Conan Doyle."

The villain, Lord Blackwood, is a cross between Aleister Crowley and Benito Mussolini.

Historians of costume, if you are out there: do not Irene Adler's dresses with the elaborate bustles seem about 15-20 years out of date for the time of the movie? (I date it to the late 1880s, since Tower Bridge is under construction, assuming that is the bridge in the movie.

Good movie though, with lots of little bits of cinematic homage to "the canon," such as the pocket watch with pawnbrokers' marks or the steam launch on the Thames.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Spices, Speak to Me

The Mistress of Spices is sort of like the wort-cunning herbalist witch archetype, only with (Asian) Indians and a Bollywood star whose "acting" is very stylized, mostly about eye makeup.

We ordered it from Netflix months ago, and it finally reached the top of our queue.

The whole movie is so stylized that it is more like a music video than a film. Artiness trumps story.

M. says it reminded her of Chocolat.

Will the spices win out over earthly love? Three guesses.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

'True Samhain' is Friday

Now that the costumes are put away, note that Samhain calculated astrologically (Sun at 15 degrees of Scorpio) falls on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 6:42 a.m. Greenwich time, which would be roughly midnight on Friday here in the Mountain Time Zone.

Last year Peg and I had a little blog-discussion of the two dates.

Scott Monahan's archaeoastronomy page lets you calculate to the minute.

Check his "In the Movies" link for archaeoastronomical critiques, such as this one of National Treasure.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

2012 Apocalypse Porn

Even some Mayans are finally getting fed up with the whole 2012 end-of-civilization-as-we-know-it apocalypse porn.

(You know it's porn because there is no real goofiness, humor, or affection.)

A little while ago I received a copy of 2012: Science or Superstition, a video from Disinformation.

It's got it all: Hopis, Islamic astrology, reverse cowgirl, Stonehenge, and lots of self-appointed experts saying "X appeared to have Y."

Lots of vague references to "cultures around the world" sharing the same cosmology, which is, shall we say, unsupported.

Why the Mayas? Why not the ancient Roman calendar? The year 2012 will be 2765 AUC. That sounds significant too. Or wait until 2772?

Anthony Aveni, who is a genuine scholar of archaeoastronomy, is in there, along with a bunch of apocalyptic pornographers—and who can tell them apart without a scorecard?

You won't hear much from any Mayas, however.

"The December 21st, 2012 date is gaining ground in the popular media," says one of the talking heads. Yes, and we will see more of that, no doubt.

And Halloween is coming, so you could pick up 2012: Science or Superstition for your scary movie. Or you could watch The Exorcist.

UPDATE: The day that I wrote this post, the new issue of Archaeology magazine arrived, with an article by Professor Aveni examing the 2012 craze.

You will find the full text at the link but here are two brief quotations:

It is amusing that the Y12 prophets are certain the world will end for all of us based on a date that may or may not have had historical significance to the Maya a few thousand years ago, who were themselves looking to a date a few thousand years before that. The ancient Maya might tell us: "Hey, get your own zero point!"


We live in a techno-immersed, materially oriented society that seems somewhat bewildered by where rational, empirical science might be taking us. This may be why the mystical, escapist explanations of a galactic endpoint, replete with precise mathematical, historical, and cosmic underpinnings (masquerading as science), have such wide appeal. In an age of anxiety we reach for the wisdom of ancestors--even other peoples' ancestors--that might have been lost in the drifting sands of time. Perhaps the only way we can take back control of our disordered world is to rediscover their lost knowledge and make use of it. And so we romanticize the ancient Maya.

Some of the people pushing the 2012 stuff said much the same things about the "Harmonic Convergence" of 1987.

That summer, a campfire skit at a Pagan festival in New Mexico celebrated the "Harmonica Virgins."

Bring on the 2012 parodies.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gallimaufry with Stakes

Buffy versus Edward (of Twilight). Nice creative remix; too bad about the different color palates. (Via Odious and Peculiar.)

• Napoleon was [not] short, and five other "facts" about historical figures that their enemies made up. (That process is still going on.)

Novelist Douglas Coupland mused on the 25th anniversary of Macintosh computers:

PCs can sort of mimic the effortless transmodality of the Mac, but they're way crashier, and their clunky interfaces make you feel like you're in East Berlin circa 1974 while everyone in the West has already entered a funner, smarter future, the other side of that pesky wall.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Movie for Reconstructionists

That would be Rain in the Mountains.

Described by reviewers as a "quirky indie comedy," it is about trying to go back to the old, ancestral ways.

And that guy hanging from the tree and telling people their destinies? Hmmm. The screenwriter, you will note, was an Anglo, not an Indian.

Netflix has it.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

Gallimaufry with Confusion

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

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

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

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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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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Will "Rome" Rise Again?

Pridian at Codex Celtica wraps up news on various movies and movie re-makes based on ancient history.

The killers of Thomas Becket as "The Wild Bunch"? Gag me. But this part is interesting:

A feature version may be in the works to wrap up the unresolved plot strands of the award-winning HBO/BBC TV series Rome, which dramatised the dirty-politics underside of Rome’s transitional period from republic to virtual monarchy amidst civil war. The TV series ended abruptly story-wise when the 3rd series was cancelled in mid-term. The original kernel of it was a reference in Caesar’s Gallic Wars memoir to two ‘ordinary’ soldiers who recover the Legion’s captured brass eagle. The original plan was for 5 seasons, the last focussing on how the Roman authorities dealt with the troublesome rise of a certain ‘messiah’ in Palestine, but cancellation led to this subplot being abandoned and other plotlines combined into highlights. The primary source seems to have been Suetonius’s gossipy Lives Of The Caesars.

Count me in for that.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Awaiting a Movie about Hypatia

Hypatia of Alexandria, born c. 355 (?) and murdered by a Christian mob in 415, was a Neoplatonic philosopher and mathematician—math and philosophy were more intertwined then than they are today.

Her life and death are part of the plot of Agora, a forthcoming movie directed by Alejandro Amenábar. You can see a trailer here (thanks to Jason Pitzl-Waters for the tip).

Her killers were fired up by one Cyril, a bishop of Alexandria and now a saint of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Hypatia, after all, was not a Christian, was upper-class, was an intellectual, and worst of all, was a female intellectual.

(Patriarch issues fatwa, followers riot and kill -- the usual pattern.)

In the movie, a slave falls in love with Hypatia. Not very likely: one of the old stories told about her is that when one of her students was attracted to her, she threw a used menstrual rag in his face. It was a philosophical lesson--that he should love eternal beauty, not the beauty of the flesh.

Hypatia of Alexandria is supposed to be a good reconstructed biography. For a shorter discussion of sources about her life, go here.

I want to see Agora but I am also a little afraid to see it. It might push too many buttons. Sometimes I think the fourth century CE is still with us in the cultural-religious conflicts we see around us.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Review: Youth without Youth

My movie-fu was strong the other night. I watched the opening sequence of Francis Ford Coppola's Youth without Youth (2007), all dissolving clocks and such, and said to M., "It's the 'terror of history.' Where is Mircea Eliade when we need him?"

And it turned out to be made from one of Eliade's novellas.

I have read most of his religious-studies books but (I think) only The Forbidden Forest and The Old Man and the Bureaucrats from among his fictional works.

Bryan Rennie, who has written several books on Eliade, summarizes Eliade's views on time and history:

Eliade contends that the perception of time as an homogenous, linear, and unrepeatable medium is a peculiarity of modern and non-religious humanity. Archaic or religious humanity (homo religiosus), in comparison, perceives time as heterogenous; that is, as divided between profane time (linear), and sacred time (cyclical and reactualizable). By means of myths and rituals which give access to this sacred time religious humanity protects itself against the 'terror of history', a condition of helplessness before the absolute data of historical time, a form of existential anxiety.

When I was in graduate school in the 1980s, two of my professors had been Eliade's students at Chicago, and although they had developed their own ideas, his influence lingered. One brought him to our campus for what must have been one of his last talks and book-signings; the whole event had a rather funereal atmosphere even though the the guest of honor was still breathing.

So what about the movie?

I said that Pan's Labyrinth was gnostic, but this one is more so, in a different sense.

The key to appreciating Youth without Youth then is the idea of circularity and return. It is a love story, but not a linear story. Nor is it (except briefly) about reincarnation in an obvious way. Its dream-logic tries to confront the time-trap of mundane life.

Perhaps if Indiana Jones were a cinematic historian of religion rather than an archaeologist, he would be in this movie. It has Nazis too. But there would be no hair's-breadth escapes.


Monday, September 01, 2008

Lucifer Rising

I took a little trip back into the 1970s today to watch occult/underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising.

It is not about Satanism but more about invoking energies of nature, a highly symbolic short film with not a word of dialog on the soundtrack.

Or you could say that it is about the aesthetics of ceremonial magick.

You can watch a low-quality version online, but I rented it as part of a Kenneth Anger collection from Netflix.

Even the story of its music is a masterpiece of Psychedelic Age gossip, involving a composer imprisoned for murder as part of the Manson Family, after Anger's first choice, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, failed to deliver.

Another article on Anger's use of color symbolism is here.

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Monday, August 04, 2008

The Apple War

The 1970s were a poor decade for fashion but a good decade for movies. One that I have not seen since then was a Swedish film with a sort of enviro/nature-religion theme, The Apple War.

Netflix does not have it. Video Library does not have it. Does anyone know where it can be rented?


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Running on Fumes

In the course of a discussion which begin with the how-to of inserting video clips into blogs, some of my students and I watched the following:

• "Steamboat Willie," the original 1928 Mickey Mouse cartoon, in which Mickey was much more rat-like and nasty than today's dumbed-down, cuter, and neotonous version. Not to mention that the chewing-tobacco part is so un-PC.

• The "Now is the winter of our discontent" speech scene from the 1930s-fascist version of Richard III, the one starring Ian McKellen.

Several of them had already seen it in Professor B.'s Shakespeare class, but they were ready to see it again. As for me, the opening scene of that film -- the teletype machine -- held me spellbound when I first saw it. (But I was thinking, "Run, dog, run!" very soon.)

• Jeff Dunham doing his "Achmed the Dead Terrorist" routine, holding the jihadists at bay with laughter.

I was the only who did not already know about Achmed. What will I do for popular culture when I stop teaching?


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Gallimaufry to Fill Space

Back from a week on the road to a full inbox and a desk covered with bills to pay, I offer a few links for your kind attention:

¶ Attention Kemetic reconstructionists: Don't let your temple-builders become anemic.

¶ A list of things that offend Muslims. Anyone want to try the Pagan equivalent? I think it would be a lot shorter. Piggy banks and Easter eggs don't bother me. Can you imagine Pagans rioting in the streets over the crappy remake of The Wicker Man and giving director Neil LaBute the Theo Van Gogh treatment? I can't either. We prefer to just make fun of it.

¶ This will go onto my must-see list: Jason Pitzl-Waters notes an upcoming movie about the philosopher Hypatia. An uncompromising Neoplatonist, from what I understand, she was murdered by a Christian mob after some bishop put out a fatwa against her.

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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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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Shroom the book, Shrooms the movie

Still on the entheogenic theme ...

Andy Letcher, author of Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, lent his expertise to a horror film in this YouTube video:

I liked his book, so I suppose that publicity for it is a Good Thing.

Actually, Shrooms -- now on DVD appears to fall in the category of exploitation film, in the fine tradition of Reefer Madness.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review: Apocalypto

Not one to rush into things, I finally watched Mel Gibson's slightly a-historical movie of Mayan imperial collapse, Apocalypto, a gory but amazing adventure story.

My father was a big fan of historian Will Durant, so I got the impact of the Durant epigram about the fall of empires at the beginning.

I know that a few blowhard Chicano Studies types complained about the movie, but face it, all those things such as slave raids and the sacrifice of prisoners to the gods were happening, there and of course in Tenochtitlan.

Ever since I took a graduate seminar in Mesoamerican religion with Davíd Carrasco, I have been suspicious of cultures with large, astronomically aligned buildings. They always seem to reflect a society where the king is the Son of Heaven and the Few rule the Many with a heavy hand.

I suspect that Stonehenge might have been produced by a Neolithic version of that cultural template too, for all that Pagans revere the place.

Or you might say that polytheism + imperialism = imperialism.

Along with prisoners of war, the Maya apparently favored sacrificing boys.

Gibson being Gibson, the movie's final message apparently is, "The world is a corrupt and violent place, so you are better off dying as a Catholic." Extra ecclesiam nulla salus and all that.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

Review: Beyond Lemuria

Imagine that cult film director Ed Wood was also a ceremonial magician.

Or imagine a merger of Dion Fortune and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. She would be perfect to introduce this film.

Imagine giant caverns underground filled with degenerate descendants of the Lemurians, accessible from the lower slopes of Mount Shasta.

If you can imagine all that, you should watch Beyond Lemuria.

Written by Poke Runyon, well-known in West Coast Pagan and magickal circles, and including several other veterans of that scene in its cast (as well as some much younger and cuter actresses to balance the mostly mature male cast), the movie was clearly a labor of love, with the director and cast enjoying themselves almost too much.

You can’t have an occult thriller without swirling visual vortices or bits of Central European menace: a black magician with a “broomhandle” Mauser pistol strapped over his robe, or a sinister Romanian carrying (oddly) the Hungarian name of “Zoltan.” And black magic must work, because that particular cabal seems not to need California license plates on their black SUV. Evidently they are invisible to the cops.

At the heart of Beyond Lemuria are a 19th-century occult bestseller, A Dweller on Two Planets, by Frederick Spencer Oliver and the “Shaver Mystery,” which sustained the sales of the old SF pulp magazine Amazing Stories for years, not to mention being a staple topic in Fate magazine as well.

Anyway, the good guys are all good and seek enlightenment. The bad guys are bad and seek power. “Other members of the expedition were expendable,” sneers the chief baddie.

A young initiate must choose between two paths. But evil is never permanently defeated.

You will have to buy it from the filmmakers or from Amazon, because you won’t find this occult thriller at Netflix or showing at the local cineplex. But once you own a copy, you can add it to your “midnight movie” collection. Think of it as Plan 9 from Inner Space.

Best line: “Now I don't care how politically correct and liberal you people are, believe me, these aliens are not people you want to have for your next-door neighbors,” delivered by Poke Runyon’s character of an over-the-top anthropology professor.

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Monday, December 31, 2007

The Scary Countryside

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Gallimaufry with Geats

¶ Slate reviews the new 3-D Beowulf movie in heroic verse! I liked Beowulf and Grendel. Comparison will be fun.

¶ Staying in a San Diego waterfront hotel is like living in a Tom Clancy novel. Marines in dress blues suddenly fill the lobby. Helicopters and jets dash overhead. On Saturday morning I woke up to see the USS Nimitz moored across from us at Coronado Island.

But from the convention center I look over to a certain apartment complex on Coronado, where someone once important to me lived. Vanished youth, etc. M. is wryly accepting. She has her nostalgia moments too, after all.

¶ Jason Pitzl-Waters links to a news story about what happens when a church is "marital property".

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Monday, September 10, 2007

The Cinematic Otherworld

About three weeks ago, I dreamt I was sitting with a group of people around a table in some sort of parapsychology lab. It was sort of like a séance, only instead of contacting spirits, we were trying to "make something happen."

After one session, I went into an adjacent room full of computer equipment, etc., and found a a group of electronic cables had all fused into a big ball. Somehow this was significant -- and somehow the affect of the dream was such that my unconscious dream controller pressed the "Abort!" button, and I woke up suddenly.

On some level, the dream reminded me of the 1990 movie Flatliners, in which a group of medical students try to create their own near-death experiences. There is Kieffer Sutherland as the bold leader ("Philosophy failed. Religion failed. Now it's time for medical science to try."), Oliver Platt as the over-intellectualizing Jew ("I did not come to medical school to murder my class mates no matter how deranged they might be."), Kevin Bacon as the angry but good-hearted skeptic, and Julia Roberts as the girl who is one of the guys.

Sutherland's character is actually expressing a very 19th-century notion, but let's set that aside. Set aside too why some demented set designer felt that Bacon's character should drive an Army surplus M751 truck -- in Chicago.

All of the medical students who "flatline" find themselves in an Otherworld where they must confront people whom they wronged. On some intuitive level, I always felt that the movie might have captured a sliver of the after-death experience, just as The Cuckoo has an interesting shamanic sequence.

Or am I kidding myself? Is it possible to portray the Otherworld realistically on film? And what does "realistically" mean in such a context?

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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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Friday, August 31, 2007

The Further Adventures of Lucius Vorenus & Titus Pullo

Netflix has at last delivered the first disk of Rome's second season. I will admit it: I go into happy fanboy mode at the receipt of new episodes.

It's like The Sopranos for Pagans. There are no really sympathetic characters, but you can't take your eyes off them.

Especially Lindsay Duncan's Servilia--perhaps because she resembles the former provost of my university, whom we used to refer to as the Dark Queen.

I asked my rhetoric class yesterday if any had seen it, and only one hand went up. (Just as well, perhaps. Our textbook talks about Cicero, but he doesn't come off all that well in the series.)

Likewise, when I used a clip from The Sopranos to illustrate Machiavelli's maxim for rulers that it is better to be feared than loved for a class of freshmen, many had never seen the show. Kids these days! I thought everyone but us got HBO. But getting it does not mean watching it, I realize.

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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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Sunday, July 29, 2007


Time to dump some hot links in the stew pot:

¶ Crikey! Ambulance Driver has done it again! The man's a bloody bloggin' gawd.

¶ I have always been fascinated by Ozti the iceman, whose body was found on an alpine pass between Austria and Italy. I think it was Konrad Spindler, an Austrian anthropologist, who suggested that Otzi was fleeing some kind of inter-clan or inter-village or inter-personal conflict when he died. That Otzi bled to death from wounds suggests that Spindler was right. This book probably applies".

¶ So you are interested in Celtic Studies? Here is your starter kit. Or maybe you just want this .

¶ Everybody wants to belong somewhere!.

¶ Having recently visited the Mendocino coast, M. and I are now watching movies filmed there. Last night it was The Russians are Coming the Russians are Coming!, a classic Cold War comedy with Carl Reiner (not one of my favorites), a young Alan Arkin, and Eva Marie Saint as a typical early-1960s perky female lead.

Its message is the eternal comic one since Plautus' day: "The grown-ups are silly, but love will conquer all." Arkin and Theodore Bikel, as the commanders of a Russian submarine, gesticulate and scream at each other like comic-opera Italians, nothing like the careful professionals aboard the Red October.

Next, Johnny Belinda with Jane Wyman. Just think, in a parallel universe she was our First Lady during the 1980s.

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Wee 'Oss in Cornwall and California

Folklorist Alan Lomax's 1953 film of the Padstow, Cornwall, May Day festival, Oss Oss, Wee Oss! is now available on DVD, together with the Pagan hobby horse procession from Berkeley, California, and an updated film from Padstow in 2007.

Order before July 3 for free shipping.

You can also see small video clips from the original 1953 documentaryon the Web.

A nice touch: the two-sided DVD has both NTSC and PAL formats, so it can be watched anywhere.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth --More Gnostic than Pagan?

Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters has written a great deal about the film Pan's Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno), praising it in words such as these:

I believe "Pan's Labyrinth" presents a unique opportunity to discuss Pagan/polytheist theology in contrast to the dominant monotheisms. Unlike "The Da Vinci Code", this film isn't bogged down with questions about Christian heresy and Gnosticism and can be referenced without having to talk about our views on Mary Magdalen's marital status. If this film continues to seep into public conversations about faith and religion, Pagan commentators should be ready to move beyond disclaimers regarding Ofelia's actions and instead talk about what elements in the film accurately portray Pagan ideas and beliefs.

Living 25 miles from the nearest movie house, M. and I are big Netflix customers, and last night we finally saw the film now that it is out on DVD.

Neither of us would have called it a "Pagan" movie, faun or no faun. (I will skip the "faun movie" puns.)

To me it was far more Gnostic, although perhaps not so thoroughly Gnostic as The Matrix.

That Ofelia is a "lost princess" seems like yet another telling of the wanderings of Sophia (Wisdom) in the fallen world. Many people respond to that story of separation: "I am not from here. My parents are not my real parents. I belong in a better, purer place." So Gnostic.

The "lost princess" is an archetypal story. It is why so many wanted to believe that young Grand Duchess Anastasia survived the murder of the Russian royal family in 1918 to wander lost and unrecognized for years. The story pulls us. As the Wikipedia article points out, Sophia is the original "damsel in distress."

Gnosticism and Paganism have their points of contact, but they differ in their views of divinity and the material world. In Pan's Labyrinth, the material world is clearly one to be escaped from (and with good reason) and the "real world" is somewhere else.

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Friday, April 27, 2007


Leftovers tossed into a pot:

¶ From my friend Rowan in Colorado Springs: Ten Things to Do to Get Ready to Join a Coven. Nothing about candles or astral projection. Learn to cook, keep your word, have a life.

¶ Using the "Mary Magdalene as sacred prostitute" meme to sell sex aids, if you consider the site's overall purpose. (See also Aphrodite pandemos.)

¶ M. and I watched The Last King of Scotland on DVD. Forest Whitaker owned the title role of Idi Amin Dada. He fully deserved the Oscar.

¶ I think that two of my nature-writing students have joined the cult of Charles Bowden.

¶ Weirdest Web search string of the month to bring someone here: sex in cotopaxi colorado. I hope he found some--Cotopaxi is pretty tiny--but is AOL Search the best way to start?

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Keeping it real with Robin i' the hood

A flashback to the 1980s: M. and I have been watching some episodes of Robin of Sherwood.

This was the "Pagan" Robin Hood, thanks to the appearance therein of Herne the Hunter, not to mention bits of ceremonial magick.

Back in 1983, the show was a cult favorite in several senses of the term.

Now, it makes me think "Sir Walter Scott (think Ivanhoe) meets Dennis Wheatley." Or Hammer Studios in the Greenwood.

And then there is the issue of knitting. Dear reader, when you see characters wearing knitted "chain mail," you know it's a cheap production.

If you see male characters wearing knit tights, you might surmise that the director made his girlfriend the costume manager, because knitting was not even known in 12th-century England--not even by hand, let alone machine-knit.

In fact, if 12th-century male characters are wearing short tunics and tights, then the historical research for the film probably consisted of watching the 1922 version of Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., which seems to have set the fashion for most subsequent adaptations.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Welcome to Uhh-merica

"In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

Or maybe not. H.G. Wells put his own twist on it in his story "The Country of the Blind."

The proverb's questionable wisdom underlies Idiocracy, a comedy with a plot right out of the Golden Age of science-fiction.

Army Private Joe Bowers (Luke Wilson), statistically average in every way, is volunteered for a hibernation experiment, but through bureaucratic snafus winds up 500 years in the future, where he is now the smartest man on the planet, in a society whose members are no longer able to keep things running and the crops growing -- but what the hell, give 'em something to watch on the Violence Channel, and they are happy. (A prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph), part of the same experiment, seems more willing to adapt.)

It's brutally funny. Watch, for instance, the degeneration of such familiar brand names as Costco, Carl's Jr., and Fudrucker's. (M. would say that they are plenty degenerate already.) And it's also a sly plea for some kind of eugenics.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Waiting for Euro-porn

"Euro-porn" is my new cinematic category, although really, it's just "Gothic" in the 18th-century sense dressed up.

The Da Vinci Code is Euro-porn, of course. It's got ancient buildings like you won't find in strip-mall America, secret Catholic societies, and layers of corruption that Karl Rove could only dream of.

Well, there is some of all that in New Mexico, but not so elegantly done.

While you are waiting, watch Brotherhood of the Wolf for a Gothic/Gothique mélange of secret Catholic societies, martial arts, shamanism, a whiff of incest, poison and daggers, lush scenery (Haute Pyrénées), heaving bosoms, galloping horses, Mohawks and French revolutionaries, sailing ships, swordplay, vengeance, corrupt aristocrats, architecture, and wolves. Lots of wolves. And it's all in French.

And did I mention the sort of Hong Kong-style martial arts combat where the assassin attacking the hero from behind screams, so that the hero will hear him, whirl around, and dispatch him?

You can't get much more Euro-pornographic than that.

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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Oss Oss, Wee Oss!

Several clips from a 1953 filming of the Padstow, Cornwall, May Day "hobby horse" procession are available on the Web. The film was made by Peter Kennedy, George Pickow, and Alan Lomax, an American folklorist.

Some .wmv selections are here.

But the best clip is here, especially for its slightly eerie, archetypal ending, which some people say prefigures The Seventh Seal. UPDATE: This last link no longer works.

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