Get the Harvard Classics, Free

The Harvard Classics, also known as  “Dr. Eliot’s/The Five Foot Shelf of Books,”  are available as a free download.

From a time when university presidents actually cared what people read, as opposed to just the size of their donations:

What does the massive collection preserve? For one thing . . .  it’s “a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage.” Eliot’s intentions for his work differed somewhat from those of his English peers. Rather than simply curating for posterity “the best that has been thought and said” (in the words of Matthew Arnold), Eliot meant his anthology as a “portable university”—a pragmatic set of tools, to be sure, and also, of course, a product. He suggested that the full set of texts might be divided into a set of six courses on such conservative themes as “The History of Civilization” and “Religion and Philosophy,” and yet, writes Kirsch, “in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is ‘Progress.’” “Eliot’s [1910] introduction expresses complete faith in the ‘intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization.’”

These books were in the public library of the Colorado town where I went to most of high school. The one that I checked out over and over, of course, was the mythology volume: Beowulf, The Destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel — tales like that. Over and over.

Sexuality and New Religious Movements

sex & nrmsSexuality and New Religious Movements, a collection edited by Henrik Bogdan (associate editor of The Pomegranate) and Jim Lewis, an American teaching in Norway, has been released by the academic publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

So far it is only in hardback, hence expensive.

Jeffrey Kripal, a noted scholar on sex and spirituality, has this to say:

Sex is not just sex. As anyone who has deeply engaged the history of religions knows, human sexuality runs the gamut from the most mundane fetish or fantasy to the profundities of charismatic authority, mystical experience, discarnate erotic encounter, alien abduction, even human deification. The essayists in this new volume demonstrate this still ill-understood truth in abundance and with astonishing historical and psychological detail. They thus take us further down the road toward a genuine understanding of our real situation in this weird, weird world.

I have an essay in there, written long enough ago now that I have trouble remembering what I said — and, who knows, I might want to revise some of those opinions. But the opening was good: it started with this sacred procession.

A New Investigation of Fairy Encounters

This request for help with a compilation of contemporary Fairy encounters and lore comes from Simon Young of the re-launched Fairy Investigation Society. The FIS was founded in 1927, died in the early 1990s, and in late 2014 it came back to life.

The survey (‘the fairy census’) is split into three parts: (i) for those who have seen fairies, (ii) those who have second-hand accounts of fairies and (iii) a more general one on fairy belief, which can be filled out by anyone who understands the word ‘fairy’, I did it with my four-year-old daughter yesterday . . . I have used the phrase ‘associated with the FIS’ in all press releases. I did this because I thought it might be a good way to attract extra members, as I was trusting in coverage around the world in the two years it runs. In the first forty eight hours we had forty detailed fairy sightings (in the first and second category). Just to put this in perspective the great and energetic Marjorie Johnson managed a couple of hundred sightings in her two year survey, 1955–1956. It would be great to get to two thousand, which would mean by far the biggest folklore survey of its kind.

He is also the author of a paper on the original Fairy Investigation Society, available at Academia. edu, along with other of his works.

Link to the survey.

I have previously mentioned Diane Purkiss’s historical survey of fairy lore, and I still hold the position that fairies are not your friends.

The Viking “Blood Eagle” Never Happened, Says Historian

ageofthevikingsA Swedish archaeologist reviews a new book, Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings, and makes this observation:

Myself, I was intrigued to learn that the infamous, messy and impractical “blood eagle” murder method may just be the fruit of High Medieval writers misunderstanding one of the countless references in Viking Period poetry to carrion birds munching on the slain (p. 37). There is to my knowledge no osteological evidence for it. Also interesting to me, I can’t recall reading about the Spanish Moor Al-Tartushi’s report on life in Hedeby before (p. 197). But that may just be because I’m not an historian.

Funny thing, I had been thinking of that alleged method of torture/execution a couple of days before.

Read the rest at his blog: “New Popular Book on the Viking Period.”

Jesus [Heart] Mary Magdalene (Again)

Let’s get this out of the way first — yes, the source is the Daily Mail, which, I strongly suspect, occasionally makes up “news” articles from scratch.lostgospel

And I cannot speak to the quality of research in this new book, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.

But the idea that Jesus was married, perhaps to the woman know to history as Mary Magdalene — who was not a prostitute but, more likely, the sort of well-to-do woman who you often find underwriting spiritual leaders’ work — seems totally plausible to me.

The idea of celibacy for spiritual purposes was foreign to Judaic culture (and still is). Assuming that he was a healthy, thirty-ish man, he would have been married. Period. Village culture would have seen to it.

I think we can say that even while treating as unproven all the hypotheses that Mary M. was a priestess of Canaanite goddess religion (see Robert Graves’  1946 novel King Jesus); that she after his death went to the South of France, to Egypt, to Glastonbury, or some other place; that she is connected with the medieval “black Madonna” figures; or anything else.

Since this book is being released just ahead of the American Academy of Religion — Society for Biblical Literature joint annual meetings, I expect I might see copies in the book show. Reviews from people who can ready Syriac and Aramaic will follow in due course.

I have seen some tiny, brownish bone fragments purported to be relics of Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Salt Lake City, of all places. Maybe Salt Lake could use some Canaanite goddess priestess energy. She happens to be the patroness of that diocese.

What is Your Spirit Animal (Internet Version)?

A piece in The Atlantic takes note of the proliferation of online quizzes devoted to helping you find your “spirit animal.” Sadly, it does not really fulfill the promise of its subtitle: “How did the concept of the spiritual guide leap from Native American tradition to Internet irony? With the help of Tumblr, the Times, and Samuel L. Jackson.” But it’s still a fun read. Pizza? I had no idea.

There are, after all, so many spirit animal options out there, across so many spirit animal categories! If you take the Internet as your spiritual guide, your spirit animal could be another person (Elizabeth Warren, Jennifer Lawrence, Lana del Rey, Stevie Nicks, Bea Arthur), a fake person (Ron Swanson, Nick Miller, Rayanne Graff, Sansa Stark, Liz Lemon), or a fake semi-person (Lisa Simpson). It could be a food (the pizza, the fried green tomato grilled cheese sandwich, the epic Chipotle burrito you had for lunch the other day). It could be an actual animal (the dolphin, the corgi, the sloth, the Geico camel). It could be a Disney princess. It could be Grumpy Cat. It could be science. It could be whiskey.

Burning Alex Salmond

The neighborhood celebration of Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night happened last night, three nights past the canonical date, but we are southern Coloradans, not necessarily up to date.

scotland and colorado

Flags of Scotland and Colorado, united in a garage devoted to beer, auto restoration . . . and table tennis.

The hostess is emphatically Scottish. Although she has lived here more than twenty years, raised two kids, and stayed employed, she retains her British citizenship—and when the 18th of September rolled around—the Scottish referendum on independence — you could count her in the “No” camp.

alex salmond for burning

On his pocked, “45%,” the vote percentage gained by the pro-independence side.

I wasn’t too surprised then that this year’s “guy” was an effigy of Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. It’s not always a political thing, although one night a local landowner almost got his turn on the fire.

As usual, the daughter of the house carved a Guy Fawkes-themed jack o’ l2014 guy fawkes pumpkinantern.

I may live in a community (not a statutory town) of about six hundred, but even we have our moments of globalization.

On the other hand — and my hosts were well aware of this — had we burnt Salmond in the UK, it would have been a matter for “police concern.” In  the Sussex town of Lewes, an interesting substitution was made.

Egypt Has the Pyramids; Siberia has the Shigir Idol

Photo from the Siberian Times.

Why the comparison between countless tons of quarried stone and “the oldest wooden statue in the world,” estimated at 9,500 years before present? In each case, there are those who believe that the structures (particularly the Great Pyramid) and the sculpture from the Ural Mountains contain secret codes.

The tall statue is made from larch wood and its surface is marked by a variety of lines and faces. These must mean something, researchers claim, but explanations vary  from faces of spirits to encoded navigational information to a form of ancient writing something like Ogham or runes.

An article in the Siberian Times rounds up some of the speculation:

Expert Svetlana Savchenko, chief keeper of Shigir Idol, believes that the structure’s faces carry encoded information from ancient man in the Mesolithic era of the Stone Age concerning their understanding of ‘the creation of the world’. . . .

Professor Mikhail Zhilin, leading researcher of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology, explained: ‘We study the Idol with a feeling of awe. This is a masterpiece, carrying gigantic emotional value and force. It is a unique sculpture, there is nothing else in the world like this.  It is very alive, and very complicated at the same time.

‘The ornament is covered with nothing but encrypted information. People were passing on knowledge with the help of the Idol.’

He is adamant that we can draw conclusions about the sophistication of the people who created this masterpiece, probably scraping the larch with a stone ‘spoon’, even though the detail of the code remains an utter mystery to modern man. . . .

Some have claimed the Idol includes primitive writing, which, if true, would be amongst the first on Earth, but there is no consensus among experts who have studied the Urals statue.

Read the rest here.

The Occluded Life of an “Occult” Photographer

William Mortensen touching up a photo portrait of the actress Jean Harlow. Other photos NSFW.

If a phrase like “famous early twentieth century California photographer” makes you think of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, then you probably have not heard of William Mortensen, known “as ‘the Antichrist’ by Ansel Adams, a tag that stuck after Anton LaVey dedicated The Satanic Bible to him. Primarily known as a Hollywood portrait artist, he developed a myriad of pre-Photoshop special effects to craft grotesque, erotic, and mystical images.”

Publicizing a new book of his photos, Vice offers “The Grotesque Eroticism of William Mortensen’s Lost Photography.”

His life remained a mystery. I had absorbed A. D. Coleman’s essay about Mortensen’s relegation to the backwater of photo history by the Newhalls, Adams and the rest, and, thus understood why there was little mention of him in photo history books. I’d even tracked down the booklet printed by Deborah Irmas and The Los Angeles Center for Creative Photography, who had put together the show that I’d seen. However, when I found any biographical information, the sources repeated the same story line, which came from the brief autobiographical section in Mortensen’s book The Command To Look. Beyond those slim facts there seemed to be nothing more. William Mortensen appeared to be more myth than man.

Would we say that Chicago photographer and occult historian Rik Garrett is somewhat in his lineage?

Passing of Pete Pathfinder Davis

10731133_997505183608887_7522142339773503266_nFrom the Aquarian Tabernacle Church:

Today at [October 31] 6 p.m. Pacific Time, Pierre Claveloux ‘Pete Pathfinder’ Davis was taken across the veil. He was surrounded by loved ones, and went peacefully in his bed. Today, on our most holy day, when the barrier between the Worlds was at its thinnest, and on the 35th anniversary of the founding of his life’s work, The Aquarian Tabernacle Church; our Grandmother Hekate, patron goddess of our order, came across and brought home with her one of her most devoted sons. Founder of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church, Panegyria magazine, Spiral Scouts, The Pagan Information Network, and Woolston-Steen Theological Seminary, Pete’s contribution to Wicca, and Pagan rights can never be overstated. From prison ministries, to veterans’ rights, and his ability to standardize our faith through the government, Pete’s legacy, and the freedoms enjoyed from his actions will be felt throughout the duration of Wicca on Earth.

Pete Pathfinder: Born on Ostara, 1937. Crossed into the Summerlands on Samhain, 2014.