Beltania Festival Moves Closer to the Capitol

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

It was nice while it lasted, having a Pagan festival near enough that, if my schedule was too crowded, I could at least buy a day pass and hear the best concerts.

Not any more. Beltania is pulling out of District 12* (where the coal miners once toiled) and moving closer to the Capitol — into District 1, you might say.

From Florence Mountain Park, it now goes to La Foret Conference and Retreat Center in El Paso County (not burned in the 2013 Black Forest Fire), where, according to a news release. there will be “enhanced amenities” and it will be “closer to Denver!”

Built as a rural estate, La Foret is now owned by the United Church of Christ.

(Colorado is a very centralized state. There is the Denver-plex, and there is The Rest, which exists to keep Denver amused, with green lawns. Not like, for instance, Oregon, where the population is equally concentrated in the Willamette Valley, but at least the seat of government is not in the largest city.)

Originally, the organizers tried having Beltania at Beltane, because that is the ancient Celtic thing to do. But this is Colorado, where I have seen two feet of snow on the ground on May 1st — or it could be uncomfortably hot. Or both in the same day. I do usually shut off the furnace on May 1, but the wood stove is still used. Spring in Colorado is a “putrid” season, as Dad the forest ranger used to say.

Then the date started sliding later and later, so that in 2015 it will start on May 14th. At least there is some bioregional wisdom in that decision.. At worst it might be rainy.A September festival would be more predictable weather-wise, but it would not have ancient Celtic precedent?

Meanwhile, I have coal to dig.

* Movie reference.

“Choose How Cute or Evil She Should Be”

historical witch creatorThe sexy witch. The evil witch. The cute witch. What accessories should she wear? What animal is her familiar? And where did she come from?

When I ran across this website (another update of the old paper doll), I thought of two things right away.

One was a book co-authored by my friend Nikki Bado, Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls, all about board games and Muslim Barbie dolls, etc. Nothing Pagan or Crafty in it. But still, is this a “religious doll”?

And there was Ethan Doyle White’s recent interview with Ronald Hutton, in which Hutton discusses his latest project, “a comprehensive study of the concept of the witch, in a global, ancient and folkloric setting, to understand more fully the context of the early modern witch trials.”

If he does not address the “sexy witch” archetype, I will be sadly disappointed. This website is “historical,” it says so. ;)

But really, “cuteness” did not figure much in the witch trials. It’s more about that old black magic in a contemporary sense.The image of the sexy, magical woman has enormous power, don’t you think? Not to mention fashion possibilities.

Around the Blogosphere, 17 July 2014

Tanya Luhrman compares the cultural differences in “hearing voices” in the United States, Ghana, and India. Plus, a Dutch psychiatrist who encourages it in his patients!

¶ You have read Ethan Doyle White’s interview with Ronald Hutton, right? If not, here it is.

¶ Two from Sarah Veale at Invocatio:

A PhD dissertation with music on “Satanic feminism.”

Discussing ancient Greek terms helps us understand “sacred space.”

¶ Mary Harrsch corrrects a slander against Julian, the last Pagan emperor of Rome.

Passing of Loreon Vigne

Loreon Vigne, priestess of Isis, who created the Isis Oasis sanctuary and retreat center at Geyserville, California, passed away last night. There are tributes on her Facebook page.

Here is an earlier post of mine about visiting Isis Oasis.

Her memoir, The Goddess Bade Me Do It, tells her story of how a young artist, jewelry designer, and art-supplies dealer in Beat-era San Francisco became a full-time priestess.

The Danger in Being “Ministerial”

When I saw a headline on The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan Minister Kathryn Jones to Run for Office in Pennsylvania,” it stopped me in my tracks. Not because Ms. Jones is running for office, but the use of the term “minister.”

Immediately I thought of John Michael Greer’s recent column in Witches & Pagans 28, “A Bad Case of Methodist Envy: Copying Christian Models of Clergy is a Pagan Dead End.” Geer rightly points out that today’s concept of “clergy” is quite different from the Pagan past:

There were no seminaries or divinity schools for [ancient] Greek priests and priestesses, and the thought of asking a priest of priestess for moral of spiritual counseling would have seemed absurd to the ancient Greeks — you went to a philosopher for that, for Apollo’s sake! Nor, for that matter, did they perform wedding ceremonies. . . .  [in Egypt] being a priest or priestess was a career, one of the professions open to the literate . . . . this kind of priesthood included few or no “pastoral” functions as we know them.

The essence of priest/esshood is the relationship with the deity. You maintain a shrine, hold ceremonies, and otherwise put people into their own relationships with the deity. You may serve as a conduit of power — even today at some Japanese Shinto shrines (perhaps the nearest thing to Classical Paganism in a functional way), you can pay a small fee to have your new Toyota blessed by a priest.

At the other pole is the pastoral function. Pastor is Latin for “sheepherder” (as we say out West), and its is the function of nudging and exhorting and teaching and correcting the “flock” to  keep them living according to the commandments of the religion.

As Greer writes, in ancient Paganism those functions were usually not combined in one person — although here Thorn Coyle writes about how she combines them, together with her writing.

In my experience, the “clergy” issue emerged in American Paganism in the 1980s. Before that, the coven model was more clandestine.

A few “church” organizations existed before then, such as the Church of Wicca, and some Pagan groups signed up with the Universal Life Church. Such actions, in my recollection, were often at least partly about avoiding taxes, such as declaring the covenstead to be a “church” and hence exempt from property tax. The Covenant of the Goddess was formed as a credentialing and networking organization in 1975.

M. and I were married by our coven HP and HPS in 1977 in a ceremony that was both religious and legal, because Colorado does not require any sort of clergy credentials to perform a wedding. Perhaps because of the then-youthful Pagan demographic, performing legal weddings was a growing issue for Pagans, and many states do require some kind of organizational credentials.

Chaplaincy issues (hospital, prison, military) arose a little later, and in those cases, the bureaucratic monster had to be appeased. This issue Greer does not address, but it is a  big one. How do you keep governmental and social structures from turning you into their concept of a “religious minister,” i.e.,  service-provider?

This need for credentials to show to bureaucrats was an impetus for the founding of Cherry Hill Seminary. I was neutral about CHS for a while, but after attending one of their seminars in April 2013, I gained more appreciation of what they are doing.

Contrary to what some excitable voices have shouted, CHS is not trying to define Paganism for the outside world. Nor will they make you a witch or priestess; in fact, they say that their courses “[supplement]  existing ritual and magical skills with training for professional ministry and pastoral counseling.”

I expect that students should learn something about counseling, and the laws pertaining thereto, something about the academic study of religion, and something about the history of contemporary Paganism and its philosophy, for starters. And they will learn the suitable jargon to speak at interfaith luncheons and in meetings with prison administrators. (Just saying that you are Lord Moontoad from the Coven of the Sacred Toadstool is not enough.)

But we walk a knife’s edge. If we end up thinking that acting “ministerial” is all there is to it, then we Wiccans, for example, would be just Methodists with pentagrams. It’s not about counseling, it’s not about social programs, it’s not about “saving the Earth” (Unpack the hubris in that phrase, if you have the time!) — being Pagan is about a relationship with the deities at all levels. At least CHS is honest in saying that they cannot give you that. They might teach you how to talk about it in a polished way that other religious professionals can recognize.

Consider the issue of counseling. My first encounter in a Pagan context was hearing about Z Budapest’s unsuccessful attempt  in the 1970s (and she was not the only one) to beat an illegal-fortunetelling charge by saying that Tarot reading was “counseling.”

Historically speaking, she was right. When polytheists needed counseling, they asked Grandma, performed divination or had a specialist do it for them, or maybe (if they had the resources) consulted an oracle. Or perhaps they took sought visions or other supernatural guidance.

Monotheists, however, asked a Holy Book specialist to explain what the Book said, as modified by the commentaries of generations of specialists (hadith, Talmud, etc.). Drop the Holy Book component, and you have the modern counselor, a 20th-century phenomenon.

That is the ministerial/pastoral function, focusing on people’s needs, as opposed to the priestly function, focusing on the cults of the gods — our relationships and how we acknowledge them.

I think this is a bigger issue than “Shouldn’t we have paid clergy?” (Consider the Mormons, who have a worldwide religion administered mostly by non-paid clergy, albeit within a tight, top-down hierarchy.) I have argued before for the “tent, not a cathedral” model — set up structure for a limited time and purpose, then collapse it.

In the long run, how can Pagan religions function as “religions” in the generally accepted sense, while resisting cultural pressures to turn them into “Methodists”?

Caves, a Sacred Pillar, and a Mystery Disk

¶ If I could visit Chauvet Cave, I could die happy. It’s one of “10 must-see cave paintings,” of which I have seen none. At least I know where there is signage-free rock art in southern Colorado.

¶ Croatian Pagans erect a pillar to Perun, the sky god. With video, still photos, and music.

¶ An article on the Nebra Sky Disk, buried in Germany thousands of years ago. Except I don’t buy this part:

Astronomer Ralph Hansen maintains that the disc was an attempt to co-ordinate the solar and lunar calendars to tell Bronze Age Man when to plant seeds and when to make trades, giving him an almost modern sense of time. “For everyday calendrical purposes, you would use Moon years. But for designing when to plough fields and when to harvest, you use Sun years,” said Hansen.

I am just a gardener, not a Neolithic farmer, but I do not think that Neolithic farmers needed stone circles or “portable instruments” to tell them when to plant. If you live in a place long enough, you know the local signs, for instance, “plant cool weather crops when the grass turns green,” or “it’s usually safe to plant warm-weather plants when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” — whatever works for you.

But I have seen this so many times — members of the Clerisy like Hansen who think that the peasants are or were too stupid to know when to plant their peas unless someone like themselves, backed by the authority of a stone circle (“Lo, Father Sun is rising . . .”) tells them when to do it.

How the Neighborhood Has Changed

Hardscrabble Creek is a real place, and every now and then, I like to post a photo or two from home. I found the first photo while researching something else, and I took the second one today. In both of these photos, Hardscrabble Creek runs behind the buildings farthest from the camera.

greenwood_road_1887

Collection of Denver Public Library.

About half a mile from home, taken about 1887. The false-front building in center is A. C. Monroe’s “Cash Store.” Click image to enlarge.

Greenwoord Road 2014I think the store was just to the left of the large house. The 4,800-square-foot house was built in 1989. The black tree trunk in the foreground was burned in a 2,500-acre fire in 2012 that destroyed several houses on this side of the road but missed the house shown and its neighbors on that side.

Several homes to either side of the big house (outside the photo) were built in the teens and twenties of the 20th century. Some were part of a small resort that was started to cater to the new phenomenon of automobile-driving tourists.  (There is a four-part series on lost 1920s highways and old campgrounds on my other blog.)

The hillside behind the buildings is mostly private land. It was logged in the late 19th century, obviously, and due to wildfires probably had fewer, larger ponderosa pine trees before the loggers arrived.

When logging stops and fires are put out, this is what you get. Large surrounding areas did burn in 2005, 2011, and 2012, however.

The “Horse Boy” and the Shamans

If you saw the 2009  documentary The Horse Boy, about Rowan, the autistic boy who is helped somewhat by horseback riding and by Mongolian shamans, there is more to the story. (There is also a book, The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing, published in 2010.)

Before it was released as a DVD, the local university sponsored a showing of The Horse Boy. I called my friend Hal, whose autistic son is now about nine, and asked him if he was interested in seeing it. This boy too enjoys riding horses and donkeys, which he is able to do at home and on trail rides into the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Hal writes eloquently about life with an autistic son, but my suggestion hit a wall. I brought it up again —  same reaction. So I shut up. I am not the one with the autistic son, he is. Maybe he does not like the idea of magic. Maybe a trip to Mongolia just seems impossible.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s father, Rupert Isaacson, a widely traveled man whose parents came from southern Africa, was himself born in London and now lives with his family in Texas, has kept on taking his son to shamanic healers in Africa and on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

This is not without controversy. As he writes in the Daily Mail,

So many people thought we were mad, deluded. One friend said: ‘All those shamans. It’s like you’re going to some spiritual supermarket!’

The publication of The Horse Boy was met with a torrent of hate mail accusing us of giving false hope, of abandoning established methods. (In fact, we had continued to follow the orthodox treatments).

But there was one group that did support us: parents. Much of the motivation for telling the story had been my own despair at Rowan’s diagnosis.

If, back then, there had been some story of hope, of autism as an adventure rather than a catastrophe, I would have taken heart sooner, despaired less, and most likely found solutions more quickly.

And the only things that had worked for Rowan in any positive way were the horse riding and the shamans.

The Isaacsons have set up their own therapeutic system, the Horse Boy Method: “We let the children use the horses like a couch, to allow all the physical and emotional discomfort to fall away, and the intellect come to the fore.” I think my friend Hal has developed something similar on his own, although his son goes to special-education classes too.

A Meeting of Polytheists

Vice.com goes among the Dodekatheists, followers of the Olympic gods. Click link for video with English subtitles.

Polytheism is “democratical.”

Literary British Paganism and an Unusual Thor’s Hammer

Photo from National Museum of Denmark

¶ Ethan Doyle White reviews Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain and Marion Gibson’s Imagining the Pagan Past (free PDF download). The first I have, but the second might actually be more valuable to anyone studying contemporary Paganism, for it looks not at “not at paganism [sic] itself, but instead explores how pagan deities – both native and foreign – have been interpreted in British literature from the Early Medieval right through to the present day.”

After all, at least nine or ten centuries elapsed between the effective end of cultic Paganism in that area and the mid-twentieth century revival. Hutton, too, has written on how literary works kept the old gods in public consciousness (at least that of educated readers) during  eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

¶ Speaking of the last era of old European Paganism, archaeologists have discovered an unusual Thor’s hammer talisman — unusual in that it was plated with precious metal and bore a runic inscription.  It was found in Denmark and dated to the tenth century.