Pentagram Pizza: It Resembles the Shaman’s Drum

Shaman from Tuva (Siberian Times).

• Once again, magic and sports don’t mix. According to Siberian Times (July 1), shamans invoked the ancestors to aid Russia’s team in their World Cup match against Spain. As a result (?), Russia won 4–3. But then they lost to Croatia a few days later and are now out of the tournament. Those ancestors, so fickle. (See also, magic and politics).

• Still on Russian shamans: Now they are seeking official recognition as a “traditional religion.”

For the first time ever, the shamans of the Russian Federation have come together and elected “the supreme shaman of Russia” – Kara-ool Dopchun-ool, head of the Kyzyl Local Religious Organization of Shamans – done so by an almost unanimous vote (115 out of 166 votes) and called for official recognition as a traditional religion of the country.

And there is a “United Council of the Shamans of Russia.” How do you think that that will turn out? Is herding shamans like herding cats? Still, it is an interesting bid for greater legitimacy.

• Can occult studies make you crazy? Or just a little unbalanced?

Over the years, as I’ve studied this subject, I’ve encountered a fair number of cautionary tales. People who become unduly interested in psychic phenomena – interested to the point of obsession – can find their mental health deteriorating, their relationships fragmenting, and their social status undermined. Of course, obsession is a bad thing regardless of its focus, but I suspect that it’s easier to become obsessed with the paranormal than with, say, stamp collecting. Something about this field of inquiry tends to draw people in and make them vulnerable to harm.

Read the whole thing. Was Arthur Conan Doyle driven over the edge? The article references The Trickster and the Paranormal, which is one of those “every esotericist should have this book” books. You can end up “one foot over the line,” it’s true.

Not Everyone in Salem was a Puritan

Just a post-postscript to my earlier series of posts about witchcraft and Salem, Mass.

We tend to phrase the story of the 1690s as Puritans hunting “witches,” and it is true that members of the Puritan churches set the moral tone in most of New England.

Skull of a Scot killed in the battle of Dunbar. He was young, yet his teeth showed wear from smoking a clay pipe (the circled area). (Jeff Veitch, Archaeology magazine.)

But they were not the only colonists. Most came in the “great migration” of the 1620s–1640s, and most were middle-class people or skilled artisans.

And there were lots of indentured servants. Some of the “bewitched” girls fit that category.

Indentured servitude was sort of like slavery with a time limit — after a contracted period of time, say five or more years — the servants were to be given their freedom and a small bonus of money, a set of clothing, or something. In the meantime, they could be bought and sold.

Some came voluntarily. Others were prisoners of war, and some were vagrants, orphans, and street kids rounded up in English ports. One ancestor of mine shows on a ship’s passenger list as an unaccompanied 12-year-old boy, so he probably was already someone’s servant or else the ship’s captain planned to sell him on arrival.

During the Salem witch trials, therefore, there were a significant number of Scots ex-indentured servants in Massachusetts, former POWs (mostly teenagers) from Oliver Cromwell’s campaign against his former Scottish allies during the English Civil War, who were treated terribly after their side lost the battle of Dunbar.

I learned of them when reading about the discovery of a mass grave in English city of Durham, dating to 1650. Now there’s a plaque.

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, was a real piece of work. He probably had more blood on his hands than did any actual English king.

Scottish POWs were sold (there is no other word for it) in New England, where a Puritan minister commented, “The Scots, whom God delivered into [Cromwell’s] hands at Dunbarre, and whereof sundry were sent hither, we have been desirous (as we could) to make their yoke easy. Such as were sick of scurvy or other diseases have not wanted physick and chyrurgery. They have not been sold for slaves to perpetual servitude, but for 6 or 7 or 8 yeares, as we do our owne [indentured servants] .”

Some lived and prospered, however, becoming respectable citizens, which was the difference between indentured servitude and what Cotton calls “perpetual servitude.”

Church history: the Puritans of the 17th century became the Congregational Church in America, which later helped to form the socially liberal (quite a switch) United Church of Christ—which, is however, declining in membership year by year, as are the other liberal “mainline” Protestant denominations.

How Do You Say “Ziggurat” in Icelandic?

Icelandic Pagan religion —  Norse gods and the “Hidden Folk,” right?

Um, there is more. “Iceland’s pagan Zuist religion hopes to build temple.”

Zuist leader Águst Arnar Ágústsson told the paper that the group had always planned to have a place of worship for its followers, but given the movement’s rapid expansion in Iceland, this had grown all the more urgent.

He says the movement needs space for name-giving, weddings and general worship, as well as “beer and prayer” meetings.

Iceland Monitor says that a surge of attraction in Zuism may be because members do not have to pay parish fees. Registered Zuists – also known as Zuistar – are being asked, instead of paying old-school parish fees, to contribute to a Ziggurat Fund to help build and maintain the planned temple.

The Element of Fire Is Invoked in the South . . . and West, North, and East

Smoke rises from the Chateau Fire in Teller County, Colorado.

M. and I were driving home from Pueblo on Monday, anxiously watching the horizon.

“This reminds me of those cartoons about cavemen where there are always some volcanoes erupting in the distance,” she said, indicating the mountains with a flick of her hand.

We had just passed through an area that burned on Friday-Sunday. To the north, two other forest fires were galloping through parts of Teller and Park counties.

To the south was the biggie, the Spring Fire, which currently has passed 79,000 acres in size (or 32,000 hectares).

And now a new smoke pillar was rising in the west.

An hour later, groceries unloaded, I had changed into wildland fire gear and was down at the station. This new fire was high on a mountain on national forest land, close enough to watch but nearly an hour away by truck. So we were just on standby in case in came off the mountain and towards town.

The chief and another firefighter went off in a brush truck to notify people in some subdivisions, in case they had missed the reverse-911 call. The rest of us snacked, drank water and sports drinks in the nearly 100° F. heat, and watched the air tankers pass overhead.

My mind was all over the place. Some Old Testament lines kept popping up: “This is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a pleasing aroma, a special gift presented to the LORD” (Exodus 29:18, if you care about these things).

Yeah, but which LORD? Sky gods are supposed to like sweet-smelling offerings.

Then I mentally wandered off into thinking of some kind of mad “sorcerer’s apprentice”  ritual in which the element of fire had been invoked in all four quarters and could no longer be dismissed. That was not very comforting either.

If only, as in this Danny Shanahan cartoon for The New Yorker, they could just be a backdrop.

There Was More to “Pixie” than Tarot Cards

Pamela Coleman Smith, about 1912.

At Spiral Nature you can read a long review of a new book about Pamela Coleman Smith (Pixie to her friends), best known for designing probably the most popular Tarot deck of the twentieth century.

Corinne Pamela Colman Smith, who went by the nickname “Pixie,” defied so many social norms, it’s hard to keep count. The more you read about her, the more impressed you get.

Those who left written comments about their impressions of her confess how hard it was to place her within the gender, class, and racial categories of her time. W. B. Yeats, for instance, wrote that she looked “exactly like a Japanese. Nannie says this Japanese appearance comes from constantly drinking iced water.”

The book has four contributors: Elizabeth Foley O’Connor, currently at work on her own full biography of the artist; Stuart Kaplan’s (the Tarot publisher) section “is just the most incredible and comprehensive collection of Smith’s works to date, and maybe ever”; Melinda Boyd Parsons covers Smith’s experiences with the theatre and ceremonial magick worlds; and Mary K. Greer discusses her work in the context of Tarot history.

Read the whole thing.

How Paganism is Good for Men

Lee Kynaston (The Telegraph, UK)

With all the talk about how witchcraft = empowerment for women, here’s something different: “7 things paganism can teach the modern man

It’s in a newspaper, so don’t expect great depth, but at least it means that the Paganism stories now run at the summer solstice, not just at Halloween.

In the Land of Fairy, Don’t Eat the Pentagram Pizza

You have heard that advice, right? Don’t eat the food that the Good Neighbors — or however you want to describe those beings whose reality intersects ours — might offer you, or you might be there with them a very very long time.

In Morgan Daimler’s view of the Fairy cities of today, there might be some tempting restaurants. Hmm.

Modern Fairyland, or Experiencing the Otherworld as a 21st Century City

It is true that modern pagans seem prone to describing and viewing Fairy through a primitive lens. When people talk about experiences there they are usually couched in terms of wilderness and wild places or occasionally of settings that may be described as historic such as castles or cottages. And that is not to say that these places can’t be found in Fairy just as we can find these places in our own world, because they certainly do exist both here and there. But there is a definite and noticeable favoring of the sorts of Otherworldly scenery that correlates with the places in our own world people tend to say we are most likely to find Themselves as well. Many pagans talk of Fairy as if it were one vast forest or Europe stuck in medieval times.

In the middle of grieving the effects of gentrification on her street, Anne Johnson gives some thought to the Faeries: “Faeries aka Fairies Are Real.”

So you say, “What do faeries look like?” And I answer, “What have you got?” There are as many varieties of faerie as there are of biological life in the apparent world. Some faeries are human shaped and sized, some are tiny, some look like animals, some like birds, and some are just beams of light. Be careful if you make eye contact, because they like to distract. And whatever you do, show them respect. Even the “critter” ones. Call them “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or “your majesties.”

Related: John Beckett talks about different modes of experiencing the Otherworld here:

Once you’re there, stick to your plan. Not every Otherworldly resident is your friend. Some will try to distract you or co-opt you. Some may try to eat you. Go directly where you intend to go, and don’t trust anyone you don’t know. When you’re done, come back promptly.

Letter from Hardscrabble Creek is not one of the Pagan blogs that he recommends, so if you are reading this, you must have wandered into the woods.

True Fact: There are more than twenty blog posts with the tag “Pentagram Pizza.” Enough weirdness to save in the refrigerator overnight and eat for breakfast! Just click on the tag “pentagram pizza” below.

Quick Review: THE IMMORTALS by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The old gods live among us, moving unseen, taking new forms, their powers diminished as people no longer honor them. That was the premise of Neil Gaiman’s magical road-trip novel, American Gods, and it is also the backstory to The Immortals (2016), for here the Olympic deities have abandoned Greece after the anti-Pagan emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official and legal religion of the empire.

Pious followers of reconstructed Hellenic religion should avoid this book. I am not going to give away all  the plot, but let’s just say that your screams of rage might alarm your neighbors.

Think of it as Mary Stewart — romantic suspense thriller — meets Dan Brown — the action stops while Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, explains the secret meaning behind events — only in this case it is Theodore Schultz of the Columbia University classics department who stops the breakneck action to explain the secret mythic plans behind a series of crimes.

Over time, some of the gods have gravitated to Manhattan, even Artemis the hunter, now a freelance private investigator and avenger of wrongs against women, currently using the name of Selene DiSilva. Hades lives under a disused subway station. Hermes (“Mr. Dash”) is now a film producer.

Paired with Professor Schultz, Artemis seeks to stop a revival of the Mysteries that involves human sacrifice (please, no screams of outrage), one victim being his former lover. But the question is, will she, the chaste goddess, fall in love with him — and if so, will she have to kill him? And does she really need her divine status?

The Immortals is a  page-turner, and definitely worthy of the label “Pagan-ish.”

The “Salem-Santa Fe” Mystery Solved

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A month ago I blogged how astonished M. and I were to see that Kakawa, the Santa Fe-based chocolate house, was about to open a new store in Salem, Mass.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the [Peabody-Essex] museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Now I know. I stopped at Kakawa in Santa Fe yesterday and spoke with Tony Bennett, who owns it together with his wife, Bonnie. This is what they do.

Aztec-style chocolate: cacao, chiles, other spices, flowers.

It turns out that they were invited. It seems the director and certain board members of the Peabody-Essex museum like to come to Santa Fe for the big annual Indian-arts market. (No wonder they have the T. C. Cannon show up.) So they drop in at Kakawa nearby for some chocolate elixir, as one does.

And they decided several years ago that Kakawa would fit right into the commercial building that they own adjacent to the museum. Then their architect died, and there were other complications, but Kakawa is on-track to open in the near future. In addition, Tony said, there would be a Kakawa kiosk inside the museum. Some buenas noticias for Salem.

 

“A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police, and Britt Ekland as Willow, the Aphrodite Pandemos of Summerisle, is remembered simultaneously as “the best British horror film ever” and one of the favorite movies of the Pagan revival during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Pagans for the most part emphatically do not view it as  horror film, although some avert their eyes or explain away the last few minutes. Instead, they see Summerisle, the fictional Scottish island setting, not as a “a completely alien society” but as a place where they would very much like to live — or at least go on holiday.

In 1998, to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, BBC Scotland produced The Wicker Man Enigma,  this half-hour documentary about The Wicker Man’s making and, equally important, its mysterious post-editing existence. Some of the cast were re-interviewed: Lee reads dialogue that was cut from the final version, while Edward Woodward revisits the Scottish hotel where key scenes were filmed, socializing with some of the locals who were extras there in the “Green Man” pub.

Various trivia are examined, such as whether Britt Ekland actually had two nude body doubles rather than one, or whether a complete negative still exists, and how The Wicker Man inverts a common trope of horror films, in which sex leads to death — think of Dracula or any number of “dead teenager” movies.