Fairies Infest British Woodland, Control Measures Planned

From the BBC:

Hundreds of fairy doors have been attached to the bases of trees in Wayford Woods, Crewkerne.

It is claimed the doors have been installed by local people so children can “leave messages for the fairies”.

Can something be too twee? Yes, it can. And remember, fairies are not always your friends.

Polyamory and the Secret History of Wonder Woman

wonder womanSnow is falling, and I am elbow deep in putting together the next Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which among other things carries an article called “What is a Superhero? How Myth Can Be a Metacode,” by Kenneth MacKendrick of the University of Manitoba.

So, with comics on the mind, here is “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.

Back story? Oh yes, not to mention polyamory, eugenics, and chains.

Some of [the comic books] are full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business,” she said.

“Unfortunately, that is true,” Marston admitted, but “when a lovely heroine is bound to the stake, comics followers are sure that the rescue will arrive in the nick of time. The reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.”

Magic Earth Lines 2: The 37th Parallel

snake blaksless

Houses built of upright or stacked stone slabs in defensible locations characterized the Apishapa River canyon sites from about 1000–1400 CE .

The ranch was owned by a man named Howard Munsell (now deceased). Unlike a lot of Southern Plains ranchers who are, shall we say, standoffish toward strange visitors, he had previously run a trail-ride business, and so he was able to handle several dozen campers on his land, providing water and basic sanitary facilities.

(After his passing, the 13,000-acre [5260 ha.] ranch was sold: see photos at this real estate agency’s website.)

One May weekend in the 1980s, M. and I took our turn at carefully piloting our ’69 VW Westfalia camper across a ford in the Apishapa River. What was the attraction? An archaeological site — and the 37th degree of north latitude.

apishapa rock art

Apishapa Culture rock art, probably from 1000–1400 CE.

Most of our fellow campers were UFO hunters. A couple were “crusties” who looked like they had crawled out of a Dumpster just long enough for the weekend. For our part, we were excited about a chance to get into a place that is normally closed to outsiders, look for rock art, and just poke around. If the Space Brothers landed, that would be only a bonus.

doveThe organizers had an elaborate esoteric diagram that guided them to the spot, which was on the 37th parallel.

In fact, the idea that Latitude 37° North is a “paranormal freeway” persists:

Chuck [Zukowski] has investigated several cattle mutilations in Southern Colorado over the past few years, and while preparing a talk for a recent UFO conference, he was trying to look for patterns in the places that the mutilations took place. With this on his mind, Colorado had its largest natural earthquake in a century. It was a 5.3 on the Richter scale and centered in the southwest part of the state. Within 15 hours Virginia received one of the largest earthquakes it had ever had as well. It registered as a 5.8. Neither quake caused much damage, but Chuck noticed that they were both near the 37 degree latitude line. He then noticed that his cattle mutilation cases were also near the 37 degree latitude line.

Oh dear. Cattle mutilations. Been there, done that, got the Fate magazine T-shirt. But I can credit the “mutilation” flap for introducing me both to ceremonial magic and newspaper reporting as a job, which is another story.

So what does this all mean? I have no idea. Chuck has speculated that perhaps there are secret military bases in these areas. It is hard to say, and Debbie says she is still in the middle of increased UFO reports.

Yeah, me neither. But I will always be glad that I could walk the bluff along the Apishapa (Ute for “stinking water,” by the way, referring to its late-summer stagnant pools) while the true believers watched for UFOs.

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines

At Bad Archaeology, a skeptical look at Alfred Watkins and the “discovery” of ley lines:

According to a later account, all this [discovery of a hidden web of straight lines in the English countryside] came to him “in a flash” on 21 June 1921 during a visit to Blackwardine; according to his son Allen, this happened while poring over a map. A variation on the ‘origin myth’ quoted by John Michell holds that the revelation happened whilst out riding in the hills near Bredwardine in 1920, observing the Herefordshire landscape he loved. It is unclear why there are two different versions of the story; Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy note wryly in their excellent Ley Lines in Question (Tadworth: World’s Work, 1983) that John Michell’s version reflects how “ley hunters would like to think it happened”.

Speculations about “trackways” and astronomical alignments go back well into the nineteenth century, before even Watkins’ time.

A critique of the Wikipedia entry for ley lines is included.

Read the rest.

Pentagram Pizza with Layers of Woo

pentagrampizza • Lydia Crabtree not only knows “woo,” she can organize it into a ten-part scale and a four-part diagram. Fascinating.

And there is a Part 2: “Parenting to the WooWoo.”

• Where did “the humanities” come from? Come travel back to the good old days of “philology.”

• Philology is not old enough for you? Relax with some Babylonian tunes.

The Scholar’s Mistress: The Speckled Bird

William Butler Years

William Butler Years

As an English major at Reed College, I experienced a semester-long combined seminar on William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot. To be honest, I probably liked Eliot’s poetry more, and I wrote a just-slightly-tongue-in-cheek paper on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, although I did not have the chops to turn it into a Broadway musical, which is why I am not rich and famous.

Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne

Nevertheless, I knew that Yeats was important too. We discussed him only as poet and advocate of Irish cultural identity, not as ceremonial magician,  as prose writer, nor as Irish senator.

I heard something about A Vision, his esoteric Compleat Theory of Everything, but when I found a copy in the library, I bounced off it like a brick wall. I lacked the background to understand, quite simply, and of course I knew next to nothing about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined in the early 1890s.

I picked up a lot more over the years, including reading about his long, sexually frustrated (for twenty-odd years) romantic friendship with the beautiful Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne — who was a magician too, at least until the gunfire of the 1916 Easter Rising drowned that out.

Unknown to Yeats, Gonne had an affair with a French journalist and secretly gave birth to a boy, who died at the age of 2; she returned with her lover to the child’s tomb to conceive again, believing that reincarnation would bring back the lost son.

Then last November, in a session of the Western Esotericism Group at the American Academy of Religion, Thomas Willard of the U. of Arizona mentioned an unfinished novel by Yeats that I had never heard of, The Speckled Bird [for the title’s origin, see note below].

Between 1896-1902, “at a point in his career when he was dramatizing his occult experiences in fiction [such as] The Secret Rose, a sequence of stories that embody the conflict between the natural and spiritual worlds,”  Yeats made four attempts at this autobiographical novel [General Editor’s Introduction, The Speckled Bird].

Its central character, Michael Hearne, “is dominated by three passions: his love of Margaret [Maud Gonne], his desire to gain access to the invisible world by means of occult knowledge and techniques, and his wish to devise an appropriate ritual for the inauguration and practice of the Celtic Mysteries” [ibid.].

Michael and Margaret plan a series of rituals based on the quest for the Grail, and in a letter he tells her, “We will only make a beginning, but centuries after we are dead cities shall be overthrown, it may be, because of an air that we have hummed or because of a curtain full of [magical] meaning that we have hung upon a wall.”

And when Michael and Maclagan, the character based on S. L. Mathers, are walking in the British Museum’s Egyptian Rooms, Maclagan says, “The old gods are worshipped still in secret and what we have to do is make their worship open again.”

In the most-developed version, Michael Hearne abandons the plan for a Celtic esoteric order and sets off on a journey with Maclagan to Arabia and Persia — which did not occur in Yeats’ real life.

Yeats and Gonne’s Celtic-mystery groups never happened. Outer-world events — the First World War (1914–18), the Irish rebellions (1916, 1919–21) foundation of the Irish Free State (1922), and then its subsequent civil war (1922–23) — were just a little too distracting.

Some would argue that the Fellowship of the Four Jewels carried on something of Yeats’ and Gonne’s idea, and in the person of Ella Young, it has a slight connection with the development of West Coast Pagan movements in the 1960s.

*  *  *  *  *

Note: I am not sure what “the speckled bird” meant to Yeats, although he knew that it came from Jeremiah 12:9. Christian commentators regard the bird as emblematic of the church.

Eurasian eagle-owl

The metaphor is of small birds mobbing an owl or other raptor. Jeremiah seems casual about bird identification, but maybe his audience knew if he meant a Eurasian eagle-owl or some kind of large hawk.

That passage also provided the name of a well-known hymn, here sung by country star Kitty Wells and also by Lucinda Williams.

The Scholar’s Mistress

scholar's mistress_sm

I learnt a new expression late last year: “the scholar’s mistress.” What it means is the pile of books that accumulate beside the bed, books that you are reading, plan to read, ought to have read, might read again.

At my house, the dog’s kennel does for a nightstand. Note highlighter pen at the ready. Also — right-most pile, lower — a stack of academic journals.

It is time to talk about some of these books—short reviews, quick comments, whatever. Then maybe some of them can move on to their new book-lives, while others can stay there at the bedside longer for re-visiting.

Watch this space.

New Pomegranate Published

Pomegranate web header

Issue 16:2 of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has now been published online, with print copies coming soon.

The publisher does charge for articles (but try to see if your library can get them), although book reviews are free downloads.

Contents

“Deepening Conversations between Ritual Studies and Pagan Studies”
Michelle Mueller

“Becoming a Virtual Pagan: ‘Conversion’ or Identity Construction?”
James R. Lewis

“Prevalence and Importance of Contemporary Pagan Practices”
Gwendolyn Reece

“The Search for ‘Meaning': Occult Redefinitions and the Internet:
Morandir Armson

“Healing Community: Pagan Cultural Models and Experiences in Seeking Well-Being:
Kimberly D. Kirner

Book reviews by Melissa Harrington, Jason Mankey, Daniel Foor, Christopher Chase, Ronald Hutton, and Sarah Veale.

New Poems by Sappho

Carbonized scroll. (Credit: Salvatore Laporta/AP)

The possibility of deciphering the carbonized papyrus scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri is exciting. One friend hopes that some day an Etruscan/Greek or Etruscan/Latin dictionary will be discovered. (The Etruscan language used Greek letters, but we cannot completely read it, beyond some kings’ names, etc.)

Me, I hope for a complete edition of Sappho’s poetry, with commentaries by some Hellenistic critic.

That has not shown up, but (how did I miss this?) two unknown apparent poems of hers were discovered a couple of years ago in recycled papyrus used as “cartonnage,” a sort of papier-mâché used in Egypt for mummy cases and funerary masks.

In a paper delivered last month at an academic conference (PDF), Dirk Obbink discusses questions of authenticity and text in the two poems. You can find related links at the website of the Reception of Greek Literature 300 BC–AD 800: Traditions of the Fragment Project.

Obbink notes,

The new fragments show conclusively the alternation in book 1 of poems about family and cult, on the one hand, and personal concerns about love on the other. A cycle of poems concerning sea-faring is revealed, centering on the drama of a mercantile family of wine-traders on 7th-century Lesbos. The presence of Dionysus in the trinity of gods in the Pan-Lesbian sanctuary at Mesa on the island is explained, and the whole complex of love, sea-faring, wine, and trade falls neatly into the context of Herodotus’ story (2.135) of how Sappho’s brother Charaxos spent a great deal of money . . . to free his lover the courtesan Rhodopis (aka Doricha), then a slave at Naucratis in Egypt—for which Herodotus claims a pedigree in a poem of Sappho’s. In fragments 5 and 17 and now the ‘Brothers Poem’ we can see the existence of a song type, a prayer for the safe return of the merchant-gone-to-sea (or going). The prayer may rehearse an occasion leading to the performance of a song (as in the ‘Brothers Poem’), or its actual performance in the past or present (as in fragment 5). The prayer for safe return, introduced as a matter of concern, then expands to envisage what such a return would mean for the family—wealth, and an enhanced social position in the community. A further connection with the poems involving Aphrodite (who dominates book 1 but is virtually missing elsewhere) is suggested, since she is also typically invoked in seaside cult as a protectress of sailors (as we can see at the end of fragment 5, perhaps associated with prostitutes and hetair ae frequented by Charaxos).

 

How Halloween Came Back to Derry

A short video (Irish with subtitles; English) describing how a large public Halloween festival in the Northern Irish city of Derry began in a pub in the early 1980s and grew from there.

And while some speakers, including folklorist Jenny Butler, do discuss the ancient festival of Samhain, you will see that the Derry festival was not so much a self-conscious bit of Celtic revival as it was a way for people to step out of “the Troubles” (as the Irish euphemize the 1960s–1980s in Ulster) for one night of the year and be someone else.

You may also note a brief mention of pumpkins — the North American influence is there too.