New Paintings Found in Petra

Detail of a winged child playing the flute, before and after cleaning. Photograph: Courtesy of the Courtauld Institute

Detail of a winged child playing the flute, before and after cleaning. Photograph: Courtesy of the Courtauld Institute

Some exceptional paintings from the Hellenistic era have been found at the ancient city of Petra.

Virtually no Hellenistic paintings survive today, and fragments only hint at antiquity’s lost masterpieces, while revealing little about their colours and composition, so the revelation of these wall paintings in Jordan is all the more significant. They were created by the Nabataeans, who traded extensively with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires and whose dominion once stretched from Damascus to the Red Sea, and from Sinai to the Arabian desert.

They are full of flowers, insects, and human figures, all of which qualifies as “idolatry” to the fanatical Muslims, so let’s hope that the Islamic State does not roll over Jordan at any time.

Responding to Attacks on Pagan Shrines

_85298986_palmyra_before_after_624On the 20th of August, I posted about “Khalid al-Asaad and the War on Pagan Idolatry.” He was the Syrian archaeologist beheaded by the Muslim fanatics of the Islamic State, their reward for his devoting his professional life to preserving and studying the ancient (and Pagan) city of Palmyra.

On the first of September, the BBC displayed before-and-after satellite images of the Temple of Bel in Palmyra. Now you see it, now you don’t.

Responding to the Islamic State’s campaign of destruction against Pagan holy sites, blogger Galina Kraskova writes,

We are horrified, and rightly so, by the human rights violations this filth commits, but we should be equally horrified, if not more so, by the destruction of ancient spaces and places of worship. The destruction of a place like Palmyra, isn’t just the destruction of an ancient building, it’s an attack on the future and what it might be, what it can become. It’s a severing of any link with a pre-Islamic past, and likewise a severing of possibilities for the future. In blowing up the Temple of Ba’al Shamin and the Temple of Bel, they’re damning future generations and that is an attack far more long lasting in its impact, than simply the loss, however grievous it might be, of an antique site.

She offers some suggestions about what to do, both on the “outer” and the “inner” planes, and warns that militant monotheism comes in various disguies (let us not forget the non-theistic mono-ideologies as well).

And for background on Ba’al Shamin and Bel, see this post by Tess Dawson.

If there is a blessing to be gathered out of the ashes of the wanton acts of evil Daesh [the Islamic State] has done here, it is that polytheists are gathering together, protesting in solidarity. I hope and I pray that for every temple they threaten, and for every mine they plant in these dusty, dry, decaying ruins, seven more living, new shrines or temples will spring up. As great as our fury is, we may feel drawn to hurl curses upon the heads of those who would threaten these sacred places. I do not say “do not curse them”—by all means, if you feel moved to do so, be my guest—but I firmly think that there are more important things that need doing first and foremost.

Read the rest. These horrid actions should remind us that if IS could get us, they would treat us contemporary Pagans just the way that they treated the Yezidis.

“Trace What It Means To Be Celtic”

In their book Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music, Donna Weston and Andy Bennett use the term “cardiac Celts . . . people who feel in their heart that they are Celtic.”

They are not the only ones who use it — but I wonder if this new British Museum exhibit will name-check Marion Bowman, who teaches religious studies at The Open University, the scholar who first employed the term in an  essay  included in the book, Paganism Today 1)Marion Bowman, Cardiac Celts: Images of the Celts in Contemporary British Paganism,” iPaganism Today, ed. Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman (London: Thorsons, 1995), 242–51.

I still look at “Celtic” as identifying a language group — to be Welsh, for instance, is an ethnicity, but “Celtic” is not. That term covers too much time and space to mean anything useful as an ethnic tag. Nevertheless, since the late 18th century, there have been many attempts to use it that way, and I suspect that this exhibit — which I will probably never see — will examine them.

Maybe I can get the published catalog, if there is one.

Notice how drumming is always the aural cue for “barbarians.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Marion Bowman, Cardiac Celts: Images of the Celts in Contemporary British Paganism,” iPaganism Today, ed. Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman (London: Thorsons, 1995), 242–51.

“I will never look at a tarot card . . . again”

A New York Times piece about commercial psychics.

Specifically, these are psychics who went to prison for fraud (or worse) and are trying to look good in front of the Parole Board.

She worked out of shops on Ninth Avenue in the Hell’s Kitchen section of Manhattan. In 2009, Ms. Mitchell told a client that a dark spirit was keeping happiness at bay. She asked the client for an $11,450 Rolex watch and a lot of candles and cash to clean the spirits. In all, the client paid $159,205, according to a criminal complaint.

The Rolex should have been a tip-off, no?

But it’s their culture — who are we to judge?

“My culture did not allow me to go to school,” she told parole commissioners. “I never had education. I was to do this fortunetelling business, to make money.”

A lot of otherwise good things go sideways when you start charging money for them.

(Hat-tip: Professor Althouse)

New Grange Before It Was “Restored”

“Late 19th century: This atmospheric shot of the passage tomb entrance shows a man emerging from its dark interior. It was taken by R. J. Welch sometime in the late 19th century and it shows an overgrown and partially disturbed mound. Although the roofbox, through which the winter solstice sun rays should pass, is completely blocked, its decorated stone lintel can still be partially discerned c. 1 m above the entrance passageway” (Irish Archaeology).

Before excavation and restoration (think “concrete wall”) began in the 1960s, the famous Irish Neolithic temple of New Grange  (older than the Pyramids!) looked quite different. The Irish Archaeology site offers sketches and photos from the 18th century forward.

Khalid al-Asaad and the War on Pagan Idolatry

Wouter Hanegraaff, professsor of Western esotericism at the University of Amsterdam, has written a moving blog post on larger implications of the death of Khalid al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist recently beheaded by the Muslim fighters of the so-called Islamic State. (He was a Muslim too, of course.)

We are told that Khaled Asaad was murdered for the crime of “overseeing ‘idols’ in the ancient city” and “attending ‘infidel’ conferences as Syrian representative”. This makes him one of the most recent casualties in a culture war that has been raging for thousands of years: that of exclusive monotheism against its mortal enemy, “pagan idolatry”. We should not delude ourselves: historically, our “own” dominant Western culture has not been on Khaled Asaad’s side but overwhelmingly on the side of his murderers. The idea that paganism and idolatry is the ultimate abomination that must be rooted out and destroyed, along with anybody who practices or sympathizes with it, goes to the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic identity. And moreover, (pace Peter Gay c.s.) it goes to the heart of Enlightenment rationalism as well, which inherited the Protestant view of paganism and idolatry.

Read it all. For the news story, here is the New York Times version.

Pagans Down in Georgia

Dancing on the hillside (Alexander Bainbridge/The Independent).

No, not that Georgia — the other Georgia. But our Georgians could probably do offerings of sacred beer as well.

“They do not have a personal knowledge like that,” explains Dato Akriani, one of the tiny number of people who have moved from the lowlands up to Pshavi, and who was initiated into the cult of Kopala 20 years ago. “They are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically

Bemushroomed in the Deep Woods

mushroomjar.jpgM. and I have been hitting the deep woods one day a week as part of the annual Mushroom Hunt. Yesterday was an odd one.

Actually, the previous hunt, six days earlier, was even stranger. First, I had a full-blown hallucination of a nice Boletus edulis (king bolete, steinpilz, etc.) I walked over to the spot — and there was no mushroom. Then I looked above five or six feet away, and there it was. The spirits were playful.

In his excellent book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, Andy Letcher uses the term “bemushroomed” to mean being under the influence of entheogenic mushrooms consumed internally.

But maybe there is another sense wherein you are just in their force field. Every mushroom hunter knows the perceptual shift of not seeing any — and then you enter the “field” and you are seeing them everywhere.

Only maybe you lose track of other things, such as where you are.

Usually, M. is trance-ier in the woods than I am. I — having gotten lost in these densely forested mountains before — am always reality-checking: “OK, the boggy meadow is north — that’s to the right. I am walking downhill, so west; therefore, the road is about a quarter-mile behind me. But what’s that little knob? — I don’t recognize it.”

So having mushrooms moving around in my perceptual field was — different.

Then, after two hours or so, we are back at the Jeep, and she is looking stricken and slapping at her pants pockets. Her Opinel mushroom knife, a Christmas present, is gone! We retrace part of our steps but don’t spot it. She remembers cutting some Albatrellus confluensnot super-tasty, but they bulk up a soup.

Yesterday we returned to that area. I thought I remembered — to within an acre or so — where that patch of confluens might be, marked off by three weathered white-fir trunks that had fallen like three sides of a square.

So we set off in that general direction, and I more or less walked right to the spot. There was the knife. (Thanks, mushroom spirits!)  After six days in the weather, the wooden handle had swollen, making it hard to open and close, but some time in the sunshine has fixed that.

But in the six days that had passed, the woods had changed again. Three hours of looking produced only one shopping bag of mushrooms. Our two favorite species had just vanished (or were too rotten to pick). But we were out there, in the “mushroom field.”

It is said that gathering wild mushrooms is dangerous. If you ask me, dealing with log trucks on narrow Forest Service roads is the real danger.

There was Asshole Log Truck Driver, who wanted the Jeep as a hood ornament. I “felt” him coming and pulled over until my right wheels were in the ditch before he blasted around the bend (Thanks, mushroom spirits).

But then there was Considerate Log Truck Driver who not only was driving conservatively downhill with his load, but who pulled over to let us pass.

Why couldn’t they have been reversed — meet CLTD head-on and go down the grade behind ALTD? Well, you take what you can get.

Wiccan Ghost-Hunting in India

If you are of a certain age — or if you hang around the “occult” section in used-bookstores — you might remember the ghost-hunting team of English witch Sybil Leek (1917–1982) and American parapsychology author Hans Holzer (1920–2009).

They were both writers, but the books appeared under his name, such as The Lively Ghosts of Ireland.

I was just reminded of them by reading this recent review of Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, which covers some similar ground. Only most of the ground is in India, where — even with all of the kinds of polytheism, henotheism, and monism (and other -isms) that live under the umbrella term “Hindu” — Wicca, too, has gained a toehold in the religious landscape of the subcontinent.

In fact, author Deepta Roy Chakraverti is the daughter of Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, credited with bringing Wicca to India, as I noted in 2006.

The author who is a corporate lawyer by profession investigates the presence of the supernatural in the world we inhabit and writes about paranormal encounters she has had ranging from Bhangarh Fort on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, in the Lodhi gardens, the Konark Temple in Orissa, and the mental asylum of Bedlam in London. . . .

Deepta explores the energies of the Safdurjung Road house of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was assassinated and the psychic investigator writes about her experience . . .

She recalls a chilling encounter in the chapter “Who Walks on Marine Drive? “related to a peanut seller on Mumbai’s Marine Drive who has a horde of people, including a father-daughter pair flocking to him. The people, says the author are those who died suddenly in the 2011 terrorist attacks and are hovering between the worlds of the living and dead.

And in the interview/review she quotes Holzer himself. We have a tradition!

Bhangarh to Bedlam has a Facebook page, is available on Amazon in India but not here, it seems, and has created some controversy there.

An Indian website in April 2015 reported,

It also includes a chapter on a popular shopping mall in Kolkata, where a number of accidents and suicides have taken place in recent times.

And this is where a controversy has erupted, with the mall in question demanding that all references to it be eliminated from the book. According to Roy Chakraverti, a corporate lawyer by profession and a psychic investigator by calling, who is the daughter of the self-styled Wiccan priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the publishers [not identified] bliged by calling off the publication of the book.

But also in April, Life Positive Books (New Delhi)  announced its publication. Same house? Different one? Roy Chakraverti hints at dark forces:

The dark energy has its own power. I feel that this fiasco happened because there were one or two political entities in the background, which were afraid of a Wiccan woman gaining popularity.

According to the Facebook page, launch parties and signings are ongoing.

A Viking is Nothing without his Oar

nydam
The Nydam ship was found in southern Jutland in 1863. It has recently been dated via dendrochronology to 310–320 CE, and the deposition in the bog where it was found is likely to have taken place 340–350 CE. The picture shows a German replica of the ship, built in 1935.1)Harald Åkerlund, Nydamskeppen: En studiei tidig skandinavis kskeppsbygnadskonst (Göteborg: Sjöfartsmuseet, 1963). (Photograph in Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landsmuseum.)

Norwegian scholar Eidar Heide tracks down the origin of the term “Viking” in an etymological article. Like a lot of people, I had thought it came from a word for “bay” or “inlet,” the first proposed word origin that he examines.

Not so, he argues, it’s all about the rowing — and the word itself actually predates the era of “the Vikings” as we typically think of them (PDF file, in English).

Note to readers: the abstract is at the end of the paper, not the beginning.

Scroll down here for a link to others of his articles on the history and archaeology of Viking ships, some in English and some in Norweigan.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Harald Åkerlund, Nydamskeppen: En studiei tidig skandinavis kskeppsbygnadskonst (Göteborg: Sjöfartsmuseet, 1963).