Satan in Northern Ireland

Dennis Wheatley (1897–1977),  British military intelligence operative and author of occult-horror novels, is supposed to have left the “strategic military deception” trade after World War II, but his spirit evidently lived on.

According to a recent article in The Guardian newspaper, during “the Troubles” — the period of conflict between versions of the Irish Republican Army and their Unionist [loyalist] opponents that peaked during the late 1960s and 1970s — British intelligence operatives tried to create a “Satanic panic” that would hinder all the so-called paramilitary groups.

Many Irish nationalists were strong Catholics, while many Unionists were followers of the “Free Presbyterian” minister/politician Ian Paisley. Both were likely to accept the idea of Wheatley-style Satanists among them:

The head of the army’s “black operations” in Northern Ireland, Captain Colin Wallace [said] that they deliberately stoked up a satanic panic from 1972 to 1974, even placing black candles and upside-down crucifixes in derelict buildings in some of Belfast’s war zones.

Then, army press officers leaked stories to newspapers about black masses and satanic rituals taking place from republican Ardoyne in north Belfast to the loyalist-dominated east of the city.

If nothing else, it kept gullible teenagers off the street late at night, maybe.

The Myth of Halloween Sadism

Myth in the popular sense, that is to say, an urban legend, says sociologist Joel Best, who has been studying the razor-blade-in-the-apple and similar stories for decades.

Visit his website and click the tab for “Halloween Sadism.”

Halloween sadism is best seen as a contemporary legend (sometimes called an urban legend) (Best and Horiuchi 1985, Grider 1984, Ellis 1994). That is, it is a story that is told as true, even though there may be little or no evidence that the events in the story ever occurred. Contemporary legends are ways we express anxiety. Note that concerns about Halloween tend to be particularly acute in years when some sort of terrible recent crime has heightened public fears.

Worth a read. One root of the legend may be a related tale of nasty people heating pennies in skillets and then tossing them to begging children.

Queen Nefertiti Goes Cuckoo

clock“It’s kind of fascinating but it’s kind of horrifying,” I said to M. across the breakfast table when I saw an ad for “the only cuckoo clock inspired by the Wonders of Ancient Egypt.”

“‘Queen Nefertiti’s regal procession rotates,‘ it says,” I added.

“Horrifying, completely horrifying,” she replied. She detests noise-making clocks and barely tolerates my c.1910 “kitchen clock” that merely strikes the hours.

“You can have it in your study if you turn the sound (‘an exotic melody capturing the mysteries of Ancient Egypt’) off.”

Still, couldn’t you imagine sitting under it as you read John Crowley’s Ægypt sequence?

Help a Russian Scholar of Paganism Attend the AAR

galtsin

Dmitry Galtsin

Most scholars who attend the American Academy of Religion annual meeting have their travel and hotel rooms paid for, at least partly, by their institutions.

Some, however, don’t receive such support.

Dmitry Galtsin, a researcher in the Rare Books Department of the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Galtsin has had a paper on “The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond” accepted by the the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Group, of which I have the honor to be co-chair, with Jone Salomonsen of the University of Oslo.

But he needs help with the travel expense of flying all the way from St. Petersburg to San Diego. To quote my blogging colleague Ethan Doyle White,

Although scholars of Pagan studies on the whole don’t seem to be a particularly wealthy bunch, they should nevertheless recognise the importance of building a dialogue between scholars operating in the Western world and their counterparts in Eastern Europe and the Russian Federation, in order to better understand and appreciate the growing multiplicity that exists within the phenomenon of contemporary Paganism. Arguably this is even more important in the current climate of growing political tensions between NATO and Russia.

He has an IndieGoGo campaign going. Please toss a few dollars in the can, and you can receive a copy of his presentation.

Clerical Dress for Respect, Christian and Pagan

It happened this afternoon that I had tabs open to two different articles about clothing and social respect for (Protestant Christian) clergy as well as a Wild Hunt post about some kind of Pagan trying to prank the county commissioners in Escambia County, Florida, into abandoning their custom of religious invocations before meetings. (I am glad that around here we just pledge allegiance to the flag and then get down to business.)

I am not sure of the process here: apparently the guy in question just asked to be included in the list of religious invokers. But let’s move on.

One Wild Hunt mentioned his clothing — ” I would have worn something more like business casual dress”— and that dovetailed nicely with two pieces that I had been reading just moments earlier.

In one, Paul Walters, a Lutheran minister from Troy, Michigan, writes, “Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing . . . People will judge you based on your clothing every single time(emphasis in the original).

Whereupon the commenters crucify him. One even says, “Being a pastor is not a profession.” (Huh?)

That post was linked by the doyenne of Protestant clergy fashion, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a/k/a PeaceBang, at her blog Beauty Tips for Ministers.

Protestant ministers are in a time warp, and in a reality warp. What they know of the new reality they have decided doesn’t apply to them because they don’t approve of it. Maybe the world has become more visual. Clergy don’t care, because they’re certain that words will solve social issues and save the world. Why should they wear heels and professional attire when a well-meaning slogan on a T-shirt or a big cross around the neck should communicate what they’re about to the public?

Weinstein is a Unitarian, in an old, rather churchy (for UUs) congregation on Massachusetts’ South Shore (no CUUPS Pagans at First Parish of Norwell, as far as I can tell).

She makes another point as well:

Today, in 2014, the mainstream Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and progressive Catholic movements are all in a big pot together in the public imagination. We’re just “those religious people” in our houses of worship doing our Saturday or Sunday thing, and carrying on with our quaint ways while the world increasingly fails to notice us or care about us. We’re nice to have in the neighborhood, maybe, but mostly for when you want a nice wedding or a kind person to say some words when Uncle Milt dies. If we step beyond those roles, we are regarded as dangerous, and in the United States, accused of violating the sacred separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution.

Read her post on “Subverting and Interrupting Unconscious Scripts [of power]“— it is more honest than you usually see.

So, if you are any sort of Pagan moving into the public sphere, how do you deal with this perception that religion is “dangerous” and at the same time irrelevant? And how do you dress up for the job?

Back in the late 1970s, Raymond Buckland tried to start a vogue for wearing clerical collars with pentagrams embroidered on them. That went nowhere.

Some people like the stole. Patrick McCollum’s ubiquitous saffron scarf is similar, but it was given him by a Hindu holy man, as I recall. It may come from a “scarf of office” worn by imperial Roman officials, and it may also been worn by high-ranking professors, such as Hypatia of Alexandria. (I welcome clarification, if there is any historical record of this)

But the Catholics took it over as they did so much else of imperial organization, so what then? And the loose scarves are really more like the Anglican tippet, a/k/a preaching scarf.

Such a dilemma — especially in a culture where sloppiness = sincerity in some people’s minds.

Where Is Your Nile?

After a living room talk to a group of Anchorage Pagans about different types of nature religion, I ended up in the kitchen with a woman who was an Egyptian reconstructionist — or revivalist, as she preferred to say.

Given my concerns, my first thought was that if the ancient Egyptian sacred year was organized around the flood cycle of the Nile, what was the Alaskan equivalent? If ships of ancient Egyptians had somehow sailed into Cook Inlet, how might that landscape have changed them?

Yes, it’s true that one of my religious studies professors called me an “environmental determinist,” and he did not mean it as a compliment. But I am not the only one wondering about how one’s religious practice becomes rooted in a particular place — and how do we get back to that situation?

Dolores LaChapelle in SW Colorado

Here in Colorado, one under-appreciated writer on these topics was the mountaineer and deep ecologist Dolores LaChapelle. Earth Festivals: Seasonal celebrations for Everyone Young and Old was written in the 1970s, while her big book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep — Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life came out in 19972. (Visit her Amazon page to see all her books.) Both might be called “deep green religion,” to borrow a phrase — non-theistic nature religion but still exhibiting an approach to life that I would love to see more of in contemporary Paganism.

spirit of placeAnother writer who wrote a how-to workbook on integrating spirituality with nature is Loren Cruden, whose The Spirit of Place: A Workbook with Sacred Alignment involves study and doings through the cycle of a temperate-climate year.

Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova, also takes a workbook approach. I was impressed by Kaldera’s original approach in his book Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle, while Krasskova has herself written widely on re-creating ancestral cults and on polytheism. neolithic shamanism

The term “Neolithic” might be off-putting for some, especially those who — following some deep ecologists, philosophers like Paul Shepard, or Pagan thinkers like Fred Adams — see it as the “Fall” from the older Paleolithic life, which was dangerous but yet more leisurely.

The “Neolithic Revolution” (agriculture, domesticating livestock) also meant bigger social groups, hierarchies (the Big Man becomes the king, and you better bow down), turning women into full-time baby-makers (More sons, bigger farm!), and an overall decline in health and physique, at least in some archaeological studies, although not everyone agrees.

But perhaps the thought is of robust peasants living in somewhat more egalitarian societies on the margins of Europe.

Rather than organizing by the calendar, Neolithic Shamanism is organized by realm: Earth, Sun, Moon, Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Craft, Air, Ancestors. Unlike the other books mentioned, this one is very much about spirit work:

We [authors] have many spirit allies; we also have plenty of experiences with spirits who weren’t interested in talking to us, or who took a firm dislike to us from the start. Remember that these are people. They aren’t human people, but they are People. Like all individuals, some will take a shine to you, and some will prefer someone else. Don’t take it personally. (Italics in the original.)

This book is densely packed, and it would take months to work through the exercises, but to do them all would change you permanently.

One question always in my mind, however, is to what extent we can impose a pantheon, so to speak, on the gods of our place. (There are at least two polytheistic theological questions in that sentence.) Do we “summon, stir, and call [them] up” or do we hang out and see who is there?

This is especially a question when in new places — new hemispheres — and there is only one piece of evidence — that I know of — in which a Pagan ancestor dealt with it.

Unfortunately for the story, almost all the Norse who visited North America during the time of the Greenland settlements (roughly 1000–1400 CE) were Christian, from Leif Erikson on down. So the episode from Erik the Red’s Saga about “Thorhall the hunter” has passed through many layers of Christian tellers and redactors, meaning that Thorhall is portrayed as an anachronism at best and a fool at worst.

To me it is a very poignant story:

They [the Norsemen] stayed there [in Vinland] that winter, which turned out to be a very severe one . . . . They ran short of food and the hunting failed . . . .Then they prayed to God to send them something to eat, but the response was not as prompt as they would have liked.

Meanwhile Thorhall the Hunter disappeared and they went out to search for him. They searched for three days; and on the fourth day Karlsefni and Bjarni found him on top of a cliff. He was staring up at the sky with eyes and mouth and nostrils agape, scratching himself and pinching himself and mumbling. They asked him what he was doing there; he replied that it was no concern of theirs, and told them not to be surprised and that he was old enough not to need them to look after him. They urged him to come back home with them, and he did.

A little later a whale was washed up and they rushed to cut it up. No one recognized what kind of a whale it was, not even Karlsefni, who was an expert on whales. The cooks boiled the meat, but when it was eaten it made them all ill.

Then Thorhall the Hunter walked over and said, “Has not Redbeard turned out to be more successful than your Christ? This was my reward for the poem I composed in honor of my patron, Thor; he has seldom failed me.”

When the others realized this they refused to use the whale meat and threw it over a cliff, and committed themselves to God’s mercy. Then a break came in the weather to allow them to go out fishing, and after that there was no scarcity of provisions.

Whether in Iceland, Greenland, or Newfoundland [?], to Thorhall it was all one realm.

Get Your Jesuses Now . . .

jesus sale. . . they will be back to the regular pricing during the pre-Christmas shopping season (Camino Real Mexican-import store, El Prado, New Mexico).

La fiesta de los zombies

What do New Mexico zombies eat? Brain tacos, of course.better off dead

  • 2 lbs. brains
  • 6–8 tortillas
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced, shredded lettuce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover brains with water in saucepan, add salt and simmer 15 minutes. Drain well and mash with fork while adding seasonings. Cover and keep warm while preparing taco shells. Fill shells with brain mixture, onions, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Serve immediately.

The recipe is from Yolanda Ortiz y Pino’s Original Native New Mexican Cooking. Sure, she specifies “beef brains,” but we know better, don’t we.

Scholars have taken notice of the fact that “the zombie is ubiquitous in popular culture, as note Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro, editors of Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human (2011), which I am just getting around to reading.

One of the contributors, Lynn Pifer, (English, Mansfield U.) notes that the George Romero-style zombie hordes have completely supplanted the old-style Haitian worker-zombie in popular culture.

Something I doubt that any of the contributors deal with is the popularity of the zombie-as-Other in the shooting sports.

New Publishing Opportunity in Euro-Paganism

Headline: “Genetic analysis reveals present-day Europeans descended from at least 3, not 2, groups of ancient humans.”

So how before someone writes a book on “Ancient North Eurasian” shamanic Paganism?  Campfire, drum, bears . . . take it away.

Missing Sekmet Statute Mystery Solved

When the statue from the Temple of Goddess Spirituality in southern Nevada disappeared last April, many Pagans wondered if it was a hate crime or what.

“It was foolish kids doing foolish things,” said Candace Ross, temple priestess.

Kids who freaked out and smashed the statue. But a new one is in place.