On Dale Pendell (1947–2018)

Every plant is a teacher
But as in every crowd
There are always
A few loudmouths

–Dale Pendell

I went to town this morning and drinking my Americano at the coffee house while reading the comments on Kocku von Stuckrad’s memorial to Michael Harner.

But then the screen went all blurry, and I had to stand and walk over to the big window that looks out on Main Street, watching the cars and trucks go by.

Dale Pendell is gone too.

Dale Pendell reactivates the ancient connection between the bardic poet and the shaman. His Pharmako/Poeia is a litany to the secret plant allies that have always accompanied us along the alchemical trajectory that leads to a new and yet authentically archaic future.

—Terence McKenna

If you are a plant person, a “doctor of the poison path,” a student of entheogens, or an herbalist, and you do not have these three books — Pharmako Gnosis: Plant Teachers and the Poison Path, Pharmako/Poeia: Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft, and  Pharmako/Dynamis: Stimulating Plants, Potions, and Herbcraft — you are missing out.

They combine poetry, organic chemistry, alchemy, ethnobotany, mythology, plant shamanism, and art.

If a forest fire were coming at my house, I would grab these three and leave the rest of the ethnobotany/entheogen texts for the flames.

And now there won’t be any more. But as Gary Snyder wrote, sometimes “books are our grandparents,” and these can be yours and mine.

There is more about his final illness on his blog. Here is another tribute:

He paced back and forth, his delivery measured and careful. But this was no timid circumspection. His slow pace tried to give space to the spontaneous, to create deeper spaces for his risk-taking to dive into. At the time I was getting more and more into James Hillman, whose fidelity to the ‘Western tradition’ (not to mention his sobriety) is both edifying and frustrating. Dale rooted around in the same ancient Greek soil as Hillman, but also branched out into Native American shamanic conceptions of ‘soul’, and traces of intoxicated wisdom submerged in Western tradition. I was hooked.

 

On Michael Harner (1929–2018)

Michael Harner (FSS).

The news of Michael Harner’s passing has been going around, and of course some magical practitioners have to react by disrespecting him.

You might well have heard the usual string of insults: he is an academic poser, he’s a fake . . . a cultural imperialist . . . from the “wrong” background . . . caters to the  “wrong” people . . . a wannabe.  Et cetera.

This is what you call “virtue-signaling,” in which the speaker tries to demonstrate that his or her virtues, practices, cultural connections, and so on are superior to those of the person being denigrated.

And perhaps if all the people doing it were themselves shamans of lengthy lineages, it might have worked. But usually they were not. They were merely jealous that an academic anthropologist could reinvent himself as a shaman, form the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, train other teachers, and try to re-inject shamanism into Western culture.1)In a way, shamanism still existed in the Spiritualist churches, complete with pious fakery, but that is another story.

Not just Western culture either — this is something that his facile detractors do not know about or chose to ignore.

Although shamanism is a cross-cultural practice, the word itself comes from peoples living in Siberia and Central Asia. And after the end of the Soviet Union, Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS) had a presence in some of those former Soviet republics starting in the 1990s — teaching shamanism!

Irgit Kalzan-ham’s arrest photo.

Why was that necessary? Because the enlightened Marxists of the USSR approached shamanism this way:

The photograph had been taken by the NKVD [Soviet secret police] when they arrested [the Tuvan shaman] in 1938. Two years later he died in prison.2)Anna Reid, The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia (London: Phoenix Books, 2003 [2002]), 108.

All shamans were criminals for ideological purposes!

Setting out on her research, Anna Reid, author of The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia encounters two elderly Soviet-era anthropologists who disparage the new post-Soviet native shamans as being just “performers.” And she hears Michael Harner speak at a conference in Moscow but mentions only the fact that the FSS charges for workshops in the USA and sells drums.

But you have to start with where you are. With so many shamans executed in the 1930s — although some underground practice survived, the two anthropologists said)— who is left to remember “the right way”?

I give the FSS credit for supporting some of the surviving shamans with recognition and with money as detailed on this FSS website page. 

(You can also see some revived Mongolian shamanism in the 2009 documentary The Horse Boy.)

What about those hotel workshops? I went to two of them. One, indeed, was in a hotel, in Colorado Springs in the mid-1990s, the introductory workshop, taught by Sandra Ingerman, and another on “Shamanism and the Spirits of Nature,” taught at some lodge on the Utah side of Bear Lake by an FSS teacher from Salt Lake City.

I will admit that the first workshop seemed a little awkward — a group of strangers with all the teaching pitched for absolute beginners — and how else could it be?

The “Spirits of Nature” workshop, however, lingers with me still. It was almost non-stop journeying, indoors and out, in a group and alone, and by the end of it, my consciousness was definitely altered. When it was time to go, I drove all afternoon on quiet two-lane roads in Wyoming and Utah, avoiding the interstate highway, the way people feel after immersion in a festival — wanting to postpone the return to mundane world.

But back to Harner. While I dispute some of his ideas on European shamanism (and that will come out in the current writing project), he took a big important step. You can whimper that ours is not a shamanic culture, or you can claim that you learned shamanism from your grandmother, but for a lot of people, step one to learning about shamanism — whether you call yourself a shaman or not — was Michael Harner. And that’s a Good Thing.

UPDATE: A thoughtful and appreciative essay on Harner’s contributions — and the controversies — from Kocku von Stuckrad, University of Groningen (Netherlands).

Notes   [ + ]

1. In a way, shamanism still existed in the Spiritualist churches, complete with pious fakery, but that is another story.
2. Anna Reid, The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia (London: Phoenix Books, 2003 [2002]), 108.

A View of Hardscrabble Creek

The real Hardscrabble Creek

Last summer, when we had some flooding on Hardscrabble Creek, I sent a video to a friend in England, who replied that he had assumed that “Hardscrabble Creek” was a literary invention.

Not so. I have a simple and literal mind, I will admit that.

The green trees are ponderosa pine. But are they the scopulorum variety or brachyptera? Since I consider myself a Southwesterner residing in the former imperial province of Nuevo México, I vote for the latter. (This map supports me.)

The Anthropology Cult at CIIS

Some people in the Pagan studies field have a special place in their hearts for the California Institute of Integral Studies. This memoir (about events a decade ago) might help to explain why. It’s a “never been told story.”

We showed up willing and able to do whatever it took for the cause. Angana exploited us beyond recognition. She effectively used jargon and the discourse to force us to restructure, brutally interrogate and dismantle our sense of self in the most pathological way possible. It’s a classic cult grooming technique; it just so happened that the languaging in this cult used social justice concepts.

“Tower Time” Is Not as Simple as You Think

One of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions at the American Academy of Religion was titled “Magic in the Time of the Tower” (see program screenshot below), and attendance was good.

There was discussion of magical workings coordinated by social media, and of magical workings blabbed about on social media.

At least one presenter acknowledged that the latter might not be a good idea, according to some practitioners. Don’t you remember the old “Magician’s Pyramid,” of which the last for the four admonitions was “To keep silent”?

Or as they say now, “The first rule of Magic Club is you do not talk about Magic Club.”

When some of the presenters spoke, I suspect that they — or rather the people whom they were describing — think that “the Tower” stands at 721–725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan — in other words, Trump Tower.

But there are other towers. And “Tower Time” did not start in January 2017. It has been going on for a while.

Some people talking about “Tower Time” are standing on ivory towers, and those are cracking too.1)New definition of Harvard University:http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/11/harvard-a-tax-free-hedge-fund-that-happens-to-have-a-university.html. At least under the new tax law it won’t be completely tax-free.

The days of building grander universities under the assumption that tuition can always be raised, because the students can always get federal grants and loans — how long will that continue?2)Since I spent about 21 years working in colleges and universities — and many of my friends still do — this issue cuts close to home for me.

Click to embiggen.

America has too many colleges and universities, just like it has too many shopping malls, and for much the same reason: everyone thought that there was room for another, and theirs would be a success.

And what about religious groups? The big example is the Roman Catholic Church, where I doubt if the leadership yet understands how much trust they lost over the clerical sexual abuse scandals. The pope can come out on his balcony and say whatever — and the news media report it —  but fewer and fewer people deeply care.3)And yet, if those church leaders compromise with secular society and toss out their traditional teachings, do they “lose their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say?

And that comes on top of the church’s long history of allying with repressive political regimes in both Europe and Latin America.

Talk about a teetering tower!

And, of course, there is Hollywood. Is there going to be anyone left?

Harvey opened the floodgates,” said one male Academy member. “Now the Academy’s drowning in a tide of s—t. They don’t know what hit them.”

Oscar is a “tower” too.

Ours is the era of “the end of prestige,” writes political blogger Richard Fernandez.

In the unending exposes of financial, moral and sexual turpitude we are witnessing a similar humiliation of a ruling elite. The critical role played by prestige in upholding the current status quo was no less important for the Western elite than it was for the old [imperial British] District Commissioners. Not so very long ago the elites were accepted as woke, part of the mission civilisatrice; better educated, better looking, better dressed, destined to greater things, the smartest people in the room.  They could pronounce on matters of morality, politics and even the climate.  What a shock it was to find through the Internet and social media it was all a sham; and these gods of Washington and Hollywood and the media were deeply flawed and despicable people.

Law professor Glenn Reynolds, writing in USA Today, makes a similar point in a piece called “The Suicide of Expertise“:

Then there’s the problem that, somehow, over the past half-century or so the educated classes that make up the “expert” demographic seem to have been doing pretty well, even as so many ordinary folks, in America and throughout the West, have seen their fortunes decaying. Is it any surprise that claims to authority in the form of “expertise” don’t carry the same weight that they once did?

You’re not going to fix all this by burying rotten carrots. You might fix it first by be responsible for as much of your own life as you can. I don’t mean that you have to weave your own cloth. Just don’t be the person who can’t change a tire, sew on a button, or understand a loan document.

And find your community. Not merely the online community: is your Instagram follower going to bring supper over when you’re sick? Can you call your Facebook friend if you need a ride to the doctor?

Not just a religious community, either. When my Jeep drove itself into a gully near the house (long story), I did not look for a Pagan friend, but rather a neighbor with a big winch-equipped truck who likes solving mechanical problems. (Depending on your neighbors means you cannot just condemn them for their voting patterns and otherwise ignore them.) But that only works if the neighbor can depend on you. If it really is “Tower Time,” the response is to work at the ground level.

Notes   [ + ]

1. New definition of Harvard University:http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/11/harvard-a-tax-free-hedge-fund-that-happens-to-have-a-university.html. At least under the new tax law it won’t be completely tax-free.
2. Since I spent about 21 years working in colleges and universities — and many of my friends still do — this issue cuts close to home for me.
3. And yet, if those church leaders compromise with secular society and toss out their traditional teachings, do they “lose their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say?

Aphrodite Will Not Be Denied (3) — and also Hestia.


In a 2003 post titled “Aphrodite Will Not Be Denied,” I linked to Muslim clerics’ criticism of Lebanese pop star Haifa Wehbe.

Another Muslim singer with more complicated ancestry, Deeyah, “irked the Muslim world” with her music videos, and I said, “As I once wrote, ‘Aphrodite will not be denied.’ You either acknowledge the powers of the gods, or they will assert themselves in uncontrollable ways.”

Now it’s an Egyptian’s turn

A female pop star in Egypt has been arrested after posting a “sexually suggestive” music video, in the second such case there in recent months.

Leila Amer appeared in an online video called “Boss Oumek” or “Look at your mother”, which includes sensual oriental dance and provocative gestures.

It also includes household laundry, meal preparation, and ducks. Very sensual ducks.

No joke for Leila Amer, however.

Prosecutors in Egypt have detained the singer for four days for “incitement to debauchery” after the clip sparked controversy in the increasingly conservative country.

Not knowing Arabic, I wonder if the message is somewhere between “Listen to your mom, you slacker” and “A woman’s work is never done.”1)From an old folk saying, usually given as “A man may work from sun to sun [dawn to dusk]. but a woman’s work is never done.” There is what could be considered a visual allusion to watching online porn.

Even here in the woods, I do know one thirty-something Egyptian woman in the nearest little town. I could ask her to translate, but then, she comes from a devout Coptic Christian family and is now married to an American evangelical Christian, so answering the question, “Why are you interested in this singer?” could get complicated. Or maybe not. Who knows?

Notes   [ + ]

1. From an old folk saying, usually given as “A man may work from sun to sun [dawn to dusk]. but a woman’s work is never done.”

I’m Here to Fill your Krampus-tide Stocking

Don’t forget to leave a penny for Krampus! (Maine State Museum).

Krampus likes lots of odd, pointy, and weird things, so let’s go . . . .

Was a genuine 11th-century Norse penny found in Maine dropped by a Norse explorer, or is it part of a long-time hoax? But would   “Egil Ketilson” have been carrying money? Where was he going to spend it, Skraeling-Mart?

• The initiates of Mithras also kept their secrets well. But they left some buildings, and people try to figure out the religion from those.

“I realized that if I designed my metal band, it would definitely be a pagan feminist folkcore band, which is a Swedish/Norwegian style of metal music. It’s really ambient and loud even though it’s not using as much electricity-style [sic] instruments. I realized that I didn’t know anything about paganism. I was grabbing onto it because it seemed logical for this brand of metal. Slowly, over the years, I started researching goddesses and figuring out that in paganism there is a lot of mathematics and numerology. That instantly peaked [sic] my curiosity because I like working with numbers.”

Being avante-garde these days is such a lot of work.  And you have to learn about runes and electricity and stuff. (Does anyone still say “avante-garde”?)

• “Your eyes appear to have a magical power all of their own”? “You operate at a lower body temperature than the people around you.” You might be descended from Fairies.  Yeah, sure, tell it to Krampus.

A Secular Solstice or Truly “Pagan-ish”?

I saw this sign last Friday at the public library in Pueblo, Colorado, and I liked it for a bunch of reasons.

Sometimes I get tired of the “jolly old elf” and would not mind seeing a more dignified winter monarch(s). For all its other problems, I thought that the Soviet Union’s promotion of (non-religious) “Grandfather Frost” was a pretty good idea. (Here is more about him, with regional variations.)

So has he infiltrated  the public library system? And has the Snow Maiden come along as well?

If she has, I am for it. But then I was the little boy who read Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen” and came away thinking that the Snow Queen was in fact admirable, not the villainess from whom the little boy had to be “saved.”

Meanwhile, our Pueblo Winter King can aspire to equal that Sakut “Khan of Winter” (photo at left).

I have not heard how the metro Denver “solstice war” is playing out this year — here was the 2015 version — but this year’s astronomical solstice is at 1628 GMT, so 0928 Mountain Time, Thursday the 21st. Perfect for drumming-up.

 

Survey on Environmental Values

I know Barbara Davy, and this is legit.

Calling all Pagan and Heathen practitioners. Barbara Jane Davy is surveying Heathens and Pagans on environmental values. To take this 20 minute survey, follow this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/3V3RTGR. The survey goes live today, Wednesday December 13, 2017, and will be open until enough responses are collected, somewhere between two days and two weeks. Please share widely with Heathen and Pagan practitioners.

This study has been reviewed and received ethics clearance through a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Committee (ORE#22450). If you have questions for the committee, contact the Chief Ethics Officer, Office of Research Ethics, at 1-519-888-4567 ext. 36005 or ore-ceo@uwaterloo.ca.

IF you have any questions regarding this study, or would like additional information to assist you in reaching a decision about participation, please contact Barbara Jane Davy at bjdavy@uwaterloo.ca or 226-581-3821, or Stephen Quilley at squilley@uwaterloo.ca or 519-888-4567, ext. 38335.”

Woody Guthrie Got It Wrong

Sunset, 9 December 2017, near Horsethief Falls, Teller County Colorado.

I went camping with some friends last weekend.1)Note the general absence of snow, which is disturbing when you’re up at 10,200 feet (3100 m.. Some of my friends like to have music all the time, so there was a set of Bluetooth-enabled speakers and plenty of digitized music covering the last fifty years of American popular song.

One song was older, however — Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land,” composed in 1940. It’s been covered multiple times by many famous musicians.

Only it hit me this time what an anthropocentric piece of Marxist crap it is.

You have heard the refrain, “This land was made for you and me.” Let’s think about that for a moment. Ol’ Woody, if not a Communist himself — he certainly hung around with them, and he claimed to be one — was expressing Marxist values there:  There is nothing beyond “Man.” No gods, nothing supernatural. “Was made” does not really suggest that presence of a Creator; it’s just a statement of fact: All of this was put here (somehow) for us to use because we are the most important creatures in the world.

Communist, capitalist, what’s the difference when they share this viewpoint?

So I looked up at Sentinel Point and thought, supposing Ol’ Woody had written, “You and I were made for this land”?

It would not scan, for one thing. There would not be the gratifyingly drawn-out me-e-e-e at the end. There is nothing in his lyrics about responsibility or reciprocity; it’s mostly a diatribe against the idea of private property, so it has appealed to generations of disaffected intellectual backpackers.2)Let’s have a show of hands.

But just as a thought experiment, turn it around in your head. “You and I were made for this land.” Wouldn’t we owe the land something? Wouldn’t we have to admit that we were not the only “owners” of it — a concept far beyond in Guthrie’s line about “As I went walking I saw a sign there / And on the sign it said ‘No Trespassing'” (talk about not scanning!)?

The concept of “source of sacred value” is completely un-Marxist, but I have one, and it is not “Man as the highest good.”

The next time I hear that song — and I am sure that I will — I am making that change, and a little pledge.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Note the general absence of snow, which is disturbing when you’re up at 10,200 feet (3100 m.
2. Let’s have a show of hands.