The Story of Three Athames

I have owned three athames in my life — or more precisely two athames plus a new knife that may well become one.

There is a story in here of changing Craft practice.

Actually, the first athame was simply my wooden-handled Mora hunting knife, not in the photo.1)Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price. I cleaned the first deer that I ever killed with it, and it still rides in one of my daypacks.

1 — Then one February 28th in my mid-twenties, I went rabbit hunting on the Pike National Forest west of my home in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I know it was February 28th because that is the last day of the season, and I wanted to get out one more time.

As I recall, I saw no rabbits, but while walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.2)Made in Spain by Muela. Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign. Some god or daemon had given me a ritual knife — terrific!

I walked on — and then I found a cup — an aluminum cup of the kind that come with campware cooking sets.

“This is too much!” I thought. “Where is the pentacle?” (No need to ask about a wand; I was in the forest, after all.)

No pentacle appeared, but I felt somehow honored all the same. The gods or simply the universe had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re in.”

That knife was my athame for several years, and I will still use it sometimes; otherwise, since it takes an edge, it makes a good “white-handled knife.”

2 — But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere. They experimented with psionic “machines” that were said to amplify mental energies, psychic healing, fields of protection, and so on.

He suggested removing all ferrous metal from the ritual circle, and — if you were indoors — turning off the electric power for the duration.

So I had to replace the stainless steel (inox) athame. The high priest of my coven (a different person) found me a piece of very hard bronze. I took it to the HP of another coven, who was also an SCA fighter and an armorer — I would put his articulated steel gauntlets, for example, up against any from the 14th or 15th centuries.

He ground and polished this bronze billet into a full-tang leaf-shaped blade. The crystal in the hilt was my addition — it might help, who knows?

I made some other changes in my practice, becoming more aware of bodily energy flows. And I just liked the idea of bronze. Ah, the Bronze Age. Thuban was the North Star, and those were Shining Times.

Ritual. Long memories,
houses built on poles,
mountains, glaciers, trading parties
of tattooed men and women, faience beads,
packs filled with poppies, tin, and amber
threading through a pass.
Hammered bronze knives. Helen,
mixing her potions,
the blue Aegean stretching
like a storyteller’s breath.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia, Revised and Updated:
Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft

Maybe that was not what my teacher had in mind, but it is where I drifted.

3 — Last year at Yule M. gave me a flint knife. I know where she bought it, at a trade fair in Taos, New Mexico3)Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post, and it was made just down the road by Charlie Acuña of The Stone Edge (say it). For three months it has been sitting on my desk while I think about it.

But where has my practice been heading? More and more to the local level. I have written a little about paying attention to Tlaloc, our regional god of the hydrological cycle, for example. I’ve been working with volunteer crews to clear fallen logs and other debris from Hardscrabble Creek, before the run-off from a large burn scar upstream causes flooding in our communities, which gives me plenty of time to think about the spirit of the creek while adjusting the saw chain tension.

Am I moving backwards from the Bronze Age now? It’s all just dreams and talking to the plants and animals. Doing certain feral things. Letting so much fall away.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price.
2. Made in Spain by Muela.
3. Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post

Books and Movies for a Pagan Mindset

I have been thinking that I needed to add a new category of reviews — not just books etc. deliberately focused on Paganism (which to my mind automatically includes polytheism), but those that promote a Pagan mindset without coming out and saying it.

Go ahead and say it: Pagan-ish.

My first candidate is a movie from last year, Captain Fantastic, starring Vigo Mortensen. Oh, there some hints — check out his necklace. But it is all done in a low-key, positive way.

The Old Ones Built Wisely

equinox sunset

The Sun sets in Equinox Notch, one day before the actual spring equinox.

My house comes with its own solar calendar, sort of. I discovered when M. and I moved here in the 1990s that the equinoctial sunset occurs in a notch formed by the ridge to the west, as viewed from the front porch.

Surely the ancient builders planned this!

Actually, the “ancient builder” was Alan Cook, a minister in the “New Church  (General Convention),” one of the Swedenborgian denominations, who lived from 1893–1984.  He was active as a minister in the 1920s, then came to Colorado to manage a summer resort in Green Mountain Falls, west of Colorado Springs. No longer a minister with a congregation, he still held some Sunday services for the tourists and wrote in a typically Swedenborgian style, which is big on correspondences between the visible world and the Unseen World.

Mountains, as we know, signify exalted states of affection. And God’s love is the most high and exalted of which we know.

Pagan me says no, the natural world was not put here only to provide a moral lesson to us humans, although I can still feel some affinity with a man who wrote,

But the man of spiritual mind should discern the far greater wealth which lies beyond mere nature [sic] and the commercial worth of rock — he may know their soul, and, in a measure at least, he will be able to share that wealth.1)Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

I found a photo of Alan Cook with some other books and materials stored in a crawlspace, and it hangs on the Wall of Ancestors in my study — which was his study too. We do not share theologies, but I like to think he approves the room being filled with a desk and bookcases once again.

Happy Ostara!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

Pagan Basics: How You Talk to Your Food, How You are Buried, and Other Linkage

Graves in the necropolist of Bouc-Bel-Air (Bernard Sillano, Inrap).

The slow abandonment of Pagan religion might be reflected in burials from early medieval France. “Within some of the tombs, the archaeologists discovered objects that suggest the persistence of pagan rites, even though Christianity was becoming more prevalent.” None of the articles that I have read give dates for these burials, so I am guessing they were from earlier than 1000 CE.

Women like the witch archetype because she is powerful. “On some level, all of the contemporary trappings of witchiness tap into that desire to feel powerful.”

Now you know. I suppose that it had to be said, and that my readers are mature enough to deal with this knowledge.

• Be buried in the Neolithic way so that your descendants may venerate you properly. It’s now possible in Britain.

She was a Celtic warrior-woman, in a sense — but not in Britain, Ireland, or Gaul.

“Animism at the Dinner Table.” From Sarah Lawless’ blog — really, this is the basic basic level of a Pagan life. It is more important than pantheons, Lore, texts, dressing up like the ancestors and all the stuff that people get worked up about.

What if we didn’t strive to be like the ancients, whose true ways are long lost and whose skills are beyond many of us at this time, but instead decided to bring the philosophy of animism to the dinner table? What would it look like? To be honest, it would look foolish to an outsider as it would involve talking to plants and animals, talking to our food sources, as if they were sentient and could understand us. Most of the old prayers collected as folklore weren’t really prayers at all, they were people talking to plants and to wild spirits.

Read the rest.

Remembering Ed Steinbrecher and His Esoteric School

Ed Steinbrecher (1980s?)

Looking for something in the bedroom Craft/astrology/Tarot/magick bookshelves this morning, I ran across a copy of Edwin Steinbrecher’s The Guide Meditation. (It’s still available from Samuel Weiser and it’s good.)

I checked with Dr. Google and discovered that Steinbrecher, an astrologer and occult teacher, had passed away in 2002 — here is an obituary from the Los Angeles Times. 

What the obituary does not say is that in between founding his DOME (Dei Omnes Munda Edunt) astrology and meditation center in Santa Fe in 1973 and moving to Los Angeles in 1984, he and co-founder/partner David Benge lived in Colorado Springs for a time.

Imagine a typical 1970s split-level house, with what would be the living room and dining room filled with bookcases — and all the books organized by zodiacal sign, so that gardening, for instance, would be in the Virgo section. So much more mystical than my habit of putting, say, all the books on Colorado and New Mexico history together! (What Sun sign would encompass them?)

M. and I attended various talks and workshops at the DOME house. Ed was passionate about astrology, and this was the time in my life when I was deepest into it. Later, under pressure of graduate school, etc., I decided that something had to give, and that something was astrology, so I stopped doing people’s charts — these days, I might manage to check my transits once in a while. The last astrology lecture I heard was by Liz Greene (who is one of the best Jungian astrologers) in 2004.

But his Inner Guide Meditation system has a Tarot connection, and that is drawing me back to it. It will be intriguing to re-read the book.

Old Norse Sounds Better in Wyoming

Via Word Origins.

CFP: Religion, Myth and Migration (Ireland)

Sixth Annual Conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR)

Hosted by Waterford Institute of Technology

Religion, Myth and Migration

Friday 16th June 2017

We are pleased to invite scholars to take part in the sixth annual conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), themed ‘Religion, Myth and Migration’. Religious traditions often draw on powerful myths which make sense of their cosmological, as well as their historical, social and geo-political position. These myths frequently involve migration, from the biblical Exodus to the Islamic Hegira, to various migratory foundation narratives in new religious movements. As religions travel, so do myths, with new forms being created over time. The physical migration of peoples means that their religions travel with them to new geographical and cultural milieus and now, in a globalised world, knowledge is transmitted and ‘migrates’ in ways that are tied in with rapid advancements in technology and information exchanges. With President Donald Trump’s recent ban on Muslim migration, the challenges of Brexit, and movement of refugees and economic migrants around the world, the religious landscapes are swiftly changing. Conceptualising ‘myth’ and ‘migration’ in the broadest sense, conference participants will discuss, reflect upon and explore these themes in relation to changing religious landscapes and the Society invites papers and contributions on areas such as:

• Migration of religions and associated myths
• Myths of religious migration and foundation myths
• Folk religion, folklore and migrant legends
• Migration of peoples, cultures and religious change
• Imaginaries/imaginaires of religious migration (cultural fears, racist agendas and religions)
• Myths within religions
• Migration of religious ideas

Scholars working in Ireland are free to submit a paper proposal on any aspect of religion in any context and, as always, we welcome presentations on research on religions in Ireland from scholars worldwide.

Call for papers: Please submit your proposal in the form of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words).

Call for slam contributions: We invite ‘slam’ contributions for a maximum duration of 6 minutes on in-progress research, new projects and publications, research networks and new programmes. Please submit a title and brief description of your slam (max. 150 words).

Both paper and slam proposals are to be submitted via email to isasrconference2017@gmail.com by the deadline of 10th March 2017. Notification of abstract/slam acceptance will be given by 27th March 2017.

Please bear in mind that papers should contribute to the aims of the ISASR as set out in the Society’s constitution, specifically that ‘The main object [is] to advance education through the academic study of religions by providing a forum for scholarly activity (…). The Society is a forum for the critical, analytical and cross-cultural study of religions, past and present. It is not a forum for confessional, apologetical, interfaith or other similar concerns’.

The final programme will be posted on the ISASR website

Survey: Pagan Spirituality in Resilience

I am passing this survey information on from a colleague:

My name is David Christy, I am currently a Ph.D. student in the Pastoral Counseling department at Loyola University Maryland. Several years ago I participated in a series of conversations at Pantheacon focused on the needs of the Pagan community. One of the most pressing needs identified was for increased understanding of our community among mental health professionals. As most of you probably know studies of religion and spirituality have been picking up steam the field of psychology. However, few researchers are looking at non-Abrahamic traditions and issues. I’m trying to change that, and I hope you will help me.

I am currently conducting a study that examines the role of spirituality in resilience. I am especially interested in reaching out to the Pagan community since we are so underrepresented in the research literature (despite the fact that we’re the second fasted growing religious group in the US). Please consider taking this survey and boosting the signal by sharing it with others in your communities.

Participation involves responding to a number of forms, checklists, and questionnaires relating to your experience, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior, as well as providing non-identifying demographic information. These instruments include attitudinal surveys, activity checklists, and self-report measures. It should take approximately 30 minutes to complete all the measures. If you are interested in participating either click on the link below or copy and paste it into a web browser. Please also feel free to share the link to this study.

https://loyola.co1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_bQrcCnJIHm1ScF7

If you have any questions or concerns about this study, please contact me at the address listed below. This study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at Loyola University Maryland. You may contact the IRB at 410-617-2004.

David Christy, M.Div.
Primary Investigator
Department of Pastoral Counseling
Loyola University Maryland
8890 McGaw Road, Suite 280
Columbia, MD 20145
dchristy@loyola.edu

Leading Magazine Endorses Renaissance Magic

For a special issue on “Planet Trump,” the British news magazine The Economist turns to the Tarot.

On the Wheel of Fortune, for example, you can see (if I read them right) French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen (rising), German chancellor Angela Merkel (falling) and Dutch politican Geert Wilders, already described by some as “the Donald Trump of the Netherlands.”

Like Trump or hate him, I can’t think of a better recent example of the Tarot used to illustrate contemporary politics — a use for which it is well-suited.

I had to have this for my Tarot file, so I went to the newsstand and spent my $14 for it.

You have to wonder if the designer knew the phrase “greater trumps” and decided to have some fun with it. For the record, “trumps” in the Tarot sense comes from the word “triumph,” which goes back to Latin. The surname Trump apparently comes from a word meaning “maker of trumpets” (English) or “drum” (German), says Wikipedia.

The Passing of Sára Cunningham

Another key figure in the American Craft Scene of the 1960s–70s slipped away in December 2016: Lady Sára Cunningham(19352016).1)Also known as Sara Cunningham Carter.

Sara Cunningham and dog

This photo may be in the house that Hans Holzer described. (From the Perfume Alchemy website.)

It seems like almost everyone profiled in Hans Holzer’s 1972 book The New Pagans2)A important survey of the American Pagan movement at that time, it predated Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon by seven years, although it was nowhere near as in-depth a study. is gone now, starting with “Professor” Holzer himself (1920–2009).  Fred Adams, Svetlana Butyrin Adams, Harold Moss, Louise Huebner, Leo Martello . . . lots of colorful characters. Ubi Sunt?

Holzer opens his passage about Sára Cunningham3)The accent mark on her name seemd to come and go, but Holzer used it. thus:

When I first met Sára a few years ago she was living in the Hollywood hills in a delightful semidilapidated house that even the most experienced taxi drivers had difficulty locating. The house was filled to the brim with the paraphernalia of witchcraft, ranging from herbs, dried ritual objects, even animals, to books and the tools of her witchcraft trade. For Sára was then, and is now, a teacher in the ancient art of witchcraft. Her pupils  range from students eager to learn the occult through the backdoor, so to speak, rather than at U.C.L.A. to such motion-picture luminaries as Susan Cabot and June Lockhart. These people weren’t necessarily practicing witches, but they came to listen to Sára as friends and because they were interested in the many aspects of the occult in which Sára Cunningham is an expert.

In 1970, together with Don Harrison and Harold Moss, she formed the neo-Egyptian Church of the Eternal Source.4)They were also involved with founding the umbrella group Covenant of the Goddess, which leaned more Wiccan. She was also known for her perfumes and incenses, of which you can read more at the Perfume Alchemy website.

For some reason, she moved in the mid-1970s to Boulder, Colorado, where I, still in my “Pagan seeker” phase, found her somehow and visited several times. But she was not destined to be my teacher. Maybe I was the wrong gender; she seemed to do better with female students. I would get to know two of them — one a graduate student in anthropology and one who taught Romance languages for a time and then became a writer. Both built on what they learnt from Sára about incenses, etc., in building their own businesses.

Not long after I met her, Sáea returned to the West Coast and eventually lived in southern Oregon. But there was one fascinating side to her that I had never known until now:

Lady Sara was also life-long secretary to Peruvian princess and diva Yma Sumac (1922-2008), the “Sun Virgin”, who became an international success for her extreme vocal range, which was well over four octaves. Sara’s collection of “The Peruvian Nightengale’s” publicity shots is preserved here: http://www.sunvirgin.com/

Notes   [ + ]

1. Also known as Sara Cunningham Carter.
2. A important survey of the American Pagan movement at that time, it predated Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon by seven years, although it was nowhere near as in-depth a study.
3. The accent mark on her name seemd to come and go, but Holzer used it.
4. They were also involved with founding the umbrella group Covenant of the Goddess, which leaned more Wiccan.