Pagan Superheroes Cut Down Forest, Regret It Later

A newly discovered piece of the epic of Gilgamesh includes a sort of ecological theme. It’s in a museum in Kurdish territory—another reason why they need their own country.

The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest narratives in the world, got a surprise update last month when the Sulaymaniyah Museum in the Kurdistan region of Iraq announced that it had discovered 20 new lines of the Babylonian-Era poem of gods, mortals, and monsters. Since the poem has existed in fragments since the 18th century BC, there has always been the possibility that more would turn up. And yet the version we’re familiar with — the one discovered in 1853 in Nineveh — hasn’t changed very much over recent decades. The text remained fairly fixed — that is, until the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and the intense looting that followed yielded something new.

Read the rest.

In Which I Go on Vacation

vintage bar2 96dpi

Yes, an actual vacation, nine time zones away — and no laptop computer. Giving up the MacBook was like giving up alcohol and caffeine. It meant that I could not work on writing or editing; therefore, I was truly on vacation.

What was left was the tried and true —notebooks for writing a travel journal and for jotting down things that I would do later, when I was home. Not now. What a concept.

OK, so I did take an iPhone for email and photos. But I think that was the first long trip without a computer since . . . 2004.

Now it all starts up again, including this blog . . . soon. Thanks for your patience.

Someday, Pagans Will Have Harlem’s Problem Too

I have been hearing of this for a while — “spiritual tourism” in Harlem.

Although gospel music is part of the heritage and spirit of the neighbourhood, some have suggested that scenes in local churches are starting to resemble a Hollywood movie. Tourists visiting have become an issue of contention, to the extent that some are now shut out of services.

Shrinking from gentrification on one side, some of Harlem’s well-known historically black churches, famous for their gospel choirs, are overwhelmed on the other side by tourists (many of them European, I am told).

Others report that their church stopped letting tourists come to services because of the disrespect and rudeness they exhibited. For example, in some cases, as soon as the “praise and worship” or music ended, they got up and left.

The scale is much, much, much smaller, but I think back to the Wiccan wedding that M. and I conducted here in Colorado in the 1980s for an American guy and his Thai bride — they met while students at Colorado College.

Her relatives orbited the circle like electrons, camcorders whirring. It really put me off. I was not used to multiple electronic devices during ritual — not “in circle,” but “right outside of circle.”

The bride’s father was some kind of United Nations functionary — he lived in Italy — and after the wedding he did take us all to a Thai restaurant in Denver, where he ordered without reference to the printed menu, and we had a delicious feast, while his daughter made sarcastic remarks about the king of Thailand, whose portrait hung on the wall.

That made up for the uncomfortable ritual just a little.

But imagine if Pagan ritual theatre begins to attrach attention outside our community. We will have to adapt. Some already have — watch this video of a recent Greek Pagan procession through shopping and entertainment districts of Athens. As opposed to lining up in rows in pews, I think that the procession is a quintessential Pagan large-group ritual. And maybe some day the tour buses will be there too.

New Issue of The Pomegranate Published

Pom coverThe newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has been published online and is at the printer.

Book reviews may be downloaded free. There is a charge for longer articles — or request them (after an interval) from your library’s interlibrary loan service.

Table of Contents:

Essay “Pagan Studies: In Defense of Pluralism” by Douglas Ezzy

Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism” by Gwendolyn Reece

“’You Took My Spirit Captive among the Leaves’: The Creation of Blodeuwedd in Re-Imaginings of the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi” by Cara Bartels-Bland

“Conversion as Colonization: Pagan Reconstructionism and Ethnopsychiatry by Anne Ferlat

Field Report: “The Cult of Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous Gods in Brazilian Wicca: Symbols and Practices” by Daniela Cordovil

Book Reviews

Douglas Ezzy, Sex, Death and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014), 204 pp., $112 (hardback).
Jodie Ann Vann

Zohreh Kermani, Pagan Family Values: Childhood and the Religious Imagination in Contemporary American Paganism (New York: New York University Press, 2013), 235 pp., $27.00 (paper)
Michelle Mueller     

Liang Cai, Witchcraft and the Rise of the First Confucian Empire (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014), 288 pp., $85.00 (hardback) $27.95 (paperback).
Shawn Arthur      

Graham Harvey, ed., The Handbook of Contemporary Animism (Durham: Acumen, 2013), 544 pp., $44.95 (paper), $140 (cloth).
Susan Greenwood

John Bodel and Saul M. Olyan, eds., Household and Family Religion in Antiquity (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008), 346 pp., $50.95 (paper).
Caroline J. Tully    

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.