Academic Publisher Introduces Camouflaged Editions?

I was one of the outside readers1 for a volume in Cambridge University Press’s enormous “Elements” series, The New Witches of the West, by Ethan Doyle White. (Link is to Amazon US) To find that title, go to the main page and drill down from Religion to New Religious Movements.

I was supposed to be paid in book credit, but when I went to order my chosen books, there were computer problems. (Interestingly, as I write this, the press’s website announces, “Last updated 27/06/24: Online ordering is currently unavailable due to technical issues.”) So I wrangled a cash payment and ordered the book I most wanted from, yes, Amazon.

In late June I received a complimentary copy of The New Witches of the West. I read the back-cover text then opened the book, only to find myself reading one of the “Elements in the Philosophy of Biology,” namely Social Darwinism by Jeffrey O’Connell and Michael Ruse.

This Element is a philosophical history of Social Darwinism. It begins by discussing the meaning of the term, moving then to its origins, paying particular attention to whether it is Charles Darwin or Herbert Spencer who is the true father of the idea. It gives an exposition of early thinking on the subject, covering Darwin and Spencer themselves and then on to Social Darwinism as found in American thought, with special emphasis on Andrew Carnegie, and Germany with special emphasis on Friedrich von Bernhardi. Attention is also paid to outliers, notably the Englishman Alfred Russel Wallace, the Russian Peter Kropotkin, and the German Friedrich Nietzsche. From here we move into the twentieth century looking at Adolf Hitler – hardly a regular Social Darwinian given he did not believe in evolution – and in the Anglophone world, Julian Huxley and Edward O. Wilson, who reflected the concerns of their society.

This got me to thinking. Just a glitch in the print-on-demand system (assuming CUP are doing that)? A one-time glitch, or did multiple copies ship out with the mismatched cover and contents?

There are, sadly, regions in Academia where it might be safer to be seen with a book on witchcraft (providing it is transgressive, stunning, and brave) rather than one containing names like N******* and H*****. Maybe this is just like the pre-smartphone days when kids pretended to read their large hardbound social studies book (or whatever) in class while secreting a comic book inside. Fake book covers are still a cottage industry.

  1. That job involves assessing an author’s proposal or manuscript and making suggestions for improvement. []

20 Years of British Paganism: Free Zoom Lecture with Glastonbury-based Writer Liz Williams

Liz Williams is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Glastonbury, England, where she is co-director of a witchcraft supply business. She has been published by Bantam Spectra (US) and Tor Macmillan (UK), also Night Shade Press and appears regularly in Asimov’s and other magazines. She has been involved with the Milford SF Writers’ Workshop for over 25 years, and also teaches creative writing at a local college for Further Education. Miracles of Our Own Making: A History of Paganism (2020 Reaktionbooks) is based in scholarly literature but written for an audience of anyone. Many will also have read Williams’ occasional columns at The Wild Hunt. Join us as she talks about life in Glastonbury as a Pagan and also the development and direction of UK Paganism over the last 20 years. 

Free of charge and open to all.


‘Lodge Tales’ Is a Native American Paranormal Podcast

My overall favorite paranormal podcast is Timothy Renner’s Strange Familiars, which now has logged 465 episodes.

Its style is low-key. Usually people discuss their experiences with “the Other” in conversation with the host. Sometimes he and a friend or two take a late-night walk on the Appalachian Trail or another locale in south central Pennsylvania looking for strange lights, sounds, and sightings. In others, his wife, Alison, discusses with him notable long-ago crimes, paranormal experiences, and Timothy’s personal favorite—the life stories of 19th-century hermits and “wild men.”

Some time back a man from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana named Rod Williamson came on to share his stories. He must have been a regular listener who decided “I can do this too,” because he started his own podcast, Lodge Tales, which is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Red Circle, and elsewhere. And of course there is a Patreon page, where he writes,

I’m a Native American from the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana. I’ve always had an interest in ghost stories and strange encounters. Today I go out and interview fellow Natives about their experiences in these areas. Join us!

Lodge Tales is a place where Native Americans can share their experiences of the supernatural, paranormal, bigfoot, ufos, or anything that comes up!

I have listened to a number of Lodge Tales episodes since Timothy Renner promo’d it on his podcast. So far, Williamson has gotten a lot of material just from family and friends there in Montana. Some of the stories sound similar to those told by the people who appear on Strange Familiars, including encounters with Bigfoot and other unusual animals.

One difference is that an early interviewee was a Blackfeet cop, whose description of multiple police units responding to a
Goatman” sighting has become the podcast’s intro. (The first officer jumps on the radio, and he screams out, ‘Holy ****!”)

The Town Pump fuel station-convenience store in Browning, Montana, is the site of a “devil” being caught on CCTV. The figure enters the back seat of a car that later wrecks, with the driver being killed (Google Street View).

While many stories fit into the “North American paranormal” range, some are culturally distinctive. Interviewees often have stories involving hauntings at old Indian boarding schools, for example, while a young woman working in a nursing home plagued with mysterious voices declares that co-workers smudged it every month, but the voices kept returning, so they were going to try a more powerful ceremony.

Terryn (guest): “Little hands kind of like drug me up [from a stream]. . . I could see a little tiny trail [to my aunt’s house]. I feel like Little People helped me. They scare me at the same time; but at the same time they helped me and my brother to cross rivers, which is weird.

Rod (host): Little People . . . I’m really intrigued by them. They really help us a lot. I’ve heard good stories about them — and bad ones. They’re everywhere, in every country, not just here. They look like different things, too. Ours look like little Indians, like little shrunk Indians. I’m really fascinated by these stories. . . . There was something they seen in you that was worth their while, to take pity on you

. Lodge Tales, Episode 9, “Terryn and Mike”

Are there truly cultural differences in paranormal phenomena? Maybe kind-of sort-of, but “The Phenomenon” is so slippery to begin with that it is hard to say.

One thing that I appreciate about Lodge Tales geographical. It seems like most of American paranormal podcasting and video-making centers on the southern Appalachian Mountains. So it’s good to get something from the Rocky Mountains too.

Of Animals —  Magical and Cryptic

A new issue of the Hellbore zine, No. 11, “The Animal Issue” has been published. Real life is trying to keep up. (See below.)

Hellebore is available from a few shops in the UK or by mail.

Hares that are witches in disguise, ravens with prophetic powers, sacrificial wrens representing the god-king. Animals are often included in folk horror narratives because of their symbolic traits, or because of the folk beliefs surrounding them. Historically, animals have been understood as objects of cult worship, deities or devils incarnate, witches’ companions, omen bringers. They’ve also been re-imagined as hybrids, chimeras, and cryptids.

In this issue we tell tales of hares, moonlight, and madness, of half-glimpsed uncanny felines and the demon king of cats, of monstrous serpents with an appetite for destruction, of seemingly unassuming yet all-powerful toads. From the Isle of Man to the flatlands of Suffolk, the animals in these stories rise from the forest, from the field, from the waters, to re-enchant the landscape of these isles.

Elizabeth Dearnley’s article “Running with Hares” at least acknowledges North American jackrabbits (true hares). Nothing about Lepus americanus, the snowshoe hare — maybe we need to investigate its magical side.

TImothy Grieve-Carlson writes on the long British tradition of mysterious big cats on an island that is not supposed to have any wild cat larger than the Scottish wild cat, and there are not too many of those.

But wait! There is news about DNA samples from a sheep in Cumbria (NW England) that revealed the presence of something larger. “‘The Beast of Cumbria’ – Big cat DNA confirmed to be on sheep carcass” reads one recent headline.

Somehow I do not think that the old “escaped from a zoo” explanation is adequate anymore.

New Issue of The Pomegranate

Links to articles from the newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, (vol. 24, no. 2). These articles are paywalled — but you know a librarian, don’t you? If you don’t, you should.

Four Notable Books in Pagan Studies

From Reading Religion, the book review website of the American Academy of Religion, a post by Ethan Doyle White, who writes,

From Wiccan covens assembling in English drawing rooms to Rodnover midsummer gatherings in rural Russia, the modern Pagan religions represent a fascinating and diverse component of our contemporary religious landscape. Although their age, numerical size, and comparative cultural marginality leaves them outside the so-called “world religions”’ that attract the bulk of our attentions, I strongly believe that this family of new religious movements warrants far greater understanding among scholars of religion. In particular, these traditions offer us important insights into the modern reception of Europe’s pre-Christian heritage, into the construction of new religions, and into the complex interplay of gendered, ethnic, and religious identities in the 21st century.

As co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series, I am happy to have acquired one of the four, Jefferson Calico’s Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America.

Calico’s Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America is interesting in part because he was approaching Heathenry as a non-practitioner, something that set his work apart from much of the ethnographic research on modern Pagan traditions that had gone before. One of the things I particularly appreciated about Calico’s book was the attention he gave to issues of class, a topic often overlooked in academic studies of modern Paganism. Like the earlier work of Mattias Gardell, Calico’s project also highlighted the role of white nationalism and related far-right ideologies within certain sectors of the American Pagan milieu, an issue many other scholars had avoided.

If you are reading this blog, you have probably read The Triumph of the Moon, but all of these are worthwhile — I need to find Kimberly Kirner’s American Druidry now.

Spiritual Drama and the April 8th Eclipse

Religion scholar Bron Taylor, University of Florida who has worked mostly in the non-theistic side of nature religion, a.k.a “dark green religion,” is interviewed about spiritual interpretations of the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse.

To him, it’s partly about re-enchantment:

“People are on their own pilgrimages, and they’re trying to work out their meaning systems,” Taylor said. “This widespread fascination with the eclipse is a prime example of a turn toward the re-sacralization of nature.”

Read it all here.

“The wild world has something to say to us,” Taylor said, “and we should be listening.”

“Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals”

A screenshot from Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals, a video about the saint and the explosion of the secular holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

Jenny Butler, a Pagan-studies scholar from University College Cork, appears at 3:00 and elsewhere to speak up for the “Pagan” dimension of the story.

Requires free Vimeo account.

Imbolc on Ice

Look south from Bennett Avenue, the bi-level main street of Cripple Creek, Colorado, across Poverty Gulch (once lined by the saloons and brothels of Myers Avenue), and there it sits, like the citadel of the Ice King.

At 9,494 feet (2,894 m.), the early February winds are still cutting and only the lengthening day suggests any turn toward spring. M. and I, plus my Pagan cousin and her partner, fortified ourselves with food and drink in a crowded restaurant and then zipped up all zippers and headed for the Ice Castle at our designated 6 p.m. entrance time.

The restaurant’s Facebook page said that they were so busy with Ice Castle visitors that they were not taking reservations, but we snagged a table by showing up at 4:30, ahead of the dinner rush.

This castle is a commercial venture. I had seen earlier versions in the ski town of Silverthorne in the 20-teens,and thought it would be cool-no-pun-intended to visit, but I was always on my way to or from somewhere else. Now we had our chance at Candlemas season. I like it when the Sacred Wheel matches up with popular activities, even when the coincidence is not planned.

Daytime must be different, but at night the Ice Castle hits the same sort of Underworld vibe that I get sometimes in Taos at PASEO, the fall art festival, when clumps of dark-clad people walk dim Spanish colonial streets until suddenly illuminated by the flare of a flaming gate or a giant robot or an art work projected onto high adobe walls. (See “The Robot God and the Underworld  Gate.”)

So it was sort of like that but without the writhing silent-rave dancers. There was feasting and good conversation and then a chance to stock my memory with images and sensations.

Cripple Creek is a small place, compared to its height c. 1900 when there were three railroads plus street cars and belching smokestacks. I walked Marco the dog around a little, strolling past some of the buildings I visited during a long-ago bout of ghost-hunting, back before the casinos came in. Those visits produced a little book, Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek, which in terms of copies sold is probably my biggest commercial success. Out of print now, but I see it is still on Amazon. (The photo was taken from the driveway of astrologer Linda Goodman’s house.)