Not Dead and the House Is Still Standing


Great-great-uncle Fred,
a dapper Old West sportin’ gent.

Sorry about the lack of content. Everything went topsy-turvy on the 17th and is just now returning to normal, or to a “new normal.”

I left home on the 11th for a trip to eastern North Dakota to go grouse hunting with an old friend who himself was facing heart surgery on the 24th. It’s a thousand-mile drive each way, but I have done it for seven of the last eight years. Lots of restful prairie driving (perfect for audiobooks!), and I can chose a route where the biggest city I go through is Pierre, South Dakota.

This year I tacked on a day and drove via Miles City, Montana, a place that I had never visited but where a number of my paternal grandmother’s relatives lived—her uncles and brothers.

One was to see sites associated with my great-great-uncle, whose résumé in the 1870s and 1880s apparently included civilian Army scout, buffalo hunter, saloon-keeper, occasional deputy sheriff, and landlord of and probably silent partner in a couple of  “boarding houses” for young ladies. My cousins and I are trying to sort it out. (He ended up peacefully retired in Pasadena and left my grandmother a nice inheritance from the money he made “in real estate.”) There is a street named after him, a minor street in a residential area.


Entering North Dakota from Montana on I-94.

I bought a bottle of Montana whiskey to toast Uncle Fred.  Another day’s drive east brought me to a little town dominated by grain elevators, where my old friend G. fetched up about 14 years ago.

We had a couple of days together; then on Monday the 17th my phone woke me with an emergency call. My little rural fire department was being called (at 6:30 a.m.) to assist with a “100-acre grass fire.” The location was roughly west from my house, conditions were dry, and a strong west wind was blowing, I knew. My guts turned to water.

More calls followed. The fire was blowing up: 9,000 acres. 10,000 acres.1)4046 ha. I could not reach M. at first, but eventually she called (after I was already packed and on the road south) to say she was preparing to leave for a motel in a nearby town as soon as the sheriff’s deputies said she had to go right now. I did not try to reach anyone on the fire department, just texted the chief and told him that I was two days away but on the move. I told M. to pack my wildland fire gear: “Just grab everything yellow.”

What do you do magically in such a case? Something sprang spontaneously to my mind as I drove — a giant Smokey Bear, skycraper-size, standing with shovel at the ready at a key road junction.

That sounds sort of comic book-ish, but it works for me. When I learned something about ceremonial magic in my twenties, I realized that my first (and to that time, only) experience of “assuming the god form” was as a 9- or 10-year-old  wearing the Smokey Bear costume on the Forest Service float during parades in Rapid City, SD.

Smokey was created by a commercial artists, but what the heck, he is a demi-god by now. At least to me.

Magical work should be reinforced by material-plane work. The worst of the fire was over by the time I got home, but I still put in a day and a half on an engine crew, plus another day doing engine maintenance etc. at the fire house

The station also functioned as a disaster-assistance center, with various agencies setting up help centers there. In such cases, you are always overwhelmed with donated food. So I took a platter of two-day-old barbequed pork up to the wildlife rehabilitation center that I frequently mention on the other blog.

They have a couple of bear cubs that they are fattening ahead of an early-winter release. The BBQ was a welcome high-calorie treat.

“Thank you!” said the woman who runs it.

“Not me,” I said. “Thank Smokey.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. 4046 ha

Pentagram Pizza: Toppings Begone!

pentagrampizzaThe Roman Catholic Church in the United States reports a shortage of exorcists, says a British newspaper.

In lengthy interviews with The Telegraph, the two exorcists discuss how the increase in drug and pornography addiction, failure of the mental healthcare system and a rise in popularity of “pagan activities”, such as using a Ouija board to summon the dead, are among the factors contributing to the huge increase in demand for the Rite.

¶ The title says it: “Why It’s So Damn Difficult to Discuss Occult Topics in the Media.” Of course, if “occult” means hidden, then “media” means the opposite of hidden, and there could just be some tension there.

¶ “Grounding” or “earthing” is not just a magical exercise: it can actually heal your body when done with real earth. Science!

Got Ghosts with Your Historic House?

When I was handling the sale of my mother’s Arizona home after her death, the real estate agent and I were perched on the kitchen counters doing the paperwork, because the furniture had already been moved out.

Working through a long sale-listing questionnaire, I came to a question asking if the property were haunted. “You’re kidding!” I said.

“Oh no,” he said. “That’s Arizona law. You have to disclose if the house might be haunted. It’s based on a court case from some years back.”

I checked “No.”

But what if you are the buyer? You have found, perhaps, your perfect restoration project. “Everything is going smoothly until your electrician meets you at the top of the basement stairs and tells you you’re going to have to find another electrician. He’s not going down in the basement again. Ever.”

So writes M. Elwell Romancito in a recent issue of Enchanted Homes, a slick magazine of Taos, New Mexico-area real estate ads published by the Taos News. Also known as Melody Romancito, she is an artist, muscian, journalist, audio-video editor, ghost hunter and exorcist, which just goes to show that to live the bohemian life in a place like Taos, you need a few arrows in your quiver.

Her suggestions range from tidying tools and clearing remodeling trash (“This goes a long toward appeasing spirits who take to hiding tools.”) to keeping a journal of times, dates, and nature of each paranormal occurrance.

Antique furniture should also be regarded with suspicion: “Inquire about the history of an item before buying it.”

While “several locals have reported that bringing in Tibetan Buddhists for a house clearing . . . has been effective,” if things get tough, contact some other religious leader or “do a Google search for ‘Taos psychic medium.'”

I tried that and got 10,600 hits. Of course, a lot of them were actually in Santa Fe.

Folktales and Human Migration

An interesting article from Scientific American, in which the author breaks several folktales, like the origin of the contellation Ursa Major—the “Cosmic Hunt”—into memes and then treats them in a sort of genetic way, to see if they match up with ancient human migrations, to the extent that we understand those.

Carl Jung, the founding father of analytic psychology, believed that myths appear in similar forms in different cultures because they emerge from an area of the mind called the collective unconscious. “Myths are first and foremost psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul,” Jung argued. But the dissemination of Cosmic Hunt stories around the world cannot be ex­­plained by a universal psychic structure. If that were the case, Cosmic Hunt stories would pop up everywhere. Instead they are nearly absent in Indonesia and New Guinea and very rare in Australia but present on both sides of the Bering Strait, which geologic and archaeological evidence indicates was above water between 28,000 and 13,000 B.C. The most credible working hypothesis is that Eurasian ancestors of the first Americans brought the family of myths with them.

Read it all (with graphics): “Scientists Trace Society’s Myths to Primordial Origins

Wild Men of Europe

I mentioned Charles Fréger’s book Wilder Mann: The Image Of The Savage three years ago, but here is a magazine article with a selection of the photos.

The article’s author writes,

As it happens, I’ve attended pagan rituals myself, in rural Austria, and I’ve met men who work on their intricate, large, wooden Krampus masks all year long in preparation for the fantastical Krampus “performance” in early December. I mention this as a prelude to explaining that (in my opinion) telling the difference between some authentic pagan belief and just people partaking in a fun pastime isn’t a straightforward proposition. It isn’t that such people are necessarily undertaking such rituals in order appease the earth goddess Erda and improve next year’s crop yield or anything like that, but at the same time I think that participants and spectators alike would agree that everyone is getting something necessary out of it, something communal, something emotional.

Well no, we would not want to think that it was actually religious, would we? On the other hand, indigenous religions don’t require creeds. Some people go to the ceremony for the “something emotional” only, and that’s all right.

Call for Papers: Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World

Information on the upcoming Family, Home, and Ways of Life: Living Paganisms in a Globalized World conference in Krakow, Poland, 24-25 March 2017, may be found at this link.

Presentations may address various issues within the following (suggested) topics:

  • Everyday life of contemporary Pagans
  • Understanding human relationships: from till death do us part to polyamory
  • Living in a Pagan family: the ‘second/third generation’ Pagans
  • Celebrating rites de passage in contemporary Paganism
  • Pagan fashion on a daily basis and ritual dress-codes
  • Pagan home altars, sacred images in the home
  • Sacred space: public and private
  • Upbringing children in Pagan traditions
  • Are there any specific Pagan hobbies? Music, historical re-enactment, etc.
  • Pagans and the Television: Game of Thrones, Vikings, etc.
  • Reading preferences & contemporary Pagan literature
  • Pagans and new technologies
  • Pagans in the workplace
  • Paganism and/vs globalization and consumerism

Sex, Kids, and the Witch’s Bible

In mid-20th-century America, the public face of anthropology was Margaret Mead (1901–1978). As her Wikipedia biography states, “Her reports detailing the attitudes towards sex in South Pacific and Southeast Asian traditional cultures influenced the 1960s sexual revolution.”

Her distinctive cape and long walking stick became part of her public persona, which as we now crassly say, “helped to build her brand.”

Her best-known book was Coming of Age in Samoa, published in 1928. Forty years later, paperback copies of it were everywhere, in every literate household, it seemed. Even my mother had a copy, although she would have rejected Mead’s approving description of teenaged Samoans happily slipping onto each other’s sleeping mats in the middle of the night. When I tried to read it as a teenager (having no background in anthropology then), my reaction not surprisingly was, “I wish I lived in Samoa.”

After Mead’s death, some anthropologists stated that she had been conned, that teenaged Samoan girls had filled their twenty-something American visitor’s notebooks with their fantasies, and that their society was by no means as free and easy about premarital sex as Mead reported. The arguments continue.

What popular culture (except my mother) took away from the book was simpler: It is more healthy for teens to have sex than not.

Utopian sexual ideas were in the air, as they have been at other times. Many other times. Consider the 19th century, for example: the Oneida Community with its doctrine of “complex marriage” or Joseph Smith’s re-invention of polygamy for himself and his inner circle of LDS followers.

In Complex Marriage, every man was married to every woman and vice versa. This practice was to stay only within the community and had to stay within two main guidelines. The first was that before the man and woman could cohabit, they had to obtain each other’s consent through a third person or persons. Secondly, no two people could have exclusive attachment with each other because it would be selfish and idolatrous.

Similar and new ideas both popped up in the 20th century. Your high school reading assignments might have included Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931),  but I doubt that they would have included his utopian sex-and-spirituality-and-entheogens novel, Island (1962). It was popular on college campuses nevertheless, published the same year as another popular novel about sexuality, The Harrad Experiment.1)Harvard + Radcliffe, get it? I could go on and on with examples, but this is just a blog post.

Colleges and universities were dropping the old rules about curfews for women’s dorms, etc. — even the whole idea of gender-separate dorms. As a student in the 1970s, I saw the walls falling faster than I ever would have imagined.2)Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.

Not just marriage needed redesigning — see Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) and Stranger in a Strange Land(1961)3)Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases. — but young people did not have to wait for marriage to have sex —not that all of them ever had.

In very few years, we went from trying to constrain teen sex to trying to find ways to make it better — up until about 1969, unmarried women and girls of any age found it hard to get birth control pills or IUDs,  but the pendulum swung quickly.

Intellectuals kept a drumbeat in favor of youthful sexuality: consider Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger (1970) or  anarchist philosopher/psychotherapist Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society (1960), both of which touched on “sexual repression.”

All this is prelude to some thoughts about the reaction to Gavin Frost’s death at the beginning of the week. His and Yvonne’s Facebook page — and their daughter’s — were filled with condolences and fond memories.

At The Wild Hunt, however,  the trolls came crawling out from under the furniture.4)There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.

Someone whose soul must still be in middle school starts out, “From what I’ve heard the guy was a creep.”  Yes, it’s the Great Dildo Controversy that refuses to die, even though some of the most outraged virtue warriors probably were not yet born when it occurred, let alone they have never met the Frosts.

People who do know them are likely to respond as did Peg Aloi on Patheos: “I’ve known Gavin and Yvonne for many years, and have always enjoyed their joie de vivre, intelligent conversation and gentle good will toward others. ”

In one version of the humorously named Witch’s Bible —probably a dig both at the Christian version and Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1969) they suggested that to ease a girl’s first experience of penetrative sex, the parents beforehand should, if necessary, help her to stretch the hymen artificially.

This was another “what if?” idea, like Heinlein’s “line marriage.” Their daughter, Jo, who was a young girl at the time, has insisted vociferously that it was never proposed for her.

Part of their whole approach to teaching was to toss out ideas and say, “Try this and tell us how it goes.” If it was a good one, it would go into later lessons. If not, no.

Unfortunately for their timing, the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was followed by a pendulum swing the other way, so that we are now a point where it is considered “dangerous” if kids walk to school, or ride in the front seat of the family car before they reach age 16, or are exposed to controversial ideas in college.5)But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.

So now we get Pagan mob mentality, all based on “I knew someone who talked to someone who said she knew someone who was molested by someone who had read one of the Frosts’ books.” With evidence like that, how could a lynch mob go wrong?

To quote Jo Frost on her Facebook page,

Yes, my father wrote and said controversial things that challenged you and your beliefs. . . . Armchair histrionics does not equal “warrior”– what does it say for your legacy that you stood on the shoulders of giants only to tear at them? Go get your own legacy and get the h up and do actual good works.

And, the horror, they were accused of running a “monotheistic sex cult” by one of these faceless social-media critics, which merely goes to show that (a) the writer does not know the difference between monotheism and Neoplatonic monism and should stay out of theological discussions,6)No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination while  (b) “sex cult” is a meaningless term, unless you do not wish to think that sex and spirituality can overlap, in which case you have ruled out much of contemporary Paganism. Pedophilia was never part of the picture.

At the very least, some critics are guilty of “presentism,” using today’s standards to condemn something that was less outrageous in the past,7)At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time. And granted, although he was a gentleman in person, Gavin was a stubborn Scorpio who would never apologize to anonymous critics and bullies on social media.

Jo Frost was right, you don’t make yourself a better Pagan by passing on malicious gossip about the dead. It’s ill-mannered, and sometimes it can even be bad magic. If you cannot be bothered to read the original texts — and to read them in the context of their era — then your argument is built on sand.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Harvard + Radcliffe, get it?
2. Now we see colleges become “parents” once more, keeping students safe from “scary” ideas and separating them into race and gender categories all over again.
3. Heinlein was surprised and amused by the Church of All World’s attempt to recreate the novel’s “nests,” complete with polyamory in some cases.
4. There was one whom I had not seen for a while, and I had hoped she was banned. Nope.
5. But at least today’s kids are being given something to rebel against, I suppose.
6. No, the Frosts were not “hard polytheists” but considered all deities to be shaped by human imagination
7. At least in the countercultural circles where most Pagans dwelt at the time.

Passing of Gavin Frost


I called this photo “the lone magus” — Gavin Frost overlooking the New River, West Virginia, New Year’s Day, 1995.

I learned this morning that S. Gavin Frost, co-founder of the Church (and School) of Wicca and someone whom I counted as a friend, died early this morning. He was born in 1930 in Staffordshire.

Jo, his daughter, posted on Facebook:

In our family, we do not believe in grieving too much, so today, raise a glass, a brandy alexander, a glass of mead, but a spirited glass, have a good conversation with a friend, be a little risqué (or a lot), dance a tango, tell someone you love them that you might not have said this to lately. That was the true spirit of my father – living his life the best way he knew how. He shared a lot of information with the world and opened doorways for many. Celebrate Gavin’s passing as he begins his next adventure, never fear, this is just another doorway, another state of being. He left a legacy, in many respects, that cannot be equaled. In his final hours, consumed by pain, he felt concern for his wife, for him, his soulmate of nearly 50 years, for her safety and her future, as much as for his freedom from pain. He does not wish for flowers, and deeply abhors wreaths, so do not send these things as tokens of your appreciation. Instead, send your tokens of appreciation by way of donations to his favorite charities and educational institutions. If you have a raptor or rescue center nearby, send a donation to them for he loved hawks. Send a donation to an educational institution, high among the list, King’s College in London, St Andrews Presbyterian University in Laurinburg, NC, the Osteopathic School in Lewisburg, WV, and NCSSM in Durham, NC. And finally, if so inclined, send a donation to the Church of Wicca, PO Box 297, Hinton, WV, his late life passion. There is not a funeral, as he has donated his body for medical research, but you are welcome to plant a hardwood tree in his honor as this was also a passion of his – regrowing our forests.

Since M. and I, as volunteer wildlife transporters for Colorado Parks & Wildife, interact with the Raptor Center down in Pueblo a lot, I think a donation is in order.

I took the photo above after M. and I had stopped for an overnight visit while passing through West Virginia, heading west. Gavin, Yvonne, and we went out for dinner at some restaurant high on a ridge over the New River, and talked for hours about almost everything except the Pagan scene. We were not avoiding that topic, but rather unlike some people in it whom we knew, the Frosts had many other interests besides just that one.

To some, he was a “controversial” figure, even scary, but I think his impish sense of humor plus British accent caused too many young Americans to miss the twinkle in his eye.

UPDATE: Twenty minutes after posting this— on a Sunday—the director of the raptor center and asked if I could pick up an injured hawk. Forty minutes later I was on my way to the Wet Mountain Valley to pick up a red-tailed hawk that had been found flapping weakly in a hayfield. It’s at the center now.

Go Full Ötzi

otziYou want to go full old-time Pagan at the next festival? Rock the full Ötzi, like the original Ice-Ice Man his own self.

It’s said that fashion is cyclical, and that the styles of past decades are inevitably revived for new generations. But for a truly original look, trendsters should dig deeper than the neon spandex tones of the 1980s or the flower child garb of the 1960s. Why not channel the tropes of an even simpler time, beyond the flapper-dressed Jazz Age and into the Copper Age, some 5,300 years ago?

New DNA research shows you just what you will need: a little bearskin, some goat and deer . . .

North America’s Four-Footed God

When I was new to Paganism, I thought about pantheons. Should I be signing with Team Celtic, Team Roman, Team Germanic, or whom?

Now I don’t really care. Sometimes you don’t come to the pantheon, the pantheon comes to you — and it may be a motley crew at that.

My own pantheon includes Hermes, Tlaloc (I live at the fringe of his territory), the Moon, and a forest god who has manifested as a young blue spruce tree dusted with golden aspen leaves.

But maybe I should make room on the shelf for Old Man Coyote, whose howl, says Dan Flores, author of  Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, could be “the original national anthem of North America.” His publisher says,

Coyote near my house this summer.

Coyote America is both an environmental and a deep natural history of the coyote. It traces both the five-million-year-long biological story of an animal that has become the “wolf” in our backyards, as well as its cultural evolution from a preeminent spot in Native American religions to the hapless foil of the Road Runner. A deeply American tale, the story of the coyote in the American West and beyond is a sort of Manifest Destiny in reverse, with a pioneering hero whose career holds up an uncanny mirror to the successes and failures of American expansionism.

Coyote likes camps, villages, towns, and cities. He lived with the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan — the word coyotl itself is Aztec (Nahuatl), pronounced COY-yoht, so we Westerners who say it as two syllables actually favor an older pronunciation than the Hispanicized co-yo-te.1)As a boy in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, I was taught that only Easterners and tourists said kiy-yo-te.

As a deity, he was Huehuecoyotl, or “Venerable Old Coyote, “who sounds so much like the widespread North American god-avatar often called ‘Old Man Coyote’ that the empire-minded Aztecs may have borrowed him from tribes far northward, in what is now the western United States,” Flores writes.

Europeans had old experiences, stories, myths, and preconceptions about gray wolves, bears, and foxes and long employed folk stories about them to investigate human nature. But coyotes are different. The coyote is an American original whose evolutionary history has taken place on this continent, not in the Old World. We see it not from the traditional vantages but from a sideways one, and from that perspective everything looks different.

But you don’t honor him/her/them by feeding them, at least not directly. Maybe you honor Coyote by telling Coyote stories. They are easy to find.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Wrong canid in the title, but a movie nevertheless inbued with the spirit of Old Man Coyote is The Grey Fox (1982), starring Richard Farnsworth.  I treasure my VHS copy.

Notes   [ + ]

1. As a boy in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, I was taught that only Easterners and tourists said kiy-yo-te.