In Praise of Harvest Time

Some (Northern Hemisphere) Harvest/Lammas celebrations, only not called that.

This one, I think, is from Iran:

This one comes from the island of Cyprus:

And while we’re in the mood, let’s not forget Whitman McGowan’s “White Folks Was Wild Once Too,” with video that is NSFW if you work in a monotheistic or cultural-marxist environment:

And don’t forget “John Barleycorn”!

Why Pagans Aren’t at Home in “Interfaith” Groups

In 2009, the CESNUR organization for the study of new religions held its annual international conference in Salt Lake City.

The panels, papers, and speaker events ended with a dinner at the historic Alta Club, which is drippingly gorgeous in a sort of late Victorian/Arts & Crafts style. I would have skipped the roast beef for an architectural tour of the place.

But no, I was in my dining chair when one of the Mormon “Seventies” — a member of an upper level in the hierarchy — delivered a benediction. (While the fundamentalist, breakaway LDS groups had been a major focus of the conference, this was about the only official-ish interaction with the mainsteam LDS church.)

First he said a few words in regard to the group’s purpose, acknowledging its diversity (founder Massimo Introvigne, for example, is an Italian lawyer by training and very Catholic), adding, “but we all worship the same [G]od.”

I groaned inwardly. It reminded me why I don’t do interfaith stuff — I spoke once at a luncheon in Denver, that’s all. I know some Pagans do it — more power to them — but I become a little . . . withdrawn . . . when the “we all worship the same god in the end” discourse begins.

All this came back when I read Galina Krasskova’s recent blog post, “Interfaith Doublespeak.” She writes in her usual take-no-prisoners style:

It becomes all about making the person feel good, about making them look “enlightened” and “spiritual” so they can get a pat on the head without ever having to challenge any oppressive status quo, especially any religious status quo. Their model is monotheistic. The model for their rites and rituals is, whether they acknowledge this or not: monotheistic and actual engagement with the Powers of any tradition is generally lacking. Most interfaith rituals I have observed are not just doggedly human centric but, despite whatever trappings the organizer might appropriate, devoid of Gods. I mean, you sort of need to name the Gods to call Them into a space and that might be exclusive. Everyone has to feel comfortable after all so let’s just go with the lowest fucking common denominator and call it a day. Hence you end up with what I call impious and unclean space. (Read the rest.)

Yes, right there, that is why I do not attend interfaith luncheons. But I would attend another meeting of the Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni if it’s within driving distance.

Can You Help Your Ancestors Instead of Rejecting Them?

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a cover blurb for a Llewellyn book, something that does not happen very often.

It was a pretty good book. Some people might have found the title obscure, but that was not my decision. But one thing stopped me in my tracks. The writer tried to use the language of “colonist” and “decolonized”  and “colonialist cultures” in a clumsy way that came across as “You should hate your ancestors because they were bad people.”

I don’t if that was necessarily intended, but it was easy to read a key passage in such a way.

Underneath the language was a message about connecting with the Old Ways (or what we think they were), but the cultural-Marxist thought-template got in the way. For a Llewellyn book, I would phrase things differently. (Or for any book.)

Even a scholar using “colonization” as a psychic metaphor has to tread carefully. Anne Ferlat put her  Pomegranate article on “Conversion as Colonization: Pagan Reconstructionism and Ethnopsychiatry” through multiple drafts, and still some reviewers were nervous about its implications.

Certainly we don’t approve of everything our ancestors did. In the mid-1870s, my great-great uncle Frederick was a commercial buffalo hunter in western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, dropping them with his “Big 50.” Do I applaud him for that? Hell no.1)He did get a couple of line in some 19th-century history books for a separate act of heroism. Do I wish that we as a culture had taken a different approach? Absolutely.2)We shudder at the piles of buffalo bones in the old photos, but the Comanche and Kiowa were reducing the Southern Herd quite well themselves, both through their own commercial hunting and because their huge horse herds competed with the bison for winter grazing in the river bottoms. The Indians thought that bison were inexhaustible, with new ones coming up through a hole connecting to the Lower World. It’s a complicated story.

In my early days of esoteric studies, I was told that in reality, time did not move in one direction; consequently, not only could my ancestors influence me, but I could influence them.3)This might have been in one of Jane Roberts’ “Seth” books. Perhaps this is the real secret of “ancestor worship” so-called.

Some psychotherapists think that we not only carry in our bodies our own traumas, but also certain ancestors’ traumas.

Jesse revealed that his mother had only recently told him about the tragic death of his father’s older brother—an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Colin was only nineteen when he froze to death checking power lines in a storm just north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Tracks in the snow revealed that he had been struggling to hang on. Eventually, he was found facedown in a blizzard, having lost consciousness from hypothermia. His death was such a tragic loss that the family never spoke his name again. Now, three decades later, Jesse was unconsciously reliving aspects of Colin’s death—specifically, the terror of letting go into unconsciousness. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jesse, falling asleep must have felt the same.

In such a case, would “healing” the ancestor help the living?

Some of today’s new shamans, like Sandra Ingerman, teach that this magical work can be done on a collective level as well.

M. and I have a sort of Ancestors Wall of framed photos in our house, now that we have room for it. I look, for instance, at a maternal great-grandfather in his little SE Kansas newspaper office—he is at the desk (editor! community leader!) while the compositor and the press crew cluster further back. What is our relationship? How does the energy flow?4)I did go through a period of fascination with letterpress technology and could have operated— with a little coaching—every piece of equipment in that room.

And great-great uncle Frederick, did he ever in his next line of work — saloon-keeper, Miles City, Montana — look into a scrying glass of whiskey and wonder what he had done?

These are complicated questions. My modest amount of Other Side contact has been with immediate kin—parents, a sister—not with those further back. They seem closer — at times I feel my father in my body, so to speak, in some mundane action like putting on a coat.

Quantum mechanics offers fascinating ideas, as this article suggests:

Yet none of [the]  one-way flow of time is apparent when you look at the fundamental laws of physics: the laws, say, that describe how atoms bounce off each other.

At the same time, I don’t feel qualified to proclaim, “Quantum mechanics proves magic works!” There are of plenty of other people who will, and they’ll write books and give workshops about it.

But if we can somehow heal the past, there is plenty of work to do. It beats rejecting our ancestors — even if they did wrong by our standards, they made us possible.

Notes   [ + ]

1. He did get a couple of line in some 19th-century history books for a separate act of heroism.
2. We shudder at the piles of buffalo bones in the old photos, but the Comanche and Kiowa were reducing the Southern Herd quite well themselves, both through their own commercial hunting and because their huge horse herds competed with the bison for winter grazing in the river bottoms. The Indians thought that bison were inexhaustible, with new ones coming up through a hole connecting to the Lower World. It’s a complicated story.
3. This might have been in one of Jane Roberts’ “Seth” books.
4. I did go through a period of fascination with letterpress technology and could have operated— with a little coaching—every piece of equipment in that room.

“Witches of America”: Sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table

I finally read Alex Mar’s Witches of America, and it is better than I thought, based on some of the reviews that I had seen, like this piece of negativity, for example: “[a] sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative” or this one: “extremely judgmental,” or the Complete Hurt Feelings Wrap-up here.

First, this is not a grand survey of the Pagan scene by a sympathetic journalist, similar to Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America (1979, rev. 1986) or the even earlier Witches U.S.A. by Susan Roberts (1974).

Rather, as one Pagan reviewer sarcastically noted, the better comparison was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia(I cannot imagine Julia Roberts playing Margot Adler in the movie version of Drawing Down the Moon.) It’s a memoir about “finding yourself.”

But I still enjoyed the read, once I realized that it was not any kind of a survey but more like Alex Mar trying to find the cool kids’ table in the magic-school cafeteria. Just when you think she has settled on a corner seat at the O.T.O., she started looking across the room at the necromancers. Maybe they are the real kool kidz.

At least you, the reader, get to ride along with actual necromancers after midnight. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage to Jose “Felipe” Nunes, the “Love” part of her title, has broken up after twelve years. I wonder if Alex Mar will be active with the O.T.O. that long.

Demons! Swastikas!! Witches in Ireland!!!

¶ The Washington Post runs a non-snarky article about a psychiatrist who thinks that demons are real.

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.

Bonus: a satanic witch priestess.

¶ How did the swastika go from worldwide good luck symbol to a symbol of evil. Richard Smoley explains:

And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.

The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.

A lightweight article from Ireland on Witchcraft. Something to read before you apply more sunscreen. “Janet” is, of course, Janet Farrar.

Still Enchanted After All These Years

Enchantments’ owner, Stacy Rapp. (The Guardian).

The Guardian, a British newspaper, profiles Enchantments in Manhattan,  which “after 34 years in business in the East Village, with the recession and the rising rents of gentrification claiming so many small businesses . . . might make anyone believe in magic.”

Read the whole thing. (Thanks to Mama Fauna.)

Good Butter and Good Cheese . . .

If you take a class in the history of the English language, you probably learn the phrase, “Good butter and good cheese is good English and good Friese.” This video takes it a little farther: can a speaker of Old English and a speaker of Friesian talk about the cow that gives the milk/milch?

Kind-of sort of related: an attack at the Arrant Pedantry language blog on whether “do support” in English has Celtic-language roots.

For English-language nerds only.

Minor Middle-Eastern Monotheists — And the Last Pagans in Pakistan

One god, one or more recognized prophets, a preoccupation with female sexuality — are we talking about Islam? Not this time. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East is a religion-nerd’s tour of “disappearing religions” such as those of the Iraqi Mandaeans or the Zorastrians of Iran. Some, it must be said, are less monotheistic than others.

Written by Gerard Russell, a former British diplomat-turned-policy wonk, Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms is a journalistic survey of ancient religions that might likely be crushed by the Islamic State (like the Yazidis) or by other Muslim fundamentalism (Egypt’s Coptic Christians or the polytheistic Kalasha people of the Aghan-Pakastani boder).

Or they may all end up in Michigan — except for the Yazidis, whose chief immigrant home is Lincoln, Nebraska. There is a reason why the final chapter is titled “Detroit,” since that metro area has attracted many Middle Eastern immigrants.

Russell writes,

In the course of fourteen years as an Arabic- and Farsi-speaking diplomat, working and traveling in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon, I enountered religious beliefs that I had never known of before: a taboo against wearing the color blue, obligatory mustaches, and a reverence for peacocks. I met people who believed in supernatural being that take human form, in the power of the planets and stars to steer human affairs, and in reincaration.

He visits and interviews the Mandaeans, who trace their religious lineage to John the Baptist (a “greater miracle worker than Jesus”), people who lived in Iraq since biblical times but who have now mostly fled.

The Yazidis. whose recent persecuation by the Islamic State made headlines, follow “an esoteric religion that has superficial similarities to Islam but is very different from it. . . .  Yazidis believe in reincarnation, sacrifice bulls, and revere an angel who takes the form of the peacock.”

But they have also been frequently accused of “devil-worship,” with predictably bloody results. They might have a root in the ancient worship of Mithras, whose cult was important in imperial Rome as well, brought home by legionaires who served in the Middle East.

He briefly visits some Alawite Muslims too, “technically Shi’a  [but with] as little in common with orthodox Shi’a as Unitarians . . . with evangelical Protestants,” who may share a religious lineage with the ancient inhabitants of the city of Harran, who themselves long kept up a sort of Neoplatonism by convincing their Arab conquerors that they were somehow “people of the book,” i.e., fellow monotheists.1)The Alawites are secretive about their doctrines, he adds, and because Syrian President Assad is one, he did not ask many questions.

Zoroastrians, followers of the ancient Persian religion, hang on in small numbers, celebrating the winter solstice with watermelons and pomegranates. (Their way has enjoyed a small revival lately among the Kurds, who were part of the Persian empire.) They gave us the word “magic.”  And they like dogs better than cats, as their scripture tells them:

“When passing to the other world, the soul of a person who has hit a dog “shall fly howling louder and more sorely grieved than the sheep does in the lofty forest when the wolf ranges.” A man who kills a dog is required by the Avesta to perfomr a list of penances eighteen lines long. One of the penances is to kill a thousand cats. Because Muslims preferred cats over dogs, which they think of as uncean, disputes over the treatment of dogs often led to fights between Zoroastrians and Muslims.

(Can’t we be ecumenical here?)

The few hundred Samaritans, living in Israel and Palestine, were the Hebrews who never accepted the consolidation of the cult of YWHW, with Jerusalem the only official temple site. Like the Druze, they marry only within their own group. The Druze themselves, Russell suggests, carry on some of the teaching of Pythagoras and Hermes Trismegistus — but living in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, have often formed their own armed factions in the region’s wars.

Until the 19th century, meanwhile, a few indigenous Pagan tribues lingered in “Kafirstan”2)meaning Land of Unbelivers/Polytheists (now Nuristan), a mountainous region at the northern edge of British India. They were freedom-loving, warlike, and prone to raids and blood-feuds. In 1895, the Muslim amir of Kabul, whose troops had guns, conquered most of them.

In the 1950s, the British travel writer Eric Newby was shown a stone red with the blood of those who chose execution [over conversion to Islam.

One group the “Iron Amir’s” troops missed was the Kalasha, numbering just a few thousand, celebrating their festivals, worshipping their gods, and being less obssessive about sexual control than their Muslim neighbors — for instance, women can request a divorce without penalty and walk around with their faces unveiled. That freedom influences a sort of Pakistani sex-tourism, however:

I was told that the summer festival attracted many Pakistani tourists who were as intrigued as those from Greece or countries even further afield . . . some came with the wrong idea: they expected that because Kalasha women did not wear veils and were not Muslims, they would be available for sex. [A Kalasha prohibition on sex during the festival] does not stop prostitutes from coming from other parts of Pakistan to exploit the legend by dressing as Kalasha women, though, trading on this desire for the exotic.

There is a special connection between the Kalashas and the Greeks — maybe — it has at least led to some privately funded Greek foreign aid.

Many of these groups, who survived by living in remote places or by making accomodations with Islamic rulers, now are being ground between fundamentalist Islam and increasing bureaucratic efficiency of nation-states. Consequently, many have left: Chaldean, Iraqi, Egyptian, and Palestinian Christians in particular are fleeing.

As late as the 1990s there were still 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Now . . . probably only a third of that number remain, or even fewer.

Druze and Mandaeans live in Boston; Yazidis, as mentioned, have congregated in Lincoln, Neb., and some other places. But the negative propaganda follows them:

The one thing that upset the family about American culture was the way their religion was represented. Abu Shihad said he had heard a CNN reporter describe the Yazidis as “the most hideous religion in the world.” I found this hard to believe, but he was very sure he had heard it.

The tragedy, Russell suggests, is that since many of these groups have been keeping their doctrines secret and marrying only in-group according to complicated rules for so long,  once transplanted to North America they find it impossible to carry on as before.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The Alawites are secretive about their doctrines, he adds, and because Syrian President Assad is one, he did not ask many questions.
2. meaning Land of Unbelivers/Polytheists

If You Had a Drone in Ancient Rome, This Is What You Would See

A virtual flyover of Rome in 320 CE, when Constantine I was in charge.

Or how about a Google Streetview of Pompeii (as it is today)?

Or step back about three thousand years and consider this animation of how they built the Pyramids.

This is even fancier.

More Conformation about Bigfoot

I read this article in the Colorado Springs Independent and a paragraph jumped out at me:

She learned about her [Nepalese] people’s animistic prayer traditions, and had shamans explain to her that yeti aren’t the silly abominable snowmen of cartoon legend, but actually shape-shifters and guardians of the mountains. At their urging, Lepcha now carries ginger in her pocket while traveling, so the yeti won’t disturb her.

Shape-shifters. Part of the faery folk, and not necessarily our friends, as I have suggested before — also here). That is why I think that people who go out in the woods and look for “tree structures” are doing it wrong, although I am sure they have a great time.

On the other hand, although “ghost” is an odd choice of words, these people might be on to something (link to YouTube video).