The Spanish Piper at the Ghost Town

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

I had long admired the music of the Galician piper Carlos Núñez. I bought a couple of this CDs—one of the collaborations with The Chieftains plus Os Amores Libres.

But to hear him live, that would be a big-city proposition. Maybe I would need to attend some festival in Europe.

Not true. It took just a drive through the mountains and then 25 miles of gravel road, ending at a Colorado ghost town that I never had visited (and me a native).

Up at 9,000 feet, it is summer-home territory, and the audience tilted toward hearty retirees in cargo pants and fleece vests. The later summer rains are upon us — as we crossed the Huerfano Valley, even that country looked as green as Gal-i-thia.

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The venue is a ramshackle 1920s (?) dancehall and tavern — a little different from Kennedy Center, where the band will be playing later this month.

“We are so happy to be in thees . . . ghost . . . town,” Carlos said, drawing out the vowels.

And they — him, his brother Xurxo, the drummer; guitarist Pancho Álvarez; and Ontario fiddler Stephanie Cadman — launched into a hard-driving 90-minute set during which dancing in the aisles was not only encouraged, it was pretty near compulsory. (“E-stand-e up!“)

At times Xurxo’s miked bodhran was competing with a bigger drummer — thunder bouncing off the ridges of the Cumbres Range. And the wooden planks of the old dance hall bounced and thrummed.

huefano valley copy

Driving into the Huerfano Valley on the way home.

Behind the group’s appearance were the organizers of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, who for ten years have been bringing big names in Celtic music to southern Colorado to play in old movie theatres, ghost towns, and tiny schools.

Assessing Margot Adler and Moving Toward a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion

¶  Link to National Public Radio audio (14 minutes) of Ronald Hutton and Phyllis Curott talking about Margot Adler’s influence on contemporary Paganism.

The presenter rather made it sound as though we Pagans were all in the wilderness (no elders?!) until Margot brought us out, but then, as you pointed out in milder language, one thing that Margot did was make Wicca, etc., a bit more respectable to the chattering classes of the Northeast by being something that they recognized: a politically pink, secular-seeming Jewish intellectual, descendent of a famous psychoanalyst, thus easily penetrating their particular bulwarks of snobbery — not someone from Flyover Country or the wrong sort of foreigner.

Drawing Down the Moon was the third or fourth “I go among the witches” book of the era, following on Hans Holzer’s The New Pagans, Susan Roberts’ Witches USA, etc. and hitting some of the same locales, but it was far, far better and deeper, and I agree that it did give contemporary Paganism a bit of intellectual ballast.

¶ A philosophy professor from India talks about how beginning with Hinduism instead of one of the desert monotheisms changes how we discuss the philosophy of religion.

Taking Christianity as the exemplar of religion skews philosophical discussion towards attempts to solve, resolve or dissolve difficult philosophical puzzles inherent in monotheism: problems about God’s powers, goodness and knowledge; attempts to provide rational arguments for God’s existence; the problem of evil; and so on. Hindu philosophers have traditionally been far more interested in a quite different array of problems, especially questions about the nature of religious knowledge and religious language, initially arising from their concerns with the Veda as a sacred eternal text and as a source of ritual and moral law.

¶ What about a polytheistic philosophy of religion? Using ancient Greek materials, Edward Butler offers Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion (parts of which previously appeared in The Pomegranate, I am happy to say).

Postscript to “The Danger in Being Ministerial”

When I wrote my recent post, “The Danger in Being Ministerial,” I omitted a couple of points.

For one thing, the priest/ess vs. pastor — or cultus vs. social ministry — distinction is largely rhetorical. I do not mean to say that they cannot overlap, only that often they do not.

Also, I am surprised that no follower of Jesus pointed out a hole big enough to drive the First Baptist Church’s Sunday School bus through, to wit, for at least some Christians, ministry is in fact cultus. But then not too many Christians read this blog.

After all, a famous passage in the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus telling his disciples that to aid the unfortunate is to honor (or worship him): “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

And if you focus on that teaching, you can sidestep the theological problem that has haunted Christianity since the first century CE: exactly who or what was Jesus?

Was he a mortal prophet? A would-be sacred king? A mortal prophet who was “adopted” and “exalted” by God?  A preexisting angel who was made the Son of God? Or was he an aspect or persona of the One God all along, since forever, sort of?

As Bart Ehrman points out in How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, all of those viewpoints were common, even orthodox, at different times.

And what was orthodox in one generation could get you excommunicated in the next — at least until the First Council of Nicea, which under imperial patronage hammered out what they called a creed, but which is easier to understand if you read it like a property lease.

Just as your rental house lease tells you, for example, that you cannot store inoperable, unlicensed motor vehicles on the premises, the Creed tells you what ways of thinking about Jesus are permissible. Every phrase drives nails into some so-called heresy or unorthodox interpretation.

Ehrman’s book is written for the non-specialist. He avoids technical language like apotheosis. He relies mainly on the accepted New Testament — the four gospels and those epistles of Paul that scholars think Paul actually wrote (not all of them) — with only occasional borrowings from the Gnostic gospels, etc.

His arguments construct a chronology of Jesuses. For instance, Paul’s epistles, which can be dated fairly closely, were written down before the Gospels and the book of Acts, even though the events in them postdate the gospels.

Ehrman argues that Paul’s Jesus was an angel who took human form, which fits in with Paul’s own experience — he never saw Jesus in person, although their lives overlapped and he met people who knew Jesus, but instead his claim to being an expert on Jesus came from a visionary experience that left him temporarily blind and disoriented.

How someone could be both human and divine at the same time was and is a problem for Christians. Ehrman gives his view of how Christians wrestled with that problem, and of course his Christian critics cry, “He’s got it wrong!

As a final criticism, Ehrman posits that the key to Paul’s Christology is that he thought of Jesus as an (or the) angel (of God/the Lord).  That, says Ehrman, explains how Paul could ascribe “pre-existence” to Jesus, and how, as a devout Jew, he could countenance worshipping Jesus.  As the key basis for this notion, Ehrman invokes a peculiar reading of Galatians 4:14, where Paul says that in his initial visit the Galatians received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.”  Ehrman insists that this is to be read as a flat appositive construction, in which “an angel of God” = “Christ Jesus.”   But this isn’t actually as compelling a claim as he thinks.  Even Gieschen (on whose work Ehrman relies here) presents this reading of the construction as only a distinct “possibility.”  And most scholars (myself included) don’t think it really works.  The grammar certainly doesn’t require it, and it seems more reasonable to take it as a kind of stair-step statement, “angel of God” and “Christ Jesus” as ascending categories.

You see, Christianity is easy. All you have to do is interpret 2,000-year-old documents written by people to whom Greek often was a second language,  making sure that your sense of the words’ meaning and connotation is the same as theirs.

Or just do what the man in the pulpit tells you to do.

Mythic or esoteric explanations are missing, because this is a book about small o-orthodox Christianity pointed at educated readers-who-probably-were-raised-as-Christians — like Ehrman, who says that his own journey runs backwards compared to christology, from Jesus as an aspect of a Trinitarian God to Jesus as mortal prophet.

Read How Jesus Became God to be up to speed on the history of christology, and given the complexity of the subject, maybe you will understand why many Christians do not even want to think about it, preferring instead to make statements like this:

If you understand that most people are controlled and compelled by fear, then you will understand how hard it is to keep a church going that doesn’t teach about “paying for your sins in hell,” but rather how we bring God into our everyday acts [sic], how God can be here and now, not some nebulous, angry entity who is waiting to judge you when you die, how Jesus didn’t come to die for all of us horrible people, but to teach us about a radical way of loving unconditionally and all-inclusively and that Love is the answer to heal a broken world.

That is one of my former students writing on her Facebook page about her church.

A lot of the clergy actually don’t think that Jesus was divine anyway, if you pin them down. So where does that leave the cultus angle? Do you need a divinity for that? I would say yes, but there are ways to talk yourself out of that corner.

 

A Horned God in Oklahoma?

An interesting story — a year old, but I just ran across it — about “deer men” in the 59,000-acre  Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

“We moved to another observation site to the northeast at the base of Mount Scott, the highest point out there,” Heying said. “We did a U-turn in the parking area and as I made the turn my headlights lighted up a human figure with a head I can not easily describe.”

The creature didn’t look human. “It was as though it had the head of a buffalo or an elk, while standing upright with two legs and two arms that were human,” he said. But the eyes were what terrified him. “The eyes were a dark red.”

Read the rest — you will have to scroll down past the so-called UFO sighting.

Various explanations are offered in the comments, of course. Land wights, a god, or just a good campfire story?

Rethinking Bog People

In college I had a work-study job in the library, and my favorite part was shelving books, because I worked alone, deep in the stacks, and if I found something interesting, I could skim it quickly and either check it out or come back for it.bogpeople_thumb[2]

One day I rolled my cart up to the rows of books awaiting reshelving, and there was one whose spine read The Bog People — Glob.

Was this for real?  BogGlobBog?

It turned out to be serious anthropology: Here is an American Anthropologist review (PDF) from 1969, when it was published. Pagan sacrifices? Medieval murders? I think I learned the word liripipe from reading The Bog People, rather than by joining the Society for Creative Anachronism.

The bog mummies are so fascinating because of their state of preservation. They are not just bones – you can see them as individuals, often wearing the clothing in which they died.

People create stories about them, such as Lindow Man, the so-called Druid prince. Did he suffer a ritualistic Robert Graves-ish triple death — clubbing, throat-cutting, and strangulation?

Others, such as Ronald Hutton, offer a simpler explanation: the so-called throat-cutting was the accidental slash of the peat-cutter’s spade, the ligature merely a cord holding an amulet or piece of jewelry, and the cause of death was a straightforward bludgeoning — why, no one knows.

Archaeologists debate whether the bog bodies were simple crime victims or ritual-murder victims. Were they locals or outsiders? Ordinary people or celebrities?

Because some bear horrific wounds, such as slashed throats, and were buried instead of cremated like most others in their communities, scientists have suggested the bodies had been sacrificed as criminals, slaves, or simply commoners. The Roman historian Tacitus started this idea in the first century A.D. by suggesting they were deserters and criminals. . . .

Niels Lynnerup, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Copenhagen who has studied bog bodies, believes that they were sacrificed—but the enigma, he said, revolves around why.

You look at their faces, and you wonder how they ended up tossed into a pool in a bog.

 

Passing of Margot Adler—Will NPR Admit She was Wiccan?

For those of you not on Facebook, this was the announcement of Margot Adler’s passing, posted by her son, Alex.

Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex

I told M. about it as she was listening to National Public Radio’s  “All Things Considered,” and her first question was why NPR had not mentioned it, given Margot’s many years as a reporter there.  Maybe they cannot move that fast. When they do, do you think that they will mention that she was composing hymns to the Olympian deities as a teenager, let alone that she was a Gardnerian Witch?

I suspect that they will be more comfortable with her politics and status as a “Red-diaper Baby” than with her religious views. Link to the Facebook tribute page.

UPDATE: At least the NPR blog mentioned it, but putting it after the facts that she was Alfred Adler’s grand-daughter (though she never met him) and that she wrote about vampires: “Margot had a long-standing interest in the occult.”

Ah, “the occult.”

UPDATE 2: You will find more updates on news media treatments of Margot’s passing in the comments.

By Lugh, I Think They’ve Got It

llamasReading the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper in a coffee house on Sunday morning, I turned to the weather/almanac page and learned something new.

The coming weekend marks the ancient Celtic [sic] solar festival of Llamas.

That was a divinely inspired typo.

Given the prevalence of the subspecies dramaticus in the Pagan community, I think we should run with this. Hurray, hurray, it’s Llamas Day.

No, “Ring around the Rosie” is not about the Black Death

For one thing, there are multiple versions recorded by folklorists and they do not “all fall down.” From the Library of Congress blog:

The claim that the rhyme is related to pestilence is even younger; the folklorists who diligently recorded the rhyme itself in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries never mention the plague interpretation, although they surely would have had they known it. The first evidence I’ve seen that people were connecting the rhyme with death and disaster is from 1949, when the newspaper The Observer ran a parody of the rhyme beginning “ring-a-ring-o’-geranium, a pocketful of uranium” and referring to the bombing of Hiroshima.

Why mention this? It is just another example of the perils of looking for “ancient survivals” in folklore.

Beltania Festival Moves Closer to the Capitol

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

Maypole procession 2011 (Photo by Robin Vinehall).

It was nice while it lasted, having a Pagan festival near enough that, if my schedule was too crowded, I could at least buy a day pass and hear the best concerts.

Not any more. Beltania is pulling out of District 12* (where the coal miners once toiled) and moving closer to the Capitol — into District 1, you might say.

From Florence Mountain Park, it now goes to La Foret Conference and Retreat Center in El Paso County (not burned in the 2013 Black Forest Fire), where, according to a news release. there will be “enhanced amenities” and it will be “closer to Denver!”

Built as a rural estate, La Foret is now owned by the United Church of Christ.

(Colorado is a very centralized state. There is the Denver-plex, and there is The Rest, which exists to keep Denver amused, with green lawns. Not like, for instance, Oregon, where the population is equally concentrated in the Willamette Valley, but at least the seat of government is not in the largest city.)

Originally, the organizers tried having Beltania at Beltane, because that is the ancient Celtic thing to do. But this is Colorado, where I have seen two feet of snow on the ground on May 1st — or it could be uncomfortably hot. Or both in the same day. I do usually shut off the furnace on May 1, but the wood stove is still used. Spring in Colorado is a “putrid” season, as Dad the forest ranger used to say.

Then the date started sliding later and later, so that in 2015 it will start on May 14th. At least there is some bioregional wisdom in that decision.. At worst it might be rainy.A September festival would be more predictable weather-wise, but it would not have ancient Celtic precedent?

Meanwhile, I have coal to dig.

* Movie reference.

“Choose How Cute or Evil She Should Be”

historical witch creatorThe sexy witch. The evil witch. The cute witch. What accessories should she wear? What animal is her familiar? And where did she come from?

When I ran across this website (another update of the old paper doll), I thought of two things right away.

One was a book co-authored by my friend Nikki Bado, Toying with God: The World of Religious Games and Dolls, all about board games and Muslim Barbie dolls, etc. Nothing Pagan or Crafty in it. But still, is this a “religious doll”?

And there was Ethan Doyle White’s recent interview with Ronald Hutton, in which Hutton discusses his latest project, “a comprehensive study of the concept of the witch, in a global, ancient and folkloric setting, to understand more fully the context of the early modern witch trials.”

If he does not address the “sexy witch” archetype, I will be sadly disappointed. This website is “historical,” it says so. ;)

But really, “cuteness” did not figure much in the witch trials. It’s more about that old black magic in a contemporary sense.The image of the sexy, magical woman has enormous power, don’t you think? Not to mention fashion possibilities.