How Paganism is Good for Men

Lee Kynaston (The Telegraph, UK)

With all the talk about how witchcraft = empowerment for women, here’s something different: “7 things paganism can teach the modern man

It’s in a newspaper, so don’t expect great depth, but at least it means that the Paganism stories now run at the summer solstice, not just at Halloween.

In the Land of Fairy, Don’t Eat the Pentagram Pizza

You have heard that advice, right? Don’t eat the food that the Good Neighbors — or however you want to describe those beings whose reality intersects ours — might offer you, or you might be there with them a very very long time.

In Morgan Daimler’s view of the Fairy cities of today, there might be some tempting restaurants. Hmm.

Modern Fairyland, or Experiencing the Otherworld as a 21st Century City

It is true that modern pagans seem prone to describing and viewing Fairy through a primitive lens. When people talk about experiences there they are usually couched in terms of wilderness and wild places or occasionally of settings that may be described as historic such as castles or cottages. And that is not to say that these places can’t be found in Fairy just as we can find these places in our own world, because they certainly do exist both here and there. But there is a definite and noticeable favoring of the sorts of Otherworldly scenery that correlates with the places in our own world people tend to say we are most likely to find Themselves as well. Many pagans talk of Fairy as if it were one vast forest or Europe stuck in medieval times.

In the middle of grieving the effects of gentrification on her street, Anne Johnson gives some thought to the Faeries: “Faeries aka Fairies Are Real.”

So you say, “What do faeries look like?” And I answer, “What have you got?” There are as many varieties of faerie as there are of biological life in the apparent world. Some faeries are human shaped and sized, some are tiny, some look like animals, some like birds, and some are just beams of light. Be careful if you make eye contact, because they like to distract. And whatever you do, show them respect. Even the “critter” ones. Call them “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or “your majesties.”

Related: John Beckett talks about different modes of experiencing the Otherworld here:

Once you’re there, stick to your plan. Not every Otherworldly resident is your friend. Some will try to distract you or co-opt you. Some may try to eat you. Go directly where you intend to go, and don’t trust anyone you don’t know. When you’re done, come back promptly.

Letter from Hardscrabble Creek is not one of the Pagan blogs that he recommends, so if you are reading this, you must have wandered into the woods.

True Fact: There are more than twenty blog posts with the tag “Pentagram Pizza.” Enough weirdness to save in the refrigerator overnight and eat for breakfast! Just click on the tag “pentagram pizza” below.

Quick Review: THE IMMORTALS by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The old gods live among us, moving unseen, taking new forms, their powers diminished as people no longer honor them. That was the premise of Neil Gaiman’s magical road-trip novel, American Gods, and it is also the backstory to The Immortals (2016), for here the Olympic deities have abandoned Greece after the anti-Pagan emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official and legal religion of the empire.

Pious followers of reconstructed Hellenic religion should avoid this book. I am not going to give away all  the plot, but let’s just say that your screams of rage might alarm your neighbors.

Think of it as Mary Stewart — romantic suspense thriller — meets Dan Brown — the action stops while Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, explains the secret meaning behind events — only in this case it is Theodore Schultz of the Columbia University classics department who stops the breakneck action to explain the secret mythic plans behind a series of crimes.

Over time, some of the gods have gravitated to Manhattan, even Artemis the hunter, now a freelance private investigator and avenger of wrongs against women, currently using the name of Selene DiSilva. Hades lives under a disused subway station. Hermes (“Mr. Dash”) is now a film producer.

Paired with Professor Schultz, Artemis seeks to stop a revival of the Mysteries that involves human sacrifice (please, no screams of outrage), one victim being his former lover. But the question is, will she, the chaste goddess, fall in love with him — and if so, will she have to kill him? And does she really need her divine status?

The Immortals is a  page-turner, and definitely worthy of the label “Pagan-ish.”

The “Salem-Santa Fe” Mystery Solved

Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, New Mexico

A month ago I blogged how astonished M. and I were to see that Kakawa, the Santa Fe-based chocolate house, was about to open a new store in Salem, Mass.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the [Peabody-Essex] museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Now I know. I stopped at Kakawa in Santa Fe yesterday and spoke with Tony Bennett, who owns it together with his wife, Bonnie. This is what they do.

Aztec-style chocolate: cacao, chiles, other spices, flowers.

It turns out that they were invited. It seems the director and certain board members of the Peabody-Essex museum like to come to Santa Fe for the big annual Indian-arts market. (No wonder they have the T. C. Cannon show up.) So they drop in at Kakawa nearby for some chocolate elixir, as one does.

And they decided several years ago that Kakawa would fit right into the commercial building that they own adjacent to the museum. Then their architect died, and there were other complications, but Kakawa is on-track to open in the near future. In addition, Tony said, there would be a Kakawa kiosk inside the museum. Some buenas noticias for Salem.

 

“A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police, and Britt Ekland as Willow, the Aphrodite Pandemos of Summerisle, is remembered simultaneously as “the best British horror film ever” and one of the favorite movies of the Pagan revival during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Pagans for the most part emphatically do not view it as  horror film, although some avert their eyes or explain away the last few minutes. Instead, they see Summerisle, the fictional Scottish island setting, not as a “a completely alien society” but as a place where they would very much like to live — or at least go on holiday.

In 1998, to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, BBC Scotland produced The Wicker Man Enigma,  this half-hour documentary about The Wicker Man’s making and, equally important, its mysterious post-editing existence. Some of the cast were re-interviewed: Lee reads dialogue that was cut from the final version, while Edward Woodward revisits the Scottish hotel where key scenes were filmed, socializing with some of the locals who were extras there in the “Green Man” pub.

Various trivia are examined, such as whether Britt Ekland actually had two nude body doubles rather than one, or whether a complete negative still exists, and how The Wicker Man inverts a common trope of horror films, in which sex leads to death — think of Dracula or any number of “dead teenager” movies.

Does No One Read the Description?

I was in my first month as managing editor of the (long-gone) Colorado Outdoor Journal when an article came in about fishing in Utah. Hello? “Colorado” is in the title.

When I was freelancing for commercial magazines, I was told always to read at least a couple of issues before submitting an article query, advice that I passed along to my students. The same would hold with academic journals — you would think — since they are often so narrowly defined.

On May 16th, an article came in through The Pomegranate’s online submission process (which requires filling in various fields in the Online Journal System) titled “The Holy Qur’an: The Origin of Human Discourse in Ethics.”

Less than a week later, one of the co-authors, who appeared to be teaching in the Islamic Education Department at Shiraz University of Medical Sciences in Iran, is writing to me wanting know my editorial decision on the piece.

So (a) she/they is unclear what “peer-reviewed journal” means and (b) she/they missed all the language on the main page about “Pagan,” “polytheist,” “reconstructionist,” etc.

Maybe “Pomegranate” just sounded Middle Eastern?

I sent a PDF of the last issue with my response, just to make the point that their piece outside our remit. Very far.

Salem Still Follows Us

My April 25th post said, “The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home.”

That has not stopped. Yesterday I stepped into the Goodwill store in Pueblo, Colorado to buy some of their 99¢ wineglasses for daily use. (Wineglasses break.) This shot glass caught my eye instead.

Trade routes!

Turning Dead Puritans into the Mighty Dead: Redefining Salem

Inscription: John Proctor. Hanged. August 10, 1692. At the 1692-1992 memorial site in Salem — which is not the execution site and not the victims’ burial place.

The last time that I walked through the Salem witch trials memorial adjacent to the Charter Street cemetery, I saw that someone had left a rolled-up paper at John Proctor’s memorial bench.1)No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another. Was it a petition? An announcement of an upcoming workshop on Tarot reading? Maybe Proctor, a prosperous farmer before he and his wife were accused, would have been interested in a farm-auction flier.

Obviously, I did not pull out the paper and read it. Doing that might have been good journalism but poor manners.  Even though the memorial is not a cemetery, I feel that cemetery etiquette applies. But if it was a missive addressed to Proctor, that could mean that someone now considers him to be among the Mighty Dead.

There lies the paradox. I cannot explain it rationally, and neither could Stacy Schiff in her fine new book The Witches, where she writes,

In a turn of events that would have mystified [accused witch] Ann Foster, it is easy to buy a broomstick in Salem, home to a large Wiccan community. Hotels are booking now for next Halloween.

We have been talking for decades — since Margaret Murray’s time — about reclaiming the word witch from its satanic and evil-doing associations.2)I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them. We could do that without dragging in John and Elizabeth  Proctor, Sarah Cloyce, Ann Foster, and the other 150 or so people who were charged in 1692, of whom 19 were executed.

But we have dragged them in. We are (apparently) treating them as honored ancestors, the Mighty Dead, sometimes defined as “those practitioners of our religion who are on the Other Side now, but who still take great interest in the activities of Witches on this side of the Veil.”

Wiccan writer Christopher Penczack equates the Mighty Dead with the Secret Chiefs or Hidden Company that various occult groups invoke. Yet at least in their 17th-century lives, those Puritan colonists would have been horrified to think of themselves as “practitioners of our religion,” wouldn’t they?

Still someone is tending the memorial stones, there are Samhain processions to the execution site, people leave offerings at the execution site, and so on.

We like to say, “What is remembered, lives,” but are we really remembering the Rev. Samuel Parris, Tituba, Judge Hathorne, Rebeca Nurse, and all of them as they were?

Or are we just performing civil religion with robes and incense, “[expressing] the implicit religious values of a nation, as expressed through public rituals, symbols (such as the national flag), and ceremonies on sacred days and at sacred places (such as monuments, battlefields, or national cemeteries)”?3)“Civil Religion,” Wikipedia. Is leaving flowers and pretty stones and coins and costume jewelry at the Salem witch-trial memorial merely expressing our admiration for the First Amendment?

Somehow I think that it is more than that. Parallel and occultly linked to the transformation of maritime Salem and manufacturing Salem into “Witch City” has been the transformation of the accused Christians of 1692 into “witches”  whose deaths — eventually — produced  a Witch-friendly little city today. It’s not conventionally rational, but it is what it is. And we are thanking them for that transformation.

POSTSCRIPT: I do not plan any more posts about Salem right now. Although no documents or artifacts from the witch trials are on public exhibit in Salem itself, thanks to the policies of the Peabody Essex Museum, which has many of them, there is a digital archive online at the University of Virginia.

Notes   [ + ]

1. No one ever seems to sit on the benches, perhaps because they usually hold offerings of one sort or another.
2. I am fully aware that some people, however, want to keep them.
3. “Civil Religion,” Wikipedia.

Aye, My Hearties, the Six of Coins!

Pickering Wharf today. At left is the reconstructed Salem privateer schooner Fame. The original Fame  operated during the War of 1812 against British shipping, while the newer version offers summer day cruises in Salem Sound.

The history of Salem, Mass., is more about the sea than the witches — at least through the 18th and early 19th centuries, the peak of the Age of Sail.

Kids climb an old anchor at the National Park Service’s Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

In the beginning, all the coastal communities were fishing ports, but while some like Gloucester stayed that way, Salem went mercantile, first in the coastal and West Indies trade and then — for the big money — the Spice Trade. Pepper from Sumatra, cinnamon from India, tea from China, plus other Asian goods, were all in demand. Per capita, Salem was the richest town in Revolutionary War-era America, based on importing and re-shipping West Indian and East Asian goods.

A miniature portrait of Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1776–1808.

There was risk, of course. For example, Capt. Nathaniel Hawthorne (the author’s father), a sea captain on the verge of big success, died of yellow fever in South America at age 32.

Model of original Friendship. Note cannon on deck.

The ships themselves were typically three-masted “East Indiamen” — like the Friendship of Salem, a working reconstructed ship based on a 1797 original. It is currently undergoing repairs, so I was not able to visit it last month.

The ocean was not necessarily a friendly place. There were European pirates still, plus privateers in wartime (pirates with a government license), and in the Far East there were local pirates as well.1)Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships. So the merchant ships carried cannon and other weapons for self-defense and the crews were trained in their use.

But by the time that Nathaniel Hawthorne the writer was working at the federal custom house in Salem in the 1840s, the trade was falling off.2)Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook. One reason was competition with Boston and New York.

The other was environmental. Salem’s merchants built so many private wharves (Pickering Wharf, Turner Wharf, Derby Wharf, etc.) for their ships and goods that they affected water movement, leading to increased silting-up of the harbor. Consequently, the newer, larger clipper ships of the 1840s–1850s could not easily use it.3)Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.

While I drank a beer at Jaho Coffee on Derby Street, M. revisited the Spice Trade, making some purchases at Salem Spice on Wharf Street. Somewhere, the old sea captains nodded in approval.

Wharf Street: nautical New England with psychic readings.

But today’s Pickering Wharf neighborhood looks more like Diagon Alley. Yes, there is a fishing-tackle shop and nautical-theme gifts on sale, but there are also multiple occult shops. (Gypsy Ravish’s Nu Aeon is the only that I have visited.)

It turns into another time-slip: After spending the morning ashore, the second mate of the privateer Annabelle returns to the ship.

Summoning the sailors on deck, he sits on a hatch cover.

“Feast your eyes on my new Tarot deck,” he says. “Let’s have a quick reading for the voyage ahead!

“Ah now, look at that!” he exclaims, tapping a card with tar-stained fingernail. “Aye, my hearties, the Six of Coins! We’ll be coming back rich men!”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Salem ship captains also turned privateer in the 1850s against the French and during the Revolution and War of 1812 against British merchant ships.
2. Consequently, he had plenty of time to plot “The Scarlet Letter.” But I wonder if the declining shipping trade in Salem contributed to Hawthorne’s nostalgic outlook.
3. Salem could still accept shipments of leather, coal, and other raw materials needed for its new era as a manufacturing town.