On Getting Reaped at Lammas

large hailstone in palm of hand

The scythe of the gods — multiply by several thousands

A friend in Poland has a small farm, and he has been teaching himself to mow the meadows with a scythe. We have email conversations sprinkled with words like “snath” and “peening,” which I know only from reading.1)He is an American expatriate, but I suppose that he has learned the equivalent Polish terms as well. He says that his elderly neighbors think his scything technique is amateurish, whereas the younger ones wonder why he does not use a machine.

Nevertheless, we were scythed at  Lammastide.

On Friday the 4th, M. and I went to Colorado Springs for a “city day,” hanging out with my cousin at Coffee Exchange, thrift-store bargain-grabbing, picking up her laptop that was being repaired, buying wine, visiting a bookstore,  and also Nightingale Bread, where an Orthodox Christian baker speaks of “the spiritual symbolism of death and resurrection cycles (a plant’s grain milled into flour and revived as bread) inherent in bread-making.”2)A hefty loaf made from organic Turkey Red winter wheat costs $8, which makes it an occasional treat, but it is very good.

Then we came home to destruction. The first clue was the piles of leaves on the road when we left the state highway. Then M. looked at her gardens and went into shock.

Sunflowers—decapitated. Beans and tomatoes—blasted. Squash and gourd plants—nothing left but stems.

The corn looked as though though it had been machine-gunned. Many herbs were shredded. The nettle patch was reduced by half, while the woods were carpeted with fresh needles of pine and juniper, pruned from the trees.

I found a broken panel in the greenhouse roof, and the crank-up roof vent on the camping trailer was shattered. The plants in the greenhouse, mostly tomatoes, were unharmed.

All this just nine months since the last big forest fire and a week since some minor flooding on our road.

In the car the next day, she said, “Do you think we angered the gods?”

Who are “we”? The people on our road, under the narrow path of the hailstorm, which was less than a mile wide?

When you do anything agrarian — even vegetable gardening — that makes you vulnerable to weather, it is so easy to think that you are punished by some god when drought or insects or wind or hail wreck your crops. It is easy to think that someone is trying to teach you a lesson.

So what is the lesson?

Suillis granulatus

Slippery jacks. A little annoying because leaves and needles stick to them, but they *are* edible.

This morning while walking the dog I found “slippery jacks” (Suillus granulatus) appearing up behind the house under the pines — we see them only in wet Augusts, and this is one of those.

So it’s time to change and adapt — and look for mushrooms, while we hope that some parts of the garden will recover.

After Lammas, it’s hunting-and-gathering time. So that’s the lesson — move on.

Notes   [ + ]

1. He is an American expatriate, but I suppose that he has learned the equivalent Polish terms as well. He says that his elderly neighbors think his scything technique is amateurish, whereas the younger ones wonder why he does not use a machine.
2. A hefty loaf made from organic Turkey Red winter wheat costs $8, which makes it an occasional treat, but it is very good.

The Little Fire God Went Running

The opening paragraph of the novel that made me a Tony Hillerman fan:

Shulawitsi, the Little Fire God, member of the Council of the Gods and Deputy to the Sun, had taped his track shoes to his feet. He had wound the tape as Coach had taught him, tight over the arch of the foot. And now the spikes biting into the packed earth of the sheep trail seemed a part of him.

From Dance Hall Of The Dead (1973) by Tony Hillerman, one of a series of more-than-mysteries set in and around the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, and all still in print.

Pentagram Pizza Cut into 12 Slices

• Everything old is new againyoung Chinese discover the Western zodiac and think that it is cooler than “Year of the Monkey,” etc.

• “Witchcrap” from The Daily Beast website — “These Modern Witches Want to Cast a Spell on You.”

Modern witchcraft combines feminism, self-help, and wellness. But is there more to it than pretty crystals, stunning Instagram pictures, and lucrative business opportunities?

I think that’s called “fake news.”

• From Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery blog:American Gods: The Jersey Devil and the Pines Witch.”   This post was part of “The American Gods Project” — read the rest. “Truly, all sorcery is local.”

• In Albania, they stop the Evil Eye with plushies. Truly, all sorcery is local.

New Issue of The Pomegranate Published

Issue  19.1 Table of Contents

Articles
“Discourses of Paganism in the British and Irish Press during the Early Pagan Revival”
G.J. Wheeler

“Pagan Leaders and Clergy: A Quantitative Exploration”
Gwendolyn Reece

“From Folklore to Esotericism and Back: Neo-Paganism in Serbia”
Nemanja Radulovic

“Contemporary Germanic/Norse Paganism and Recent Survey Data”
Joshua Marcus Cragle

Book Reviews — open access
Jennifer Snook, American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Barbara Jane Davy

Edward Bever and Randall Styers, eds., Magic in the Modern World: Strategies of Repression and Legitimization (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2017)
Reviewed by Michael D. Bailey

Thomas Besom, Inka Human Sacrifice and Mountain Worship: Strategies for Empire Unification (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2013), 309 pp., $65 (hardcover).
Reviewed by Caroline J. Tully

Siv Ellen Kraft, Trude Fonneland, and James Lewis, eds., Nordic Neoshamanisms (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)
Reviewed by Robert J. Wallis

Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, Electric Santería: Racial and Sexual Assemblages of Transnational Religion (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Rose T. Caraway

Happy Independence Day & Blessed Be


The Stars and Stripes, a Colorado craft beer, and a Ripley’s witchcraft museum goblet. This is actually the summer solstice celebration, I reckon, delayed two weeks.

I’m kicking back after driving one of my department’s fire trucks in Nearby Town’s 4th 0f July parade. Here is a picture of one of the units pre-parade. Kids and an early Farmall Cub. You couldn’t pose that.

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”?

A friend in Poland sent a link to this music video, adding that it looks a lot like the Midsummer celebration in his village but needs the volunteer firefighters, more kielbasa, and more vodka, except, “Our river’s a fair bit wider, too.” He describes the St. Nicholas Orchestra as “Pagan-friendly,”  and into  the “anti-clerical stratum” of Polish folk culture. Note the procession!

My post from the 18th, “What Is Wrong With Large-Scale Ritual,” got a lot of responses (thanks!) here and on Facebook, but I noticed that the responses could be sorted into several categories without too much hammering and shoving.

  1. Lots of large-scale rituals are boring, and it’s time someone said so.
  2. #1 might be correct, but we do them right.
  3. Yes, let’s forget Wiccanesque circles and do processions instead, which is my current position. It’s about religion, not magical self-transformation.

Jim Dickinson argues that worship and magic(k) are not incompatible at large rituals:

Relative to the other commenter’s statement that we ‘should emphasize worship over magic-working’…I believe ritual should be both worship and magick, as often as possible. Magick is the tool that is used to create a space in which the likelihood of spiritual experience is increased. Magick, religion and spirituality are equal parts of the process. Magick helps creates spaces (physical, mental , energetic…etc.) in which spiritual experiences are fostered (against all the anti-spiritual energies in our modern worlds) and religion is the negotiated language we use to try to communicate (albeit imperfectly) to one another the essence of those mystery/spirit experiences. The synergy of religion and magick is what humans use to try to foster those mystery, spiritual experience for one another. All three are needed for a community to advance together. And a huge part of large-scale ritual, IMHO, should be providing a community bonding component.

But there is a reason that I posted the music video above. It’s about community too. And in any community you have the 80/20 rule, meaning that eighty percent of the people are not magical specialists and don’t want to be. They just want a little “juice” in their lives now and then, as well as a blessing on their important life moments.1)When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

In the 1980s when American Pagan festivals were newish and still somewhat small, almost everyone participated in group ritual. As the attendance grew, so did a tendency that I have noticed a big festivals for people to camp in groups, decorate their camps . . . and then just stay there. Do you want to get them out of their lawn chairs and into the (temporary autonomous) community?

Here’s another large-scale summer solstice ritual, Russian Rodnovery (Native Faith) this time, via the French newspaper Le Figaro:

There is a circle again—it is hard to say how big it is or how long the circle ritual lasted. Children are involved, and there is movement, which are good signs.

Notes   [ + ]

1. When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

Quick Review: Sex, War, and the Tarot

That is the subtitle I mentally add to Alan Richardson’s novel The Lightbearer.

It starts with the landing of Allied paratroopers in Normandy just after midnight on June 6, 1944, a meticulously planned operation that ended up scrambled by Murphy’s Law.

In the novel, a transport aircraft carrying some of the pathfinders goes astray (as some did) causing one Private Michael Horsett to land far off-target. Horsett is taken in by a group of French Thelemite magicians — all female.

Complications ensue. The Thelemites have their own agenda. Local Resistance fighters have another agenda. Private Horsett, new to war, wants to prove himself as a soldier. And there is a Tarot puzzle built into the text. It is not easy to combine occultism with a thriller plot, but Richardson pulls it off.1)Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Military historians may note some oddities. For example, Wehrmacht helmets (as with other armies) came in only one size, with the adjustment in the harness.

An Amber Alert from 1284 CE

The ratcatcher and the rats, part of a civic pageant in Hamelin today.

“Amber alert” defined for readers outside the USA.

In five days it will be the 733rd anniversary of the most famous missing children case in Western Europe. What happened to the children of Hamelin, a town (current population about 57,000) in what is today the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)?

A June 2010 article in the Fortean Times by Maria Cuervo summarized various possible explanations; Cuervo reprints it in a more readable format on her blog here.

Years ago I read a science-fiction story of explorers coming to another planet and finding a human community who built their houses in a vaguely medieval German style. Yes, they were the descendants of the children led away by the ratcatcher, through some kind of interdimensional portal. If you know the author and title, post them in the comments.

What Is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Maypole procession at Colorado’s Beltania festival, 2011. (Photo by Robin Vinehall.)

When it comes to large-scale ritual, the traditional Wiccan circle does not scale up well. It was made for a small-group mystery religion, where twelve or thirteen people really is the maximum.1)OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.

That Wiccan circle, as far as I can tell, was based on the magic circle of the ceremonial magician, designed to hold one, maybe two, possibly three individuals—but usually just one. And as many teachers will tell you, the magician’s circle was supposed to give the Bad Stuff out, whereas the Witches’ circle is supposed to keep the Good Stuff in.

But like a balloon that can be inflated only so far before it pops, the magic circle seems to lose cohesion when it grows too big. Its fabric tears, and, for all I know, the Good Stuff leaks out.

It may still worth with large groups as a way for a maximum number of people to have a good look at some theatrical event happening in the center. Make a son et lumière production out of calling the Quarters—that helps when you have a large outdoor gathering.

On the negative side, I have attended large rituals where people brought folding chairs to sit in because they knew that they would wait a long time for anything to happen—for the oracular priest to make it around to where they sat, for instance. It was deathly dull.

Last month at the Heartland festival, held at a 160-acre site with a network of internal gravel roads, I saw a small procession passing ahead of one of the main evening rituals. I perked up at that, but the participants were more like camp criers: “Come to the ritual.”

No no no no no. The procession should BE the ritual—for most people. That is when you bring the gods out of the temple and take them down the street. It’s interactive, and it involves the bodies of the participants. Let everyone join in! Consider what is done in India or in Catholic countries and urban neighborhoods on certain saints’ days.2)Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.

Instead of the procession being a warm-up act, I modestly suggested to two members of the Sacred Experience Committee (in other words, the ritual producers), it should be the Main Event. Idols! Musicians! Costumes!

If a more conventional ritual follows, that’s fine, but don’t expect everyone to come. But bring the procession past their campsite and entice them to join it because it is loud, colorful, and physical.

I remember one New Mexico festival in the late 1980s where the rituals were pretty good—maybe because the group was not too huge. But then one evening a handfasting was announced, and the campers spontaneously grabbed torches and lanterns and drums and flutes and processed behind the officiants to the site—and there was more “juice” in that procession than in the official circle-style ritual.

I’ve attended a few Pueblo Indian rituals since my dad used to drag me down to Zuni when I was three, and I have noticed something: The tribes don’t expect everyone to participate. The specialists—the appropriate religious society or priesthood—will perform both the hidden parts and the public parts—dances and so on. Many people will just be spectators. The important thing is that the ritual is performed for everyone’s benefit, whether they pay close attention or are off seated on an adobe wall eating watermelon or chatting up a potential romantic partner.

Likewise the old-time Pagans had used processions as a major large-group activity. Sometimes they ended, for example, at a sacrificial altar, and then the specialists took over. (Everyone ate later.) They did not make everyone sit in rows inside a temple—most activity took place outside the temple. Making you stand or sit around indoors while the specialists do their thing is the Christians’ mistake.3)Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

Right now, we are in the middle of summer festival season in the US and elsewhere. Tell me what you see. Are people getting away from the “Let’s just make a big ol’ circle and call the Quarters” model? There has to be something that works better.

Notes   [ + ]

1. OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.
2. Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.
3. Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

Viking Hoodoo — Who Knew?

Who knew the old Norse were into runic candle magic? Not me.

All right, you should not judge a museum exhibit by what is in the gift shop. It’s just that the designers of the Vikings: Beyond the Legend traveling exhibit, chiefly from the Swedish History Museum, if I understand correctly, took great pains to lay waste to “the one-dimensional stereotype of bearded barbarians with horned helmets.” And then you see for sale something that I am pretty sure is non-historical.1)What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.

In fact, the exhibit explains multiple times that Norse fighters did not wear horned helmets but that those originated with a 19th-century opera costumer’s designs for Wagner’s Ring cycle.2)If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.

The show is in Denver now, but apparently, like Cirque du Soleil, it has multiple versions on the road, one being now in Salt Lake City. 3)If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!

A Norse reenactor prepares to demonstrate how to spin woolen thread with a weighted spindle. I bet the original home lighting was never so good.

And since I am unlikely to visit Scandinavia soon, I will accept well-crafted replica ships rather than the real thing.

Exploration and settlement is rather down-played in favor of life in the homelands, since the focus is not so much on “going viking” but on trying to get by as Iron Age farmers and fisherfolk, raising little cows and sheep (by our standards) and chickens the size of “Cornish game hens.”

And there is definitely a Norse Paganism 101 component with interactive exhibits about the Aesir and Vanir.

See Vikings: Beyond the Legend if you can. And pick up a T-shirt and some candles.

Notes   [ + ]

1. What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.
2. If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.
3. If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!