In retrospect, I was lucky that the high priest of my first coven (mid-1970s) was something of a scoundrel. He was always tapping people for money and favors (“Could you fix my truck’s clutch? Oh, you’re a welder? I have some projects . . .”) — all for the good of the Craft, of course.
He was convinced of his own sexual magnetism and was always coming-on to women, in addition to the fact that he and his wife (the coven HPS) were off-and-on “swingers,” as the term was then. I discovered this when I dropped by the covenstead one afternoon and found them having a slightly awkward getting-to-know you conversation with a couple they had met somehow for that purpose. Needless to say, offers were extended to my partner and me, which we did not accept.
He could play members of the coven against each other, but treated us better than “cowans,” against whom any lie or stunt was permissible. Once when an old friend of mine, a professional calligrapher, did a large piece for him in exchange for a promised piece of silver jewelry (he was also a middling silversmith), and said piece of jewelry kept receding into the future, he brushed off my questions with “He’s a cowan, he can wait.” (The guy is still waiting.)
Most of what he said about his past, training, etc. was probably 90 percent bullshit.
And there was other stuff. But — I cannot over-emphasize this — over the three years I was part of that group (before M. and I finally left over something or other), some doors to the Mysteries were opened.
Both he and she could be effective ritualists and magicians. I can recall some intensely spiritually erotic ritual, for instance, that did not involve any swapping of bodily fluids. I was introduced to the entire Craft subculture as it then existed — including some early small hotel-based “cons”— and found a psychic space that only two years before I had not dreamt existed.
So I learned something. I learned the the Craft is a mystery religion, parts of which are not for kids or public view, and that the Mysteries are not about conventional morality. From that I learnt that one can be a good high priestess, let’s say, without being “moral.”
Later, a professor of Eastern religion would explain to me that Asian religious renunciates wore red, orange, or saffron robes to warn people that they were “hot” in a spiritual sense, but also with an echo of the slang term for sexy.
Yeah, religion — the “juice,” not the social organizations — can be sexy. Hindu gurus are notorious for sexual scandals, as are some Zen teachers, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests . . . you could go on.
Morality ought to be filed under Philosophy, not Religion.
An issue that affects both new religions (like various new Paganisms) and scholars of religion is the enormous, often unrecognized, cultural meme that “religion” equals not just a type of monotheism with a Holy Book, but Protestant Christianity in particular.
When I read about a Wiccan “church” that “followed a Christian format, complete with sermons and congregants sitting in rows, and its High Priestess wore a clerical collar similar to what Christian priests and ministers wear,” I thought, there it is again, the dead hand of Protestantism on the back of your neck.
When a prominent Pagan writer publicized how she had flounced out of a forty-year-old Wiccan organization because it would not issue a statement on her favorite political issue, I thought of religion scholar Russ McCutcheon’s writing about the naive presumption that “religion equals morality [with] a responsibility for securing the fate of the nation-state or cooking up some therapeutic recipe for attaining self-knowledge or happiness’ (from Critics not Caretakers).
Whatever it is that makes the Craft special, I cannot think of a better way to kill it. Is there a little bit of a split here between those who lean, for instance, toward the approach of Apocalyptic Witchcraft and those who apparently would rather be social workers with pentagrams?
Those who seek the Mysteries, be they in the name of Dionysus, Nyx, Odin, Hecate, or whomever, have to understand that the Mysteries come without an official Book of Instructions.
I know, everything is connected and the personal is political. But does turning your position as, let us say, high priestess into a podium for pronouncing ex officio on this political issue or that one lead to a hollowing out of the magical self?
Or if religion is not about morality, then what does your religious position matter?
Plans to begin construction of a pagan temple in Öskjuhlíð hill, Reykjavík, have been set in motion. This will be the first pagan temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years, said the alsherjargoði Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, head priest of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag, in an interview with RÚV [text and video in Icelandic].
The Ásatrúarfélag applied for a plot of land to construct a temple in 2006 and was allotted a piece of land in Öskuhlíð in 2008. The 350 square metres (3767 sq ft) temple will have a vaulted ceiling and seat around 250 people. Its construction will be completed next year.
Interestingly — or oddly — it will sit on top of several tanks built to hold geothermal water, so heating won’t be a problem.
Making large ceremonial marks on the land is an ancient practice. Here are examples from Peru, Chile, England, Brazil, Russia, the Arabian peninsula, and the United States
How will the archaeologists of the future explain how barrow (also known as as tumulus) building stopped in the Neolithic — and then resumed, 5,500 years later?
We know this one was built on a solar alignment, because the BBC tells us so.
See the barrow under construction here. And yes, dead people.
We are in the midst of Saturnalia, so consider this article by Classics scholar Mary Beard on “Five Things the Romans Did at Christmas.”
The headline was just to grab you, because she begins, “OK, the Romans didn’t actually have Christmas. And even Christian Romans didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25 December until at least the fourth century AD. ”
A few Roman writers enter into the spirit of the occasion. Catullus, for example, called it “the best of days”. But mostly they were supercilious lot, complaining about the forced jollity and the forced shut-down (just like me . . .!). The philosopher Seneca tut-tuts about all the dissipation and fact that you can’t get any public business done.
I don’t put myself in the same class as Seneca (or Mary Beard), but I will probably be thinking on Thursday that I should go pick up the mail at our little post office . . .
But since there are “honorable mentions” as well, you get more!
Obvious choices (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist), as well as films that present the subject in an exploitative manner (such as those of Dario Argento) have been left out… as have the Harry Potter movies, because that’s just too easy.
The list starts with Häxen: Witchcraft through the Ages (1922), and I have to say that that was one I quit half way through because I was falling asleep. Maybe Twenties audiences were different. But there is a YouTube video linked, and you can see for yourself.
Lots of Kenneth Anger, of course.
Thanks to Sabina Magliocco, I read this interesting piece about a Dutch anthropologist experiencing an ancestor ritual, one involving both the ancestors of the people in New Guinea whom he is visiting and his own.
And even though science failed to explain everything, the way I viewed the world was based on the idea that everything – with time – could be explained with logic and observations of reality.
Most likely, spiritual manifestations were simply projections of the unconscious, the deceitful trickery of sensory impressions or misunderstandings of natural phenomena.
I had no problem leading a life without spirits, but even so, deep down I always had a nagging feeling that I’d cut myself off from a lot of experiences.
The photo with the article is too perfect. I have cropped it here.
In turn it reminded me of an collection published twenty years ago: Being Changed: The Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience. (The late Judy Harrow told me about that one.)
A reviewer wrote,
Anthropologists of recent generations have always expressed enormous sympathy with ‘non-rational’ modes of thought, with the ‘supernatural’ experiences of people around the world. What they have rarely in their scholarly writing admitted to doing is giving any credence to the ‘irrational’ themselves—though such beliefs have long been common among those who have lived and worked for extended periods in cultures different from those that dominate Western society.
Now, in a ground-breaking volume, leading anthropologists describe such experiences and analyze what can occur “when one opens one’s self to aspects of experience that previously have been ignored or repressed.” The ten contributions to the book include Edith Turner on “A Visible Spirit Form in Zambia,” Rab Wilkie on “Ways of Approaching the Shaman’s World,” and Marie Francoise Guedon on “Dene Ways and the Ethnographer’s Culture.”
Note that it came from a small publisher, not a university press! But these experiences do happen, and it is good to get them into print.
Meanwhile, if you are interesting in “going native” in the physiological sense, I wholeheartedly recommend Carl Hoffman’s Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art.
It’s the best combination of archival research, history, and walking the ground where it happened, talking to people who were there.
And this is getting away from anthropologists . . . but spirits and possibly angry tribal peoples have been evoked to explain the “Dyatlov Pass Incident.”
Writer Donnie Eichar followed much the same methodology as did Hoffman for his own 2013 book, Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Some people treated those deaths as “high weirdness,” but his explanation is more naturalistic — and fairly convincing.
Magonia, the review blog of esoteric books (0r should that be, books on esoterica?), recently revisited two books on Unidentified Flying Objects from the 1950s by Morris K. Jessup, the first writer, they say, to use the term “UFO” in a commercial publication.
Ah, those were the days, I take it, when the assumed evidence for the reality of alien spacecraft was growing steadily. Soon we would know the truth! Governments would be forced to admit that there was Someone Else! Perhaps a disk-shaped spacecraft would float down onto the White House lawn — or in Red Square, why not? — and a being would step out, proclaiming, “We come in peace.”
Or, conversely, the aliens would not be peaceful, and Earth would have to put aside its wars and rivalries to unite in a battle to save humanity. We have all seen book and movie versions of these possible scenarios, going back to War of the Worlds in 1897, at least.
Astronomers have now found — by calculation if not direct observation — many planets that orbit their suns not too close and not too far — the habitable zone — and which, therefore, could possibly contain life “as we know it.”
But getting there is the thing. With our chemically fueled rockets, which are limited in size, even a trip to Mars would take half a year or more. And right now, that would be a one-way trip — although some people are still volunteering. It did not take so much fuel for astronauts to escape the Moon, but Mars would require quite a bit more.
“Hyperdrive” and “warp drive” are science-fiction plot devices, not technology that is anywhere in sight.
So when it comes to actual physical aliens visiting us, I see only two possibilities:
1. They travel slower than the speed of light, which means that they either have incredibly long lifespans or that they have learned to “hibernate” while traveling for many years.
2. They travel faster than the speed of light using a sort of “hyperdrive.” But if they can do that, what else can they do?
They would have no need to land a spaceship on the edge of town, leaving scorched spots on the ground, drop a ladder, and climb down wearing silvery suits, looking for someone to put on their operating table and probe.
Instead, their technology would so far ahead of ours that it would seem invisible to us. And so might they. We would not even know that we had been observed.
That blog’s name, Magonia, pays homage, I am sure, to French astronomer Jacques Vallée and to the name of a land in the clouds., taken from a medieval French tale. Vallée borrowed the name when he wrote Passport to Magonia, introducing his “interdimensional hypothesis.”
Briefly, it states that the Visitors/Fairies/aliens etc. are not from Out There but from In Here, “visitations from other ‘realities’ or ‘dimensions’ that coexist separately alongside our own.”
Maybe they live in Icelandic boulders, or as someone in a dream once told me, “inside the walls.” Either way, they should not be disturbed. Contact with them can be extremely upsetting.
This idea has long made more sense to me than the idea of physical “flying saucers” coming chug-chug-chug through interstellar space. Now you see them, now you don’t.