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).

Spirits, Photography, and the Burned-Over District

Why was the Eastman Kodak Company founded in Rochester, New York, not far from the town of Hydesville (now part of Arcadia Township), where the Fox sisters birthed the American Spiritualist movement? Is there a connection between photography and spirits?

Esoteric photographer Rik Garret tof Chicago says yes, and he has launched a YouTube video series, of which this is the first episode.

He briefly mentions the Burned-Over District, which is a religion-scholar’s term for the part of northern New York (and in adjacent Vermont), where numerous new religious movements and personages started or flourished in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Andrew Jackson Davis, the “Poughkeepsie Seer,” was just one — Shakers, Mormons, and other movements either started or began to grow there. “Burned over” refers to the “fires” of revival movements that swept the area in the Second Great Awakening, which “reflected Romanticism characterized by enthusiasm, emotion, and an appeal to the super-natural. It rejected the skeptical rationalism and deism of the Enlightenment.”

You could say that we are still feeling it.

 

Heathens in the Grange

newgrange

How the hof will look after it has been Norse-ified.

The Asatru Folk Assembly recently concluded a successful crowdfunding campaign to buy an old Grange hall in the Gold Rush country of California.1)Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups. AFA founder Stephen McNallen chose this time to step down as alsherjargothi (high priest) and go out on a high note.

Welcome to the joys of hof-ownership. How is the roof? Septic system? Water? And wildfire mitigation — don’t forget that! I know what it is like to see air tankers coming in low over my hof, I mean house, to make a retardant drop. I see conifers in the photo background — check your gutters!

What makes me chuckle is the fact that the building used to be a Grange hall — a meeting place of  a 150-year-old organization, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, that while smaller than it used to be, has not died out completely.

When I was a teenager in northern Colorado, I knew of several old Grange halls that sat empty in rural areas for lack of membership. Some high school friends of mine rented one for band practice. They were not a “garage band”  — they were a “grange band” (rimshot).

My impression of the order’s demise was corrected when I was a newpaper reporter in Colorado Springs and covered a Grange convocation in order to hear some speaker — something agriculture-related, probably.

By then I knew Isaac Bonewits’ classification scheme of Paleo-Pagan, Meso-Pagan, and Neo-Pagan, and the Grangers definitely had a slight Meso-Pagan vibe. I lacked the password and handshake to get into the closed, ritual part of the meeting, but there was something mentioned about Demeter, and I saw small silver ritual plows, etc. As the Wikipedia entry notes,

When the Grange first began in 1867, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. It also copied ideas from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings.

The word grange goes way back, coming from

Anglo-French graunge, Old French grange “barn, granary; farmstead, farm house” (12c.), from Medieval Latin or Vulgar Latin granica “barn or shed for keeping grain,” from Latin granum “grain,” from PIE root *gre-no- “grain” (see corn). Sense evolved to “outlying farm” (late 14c.), then “country house,” especially of a gentleman farmer (1550s).

Newgrange, the famous prehistoric monument in Ireland was named after some farm, I suppose.

It was almost obsolete in 19th-century American when it was revived in the name of the fraternal order, which also sought to promote better farming practices, and mostly importantly to help farmers work cooperatively to promote their interests against the railroads. As the only mechanism to get their grain to market, the railroads always had the producers by the neck.

Following the Panic of 1873, the Grange spread rapidly throughout the farm belt, since farmers in all areas were plagued by low prices for their products, growing indebtedness and discriminatory treatment by the railroads. These concerns helped to transform the Grange into a political force. . . .

The Grange as a political force peaked around 1875, then gradually declined. New organizations with more potent messages emerged, including the Greenback Party of the 1870s, the Farmers’ Alliances of the 1880s and the Populist Party of the 1890s.

The Grange had played an important role by demonstrating that farmers were capable of organizing and advocating a political agenda. After witnessing the eclipse of its advocacy efforts by other groups, the Grange reverted to its original educational and social events. These have sustained the organization to the present day.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups.

Thoughts after a Funeral

A member of my little rural volunteer fire department died last week at the age of 47.1)It was not a line-of-duty death; other causes So the chief, the treasurer, and I put on our rarely worn dress uniforms for the funeral — M. came too — and we went off to a little rectangular funeral chapel in a nearby town for the “celebration of life.”

The chief had quickly put together a quickie memorial display of an American flag in one of those triangular presentation boxes plus the man’s structural-fire helmet, which went onto the table with the urn and some other items, flanked by flowers and two easels holding collages of photographs. Pretty standard stuff these days.

But along with that, you had people sitting in rows and whispering too each other. The building was too hot (aren’t they always?). The music was canned vaguely spiritual pop — the only lively tune was “Spirit in the Sky” with its hard-driving opening chords — from way back in 1969.

The rent-a-cleric gave a [put deceased’s names here] eulogy, tripping over the fact that while the man’s legal first name was “Larry,” most people there knew him as “Scott” or “Scotty.” (His business cards read “Larry ‘Scott’ Lastname.”)

When the widow rose to speak — a tall, lanky woman clinging to the lectern for support, wracked by sobs — Scott’s mother rose and started waving her arms — the funeral director rushed up from the back of the chapel and led her away. She was not overcome by sadness, oh no, she apparently hates this woman, who was her son’s second wife.

The older woman came by the fire station two days later, wondering if any of her son’s personal items were there (they were not). She said she was “not allowed” to go up to his house, which is up on a ridge further on up the road. After she left, we looked at each other, and the words “mother-in-law from hell” were heard.

I ask that if I have a memorial service some day, there will be no recorded music. I think of these quasi-Protestant funeral-home services I have attended, where the rent-a-cleric sits on a bench gazing into the middle distance while some ghastly piece of “praise music” plays on cheap speakers.

If I cannot have live music — a harper playing “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music” would be good — then just go straight to the fun part: “The evil bastard is dead — drink up!”  Fire a volley to scare away ghosts. Please don’t sacrifice my dog(s). Then go home.

Pagans, we need to do better than what I sat through last Tuesday. I know that some people are doing it.

Notes   [ + ]

1. It was not a line-of-duty death; other causes

Why I Am Not at the Heartland Festival.

Amtrack's Southwest Chief in southern Colorado. By Steve Wilson - Flickr (Wikimedia Commons)

Amtrack’s Southwest Chief in southern Colorado. By Steve Wilson – Flickr (Wikimedia Commons)

All day I had been tracking the progress of the eastbound Southwest Chief, the Amtrak train between Chicago and Los Angeles. It was slightly late out of Gallup, N.M., but on time into Albuquerque.

Then something happened to slow it between Lamy Junction and Las Vegas, New Mexico. The estimated time of arrival at my station (La Junta, Colo.) kept sliding back.

Just as well.

With the train fifteen minutes out from the station, my phone rang with a Kansas City number that I did not recognize, but I ended up talking with Sean, one of the Heartland Pagan Festival organizers.

I was supposed to give two talks there this weekend: one on American nature religion and one on my flying ointment research.

Things were not good: a dam had overflowed, the access road to Camp Gaea was blocked, and the person who was to pick me up in Lawrence, Kan., tomorrow morning (Friday, May 27) was trapped (along with everyone else) at the festival site.

It was questionable if I could even get there tomorrow. He spoke of reimbursing me for a hotel room. Would I even be able to do the scheduled Saturday presentation?

It’s not that I dislike Lawrence — it’s an interesting town — but did I want to ride all night just to go there and then, perhaps, stay a night in a hotel and then come back again, if I could get my ticket changed?

And what about all the people who paid for the weekend, were they getting in? There was a strong vibe of chaos and confusion, and I did not envy the organizers one bit.

Meanwhile the train was getting closer. “Maybe I had better abort this mission,” I said.

As I turned onto the highway home, the silver cars of the Southwest Chief were rolling beside me. I was going west, and they were going east.

So here I am, after two hours’ drive back home. After having sweated numerous bullets trying to put two talks together, packed, gotten everything organized (notes, handouts).

At least some of the work will transfer to other projects, an article and a book.

Normal for Glastonbury, Normal for Boulder

I love snarky local blogs. Unfortunately, the one for my little mountain county seems mostly devoted these days to attacking one county commissioner candidate, so I will spare you that.

But thanks to a Facebook friend, I was introduced to Normal for Glastonbury, which contains such nuggets as these about the most esoteric town in England, contributed by its readers:

Lisa: ‘Get off my fucking leyline!’ a hedge monkey once shouted at the custodian of the White Spring.

Sophie: “Yesterday, whilst on the top floor of the bus returning to Glastonbury from Bristol I overheard two young men, talking excitedly about visiting Glastonbury for the first time. One French guy explained that he had a calling to go to Glastonbury because people there believe in dragons, as he did himself and in fact he always travels with his dragon. When the other man asked where his dragon was the French man explained that his dragon was riding on the roof of the bus.”

Vijay ” I have a boyfriend in the seventh dimension”

Sam: “I was stood outside St Dunstan’s house on the pavement. Woman walks up and, looking concerned asks “Can you tell me where something normal is?”. I paused and asked whatever did she mean ‘normal’? She said “Something like .. well – an Italian restaurant”. I pointed across the street to point out we had (at that time) two – there and there. She looked relieved, thanked me and walk away. It left me wondering .. why is an Italian restaurant in Glastonbury ‘normal’ and what had led to her concern?”

That comment about getting off the ley line1)Is ley line one word or two? reminded me of another blog, one devoted to conversations overheard in the too-hip university city of Boulder, Colorado, once famous for its population of Buddhist converts.2)Sedona, Arizona might be a better parallel for Glastonbury, however. (They’re still there, but Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche is long gone.) Mirroring a more hipster/New Agey-vibe, it’s called Stay Out of My Namaste Space.

Some samples:

“I do yoga at the Y. They do a poor people’s scholarship which is great ‘cause I look poor on paper.”

“I was thinking about it today and I haven’t been in Europe in 2 whole years.”

“The Universe has blessed me with the opportunity to be unconnected from my smartphone.”

“I swear to God, I was the only person on this earth who thought Iceland was cool before everyone else did. I’ve literally been obsessing over Iceland for twenty years.”

“We ended up naming him Jeffrey. I wanted to name him Stannis but my psychic didn’t think that was a good idea.”

Who’s delivering the snark in your town?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Is ley line one word or two?
2. Sedona, Arizona might be a better parallel for Glastonbury, however.