Strange Doings in Hagley Woods

This “cold” English murder case caught my attention because of the involvement of Professor Margaret “Grandmother of Wicca” Murray, who apparently injected herself into it, somewhat after the fact, with tales of witches.

(Never mind that “wych elm” does not mean “witch elm.”)

Some British writers have attempted to cast the geographically close murder of Charles Walton as a “ritual sacrifice.”

But wait, maybe it’s not witches, maybe it was Nazis!

Read the whole thing. Fascinating stuff.

 

A More Innocent May Day

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These two photos appeared today on a community page for the county where I live. I stole them. The top photo shows schoolgirls performing a traditional round dance, while in the lower  photo, wagons full of chairs and other items arrive as preparations continue for the May Day picnic.

Some people reminisced about a woman known to all as “Aunt Francis” who made sure that the girls had their white dresses and who performed other charitable work for the school.

Obviously, this was not a capital P-Pagan event. If you went back in your time machine and talked about “Beltane,” no one would have had a clue what you meant, even the prominent Anglo-Irish ranching family, I suspect.

It was a secular celebration — and where did it go? Did the evolution of May Day as a day of organized labor solidarity —and later, as the high holy day of the Soviet Union, with missile launchers rolling through Red Square, kill it completely?

Nothing much left there to re-Paganize.

Shai Feraro on Canaanite Reconstructionism

Israeli scholar Shai Feraro talks about Canannite (i.e., Pagan) reconstructionism in present-day Israel. This is an excerpt from his presentation at the recent conference of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism in Riga, Latvia. (Wish I could have been there.)

He makes a reference to the “Canaanites” who were not reconstructionists. That would be these “Canaanites.” Note that some members were fighters in the Irgun — and there is apparently a story there from the days of the Israeli struggle for independence. Basically, this movement wanted to form an Israeli/Hebrew identity that was separate from both Jewish religion and Zionism — a re-enchantment of the land.

(Video by Christian Giudice.)

Links: Exorcists, Vampires, Shamans, and the New Gothic

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in “True Blood.”

So many links, so little time to comment. Pick one, two, or three of these to read. Mix and match. Fill your plate. Come back for more.

Sexy vampires threaten Catholic youth, thus encouraging — you guessed it — “dabbling.”

• Witchy craft: I am building these.

• Another interesting article on the revival of Siberian shamanism.

• “An Ordinary Girl Born into a Family of Witches” — in the famtrad sense. So of course she wants to be “normal,” because this is not Young Adult fantasy fiction. Or maybe it is.

• An interview with Victoria Nelson, author of The Secret Life of Puppets,  on Gothicka, vampire heroes, human gods, and the “new supernatural.” That happens to be the title of her new book.

Contemporary Pagan Studies at the AAR, 2015

All of the evaluating and negotiating is completed, and the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion will be presenting the following sessions at the annual meeting, held November 21–24, 2015, in Atlanta:

1 Joint session with the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group: “The Problem of ‘Religion’ in the Study of Indigenous and Polytheistic Traditions.”

2. “Valuing Paganism in Public and Open Spaces.”

3.  “Tradition and Resistance in Paganism.”

I will post more about the contents of each session when the program book is ready.

Wicca Again as the “Designated Other”

pasque flowersPasque flowers blooming in a thin layer of pine duff atop a boulder. I love them for their precarious and improbably habitat.

Spring is slowly coming to the forest, and within it the offer of new chances, a feeling that you might get it right this time.

Travel and editorial crises have killed my blogging for the past couple of weeks. I have this huge backlog of topics and probably won’t get to most of them.

But let’s start with the topical stuff. Wicca continues to move towards being the Designated Other in the American religious scene. It used to be “What will the Jews say?” or “How will the Jehovah’s Witnesses react?” to name just two groups that had their conflicts with the dominant religious paradigm.

At the same time, to many members of the Chattering Classes, Wicca (and other forms of Paganism) is not quite a real religion. Therefore, you can have even more fun when writing about it: “Mike Pence’s New Fan Club: Wiccans.

Yes, how do Wiccans react to Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act??

The religion is real to the practitioners, of course — but some of them have a little fun with the question too. (Marry a horse?)

It’s funny how things change. When the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act sailed through Congress and was signed by President Clinton, it was all about protecting the Native American Church — the Peyote Way. How colorful and traditional!

Now some columnists and bloggers put “religious freedom” in scare quotes, like it’s something icky than can only be handled with your Gloves of Irony.

As a follower of a minority religion, I still think that religious freedom (no scare quotes) is pretty damn important.

But if you want to get beyond all the idiots screaming for the social-nuking of Indiana in 140 characters or less, go to someone with a sense of the evolution of law, like Washington Post columnist and law professor Eugene Volokh.

Here is the short version: “Religious exemptions, RFRA carveouts, and ‘who decides?’ ”  He contrasts the popularity of religious freedom with the demands for limiting it for the larger good:

Yet surely religious exemptions can’t always be granted, and there can’t even be a very strong general rule of granting such exemptions (much as there is a strong rule against the government banning speech because of its content, at least outside traditionally recognized exceptions). There can’t be religious exemptions from laws banning murder, rape, theft, trespass, libel, and the like. There probably shouldn’t be such exemptions, at least outside narrow zones, from tax law, copyright law, employment law, and more.

For a longer explanation of the how Congress and the courts have wrestled with these topics and how players and teams have shifted, read his piece “Many liberals’ (sensible) retreat from the old Justice Brennan/ACLU position on religious exemptions.”

Fairies Infest British Woodland, Control Measures Planned

From the BBC:

Hundreds of fairy doors have been attached to the bases of trees in Wayford Woods, Crewkerne.

It is claimed the doors have been installed by local people so children can “leave messages for the fairies”.

Can something be too twee? Yes, it can. And remember, fairies are not always your friends.

Polyamory and the Secret History of Wonder Woman

wonder womanSnow is falling, and I am elbow deep in putting together the next Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which among other things carries an article called “What is a Superhero? How Myth Can Be a Metacode,” by Kenneth MacKendrick of the University of Manitoba.

So, with comics on the mind, here is “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.

Back story? Oh yes, not to mention polyamory, eugenics, and chains.

Some of [the comic books] are full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business,” she said.

“Unfortunately, that is true,” Marston admitted, but “when a lovely heroine is bound to the stake, comics followers are sure that the rescue will arrive in the nick of time. The reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.”

Magic Earth Lines 2: The 37th Parallel

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Houses built of upright or stacked stone slabs in defensible locations characterized the Apishapa River canyon sites from about 1000–1400 CE .

The ranch was owned by a man named Howard Munsell (now deceased). Unlike a lot of Southern Plains ranchers who are, shall we say, standoffish toward strange visitors, he had previously run a trail-ride business, and so he was able to handle several dozen campers on his land, providing water and basic sanitary facilities.

(After his passing, the 13,000-acre [5260 ha.] ranch was sold: see photos at this real estate agency’s website.)

One May weekend in the 1980s, M. and I took our turn at carefully piloting our ’69 VW Westfalia camper across a ford in the Apishapa River. What was the attraction? An archaeological site — and the 37th degree of north latitude.

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Apishapa Culture rock art, probably from 1000–1400 CE.

Most of our fellow campers were UFO hunters. A couple were “crusties” who looked like they had crawled out of a Dumpster just long enough for the weekend. For our part, we were excited about a chance to get into a place that is normally closed to outsiders, look for rock art, and just poke around. If the Space Brothers landed, that would be only a bonus.

doveThe organizers had an elaborate esoteric diagram that guided them to the spot, which was on the 37th parallel.

In fact, the idea that Latitude 37° North is a “paranormal freeway” persists:

Chuck [Zukowski] has investigated several cattle mutilations in Southern Colorado over the past few years, and while preparing a talk for a recent UFO conference, he was trying to look for patterns in the places that the mutilations took place. With this on his mind, Colorado had its largest natural earthquake in a century. It was a 5.3 on the Richter scale and centered in the southwest part of the state. Within 15 hours Virginia received one of the largest earthquakes it had ever had as well. It registered as a 5.8. Neither quake caused much damage, but Chuck noticed that they were both near the 37 degree latitude line. He then noticed that his cattle mutilation cases were also near the 37 degree latitude line.

Oh dear. Cattle mutilations. Been there, done that, got the Fate magazine T-shirt. But I can credit the “mutilation” flap for introducing me both to ceremonial magic and newspaper reporting as a job, which is another story.

So what does this all mean? I have no idea. Chuck has speculated that perhaps there are secret military bases in these areas. It is hard to say, and Debbie says she is still in the middle of increased UFO reports.

Yeah, me neither. But I will always be glad that I could walk the bluff along the Apishapa (Ute for “stinking water,” by the way, referring to its late-summer stagnant pools) while the true believers watched for UFOs.

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines

At Bad Archaeology, a skeptical look at Alfred Watkins and the “discovery” of ley lines:

According to a later account, all this [discovery of a hidden web of straight lines in the English countryside] came to him “in a flash” on 21 June 1921 during a visit to Blackwardine; according to his son Allen, this happened while poring over a map. A variation on the ‘origin myth’ quoted by John Michell holds that the revelation happened whilst out riding in the hills near Bredwardine in 1920, observing the Herefordshire landscape he loved. It is unclear why there are two different versions of the story; Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy note wryly in their excellent Ley Lines in Question (Tadworth: World’s Work, 1983) that John Michell’s version reflects how “ley hunters would like to think it happened”.

Speculations about “trackways” and astronomical alignments go back well into the nineteenth century, before even Watkins’ time.

A critique of the Wikipedia entry for ley lines is included.

Read the rest.