Literary British Paganism and an Unusual Thor’s Hammer

Photo from National Museum of Denmark

¶ Ethan Doyle White reviews Ronald Hutton’s Pagan Britain and Marion Gibson’s Imagining the Pagan Past (free PDF download). The first I have, but the second might actually be more valuable to anyone studying contemporary Paganism, for it looks not at “not at paganism [sic] itself, but instead explores how pagan deities – both native and foreign – have been interpreted in British literature from the Early Medieval right through to the present day.”

After all, at least nine or ten centuries elapsed between the effective end of cultic Paganism in that area and the mid-twentieth century revival. Hutton, too, has written on how literary works kept the old gods in public consciousness (at least that of educated readers) during  eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

¶ Speaking of the last era of old European Paganism, archaeologists have discovered an unusual Thor’s hammer talisman — unusual in that it was plated with precious metal and bore a runic inscription.  It was found in Denmark and dated to the tenth century.

Crowleyanity, Viewed with Alarm

If you thought that everything has been said about Aleister Crowley, think again.

There is Henrik Bogdan and Martin Starr’s new edited collection, Aleister Crowley and Western Esotericism, which I have to buy.

Also on my reading list is Marco Pasi’s Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics. Had the universe moved slightly differently, I would have copyedited and thus read it, but now it must be bought.

And a blogger for First Things, a journal of [Christian] religion and politics, sits and notices something:

Crowley is not dead yet. If anything, he is more alive today than he was when he claimed to have created the “V for Victory” sign as a magical talisman against the Nazi swastika.

And a Crowley tattoo at the farmers market (photo at the link)!

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Greenpeace, and the Donatists

Back in the 4th century CE, Western Christianity had a problem. During the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, which began in 303 and was severe in some areas, some Christian clergy in the Berber communities of North Africa had surrendered copies of Scripture and otherwise complied with the emperor’s edicts.

When Diocletian was replaced by the pro-Christian Constantine, the hold-outs who had resisted the persecution denounced the first group as impure. Led by a bishop named Donatus, they argued that clergy who had followed imperial orders were sinners who could no longer baptize or celebrate the Eucharist.

But the bishops in Rome, busy hitching the Christian church to the imperial chariot, said no, it’s all good. Or in Latin, ex opere operato, meaning that even if the priest is a sinner, the sacrament is still valid because it comes from God.

I heard this argument from an environmentalist friend yesterday in regard to the news stories about the European Greenpeace executive who commutes to work twice a week by airplane, even as Greenpeace itself campaigns against air travel.

“This kind of bad-example-setting undercuts the message,” I said.

“The organization’s work is still more important,” she said. Ex opere operato. Or as another Catholic once said, “The church may be a whore, but she is still our mother.”

I thought about the Donatists when the news broke last March about well-known Pagan musician Kenny Klein’s arrest on child-pornography charges.  Am I now supposed to smash my Fishbird CD and delete those tracks from my iPod? Or can I say, “Ex opere operato“?

Now it’s Marion Zimmer Bradley. That her husband Walter Breen was an aggressive pedophile is old news. But now the finger points at her: it’s all summed up here.

So who is throwing away their copies of The Mists of Avalon? Or is there an escape clause for artistic works? Is the creative act the equivalent of a religious sacrament? Must we judge the creation according to the morals of the creator or may we invoke the religion of Art: ex opere operato?

Oh yeah, Greenpeace executive Pascal Husting will now take the train, it is said. He made a “misjudgment.” But read the  comment st the Guardian website by “E McBain”: it sounds like one rule for the clergy and one for the rest of us.

The “Job” and the “Work”

deliver usOne of “New York City’s finest” has a second career as an exorcist.

Now there will be a movie, Deliver Us from Evil, from Sony Pictures. The movie, in turn, is based on his book.

If he is right, it could threaten the foundations of the corrections industry.

Around the Blogosphere: A Pagan Cat, Multiple Souls, and Idolatry

¶ “I don’t want to be rude, but what religion are you?” A Pagan pet’s name produces confusion at the veterinary clinic.

¶   “The Three/Four Souls and Their Afterlives.” Heather at Eaarth Animist looks at different traditional accounts to learn what might explain her own experiences: “It has baffled many Western anthropologists how a studied people can talk about a dead person being reincarnated in a child and also being an ancestor. The problem comes from the anthropologist’s own Christian idea of one soul.”

¶ Added to the blogroll under “Classics”:  Roman Times: An online magazine about current archaeology and classical research into the lives of inhabitants of the Roman Empire and Byzantium.

¶ Scholar of esotericism Wouter Hanegraaf from the University of Amstersdam discovers a solid book on idolatry as a category within monotheistic religions: “One searches practically in vain for authoritative monographs about the notion of idolatry and its significance in monotheist religions generally.” There are some contemporary scholars of Paganism working on that area too, but maybe not enough.

The Mind of the Native and the Mind of the Witch

Typical Colorado foothills weather — from snow on the ground mid-May to temperatures in the 80s F. by the first of June. What is this “spring” people speak of? If you have hummingbirds and snow at the same time, that is our spring.

Some links:

• Rod Dreher posts on “How to see a ghost,” which is a little tangential for the blogger usually defined as “crunchy con,” but there is a connection to the idea of being embedded in place.

A lot of the post is excerpts from Rupert Ross’s book Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality, Much of it is animistic, as you would expect:

If, for instance, it is possible for a man to “walk” through the spiritual (that is, the imaged) plane, then he could not deny the possibility that others would be able to do the same. The dimension of each person which did this visiting thus ought to be able to encounter the corresponding dimension of others; suddenly the possibility of interaction with others on that plane becomes real.

Dreher is a capital-O Orthodox Christian (by conversion, hence enthusiastic), writing that he does not “subscribe to the pagan, animistic metaphysic Ross describes, but that it’s interesting to me to observe how much this overall outlook tracks with Orthodox Christianity and its belief in panentheism, which teaches that God is immanent in all creation.” But read his post for the excerpts and to watch him wrestle with what Ross has to say.

• Meanwhile, at his Paganistan blog, Steven Posch links to what he considers an accurate description of the “mind of a witch,” although it was not written from that perspective.

I liked this part:

Like all predators, a witch is a territorial animal, and to know your territory you have to patrol it regularly and you have to notice what’s going on there: what has changed, what’s changing, and what hasn’t changed.

It’s all in how you define “territory.

Egyptian Reconstructionists Won’t Like This

(Trigger Warning: Texas, iced tea, demons)

From D Magazine in Dallas: “The Exorcists Next Door,” a profile piece on two Protestant exorcists.

Dozens of what appear to be demons manifest and depart during this day’s session. Larry coaxes out their names and functions, a veritable pantheon of entities known and obscure: Maranthia, who cuts wicked deals; Horus, Egypt’s falcon-headed god; Molech, who the Bible describes as “the detestable god of the Ammonites.”

What, the god of kings has sunk to possessing “the soft frame of a 38-year-old suburban mom we’ll call Ruth”?

What Does the New AP Stylebook Say?

Last December I reported on an effort spearheaded by Oberon Zell to get Pagan (in the religious sense) capitalized in both the Associated Press Stylebook and the University of Chicago Press’s Manual of Style.

The first is used mainly by journalists (when they remember), the second by writers and editors for university presses and other publishers of serious nonfiction books. Both are periodically updated.

A new AP Stylebook is out and receiving comment. Apparently 200 new religious terms were added. Has anyone seen a copy yet? Even Terry Mattingly at Get Religion says he has not yet seen one, but Emma Green at The Atlantic has and makes some comments, such as this:

“Holy Spirit” and “Holy Ghost” are both capitalized, but the former is the preferred usage, spirits being the more acceptable metaphysical entity. “Satan” is capitalized, but not “the devil.” Also noteworthy: “Voodoo,” the religion, is capitalized, but “voodoo,” roughly meaning “shenanigans,” is not, “especially when ascribing magical solutions to problems, as in voodoo economics.”

Anyone can buy either one of these books, of course, and more writers should. My copy of the AP Stylebook dates from 2004. Time for an update? But I am more of a Chicago guy these days.

Passing of Sasha Shulgin

Here is a good article on Alexander “Sasha” Shulgin, entheogenic chemist and “father of Ecstasy,” who passed away yesterday.

Shulgin was known for discovering, creating and personally testing hundreds of psychoactive chemicals and documenting the results, along with his wife, in his books and papers.

The Shulgins published the results of their research in two volumes PiHKAL – or Phenethylamines I have Known and Loved - and TiHKAL, which stands for Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved.

Both the books, which run to more than 800 pages, were later published online for free as every person should have “the license to explore the nature of his own soul”, he told Time Magazine in 2002.

Pihkal was subtitled “A Chemical Love Story” (partly alchemical, but it includes how they got together), while Tikhal was “A Continuation.”

I have read only the first, which includes descriptions of tripping amidst the rich and powerful at the Bohemian Grove, where he played the viola in an amateur string quartet. Yes, he was a member and apparently saw no contradictions in that. He had friends there.

In Lieu of a Post, a Link to Posts

blue elk door

I am living behind this door right now and don’t much feel like coming out. So here is something else: Go visit this month’s Animist Blog Carnival, the “Wakeful World Book Club,” devoted to the works of animist author and Druid Emma Restall Orr.