Pentagram Pizza at the Mongolian Grill

pentagrampizzaSome links worth exploring:

• In post-Soviet Mongolia, shamanism is a “growth industry,” says an MIT anthropologist. In Manuduhai Buyandelger’s Tragic Spirits: Shamanism, Memory, and Gender in Contemporary Mongolia, she writes how, “shamanism is a historical memory for people who lost parts of their ancestral homeland, and who had been marginalized and politically oppressed.”

• Photographer Rik Garrett (formerly of the Occult Chicago blog, now relocating back to the Pacific Northwest), is interviewed at beautiful.bizarre.

Rik harnesses old, analog photography techniques and a deep sensibility that is both educated and magical. I dare to believe he is opening doors to the past, recreating a cross-section of witchcraft and the earliest technologies in photography, and to the spirit realm—illuminating phenomenon and sparking the imagination beyond the typical scope of artistry.

• Is this the first baby step toward recording your dreams?Scientists Figure Out What You See While You’re Dreaming.” I am imaging YouTube full of Inception-style videos. Yikes!

• Should you be hung as a witch? Take the test and see if you are guilty of witchcraft. (Link fixed.)

New Pomegranate Issue Published

Pom headerA new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has been published online and will be available in print before long. Links to all articles are available here. Book reviews are free downloads, but there is a charge for articles.1)But talk to an interlibrary loan librarian.


“A Hackney Disciple of the Beast 666: A History in Letters”
Christopher Josiffe

“Theoretical, Terminological, and Taxonomic Trouble in the Academic Study of Contemporary Paganism: A Case for Reform”
Ethan Doyle White

“Contemporary Pagans and Stigmatized Identity”
Gwendolyn Reece

Book Reviews

Alex Mar, Witches of America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
Reviewed by Mary Catherine Hamner

Patrick Curry, ed. Divination: Perspectives for a New Millennium (New York: Routledge, 2010)
Reviewed by Doe Daughtrey

Loraine Hutchins, and H. Sharif Williams, eds. Sexuality, Religion and the Sacred: Bisexual, Pansexual and Polysexual Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2012)
Reviewed by Christine Hoff Kraemer

Arthur Versluis, Magic and Mysticism: An Introduction to Western Esoteric Traditions (Lanham, Md.: Rowan and Littlefield, (2007)
Reviewed by Melissa Jame Harrington

Philip Heselton, Doreen Valiente Witch (Nottingham, UK: The Doreen Valiente Foundation in association with The Centre for Pagan Studies, 2016)
Reviewed by Ethan Doyle White

Christine Hoff Kraemer, Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake (New York: Routledge, 2014)
Reviewed by Constance Wise

Stephen A. McNallen, Asatru: A Native European Spirituality (Nevada City, Calif.: Runestone Press, 2015)
Reviewed by Jefferson F. Calico

Notes   [ + ]

1. But talk to an interlibrary loan librarian.

Kicked Back in Time

I was contacted a couple of months ago by family members of  the two defendants in a Wicca-related murder case. It was big news in the American Craft network1)I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era. circa 1977–80. If you remember it, fine. If not, I am not going to summarize it now because I am thinking in other directions. Maybe later.

A few days ago, two medium-size cartons arrived in the mail, full of newspaper clippings, notes, correspondence, annotated copies of jury lists, itemized bills from lawyers and investigators, sworn statements and affidavits, investigators’ reports  — pretty much the entire paper trail except for the actual trial transcripts and some of the law-enforcement paperwork.

The old Court TV channel (now TruTV) would have loved this case, but it came a decade too soon.

And too early for the Internet, thank the gods. The hypothetical comments on a hypothetical post on The Wild Hunt would have blown up the server, I am sure.

One thing you don’t find in every criminal case is a thick file of psychics’ impressions of what “really happened,” complete with maps and diagrams, not to mention psychic readings of a couple dozen potential witnesses. (The investigator checked out some of this info as best he could.)

Yes, it was just the opposite of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93. In this case, it was the defense using “spectral evidence.” And while there was no bill from Dr. Buzzard for “chewing the root” in court, you can bet some magic-workers were involved.2)For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

I don’t feel like writing a “true crime” book, but I want to write something.  I had drafted a chapter on the trial for Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America, but I deleted it because it did not mesh with the other themes of the book. (Now where is the file, on the old iMac in the basement?)

Maybe we need a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on “Paganism and Violence,” and since I won’t be co-chair after this year, I can submit something.  It’s a story that needs to be told, from the perspective of folklore studies or perthaps the study of new religious movements. To me, now, almost forty years after the events, it’s not so much the “who done it” that interests me as it is the context in which these events were imbedded.

Meanwhile, I have rough-sorted all the papers and condensed two cartons down to one, having set aside lots of old Pagan zines and unrelated materials of various sorts that were tossed in with the trial documents. Among these was the “Pagan Occult New Age Directory Supplement, Autumn 1978,” from the Pagan Grove Press of Atlanta. I looked up “Colorado” and there I was, with my old Manitou Springs telephone number. Kicked back in time.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era.
2. For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

In Praise of Harvest Time

Some (Northern Hemisphere) Harvest/Lammas celebrations, only not called that.

This one, I think, is from Iran:

This one comes from the island of Cyprus:

And while we’re in the mood, let’s not forget Whitman McGowan’s “White Folks Was Wild Once Too,” with video that is NSFW if you work in a monotheistic or cultural-marxist environment:

And don’t forget “John Barleycorn”!

Why Pagans Aren’t at Home in “Interfaith” Groups

In 2009, the CESNUR organization for the study of new religions held its annual international conference in Salt Lake City.

The panels, papers, and speaker events ended with a dinner at the historic Alta Club, which is drippingly gorgeous in a sort of late Victorian/Arts & Crafts style. I would have skipped the roast beef for an architectural tour of the place.

But no, I was in my dining chair when one of the Mormon “Seventies” — a member of an upper level in the hierarchy — delivered a benediction. (While the fundamentalist, breakaway LDS groups had been a major focus of the conference, this was about the only official-ish interaction with the mainsteam LDS church.)

First he said a few words in regard to the group’s purpose, acknowledging its diversity (founder Massimo Introvigne, for example, is an Italian lawyer by training and very Catholic), adding, “but we all worship the same [G]od.”

I groaned inwardly. It reminded me why I don’t do interfaith stuff — I spoke once at a luncheon in Denver, that’s all. I know some Pagans do it — more power to them — but I become a little . . . withdrawn . . . when the “we all worship the same god in the end” discourse begins.

All this came back when I read Galina Krasskova’s recent blog post, “Interfaith Doublespeak.” She writes in her usual take-no-prisoners style:

It becomes all about making the person feel good, about making them look “enlightened” and “spiritual” so they can get a pat on the head without ever having to challenge any oppressive status quo, especially any religious status quo. Their model is monotheistic. The model for their rites and rituals is, whether they acknowledge this or not: monotheistic and actual engagement with the Powers of any tradition is generally lacking. Most interfaith rituals I have observed are not just doggedly human centric but, despite whatever trappings the organizer might appropriate, devoid of Gods. I mean, you sort of need to name the Gods to call Them into a space and that might be exclusive. Everyone has to feel comfortable after all so let’s just go with the lowest fucking common denominator and call it a day. Hence you end up with what I call impious and unclean space. (Read the rest.)

Yes, right there, that is why I do not attend interfaith luncheons. But I would attend another meeting of the Centro Studi sulle Nuove Religioni if it’s within driving distance.

Can You Help Your Ancestors Instead of Rejecting Them?

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a cover blurb for a Llewellyn book, something that does not happen very often.

It was a pretty good book. Some people might have found the title obscure, but that was not my decision. But one thing stopped me in my tracks. The writer tried to use the language of “colonist” and “decolonized”  and “colonialist cultures” in a clumsy way that came across as “You should hate your ancestors because they were bad people.”

I don’t if that was necessarily intended, but it was easy to read a key passage in such a way.

Underneath the language was a message about connecting with the Old Ways (or what we think they were), but the cultural-Marxist thought-template got in the way. For a Llewellyn book, I would phrase things differently. (Or for any book.)

Even a scholar using “colonization” as a psychic metaphor has to tread carefully. Anne Ferlat put her  Pomegranate article on “Conversion as Colonization: Pagan Reconstructionism and Ethnopsychiatry” through multiple drafts, and still some reviewers were nervous about its implications.

Certainly we don’t approve of everything our ancestors did. In the mid-1870s, my great-great uncle Frederick was a commercial buffalo hunter in western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle, dropping them with his “Big 50.” Do I applaud him for that? Hell no.1)He did get a couple of line in some 19th-century history books for a separate act of heroism. Do I wish that we as a culture had taken a different approach? Absolutely.2)We shudder at the piles of buffalo bones in the old photos, but the Comanche and Kiowa were reducing the Southern Herd quite well themselves, both through their own commercial hunting and because their huge horse herds competed with the bison for winter grazing in the river bottoms. The Indians thought that bison were inexhaustible, with new ones coming up through a hole connecting to the Lower World. It’s a complicated story.

In my early days of esoteric studies, I was told that in reality, time did not move in one direction; consequently, not only could my ancestors influence me, but I could influence them.3)This might have been in one of Jane Roberts’ “Seth” books. Perhaps this is the real secret of “ancestor worship” so-called.

Some psychotherapists think that we not only carry in our bodies our own traumas, but also certain ancestors’ traumas.

Jesse revealed that his mother had only recently told him about the tragic death of his father’s older brother—an uncle he never knew he had. Uncle Colin was only nineteen when he froze to death checking power lines in a storm just north of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories of Canada. Tracks in the snow revealed that he had been struggling to hang on. Eventually, he was found facedown in a blizzard, having lost consciousness from hypothermia. His death was such a tragic loss that the family never spoke his name again. Now, three decades later, Jesse was unconsciously reliving aspects of Colin’s death—specifically, the terror of letting go into unconsciousness. For Colin, letting go meant death. For Jesse, falling asleep must have felt the same.

In such a case, would “healing” the ancestor help the living?

Some of today’s new shamans, like Sandra Ingerman, teach that this magical work can be done on a collective level as well.

M. and I have a sort of Ancestors Wall of framed photos in our house, now that we have room for it. I look, for instance, at a maternal great-grandfather in his little SE Kansas newspaper office—he is at the desk (editor! community leader!) while the compositor and the press crew cluster further back. What is our relationship? How does the energy flow?4)I did go through a period of fascination with letterpress technology and could have operated— with a little coaching—every piece of equipment in that room.

And great-great uncle Frederick, did he ever in his next line of work — saloon-keeper, Miles City, Montana — look into a scrying glass of whiskey and wonder what he had done?

These are complicated questions. My modest amount of Other Side contact has been with immediate kin—parents, a sister—not with those further back. They seem closer — at times I feel my father in my body, so to speak, in some mundane action like putting on a coat.

Quantum mechanics offers fascinating ideas, as this article suggests:

Yet none of [the]  one-way flow of time is apparent when you look at the fundamental laws of physics: the laws, say, that describe how atoms bounce off each other.

At the same time, I don’t feel qualified to proclaim, “Quantum mechanics proves magic works!” There are of plenty of other people who will, and they’ll write books and give workshops about it.

But if we can somehow heal the past, there is plenty of work to do. It beats rejecting our ancestors — even if they did wrong by our standards, they made us possible.

Notes   [ + ]

1. He did get a couple of line in some 19th-century history books for a separate act of heroism.
2. We shudder at the piles of buffalo bones in the old photos, but the Comanche and Kiowa were reducing the Southern Herd quite well themselves, both through their own commercial hunting and because their huge horse herds competed with the bison for winter grazing in the river bottoms. The Indians thought that bison were inexhaustible, with new ones coming up through a hole connecting to the Lower World. It’s a complicated story.
3. This might have been in one of Jane Roberts’ “Seth” books.
4. I did go through a period of fascination with letterpress technology and could have operated— with a little coaching—every piece of equipment in that room.

“Witches of America”: Sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table

I finally read Alex Mar’s Witches of America, and it is better than I thought, based on some of the reviews that I had seen, like this piece of negativity, for example: “[a] sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative” or this one: “extremely judgmental,” or the Complete Hurt Feelings Wrap-up here.

First, this is not a grand survey of the Pagan scene by a sympathetic journalist, similar to Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America (1979, rev. 1986) or the even earlier Witches U.S.A. by Susan Roberts (1974).

Rather, as one Pagan reviewer sarcastically noted, the better comparison was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia(I cannot imagine Julia Roberts playing Margot Adler in the movie version of Drawing Down the Moon.) It’s a memoir about “finding yourself.”

But I still enjoyed the read, once I realized that it was not any kind of a survey but more like Alex Mar trying to find the cool kids’ table in the magic-school cafeteria. Just when you think she has settled on a corner seat at the O.T.O., she started looking across the room at the necromancers. Maybe they are the real kool kidz.

At least you, the reader, get to ride along with actual necromancers after midnight. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage to Jose “Felipe” Nunes, the “Love” part of her title, has broken up after twelve years. I wonder if Alex Mar will be active with the O.T.O. that long.

Demons! Swastikas!! Witches in Ireland!!!

¶ The Washington Post runs a non-snarky article about a psychiatrist who thinks that demons are real.

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.

Bonus: a satanic witch priestess.

¶ How did the swastika go from worldwide good luck symbol to a symbol of evil. Richard Smoley explains:

And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.

The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.

A lightweight article from Ireland on Witchcraft. Something to read before you apply more sunscreen. “Janet” is, of course, Janet Farrar.

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.