Ayahuasca Tourism and Pagan Holidays

Kira Salak, a writer for National Geographic, has a good article published on her ayahuasca pilgrimage to Peru.

But she can’t call it a that. It was “a lark,” at least the first time:

And then there is me, who a year ago came to Peru on a lark to take the “sacred spirit medicine,” ayahuasca, and get worked over by shamans. Little suspecting that I’d emerge from it feeling as if a waterlogged wool coat had been removed from my shoulders—literally feeling the burden of depression lifted—and thinking that there must be something to this crazy shamanism after all.

And so I am back again.

I have read a lot of put-downs of this sort of journey. The term “ayahuasca tourism” is tossed around, along with the presumption that any such experience cannot possibly be “authentic,” whatever that means.

Such an attitude may suit neo-puritans, but it is profoundly un-Pagan.

In the collection Anthropological Research on Contemporary Tourism (thanks to Amy W. for the citation), Nelson Graburn offers a “Working/Traveling Matrix,”

                                          Stay                                      Travel

 Voluntary                     “Doing Nothing” at home                  Tourism and/or recreation

Compulsory/Serious    Work, incl. school & housework       Occupations requiring travel

What I see in this is the attitude that if you are not getting paid to travel, it’s not real, and that if it is not work, it is not serious travel.

Think of those times when you have met someone — or maybe said about yourself — who claimed to be a “traveler” but not a “tourist.”

Imagine someone leaning against a wall two thousand years ago outside the sacred precinct of Delphi, sneering, “Look at that — another bunch of rich oracle tourists.” (Well, there were the Cynics.) But a scholar of religious tourism in ancient Greece writes,

Many tourism scholars however have begun to recognize that the differences between what is a tourist and what is a pilgrim is not as large as was once thought. These scholars have coined a new term, the religious tourist, to describe those travelers who seem to bridge the gap between the traditional definition of a pilgrim and the traditional definition of a tourist.

Maybe a contemporary writer has to describe her trip as “a lark” in order to distance herself from the fact that it might be a pilgrimage, leading some of her readers to dismiss her as a “religious wacko.”

Phallephoria 2014 — Honoring Dionysus in Athens

Two things.

1. “Phallephoria, the carrying of a phallus in procession in honor of Dionysus. For the first time after almost two thousand years, Phallephoria was celebrated in Athens.”

And that is tremendous. There is also a longer, 30-minute YouTube video

Although the weather looks rainy in the video, was it always so, archaeologists wonder.

2.  After thirty-some years of attending festivals, I know that the Wiccan ritual model of casting a circle is not the solution for big groups—too much standing around and waiting. Instead, the quintessential Pagan large-group creation of ritual space should be by processing, whether in the streets or the open country.

And the Greeks do a good job with masking too.

New Moon, Pine Tree

Some months I am so relieved to see the New Moon, and this is one of them.

Caffeine and the Sun God

As a freezing fog swirls through the pines, I lift my coffee mug and think of the sun — and coffee!


Solar Roast’s emblem.

Thursday was a much warmer day: M. and I went to Pueblo for supplies, and after a stop at Hercules Liquor for beer and wine, had a late breakfast at Solar Roast Coffee, whose emblem is Apollo Helios in his chariot.  (They use solar power for roasting the beans, an idea that started in western Oregon but did not stay there — not enough sunshine.)

A early-20th-century depiction of Daz Bog (Wikipedia).

And then at the grocery store I picked up a bag of Daz Bog coffee beans — another solar-connected deity. The gods and heroes are everywhere in the marketplace.

The Wikipedia article on caffeine says nothing about its divine patrons, but it seems obvious what is going on.

In his wonderful Pharmakodynamis, the section on Excitantia, Dale Pendell lists correspondences for caffeine — Planet: Sun, of course, and these, among others:

  • Realm of Pleasure: Brain
  • Rock: Granite
  • Season: Winter
  • Sign: Canis Major
  • God: Hermes
  • Goddess: Fortuna
  • Social Event: New Job

Outside, the fog is spitting graupel. Two wild turkey hens scratch under the bird feeder, looking for seeds that the little birds kicked down. Canis major is sleeping by the fire.

Journalistic Cliches and Their Academic Cousins

My least-favorite journalistic cliche is “time will tell.”

Despite the president’s charm offensive, some pundits say that the world will end next Tuesday. Time will tell.

Read the whole list of 150 here.

As a journal editor, I could make my own list, particularly those stupid bits of wordiness that get between the reader and an actual thesis statement, in which the writer actually takes a position on the issue.

Some sample candidates:

I plan to explore the intersection between . . .

In this paper I will argue  . . .

This article compares . . .

Get out of the spotlight, academic writer, and say something about something.

New York’s ‘Occult Revival’: Everything Old Is New Again

From The Revealer (see blogroll under Religion and Journalism): “Chapel Perilous: Notes From The New York Occult Revival.”

There’s been a magical revival happening in New York City for two to three years,” Damon Stang, the “shop witch” for Catland Books in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, told the New York Times last year. “I think it’s a nostalgia that people have for a sense of enchantment with the world.”

There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz. . . . .

In the academic study of religion, “the occult” is neither settled as a term nor a community. At its most basic level, it indicates a kind of hiddenness — a concealed truth. In popular usage, this usually means pagan nature worship, witchcraft, spirit communication, magic and other fringe religious ideas. The scholar Catherine Albanese, in her magisterial A Republic of Mind and Spirit, investigated many American practitioners of these forms as “metaphysicals,” a particular variety of religious actor for whom the power of the mind and the existence of a concealed “energy” within the body and the world, are essential. It’s a useful term, but hardly ever applied outside of the academy. The people I met at the conference preferred the words “occult” and “esoteric” to describe their interests, often using them interchangeably. How can a revival be studied when it is unclear what, exactly, is being revived?

Worth reading, among other things, for the reminder about Robert Anton Wilson’s idea of the “chapel perilous.” I could tell stories . . .  and I am certain that you could too.

Cross-Cultural Collection on Popular Religion Includes Paganism

The edited collection Religion, Tradition and the Popular examines “experiences of spirituality in combination with commercialization and expressive performative practices as well as everyday politics of identity. Based on innovative theoretical reflections, the essays take into consideration what the transcultural negotiation of religion, tradition and the popular signifies in different places and social contexts.”

Two contributions speak to contemporary Paganism in particular:

• Stefanie v. Schnurbein,  “Germanic Neo-Paganism: A Nordic Art-Religion?” (243–60).

• René Gründer, “Neo-pagan Traditions in the 21st Century: Re-inventing Polytheism in a Polyvalent World-Culture,” ( 261–82).

Quick Review: The Wizard and the Witch

wizard and witchOne of my earliest entries on this blog, clear back in 2003, was a complaint about the lack of biographical and autobiographical writing in American Wicca — and I would extend that to all types of new Paganism generally.

That entry did mention Margot Adler’s Heretic’s Heart (1997), but I did not care for Whispers of the Moon (1996), a biography of Scott Cunningham, because it seemed too obviously tidied-up and sanitized. (Sam Webster says that it is still valuable despite that — I won’t dispute the point.)

Michael Lloyd’s The Bull of Heaven (2012) broke the drought. His thoroughly researched book placed Eddie Buczynski in a cultural context — the New York Pagan and Gay Liberation scenes of the 1970s — and explored a wealth of connections and possibilities without blinking.

Now John C.. Sulak, who co-wrote Modern Pagans (2001) for RE/Search Press, has brought us  The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell & Morning Glory.

It is not just the history of a significant slice of  American Paganism from the 1960s until now, but also the love story of a couple married for forty years.

Yet Morning Glory, priestess of Aphrodite, invented the term “polyamory” (but not the concept)  and they embraced it. Paradoxes abound.

Sulak tells the story of Otter and MG through multiple voices, more like a radio documentary — there is even a voice labeled “Narrator.” I thought that was a little weird at first, but I got used to it.

Sometimes the Zells may seem like Pagan rock stars, but then you see them in screaming fights, or admitting that they made mistakes in who they trusted or dealt with their families of birth or how they raised their kids  (Those children, now grown, are also heard from.) Highs and lows, gains and losses, feasts and famines — it’s all here.

Reading it, you can see how the Church of All Worlds, founded by Tim Zell and his close friend Lance Christie, started out as what we now would call “spiritual but not religious,” and changed as it encountered other overly Pagan groups (such as Feraferia) as well as various Witchcraft groups.

There is much about the publishing chronicle of Green Egg magazine and the founding of the Grey School of Wizardry as well, not to mention the growth of the Pagan festival circuit.

When people wonder, “What was the American Pagan scene like in the 1970s, 1980s, 0r 1990s?” they will do well to read The Wizard and the Witch for one answer. It is a sign of Llewellyn’s editorial maturation that they published it, and I applaud that.

The Scary Countryside 2: Children of the Stones

The original “Scary Countryside” post.

Uncial script means “old and spooky.”

As mentioned above, “the scary countryside” is a staple meme of television and movies on both side of the pond, but in the UK there is the additional refinement of “the scary countryside where people practice strange and ancient rites.”

That does not work as well in North America unless you set your TV show in Awatowi, which is not going to happen soon.

So M. and I are enjoying a little “back to the Seventies” moment, watching the British TV series Children of the Stones, which so far might be described as The Prisoner meets The Wicker Man meets Groundhog Day. Or something like that.

To quote its Wikipedia entry,

Filmed at Avebury, Wiltshire during Summer 1976, with interior scenes filmed at HTV’s Bristol studios, it was an unusually atmospheric production with sinister, discordant wailing voices heightening the tension on the incidental music. The music was composed by Sidney Sager who used the Ambrosian Singers to chant in accordance with the megalithic rituals referred to in the story.Director Peter Graham Scott was surprised on seeing the script that the series was intended for children’s airtime due to the complexities of the plot and disturbing nature of the series. The series is frequently cited by those who remember it as one of the scariest things they saw as children.

Sounds good to me. More episodes await. If Netflix had existed in the late 1970s, this would have been on the coven viewing list, I am sure.

Those Wacky Desert Monotheists

Two news items from the noisiest and most explosive of the desert monotheisms:

1. In Malaysia, Muslim men wearing silk is a sign of the apocalypse. (There is a connection here to the reason that there is no Muslim liturgical music—except for that of the Sufis, and they are heretics.)

2. Also, a fatwa from the UAE: Muslims are not allowed to go to Mars. Not that it’s possible anyway — there are huge psychological and physiological issues to be dealt with — but if it were, Muslims could not do it, these imams say.

It must be tough to be a Muslim science-fiction writer.