Trolls through Time

troll.jpg

Storybook troll by the Norwegian artist Theodor Kittelsen, c. 1900.

Translating the Chanson de Roland — the epic poem about Charlemagne’s campaign against the Muslims in Spain in 778 — for a Norse audience,1)In Norse, Karlamagnús saga. the Norse poet describes one Muslim emir thus: “The man was full of magic and sorcery and fraud and would be called a troll if he were to come up here to the northern part of the world” (33).

And you thought trolls lived under bridges? And how did we get from that to ugly-cute plastic dolls and Moomintroll?

“Troll” is an elusive category, but John Lindow does his best to sort it out historically and thematically in Trolls: An Unnatural History (160 pp.)

This short but well-researched book tells how troll in the old sagas overlapped with giant, witch, land-wight (landvaettir) and people — not just fierce warrirors but shape-shifters, Saami shamans, and even Greenland Inuit, whose lifeways seemed so unusual to the Norse settlers there (43).

One 14th-century saga describes trolls encountered in Helluland, usually taken to mean Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic (35). Were these indigenous trolls?

To “give someone to the trolls” meant to kill them.

The word’s origin is uncertain. It might have come from verbs meaning “to enchant” or “to tread” or “rush away,” with Lindow himself leaning towards an origin connected with magic.2)In the Norwegian translation of Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a trollmannen (51). It was “an all-purpose word for supernatural beings” (51).

A troll transformation occurred in the 19th century with the rising interest in folklore-collecting. Still huge, trolls were depicted affectionately by a variety of Scandinavian artists.

Trolls (by that name) entered in the English-speaking world only in the 1850s, notably in George Webbe Dasent’s Popular Tales from the Norse, published in 1859, which familiarized Anglosphere children with the Three Billy Goats Gruff (100).

The movie Trollhunter (which is a lot of fun) invokes and tweaks all the old images — giants, bridges, goats, hostility to Christianity. In Lindow’s opinion, it is the best modern troll-flick. “Trolls have some way to go before they catch up with zombies, but they are certainly a presence in film and media” (122).

Notes   [ + ]

1. In Norse, Karlamagnús saga.
2. In the Norwegian translation of Lord of the Rings, Gandalf is a trollmannen (51).

Assessing a New Book on Jesus’ Wife


I used to think that of course Jesus was married — what normal 1st-century small-town Jewish man would not be married? Answer: most of the Essenes, to name one group.

The perennial interest in an actual bloodline of his descendents is periodically stoked by books like Holy Blood, Holy Grail, The Da Vinci Code, and more recently, by The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.

Ah, Mary Magdelene, who was she? A minor disciple of the wandering preacher? Or the disciple who understood him best? A wealthy follower who financed his wanderings? His wife and mother of their kids? Some combination of the above? Or as Robert Graves imagined in the 1940s, the priestess of some surviving Canaanite Paganism who sexually conveyed to him a sovereignity over the land — the thesis of his novel King Jesus, which predated The White Goddess by two years.

The Lost Gospel’s authors, “Simcha Jacobovici, author, and TV personality perhaps best known for his series The Naked Archaeologist, along with Prof. Barrie Wilson of York University,” make a textual argument over a  “6th century Syriac text that records the apocryphal tale entitled Joseph and Aseneth.”

So this is a text written some centuries after Jesus lived but maybe copied from a much earlier original about two biblical characters who might be read as allegories for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

My quotes come from a four-part entry on the University of Toronto’s Religion Beat blog, written by Anna Cwikla, a graduate student in religion. Part One. Part Two. Part Three. Part Four.

She pokes some holes in their argument and faults them for taking the rhetorical stance sometimes called “They laughed at Galileo” — If  the established experts  are against me, then I must be right!

But I might still read The Lost Gospel anyway, just for cultural reasons. Whereas we Pagans are comfortable with the idea of female religious leaders, the Middle Eastern monotheisms mostly still are not. Cwikla quotes an MCC pastor:

The possibility of Jesus having a wife sparked positive responses from some female clerics. For example, in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, Moderator of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson expressed tempered optimism about the fragment’s potential to change the patriarchal position of many Christian denominations: “Will a little snippet of ancient writing change the Christian world? It is possible, and I am hopeful.”

Plus, like The DaVinci Code, the book is “scandalous,” particularly for the Roman Catholic Church. She cites Anthony Le Donne, author of  The Wife of Jesus: Ancient Texts and Modern Scandals (another one for the reading list):

By looking to the past for evidence of women as leaders in early Christianity, we are attempting to look for a way to change the longstanding tradition of women having less power in most Christian traditions that is still evident in modern society. By wedding Jesus, we may be trying to make him more “human-like,” or, as Alex Beam suggests: “The purpose, animated by the all-powerful secularism of our time, is to bring him [Jesus] down to our level.”

There is a potential irony there for the liberal Christians: If you add female clergy but lose the divinity of Jesus, what is left? Where is the “juice” of your religion?

Passing of Nikki Bado

nikki

Nikki recuperating after surgery last November. Photo by Rebecca Sachs Norris on Facebook.

I was just informed today of the passing of an old friend and colleague in Pagan studies, Nikki Bado, who taught at Iowa State University.

She had been on medical leave for the last year or so, and apparently suffered a heart attack after her last surgery.

I have forgotten just when we met, but it must have been at the American Academy of Religion meeting. She helped build the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and worked with me as a co-editor on our book series for Equinox Publishing.

She wrote on Paganism, religion in popular culture, Japanese religious festivals, the body in religion, and pilgrimage, among other topics.

Her longest work on Pagan religion was the book Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual.

Good friend, priestess, hard-working scholar. She will be missed.

 

“Religion Watch” Available Online, Open Access

I am putting in a plug for Religion Watch (slogan: “Looking beyond the walls of churches, synagogues and denominational officialdom to examine how religion really affects, and is affected by, the wider society”), published at Baylor University and a good source for scholars of contemporary religion.

The current issue leads with a short article, “Religion goes undercover as publishers seek to reach the ‘nones’“, with this intriguing sentence: “There is also the trend of targeting the ‘dones,’ those who have left their faiths, often with autobiographical accounts of leaving and then rediscovering spirituality and religion.”

Will we see “post-Pagan” memoirs in that vein?

Pentagram Pizza from the Godmother’s Recipe

pentagrampizza• The archaeologist Margaret Murray played a key part in the origins of Wicca — and she was occasionally a magic-worker herself, by her own admission in her memoir My First Hundred Years (1963).

Ethan Doyle White examines her role in a guest post at Adventures in History and Archaeology, noting, “Murray’s interest in magic was not solely personal, but rather had a strong professional dimension to it as well.”

Mama Fauna goes Herne-hunting in Alaska, with unpredictable results.

• John Michael Greer writes an essay, “A Wind that Tastes of Ashes,” on the recent flap over accusations that “fascists” (never defined) and the “New Right” (never defined) are infiltrating Pagan groups. “After all, there’s another kind of power that’s just as illegitimate and destructive, and that’s the power of demagogy: the brute force of a frightened and furious mob whipped up into a frenzy by rhetoric of the sort we’re examining.”

Well, This Is Puzzling

who signed?Earth Day is upon us, and various people have been promoting the Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.

As John Halstead, one of its strongest advocates, wrote on his blog,

The Statement represents the largest collective expression of Pagan voices ever and the most successful attempt to date to harmonize Pagan voices on what is the most critical issue of our time.

Signing it is not going to clean a single stream, but as has been pointed out, its greatest impact may be on interfaith groups that tend to ignore us.

I have been on the road most of the last three weeks but home again, I decided that yes, I should sign it. So I went to the site and tried to do so, only to get the message screen-captured above.

Three possibilities present themselves:

1. I signed it during some kind of blackout and had no conscious memory of having done so.

2. Someone else signed my name.

3. There was a software glitch.

4. The fairies are messing with me again.

Weird.

Magic in Philadelphia, Worshiping Game Characters, and a Holy Mountain in Scotland

exhibitions_magic1

Photo: Penn Museum

• If you live in or near Philadelphia, visit the U. of Pennsylvania museum for “Magic in the Anciet World,” an exhibit that “explores some of the magical objects, words, and rituals used in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome.”

• When a Chinese grandmother left an offering at a statue of a video-game character, social media there lit up. But was she merely carrying on tradition?

• “Last temple of the Celts” might be overstating the matter just a little, but it’s an interesting article about a holy mountain in Scotland.

CFP: “Pagan, Goddess, Mother”

DEMETER PRESS

Seeking submissions for an edited collection entitled

Pagan, Goddess, Mother

Editors: Sarah Whedon & Nané Jordan

Deadline for Abstracts: September 1st, 2016

Pagan spirituality and Goddess spirituality are distinct, yet overlapping movements and communities, each with much to say about deity as mother and about human mothers in relationship to deity. The purpose of this collection is to call categories of Pagan and Goddess mothering into focus, to highlight philosophies and experiences of mothers in these various movements and traditions, and to generate new ways of imagining and enacting motherhood.

What is distinctive about Pagan motherhood, what is distinctive about Goddess spirituality motherhood, and where is the overlap? How do these differ, and what does each have to learn from the other? How does study of these communities, philosophies, and practices highlight tensions and insights into gender, motherhood, and embodiment, more broadly? How do mothers in contemporary Pagan and Goddess movements negotiate their mothering roles and identities? What elements of these diverse contemporary traditions inform their experiences? How do theologies, thealogies, and devotions to Mother Goddesses affect experiences of mothering? How do Pagan and Goddess mothers engage with ceremony, ritual, magic, and priestesshood? How do Pagan and Goddess mothers interface with interreligious dialogue, social institutions for children, community leadership, social justice, and the public sphere?

Topics may include (but are not limited to):

The specific theologies, thealogies, mythologies, ethics, or practices of mothers in particular Pagan and/or Goddess traditions; theories of gender, motherhood, or embodiment in Pagan and/or Goddess traditions; Earth Mother, Great Mother, mother Goddess creation stories, eco-spirituality, or the maiden-mother-crone trinity; mothers’ participation in ceremony, ritual, festival, magic, or priestesshood; the relationship between mother Goddess and human mother’s empowerment; pregnancy, birth, early mothering, and beyond; Pagan and/or Goddess spirituality in mom blogging, custody conflict, religious freedom, children’s religious education, or other social institutions; diversity and difference in Pagan and/or Goddess mothering including grandmothering, race, disability, or lgbtq families.

Perspectives are welcomed from a wide range of disciplines and genres, including history, theology, thealogy, religious studies, anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, biography, spiritual autobiography, personal essays, life writing, poetry and artwork.

Submissions Guidelines:

Please send abstracts of approximately 300 words together with a short bio to

Sarah Whedon & Nané Jordan at: pagangoddessmother@gmail.com

by September 1, 2016.

Accepted papers of 4000-5000 words (15-20 pages including references and endnotes) will be due February 1st, 2017. Contributors will be responsible for ensuring that manuscripts adhere to MLA style.

DEMETER PRESS

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CFP: Women in World Religions

Author-scholars are needed for the two volume reference work, Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions: Faith and Culture Across History, to be published by ABC-CLIO Publishing. We seek contributors with expertise in Women, Religion, and History to write articles of 500 to 2000 words, with overview, historical background, and selected details. Areas where scholars are needed include: Women in African Religions, Ancient Greek and Roman Religions, Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Daoism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American, Paganism, Prehistoric Religions, Shinto, Sikhism, and Spirituality. A wide range of entries are included in each religion category, such as art, worship, women’s rituals, leadership and organization, social and environmental issues, the feminine divine, holy days and seasonal celebrations. The deadline for this round of entries is August 15, 2016.

Please provide a brief summary of your academic credentials in related disciplines (or a cv) to General Editor, Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions at sjdegaia@gmail.com. The encyclopedia title should appear in the subject line of your message.

Contact Info:
Susan de Gaia, Ph.D., General Editor, Encyclopedia of Women in World Religions: Faith and Culture Across History

Contact Email:
sjdegaia@gmail.com
URL:
http://susandegaia.weebly.com

New Norse Site in Newfoundland

Archaeologist Sarah Parcak in Newfoundland. (National Geographic).

The discovery of Norse ruins at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, in 1960 proved once and for all that the sagas were right: settlers from Iceland and/or Greenland came to North America.

Now a new discovery on the other side of the island suggests even more of a Norse presence.

After studying the area and researching prior land surveys, the archaeologists have identified other characteristics that would have made Point Rosee an optimum site for Norse settlers: The southern coastline of the peninsula has relatively few submerged rocks, allowing for anchoring or even beaching ships; the climate and soil in the region is especially well-suited for growing crops; there’s ample fishing on the coast and game animals inland; and there are lots of useful natural resources, such as chert for making stone tools and turf for building housing.

But the clincher is evidence of iron-working, something no indigenous people did.