Around the Blogosphere, 17 July 2014

Tanya Luhrman compares the cultural differences in “hearing voices” in the United States, Ghana, and India. Plus, a Dutch psychiatrist who encourages it in his patients!

¶ You have read Ethan Doyle White’s interview with Ronald Hutton, right? If not, here it is.

¶ Two from Sarah Veale at Invocatio:

A PhD dissertation with music on “Satanic feminism.”

Discussing ancient Greek terms helps us understand “sacred space.”

¶ Mary Harrsch corrrects a slander against Julian, the last Pagan emperor of Rome.

Passing of Loreon Vigne

Loreon Vigne, priestess of Isis, who created the Isis Oasis sanctuary and retreat center at Geyserville, California, passed away last night. There are tributes on her Facebook page.

Here is an earlier post of mine about visiting Isis Oasis.

Her memoir, The Goddess Bade Me Do It, tells her story of how a young artist, jewelry designer, and art-supplies dealer in Beat-era San Francisco became a full-time priestess.

The Danger in Being “Ministerial”

When I saw a headline on The Wild Hunt, “Wiccan Minister Kathryn Jones to Run for Office in Pennsylvania,” it stopped me in my tracks. Not because Ms. Jones is running for office, but the use of the term “minister.”

Immediately I thought of John Michael Greer’s recent column in Witches & Pagans 28, “A Bad Case of Methodist Envy: Copying Christian Models of Clergy is a Pagan Dead End.” Geer rightly points out that today’s concept of “clergy” is quite different from the Pagan past:

There were no seminaries or divinity schools for [ancient] Greek priests and priestesses, and the thought of asking a priest of priestess for moral of spiritual counseling would have seemed absurd to the ancient Greeks — you went to a philosopher for that, for Apollo’s sake! Nor, for that matter, did they perform wedding ceremonies. . . .  [in Egypt] being a priest or priestess was a career, one of the professions open to the literate . . . . this kind of priesthood included few or no “pastoral” functions as we know them.

The essence of priest/esshood is the relationship with the deity. You maintain a shrine, hold ceremonies, and otherwise put people into their own relationships with the deity. You may serve as a conduit of power — even today at some Japanese Shinto shrines (perhaps the nearest thing to Classical Paganism in a functional way), you can pay a small fee to have your new Toyota blessed by a priest.

At the other pole is the pastoral function. Pastor is Latin for “sheepherder” (as we say out West), and its is the function of nudging and exhorting and teaching and correcting the “flock” to  keep them living according to the commandments of the religion.

As Greer writes, in ancient Paganism those functions were usually not combined in one person — although here Thorn Coyle writes about how she combines them, together with her writing.

In my experience, the “clergy” issue emerged in American Paganism in the 1980s. Before that, the coven model was more clandestine.

A few “church” organizations existed before then, such as the Church of Wicca, and some Pagan groups signed up with the Universal Life Church. Such actions, in my recollection, were often at least partly about avoiding taxes, such as declaring the covenstead to be a “church” and hence exempt from property tax. The Covenant of the Goddess was formed as a credentialing and networking organization in 1975.

M. and I were married by our coven HP and HPS in 1977 in a ceremony that was both religious and legal, because Colorado does not require any sort of clergy credentials to perform a wedding. Perhaps because of the then-youthful Pagan demographic, performing legal weddings was a growing issue for Pagans, and many states do require some kind of organizational credentials.

Chaplaincy issues (hospital, prison, military) arose a little later, and in those cases, the bureaucratic monster had to be appeased. This issue Greer does not address, but it is a  big one. How do you keep governmental and social structures from turning you into their concept of a “religious minister,” i.e.,  service-provider?

This need for credentials to show to bureaucrats was an impetus for the founding of Cherry Hill Seminary. I was neutral about CHS for a while, but after attending one of their seminars in April 2013, I gained more appreciation of what they are doing.

Contrary to what some excitable voices have shouted, CHS is not trying to define Paganism for the outside world. Nor will they make you a witch or priestess; in fact, they say that their courses “[supplement]  existing ritual and magical skills with training for professional ministry and pastoral counseling.”

I expect that students should learn something about counseling, and the laws pertaining thereto, something about the academic study of religion, and something about the history of contemporary Paganism and its philosophy, for starters. And they will learn the suitable jargon to speak at interfaith luncheons and in meetings with prison administrators. (Just saying that you are Lord Moontoad from the Coven of the Sacred Toadstool is not enough.)

But we walk a knife’s edge. If we end up thinking that acting “ministerial” is all there is to it, then we Wiccans, for example, would be just Methodists with pentagrams. It’s not about counseling, it’s not about social programs, it’s not about “saving the Earth” (Unpack the hubris in that phrase, if you have the time!) — being Pagan is about a relationship with the deities at all levels. At least CHS is honest in saying that they cannot give you that. They might teach you how to talk about it in a polished way that other religious professionals can recognize.

Consider the issue of counseling. My first encounter in a Pagan context was hearing about Z Budapest’s unsuccessful attempt  in the 1970s (and she was not the only one) to beat an illegal-fortunetelling charge by saying that Tarot reading was “counseling.”

Historically speaking, she was right. When polytheists needed counseling, they asked Grandma, performed divination or had a specialist do it for them, or maybe (if they had the resources) consulted an oracle. Or perhaps they took sought visions or other supernatural guidance.

Monotheists, however, asked a Holy Book specialist to explain what the Book said, as modified by the commentaries of generations of specialists (hadith, Talmud, etc.). Drop the Holy Book component, and you have the modern counselor, a 20th-century phenomenon.

That is the ministerial/pastoral function, focusing on people’s needs, as opposed to the priestly function, focusing on the cults of the gods — our relationships and how we acknowledge them.

I think this is a bigger issue than “Shouldn’t we have paid clergy?” (Consider the Mormons, who have a worldwide religion administered mostly by non-paid clergy, albeit within a tight, top-down hierarchy.) I have argued before for the “tent, not a cathedral” model — set up structure for a limited time and purpose, then collapse it.

In the long run, how can Pagan religions function as “religions” in the generally accepted sense, while resisting cultural pressures to turn them into “Methodists”?

POSTSCRIPT: A follow-up post is here.

Caves, a Sacred Pillar, and a Mystery Disk

¶ If I could visit Chauvet Cave, I could die happy. It’s one of “10 must-see cave paintings,” of which I have seen none. At least I know where there is signage-free rock art in southern Colorado.

¶ Croatian Pagans erect a pillar to Perun, the sky god. With video, still photos, and music.

¶ An article on the Nebra Sky Disk, buried in Germany thousands of years ago. Except I don’t buy this part:

Astronomer Ralph Hansen maintains that the disc was an attempt to co-ordinate the solar and lunar calendars to tell Bronze Age Man when to plant seeds and when to make trades, giving him an almost modern sense of time. “For everyday calendrical purposes, you would use Moon years. But for designing when to plough fields and when to harvest, you use Sun years,” said Hansen.

I am just a gardener, not a Neolithic farmer, but I do not think that Neolithic farmers needed stone circles or “portable instruments” to tell them when to plant. If you live in a place long enough, you know the local signs, for instance, “plant cool weather crops when the grass turns green,” or “it’s usually safe to plant warm-weather plants when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” — whatever works for you.

But I have seen this so many times — members of the Clerisy like Hansen who think that the peasants are or were too stupid to know when to plant their peas unless someone like themselves, backed by the authority of a stone circle (“Lo, Father Sun is rising . . .”) tells them when to do it.

How the Neighborhood Has Changed

Hardscrabble Creek is a real place, and every now and then, I like to post a photo or two from home. I found the first photo while researching something else, and I took the second one today. In both of these photos, Hardscrabble Creek runs behind the buildings farthest from the camera.

greenwood_road_1887

Collection of Denver Public Library.

About half a mile from home, taken about 1887. The false-front building in center is A. C. Monroe’s “Cash Store.” Click image to enlarge.

Greenwoord Road 2014I think the store was just to the left of the large house. The 4,800-square-foot house was built in 1989. The black tree trunk in the foreground was burned in a 2,500-acre fire in 2012 that destroyed several houses on this side of the road but missed the house shown and its neighbors on that side.

Several homes to either side of the big house (outside the photo) were built in the teens and twenties of the 20th century. Some were part of a small resort that was started to cater to the new phenomenon of automobile-driving tourists.  (There is a four-part series on lost 1920s highways and old campgrounds on my other blog.)

The hillside behind the buildings is mostly private land. It was logged in the late 19th century, obviously, and due to wildfires probably had fewer, larger ponderosa pine trees before the loggers arrived.

When logging stops and fires are put out, this is what you get. Large surrounding areas did burn in 2005, 2011, and 2012, however.

The “Horse Boy” and the Shamans

If you saw the 2009  documentary The Horse Boy, about Rowan, the autistic boy who is helped somewhat by horseback riding and by Mongolian shamans, there is more to the story. (There is also a book, The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing, published in 2010.)

Before it was released as a DVD, the local university sponsored a showing of The Horse Boy. I called my friend Hal, whose autistic son is now about nine, and asked him if he was interested in seeing it. This boy too enjoys riding horses and donkeys, which he is able to do at home and on trail rides into the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Hal writes eloquently about life with an autistic son, but my suggestion hit a wall. I brought it up again —  same reaction. So I shut up. I am not the one with the autistic son, he is. Maybe he does not like the idea of magic. Maybe a trip to Mongolia just seems impossible.

Meanwhile, Rowan’s father, Rupert Isaacson, a widely traveled man whose parents came from southern Africa, was himself born in London and now lives with his family in Texas, has kept on taking his son to shamanic healers in Africa and on the Navajo reservation in Arizona.

This is not without controversy. As he writes in the Daily Mail,

So many people thought we were mad, deluded. One friend said: ‘All those shamans. It’s like you’re going to some spiritual supermarket!’

The publication of The Horse Boy was met with a torrent of hate mail accusing us of giving false hope, of abandoning established methods. (In fact, we had continued to follow the orthodox treatments).

But there was one group that did support us: parents. Much of the motivation for telling the story had been my own despair at Rowan’s diagnosis.

If, back then, there had been some story of hope, of autism as an adventure rather than a catastrophe, I would have taken heart sooner, despaired less, and most likely found solutions more quickly.

And the only things that had worked for Rowan in any positive way were the horse riding and the shamans.

The Isaacsons have set up their own therapeutic system, the Horse Boy Method: “We let the children use the horses like a couch, to allow all the physical and emotional discomfort to fall away, and the intellect come to the fore.” I think my friend Hal has developed something similar on his own, although his son goes to special-education classes too.

A Meeting of Polytheists

Vice.com goes among the Dodekatheists, followers of the Olympic gods. Click link for video with English subtitles.

Polytheism is “democratical.”

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.