No “Neos” Here, We’re “Ethnic”

The flag of Romuva (Wikipedia).

A letter from one of the leading Hellenic Pagan groups to the government of Lithuania supports a request by the Lithuanian Romuva for state recognition.

Just as the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, Romuva is by no means a “neo-pagan movement” or a “new religious movement”. It belongs to the category of religions that the Religious Studies of the last 150 years name “ethnic” and “indigenous”, as it consistently refers to the recorded in the historical sources ancient Lithuanian traditions and, most importantly, to the living tradition of the indigenous religion, values and symbols, carried forward from generation to generation through the customs, songs, folklore and polyphonic ritual singing – sutartines. Romuva promotes the ancient Baltic Religion, cherishing in our days the traditional culture of the ancient Baltic ethnii as a spiritual, cultural and social heritage.

Do I buy that? Not totally. It’s a reconstructionist movement, making the claim that the folk songs contain encoded Pagan spiritual content. Is every tree a World Tree? In other words, it was started in the early 20th century but claims access to the 13th century, when German knights brought Christianity to Lithuania at the point of the sword. (And ended up controlling the land, oddly enough.)

To a scholar of new religious movements, Romuva would in fact be a new religious movement — and all religions are NRMs at some point.

It would be like saying that the English song “Greensleeves,” which goes back to the 16th century at least, contains encoded goddess religion. Or maybe it’s just a love song.1)OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

But let Baltic Paganism bloom. As a friend of mine noted, one day “Romuva are going to get their own Hutton,” and some of these historical issues will be sorted out.

Notes   [ + ]

1. OK, a lot of popular songs unwittingly invoke Aphrodite, I grant you that.

Heartland Festival Presentations, Take 2

Once again, I am packed, ready, and excited to be going to the Heartland Pagan Festival.  With any luck, that will be me stepping off the Southwest Chief in Lawrence, Kansas, on Friday morning. (Usually I snooze through Lawrence when traveling east and wake up for the long stop in Kansas City.)

This was all supposed to happen last year, and as I wrote then, the weather turned against me. I still feel sort of ashamed about aborting the trip — I could have maybe done one of my two presentations.

These are a “work in progress” discussion of the flying ointment project and the provocatively named “Nature Religion: You’re Doing It Wrong,” which is partly material from Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America and partly some new stuff.

To me, this is more stressful than presenting at an academic conference, which shows what a recluse I have become. 🙂

The BBC Interviews Iceland Heathens

You can download this episode (27 minutes) of the BBC’s Heart and Soul program on the Heathens of Iceland:

Priestess at Icelandic blot (BBC).

Floating in a hot spring, snow falling from the night sky, John Laurenson meets Teresa Drofn. A 25-year-old Heathen, Teresa describes her return to the religion of her Viking forebears as a renewal of a unique spiritual relationship with nature.

A millennium after it was banned in exchange for Christianity, John explores why Icelanders are returning to the faith. At a ‘blot’, or sacred ceremony John hears a priestess read aloud from the Eddas, an ancient Icelandic text serving as scripture for the new heathens of Europe. In the old days at a ‘blot’, there’d be animal, even human sacrifices. Today they share in traditional Viking food, horse and whale, sheep’s head, puffin pâté and rotten shark.

Visiting the site of a newly planned Heathen temple John meets high priest Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. Hilmar has presided over hundreds of weddings and seen his own congregation increase six-fold within a single decade. This new Heathen house of worship, the first in a thousand years, will be aligned with the sun’s path and burrowed deep into a hill near the city’s airport.

Not mentioned: a conversation with a Lutheran bishop who claims not to be concerned with the rise of traditional Norse Paganism because (a) the movement is “very small” and (b) they are sort of proto-Christian anyway, as shown, for example, by their abandonment of animal sacrifice.

A Haitian Take on the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck

The Nine of Cups—photo by Alice Smeets.

Members of a Haitian artists’ group are re-creating the Tarot designs of Pamela Coleman Smith, otherwise known as the Rider-Waite Deck.

Photographed by Alice Smeets, they are calling it the Ghetto Tarot.

They have lots of machetes to substitute for swords. Information on crowd-funding and purchase here.

New Pagan Temple in Latvia

Photo: Ugis Nastevi?s / www.ugis.info

A new Pagan (Dievturi) temple has been built in Latvia, according to this article (in Latvian). Relying on Google Translate, I read,

Crowded opening event alongside Latvian pagan exile pagan representatives and sanctuary creation of the people involved was also attended by other ancient white dievest?bas common to both the Latvian and Lithuanian and Belarus, as well as the folklore group “curbs”, “Werewolves”, “Delve”, ” boat, “” torque “and” P?rkonieši “.

“Monasteries and environmental objects layout vision developed by the pagan organization working group Valda Celma lead. Building architect is Ainars Markvarts, sculptor – J?nis Karlovs, room design authors – Andrejs Broks and Egons Garkl?vs, the costs incurred by the operator Dagnis ??kur, “reveals the organization’s representatives.

Lokstene temple keeper of the Latvian Dievturu Sadraudze that combines ancient white dievest?bas successors contemporary Latvian.

Sources tell me that the temple is on an island in the Daugava River. “Operator” Dagnis ??kur is a businessman who owns a group of bakeries and who paid for the temple. That is very traditional, if you think about it.

“The Love Witch” — “Twin Peaks” Meets “Bell, Book and Candle”

Photo: Anna Biller Productions.

Last November, Peg Aloi of The Media Witches reviewed The Love Witch under the deadline, “Why Real Witches Are Going to Love (or Maybe Hate) the Love Witch.”

A pagan friend I watched the film with was shocked and called it “irresponsible and potentially damaging.” His concern is not unreasonable; the film’s portrayal of witches could easily be misinterpreted by viewers whose understanding of modern witchcraft is grounded in horror film imagery.

Its almost satirical air and its wooden dialog give it a period feel, the period being the mid-1960s to 1970s, the era of Rosemary’s Baby or The Trip — an earlier highpoint of Occult Revival. (Is it the classic Ford Mustang in the opening scene?)

But to me, it felt like Bell, Book and Candle (1958, female witch obsessed with love) meets Twin Peaks (1990–1991, detective in over his head, mysterious goings-on, red draperies) with additional dialog by Gerald Gardner.

Put The Love Witch on the list for when you and your fellow cultists get together for Semi-serious Occult Move Night.

I Lived in Magic: A Video Biography of Oberon Zell

Produced and directed by Danny Yourd (Animal Studio), this meditative interview with Oberon Zell (co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and the man who put “Neo-Pagan” into the American religious vocabulary in the 1970s) is a valuable piece of American Pagan history. (It can also be viewed at the Vimeo site.)

Interspersed with video clips from the 1970s, 1980s, and on to the present — including the quixotic New Guinea mermaid quest — it pivots on his relationship with his life partner, the late Morning Glory Zell. (Their lives are also examined in John Sulak’s  The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism, which might be the best inside look at the American Pagan scene ever written.)

Oberon reflects on his life, on his loss of Morning Glory, but he is not giving up. “Don’t let it die,” were among her last words, and so the grey-haired wizard carries on. I know that he will do so until he is gone, and something like the mythic cry of Merlin is heard in the redwoods of California.

The Story of Three Athames

I have owned three athames in my life — or more precisely two athames plus a new knife that may well become one.

There is a story in here of changing Craft practice.

Actually, the first athame was simply my wooden-handled Mora hunting knife, not in the photo.1)Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price. I cleaned the first deer that I ever killed with it, and it still rides in one of my daypacks.

1 — Then one February 28th in my mid-twenties, I went rabbit hunting on the Pike National Forest west of my home in Manitou Springs, Colorado. I know it was February 28th because that is the last day of the season, and I wanted to get out one more time.

As I recall, I saw no rabbits, but while walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.2)Made in Spain by Muela. Of course I picked it up. Of course (being a relatively new Pagan) I thought it was a sign. Some god or daemon had given me a ritual knife — terrific!

I walked on — and then I found a cup — an aluminum cup of the kind that come with campware cooking sets.

“This is too much!” I thought. “Where is the pentacle?” (No need to ask about a wand; I was in the forest, after all.)

No pentacle appeared, but I felt somehow honored all the same. The gods or simply the universe had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re in.”

That knife was my athame for several years, and I will still use it sometimes; otherwise, since it takes an edge, it makes a good “white-handled knife.”

2 — But a new teacher entered my life, and he had different ideas about how magic worked. He and some engineer buddies postulated that maybe magical energies were on the electromagnetic spectrum . . . somewhere. They experimented with psionic “machines” that were said to amplify mental energies, psychic healing, fields of protection, and so on.

He suggested removing all ferrous metal from the ritual circle, and — if you were indoors — turning off the electric power for the duration.

So I had to replace the stainless steel (inox) athame. The high priest of my coven (a different person) found me a piece of very hard bronze. I took it to the HP of another coven, who was also an SCA fighter and an armorer — I would put his articulated steel gauntlets, for example, up against any from the 14th or 15th centuries.

He ground and polished this bronze billet into a full-tang leaf-shaped blade. The crystal in the hilt was my addition — it might help, who knows?

I made some other changes in my practice, becoming more aware of bodily energy flows. And I just liked the idea of bronze. Ah, the Bronze Age. Thuban was the North Star, and those were Shining Times.

Ritual. Long memories,
houses built on poles,
mountains, glaciers, trading parties
of tattooed men and women, faience beads,
packs filled with poppies, tin, and amber
threading through a pass.
Hammered bronze knives. Helen,
mixing her potions,
the blue Aegean stretching
like a storyteller’s breath.

Dale Pendell, Pharmako/Poeia, Revised and Updated:
Plant Powers, Poisons, and Herbcraft

Maybe that was not what my teacher had in mind, but it is where I drifted.

3 — Last year at Yule M. gave me a flint knife. I know where she bought it, at a trade fair in Taos, New Mexico3)Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post, and it was made just down the road by Charlie Acuña of The Stone Edge (say it). For three months it has been sitting on my desk while I think about it.

But where has my practice been heading? More and more to the local level. I have written a little about paying attention to Tlaloc, our regional god of the hydrological cycle, for example. I’ve been working with volunteer crews to clear fallen logs and other debris from Hardscrabble Creek, before the run-off from a large burn scar upstream causes flooding in our communities, which gives me plenty of time to think about the spirit of the creek while adjusting the saw chain tension.

Am I moving backwards from the Bronze Age now? It’s all just dreams and talking to the plants and animals. Doing certain feral things. Letting so much fall away.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Those wooden (birch?) handle models are long gone, replaced with synthetics. Mora knives still give good value for the price.
2. Made in Spain by Muela.
3. Where, coincidentally, I am writing this blog post

Books and Movies for a Pagan Mindset

I have been thinking that I needed to add a new category of reviews — not just books etc. deliberately focused on Paganism (which to my mind automatically includes polytheism), but those that promote a Pagan mindset without coming out and saying it.

Go ahead and say it: Pagan-ish.

My first candidate is a movie from last year, Captain Fantastic, starring Vigo Mortensen. Oh, there some hints — check out his necklace. But it is all done in a low-key, positive way.

The Old Ones Built Wisely

equinox sunset

The Sun sets in Equinox Notch, one day before the actual spring equinox.

My house comes with its own solar calendar, sort of. I discovered when M. and I moved here in the 1990s that the equinoctial sunset occurs in a notch formed by the ridge to the west, as viewed from the front porch.

Surely the ancient builders planned this!

Actually, the “ancient builder” was Alan Cook, a minister in the “New Church  (General Convention),” one of the Swedenborgian denominations, who lived from 1893–1984.  He was active as a minister in the 1920s, then came to Colorado to manage a summer resort in Green Mountain Falls, west of Colorado Springs. No longer a minister with a congregation, he still held some Sunday services for the tourists and wrote in a typically Swedenborgian style, which is big on correspondences between the visible world and the Unseen World.

Mountains, as we know, signify exalted states of affection. And God’s love is the most high and exalted of which we know.

Pagan me says no, the natural world was not put here only to provide a moral lesson to us humans, although I can still feel some affinity with a man who wrote,

But the man of spiritual mind should discern the far greater wealth which lies beyond mere nature [sic] and the commercial worth of rock — he may know their soul, and, in a measure at least, he will be able to share that wealth.1)Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.

I found a photo of Alan Cook with some other books and materials stored in a crawlspace, and it hangs on the Wall of Ancestors in my study — which was his study too. We do not share theologies, but I like to think he approves the room being filled with a desk and bookcases once again.

Happy Ostara!

Notes   [ + ]

1. Alan Cook, “A Letter from Colorado,” Ohio New-Church Bulletin, September 1928, n.p.