On the Sidelines in the Solstice Wars


Winter king, Sakha Republic, Siberia

Oh wait, it is Christmas that has (news media-generated) “wars.” How the winter solstice should be observed, however, has become the subject of almost rabbinical discussion on one of the Colorado Pagan listservs, again.

There are always two core factions, the calendrical and the astronomical. The event at stake is the annual Drumming Up the Sun (DUTS), which takes place at Red Rocks Amphitheatre (actually a Denver city park), whose site looks out over that prairie’s-edge city toward the eastern horizon.

DUTS, as one person wrote, is “organic” — it just happens with minimal organizing. And it’s a cool event (pun intended). If I lived up there, I would go. As one Colorado Pagan recently noted in a different context, “trance drumming has become rarer, drum circles are fading, and there just aren’t as many chances for people to drum themselves into trance and call forth the goddesses and gods into our primal beating hearts.” But this one still goes on — it draws hundreds of people sometimes.

But the question is, which morning?

The calendrical faction says, in effect, “Do it on the 21st because that is the solstice date on the calendar.” One of the “calendrists” writes, “Most of the drummers have opted for Monday since some people have to work Tuesday.”

Linking to this website, a member of the astrononomical faction posts, “[The site] is pretty clear that the night of the 21st-22nd is the shortest night, and what I didn’t mention before but what is also visible there is that the 22nd is also the shortest day, not the 21st. That is another reason why the 22nd is solstice day, despite the moment of the event happening two hours and eleven minutes into the day before. In other words, the 22nd is the shortest day of the year, another way to define Winter Solstice. . . . If people want to drum up the morning of Solstice Eve I think that’s awesome . . . .  I am not trying to pressure anyone to do anything, but rather to state what I’m doing with my group and to provide accurate scientific information.”

And a third small DUTS faction — call them “let’s do it all” — wants both mornings, maybe even 24+ hours of non-stop drumming. “Since we already have people who feel inspired to drum on the mornings of the 21st and the 22nd,” one asks,  “could we connect them together as parts of a longer vigil?”

As of this morning, the online opinion-soliciting continues.

If I must take sides, I lean toward the astronomical faction. I have always felt that if you are timing any working to planetary motion, then starting just after the peak moment of whatever is better than starting before it. “Catch the wave,” so to speak. But others may think differently.

As for the solstice, being a self-employed foothills dweller, I will likely roll out of bed on the 22nd, take a bodhran, dress warmly, call the dog (just the one dog now), and climb up the ridge east of the house.

Thanks to the shape of the land, even if I sleep a bit late, I can pick one of several clearings in which to stand as the sun clears the ridge to the southeast. My drumbeats can float out over the little valley, the neighbors’ scattered houses and pastures, and the sun-lit mountain to the west.

Unless, of course, it’s snowing hard, in which case I will have to improvise.

A Petition to Save Aleister Crowley’s “Abbey”

crowley artAleister Crowley’s “abbey” in Sicily is still there, but the building seriously needs help. This petition is partly designed, I am told, to persuade local authorities that it is worth saving as a historical site — and presumably as a tourist destination.

Aleister Crowley took up his residence at Villa Santa Barbara at Cefalu, located in Palermo, Sicily – ITALY during the 1920s, and he afterwards transformed it into the Rableaisian Monastery Thelema Abbey (or Abbey of Thelema).

At Cefalu, Crowley was mainly climber, painter and prolific writer. He personally painted the walls of his residence and he also made some artworks during that period of time, that are actually in Australia. His figure is considered between the 100 most important figures in England and it is often of mediatic attention and interest.

Already Leonardo Sciascia, Fosco Maraini, Vincenzo Consolo, Giuseppe Quatriglio, Marco Fax, Pietro Saja, Domenico Portera, Nico Marino, Alberto Samonà, Antonino Napoli, Marco Pasi, Massimo Introvigne, and others in Italy have seriously dealed with this charachter and with his stay that inspired films as those by Kenneth Anger and by Ferdinando Vincentini Orgnani, more a wide musical productions that ranges from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, from the Iron Maiden to Coil, the Current 93, Coph Nia, but also Ozzy Osbourne, Graham Bond and many others.

The house in which he lived is considered a cultural object from the Italian State and it is a so important momument that has always been the pilgrimage destination for a wide international community.

It is actually in a state of serious degradation and abandonement: the roof of the building is going to fall and the murals inside of it, partially compromized, risk to fade.

Signing the petition you want to save the Abbey and its paintings.

Initiative by www.abbeyofthelema.org

Pagans and Others at the AAR-SBL

Thursday I arrived in Atlanta for the joint annual meetings of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.

Attendees come from all over:
Mary's Name Tag

Kitty's Name Tag

They are focused on the presentations they must make:

Ali Beyer

Alison Beyer, “Creating Sacred Space with Art Exhibitions: Another Approach to Interfaith Work”

They attend a lot of receptions, especially those with a reputation for plentiful food and drink:

NAASR reception

North American Association for the Study of Religion. Janet Joyce,
managing director of Equinox Publishing,  center,  in black.

They go to more sessions:

ritual studies

Ellen Randolph, “Gnosticism, Transformation, and the Role of the Feminine
in the Gnostic Mass of the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.” Grant Potts, session presider.

They try to find a place to sit.

Marriott Bar

They go to the book exhibit and make sure that their and their friends’ books are prominently displayed:

Pagan Britain

Yale University Press booth.

They slip away to museums:

GR and vases

Gwendolyn Reece at the Carlos Museum, Emory University.

They hang out in the various hotel bars and go out to dinner:

shawn, helen, barbara

Shawn Arthur, Helen Berger (back to camera), Barbara McGraw, (unidentified), Doug Cowan.

And then it’s back onto the escalator. Where is the “Dunwoody Room”?

between session

Until they are exhausted and must go home, where they sort out their notes:



UPDATE: Here is Thorn Mooney’s take on the same event, “Me, Pagan Studies, and the AAR.”

You’ll Be Amazed at How the Disabled Kitten Reacted to a Syrian Refugee

I go out to breakfast at a diner not in a big downtown hotel, and as I follow the hostess to my booth, words float up: “seminary,” “dynamics,” “Old Testment.”

Yes, it’s another joint annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature. Atlanta, again, as in 2010 and 2003. That could have something to do with the fact that the AAR, the child that outgrew its SBL parent, is headquartered at Emory University. I think the staff likes to schedule a meeting every few years that they themselves can drive to.

We Pagani have been busily scheduling our steering committee meeting, our annual dinner (which I may have to miss due to a key client meeting, dang it), and the Pagan Studies/Pomegranate drinks party, which I will not miss.

Oh, the post title? Just an experiment in clickbait. Did it work?

I Was Afraid This Might Happen

There is a well-established (since the 1970s, I think) Pagan/metaphysical bookstore in Denver called Isis Books & Gifts.

Someone got confused about the name, it appears. And it was not the first time.

All the more reason to refer to those rapists and beheaders as “Daesh” or the “Islamic State.”

The Passing of Carl Weschcke


Carl Llewellyn Weschcke

First, the official announcement from Llewellyn, then my comments.

It is with profound sadness we share the news of Carl Llewellyn Weschcke’s passing. He passed peacefully on Saturday, November 7 surrounded by family. He was 85.

Carl Llewellyn Weschcke was Chairman and the driving force behind Llewellyn Worldwide, Ltd., the oldest and largest publishers of New Age, Metaphysical, Self-Help, and Spirituality books in the world.

Weschcke was a life-long student of a broad range of Metaphysical, Spiritual and Occult subjects which led him to the purchase of the Llewellyn publishing company in 1961. He relocated the company to his home on Summit Avenue in St. Paul. The mansion was said to be haunted and became the subject of many investigations and news stories through the 1960s and 1970s and remains well-known to this day.

Authors and booksellers referred to Weschcke as “the Father of the New Age” because of his early and aggressive public sponsorship of Astrology, Magic, Metaphysics, Paganism, Parapsychology, Tantra, Wicca and Yoga. Weschcke and Llewellyn contributed to the burgeoning New Age movement in the 1960s and 1970s, sponsoring Gnosticon Festivals, opening an occult school and bookstore, and publishing the occult newspaper Gnostica. He is a former Wiccan High Priest and played a leading role in the rise of Wicca and Paganism during the 1960s and 1970s. In the fall of 1973 Weschcke helped organize the Council of American Witches and became its chairperson.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Babson College, studied Law at LaSalle University, and advanced study toward a doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. In 1959 he was elected president of the NAACP’s Minnesota branch and elected Vice President of the ACLU’s Minnesota branch. In addition to book publishing he has worked in the pharmaceutical industry, furniture manufacture, and real estate management. With Llewellyn, he has worked in all aspects of the business and has co-authored ten books with Dr. Joe Slate of Athens, Alabama.

Carl is survived by wife Sandra and son Gabe. Sandra is President and Treasurer of Llewellyn Worldwide and Gabe serves as Vice President. They plan to carry on Carl’s legacy championing of alternative approaches to mind, spirit and body.

Arrangements for a memorial will be forthcoming.

I had the privilege of staying with the Weschckes at their home in Marine-on-St. Croix for a few days in the early 1990s. (Although no formal offer was made, I think that Carl was hoping that I would come on board as an editor.) That four-book “Witchcraft Today” series that I edited for them in the 1990s was his idea.

It’s true that he came from a line of German doctors and pharmacists, and originally he worked in the family pharmaceutical firm that made over-the-counter medicines—cough drops and the like. He told me he used to look from his office window at a former soft-drink bottling plant—the building that later become the Llewellyn headquarters in St. Paul.

He did not start the company, but he and Sandra grew it from a small publisher of astrological almanacs and the like into its present form. He even added “Llewellyn” as his middle name.

Another memory: having just a few hours to examine his private library, which filled a three-car garage (or was it a four-car?). It was like the whole history of esotericism in America, but I think that astrology was perhaps always his first love. Although their son, Gabe, was groomed to take over the business, at that time—twenty years ago—I did not feel that he shared the love of the astrology, Pagan, New Age, etc., product line. That does not mean that he cannot be an effective manager though.

Three Items about the Dead

Whose Bones Are Those?

The Halloween news rush brought item about a new unit established at an Oxford college to perform cross-disciplinary investigations of religious relics

In what is thought to be the first research body of its type in the world, the unit, based in Keble College, will bring together experts in radiocarbon dating, genetics, osteology —the study of bones — chemistry, geography and archaeology with leading authorities in ancient Greek and Hebrew, Byzantine studies, ecclesiastical history and theology.

I am not sure what tone to take with this — not my saints after all — and it really does not matter to me if the skull of St. Cuthbert or whatever turns out to be someone else. One on level, this is interesting archaeology. On another, it feels like a re-run of the 16th century — the “stripping of the altars” and all that — but with “functional” science (instead of Protestantism) taking on “superstitious” religion (instead of Catholicism).

So why now? Is there a culture war motive, with “leading authorities in . . . . theology” participating in the disenchantment of the world? On the other hand, they hint that they may have found John the Baptist.

Four Scary Places

Still thinking about the dead? So are the editors at Indian Country Today, which ran this piece titled ” Get Spooked! 4 Scary Places to Visit This – or Any – Halloween,” on Friday last.

Halloween is the holiday when we face fear and get right in the face of the supernatural. Children wear costumes and adults seek out opportunities to confront the unknown or, some would say, the misunderstood. In that spirit, we offer four places you can go to laugh at your deepest anxieties. Or scream.

But why would you scream? Read it and find out.

Beads of copal (Wikimedia Commons).

Paganism at the Public Library

If I had time to drive over to Pueblo, Colo., today, I could view the winners of the public library’s Día de los muertos altar contest. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be set up at 1 p.m., so set-up is in progress as I write, with winners announced at 3:30 p.m.—and everything dismantled by 4:30.

The entry form states,”Altars judged on overall appearance, originality, and creativity reference [sic] to traditions of Día de los Muertos.” Battery-operated candles only, please.

The instruction sheet goes on to tell you that you may commemorate “ancestors past, celebritys [sic] or beloved pets.” So maybe Vlad the Impaler could count as a celebrity, as he did at the university on the mesa in 2007?

As I wrote in 2011, I am sensing some tension between people who want the altars to be done only in some correct Mexican-ish manner, and those wanting to take the tradition in new directions.

The instructions are quite specific as to how you are supposed to represent Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire, and of course copal incense (not burning, though) is recommended. (I like copal too.)

So I regret that I cannot see these altars, but I appreciate that the library is teaching an effectively Pagan tradition. My gardening priestess, however, wants me to haul a big round of bale of spoiled hay from a neighbor’s ranch for winter mulch this afternoon, however. That’s another Samhain ritual.

The War on Halloween


Sergei Aksyonov Photo: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

It’s that time of year, time for the Russians to take their turn at complaining that Halloween is an evil Western import.

Segei Aksyonov, who has been placed in charge of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia recently snatched from Ukraine, called the holiday “cultural colonisation.”

Meanwhile, a spokes-priest for the Russian Orthodox Church suggests that celebrating Halloween leads to terrorism:

He also regrets that “when our country struggles against global terrorism, some of our citizens, may be jokingly, disguise in evil forces, making their children use to play with evil.”

Obviously, the Russian church is still catching up on clerical education following the end of the USSR. The root meaning of “cosmetic” is not “beauty” but “order,” with a secondary meaning of “ornamentation.” Look it up.

But if you want “cultural colonization,” (and I revert to the American spelling,)  just look here:
russians at McDsI took this photo last month on the Greek island of Corfu. The Russian guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy was in port, and sailors wandered the old town district on shore leave.

And did they end up in the hundreds of perfectly acceptable Greek bars and restaurants? No, they were always at McDonalds.

Look, spend your rubles on a good Corfu sofrito and some Corfu “real ale” and have fun on Halloween, OK?

If, that is, it is possible to feel festive while cruising up and down the Syrian coast.

It’s Late October — Who Can Keep Up with the News?

psst it's halloweenThere is more Pagan-related stuff popping up in the news and publishing world than usual right now. I wonder why. So here are some highlights:

• Gwendolyn Reece is a university librarian, blogger (Diary of an Occult Librarian), and scholar — one recent publication, “Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism,” appeared in the most recent issue of The Pomegranate. So it made sense for the communications and marketing office at her employer, American University in Washington, DC, to go to her as their in-house expert on all things Halloween-ish.

• The phrase “post-Christian Europe” has become a journalistic cliché. So a writer for The Week imagines what a post-Christian and pagan [sic] world might look like.

So, could we go back to paganism? This is more than an idle question. Our era is still — much more than we care to admit — very much defined by Christian ideals, which — much more than we care to admit — were very much defined in opposition to pagan ideals. Looking at the pagan worldviews that once ruled Europe should give us some insight into the West today, and, perhaps, its future.

The article is free from much knowledge of actual contemporary Paganism outside of Iceland. But he does make the point that sacrifice was key to ancient Paganism, even though nowadays it is euphemized or just plain considered icky

• There is a type of book that I call “I go among the Witches.” Mostly I associate these with the 1970s, such as Susan Roberts’ Witches U.S.A. (1971), Hans Holzer’s The New Pagans (1973 but now on Kindle!), and the queen of them all, Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon (original publication 1979).

A new entry in this genre is Alex Mar’s Witches of America. In a review titled “Eat, Prey, Learn Magic,” Rhyd Wildermuth gives it two thumbs down.

Much touted by the internet press–but met with muted reservation by most witches, her book offers a sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative disguised as an elucidating look into the way witchcraft is practised in the United States.  Belonging alongside a 1980’s issue of National Geographic (we’ll get to the pendulous breasts in a bit), exploitative British-tourist narratives, and freak-documentary, Mar’s book tells the tale of her search for authentic witchcraft in the most ‘extreme’ of American Pagan experiences.

• Want to sample Alex Mar’s book for yourself? Check this excerpt in New York magazine: “The Powerful, Unlikely Appeal of Witchcraft — Even for a Skeptic.”

That’s what this is like, the embarrassing wide-openness that witchcraft requires: a movement or voice or improv class, in which the actor is expected, required by her work, to throw herself all the way in. To make a flailing mess of herself as the only route to truer performance.

‘Cause her readers  understand the thea-tuh. Or as others say, “Fake it ’till you make it.” Nothing about deity in this excerpt, however.

An Icon from an Alternate Universe

sasha & julian 2-sm

Sasha and the emperor, at Icon Gallery.

We arrived in Corfu late in the evening of the 12th of September and had about fifteen minutes of worry when the agent of the apartment’s owner was not present to meet us at the airport, as promised. And I had neglected to get his number!

But I did have the number for Yannis, the owner, who lives in Athens, and I called him. He promised to call Nikos, the agent. Soon he called back to say that Nikos had car problems but would soon be in touch, which he was. Before too long Nikos arrived — on a Vespa — got us a taxi, and we were off.

He showed us the apartment, gave us the keys, and said that he would be back inthe late morning to collect the rent (assuming we liked the place — which we did) and give us a quick tour of the neighborhood.

“At home” at last, but too jittery to sleep, we took a walk through part of Corfu’s old town, quickly locating Sasha Chaitow’s Icon Gallery, where something was waiting for me.

julian icon-sm

Juiian holding his “Hymn to King Helios”

When Sasha, whom I knew via the American Academy of Religion and The Pomegranate, opened the gallery, I commissioned an icon from her. Not another John the Baptist or St. Spyridon — but the last Roman Pagan emperor, done in the Byzantine style that evolved in later centuries.

She sent a preliminary sketch. We went back and forth by email — laurel wreath or imperial diadem? — and so on.

It came from sort of a quickly fantasized alternative history, one in which Julian had not died in that cavalry skirmish with the Persians in 363 CE in what is now northern Iraq, but had lived, had succeeded in his quest to re-institute and reform the old Pagan practices, and become venerated after his death.

That’s my alternative history, and I’m sticking to it. The day after I arrived in Corfu, I was holding it in my hands. Now it hangs on the study wall, glowing.

Sasha holds an MA in Western esotericism from the University of Exeter and a PhD in myth and literature from the University of Essex, as well as being an accomplished painter. She takes commissions, and you can contact her through the gallery website, Facebook, Academia.edu, or LinkedIn.