Pagans Down in Georgia

Dancing on the hillside (Alexander Bainbridge/The Independent).

No, not that Georgia — the other Georgia. But our Georgians could probably do offerings of sacred beer as well.

“They do not have a personal knowledge like that,” explains Dato Akriani, one of the tiny number of people who have moved from the lowlands up to Pshavi, and who was initiated into the cult of Kopala 20 years ago. “They are the true inheritors and passers-on of the tradition, but they cannot explain it metaphysically

Bemushroomed in the Deep Woods

mushroomjar.jpgM. and I have been hitting the deep woods one day a week as part of the annual Mushroom Hunt. Yesterday was an odd one.

Actually, the previous hunt, six days earlier, was even stranger. First, I had a full-blown hallucination of a nice Boletus edulis (king bolete, steinpilz, etc.) I walked over to the spot — and there was no mushroom. Then I looked above five or six feet away, and there it was. The spirits were playful.

In his excellent book Shroom: A Cultural History of the Magic Mushroom, Andy Letcher uses the term “bemushroomed” to mean being under the influence of entheogenic mushrooms consumed internally.

But maybe there is another sense wherein you are just in their force field. Every mushroom hunter knows the perceptual shift of not seeing any — and then you enter the “field” and you are seeing them everywhere.

Only maybe you lose track of other things, such as where you are.

Usually, M. is trance-ier in the woods than I am. I — having gotten lost in these densely forested mountains before — am always reality-checking: “OK, the boggy meadow is north — that’s to the right. I am walking downhill, so west; therefore, the road is about a quarter-mile behind me. But what’s that little knob? — I don’t recognize it.”

So having mushrooms moving around in my perceptual field was — different.

Then, after two hours or so, we are back at the Jeep, and she is looking stricken and slapping at her pants pockets. Her Opinel mushroom knife, a Christmas present, is gone! We retrace part of our steps but don’t spot it. She remembers cutting some Albatrellus confluensnot super-tasty, but they bulk up a soup.

Yesterday we returned to that area. I thought I remembered — to within an acre or so — where that patch of confluens might be, marked off by three weathered white-fir trunks that had fallen like three sides of a square.

So we set off in that general direction, and I more or less walked right to the spot. There was the knife. (Thanks, mushroom spirits!)  After six days in the weather, the wooden handle had swollen, making it hard to open and close, but some time in the sunshine has fixed that.

But in the six days that had passed, the woods had changed again. Three hours of looking produced only one shopping bag of mushrooms. Our two favorite species had just vanished (or were too rotten to pick). But we were out there, in the “mushroom field.”

It is said that gathering wild mushrooms is dangerous. If you ask me, dealing with log trucks on narrow Forest Service roads is the real danger.

There was Asshole Log Truck Driver, who wanted the Jeep as a hood ornament. I “felt” him coming and pulled over until my right wheels were in the ditch before he blasted around the bend (Thanks, mushroom spirits).

But then there was Considerate Log Truck Driver who not only was driving conservatively downhill with his load, but who pulled over to let us pass.

Why couldn’t they have been reversed — meet CLTD head-on and go down the grade behind ALTD? Well, you take what you can get.

Wiccan Ghost-Hunting in India

If you are of a certain age — or if you hang around the “occult” section in used-bookstores — you might remember the ghost-hunting team of English witch Sybil Leek (1917–1982) and American parapsychology author Hans Holzer (1920–2009).

They were both writers, but the books appeared under his name, such as The Lively Ghosts of Ireland.

I was just reminded of them by reading this recent review of Bhangarh to Bedlam: Haunted Encounters, which covers some similar ground. Only most of the ground is in India, where — even with all of the kinds of polytheism, henotheism, and monism (and other -isms) that live under the umbrella term “Hindu” — Wicca, too, has gained a toehold in the religious landscape of the subcontinent.

In fact, author Deepta Roy Chakraverti is the daughter of Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, credited with bringing Wicca to India, as I noted in 2006.

The author who is a corporate lawyer by profession investigates the presence of the supernatural in the world we inhabit and writes about paranormal encounters she has had ranging from Bhangarh Fort on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, in the Lodhi gardens, the Konark Temple in Orissa, and the mental asylum of Bedlam in London. . . .

Deepta explores the energies of the Safdurjung Road house of late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who was assassinated and the psychic investigator writes about her experience . . .

She recalls a chilling encounter in the chapter “Who Walks on Marine Drive? “related to a peanut seller on Mumbai’s Marine Drive who has a horde of people, including a father-daughter pair flocking to him. The people, says the author are those who died suddenly in the 2011 terrorist attacks and are hovering between the worlds of the living and dead.

And in the interview/review she quotes Holzer himself. We have a tradition!

Bhangarh to Bedlam has a Facebook page, is available on Amazon in India but not here, it seems, and has created some controversy there.

An Indian website in April 2015 reported,

It also includes a chapter on a popular shopping mall in Kolkata, where a number of accidents and suicides have taken place in recent times.

And this is where a controversy has erupted, with the mall in question demanding that all references to it be eliminated from the book. According to Roy Chakraverti, a corporate lawyer by profession and a psychic investigator by calling, who is the daughter of the self-styled Wiccan priestess Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, the publishers [not identified] bliged by calling off the publication of the book.

But also in April, Life Positive Books (New Delhi)  announced its publication. Same house? Different one? Roy Chakraverti hints at dark forces:

The dark energy has its own power. I feel that this fiasco happened because there were one or two political entities in the background, which were afraid of a Wiccan woman gaining popularity.

According to the Facebook page, launch parties and signings are ongoing.

A Viking is Nothing without his Oar

The Nydam ship was found in southern Jutland in 1863. It has recently been dated via dendrochronology to 310–320 CE, and the deposition in the bog where it was found is likely to have taken place 340–350 CE. The picture shows a German replica of the ship, built in 1935.1)Harald Åkerlund, Nydamskeppen: En studiei tidig skandinavis kskeppsbygnadskonst (Göteborg: Sjöfartsmuseet, 1963). (Photograph in Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landsmuseum.)

Norwegian scholar Eidar Heide tracks down the origin of the term “Viking” in an etymological article. Like a lot of people, I had thought it came from a word for “bay” or “inlet,” the first proposed word origin that he examines.

Not so, he argues, it’s all about the rowing — and the word itself actually predates the era of “the Vikings” as we typically think of them (PDF file, in English).

Note to readers: the abstract is at the end of the paper, not the beginning.

Scroll down here for a link to others of his articles on the history and archaeology of Viking ships, some in English and some in Norweigan.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Harald Åkerlund, Nydamskeppen: En studiei tidig skandinavis kskeppsbygnadskonst (Göteborg: Sjöfartsmuseet, 1963).

She’s Dead, She’s Female, She Must Be the Witch!

The 1,400-year-old-burial (News Team International).

There is a well-known set of standing stones in England called the Rollright Stones — actually, a dolmen plus a “circle” plus a larger standing stone, believed to have been erected at different times in the long Neolithic period.

So they have had at least four thousand years to accrue folklore, not to mention for the name to change from an Old English meaning of “the land of Hrolla,” referring to the surrounding area, to something suggesting rolling. For example, they are often seen as “the king” and his “knights,” all turned to stone. The ceremonial magician Wiliam Gray, who was creating rituals and texts in the 1960s and 1970s, with some overlap with new Wiccan groups, wrote a book of ritual based on them, The Rollright Ritual.

Comes now a metal detector hobbyist who finds an ancient (but not as ancient as the stones) skeleton there. This news story gets a lot wrong: the stones are Neolithic, not Bronze Age (big difference1)But see Ethan Doyle White’s comment ), a patera 2)Since the patera was used for pouring ritual offerings, I have long assumed that it is the direct ancestor of the paten, which holds the bread in the Christian Eucharist. is not both Saxon and Roman, but Roman (but not for “cooking wine”), and there is absolutely no reason to say that this is the “Rollright Witch.”

No wonder archaeologists mistrust the news media.

But here is something interesting: the reporter — who cannot even be bothered to Google “patera” or “Neolithic”—a fully willing to buy into the “ancient witch” myth, to the point of quoting unnamed “experts” that this apparently high-status person was the legendary witch, in other words, that there were 7th century or whenever, high-status female witches buried among standing stones. All it lacks is some sort of Marion Zimmer Bradley-esque college of priesteesses. Maybe this is the Bradley-ization of archaeology reporting in the popular press.

Notes   [ + ]

1. But see Ethan Doyle White’s comment
2. Since the patera was used for pouring ritual offerings, I have long assumed that it is the direct ancestor of the paten, which holds the bread in the Christian Eucharist.

The Blue Moon Made Me Do It

A northern Florida sheriff speculates that the deaths of a family were “ritualistic” murders.

“The time of death on Tuesday also coincides with what’s referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years.”

According to the Associated Press version, linked above,  which “faith or religion” the sheriff had in mind was not made clear. Not so in the local press — in case you could not guess.

Or is this more like those many instances when archaeologists who cannot explain an artifact’s use label it as a “ritual object”?

It Gets Better: Wiccans Push Back

This is how today is different from the “Satanic Panic” of the 1970s–80s. The Internet makes it easier to push back. “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.'”

Leading experts and practitioners of Wicca and other pagan [sic] religions have slammed a Florida sheriff’s department after police announced that a triple murder was a “ritualistic killing” linked to “witchcraft”.

Vikings, Monks, and Cultural Biases


Lagertha, a shieldmaiden, Ragnar’s wife.

I bailed on Game of Thrones. I watched the first episode, liked parts of it (Jon Snow, obviously), but decided not to devote the necessary hours. Ditto the books. Generally, when I open a book and read something like . . .

“My lord!” blurted the messenger. “The Zardakar have landed at Dragon’s Gate!”

. . . I put it back on the shelf.

So why (two years after it started) did I rent the TV series Vikings (a/k/a The Adventures of Ragnar Lothbork), which started  running in 2013?

Maybe it’s a test of the relative strength of adopted Paganism versus one’s historic culture.

First, some people rightly point out that the initial plot point — Ragnar wants to raid “west,” i.e., the British Isles, while the earl does not believe that such lands exist — is impossible. The Norse knew where those lands were. My contribution to the Anachronism Sweepstakes is the glimpse of an Irish wolfhound at the Thing in Episode 1. The tall, leggy Irish wolfhound is a Victorian invention, like most “ancient” dog breeds. They never saw a wolf. The “origin stories” of dog breeds contain many tons more bullshit than the origin stories of Witchcraft traditions, all put together.

Back to the story — As a little kid in the backseat at the drive-in theatre, I watched Kirk Douglas in The Vikings — and they were the good guys. I would go on to cite that movie in a paper for my Old English class at Reed College — and got it past the professor, since it was a pop culture reference.

But in that same Old English class, we read The Battle of Maldon, where the English, who lose, are the good guys and the Norse the bad guys.

Yet they were the same culture in some respects. Byrthwold’s last words to the outnumbered and surrounded English fighters would come naturally to a Viking in the same situation:

Byrhtwold spoke, raised his shield –
he was an old retainer – shook his ash-spear;
full boldly he taught warriors:
“Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener,
mind must be the greater, while our strength lessens.”

Except by then the English were Christian.

My education was largely Anglo-centric, so Alfred the Great was the good guy, turning back the Norse, restoring London, uniting peoples, etc. And in my calligraphy class, the Lindisfarne Gospels figured prominently. (I had a fondness for Dark Ages fonts.)

I knew that the History Channel’s Vikings would be raiding Lindisfarne, as happened in 793. As the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts it (translated): “the ravaging of wretched heathen people destroyed God’s church at Lindisfarne.”

I thought of an English professor whom I know, proudly Pagan since birth (he says). Once he and were walking through his city, and he pointed out a medieval church badly damaged by German air raids in World War II. I looked at him as he spoke, and his eyes were full of tears.

Does cultural patrimony some times outweight religious allegiance?

So when the Vikings waded ashore, I tried to stay neutral. They hacked down the monks, then, looking at the gold and silver crosses, chalices, etc., asked why such precious things were left unguarded.

That was probably true to life. Contrary to some of today’s Ásatrú, I do not think that the Norse ever conceived of the Lindisfarne raid as a blow against institutional Christianity. They were there for the plunder.

So maybe this is another series like Breaking Bad or The Americans where you don’t try to pick out “the good guys” but just let the story unfold.

(CGI ravens? Meh.)

“Hardscrabble Creek’s” Subscriptions Are Changing

After experimenting with ReadyGraph’s “User Base” feature, I have decided I don’t like it.

I just hate pop-up windows. Maybe you do too. When I checked the blog on my iPhone, the sign-up window dominated the view.

So I have deleted the code and plug-in and am just using the simple WordPress email-sign up form, at the top of the sidebar on the right. >>>>

On smartphones you may have to scroll down to see it.

Thanks to everyone who signed up with ReadyGraph, and please do transfer your subscription to the new form!

A History of the Gods of Irish Myth

Forthcoming from Princeton University Press, Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth (2016), by Mark Williams.

Think of the “Finding a God” and “Finding a Goddess” chapters of Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon — but book-length, dealing with Irish material, and the product of numerous quests through textual tunnels wherein dwell the ferocious beasts.

All of the Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans out there will probably rush not to buy it. Someone should — he is a fine writer.

From the scraps of his research that I have seen, readers (me included) should prepare to end up in places quite different than they expected.

Lammas, Wild Harvest, and “the Notch”

nibbled bolete

About two days too late for this big bolete. The squirrels had already been at it, and most of it was too soft. M. said it was a Great Mother Mushroom and we had to leave her to spread her spores. OK.

Many of the Pagan bloggers are putting up their “Happy Lammas/Lughnasad” posts. My archaeoastronomical friends who study mysterious ancient solar alignments point out that “real” Lammas is still six days away.

But there is “the notch.” In 1986, when I moved to this part of Colorado, a friend told me, “Something changes around the first of August. It’s still hot, but there is a change.”

This year I really felt it. On July 30th I was standing out in front of our volunteer fire department at sunset — there was a little rain squall to the west and a partial rainbow to the east, and the air just felt . . . different.

Liatris is blooming too, the flower that marks the turn into High Summer.

After one quick trip on July 10th, M. and I geared up yesterday for our harvest. Never mind the garden, it’s mushroom time in the Southern Rockies. Off we went to the boreal (OK, subalpine) forest —  up, up, up, about a 4,000-foot elevation gain.

A shock. Someone was parked in “our” spot on a certain dirt logging road. And a bulldozer had been working the road too — there is some salvage logging going on. We parked the Jeep a few yards further on. Shock again! Someone was camped up there—a vehicle and a blue tent.

On the warpath now, we communicated by signs and whispers. This way . . . circle right, check the little patch of woods we call “the mushroom store.” There’s a good bolete, grab it.

Then we come to the Forest Service drift fence, follow it to “the little gate” (there is also a “big gate”), walking quietly.

A man is calling a dog — “Sheena, come!” — on the other side of stand of firs.  Into a further maze of old logging roads, now snowmobile trails in the winter, we plunge, walking quickly.

I stand in a clearing, waiting for the GPS receiver to access its satellites so that I can re-locate some good spots saved as waypoints a year ago. M. circles me, looking down. After years of mushroom-hunting in this area, I know the lay of the land, but how far up the edge of “the boggy meadow” was that good stand of Boletus edulis? Technology has its place.

Once we are a quarter mile from the Forest Service road, we start to relax. As so often happens, the farther from the road, the fewer people you meet.

In Westcliffe, the Wet Mountain Tribune, a weekly, headlines, “Shroomers are Coming.” The Search & Rescue volunteers will be ready.

The truth is, SAR spends most of its time on climbers falling off peaks in the South Colony Lakes/Crestone Needle area of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Go into their building, and the main room is papered with topo mags and photos of that area.

But there was Frieda. She was one of the “old German ladies,” an acquaintance of Dad’s, and a member of the mycological group in Colorado Springs, as was he. Military town that it is, Colorado Springs has a population of German GI brides like her. Years ago, M. and I encountered some of them walking through the woods with their shopping bags on the back side of Pike’s Peak. They taught us some mushrooms (Dad was away in Washington state then.) They became iconic to us.

A decade or so ago, Frieda was lost overnight in these mountains. She was found the next day, in good shape. But somehow Search & Rescue locked onto her as a type specimen of the absent-minded mushroom hunter.

For Christmas 2001, Dad bought us a memberhip in the mycological society. Colorado Springs was too far to go for membership meetings, but we hoped to rendezvous for their “forays,” as the serious mycophiles call them. We signed up for one — it was cancelled due to drought.

That was a dry year, big forest fires popping up, including the Hayman Fire that threatened suburban Denver. (“All of Colorado is burning today.”)  And then Dad was gone.

This is not a “foray,” this is a meat hunt. M.’s Opinel mushroom knife is flashing. Boletes. Hawk’s wing. Velvet foot. Even a puffball, just for bulk.

“We need to leave by 2:30,” she says. Other responsibilites. We make a wide circle back to the Jeep; then she steps behind a big fir with the bags while I, wearing just my day pack, stroll to it, start the engine, and drive down the road to pick her up.

We plan to go back on Thursday. That is almost solar Lammas — the Sun hits 15° Leo on Friday. It is really “Lammastide,” not “Lammas Day” — a short season. And we will be harvesting.