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

vikings_lagertha_3-AB

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.

Irish Druids Now Officially “Indigenous” — They Say

That is how the Celtic Druid Temple frames government recognition as an “official charity.”

The Celtic Druid Temple is a full member of the World Druid Order and now has legal and formal recognition in Ireland as a religious charity with a CHY number 20684 issued by the Dept of Finance.

I assume that is roughly equivalent to an American religious group getting 501(c)3 status as a tax-exempt nonprofit group.

To these Irish Druids, there are larger implications:

The Celtic Druid Temple is now recognised by the Irish Government as Ireland’s indigenous religious tradition with Nature as the Supreme Being. Nature based spirituality has once again achieved full recognition in Ireland after a lapse of many centuries.

Indigenous. Does that word mean what you think it means? I have seen some (mostly white) academics twist themselves into knots to explain why they themselves cannot be “indigenous.”

Some of them argue that you have to have been colonized by an outside power to be “indigenous.” The Irish would have a lightning-quick comeback to that.

And some of my English Pagan friends say, “What about the Romans? They colonized us.” (Or does the magic power of being colonized expire after some set amount of time?)

Other Pagan writers equate their ancestors’ often-forced conversion to Christianity as being psychologically equivalent to colonization.

It must be possible to become indigenous over time; otherwise, the only truly indigenous humans would be those living in East Africa, and everyone else would be a nasty invader and colonizer.

Quick, Download this Paper Now

Israeli scholar of Paganism has published a paper on “Connecting British Wicca with Radical Feminism and Goddess Spirituality during the 1970s and 1980s: The Case Study of Monica Sjöö” in the Journal of Contemporary Religion.

It is currently available as a free download. Here is the abstract:

This article attempts to chart some of the ways in which ideas of radical feminism, Goddess Spirituality, and feminist Witchcraft—which originated in the United States during the late 1960s and the 1970s before taking root in Britain—were introduced to British Wiccans during the latter half of the 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Several UK-based radical feminists who combined their newfound political awareness with Goddess Spirituality acted as important conduits for the transference of these ideas. This will be shown through the use of a case study of the artist and Goddess Feminist Monica Sjöö (1938–2005).

As they say, this offer may expire, so act now.

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Daughter Speaks Out

The MZB/Walter Breen scandal was bigger in the science fiction/speculative fantasy world than in the Pagan world, but MZB has influenced Pagans through her Mists of Avalon books and her Pagan associates, as detailed by Sonja Sadvoksky in The Priestess and the Pen.

If you ask someone under 35 about Mists, they do not think it is relevant, or maybe they have heard of it but most likely have never read it. If you ask someone over 35 the same question, especially if they are female, they often come back with with an answer that Mists was a fundamental book in their development as a Pagan and Witch. I kind of straddle this divide, as I am turning 34 this month, and I have a thing for weird books.

The Bradley/Breen scandal was about sexual abuse, and their daughter Moira Greyland experienced it too.(I don’t know the blog where she guest-posts, but the post itself came well-recommended.)

My observation of my father and mother’s actual belief is this: since everyone is naturally gay, it is the straight establishment that makes everyone hung up and therefore limited.  Sex early will make people willing to have sex with everyone, which will bring about the utopia while eliminating homophobia and helping people become “who they really are.” It will also destroy the hated nuclear family with its paternalism, sexism, ageism (yes, for pedophiles, that is a thing) and all other “isms.”  If enough children are sexualized young enough, gayness will suddenly be “normal” and accepted by everyone, and the old fashioned notions about fidelity will vanish.  As sex is integrated as a natural part of every single relationship, the barriers between people will vanish, and the utopia will appear, as “straight culture” goes the way of the dinosaur.  As my mother used to say: “Children are brainwashed into believing they don’t want sex.”

Read the rest if you can handle it. Moira is not exactly waving the rainbow flag.

I would rather not get into the whole “Can you separate the artist from the work?” because, most of the time, I think that you can. That’s the reader’s response. On the other hand, it is also fair for the critic to examine how the writer’s attitude toward X affects how she or he writes about X.

Paganism and/or Patriotism: Russia’s New Slavic Pride

Perun’s Day celebration (Russia Beyond the Headlines).

An article in Russia Beyond the Headline talks about the rising interest in Pagan Slavic roots in that county, exemplified by the increasing number of celebrations of Perun’s Day, which was last Monday.

As more and more Russians seek solace in patriotism, many are turning to their ancient past and reviving pagan traditions. Apart from various festivities, Slavic traditions are being revived in songs, clothing, martial arts and even psychotherapy. According to sociologists, this interest in the past is becoming a trend in Russia.
At least one sociologists suggests that aside from the small number of actual Pagans, this interest is only skin-deep:
However, [Alexei] Levinson believes the appeal to Slavic traditions in popular culture is mostly superficial, and those who treat it seriously are few. “Being patriotic is currently a very fashionable thing in Russia, and the appeal to the culture of the past gives people an opportunity to be a part of the trend,” he said. “Besides, young people simply like to put on some elements of traditional Slavic clothing – it is pretty and uncommon, after all.”
Finnish scholar Kaarina Aitamurto has a book on Russian Paganism forthcoming from Ashgate titled Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie. She has published on Rodnoverie in The Pomegranate and elsewhere; here are some samples: