Can You Put Your Paganism in the Street?

Union Avenue in Pueblo, Colorado — January 2018. Banner at left marks the Hanging Tree Cafe, where you will find me sometimes.

Late last year, I read this in the Pueblo Chieftain newspaper: “Pueblo Church Walks and Prays over Every Walkable Street in the City.”

About a year ago, the Rev. Jim Murray had a vision. In that vision, members of his church, the First Church of the Nazarene, 84 Stanford Ave., would walk every walkable street in Pueblo and pray over the city.

It was a daunting challenge. The maps of Pueblo listed more than 1,200 streets covering more than 340 miles. When you double that by walking down both sides of each street to reach every home or business or school, the distance is nearly 800 miles.

“In any political economy of the sacred, therefore, conflicts over space are inevitable” — David Chidester. (Photo: Muslims in Milan’s central square, 2009).

It put me in mind of an essay by religion scholar David Chidester called “Mapping the Sacred” in which he writes, “Of course, religion inevitably spills out of the privatized enclaves of homes, churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues to assert broader claims on urban space, taking to the streets, so to speak, to negotiate religious presence, position, or power in the city.1)David Chidester, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012), 35.  As an aside: Chidester is writing about Cape Town, which is currently in the middle of ecological crisis — running out of water — due to a combination of drought and growing population. Who is next? Phoenix? Albuquerque?

A French scholar suggests that such religious demonstrations in the polis are a sign of globalization:2)Lionel Obadia, “Urban Pareidolias: Fleeting but Hypermodern Signs of the Sacred?” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 47, no. 1 [in press].

Similarly, modernity has been associated with the decline and the privatization of religion, whilst globalization has meant the return of religion in social arenas and in public spaces. Consequently, the world is a new (social and political) theater for religious dynamics. The spatial expansion of religions is remarkable in urban and public spaces, perhaps the more visible site of the “return of religion” in Europe and globally—prayers and processions in the streets of secular global cities, the semiotics of religious clothes (Muslim hidjab, Buddhist robe, Jewish kippah) and, of course, the problem of religious buildings in Europe are evidences of such a reinjection of religion in the spatial and sociological heart of so-called “secular” modernity. Cities are, in this perspective, very important and strategic sites for the observation of the mutations of religion.

Performing your religion in the polis is nothing new, but performing it in a way to challenge groups is new again, you might say. (I think there was some of it in the 4th-century Roman Empire, for instance.) Just here in Colorado, former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard infected his congregation with the idea that downtown Colorado Springs needed spiritual cleansing.

I admire those Greeks who held a Dionysian procession in Athens four years ago (Do they still do it?). Of course, they get to play the heritage card: “This is what our ancestors used to do, right here.”

So you don’t have musicians and followers enough to stage a public procession, so what to you do. Maybe instead of imposing your sacred meanings on the polis, you go looking for them instead. Not “I put Hermes here!” but “Where does Hermes show up?”

That is what one of my favorite Pagan writers, Sarah Kate Istra Winter (a/k/a Dver) advocates in three short books, built up upon her blog, A Forest Door. (Look in the “Pagan Bloggers” sidebar — she has stopped updating it, but I keep it there for the archive.)

The books are Between the Worlds: Notes from the Threshold, Dwelling on the Threshold: Reflections of a Spirit-Worker and Devotional Polytheist, and the one I need to get, The City Is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists.

Blogging in or near The Capitol, Hecate Demeter notes,

Speaking of being fully Pagan in urban settings, if you can possibly get your hands on Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s new little book entitled The City is a Labyrinth:  A Walking Guide for Urban Animists, please do so.  It is full of simple, practical, doable ways to come into relationship with an urban landscape.

And none of them involve wagging your butt at Allah.

Notes   [ + ]

1. David Chidester, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012), 35.  As an aside: Chidester is writing about Cape Town, which is currently in the middle of ecological crisis — running out of water — due to a combination of drought and growing population. Who is next? Phoenix? Albuquerque?
2. Lionel Obadia, “Urban Pareidolias: Fleeting but Hypermodern Signs of the Sacred?” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 47, no. 1 [in press].

Pentagram Peach and Other Good Reads

1. From a regular reader in Kyoto comes the link to this giant bronze peach marked with a pentagram. It is part of the Seimei Jinja Shrine, dedicated to a tenth-century wizard and astrologer. Pentagrams everywhere!

2. John Beckett writes on the “aesthetic of witchcraft,” which has cycled around again as fashions do:

For the most part, these pieces aren’t about witches who cast circles, brew potions, and worship The Goddess. They’re not about witches who summon spirits or make pacts with the devil. They’re about young women who adopt the mythology and especially the fashion of witchcraft without any of its magical or religious elements.
It’s easy to dismiss this as “witchcrap” or “consumerism,” but Beckett makes a point that I have thought about too — let’s keep those symbols out there in the public view. “So when someone else promotes witchcraft – even if they’re only propagating the aesthetic of witchcraft – they’re providing publicity for all of us under the Pagan umbrella.”

3. I liked Elizabeth Autumnalis’ blog post “Missed Call from Your Local Spirits.” She begins,
Something that has always struck me as particularly odd about the pagan community is the fascination with the spirits of far off places when local spirits are standing right in front of us and staring us in the eye. I have a couple of ideas as to why this is, but when it comes down to it you are a product of the energies and spirits that you were raised around and those spirits are a product of the people and land that they inhabit as well. Chances are you probably have more in common with your local spirits than you think.

Read the whole thing.

Pagan Basics: How You Talk to Your Food, How You are Buried, and Other Linkage

Graves in the necropolist of Bouc-Bel-Air (Bernard Sillano, Inrap).

The slow abandonment of Pagan religion might be reflected in burials from early medieval France. “Within some of the tombs, the archaeologists discovered objects that suggest the persistence of pagan rites, even though Christianity was becoming more prevalent.” None of the articles that I have read give dates for these burials, so I am guessing they were from earlier than 1000 CE.

Women like the witch archetype because she is powerful. “On some level, all of the contemporary trappings of witchiness tap into that desire to feel powerful.”

Now you know. I suppose that it had to be said, and that my readers are mature enough to deal with this knowledge.

• Be buried in the Neolithic way so that your descendants may venerate you properly. It’s now possible in Britain.

She was a Celtic warrior-woman, in a sense — but not in Britain, Ireland, or Gaul.

“Animism at the Dinner Table.” From Sarah Lawless’ blog — really, this is the basic basic level of a Pagan life. It is more important than pantheons, Lore, texts, dressing up like the ancestors and all the stuff that people get worked up about.

What if we didn’t strive to be like the ancients, whose true ways are long lost and whose skills are beyond many of us at this time, but instead decided to bring the philosophy of animism to the dinner table? What would it look like? To be honest, it would look foolish to an outsider as it would involve talking to plants and animals, talking to our food sources, as if they were sentient and could understand us. Most of the old prayers collected as folklore weren’t really prayers at all, they were people talking to plants and to wild spirits.

Read the rest.

The Eagles of Candlemas, continued

Diana Miller, director of the Raptor Center in Pueblo

Raptor center director Diana Miller with a female golden eagle.

The first part is here.

As I wrote earlier this week, M. and I celebrated Candlemas by going to Eagle Days down at the state park by Pueblo Reservoir.  (Chamber of Commerce types want you to say “Lake Pueblo.”)

Scheduling a festival around raptors is a little iffy; you can expect sandhill cranes, for instance, to show up on time for their festival, but eagles?

So the director of the local raptor-rehabilitation center and her volunteers always show up with plenty of “education birds,” those being birds whose injuries or some cases habituation to humans keeps them from being released into the wild.

M. and I are volunteers too, in that our work as “wildlife transporters” for Colorado Parks & Wildlife often means bringing in hawks, owls, and vultures to the center. Once in a while, we get to release one as our reward. (The survival rate for injured raptors, unfortunately, is not too high.)

We caught part of the U.S. Air Force Academy falconers’ demonstration, an Indian pow-wow dance group’s eagle dance, looked at the birds. We had seen one golden eagle on the drive to the lake, and Diana said a certain spot farther down the Arkansas River might have some bald eagles, but I had another plan that had worked before, which involved driving upstream, into the state wildlife area, and then hiking with spotting scope and tripod to an overlook.

There, at the edge of the ice (the lake being half-frozen), was a black dot, which at 20x quickly resolved into a bald eagle, just hanging out.

It was not my spirit bird, nor did it bring me a message. It was just an eagle doing eagle stuff, another inhabitant of the upper Arkansas River.

It’s funny how we have to have a special day, with costumes, handouts, museum exhibits, captive birds, pizza, and cookies just to celebrate letting the wild be wild (and the wheel of the year), but that is how we roll. And if it build connections, I am all for it.

I care less and less for fancy metaphysics, dazzling Neoplatonic pyramids, recycled Theosophy, and all of that. I like my Paganism close to the ground. I know that that puts me at odds with all the One God/One Prophet/One Book people out there as well, but I gave up on monotheism many decades ago because it never told me how to live alongside the eagle.

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

This is a Druid knife. It says so.

Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .

• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.

• I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this thought:

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.

Local cultus is the new kale.

Is a knife named for Druids meant for Druids? (Echoes of allegations of human sacrifice?) Just what does “Druid” mean here?

• I did like John Halstead’s post on “the tyranny of structurelessness.” See also “Reclaiming.” See also “The Theology of Consensus.”

• Turn off the computer and play a 1,600-year-old Viking war game.

• From last July, a Washington Post story on Asatruar in the Army.

A photography book of modern British folklore. Not an oxymoron.

• More photography: “Earth Magic – Photographer Rik Garrett Talks About Witchcraft.”

What if witches hadn’t changed that much since medieval times and were still fairly close to the popular imagery conveyed by their early enemies during the classical witchhunts?

• So you’re a Pagan? Here are ten ways to show respect for your elders. It’s the Pagan way.

• Philosophy should teach you how to live. “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers.” Also, it’s Pagan.

• Reviewing a book on Greek and Roman animal sacrifice, which was, after all, the chief ritual back in the days when Paganism was the religion of the community.

• Was it the bells? Morris dancers attacked by dogs.

• Camille Paglia’s definition of “Pagan” is not mine, but she still kicks ass. Also, “Everything’s Awesome, and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”

• Embiggen thy word-hoard! Visit the Historical Thesaurus of Engish.

• But if you really want to go down the 15th-century rabbit hole, follow The Great Vowel Shift.

The New Yorker covers psychedelic therapy. To learn more, follow and donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Also: “How Psychedelics Are Helping Cancer Patients Fend Off Despair.”

Looking good for an academic interview.

A review from last year of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.

• From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “How to Be Intoxicated.” Not surprisingly, Dionyus figures in more than does binge-drinking.

• Apparently the Yakuza, the Nipponese Mob, planned to call off Halloween due to a gang war. So how did that work out?

What is Your Spirit Animal (Internet Version)?

A piece in The Atlantic takes note of the proliferation of online quizzes devoted to helping you find your “spirit animal.” Sadly, it does not really fulfill the promise of its subtitle: “How did the concept of the spiritual guide leap from Native American tradition to Internet irony? With the help of Tumblr, the Times, and Samuel L. Jackson.” But it’s still a fun read. Pizza? I had no idea.

There are, after all, so many spirit animal options out there, across so many spirit animal categories! If you take the Internet as your spiritual guide, your spirit animal could be another person (Elizabeth Warren, Jennifer Lawrence, Lana del Rey, Stevie Nicks, Bea Arthur), a fake person (Ron Swanson, Nick Miller, Rayanne Graff, Sansa Stark, Liz Lemon), or a fake semi-person (Lisa Simpson). It could be a food (the pizza, the fried green tomato grilled cheese sandwich, the epic Chipotle burrito you had for lunch the other day). It could be an actual animal (the dolphin, the corgi, the sloth, the Geico camel). It could be a Disney princess. It could be Grumpy Cat. It could be science. It could be whiskey.

A Horned God in Oklahoma?

An interesting story — a year old, but I just ran across it — about “deer men” in the 59,000-acre  Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.

“We moved to another observation site to the northeast at the base of Mount Scott, the highest point out there,” Heying said. “We did a U-turn in the parking area and as I made the turn my headlights lighted up a human figure with a head I can not easily describe.”

The creature didn’t look human. “It was as though it had the head of a buffalo or an elk, while standing upright with two legs and two arms that were human,” he said. But the eyes were what terrified him. “The eyes were a dark red.”

Read the rest — you will have to scroll down past the so-called UFO sighting.

Various explanations are offered in the comments, of course. Land wights, a god, or just a good campfire story?

The Mind of the Native and the Mind of the Witch

Typical Colorado foothills weather — from snow on the ground mid-May to temperatures in the 80s F. by the first of June. What is this “spring” people speak of? If you have hummingbirds and snow at the same time, that is our spring.

Some links:

• Rod Dreher posts on “How to see a ghost,” which is a little tangential for the blogger usually defined as “crunchy con,” but there is a connection to the idea of being embedded in place.

A lot of the post is excerpts from Rupert Ross’s book Dancing With A Ghost: Exploring Indian Reality, Much of it is animistic, as you would expect:

If, for instance, it is possible for a man to “walk” through the spiritual (that is, the imaged) plane, then he could not deny the possibility that others would be able to do the same. The dimension of each person which did this visiting thus ought to be able to encounter the corresponding dimension of others; suddenly the possibility of interaction with others on that plane becomes real.

Dreher is a capital-O Orthodox Christian (by conversion, hence enthusiastic), writing that he does not “subscribe to the pagan, animistic metaphysic Ross describes, but that it’s interesting to me to observe how much this overall outlook tracks with Orthodox Christianity and its belief in panentheism, which teaches that God is immanent in all creation.” But read his post for the excerpts and to watch him wrestle with what Ross has to say.

• Meanwhile, at his Paganistan blog, Steven Posch links to what he considers an accurate description of the “mind of a witch,” although it was not written from that perspective.

I liked this part:

Like all predators, a witch is a territorial animal, and to know your territory you have to patrol it regularly and you have to notice what’s going on there: what has changed, what’s changing, and what hasn’t changed.

It’s all in how you define “territory.

Animist Blog Carnival — Dreams

The March Animist Blog Carnival, on the theme of dreams, is hosted at Pray to the Moon.

We have a more modest collection of writings for this month. But, being an avid dreamer, I am not at all surprised. I find more often than not, when I begin to prattle about dreams, the response is invariably, “I don’t dream,” or “I never/rarely remember my dreams.” However, I also find that those people who are in tune with the dreamworld never disappoint in their storytelling.