Seventy-two Virgins

The Religious Policeman,” my favorite Saudi expatriate blogger, has some ideas about the 72 virgins that supposedly await Muslim martyrs.

His posting is just more fallout from an Arab-language television program that frankly uncovers the link between sex (or lack of sex) and martyrdom. More here, including a quote from a guy who is still in the news: “I don’t want any women to go to my grave at all during my funeral or on any occasion thereafter.”

Aphrodite will not be denied, as I once wrote.

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The Russian Empire in Color

Before there was such a thing as color film, a Russian photographer figured out a way to project the equivalent of color slides. His work can be seen in an online exhibition at the Library of Congress.

Off-topic for this blog? Bear with me.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944) was commissed by the government of the last tsar, Nicholas II, to travel the Russian Empire taking pictures of people, buildings, bridges, and other sights. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 overthrew the tsar, and Prokudin-Gorskii left for Paris the next year, taking many of his negatives with him.

When we have looked at too many sepia-tone photographs and old, herky-jerky black-and-white movies, we can almost forget that people a century ago lived in a colorful world too. You can see old Russia (and parts of Central Asia) in full color in these pictures.

Oh yes, the Russian royal family’s personal physician was Dr. Sergei Botkin, who was gunned down along with them by the Communists in 1918. Dr. Botkin’s son, Gleb, 17, would have been there too, except for a transportation foul-up that left him in another town.

Gleb Botkin eventually came to the United States and made a career as a commercial artist and writer. Although one branch of the Orthodox Church has canonized Tsar Nicholas II as a saint, the picture Botkin gives of him and his family in his memoir The Real Romanovs could be summarized as “nice people, but clueless.”

In 1939 Botkin founded his own Pagan religious group, the Church of Aphrodite, first in Long Island, N.Y., and then in Charlottesville, Va., after he moved there. The “church” ended with his death in the mid-1960s, but at least one member, W. Holman Keith, was connected with subsequent Pagan bodies such as Feraferia, the Church of the Eternal Source, and the Church of All Worlds.

Missing Texts

The Wiccan/Pagan times has reviewed Graham Harvey’s and my anthology, The Paganism Reader. So far, no review (of two that I have seen) has noted our big, accidental omission, James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

It is easy to see what happened. Neither Graham nor I make any use of this monument of 19th-century anthropology. We tend to think of it as an exhibit in the Museum of Ideas. But it was influential in the Pagan revival and it still pops up on Pagan reading lists because of all that “sacrificial king” stuff: examples here and here.

By the time I thought to include it, Routledge did not want to hear of any more changes, and we were already 300 UK pounds over budget on permissions. (Someone is still making money off Rudyard Kipling, for example.)

It hurt me more to leave out Sappho’s invocation of Aphrodite, because all her surviving poems still speak with a fresh voice, even though she lived more than 2,500 years ago.

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc?s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, “After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up,” having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc?s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, “After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up,” having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc?s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, “After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up,” having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

Aphrodite Bats Last

A New York Times report by a Columbia University sociologist on the virginity pledges promoted by some Christian groups such as True Love Waits finds that pledge-takers do delay the onset of sexual activity, yet tend to contract sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as their peers, suggesting that they do not get additional education on STDs.

Key paragraphs:

By age 23, half the teenagers who had made virginity pledges were married, compared with 25 percent of those who had not pledged, the study found. Dr. Bearman said he did not know whether the teenagers who had broken their pledges did so initially with their fianc?s or with others, because the data had not yet been analyzed.

But he said, “After they break their pledge, the gates are open, and they catch up,” having more partners in a shorter time.

Link courtesy of Religion News Blog.

Weapons of Singing Destruction

Since Google sends some readers seeking news and photos about such new Arab singing stars as Haifa Wehbe and Nancy Ajram to this blog, here are two articles by Charles Paul Freund that might interest you.

“Look Who’s Rocking the Casbah: The Revolutionary Implications of Arab Music Videos,” Reason magazine, June 2003.

“Weapons of Singing Destruction” The Escalating Storm over Arab Pop Videos,” Reason magazine, October 29, 2003.

Freund writes:

If you add the voluminous press and publicity machine that has grown around this scene, it begins to take on the proportions of a cultural frenzy. Such phenomena have a long and fascinating history; they occur when a cultural form becomes available to an audience that uses it to assert and validate its quickly shifting sense of itself. The Netherlands famously experienced such a phenomenon in the 17th century, when members of its suddenly enriched middle class latched onto paintings of themselves and their world as a way to express and validate their new social power. At the time, such subject matter was a departure for painters; indeed, it was the first time that anyone outside the aristocracy had owned paintings. The emerging British middle class of the 18th and 19th centuries went through a fiction-reading frenzy (of Grub Street “trash,” mostly) as it sought models for its emerging social opportunities and identified with characters grappling with an industrializing, urbanizing world. Similarly, movies and rock music were powerful forms for different generations of 20th-century Americans. They used such forms to play with the new possibilities of identity that were coming within their grasp.

Haifa Wehbe Watch

Ever since my original post about Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe
(or Wahbi), this blog has been receiving sporadic hits from the Middle East: Israel, Syria, Egypt, Dubai . . .

Apparently she and some of her peers have really undermined traditional Arab ideas of beauty.

But I say this to her fans:

“Some would say an army of cavalry, others of infantry, others of ships, is the fairest thing on the dark earth, but I say it’s whatever you’re in love with.”

Those lines are from the ancient Greek poet Sappho. Read Sappho, and understand.

Where the weekend went

To the detriment of my students, I spent most of the past weekend editing the first issue of the “new” Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies. To help the process go faster, I asked the aid of my old friend Michael McNierney, who not only teaches but has written for The Pom in the past, as well as possessing strong editorial skills. Peer-reviewers of academic journals are normally paid in the coin of glory, but I was happy to share food, drink, and some of the old .45 ACP ammunition that I inherited from my late father.

Practical Polytheism

Practical Polytheism

I am currently reading Devoted to You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice. The title is a bit of a misnomer, as one contributor, Maureen Reddington-Wilde, could be more properly described as a Greek Reconstructionist. Since I was recently blogging about Aphrodite, I’m starting with Reddington-Wilde’s chapter on Her.

Editor Judy Harrow contributes a section on Gaia; other constributors are Alexei Kondratiev (Brigit) and Geoffrey W. Miller (Anubis).

Harrow writes, “We are four Pagan henotheists, each of whom has a long-standing devotion to the Deity he or she has written about here. We are devoted. We respect and admire one another’s devotion. . . . Since modern Paganism is a high-choice relgion, we have a wide range of choices in our basic approach to religion itself. So another thing that I would hope is that this book will show you something of the range of options available to you and help you find your own comfortable place within that range.”

Vodou souls

“The Quick and the Dead: The Souls of Man in Vodou Thought” is an essay by the Berkeley, California, musicologist Richard Hodges, who writes, “In nineteenth century France, the Nancy school of hypnotism discovered a way of producing states of abandonment of the body by the personality as profound as in traditional ritual possession. This only became a minor chapter in the history of Western medical psychology. There is a deep-seated prejudice in the West against loss of control. There is such a high evaluation of the individual and his personality that it is very difficult to conceive of the possibility for the ego to relax its grip and to accept to be displaced by something higher and finer. Such relaxation is one of the fundamental states of the human psyche. The absence in the West of cultural institutions for the socialization and development of this state is one of the signs of the loss of genuine psycho-spiritual knowledge in modern times. “