The Anthropology Cult at CIIS

Some people in the Pagan studies field have a special place in their hearts for the California Institute of Integral Studies. This memoir (about events a decade ago) might help to explain why. It’s a “never been told story.”

We showed up willing and able to do whatever it took for the cause. Angana exploited us beyond recognition. She effectively used jargon and the discourse to force us to restructure, brutally interrogate and dismantle our sense of self in the most pathological way possible. It’s a classic cult grooming technique; it just so happened that the languaging in this cult used social justice concepts.

The Dark Side of Avalon

Two years ago I mentioned that author Moira Greyland, daughter of enormously influential1)Especiallly to Pagans over 35, more or less fantasy writer Marion Zimmer Bradley and Walter Breen, was speaking out about sexual abuse she experienced in their household.

Now you can read the book:The Last Closet: The Dark Side of Avalon.

From “CT,” one of the reader-reviewers at Amazon:

As a science fiction and fantasy author myself, I grew up with Marion Zimmer Bradley as an embodiment of the kind of progressive feminist ideal which was used as an encouragement for young women to aspire to while young men should follow the example of in their own writing. I all but memorized The Mists of Avalon and considered it a guide to neo-paganism, re-evaluating old stories for modern consumption, and writing female characters. The discovery Marion Zimmer Bradley covered for her pedophile husband in preying on the children of science fiction fans was stunning but not as much as the discovery she, herself, was an abusive sexual predator.

UPDATE 23 Dec. 2017: Another blogger: “The Book that Made Me a Feminist Was Written by an Abuser.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Especiallly to Pagans over 35, more or less

I Lived in Magic: A Video Biography of Oberon Zell

Produced and directed by Danny Yourd (Animal Studio), this meditative interview with Oberon Zell (co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and the man who put “Neo-Pagan” into the American religious vocabulary in the 1970s) is a valuable piece of American Pagan history. (It can also be viewed at the Vimeo site.)

Interspersed with video clips from the 1970s, 1980s, and on to the present — including the quixotic New Guinea mermaid quest — it pivots on his relationship with his life partner, the late Morning Glory Zell. (Their lives are also examined in John Sulak’s  The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism, which might be the best inside look at the American Pagan scene ever written.)

Oberon reflects on his life, on his loss of Morning Glory, but he is not giving up. “Don’t let it die,” were among her last words, and so the grey-haired wizard carries on. I know that he will do so until he is gone, and something like the mythic cry of Merlin is heard in the redwoods of California.

“Witches of America”: Sitting at the Cool Kids’ Table

I finally read Alex Mar’s Witches of America, and it is better than I thought, based on some of the reviews that I had seen, like this piece of negativity, for example: “[a] sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative” or this one: “extremely judgmental,” or the Complete Hurt Feelings Wrap-up here.

First, this is not a grand survey of the Pagan scene by a sympathetic journalist, similar to Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America (1979, rev. 1986) or the even earlier Witches U.S.A. by Susan Roberts (1974).

Rather, as one Pagan reviewer sarcastically noted, the better comparison was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia(I cannot imagine Julia Roberts playing Margot Adler in the movie version of Drawing Down the Moon.) It’s a memoir about “finding yourself.”

But I still enjoyed the read, once I realized that it was not any kind of a survey but more like Alex Mar trying to find the cool kids’ table in the magic-school cafeteria. Just when you think she has settled on a corner seat at the O.T.O., she started looking across the room at the necromancers. Maybe they are the real kool kidz.

At least you, the reader, get to ride along with actual necromancers after midnight. That’s worth the price of admission right there.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Gilbert’s marriage to Jose “Felipe” Nunes, the “Love” part of her title, has broken up after twelve years. I wonder if Alex Mar will be active with the O.T.O. that long.

Heathens in the Grange

newgrange

How the hof will look after it has been Norse-ified.

The Asatru Folk Assembly recently concluded a successful crowdfunding campaign to buy an old Grange hall in the Gold Rush country of California.1)Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups. AFA founder Stephen McNallen chose this time to step down as alsherjargothi (high priest) and go out on a high note.

Welcome to the joys of hof-ownership. How is the roof? Septic system? Water? And wildfire mitigation — don’t forget that! I know what it is like to see air tankers coming in low over my hof, I mean house, to make a retardant drop. I see conifers in the photo background — check your gutters!

What makes me chuckle is the fact that the building used to be a Grange hall — a meeting place of  a 150-year-old organization, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, that while smaller than it used to be, has not died out completely.

When I was a teenager in northern Colorado, I knew of several old Grange halls that sat empty in rural areas for lack of membership. Some high school friends of mine rented one for band practice. They were not a “garage band”  — they were a “grange band” (rimshot).

My impression of the order’s demise was corrected when I was a newpaper reporter in Colorado Springs and covered a Grange convocation in order to hear some speaker — something agriculture-related, probably.

By then I knew Isaac Bonewits’ classification scheme of Paleo-Pagan, Meso-Pagan, and Neo-Pagan, and the Grangers definitely had a slight Meso-Pagan vibe. I lacked the password and handshake to get into the closed, ritual part of the meeting, but there was something mentioned about Demeter, and I saw small silver ritual plows, etc. As the Wikipedia entry notes,

When the Grange first began in 1867, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. It also copied ideas from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings.

The word grange goes way back, coming from

Anglo-French graunge, Old French grange “barn, granary; farmstead, farm house” (12c.), from Medieval Latin or Vulgar Latin granica “barn or shed for keeping grain,” from Latin granum “grain,” from PIE root *gre-no- “grain” (see corn). Sense evolved to “outlying farm” (late 14c.), then “country house,” especially of a gentleman farmer (1550s).

Newgrange, the famous prehistoric monument in Ireland was named after some farm, I suppose.

It was almost obsolete in 19th-century American when it was revived in the name of the fraternal order, which also sought to promote better farming practices, and mostly importantly to help farmers work cooperatively to promote their interests against the railroads. As the only mechanism to get their grain to market, the railroads always had the producers by the neck.

Following the Panic of 1873, the Grange spread rapidly throughout the farm belt, since farmers in all areas were plagued by low prices for their products, growing indebtedness and discriminatory treatment by the railroads. These concerns helped to transform the Grange into a political force. . . .

The Grange as a political force peaked around 1875, then gradually declined. New organizations with more potent messages emerged, including the Greenback Party of the 1870s, the Farmers’ Alliances of the 1880s and the Populist Party of the 1890s.

The Grange had played an important role by demonstrating that farmers were capable of organizing and advocating a political agenda. After witnessing the eclipse of its advocacy efforts by other groups, the Grange reverted to its original educational and social events. These have sustained the organization to the present day.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Yes, I contributed and got a T-shirt in one my favorite colors. Like Ben Franklin, I give to variety of different groups.

“Songs for the Old Religion” — the Rest of the Story

Pagan bard Gwydion Pendderwen’s album Songs for the Old Religion (1973) was the first openly Pagan LP ever, that I know of. (There was Guitar Grimoire too, but it was all instrumental.)

On the Agora Patheos blog, Dana Corby tells the story of how it was made (part 1), including why they left in Gwydion’s mumbled remark, “Play louder, I can’t see.”

I learned just how little Gwydion understood about recording: they expected to complete an entire album, without prior rehearsal, over a 4-day weekend. He’d never even sung into a microphone before and had to be taught how to modulate his voice instead of bellow and to strum his guitar rather than whack it for all it’s worth like you do to be heard across a campfire.

With recordings of some of the songs.

The Scholar’s Mistress: The Speckled Bird

William Butler Years

William Butler Years

As an English major at Reed College, I experienced a semester-long combined seminar on William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot. To be honest, I probably liked Eliot’s poetry more, and I wrote a just-slightly-tongue-in-cheek paper on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, although I did not have the chops to turn it into a Broadway musical, which is why I am not rich and famous.

Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne

Nevertheless, I knew that Yeats was important too. We discussed him only as poet and advocate of Irish cultural identity, not as ceremonial magician,  as prose writer, nor as Irish senator.

I heard something about A Vision, his esoteric Compleat Theory of Everything, but when I found a copy in the library, I bounced off it like a brick wall. I lacked the background to understand, quite simply, and of course I knew next to nothing about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined in the early 1890s.

I picked up a lot more over the years, including reading about his long, sexually frustrated (for twenty-odd years) romantic friendship with the beautiful Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne — who was a magician too, at least until the gunfire of the 1916 Easter Rising drowned that out.

Unknown to Yeats, Gonne had an affair with a French journalist and secretly gave birth to a boy, who died at the age of 2; she returned with her lover to the child’s tomb to conceive again, believing that reincarnation would bring back the lost son.

Then last November, in a session of the Western Esotericism Group at the American Academy of Religion, Thomas Willard of the U. of Arizona mentioned an unfinished novel by Yeats that I had never heard of, The Speckled Bird [for the title’s origin, see note below].

Between 1896-1902, “at a point in his career when he was dramatizing his occult experiences in fiction [such as] The Secret Rose, a sequence of stories that embody the conflict between the natural and spiritual worlds,”  Yeats made four attempts at this autobiographical novel [General Editor’s Introduction, The Speckled Bird].

Its central character, Michael Hearne, “is dominated by three passions: his love of Margaret [Maud Gonne], his desire to gain access to the invisible world by means of occult knowledge and techniques, and his wish to devise an appropriate ritual for the inauguration and practice of the Celtic Mysteries” [ibid.].

Michael and Margaret plan a series of rituals based on the quest for the Grail, and in a letter he tells her, “We will only make a beginning, but centuries after we are dead cities shall be overthrown, it may be, because of an air that we have hummed or because of a curtain full of [magical] meaning that we have hung upon a wall.”

And when Michael and Maclagan, the character based on S. L. Mathers, are walking in the British Museum’s Egyptian Rooms, Maclagan says, “The old gods are worshipped still in secret and what we have to do is make their worship open again.”

In the most-developed version, Michael Hearne abandons the plan for a Celtic esoteric order and sets off on a journey with Maclagan to Arabia and Persia — which did not occur in Yeats’ real life.

Yeats and Gonne’s Celtic-mystery groups never happened. Outer-world events — the First World War (1914–18), the Irish rebellions (1916, 1919–21) foundation of the Irish Free State (1922), and then its subsequent civil war (1922–23) — were just a little too distracting.

Some would argue that the Fellowship of the Four Jewels carried on something of Yeats’ and Gonne’s idea, and in the person of Ella Young, it has a slight connection with the development of West Coast Pagan movements in the 1960s.

*  *  *  *  *

Note: I am not sure what “the speckled bird” meant to Yeats, although he knew that it came from Jeremiah 12:9. Christian commentators regard the bird as emblematic of the church.

Eurasian eagle-owl

The metaphor is of small birds mobbing an owl or other raptor. Jeremiah seems casual about bird identification, but maybe his audience knew if he meant a Eurasian eagle-owl or some kind of large hawk.

That passage also provided the name of a well-known hymn, here sung by country star Kitty Wells and also by Lucinda Williams.

The Occluded Life of an “Occult” Photographer

William Mortensen touching up a photo portrait of the actress Jean Harlow. Other photos NSFW.

If a phrase like “famous early twentieth century California photographer” makes you think of Edward Weston or Ansel Adams, then you probably have not heard of William Mortensen, known “as ‘the Antichrist’ by Ansel Adams, a tag that stuck after Anton LaVey dedicated The Satanic Bible to him. Primarily known as a Hollywood portrait artist, he developed a myriad of pre-Photoshop special effects to craft grotesque, erotic, and mystical images.”

Publicizing a new book of his photos, Vice offers “The Grotesque Eroticism of William Mortensen’s Lost Photography.”

His life remained a mystery. I had absorbed A. D. Coleman’s essay about Mortensen’s relegation to the backwater of photo history by the Newhalls, Adams and the rest, and, thus understood why there was little mention of him in photo history books. I’d even tracked down the booklet printed by Deborah Irmas and The Los Angeles Center for Creative Photography, who had put together the show that I’d seen. However, when I found any biographical information, the sources repeated the same story line, which came from the brief autobiographical section in Mortensen’s book The Command To Look. Beyond those slim facts there seemed to be nothing more. William Mortensen appeared to be more myth than man.

Would we say that Chicago photographer and occult historian Rik Garrett is somewhat in his lineage?

Passing of Loreon Vigne

Loreon Vigne, priestess of Isis, who created the Isis Oasis sanctuary and retreat center at Geyserville, California, passed away last night. There are tributes on her Facebook page.

Here is an earlier post of mine about visiting Isis Oasis.

Her memoir, The Goddess Bade Me Do It, tells her story of how a young artist, jewelry designer, and art-supplies dealer in Beat-era San Francisco became a full-time priestess.