Beavering Away at Home

beaver ponds10-13Once in a while, I like to note that Hardscrabble Creek is a real place. The beaver pair had kits this year, and they also expanded their dams from two to five. A couple of years ago, they left because they had eaten all the available deciduous forage, mostly narrowleaf cottonwood and willows. Will the rising water table encourage more beaver-edible trees to grow? (They don’t eat pines.) Can they keep expanding their string of dams upstream?

And here are some links:

¶ At Occult Chicago, Rik traces sites associated with Thee Church of Satan in the 1970s.

¶  Artforum notes the recent Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions.

¶ Anton Lavey’s daughter Zeena describes how her Halloween experience when she was a little girl living with her father, the founder of the Church of Satan.

For the first quarter century of my life, back when I was the devil’s defender, Halloween wasn’t the fun and merriment it was for many others.

¶ Oh no! I bought the Halloween candy, but I forgot to pray over it!

Oceania Has Always Been at War with Lemuria

51119-243x366The Los Angeles Review of Books offers a review of two books on Ray Palmer, the Shaver Mystery, and pulp-esoteric publishing of the 1940s–50s: The War Over Lemuria and The Man from Mars : Ray Palmer’s Amazing Pulp Journey.

From the review:

Of course, the underground worlds of Richard Shaver did not spring full grown from his brain, no matter how fevered it might have been. Subterranean adventure has long been a staple of science-fiction. Even more to the point, the belief in the existence of subterranean civilizations itself has a long history, and not just among the ancients who believed in one form or another of an underworld abode of the dead.  Indeed, there are other instances in which fictional stories about the underworld have been regarded by some readers as revealing a hidden, sometimes religious truth. The Shaver Mystery, it turns out, is not without precedent. John Cleve Symmes’s hollow-earth novel Symzonia (1820), Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Vril: The Power of the Coming Race (1871), and Willis George Emerson’s The Smokey God (1908) are all examples of fictional tales of underground civilizations that have been treated as true accounts and the source for religious belief by some members of the Theosophical and occult communities. Shaver’s stories are darker than the similar works that preceded them, but Palmer’s claim that Shaver’s tales contained truths about the hidden world under our feet is part of a long tradition.

Ray Palmer went on to found Fate magazine, which has done several retrospective articles on the Shaver Mystery over the years. Until 1988, Fate was published in Chicago, which just adds to that whole “occult Chicago” meme. (See also the work of occult journalist Brad Steiger.)

Journalism and the AAR-SBL

Journalists are few at the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature’s joint annual meetings.  But the New York Times‘ Mark Oppenheimer, searching around for “the narrative,” noted that some fraction of the participants wore flowing robes and weirdly remarked about people carrying hefty reference books, as  Steven Ramey notes in his fisking of Oppenheimer’s reportage at the Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog. (My take: Oppenheimer saw books and just guessed at what they might be.)

My frustration at Oppenheimer’s representation of the AAR/SBL conference illustrates the limits to the descriptive aspect of both ethnographies and the news.

As for the Pagan studies sessions, no one from the Pagan Newswire Collective showed up, which might be a better thing than the sort of odd reporting that PNC produced last year in San Francisco. PNC is providing community news announcements in the regions that it covers, and  it has one pretty good blog, The Juggler. But I sense a loss of momentum.

Todd Berntson of Pagan Living TV, which is I think still in the start-up phase, attended the “Mapping the Occult City” pre-conference event and did some on-camera interviews with some of the presenters. I expect that that video will be available before long.

I know from my own reporter days that it is hard to attend a big meeting and get “the story.” You hope for a newsworthy keynote presenter, or maybe you find someone colorful to profile in a news feature.  “Mapping the Occult City” could have been presented as a documentary, since it included an architectural tour and a performance, as well as talking heads. Maybe at least those interviews will be archived some place.

A Day and a Night in Occult Chicago

A statue of the goddess Ceres tops the Chicago Board of Trade building, as seen from a classroom building at DePaul University.

For the third time in four years, we had a pre-conference event that tied into Pagan studies somehow. (Previously: Montréal, San Francisco.)

This was the Occult Chicago conference organized by Jason Winslade at DePaul University—his take on “Chicago Quarter,” an urban orientation class that all first-year DePaul students must take.

Imagine a bright new student who, however, does not know a Theosophist from a Chicago Bear. Suddenly she (who maybe just took this section because it fit her schedule) finds herself immersed in a world yogis, magicians, witches, astrologers, hucksters, publishers, and — this being Chicago — architecture.

Jason Winslade (black cap) points out the location of the former Chicago Masonic Temple on State Street, accompanied by “Occult Chicago” blogger Rik Garrett, right.

Those of us who attended the one-day version (see also Jason Pitzl-Waters’ review) heard some of the students’ capstone presentations, learned that the first skyscraper in Chicago was built by the Freemasons, listened to representatives of contemporary magical groups, and visited sites and building associated with occult organizations, hauntings, violent deaths, and publishing houses.

Mural on the tenth floor of the Fine Arts Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

One highlight was the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave., where at one time the Thelemite Choronzon Club held its meetings and the Akbar Lodge of Theosophists had its office.

The Pookah (right)  and friends pursue the skeptical German professor in a Terra Mysterium skit.

Finally came a performance by the Terra Mysterium steampunk theatre troupe. You might think that a classroom would not make the best performance space, but the performance was laced with academic parody, so it worked.

Call For Papers, Presentations, Workshops, Rituals and Performances Mapping the Occult City: Exploring Magick and Esotericism in the Urban Utopia

A pre-conference for the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religions in Chicago, on Friday November 16, 2012, presented by Phoenix Rising Academy and DePaul University.

In his classic essay, “Walking in the City,” ethnologist and historian Michel de Certeau distinguished between the “exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive” that comes from viewing the city from a high vantage point and the quotidian negotiations of the walker at street level, who creates his or her own map, takes shortcuts and resists the strategies of typical urban planning.

One perspective is totalizing and distancing, constructing an illusory, unified view of the metropolis, while the other seeks out hidden avenues of knowledge and intersections of stories, myths, and happenings. The occultist tends to shift between both views, sometimes spinning grand narratives of the city as a New Atlantis, a utopian civilization of knowledge and wonder, other times imagining a secret world of dark mysteries, unknown to most passersby, that lay just beyond the twilight of the streetlamps.

Many esotericists, conspiracy theorists, and urban fantasy authors have speculated on the occult meaning of symbols, monuments, and architecture in major cities, from Cleopatra’s Needle in London to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. Or they see powerful sigils in the neon signs, building facades and billboards. Some speak of urban ley lines and “energy centers” that bubble with occult power ready to be tapped into by those with the right sense and ability. These energy centers are focused on geometric street patterns or the lines created by the placement of sacred sites in the city, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries. Others speak of haunted places, charged with story and legend, often full of the sense of violence, trauma and the urgency of events that occurred there.

Historically, cities have been home to countless esoteric groups who have met, planned, and conducted ritual within the towering buildings that glitter the metropolitan skyline.

For instance, Chicago, the location of this year’s AAR conference, was once the home of the 32 floor Masonic Building, owned by the Illinois Freemasons, and the tallest building in the world in 1892. Prominent figures in the esoteric world have spoken, performed and offered their wisdom to the masses through the many salons, lectures, performances, congregations, conferences, and world’s fairs that have been either publicly advertised or available only to those with the right password and invitation.

Cities are where the ideas of Western esotericism spread to the masses through these public events and the many urban publishing houses. Cities are also home to public events and happenings that connect the esoteric, the theatrical and the political world through protest and public actions and happenings, such as the W.I.T.C.H. protests at Chicago’s Federal Building on Halloween 1969.

Finally, cities are centers of diversity and diaspora and often become hothouses for the development of hybrid traditions based on immigrant cultures, such as Santeria and Vodun. For scholars of magick and esotericism, cities like Chicago can offer up rich resources for tracking group activities and events through library archives and public records.

Understanding occult life in the city, in both its historical and contemporary contexts, is crucial in mapping the proliferation of ideas and connections between practitioners and traditions. Popular practical texts have addressed how the practice of magick changes in an urban setting, especially when the magician or witch must adapt a nature-centered practice to a city-based practice.

nvestigating esoteric actions in the city can reveal the ways in which the practitioner is caught up and complicit with strategic structures of power while also offering possibilities for the occultist to resist those structures through the kind of tactical, magical moves described by de Certeau. As the Occupy movement and other political protests proliferate, especially in America’s election year, what are the possibilities for harnessing and directing the energy of the occult city?

Phoenix Rising Academy would like to explore these intersections of the esoteric and the urban, focusing on the city as a locus for power and knowledge, both hidden and revealed. Are cities oppressive entities that stifle creative and esoteric drives or do they hold in their structures the potential for powerful action? To this end, we invite scholars and practitioners to submit proposals for papers, presentations, rituals and performances that address these questions pertaining to the occult city.

Though our focus is primarily on American cities, particularly Chicago, we welcome explorations in other prominent global metropolitan centers. For this pre-conference, we plan on creating 2-3 panels of papers, presentations, performances, rituals, workshops, roundtables, or discussion groups.

Possible topics may include (but are not limited to)

• The activities of certain groups, traditions, and communities, both historical and contemporary, in particular cities.

• The city life of prominent esoteric figures and how that city life shaped their ideas and practices. · Particular events, meetings, lectures, performances, happenings, protests whose urban setting featured prominently in their execution and influence.

• The mythology of the occult city, based on legend, occult symbolism, and esoteric symbolism of architecture and urban planning.

• A practical approach to working magick and ritual in the city, perhaps based on Urban Shamanism or Chaos Magick.

• Interpretations of the city and its occult power by urban fantasy authors.

• The intersections of the occult and the political through the use of ritualized protest actions, focusing on setting and urban scene.

• Though not focusing on hauntings per se, an investigation of spiritualism, mysticism and psychic practices prominent in urban settings.

• A study of how hereditary or hybridized indigenous practices survive, evolve and adapt in an urban setting.

With your submission, please include the following: Presenter information (name, mailing and email addresses, phone number) Type of presentation (paper, non-paper presentation, workshop, performance, roundtable).

Note: if you are proposing a roundtable discussion, please submit info for all participants. Title and affiliation (institution, organization, independent scholar, or practitioner). Proposal or abstract (not to exceed 250 words). Should include title of presentation and a clear description of the presentation’s intent, plus any audio/visual needs. Biographical data (not to exceed 200 words).

Please email all submissions by August 20th to Dr. Jason L. Winslade, DePaul University, jwinslad@depaul.edu. Please include “PRA Pre-Conference” in the subject line. All submissions will be reviewed and you will be notified of a decision one week after the deadline