Links: Exorcists, Vampires, Shamans, and the New Gothic

Rutina Wesley and Kristin Bauer van Straten in “True Blood.”

So many links, so little time to comment. Pick one, two, or three of these to read. Mix and match. Fill your plate. Come back for more.

Sexy vampires threaten Catholic youth, thus encouraging — you guessed it — “dabbling.”

• Witchy craft: I am building these.

• Another interesting article on the revival of Siberian shamanism.

• “An Ordinary Girl Born into a Family of Witches” — in the famtrad sense. So of course she wants to be “normal,” because this is not Young Adult fantasy fiction. Or maybe it is.

• An interview with Victoria Nelson, author of The Secret Life of Puppets,  on Gothicka, vampire heroes, human gods, and the “new supernatural.” That happens to be the title of her new book.

Jesus [Heart] Mary Magdalene (Again)

Let’s get this out of the way first — yes, the source is the Daily Mail, which, I strongly suspect, occasionally makes up “news” articles from scratch.lostgospel

And I cannot speak to the quality of research in this new book, The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.

But the idea that Jesus was married, perhaps to the woman know to history as Mary Magdalene — who was not a prostitute but, more likely, the sort of well-to-do woman who you often find underwriting spiritual leaders’ work — seems totally plausible to me.

The idea of celibacy for spiritual purposes was foreign to Judaic culture (and still is). Assuming that he was a healthy, thirty-ish man, he would have been married. Period. Village culture would have seen to it.

I think we can say that even while treating as unproven all the hypotheses that Mary M. was a priestess of Canaanite goddess religion (see Robert Graves’  1946 novel King Jesus); that she after his death went to the South of France, to Egypt, to Glastonbury, or some other place; that she is connected with the medieval “black Madonna” figures; or anything else.

Since this book is being released just ahead of the American Academy of Religion — Society for Biblical Literature joint annual meetings, I expect I might see copies in the book show. Reviews from people who can ready Syriac and Aramaic will follow in due course.

I have seen some tiny, brownish bone fragments purported to be relics of Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic cathedral in Salt Lake City, of all places. Maybe Salt Lake could use some Canaanite goddess priestess energy. She happens to be the patroness of that diocese.

Clerical Dress for Respect, Christian and Pagan

It happened this afternoon that I had tabs open to two different articles about clothing and social respect for (Protestant Christian) clergy as well as a Wild Hunt post about some kind of Pagan trying to prank the county commissioners in Escambia County, Florida, into abandoning their custom of religious invocations before meetings. (I am glad that around here we just pledge allegiance to the flag and then get down to business.)

I am not sure of the process here: apparently the guy in question just asked to be included in the list of religious invokers. But let’s move on.

One Wild Hunt mentioned his clothing — ” I would have worn something more like business casual dress”— and that dovetailed nicely with two pieces that I had been reading just moments earlier.

In one, Paul Walters, a Lutheran minister from Troy, Michigan, writes, “Pastors complain about the lack of respect they encounter in the world around them, and yet for some reason faded blue jeans and t-shirts are equated with work clothing . . . People will judge you based on your clothing every single time(emphasis in the original).

Whereupon the commenters crucify him. One even says, “Being a pastor is not a profession.” (Huh?)

That post was linked by the doyenne of Protestant clergy fashion, the Rev. Victoria Weinstein, a/k/a PeaceBang, at her blog Beauty Tips for Ministers.

Protestant ministers are in a time warp, and in a reality warp. What they know of the new reality they have decided doesn’t apply to them because they don’t approve of it. Maybe the world has become more visual. Clergy don’t care, because they’re certain that words will solve social issues and save the world. Why should they wear heels and professional attire when a well-meaning slogan on a T-shirt or a big cross around the neck should communicate what they’re about to the public?

Weinstein is a Unitarian, in an old, rather churchy (for UUs) congregation on Massachusetts’ South Shore (no CUUPS Pagans at First Parish of Norwell, as far as I can tell).

She makes another point as well:

Today, in 2014, the mainstream Protestant and Jewish and Muslim and progressive Catholic movements are all in a big pot together in the public imagination. We’re just “those religious people” in our houses of worship doing our Saturday or Sunday thing, and carrying on with our quaint ways while the world increasingly fails to notice us or care about us. We’re nice to have in the neighborhood, maybe, but mostly for when you want a nice wedding or a kind person to say some words when Uncle Milt dies. If we step beyond those roles, we are regarded as dangerous, and in the United States, accused of violating the sacred separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution.

Read her post on “Subverting and Interrupting Unconscious Scripts [of power]“— it is more honest than you usually see.

So, if you are any sort of Pagan moving into the public sphere, how do you deal with this perception that religion is “dangerous” and at the same time irrelevant? And how do you dress up for the job?

Back in the late 1970s, Raymond Buckland tried to start a vogue for wearing clerical collars with pentagrams embroidered on them. That went nowhere.

Some people like the stole. Patrick McCollum’s ubiquitous saffron scarf is similar, but it was given him by a Hindu holy man, as I recall. It may come from a “scarf of office” worn by imperial Roman officials, and it may also been worn by high-ranking professors, such as Hypatia of Alexandria. (I welcome clarification, if there is any historical record of this)

But the Catholics took it over as they did so much else of imperial organization, so what then? And the loose scarves are really more like the Anglican tippet, a/k/a preaching scarf.

Such a dilemma — especially in a culture where sloppiness = sincerity in some people’s minds.

Postscript to “The Danger in Being Ministerial”

When I wrote my recent post, “The Danger in Being Ministerial,” I omitted a couple of points.

For one thing, the priest/ess vs. pastor — or cultus vs. social ministry — distinction is largely rhetorical. I do not mean to say that they cannot overlap, only that often they do not.

Also, I am surprised that no follower of Jesus pointed out a hole big enough to drive the First Baptist Church’s Sunday School bus through, to wit, for at least some Christians, ministry is in fact cultus. But then not too many Christians read this blog.

After all, a famous passage in the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus telling his disciples that to aid the unfortunate is to honor (or worship him): “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

And if you focus on that teaching, you can sidestep the theological problem that has haunted Christianity since the first century CE: exactly who or what was Jesus?

Was he a mortal prophet? A would-be sacred king? A mortal prophet who was “adopted” and “exalted” by God?  A preexisting angel who was made the Son of God? Or was he an aspect or persona of the One God all along, since forever, sort of?

As Bart Ehrman points out in How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, all of those viewpoints were common, even orthodox, at different times.

And what was orthodox in one generation could get you excommunicated in the next — at least until the First Council of Nicea, which under imperial patronage hammered out what they called a creed, but which is easier to understand if you read it like a property lease.

Just as your rental house lease tells you, for example, that you cannot store inoperable, unlicensed motor vehicles on the premises, the Creed tells you what ways of thinking about Jesus are permissible. Every phrase drives nails into some so-called heresy or unorthodox interpretation.

Ehrman’s book is written for the non-specialist. He avoids technical language like apotheosis. He relies mainly on the accepted New Testament — the four gospels and those epistles of Paul that scholars think Paul actually wrote (not all of them) — with only occasional borrowings from the Gnostic gospels, etc.

His arguments construct a chronology of Jesuses. For instance, Paul’s epistles, which can be dated fairly closely, were written down before the Gospels and the book of Acts, even though the events in them postdate the gospels.

Ehrman argues that Paul’s Jesus was an angel who took human form, which fits in with Paul’s own experience — he never saw Jesus in person, although their lives overlapped and he met people who knew Jesus, but instead his claim to being an expert on Jesus came from a visionary experience that left him temporarily blind and disoriented.

How someone could be both human and divine at the same time was and is a problem for Christians. Ehrman gives his view of how Christians wrestled with that problem, and of course his Christian critics cry, “He’s got it wrong!

As a final criticism, Ehrman posits that the key to Paul’s Christology is that he thought of Jesus as an (or the) angel (of God/the Lord).  That, says Ehrman, explains how Paul could ascribe “pre-existence” to Jesus, and how, as a devout Jew, he could countenance worshipping Jesus.  As the key basis for this notion, Ehrman invokes a peculiar reading of Galatians 4:14, where Paul says that in his initial visit the Galatians received him “as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus.”  Ehrman insists that this is to be read as a flat appositive construction, in which “an angel of God” = “Christ Jesus.”   But this isn’t actually as compelling a claim as he thinks.  Even Gieschen (on whose work Ehrman relies here) presents this reading of the construction as only a distinct “possibility.”  And most scholars (myself included) don’t think it really works.  The grammar certainly doesn’t require it, and it seems more reasonable to take it as a kind of stair-step statement, “angel of God” and “Christ Jesus” as ascending categories.

You see, Christianity is easy. All you have to do is interpret 2,000-year-old documents written by people to whom Greek often was a second language,  making sure that your sense of the words’ meaning and connotation is the same as theirs.

Or just do what the man in the pulpit tells you to do.

Mythic or esoteric explanations are missing, because this is a book about small o-orthodox Christianity pointed at educated readers-who-probably-were-raised-as-Christians — like Ehrman, who says that his own journey runs backwards compared to christology, from Jesus as an aspect of a Trinitarian God to Jesus as mortal prophet.

Read How Jesus Became God to be up to speed on the history of christology, and given the complexity of the subject, maybe you will understand why many Christians do not even want to think about it, preferring instead to make statements like this:

If you understand that most people are controlled and compelled by fear, then you will understand how hard it is to keep a church going that doesn’t teach about “paying for your sins in hell,” but rather how we bring God into our everyday acts [sic], how God can be here and now, not some nebulous, angry entity who is waiting to judge you when you die, how Jesus didn’t come to die for all of us horrible people, but to teach us about a radical way of loving unconditionally and all-inclusively and that Love is the answer to heal a broken world.

That is one of my former students writing on her Facebook page about her church.

A lot of the clergy actually don’t think that Jesus was divine anyway, if you pin them down. So where does that leave the cultus angle? Do you need a divinity for that? I would say yes, but there are ways to talk yourself out of that corner.

 

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Greenpeace, and the Donatists

Back in the 4th century CE, Western Christianity had a problem. During the Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians, which began in 303 and was severe in some areas, some Christian clergy in the Berber communities of North Africa had surrendered copies of Scripture and otherwise complied with the emperor’s edicts.

When Diocletian was replaced by the pro-Christian Constantine, the hold-outs who had resisted the persecution denounced the first group as impure. Led by a bishop named Donatus, they argued that clergy who had followed imperial orders were sinners who could no longer baptize or celebrate the Eucharist.

But the bishops in Rome, busy hitching the Christian church to the imperial chariot, said no, it’s all good. Or in Latin, ex opere operato, meaning that even if the priest is a sinner, the sacrament is still valid because it comes from God.

I heard this argument from an environmentalist friend yesterday in regard to the news stories about the European Greenpeace executive who commutes to work twice a week by airplane, even as Greenpeace itself campaigns against air travel.

“This kind of bad-example-setting undercuts the message,” I said.

“The organization’s work is still more important,” she said. Ex opere operato. Or as another Catholic once said, “The church may be a whore, but she is still our mother.”

I thought about the Donatists when the news broke last March about well-known Pagan musician Kenny Klein’s arrest on child-pornography charges.  Am I now supposed to smash my Fishbird CD and delete those tracks from my iPod? Or can I say, “Ex opere operato“?

Now it’s Marion Zimmer Bradley. That her husband Walter Breen was an aggressive pedophile is old news. But now the finger points at her: it’s all summed up here.

So who is throwing away their copies of The Mists of Avalon? Or is there an escape clause for artistic works? Is the creative act the equivalent of a religious sacrament? Must we judge the creation according to the morals of the creator or may we invoke the religion of Art: ex opere operato?

Oh yeah, Greenpeace executive Pascal Husting will now take the train, it is said. He made a “misjudgment.” But read the  comment st the Guardian website by “E McBain”: it sounds like one rule for the clergy and one for the rest of us.

‘Cosmos’ Misrepresents Giordano Bruno

Neil Degrasse Tyson’s remake of Cosmos tries to remake Giordano Bruno as a martyr of modern science, but he was nothing of the kind.

He was a lot more of an occultist. Even The Daily Beast gets it.

As Discover magazine’s Corey Powell pointed out, the philosophers of the 16th century weren’t anything like scientists in the modern sense. Bruno, for instance, was a “pandeist,” which is the belief that God had transformed himself into all matter and ceased to exist as a distinct entity in himself. He believed in all sort of magic and spirits, and extrapolated those views far beyond his ideas about the infinity of the universe. In contrast to contemporaries who drew more modest conclusions from their similar ideas, Bruno agitated for an elaborate counter-theology, and was (unlike the poor, humble outcast portrayed in Cosmos) supported by powerful royal benefactors. The church didn’t even have a position on whether the Earth orbited the sun, and didn’t bring it up at Bruno’s trial. While the early-modern religious persecution certainly can’t be denied, Bruno was killed because he flamboyantly denied basic tenets of the Catholic faith, not because religious authorities were out to suppress all “freedom of thought.”

The ‘Pentecostal Drift’ and Modern Paganism

Religion blogger Peter Berger, melding articles from  The Tablet (Roman Catholic) and The Christian Century (mainline Protestant) notes “the major demographic shift in world Christianity—the fact that more Christians now live in the Global South: Asia, Africa, Latin America—than in the old Christian homelands of Europe and North America.”

With this shift goes huge growth in Pentecostal Christianity—Protestant churches emphasizing ecstatic worship and the “gifts of the Holy Spirit,” such as speaking in tongues and faith-healing. (The modern Pentecostal movement began in Los Angeles in 1906—the same month as the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. Some of them see a connection.)

In 1970 Pentecostals were 5% of world Christians; today the figure is 25%! 80% of Christian converts in Asia are Pentecostal! I’m not quite clear how this arithmetic is worked out, but the Christian Century story asserts that one of twelve people alive today is Pentecostal! Not surprisingly, the [recent Pentecostal World Conference] in Kuala Lumpur was “young, vibrant and confident”. No stepping around quietly so as not to offend Muslim sensitivities!

There is, for example, major competition between (often Pentecostal) Christians and Muslims for conversions in sub-Saharan Africa. Sometimes it is bloody—see the recent news from Nigeria and the Central African Republic, for example. Some conflicts that are not religious on the surface become divided on religious lines.

So what is the Pagan angle? For one, Pentecostal Christians (and many Muslims) see the world as a scene of spiritual warfare. (See, for instance, “Saudi Arabia’s War on Witchcraft.”) Both groups battle demons and “demonic” practitioners.  Consequently, followers of traditional animist/polythestic religions as well as new Pagans are going to continue to be targeted.

If you are reading this, chances are that you live in a culture where the notions of religious freedom and individual religious choice have at least some weight. But from a global perspective, isn’t that a minority view — no matter how many interfaith congresses and parliaments there are?

I am all for religious freedom, but much of the world has a very limited idea as to what that means.

What Did Jesus Know about Rome?

Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. Paolo Veronese, 16th century (Wikimedia Commons).

An interesting short essay in which a historian conjectures just how much Jesus of Nazareth would have known about the Roman Empire, in which he lived. The assumption is that he spoke Greek as a second language; otherwise, how did he communicate with Pontius Pilate, not to mention the centurion of the miracle?

Heathenry and the Politics of Postcolonialism

Thad Horrell, Heathen and graduate student, hurls himself against the issue of post-colonialism and reconstructed Northern religion in this article, “Heathenry as a Postcolonial Movement,” published in the online Journal of Religion, Identity and Politics, written by students in his PhD program.

His thesis is “that Heathenry is ‘postcolonial’  in complex and contradictory senses of the term. It both acknowledges and offers resistance to the imperialism of Christendom, while simultaneously trivializing colonialism and making it seem merely a thing of the past.”

I will argue that Heathenry is a postcolonial movement both in the sense that it combats and challenges elements of colonial history and the contemporary expectations derived from it (anti-colonial), and in the much more problematic sense that it serves to justify current social and racial inequalities by pushing the structures of colonialism off as a thing of the past (pro-colonial). Rather than promoting a sense of solidarity with colonized populations, Heathen critiques of colonialism and imperialism often serve to justify disregard for claims of oppression by colonized minorities. After all, if we’ve all been colonized, what is there to complain about?

This trope of resistance is employed in academic writing as well as “insider” writing. It shines through Carole Cusack’s recent Pomegranate article on the emperor Charlemagne’s “jihad” (to borrow an appropriate term) against the Pagan Saxons: “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages.”

The ideas of invasion, colonization, and resistance were important in the first years of Wicca too, although not so much since the 1950s.

Gerald Gardner played the nativist card as well, implicitly conflating the threatened invasion of southern England by the German army in 1940 with the “Gregorian mission” that brought Christianity to Anglo-Saxon England in the sixth century. (The earlier Celtic-speaking post-colonial-Roman Britain had been heavily Christian as well by the end.)

But the idea of resistance to “invasion” has put down deeper roots in contemporary Norse, Baltic, and Slavic Paganism than in the Anglosphere, I think.