“Tower Time” Is Not as Simple as You Think

One of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions at the American Academy of Religion was titled “Magic in the Time of the Tower” (see program screenshot below), and attendance was good.

There was discussion of magical workings coordinated by social media, and of magical workings blabbed about on social media.

At least one presenter acknowledged that the latter might not be a good idea, according to some practitioners. Don’t you remember the old “Magician’s Pyramid,” of which the last for the four admonitions was “To keep silent”?

Or as they say now, “The first rule of Magic Club is you do not talk about Magic Club.”

When some of the presenters spoke, I suspect that they — or rather the people whom they were describing — think that “the Tower” stands at 721–725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan — in other words, Trump Tower.

But there are other towers. And “Tower Time” did not start in January 2017. It has been going on for a while.

Some people talking about “Tower Time” are standing on ivory towers, and those are cracking too.1)New definition of Harvard University:http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/11/harvard-a-tax-free-hedge-fund-that-happens-to-have-a-university.html. At least under the new tax law it won’t be completely tax-free.

The days of building grander universities under the assumption that tuition can always be raised, because the students can always get federal grants and loans — how long will that continue?2)Since I spent about 21 years working in colleges and universities — and many of my friends still do — this issue cuts close to home for me.

Click to embiggen.

America has too many colleges and universities, just like it has too many shopping malls, and for much the same reason: everyone thought that there was room for another, and theirs would be a success.

And what about religious groups? The big example is the Roman Catholic Church, where I doubt if the leadership yet understands how much trust they lost over the clerical sexual abuse scandals. The pope can come out on his balcony and say whatever — and the news media report it —  but fewer and fewer people deeply care.3)And yet, if those church leaders compromise with secular society and toss out their traditional teachings, do they “lose their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say?

And that comes on top of the church’s long history of allying with repressive political regimes in both Europe and Latin America.

Talk about a teetering tower!

And, of course, there is Hollywood. Is there going to be anyone left?

Harvey opened the floodgates,” said one male Academy member. “Now the Academy’s drowning in a tide of s—t. They don’t know what hit them.”

Oscar is a “tower” too.

Ours is the era of “the end of prestige,” writes political blogger Richard Fernandez.

In the unending exposes of financial, moral and sexual turpitude we are witnessing a similar humiliation of a ruling elite. The critical role played by prestige in upholding the current status quo was no less important for the Western elite than it was for the old [imperial British] District Commissioners. Not so very long ago the elites were accepted as woke, part of the mission civilisatrice; better educated, better looking, better dressed, destined to greater things, the smartest people in the room.  They could pronounce on matters of morality, politics and even the climate.  What a shock it was to find through the Internet and social media it was all a sham; and these gods of Washington and Hollywood and the media were deeply flawed and despicable people.

Law professor Glenn Reynolds, writing in USA Today, makes a similar point in a piece called “The Suicide of Expertise“:

Then there’s the problem that, somehow, over the past half-century or so the educated classes that make up the “expert” demographic seem to have been doing pretty well, even as so many ordinary folks, in America and throughout the West, have seen their fortunes decaying. Is it any surprise that claims to authority in the form of “expertise” don’t carry the same weight that they once did?

You’re not going to fix all this by burying rotten carrots. You might fix it first by be responsible for as much of your own life as you can. I don’t mean that you have to weave your own cloth. Just don’t be the person who can’t change a tire, sew on a button, or understand a loan document.

And find your community. Not merely the online community: is your Instagram follower going to bring supper over when you’re sick? Can you call your Facebook friend if you need a ride to the doctor?

Not just a religious community, either. When my Jeep drove itself into a gully near the house (long story), I did not look for a Pagan friend, but rather a neighbor with a big winch-equipped truck who likes solving mechanical problems. (Depending on your neighbors means you cannot just condemn them for their voting patterns and otherwise ignore them.) But that only works if the neighbor can depend on you. If it really is “Tower Time,” the response is to work at the ground level.

Notes   [ + ]

1. New definition of Harvard University:http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/11/harvard-a-tax-free-hedge-fund-that-happens-to-have-a-university.html. At least under the new tax law it won’t be completely tax-free.
2. Since I spent about 21 years working in colleges and universities — and many of my friends still do — this issue cuts close to home for me.
3. And yet, if those church leaders compromise with secular society and toss out their traditional teachings, do they “lose their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say?

The War on Halloween

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Sergei Aksyonov Photo: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

It’s that time of year, time for the Russians to take their turn at complaining that Halloween is an evil Western import.

Segei Aksyonov, who has been placed in charge of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia recently snatched from Ukraine, called the holiday “cultural colonisation.”

Meanwhile, a spokes-priest for the Russian Orthodox Church suggests that celebrating Halloween leads to terrorism:

He also regrets that “when our country struggles against global terrorism, some of our citizens, may be jokingly, disguise in evil forces, making their children use to play with evil.”

Obviously, the Russian church is still catching up on clerical education following the end of the USSR. The root meaning of “cosmetic” is not “beauty” but “order,” with a secondary meaning of “ornamentation.” Look it up.

But if you want “cultural colonization,” (and I revert to the American spelling,)  just look here:
russians at McDsI took this photo last month on the Greek island of Corfu. The Russian guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy was in port, and sailors wandered the old town district on shore leave.

And did they end up in the hundreds of perfectly acceptable Greek bars and restaurants? No, they were always at McDonalds.

Look, spend your rubles on a good Corfu sofrito and some Corfu “real ale” and have fun on Halloween, OK?

If, that is, it is possible to feel festive while cruising up and down the Syrian coast.

Renn Faire: “Disneyland for Rednecks”

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An abandoned Rennaisance Faire site near Fredericksburg, Virginia (Roadtrippers.com).

“Wiccan, as well as satanic, symbolism was in nearly every gift shop.”
— from a Yelp.com review of the Georgia Rennaisance Faire, quoted in Well Met (237).

Rachel Lee Rubin’s Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture is, obviously, not about contemporary Paganism, but the two topics cross paths occasionally, as the quote above shows. Reading made me think once again that most studies of Paganism in the United States, at least, tend to shy away from class issues, although gender issues are plowed through in all directions.

Yes, the “redneck Disneyland” description comes from someone in the book. And there is this quote from a participant about Renn Faire visitors as a whole: “The ones who hate their [mundane] jobs wear really great costumes.” When you think of a song like “Take This Job and Shove It,” what social group comes to mind?

Rubin traces the Renn Faire phenomenon from one created in the mid-1960s outside Los Angeles as a fundraiser for the left-leaning Pacific Radio network. So that was “countercultural” in the 1960s sense. But it is not the 1960s anymore. Who goes to Renn Faires? The (mostly) white lower-middle and working class, I would say.

Somewhat like the Renn Faires, the Pagan movement in America was mostly birthed by leftish intellectual bohemians (but not totally). Decades later, should the movement still be described that way? I don’t think so. But who is researching this question?

And apparently the “crackpot religion” of Wicca is one of those currently countercultural things to have found a home on the Renn Faire circuit, along with homosexuality and polyamory (216).

As H-Net’s reviewer wrote,

At least two questions drive the narrative and analysis of Well Met. One concerns the potential centrality of the Renaissance faire to our understanding of the counterculture in the 1960s and 1970s. Is the faire essential to the story of hippie explorations into communalism, antimodernism, and craft revival, as well as rock and folk music revivals? Rubin gives a resounding, and rather persuasive, yes. Another question that the author specifically poses in her introduction is, “To what concrete personal, political, and cultural uses can a group of Americans put a past that, for the most part, is not their own?” (p. 3). Answers to that question have evolved over the faire’s history.

There is (who knew? not me) a chapter devoted to a subgenre of romance novels set at Renaissance Faires, of which I can say only that that is not as strange as romance novels set in Amish communities, which is another subgenre.

Polyamory and the Secret History of Wonder Woman

wonder womanSnow is falling, and I am elbow deep in putting together the next Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which among other things carries an article called “What is a Superhero? How Myth Can Be a Metacode,” by Kenneth MacKendrick of the University of Manitoba.

So, with comics on the mind, here is “The Surprising Origin Story of Wonder Woman.

Back story? Oh yes, not to mention polyamory, eugenics, and chains.

Some of [the comic books] are full of torture, kidnapping, sadism, and other cruel business,” she said.

“Unfortunately, that is true,” Marston admitted, but “when a lovely heroine is bound to the stake, comics followers are sure that the rescue will arrive in the nick of time. The reader’s wish is to save the girl, not to see her suffer.”

The Greatest “Occult” Movies

220px-Holy_Mountain

Still need to see this.

From Ultraculture, a list of nine great movies about the occult and magick — and nine more.

But since there are “honorable mentions” as well, you get more!

Obvious choices (Rosemary’s BabyThe Exorcist), as well as films that present the subject in an exploitative manner (such as those of Dario Argento) have been left out… as have the Harry Potter movies, because that’s just too easy.

The list starts with Häxen: Witchcraft through the Ages (1922), and I have to say that that was one I quit half way through because I was falling asleep. Maybe Twenties audiences were different. But there is a YouTube video linked, and you can see for yourself.

They have Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet, but give his Orpheus just an honorable mention. I would have reversed them!

Lots of Kenneth Anger, of course.

Queen Nefertiti Goes Cuckoo

clock“It’s kind of fascinating but it’s kind of horrifying,” I said to M. across the breakfast table when I saw an ad for “the only cuckoo clock inspired by the Wonders of Ancient Egypt.”

“‘Queen Nefertiti’s regal procession rotates,‘ it says,” I added.

“Horrifying, completely horrifying,” she replied. She detests noise-making clocks and barely tolerates my c.1910 “kitchen clock” that merely strikes the hours.

“You can have it in your study if you turn the sound (‘an exotic melody capturing the mysteries of Ancient Egypt’) off.”

Still, couldn’t you imagine sitting under it as you read John Crowley’s Ægypt sequence?

Pentagram Pizza: Not a Lie

pentagrampizza¶ An insightful interview with Pagan musician Sharon Knight.

¶ Why TED talks are lying to you.

This is what a dolmen should look like — “This enormous structure is the Soto dolmen in Trigueros, Spain, which has been returned to its prehistoric glory after a nine-year restoration. The mound is 60 metres across and 3.5 metres high, making it the largest of more than 200 dolmens, or megalithic tombs, that dot the Huelva province.”

Circles and Rectangles: Does Your House Shape You?

My first year as an undergraduate, I lived a in four-person dormitory suit. One day I entered the (rectangular) room of my suite-mate Bill and found that he had placed his bed, desk, etc. at diagonal angles to the walls.

“I got tired of everything being so rectilinear,” he said. It was funny how Bill’s new arrangement felt oddly disquieting.

A circular room, however was not an option.

People in some times and places have favored circular shapes and in other times rectangular shapes. Do these preferences say something about the societies?

These kinds of idea have a long history. In the early 1930s, the Soviet city planner Mikhail Okhitovich claimed that the right angle in architecture originated in private land ownership: curvilinear structures, whether they be round buildings or chairs with curved backs, were therefore communist in principle.

This quotation comes from a review essay in the Times Literary Supplement: “Seeing Straight,” discussing three books that examine questions of shape, perception, and society:

Vision is a form of cognition: the kinds of things we see shape the ways we think. That is why it is so hard to imagine the visual experience of our prehistoric ancestors, or, for that matter, the girls of nineteenth-century Malawi, who lived in a world without right angles. Inhabitants of, say, late Neolithic Orkney would only have seen a handful of perpendicular lines a day: tools, shaped stones, perhaps some simple geometric decoration on a pot. For the most part, their world was curved: circular buildings, round tombs, stone circles, rounded clay vessels . . . . What does a round building mean? Does it mean anything, or is the choice of one shape of house over another simply a matter of practicalities?

I think that I want to read at least one of the books reviewed, How Ancient Europeans Saw the World: Vision, Patterns, and the Shaping of the Mind in Prehistoric Times.

As for my roommate Bill, he eventually put his furniture back in line with the walls, as the non-rectilinear arrangement made it too hard to move around his dorm room.

OK, It’s Their Holiday, But Really, the ATM Too?

Went to town with M. today—it’s our secular Sunday routine of coffeehouse brunch, newspapers (v. trad, that’s us), and then the laundromat and the grocery store.

The coffeehouse is owned by (extremely low-key) Christian ex-missionaries. I had checked the Facebook page to see if they were closing today for Easter — nothing posted there one way or another, so off we went.

When we arrived, however, there was a sign on the door to the effect that they were closing at noon, and the lone barista was totally overwhelmed by a long line of people all ordering cinnamon-ginger-latte-Italian soda-extra large-and-sugary drinks that take five minutes to make. (Really, why don’t they just go down the street and get a milkshake and a cup of coffee, then pour them together?)

All too soon the noon siren at the fire department blew.

With the clothes at the laundromat, we then went to the supermarket. One item on the short shopping list was potting soil, because M. is starting seeds in the greenhouse. But it was closed.

“Let’s try the hardware store,” I said. Nope, closed. Oh, and I needed cash for the week, so I walked to the bank, entered the ATM lobby and — “Temporarily Out of Service.” Now that’s really not fair. I feel marginalized and oppressed.

A Techo-Prophet Who Says the Web Has Harmed Us

Back when I was subscribing to Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly in the 1980s, Jaron Lanier made frequent appearances in its pages as techno-prophet extraordinaire.

He was the guy who was helping to invent virtual reality. He was presented as being miles ahead of the rest of us. He was, as this Smithsonian article, “What Turned Jaron Lanier Against the Web”  says, a Silicon Valley rock star.

Now he is a Silicon Valley heretic. And having seen the consequences, he has changed his mind about a number of things, including the whole “information wants to be free” mantra, which he helped to promote.

The mistake of our age? That’s a bold statement (as someone put it in Pulp Fiction). “I think it’s the reason why the rise of networking has coincided with the loss of the middle class, instead of an expansion in general wealth, which is what should happen. But if you say we’re creating the information economy, except that we’re making information free, then what we’re saying is we’re destroying the economy.”

The connection Lanier makes between techno-utopianism, the rise of the machines and the Great Recession is an audacious one. Lanier is suggesting we are outsourcing ourselves into insignificant advertising-fodder. Nanobytes of Big Data that diminish our personhood, our dignity. He may be the first Silicon populist.

“To my mind an overleveraged unsecured mortgage is exactly the same thing as a pirated music file. It’s somebody’s value that’s been copied many times to give benefit to some distant party. In the case of the music files, it’s to the benefit of an advertising spy like Google [which monetizes your search history], and in the case of the mortgage, it’s to the benefit of a fund manager somewhere. But in both cases all the risk and the cost is radiated out toward ordinary people and the middle classes—and even worse, the overall economy has shrunk in order to make a few people more.”

This is a challenging article, one that I plan to return to and absorb. Read it yourself.

Added: Rod Dreher talks about the Lanier article and how it dovetails with a lesson he learned in life: Never trust the Crowd.