Pagan Idols of the Mesolithic

The Shigir figure

Across northern Europe from the Ural Mountains to Ireland, the people erected wooden figures, of them quite large, as the ice age known as the Younger Dryas waned and the people could move into new, now-forested, lands. And they kept on during so until more recent times.

At Twilight Beasts, Rena Maguire writes,

There are stories from the deep past we won’t ever hear with our ears, but that’s not to say we cannot hear them. Archaeology tells those stories, the ones that I think matter.  The past I’m talking of is the one wrapped in skins and furs against the spiteful cold of the Younger Dryas. It has wise eyes and a hopeful heart; it knows what sustenance may still grow in snow and biting cold, and knows where the animals go to drink deep in parched summers. That past is carried in each and all of us, we are here because our ancestors survived the ice and cold with wisdom, courage and plain stubbornness. There’s times, however, something is found in bog, field or lake which beckons us to gather round in a circle, sit down, put the phone on silent, and listen to the past intently.

The Shigir wooden idol is one such object. It is an enigmatic wooden figure which, I admit, I could spend days just looking at, and ‘listening’ to, for it must have such a story to tell of the people who made it. It was found in a peat bog (all the best things are, imo) 100km north of Yekaterinburg, Russia, at the end of the 19th century. It stands head and shoulders (literally) above other objects of the past as it would have measured around 5 m  when complete, a tower of song, stories and memory set down some 11000 years ago. It is made of larch wood, and decorated with deep zig-zag lines on the torso, with 8 intriguing smaller faces carved as part of the design of the body. All the faces are unique and expressively stern.

More idols and a bibliography at the link. I love a good bibliography.  Read the whole thing!

European Pagans Convene in Rome

A report on the European Congress of Ethnic Religions, which recently met in Rome.

A great four-day event, with the participation of delegations from fifteen European countries and a representation from the US, culminated in an intense and luminous common ritual on the sacred hill of the Palatine on the 2771st anniversary of Rome foundation, the “Dies Natali”. So it was the sixteenth Congress of the ECER – European Congress of Ethnic Religions, organized by the Movimento Tradizionale Romano on the theme “The pagan rituals and their sources” (19 – 22 April 2018), concluded in Rome with great success, thanks to the synergy of prestigious doctrinal and scientific contributions and an impeccable organization.

In fact, the ECER, that brings together the main representative associations of European ethnic religions, had asked MTR to hold the prestigious event in the Italian capital: the MTR accepted and decided to celebrate the Congress on the occasion of the Natal [Birthday] of Rome.

The Pagan-focused archeological tours sound fascinating too.

In the early morning, in fact, most of the participants met in Via di S. Gregorio for a visit to the Palatine Hill and the Imperial Forums. It was not, however, a mere archaeological walk, but a true spiritual itinerary on the Sacred Hill of our Tradition. . . .

Accompanied by the archaeologists Marina Simeone and Sandra Mazza, the participants were able to immerse themselves completely in the environment and at the same time feed themselves from the most sacred sources of our Roman Tradition. The in-depth illustrations and the direct vision of the still impressive architectural evidences, such as the huts of Romulus, the temple of Apollo, the house of Augustus, the palaces of Domitian, were the setting for the presentation. In particular, the amazement has caught everyone in learning that the Christian birth was born under their feet, in the fourth century, in the church of St. Anastasia, on the expropriated trunk of the feast of the Invincible Sun (Sol Invictus) and on the forgotten roots of the Lupercal – our only , true, Cave of the Nativity.

Wild Men of Europe

I mentioned Charles Fréger’s book Wilder Mann: The Image Of The Savage three years ago, but here is a magazine article with a selection of the photos.

The article’s author writes,

As it happens, I’ve attended pagan rituals myself, in rural Austria, and I’ve met men who work on their intricate, large, wooden Krampus masks all year long in preparation for the fantastical Krampus “performance” in early December. I mention this as a prelude to explaining that (in my opinion) telling the difference between some authentic pagan belief and just people partaking in a fun pastime isn’t a straightforward proposition. It isn’t that such people are necessarily undertaking such rituals in order appease the earth goddess Erda and improve next year’s crop yield or anything like that, but at the same time I think that participants and spectators alike would agree that everyone is getting something necessary out of it, something communal, something emotional.

Well no, we would not want to think that it was actually religious, would we? On the other hand, indigenous religions don’t require creeds. Some people go to the ceremony for the “something emotional” only, and that’s all right.

Go Full Ötzi

otziYou want to go full old-time Pagan at the next festival? Rock the full Ötzi, like the original Ice-Ice Man his own self.

It’s said that fashion is cyclical, and that the styles of past decades are inevitably revived for new generations. But for a truly original look, trendsters should dig deeper than the neon spandex tones of the 1980s or the flower child garb of the 1960s. Why not channel the tropes of an even simpler time, beyond the flapper-dressed Jazz Age and into the Copper Age, some 5,300 years ago?

New DNA research shows you just what you will need: a little bearskin, some goat and deer . . .

Being “Nones” in a Pagan Society?

Sacrificial pine tree of Lalli in Tartu county - photo by Pille Porila

Sacrificial pine tree of Lalli in Tartu county – photo by Pille Porila

In Estonia, as with many Eastern European countries, the native Pagan religion is entertwined with national pride. Conquerers from the medieval Teutonic Knights to the Soviet Union have tried to supress it.

According to this writer, many—perhaps a majority—of Estonians are spiritual-but-not-religious in a Pagan sort of way:

Taaraism [native Paganism] went against the ways of Christianity and focused more upon the belief of nature. Because of the disbelief in Christianity, Estonians maintained a traditional culture of neo-Paganism that has continued to affect Estonian culture, beliefs and traditions to this day.

What I think might be happening can be explained by the good old 80-20 rule. Even if there is a “traditional culture of neo-Paganism” (Isn’t that a clash of adjectives?), at most only about 20 percent of  people really care about the daily business of religion, while the rest, to use an old phrase, mainly want it when they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched” — and for festivals.

Despite Estonia’s well-maintained churches and other medieval tourist attractions, Estonia is considered to be one of the least religious countries in the world, with 78% of Estonians saying they do not use religion as part of their daily lives, according to the 2006-2011 Gallup polls.

This is the normal condition of humanity, when you leave people to their own devices and do not demand that they line up in neat rows every seven days (on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday) and say their prayers.

More from the article:

Those who had hoped Taaraism to become Estonia’s national religion during the first independence period in 1918-1940, saw their prospective success squashed by the Soviet occupation, as the atheistic and collective Soviet Union didn’t take any religion kindly, let alone a stand-alone national one, which would give too many independent ideas and thoughts.

Today, the population of Taara or Maausk followers is extremely small. However, according to the 2000 census, only 29% of the total Estonian population is at all religious, but in 2005, the Eurobarometer poll found that 54% believed in some spirit or external life force.

It’s Late October — Who Can Keep Up with the News?

psst it's halloweenThere is more Pagan-related stuff popping up in the news and publishing world than usual right now. I wonder why. So here are some highlights:

• Gwendolyn Reece is a university librarian, blogger (Diary of an Occult Librarian), and scholar — one recent publication, “Impediments to Practice in Contemporary Paganism,” appeared in the most recent issue of The Pomegranate. So it made sense for the communications and marketing office at her employer, American University in Washington, DC, to go to her as their in-house expert on all things Halloween-ish.

• The phrase “post-Christian Europe” has become a journalistic cliché. So a writer for The Week imagines what a post-Christian and pagan [sic] world might look like.

So, could we go back to paganism? This is more than an idle question. Our era is still — much more than we care to admit — very much defined by Christian ideals, which — much more than we care to admit — were very much defined in opposition to pagan ideals. Looking at the pagan worldviews that once ruled Europe should give us some insight into the West today, and, perhaps, its future.

The article is free from much knowledge of actual contemporary Paganism outside of Iceland. But he does make the point that sacrifice was key to ancient Paganism, even though nowadays it is euphemized or just plain considered icky

• There is a type of book that I call “I go among the Witches.” Mostly I associate these with the 1970s, such as Susan Roberts’ Witches U.S.A. (1971), Hans Holzer’s The New Pagans (1973 but now on Kindle!), and the queen of them all, Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon (original publication 1979).

A new entry in this genre is Alex Mar’s Witches of America. In a review titled “Eat, Prey, Learn Magic,” Rhyd Wildermuth gives it two thumbs down.

Much touted by the internet press–but met with muted reservation by most witches, her book offers a sordidly pornographic and self-aggrandising narrative disguised as an elucidating look into the way witchcraft is practised in the United States.  Belonging alongside a 1980’s issue of National Geographic (we’ll get to the pendulous breasts in a bit), exploitative British-tourist narratives, and freak-documentary, Mar’s book tells the tale of her search for authentic witchcraft in the most ‘extreme’ of American Pagan experiences.

• Want to sample Alex Mar’s book for yourself? Check this excerpt in New York magazine: “The Powerful, Unlikely Appeal of Witchcraft — Even for a Skeptic.”

That’s what this is like, the embarrassing wide-openness that witchcraft requires: a movement or voice or improv class, in which the actor is expected, required by her work, to throw herself all the way in. To make a flailing mess of herself as the only route to truer performance.

‘Cause her readers  understand the thea-tuh. Or as others say, “Fake it ’till you make it.” Nothing about deity in this excerpt, however.

New Publishing Opportunity in Euro-Paganism

Headline: “Genetic analysis reveals present-day Europeans descended from at least 3, not 2, groups of ancient humans.”

So how before someone writes a book on “Ancient North Eurasian” shamanic Paganism?  Campfire, drum, bears . . . take it away.

Caves, a Sacred Pillar, and a Mystery Disk

¶ If I could visit Chauvet Cave, I could die happy. It’s one of “10 must-see cave paintings,” of which I have seen none. At least I know where there is signage-free rock art in southern Colorado.

¶ Croatian Pagans erect a pillar to Perun, the sky god. With video, still photos, and music.

¶ An article on the Nebra Sky Disk, buried in Germany thousands of years ago. Except I don’t buy this part:

Astronomer Ralph Hansen maintains that the disc was an attempt to co-ordinate the solar and lunar calendars to tell Bronze Age Man when to plant seeds and when to make trades, giving him an almost modern sense of time. “For everyday calendrical purposes, you would use Moon years. But for designing when to plough fields and when to harvest, you use Sun years,” said Hansen.

I am just a gardener, not a Neolithic farmer, but I do not think that Neolithic farmers needed stone circles or “portable instruments” to tell them when to plant. If you live in a place long enough, you know the local signs, for instance, “plant cool weather crops when the grass turns green,” or “it’s usually safe to plant warm-weather plants when the oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear” — whatever works for you.

But I have seen this so many times — members of the Clerisy like Hansen who think that the peasants are or were too stupid to know when to plant their peas unless someone like themselves, backed by the authority of a stone circle (“Lo, Father Sun is rising . . .”) tells them when to do it.

Pentagram Pizza from Rome’s Enemy

pentagrampizza¶ The word went around last week of the passing of Jonas Trinkunas (1939–2014), founder of the revived Lithuanian Pagan group Romuva. This Lithuanian website has video of his funeral ceremony, everyone in archaic ritual gear, lots of singing and drumming. (Video may be slow to load.)

¶ “Perhaps the future Carthaginians were like the Pilgrim Fathers leaving from Plymouth – they were so fervent in their devotion to the gods that they weren’t welcome at home any more.” But do not let that sentence give you any warm feelings until you have read the rest.

¶ The polytheists’ Ark was round, but still held animals.

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.