They Were Not Witches — They Are Our Martyrs

Walking through the witch-trial memorial park.

This is the memorial created in 1992 for the victims of the Salem trials in Salem, Mass. Each “bench” contains the name of an accused person: “Margaret Scott. Hanged. September 22, 1692.”

Walk there, and you know that it has become a shrine.

Then you realize that you are walking on their words, their pleas to the uncaring judges: “God knows I am innocent of such wickedness.”

Twenty-five people died (five of them in prison), all professing their innocence, and I tend to believe them. But they left us something: Witch Tees!

And Witch Pix!

And a passel of museums, “haunted houses,” ghost tours, and the like.

Crow Haven Corner.

The first witchcraft shop was Laurie Cabot’s the Witch Shoppe in 1971, which later moved and was renamed Crow Haven Corner.

It has been joined by many others. Walking along nearby Pickering Wharf feels like a trip down Diagon Alley.

Could Sarah Good, a homeless beggar (hanged) or Susannah Martin, an impoverished widow (hanged)  have imagined that their deaths would produce a Salem where being a witch is fairly normal and the police cars have flying witches on their doors? 1)Meanwhile, two burly Salem cops are yelling at some kid to get off his bike, which he is riding illegally on the pedestrian mall.

The National Park Service visitor center, devoted both to Salem’s peak years as a port in the 18th and 19th centuries and to the events of 1692, contains several shelves of books on historical witchcraft.

It’s a crooked path, all right, from hysterical teenagers accusing adults of witchcraft before judges who accepted “spectral evidence” to a wax museum, signage directing visitors to Gallows Hill, and at least two dozen witchcraft shops, but there it is.

The “witches” of 1692 gave it to us.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Meanwhile, two burly Salem cops are yelling at some kid to get off his bike, which he is riding illegally on the pedestrian mall.

Viking Hoodoo — Who Knew?

Who knew the old Norse were into runic candle magic? Not me.

All right, you should not judge a museum exhibit by what is in the gift shop. It’s just that the designers of the Vikings: Beyond the Legend traveling exhibit, chiefly from the Swedish History Museum, if I understand correctly, took great pains to lay waste to “the one-dimensional stereotype of bearded barbarians with horned helmets.” And then you see for sale something that I am pretty sure is non-historical.1)What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.

In fact, the exhibit explains multiple times that Norse fighters did not wear horned helmets but that those originated with a 19th-century opera costumer’s designs for Wagner’s Ring cycle.2)If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.

The show is in Denver now, but apparently, like Cirque du Soleil, it has multiple versions on the road, one being now in Salt Lake City. 3)If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!

A Norse reenactor prepares to demonstrate how to spin woolen thread with a weighted spindle. I bet the original home lighting was never so good.

And since I am unlikely to visit Scandinavia soon, I will accept well-crafted replica ships rather than the real thing.

Exploration and settlement is rather down-played in favor of life in the homelands, since the focus is not so much on “going viking” but on trying to get by as Iron Age farmers and fisherfolk, raising little cows and sheep (by our standards) and chickens the size of “Cornish game hens.”

And there is definitely a Norse Paganism 101 component with interactive exhibits about the Aesir and Vanir.

See Vikings: Beyond the Legend if you can. And pick up a T-shirt and some candles.

Notes   [ + ]

1. What does the Lore say about about magic candles? Too bad. Syncretism for the win.
2. If you stop to think about it, horns make poor tactical sense. If an opponent’s downward blow struck the projecting horn, it might knock off your helmet, if you had no chin strap. If you had a chin strap, then it would give you a neck-crunching twist — bad news either way. Better to have the blow slide off.
3. If it were truly like Cirque du Soleil, one exhibit would have a permanent home in Las Vegas. Instead of runic hoodoo candles, Valkyrie showgirls!

Jared Diamond Was Wrong—The Greenland Norse Adapted

Medieval chess pieces carved from Greenlandic walrus ivory (National Museums Scotland).

A new article in the journal Science refutes Jared Diamond’s claim that the 400-year-old Norse colony in Greenland failed because its habitants failed to adapt to the land.

Diamond’s thesis in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed was that the Norse made bad ecological decisions. As one reviewer summarizes,

The problem with the settlements . . . was that the Norse thought that Greenland really was green; they treated it as if it were the verdant farmland of southern Norway. They cleared the land to create meadows for their cows, and to grow hay to feed their livestock through the long winter. They chopped down the forests for fuel, and for the construction of wooden objects. To make houses warm enough for the winter, they built their homes out of six-foot-thick slabs of turf, which meant that a typical home consumed about ten acres of grassland.

Diamond, popularizing earlier research, said that the Christian Norse settlers clung to European lifeways of crops and cattle, while the arriving Inuit lived by hunting marine animals. New research shows that it was not that simple:

In 2012, NABO researchers clinched the case that the Greenlanders ate a marine diet by analyzing human bones in Norse graveyards. Animals that live in the sea have ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes that differ from those found in terrestrial animals, and this isotopic signature is passed on to the people who eat them. The Norse bones show that as the settlement developed from the 11th to the 15th century, their diet contained ever more marine protein. Far from clinging to livestock as temperatures fell, the Norse instead managed a successful subsistence system with “flexibility and capacity to adapt,” wrote the author of the 2012 paper, Jette Arneborg from the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen.

Nor were the Norse incompetent farmers, as Diamond and others have suggested. Soil geographer Ian Simpson of the University of Stirling in the United Kingdom says previous studies overestimated the Norse contribution to erosion in Greenland. New pollen and soil data show that the Norse allowed fields and what little forest existed to recover after tilling and turf cutting. And in analyses of soil and lake sediment cores, researchers have found chemical and paleoecological clues indicating that Norse farmers skillfully maintained pastures with manure fertilizer and irrigation ditches.

The disappearance of the colony is still a mystery. There is no evidence for war with the Inuit. Climate change — the Little Ice Age — definitely played a part, but politics and trade disruptions were another part. Some historians suggest that too many young adults, seeking better opportunities, returned to Iceland or Norway, leaving the colony to simply dwindle away.

Still, they had a long run, and leaving a mystery behind is paradoxically one way to be remembered.

The Viking “Blood Eagle” Never Happened, Says Historian

ageofthevikingsA Swedish archaeologist reviews a new book, Anders Winroth’s The Age of the Vikings, and makes this observation:

Myself, I was intrigued to learn that the infamous, messy and impractical “blood eagle” murder method may just be the fruit of High Medieval writers misunderstanding one of the countless references in Viking Period poetry to carrion birds munching on the slain (p. 37). There is to my knowledge no osteological evidence for it. Also interesting to me, I can’t recall reading about the Spanish Moor Al-Tartushi’s report on life in Hedeby before (p. 197). But that may just be because I’m not an historian.

Funny thing, I had been thinking of that alleged method of torture/execution a couple of days before.

Read the rest at his blog: “New Popular Book on the Viking Period.”

Around the Blogosphere, 17 July 2014

Tanya Luhrman compares the cultural differences in “hearing voices” in the United States, Ghana, and India. Plus, a Dutch psychiatrist who encourages it in his patients!

¶ You have read Ethan Doyle White’s interview with Ronald Hutton, right? If not, here it is.

¶ Two from Sarah Veale at Invocatio:

A PhD dissertation with music on “Satanic feminism.”

Discussing ancient Greek terms helps us understand “sacred space.”

¶ Mary Harrsch corrrects a slander against Julian, the last Pagan emperor of Rome.

How the Neighborhood Has Changed

Hardscrabble Creek is a real place, and every now and then, I like to post a photo or two from home. I found the first photo while researching something else, and I took the second one today. In both of these photos, Hardscrabble Creek runs behind the buildings farthest from the camera.

greenwood_road_1887

Collection of Denver Public Library.

About half a mile from home, taken about 1887. The false-front building in center is A. C. Monroe’s “Cash Store.” Click image to enlarge.

Greenwoord Road 2014I think the store was just to the left of the large house. The 4,800-square-foot house was built in 1989. The black tree trunk in the foreground was burned in a 2,500-acre fire in 2012 that destroyed several houses on this side of the road but missed the house shown and its neighbors on that side.

Several homes to either side of the big house (outside the photo) were built in the teens and twenties of the 20th century. Some were part of a small resort that was started to cater to the new phenomenon of automobile-driving tourists.  (There is a four-part series on lost 1920s highways and old campgrounds on my other blog.)

The hillside behind the buildings is mostly private land. It was logged in the late 19th century, obviously, and due to wildfires probably had fewer, larger ponderosa pine trees before the loggers arrived.

When logging stops and fires are put out, this is what you get. Large surrounding areas did burn in 2005, 2011, and 2012, however.

Tarot Cards — They Are for Catholics Too

Thomas L. McDonald, Patheos’ “Technology | Culture | Catholicism” blogger has a five-part series on the history of the Tarot cards. It starts here.

The real history of the Tarot, however, begins in the early 15th century in Italy, and their story is an important part of gaming and cultural history that was lost for centuries. They were created to play games, not tell fortunes. . . . .

Catholics have been conditioned to avoid Tarot because of its New Age and occult connotations. That’s a mistake: Tarot is part of our heritage. It reflects Catholic culture, symbolism, history, and theology. Its images are useful not just for play, but for contemplation, as Catholic mystic Valentin Tomberg explores beautifully in Meditations on the Tarot.

Tarot belongs to us, not to the con artists.

He is absolutely right that there is a great deal of bogus history about the Tarot, involving wild tales of a gallery of paintings of the trumps in a secret hall underneath the Sphinx of Egypt, and so on.

I think too that one of the reasons that ceremonial magicians have struggled to mesh the trumps with the Cabala and so forth is that the Tarot is a hybrid system itself, partly from here and partly from there.

I wrote something on those lines myself once, alas in the pre-Internet era, for Gnosis journal.

Robin of Kent (and His Merry Men)

A British historian argues that Robin Hood was based on a guerrilla bowman nicknamed Willikin of the Weald, although he might have passed through Sherwood Forest. (A snippet of the longer article from History Today)

That puts him fighting for “bad King John” (a minus) but against the French (always a plus for an English folk hero).

Whoever he was, check out his filmography. Where that leaves Herne the Hunter, I don’t know.

The Green Man: A Symbol of Ethnic Resistance?

“Green man,” Norwich Cathedral, England.

Green man masks are a staple seller on Merchants’ Row at any Pagan festival. I found a weather-resistant example at Beltania a couple of years ago, and now it hangs by the front door.

As Paul Kingsnorth writes in Aeon:

There are plenty of hypotheses [about his origin], and it depends on whom you talk to. Those inclined towards paganism like to claim that green men are relics of pre-Christian religions that have been incorporated into churches. I have heard, variously, that the green man represents the spirit of the greenwoods, the rebirth of nature, a rebellion against Christianity, or a symbol of the constancy of nature. Everybody who knows the green man has their favourite theory about what he is and why he is there.

But Kingsnorth goes on to offer a different origin story for the Green Man: that he is a symbol of ethno-political resistance to the Norman Conquest of 1066.

It would seem that if that is true, however, there would have to have been a cover story to tell to the Norman bishop in charge of the cathedral. And as one of the commenters points out, the Green Man figure is not unique to England. So maybe the nature-spirit reading of this figure still “has legs,” even if the Green Man himself does not.

Two Items Involving Ronald Hutton

First, an interview by Ethan Doyle White with British scholar of esotericism Dave Evans, who did his doctorate with Hutton at Bristol and speaks well of him:

Having a conversation with Ronald is a delight, and I had him to myself every 3 weeks or so, for a precious half an hour, for almost 3 years. I am a very lucky person. He is indeed a very friendly man, but no pushover when you work for him- he is a superb adviser on academic work; firm but fair, and he will not allow crap work to get through the filters- he steered, cajoled, encouraged and generally supported some very difficult stuff I was doing, at the same time as managing his perpetually massive workload in other areas.

Second, news that Professor Hutton will be hosting a program for the Yesterday Channel (half-owned by the BBC, I am told) called Professor Hutton’s Curiosities, about little-known museums in the London area. I think that one of these is the Horniman Museum. Let me know if it is any good, since I do not have satellite or cable TV.