“Come Out and Fight Me for My Throne . . . “

 

. . . says Janet Farrar melodramatically in this 1977 broadcast from the Irish national network Raidió Teilifís Éireann.

Author and screenwriter Stewart Farrar and his wife Janet, both from London in England, met through witchcraft and founded their own coven. In 1976 the couple moved to Ireland, accompanied by Janet’s father Ronald Owen, and they now live in the townland of Rockspring in Ferns, County Wexford. On the whole they have been warmly welcomed to the area by Catholics and Protestants alike.

Witchcraft is growing in Ireland and Janet, the Witch Queen of Ireland, challenges usurpers to come out and fight her for her throne. Until then, Janet is a natural clairvoyant and both she and Stewart can help people who have had piseogs worked against them. She once wished ill on a man and when she told him to be quiet, he lost his voice for 48 hours.

I was at that house a year or two later (and borrowed that typewriter), and I don’t remember the theramin music everywhere outdoors, so the producers must have added because they, like the Brits, just love the TV trope of the scary countryside. With witches.

CFP: Religion, Myth and Migration (Ireland)

Sixth Annual Conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR)

Hosted by Waterford Institute of Technology

Religion, Myth and Migration

Friday 16th June 2017

We are pleased to invite scholars to take part in the sixth annual conference of the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions (ISASR), themed ‘Religion, Myth and Migration’. Religious traditions often draw on powerful myths which make sense of their cosmological, as well as their historical, social and geo-political position. These myths frequently involve migration, from the biblical Exodus to the Islamic Hegira, to various migratory foundation narratives in new religious movements. As religions travel, so do myths, with new forms being created over time. The physical migration of peoples means that their religions travel with them to new geographical and cultural milieus and now, in a globalised world, knowledge is transmitted and ‘migrates’ in ways that are tied in with rapid advancements in technology and information exchanges. With President Donald Trump’s recent ban on Muslim migration, the challenges of Brexit, and movement of refugees and economic migrants around the world, the religious landscapes are swiftly changing. Conceptualising ‘myth’ and ‘migration’ in the broadest sense, conference participants will discuss, reflect upon and explore these themes in relation to changing religious landscapes and the Society invites papers and contributions on areas such as:

• Migration of religions and associated myths
• Myths of religious migration and foundation myths
• Folk religion, folklore and migrant legends
• Migration of peoples, cultures and religious change
• Imaginaries/imaginaires of religious migration (cultural fears, racist agendas and religions)
• Myths within religions
• Migration of religious ideas

Scholars working in Ireland are free to submit a paper proposal on any aspect of religion in any context and, as always, we welcome presentations on research on religions in Ireland from scholars worldwide.

Call for papers: Please submit your proposal in the form of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words).

Call for slam contributions: We invite ‘slam’ contributions for a maximum duration of 6 minutes on in-progress research, new projects and publications, research networks and new programmes. Please submit a title and brief description of your slam (max. 150 words).

Both paper and slam proposals are to be submitted via email to isasrconference2017@gmail.com by the deadline of 10th March 2017. Notification of abstract/slam acceptance will be given by 27th March 2017.

Please bear in mind that papers should contribute to the aims of the ISASR as set out in the Society’s constitution, specifically that ‘The main object [is] to advance education through the academic study of religions by providing a forum for scholarly activity (…). The Society is a forum for the critical, analytical and cross-cultural study of religions, past and present. It is not a forum for confessional, apologetical, interfaith or other similar concerns’.

The final programme will be posted on the ISASR website

CFP: Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

(Extended) DEADLINE APPROACHING

In association with the Study of Religions Department, University College Cork

To be held on Friday, 31st March 2017

We are pleased to invite scholars to take part in the launch and first workshop of the Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism (INSEP), a multidisciplinary research network for scholars working on any aspect of Esotericism (historical or contemporary) or Contemporary Paganism that relates to the Irish context. Its mission is to provide a forum for networking and collaboration among scholars who are based in Ireland and those based abroad who have research interests in the subject areas of esotericism and contemporary Paganism as they relate to Ireland. A general goal of the network is to establish a forum for academics — whether established researchers, postgraduate students, early career researchers or independent scholars — to communicate with each other, share information on relevant conferences and other events, and to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among those researching in the areas of Irish esotericism and Pagan Studies. The Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism is a Regional Network of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism: http://www.esswe.org/Regional

The INSEP invites papers and contributions on the subject of esotericism and Contemporary Paganism that relate to the Irish context, as well as the study of Contemporary Paganism and Western Esotericism in general, including areas such as:

• Esotericism, political change and social movements
• Ethnography and Western Esotericism
• Contemporary Pagan Studies in Ireland and/or international connections
• Media representations
• The notion of Celtic Spirituality
• Theoretical frameworks/changing paradigms in the academic study of religions

Call for papers: Please submit your proposal in the form of a title and an abstract (max. 250 words), stating institutional affiliation (or independent scholar) to Dr Jenny Butler: j.butler[at]ucc.ie by Friday 13th January 2017. Please put ‘INSEP Proposal’ in the subject line.

Demons! Swastikas!! Witches in Ireland!!!

¶ The Washington Post runs a non-snarky article about a psychiatrist who thinks that demons are real.

So began an unlikely partnership. For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work.

Bonus: a satanic witch priestess.

¶ How did the swastika go from worldwide good luck symbol to a symbol of evil. Richard Smoley explains:

And yet not so long ago it was a symbol of blessings and good fortune. Even its name is derived from Sanskrit roots meaning “it is good.” (Other names given to it include the cross patteé, the gammadion, the hakenkreuz or hooked cross, and the fylfot.) Today, in a somewhat truncated form, it still occupies a place in the official symbol of the Theosophical Society.

The peculiar fate of the swastika has a great deal to teach about the nature and meaning of symbols — and about the uses to which they can be put.

A lightweight article from Ireland on Witchcraft. Something to read before you apply more sunscreen. “Janet” is, of course, Janet Farrar.

New Grange Before It Was “Restored”

“Late 19th century: This atmospheric shot of the passage tomb entrance shows a man emerging from its dark interior. It was taken by R. J. Welch sometime in the late 19th century and it shows an overgrown and partially disturbed mound. Although the roofbox, through which the winter solstice sun rays should pass, is completely blocked, its decorated stone lintel can still be partially discerned c. 1 m above the entrance passageway” (Irish Archaeology).

Before excavation and restoration (think “concrete wall”) began in the 1960s, the famous Irish Neolithic temple of New Grange  (older than the Pyramids!) looked quite different. The Irish Archaeology site offers sketches and photos from the 18th century forward.

A History of the Gods of Irish Myth

Forthcoming from Princeton University Press, Ireland’s Immortals: A History of the Gods of Irish Myth (2016), by Mark Williams.

Think of the “Finding a God” and “Finding a Goddess” chapters of Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon — but book-length, dealing with Irish material, and the product of numerous quests through textual tunnels wherein dwell the ferocious beasts.

All of the Celtic Reconstructionist Pagans out there will probably rush not to buy it. Someone should — he is a fine writer.

From the scraps of his research that I have seen, readers (me included) should prepare to end up in places quite different than they expected.

Irish Druids Now Officially “Indigenous” — They Say

That is how the Celtic Druid Temple frames government recognition as an “official charity.”

The Celtic Druid Temple is a full member of the World Druid Order and now has legal and formal recognition in Ireland as a religious charity with a CHY number 20684 issued by the Dept of Finance.

I assume that is roughly equivalent to an American religious group getting 501(c)3 status as a tax-exempt nonprofit group.

To these Irish Druids, there are larger implications:

The Celtic Druid Temple is now recognised by the Irish Government as Ireland’s indigenous religious tradition with Nature as the Supreme Being. Nature based spirituality has once again achieved full recognition in Ireland after a lapse of many centuries.

Indigenous. Does that word mean what you think it means? I have seen some (mostly white) academics twist themselves into knots to explain why they themselves cannot be “indigenous.”

Some of them argue that you have to have been colonized by an outside power to be “indigenous.” The Irish would have a lightning-quick comeback to that.

And some of my English Pagan friends say, “What about the Romans? They colonized us.” (Or does the magic power of being colonized expire after some set amount of time?)

Other Pagan writers equate their ancestors’ often-forced conversion to Christianity as being psychologically equivalent to colonization.

It must be possible to become indigenous over time; otherwise, the only truly indigenous humans would be those living in East Africa, and everyone else would be a nasty invader and colonizer.

The Scholar’s Mistress: The Speckled Bird

William Butler Years

William Butler Years

As an English major at Reed College, I experienced a semester-long combined seminar on William Butler Yeats and T. S. Eliot. To be honest, I probably liked Eliot’s poetry more, and I wrote a just-slightly-tongue-in-cheek paper on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, although I did not have the chops to turn it into a Broadway musical, which is why I am not rich and famous.

Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne

Nevertheless, I knew that Yeats was important too. We discussed him only as poet and advocate of Irish cultural identity, not as ceremonial magician,  as prose writer, nor as Irish senator.

I heard something about A Vision, his esoteric Compleat Theory of Everything, but when I found a copy in the library, I bounced off it like a brick wall. I lacked the background to understand, quite simply, and of course I knew next to nothing about the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which he joined in the early 1890s.

I picked up a lot more over the years, including reading about his long, sexually frustrated (for twenty-odd years) romantic friendship with the beautiful Irish revolutionary Maud Gonne — who was a magician too, at least until the gunfire of the 1916 Easter Rising drowned that out.

Unknown to Yeats, Gonne had an affair with a French journalist and secretly gave birth to a boy, who died at the age of 2; she returned with her lover to the child’s tomb to conceive again, believing that reincarnation would bring back the lost son.

Then last November, in a session of the Western Esotericism Group at the American Academy of Religion, Thomas Willard of the U. of Arizona mentioned an unfinished novel by Yeats that I had never heard of, The Speckled Bird [for the title’s origin, see note below].

Between 1896-1902, “at a point in his career when he was dramatizing his occult experiences in fiction [such as] The Secret Rose, a sequence of stories that embody the conflict between the natural and spiritual worlds,”  Yeats made four attempts at this autobiographical novel [General Editor’s Introduction, The Speckled Bird].

Its central character, Michael Hearne, “is dominated by three passions: his love of Margaret [Maud Gonne], his desire to gain access to the invisible world by means of occult knowledge and techniques, and his wish to devise an appropriate ritual for the inauguration and practice of the Celtic Mysteries” [ibid.].

Michael and Margaret plan a series of rituals based on the quest for the Grail, and in a letter he tells her, “We will only make a beginning, but centuries after we are dead cities shall be overthrown, it may be, because of an air that we have hummed or because of a curtain full of [magical] meaning that we have hung upon a wall.”

And when Michael and Maclagan, the character based on S. L. Mathers, are walking in the British Museum’s Egyptian Rooms, Maclagan says, “The old gods are worshipped still in secret and what we have to do is make their worship open again.”

In the most-developed version, Michael Hearne abandons the plan for a Celtic esoteric order and sets off on a journey with Maclagan to Arabia and Persia — which did not occur in Yeats’ real life.

Yeats and Gonne’s Celtic-mystery groups never happened. Outer-world events — the First World War (1914–18), the Irish rebellions (1916, 1919–21) foundation of the Irish Free State (1922), and then its subsequent civil war (1922–23) — were just a little too distracting.

Some would argue that the Fellowship of the Four Jewels carried on something of Yeats’ and Gonne’s idea, and in the person of Ella Young, it has a slight connection with the development of West Coast Pagan movements in the 1960s.

*  *  *  *  *

Note: I am not sure what “the speckled bird” meant to Yeats, although he knew that it came from Jeremiah 12:9. Christian commentators regard the bird as emblematic of the church.

Eurasian eagle-owl

The metaphor is of small birds mobbing an owl or other raptor. Jeremiah seems casual about bird identification, but maybe his audience knew if he meant a Eurasian eagle-owl or some kind of large hawk.

That passage also provided the name of a well-known hymn, here sung by country star Kitty Wells and also by Lucinda Williams.

How Halloween Came Back to Derry

A short video (Irish with subtitles; English) describing how a large public Halloween festival in the Northern Irish city of Derry began in a pub in the early 1980s and grew from there.

And while some speakers, including folklorist Jenny Butler, do discuss the ancient festival of Samhain, you will see that the Derry festival was not so much a self-conscious bit of Celtic revival as it was a way for people to step out of “the Troubles” (as the Irish euphemize the 1960s–1980s in Ulster) for one night of the year and be someone else.

You may also note a brief mention of pumpkins — the North American influence is there too.

Was Lugh a Comet?

Here is the trailer for an Irish television “documentary,” (in Irish with English subtitles), “Gods from the Sky,” which argues that celestial events changed ancient Irish religion.

And if that sounds a bit familiar, perhaps you are remembering Immanuel Velikovsky’s (1895–1979) somewhat similar thesis that the planet Venus entered our solar system twice: “Periodic close contacts with a ‘cometary Venus‘  (which had been ejected from Jupiter) had caused the Exodus events (c. 1500 BCE) and Joshua‘s subsequent “sun standing still” (Joshua 10:12 and 13) incident.”

Other planets caused catastrophes on Earth as well, he claimed.