Does Anyone “Own” the Vikings? The NY Times Wants to Know

Jasper Juinen for The New York Times

Some years ago — the late 1990s? — I had a Swedish freshman student in one of my classes. Looking over his shoulder as he was typing at his computer station, I noticed that he had a silver Mjöllnir (Thor’s hammer) pendant on a thin chain around his neck.

Naturally, I wondered if he was following Norse religion or just proud of his heritage. I complimented him on the pendant, and he told me that he was interested in the Viking Age.

“But if I wear this at home,” he said, “they call me a Nazi.”

I told him that I did not think he had to worry about that in Pueblo, Colorado.

Now here comes the New York Times plodding down the Nazi/Heathen trail — in Sweden.

Amid a boom in Viking-related TV shows and films — and a corresponding surge in Viking-inspired tourism and advertising campaigns — there is increasing political tension and social unease over the use of various runes, gods and rituals from the Viking era.

Watch a group of Swedish followers of the old religion deal with the usual tired questions: “Who Owns the Vikings? Pagans, Neo-Nazis and Advertisers Tussle Over Symbols.”

Here is another way of approaching such reportage from a leading establishment media voice. Maybe it’s not about “Nazis” at all, except that is the insult of the moment, a way to dismay something disturbing to the materialist world view. These elites are good at dismissing Christianity — it is all “fundamentalist crazies,” “deplorables,” and people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.”

Religion is dangerous. The people in power have always realized this. Either they must tame it — make it all about how King Zork enjoys the Will of Heaven —or keep a heavy, cast iron lid on it.

The trouble with religious people is that they are not always loyal enough — to the king, to the government, to the Party, to the corporation.

Nowadays Paganism(s) is growing. You can’t call the Pagans “deplorables” or “bitter clingers” or “fundamentalist crazies.” Those insults just don’t fit.

But you can call (some of) them “Nazis” or “racists” as a way of marginalizing them, a way of making it clear that no bien pensant, “woke” or “progressive” person would want to have anything to do with that experience that they are offering.

As a commentator on law professor Ann Althouse’s blog wrote, “[Christianity, in this case] is simply the enemy culture. It has to be disparaged and reduced in social status.

Or when they say that your Olympic ski sweaters “raise alarms” about neo-Nazis, that’s a warning shot too.

Pentagram Pizza: The Second Generation

1. I like to point out Pagan writers who are doing more than “how-to” writing, so click over and read Kallisti’s piece on “Some Reflections on Being Second Gen Pagan/Polytheist.”

Most of the issues boil down to how different it is to grow up within something versus convert to it. Unlike many adult converts, I had to deal with religious bullying in the rural Midwest as a child.

2. Norse settlers cut down most of Iceland’s sparse woodlands. Restoring them appears to be harder than it is in other ecosystems. Note to the New York Times, “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity.

3. Last weekend M.’s and my old home of Manitou Springs held its annual coffin races. They started right after we moved away, but we met in Manitou, bought our first slightly-more-than-tiny house there, and have lots of memories.

The [Manitou Springs Heritage Center]  will be the starting point of “ghost tours” featuring “spirit guides” who will show people around town for 45 minutes, stopping at sites where actors will play out tales of the colorful past.

“Manitou was full of witchcraft,” [Jenna[ Gallas says. “Not that it is anymore, but I think people still like to believe ooky-spooky happens here, and if we’re gonna celebrate Halloween, we’re gonna do it in Manitou, where the freaks come out every day.”

What is this “was,” Ms. Gallas? Yes, we did our part in the 1980s. Rituals upstairs in the Spa Building? You bet. Rituals outdoors downtown around the mineral springs? Those too. I have to think that someone else has carried on!

4. The obligatory pre-Hallowe’en news feature, this one from the NBC affiliate in Washington, DC.

Images of witches being veiled in darkness, casting spells over cauldrons endure, but a new generation of Wiccans and witches have established growing communities in D.C. and across the country.

Yada, yada. But this good:

“[Hallowe’en is] a celebration of the witch. You can have sexy witches, you can have scary witches, but it’s still a celebration of the witch. Even if the witch isn’t shown in a positive light,” said Stephens, a 37-year-old Wiccan who also practices witchcraft.

Mystery Deity in Hitler Hex

Chief hexer Ted Caldwell intones an incantation. On the right, in dark shirt and tie, is author William Seabrook. Thomas McAvoy, Time-LIfe.

Today the Internet served me “Putting a Hex on Hitler: LIFE Goes to a ‘Black Magic’ Party.”

For background, you have to know that the pictorial weekly news magazine Life had a regular feature called “Life Goes to a Party” — and many of these parties featured big-name musicians — Time-Life’s music division sold albums of the associated tunes. My parents had a boxed set, divided by decades: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and so on.

“The occult ceremony climaxes as hexers hammer nails into the heart and throat of the image of Hitler,” LIFE reported. “The hexers called on the pagan deity, Istan, to transmit the image’s wounds to the flesh of the living Hitler . . . chanting in unison: ‘We are driving nails and needles into Adolf Hitler’s heart!'”

Istan??

With reporter and photographer on hand, this ceremony is better attested than the alleged Lammas 1940 ritual by English witches that was supposed to turn back a threatened German invasion.

The south coast of England was a worried place in the summer of 1940. France had fallen, leading to the Dunkirk evacuation (now a major motion picture that I have not seen), and also to France and Britain abandoning their assistance to Norway, which Nazi Germany had invaded in April 1940.

Even Gerald Gardner had joined the Home Guard, a force of lightly armed volunteers prepared to fight and die along the coast when the expected German invasion crossed the Channel.1)Conventional military historians suggest that the Germans cancelled their invasion plans because (a) Hitler really wanted to invade the Soviet Union more than the UK and (b) the British Royal Navy was still powerful and capable of disrupting the invasion.

Gardner himself is the main source for that story. His museum collaborator, Cecil Williamson, wrote a magazine article on British witchcraft in 1952 that also mentions it, but he had been working with Gardner for a couple of years at that point, and Gardner may have been his principal or only source. Doreen Valiente, who was not there either, said the rite was worked on May Eve 1940, at the two following full Moons, and at Lammas.2)My source here is Aidan Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964. Or did the story just grow in the telling?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Conventional military historians suggest that the Germans cancelled their invasion plans because (a) Hitler really wanted to invade the Soviet Union more than the UK and (b) the British Royal Navy was still powerful and capable of disrupting the invasion.
2. My source here is Aidan Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964.

Pentagram Pizza Cut into 12 Slices

• Everything old is new againyoung Chinese discover the Western zodiac and think that it is cooler than “Year of the Monkey,” etc.

• “Witchcrap” from The Daily Beast website — “These Modern Witches Want to Cast a Spell on You.”

Modern witchcraft combines feminism, self-help, and wellness. But is there more to it than pretty crystals, stunning Instagram pictures, and lucrative business opportunities?

I think that’s called “fake news.”

• From Jason Miller’s Strategic Sorcery blog:American Gods: The Jersey Devil and the Pines Witch.”   This post was part of “The American Gods Project” — read the rest. “Truly, all sorcery is local.”

• In Albania, they stop the Evil Eye with plushies. Truly, all sorcery is local.

Some “Spare” Links and the “Witchcraft Aesthetic”

¶ The University of Heidelberg has scanned and put online a 1916 issue of Form, a small British art magazine containing numerous illustrations by Austin Osman Spare, noted English occultist and artist. Here is a sample.

¶ If I were visiting Milan, I would visit this Tarot painter’s studio and drop a few euros. Maybe I could afford one card.

His shop boasts an endless variety of cards, making it a treasure trove for lovers of the occult in the Italian North. Some decks depict the major and minor arcana (tarot’s “face card” and “number card” equivalents) in Cubist shapes. Others portray them as animals or even flowers, inspired by vintage science books. One deck reimagines traditional iconography with old maps that Menegazzi finds at Milanese flea markets. 

¶ First, I am always suspicious when a news article introduces someone as “controversial,” as in this case: “the controversial Azealia Banks.” It’s like a way of saying, “We don’t like her, but we are pretending to be objective.”

According to the article, the performer outed herself as a  Brujeria practitioner, in other words, folk witchcraft.

The video shows Banks getting ready to clean out her closet in which she has practiced Brujeria for the past three years. After seeing the closet caked in chicken blood, feathers, and some black stuff we can’t figure out, the Internet of course went wild. But why was everyone so shocked to learn that Banks had been sacrificing chickens? The artist, as problematic as she may be, has admitted to practicing — specifically Brujeria —in the past.

But then the writer, one Samantha Mercado, gets off onto the subtlties of the “witchcraft aesthetic” and female empowerment.

There are plenty of pop culture trends that feed feminism, but the mainstreaming of witchcraft has proved both empowering and problematic. The word and idea of a witch were traditionally associated with demonizing women — images of an ugly outcast cackling over a cauldron or a green Margaret Hamilton come to mind. But recently, the image and connotation associated with witches has become more and more empowering — witches are being portrayed as heroines instead of demons.

With this new, all-empowering image of a witch comes a slew of trends pandering to a “witch aesthetic.” From blogs to high-end clothing lines, it seems like everyone is trying to cash in on the witch trend, and while the increased popularity of witchcraft has helped the practice grow, it makes you wonder if everyone appropriating it understands its origins.

Oh shit, the secret is out. Witches don’t go door to door asking if you have heard the word of Cernunnos. No, we let the “aesthetic” reel in the innocent seekers. We’re happy to see young ladies dressed up in “sexy witch” costumes. Next thing, Pandemonaeon albums, festivals, polyamory, and arguments over “traditional.” (With the guys, it’s tricker. But not much.)

Really, art beats dogma every time.

Pentagram Pizza: Toppings Begone!

pentagrampizzaThe Roman Catholic Church in the United States reports a shortage of exorcists, says a British newspaper.

In lengthy interviews with The Telegraph, the two exorcists discuss how the increase in drug and pornography addiction, failure of the mental healthcare system and a rise in popularity of “pagan activities”, such as using a Ouija board to summon the dead, are among the factors contributing to the huge increase in demand for the Rite.

¶ The title says it: “Why It’s So Damn Difficult to Discuss Occult Topics in the Media.” Of course, if “occult” means hidden, then “media” means the opposite of hidden, and there could just be some tension there.

¶ “Grounding” or “earthing” is not just a magical exercise: it can actually heal your body when done with real earth. Science!

Kicked Back in Time

I was contacted a couple of months ago by family members of  the two defendants in a Wicca-related murder case. It was big news in the American Craft network1)I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era. circa 1977–80. If you remember it, fine. If not, I am not going to summarize it now because I am thinking in other directions. Maybe later.

A few days ago, two medium-size cartons arrived in the mail, full of newspaper clippings, notes, correspondence, annotated copies of jury lists, itemized bills from lawyers and investigators, sworn statements and affidavits, investigators’ reports  — pretty much the entire paper trail except for the actual trial transcripts and some of the law-enforcement paperwork.

The old Court TV channel (now TruTV) would have loved this case, but it came a decade too soon.

And too early for the Internet, thank the gods. The hypothetical comments on a hypothetical post on The Wild Hunt would have blown up the server, I am sure.

One thing you don’t find in every criminal case is a thick file of psychics’ impressions of what “really happened,” complete with maps and diagrams, not to mention psychic readings of a couple dozen potential witnesses. (The investigator checked out some of this info as best he could.)

Yes, it was just the opposite of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93. In this case, it was the defense using “spectral evidence.” And while there was no bill from Dr. Buzzard for “chewing the root” in court, you can bet some magic-workers were involved.2)For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

I don’t feel like writing a “true crime” book, but I want to write something.  I had drafted a chapter on the trial for Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America, but I deleted it because it did not mesh with the other themes of the book. (Now where is the file, on the old iMac in the basement?)

Maybe we need a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on “Paganism and Violence,” and since I won’t be co-chair after this year, I can submit something.  It’s a story that needs to be told, from the perspective of folklore studies or perthaps the study of new religious movements. To me, now, almost forty years after the events, it’s not so much the “who done it” that interests me as it is the context in which these events were imbedded.

Meanwhile, I have rough-sorted all the papers and condensed two cartons down to one, having set aside lots of old Pagan zines and unrelated materials of various sorts that were tossed in with the trial documents. Among these was the “Pagan Occult New Age Directory Supplement, Autumn 1978,” from the Pagan Grove Press of Atlanta. I looked up “Colorado” and there I was, with my old Manitou Springs telephone number. Kicked back in time.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era.
2. For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

Still Enchanted After All These Years

Enchantments’ owner, Stacy Rapp. (The Guardian).

The Guardian, a British newspaper, profiles Enchantments in Manhattan,  which “after 34 years in business in the East Village, with the recession and the rising rents of gentrification claiming so many small businesses . . . might make anyone believe in magic.”

Read the whole thing. (Thanks to Mama Fauna.)

It’s Because Texans Make Good Witches

Yes, “Wicca Grows in Austin“! And beyond!

Californians may recognize a familiar name in this Austin group too.

The headline was a youthful pronouncement of mine, because it seemed that if you peeled off the Baptist conditioning, Texans were craz-eee. (Catholics? Maybe so, maybe no.)

Gentrifying the Mansion of Decrees

First & Broadmoor

Photo: Colorado Springs Gazette

Back in the 1980s, heyday of The Menance of Cults, the Church Universal and Triumphant (formerly Summit Lighthouse, grandchild of the “I Am” movement, great-great grandchild of Theosophy—one of many), was in the second tier, behind the Moonies, Scientology, and the Hare Krishnas (ISKCON).

Its leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet (1939–2009) took control after the death of her husband, Mark Prophet (1918–1973). To the church, he did not die but became an Ascended Master. It always amused me that they claimed a previous incarnation for him as Sir Launcelot, whom I had thought was a fictional character. For the full list, see link.

Around the time of Mark’s . . . passing . . . Summit Lighthouse, as it was then known, acquired this 1930s mansion in a ritzy part of Colorado Springs near the Broadmoor Hotel.1)British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.

I remember stopping by in about 1975 with a New-Agey friend from college who had heard about Summit Lighthouse—we chatted with some members, looked at some of the public rooms, picked up some brochures.

Not long after our visit, the group changed its name and moved to property north of Yellowstone National Park,2)They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch. where they started stockpiling weapons and supplies and preparing for the apocalypse. Yeah, that again.

They spent hours chanting magical affirmations — “decrees” in CUT-speak — with a strong flavor of American nationalism.3)If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political? They probably took credit for President Reagan surviving John Hinckley’s attempt to kill him — or maybe they gave all credit to the Ascended Master St. Germain, who was Their Guy.

In about 1981, when I was a young newspaper reporter, I was contacted by a woman who had been Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s personal secretary until she quit and/or was forced out. She unburdened herself, and I built a news feature around that. I found writing about “cults” to be quite absorbing — there were some others also — and eventually I made the decision to go to graduate school and study new religious movements.

Meanwhile, the big house at First and Broadmoor apparently went downhill. It backs onto the hotel’s tennis courts, near its carriage-and-vintage car museum, and now the hotel wants to buy it and turn it into guest suites.

Planning a big wedding? For only a projected $8,500 a night, you can put the whole family there.

(The other weird thing was that in some photos, ECP looked a bit like my mother. If my mother had been an alternative-religion leader, she definitely would have been working positive magic for President Reagan. But in her cosmos, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer already covered that, with its standard prayer for “The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and all others in authority.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. British readers are permitted a brief titter at that name, but in Colorado Springs it has been a luxury resort since the 1880s.
2. They bought 12,000 acres and named it the Royal Teton Ranch.
3. If Dion Fortune could organized magical workings against Nazi Germany, why couldn’t CUT support the Reagan Administration? Who says occultists cannot be political?