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.

“It’s Only a Tree. It Can’t Hurt You!”

Plus “You’ve been watching too much television” and other undying lines from a “teens in peril” screenplay.

So who is  the writer? That well-known Wiccan author Stewart Farrar (1916–2000), slipping a little bit of a Craft-y message into this 1975 episode of a British show called Shadows. (A tip of the pointy hat to Veles at Adventures in Witchery for leading me to it.)

From the 1950s to the late 1970s, when he turned more toward writing purely Wiccan books in collaboration with his wife Janet, Stewart Farrar put his hand to everything: occult thrillers, magazine journalism, television screenplays — even a pseudononymous bodice-ripper romance, just to see if he could do it. His novel The Sword of Orley remains one of my favorite examples of how reincarnational memories ought to be, if only life were more like books.

I got to know Stewart around 1977, and at some point suggested to him that Dion Fortune’s book of short stores about an English magus, The Secrets of Doctor Taverner, ought to transfer well to “the box,” as he called it.

He went so far as to investigate who held the copyright — which was her esoteric order, The Fraternity of the Inner Light, and its directors apparently had no interest in licensing a television adaptation.

A pity — they would have made a perfect 1970s TV show, when occult topics were in vogue.

A Top Nazi’s Library, “Violent” Heathens, and a Middle Eastern “Old Religion”

himmler and hitler

Heinrich Himmler (front, leather coat) chats with der Führer.

According to the Daily Mail (dial skepticism appropriately) a collection of occult books1)Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle. owned by Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler has been found in the Czech Republic.

The bulk of the collection was called the ‘Witches Library’ and concentrated on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany.

One of Himmler’s quack theories was that the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the German race through witch hunts.

UPDATE, March 31, 2016: The Wild Hunt reports that the news story quoted above resulted from a misunderstanding, and that there were no “occult books,” just some Masonic books.

• At Religion Dispatches, thoughts on how the History Channel series The Vikings both “subverts and supports the violent heathen trope” (my italics).

In one scene, the Christian Prince Aethelwulf, who earlier in the series said that “it is just not possible to imagine a world in which there is both one god and several,” unleashed genocidal fury on a settlement of unarmed, pagan [sic], Viking2)“Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice. farmers who had been promised protection by the king. Yet,3)No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it! the show includes vestiges of the violent heathen trope that’s been a staple of how dominant religious groups have portrayed minority religious groups throughout history.

• According to this article, some Kurds, who are various in conflict with Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Iranians, are going back to the Old Religion, that of Zoroaster. (It has hung in some places all these centuries since the Arab Muslims rolled over Persia in the 8th century.)

The small, ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is being revived in northern Iraq. Followers say locals should join because it’s a truly Kurdish belief. Others say the revival is a reaction to extremist Islam.

One of the smallest and oldest religions in the world is experiencing a revival in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The religion has deep Kurdish roots – it was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives. However this century it is estimated that there are only around 190,000 believers in the world – as Islam became the dominant religion in the region during the 7th century, Zoroastrianism more or less disappeared.

So does this count as a “Native Faith” movement, like Rodnoverie, etc., but not polytheistic?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle.
2. “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice.
3. No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it!

Pagans Rebuild after the Sockeye Fire

As a volunteer firefighter who also has had to evacuate myself three times in ten years because of forest fires, I am pretty accustomed to media coverage of such catastrophic events.

This one from Channel 2 in Anchorage is pretty normal : “One thing left standing after Willow wildfire: an outhouse.” And yet it is about a Pagan retreat center. So the “news” to me is that this particular loss and rebuilding is treated as unexceptional, and the Pagans come across as everyday Alaskans, not as weirdos.

About that outhouse — maybe it survived because it was geometrically simple and did not catch embers. Or maybe the fire just swirled around it.

TV Pagans Looking Good – or at Least Better

From the abstract to Robert A. Saunder’s paper “Primetime Paganism: Popular-Culture Representations of Europhilic Polytheism in Game of Thrones and Vikings,” reprinted at Medievalists.net, in which he argues two points:

First, that traditional filmic treatments of pagans [sic] qua villains is shifting, with contemporary popular culture allowing for more nuanced framing of Western forms of polytheism. Secondly, that such popular-culture representations of paganism have direct impact on certain contemporary Pagans’ personal spiritual paths by promoting and influencing the “invention of tradition” among a population which manifests non-traditional religious identities.

Read the rest.

‘Weird Tales,’ Hex Signs, and Folklore

Joe Laycock examined the mythologies behind True Detective. (I have not seen it, being much the same situation as Jason Pitzl-Waters.)

Religion scholar Philip Jenkins has suggested these two sources—contemporary Satanic Panic and the “weird tales” of pulp horror—are connected. He suggests that it was the weird tales authors of the 1920s, notably Lovecraft and Herbert Gorman, who first introduced the idea of secret, murderous cults into the American consciousness.

¶ Those so-called “hex signs” on Pennsylvania Dutch barns? They have little to do with witches and magic, notes librarian of esotericsm Dan Harms in a book review.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

¶ Speaking of folklore, Ethan Doyle White notes a free online special issue of the journal Folklore, focusing on folklore and Paganism. Lots of good material there.

The Scary Countryside 2: Children of the Stones

The original “Scary Countryside” post.

Uncial script means “old and spooky.”

As mentioned above, “the scary countryside” is a staple meme of television and movies on both side of the pond, but in the UK there is the additional refinement of “the scary countryside where people practice strange and ancient rites.”

That does not work as well in North America unless you set your TV show in Awatowi, which is not going to happen soon.

So M. and I are enjoying a little “back to the Seventies” moment, watching the British TV series Children of the Stones, which so far might be described as The Prisoner meets The Wicker Man meets Groundhog Day. Or something like that.

To quote its Wikipedia entry,

Filmed at Avebury, Wiltshire during Summer 1976, with interior scenes filmed at HTV’s Bristol studios, it was an unusually atmospheric production with sinister, discordant wailing voices heightening the tension on the incidental music. The music was composed by Sidney Sager who used the Ambrosian Singers to chant in accordance with the megalithic rituals referred to in the story.Director Peter Graham Scott was surprised on seeing the script that the series was intended for children’s airtime due to the complexities of the plot and disturbing nature of the series. The series is frequently cited by those who remember it as one of the scariest things they saw as children.

Sounds good to me. More episodes await. If Netflix had existed in the late 1970s, this would have been on the coven viewing list, I am sure.

1971: Witches in Bellbottoms, Talking Heads

Here is a 1971 documentary from the BBC that is supposed to be about witches. But at the time it was made, no one was making much effort to sort out the new Pagan Witches, anthropological and folkloric witches, and Satanic witches of the Church of Satan variety. So what you get is all of them! Plus talking heads — academics, clergy, exorcists . . .

Like so many of the paperback “I go among the witches” books of the time, the filmmakers interview a few of the most public Pagans, such as Doreen Valiente (who should get equal billing with Gerald Gardner in creating Wicca), Alex and Maxine Sanders, and others. But they quickly run out of interview subjects — there were not too many in Britain back then — so they start skipping around: a famous murder case with a possible (folk) witchcraft connection, desecration of graveyards, the evil grip of Satanism, and so forth, to fill up their 49 minutes.

I write about this period in Chapter 4 of Her Hidden Children: “The Playboy and the Witch: Wicca and Popular Culture.” Looking at a number of paperback books on the American scene, I created a rough spreadsheet of places visited and people interviewed. It was interesting how much overlap there was. There seemed to be a “witchcraft trail” that the writers followed — you could imagine it starting at the Warlock Shop/Magical Child store in New York City and ending at Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey’s house in San Francisco.

What is missing at this moment from the outsiders’ view is an overall sense of the new Paganism, at least until Hans Holzer’s 1972 book, The New Pagans. Even the participants themselves were just coming to the view that Wiccans, for instance, might share a Pagan outlook with Druids — the new Druids, that is. We often forget how deliberately isolated those covens were (“We can’t circle with Coven XYZ because it would mean sharing our secrets!” Really, I heard stuff like that in the 1970s.)

Serious academic study of the new Paganism(s) would not really get rolling until the 1980s. For instance, during the 1970s Robert Ellwood, Jr. at the University of Southern California was writing Alternative Altars: Unconventional and Eastern Spirituality in America (1979), which would offer some theoretical models applicable to the new Paganism, but he did not incorporate it into his discussion in that book.

Welcome, visitors from The Wild Hunt. Look around a bit.

(Thanks to Renna in Denver for the link.)

Ghost Girls: Witchcrap or Pop Occulture Fun?

My old friend Oberon Zell of the Church of All Worlds is backing this show because he designed some jewelry for the characters.

A Facebook commenter calls the show “the kind of CRAP our spiritual community has had to put up with for decades!”

According to the projected TV series’ website,

Janet, Crystle, and Tawnya are three attractive girls that share a close-knit sisterhood with a decidedly macabre twist. The girls were drawn together by their penchant for the unusual, supernatural – all having supernatural abilities themselves, which set them apart from the rest of the ordinary world. The “Ghost Girls” enclave is based at a haunted old Victorian house in Southern California.

And the editor in me is screaming, “How do you base an enclave?” The “girls” themselves might be based in a haunted et cetera.  Hello, dictionary please. But with all the hours of cable programming to fill, someone will probably pick it up.

Consider it another link in the evolution of the “Hollywood Witch.”

 

PLTV — New Pagan Video Podcasting

Todd Berntson’s Pagan Living TV video podcast has launched with a news-magazine format.

Production values are a lot higher than in some Pagan video podcasts I have seen, although it’s still just talking heads in the studio at this point. At least there is a studio, not a sheet tacked to the wall. Visit the website.