Where Is Your Nile?

After a living room talk to a group of Anchorage Pagans about different types of nature religion, I ended up in the kitchen with a woman who was an Egyptian reconstructionist — or revivalist, as she preferred to say.

Given my concerns, my first thought was that if the ancient Egyptian sacred year was organized around the flood cycle of the Nile, what was the Alaskan equivalent? If ships of ancient Egyptians had somehow sailed into Cook Inlet, how might that landscape have changed them?

Yes, it’s true that one of my religious studies professors called me an “environmental determinist,” and he did not mean it as a compliment. But I am not the only one wondering about how one’s religious practice becomes rooted in a particular place — and how do we get back to that situation?

Dolores LaChapelle in SW Colorado

Here in Colorado, one under-appreciated writer on these topics was the mountaineer and deep ecologist Dolores LaChapelle. Earth Festivals: Seasonal celebrations for Everyone Young and Old was written in the 1970s, while her big book, Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture of the Deep — Concerning Deep Ecology and Celebrating Life came out in 19972. (Visit her Amazon page to see all her books.) Both might be called “deep green religion,” to borrow a phrase — non-theistic nature religion but still exhibiting an approach to life that I would love to see more of in contemporary Paganism.

spirit of placeAnother writer who wrote a how-to workbook on integrating spirituality with nature is Loren Cruden, whose The Spirit of Place: A Workbook with Sacred Alignment involves study and doings through the cycle of a temperate-climate year.

Neolithic Shamanism: Spirit Work in the Norse Tradition by Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova, also takes a workbook approach. I was impressed by Kaldera’s original approach in his book Urban Primitive: Paganism in the Concrete Jungle, while Krasskova has herself written widely on re-creating ancestral cults and on polytheism. neolithic shamanism

The term “Neolithic” might be off-putting for some, especially those who — following some deep ecologists, philosophers like Paul Shepard, or Pagan thinkers like Fred Adams — see it as the “Fall” from the older Paleolithic life, which was dangerous but yet more leisurely.

The “Neolithic Revolution” (agriculture, domesticating livestock) also meant bigger social groups, hierarchies (the Big Man becomes the king, and you better bow down), turning women into full-time baby-makers (More sons, bigger farm!), and an overall decline in health and physique, at least in some archaeological studies, although not everyone agrees.

But perhaps the thought is of robust peasants living in somewhat more egalitarian societies on the margins of Europe.

Rather than organizing by the calendar, Neolithic Shamanism is organized by realm: Earth, Sun, Moon, Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Craft, Air, Ancestors. Unlike the other books mentioned, this one is very much about spirit work:

We [authors] have many spirit allies; we also have plenty of experiences with spirits who weren’t interested in talking to us, or who took a firm dislike to us from the start. Remember that these are people. They aren’t human people, but they are People. Like all individuals, some will take a shine to you, and some will prefer someone else. Don’t take it personally. (Italics in the original.)

This book is densely packed, and it would take months to work through the exercises, but to do them all would change you permanently.

One question always in my mind, however, is to what extent we can impose a pantheon, so to speak, on the gods of our place. (There are at least two polytheistic theological questions in that sentence.) Do we “summon, stir, and call [them] up” or do we hang out and see who is there?

This is especially a question when in new places — new hemispheres — and there is only one piece of evidence — that I know of — in which a Pagan ancestor dealt with it.

Unfortunately for the story, almost all the Norse who visited North America during the time of the Greenland settlements (roughly 1000–1400 CE) were Christian, from Leif Erikson on down. So the episode from Erik the Red’s Saga about “Thorhall the hunter” has passed through many layers of Christian tellers and redactors, meaning that Thorhall is portrayed as an anachronism at best and a fool at worst.

To me it is a very poignant story:

They [the Norsemen] stayed there [in Vinland] that winter, which turned out to be a very severe one . . . . They ran short of food and the hunting failed . . . .Then they prayed to God to send them something to eat, but the response was not as prompt as they would have liked.

Meanwhile Thorhall the Hunter disappeared and they went out to search for him. They searched for three days; and on the fourth day Karlsefni and Bjarni found him on top of a cliff. He was staring up at the sky with eyes and mouth and nostrils agape, scratching himself and pinching himself and mumbling. They asked him what he was doing there; he replied that it was no concern of theirs, and told them not to be surprised and that he was old enough not to need them to look after him. They urged him to come back home with them, and he did.

A little later a whale was washed up and they rushed to cut it up. No one recognized what kind of a whale it was, not even Karlsefni, who was an expert on whales. The cooks boiled the meat, but when it was eaten it made them all ill.

Then Thorhall the Hunter walked over and said, “Has not Redbeard turned out to be more successful than your Christ? This was my reward for the poem I composed in honor of my patron, Thor; he has seldom failed me.”

When the others realized this they refused to use the whale meat and threw it over a cliff, and committed themselves to God’s mercy. Then a break came in the weather to allow them to go out fishing, and after that there was no scarcity of provisions.

Whether in Iceland, Greenland, or Newfoundland [?], to Thorhall it was all one realm.

Get Your Jesuses Now . . .

jesus sale. . . they will be back to the regular pricing during the pre-Christmas shopping season (Camino Real Mexican-import store, El Prado, New Mexico).

La fiesta de los zombies

What do New Mexico zombies eat? Brain tacos, of course.better off dead

  • 2 lbs. brains
  • 6–8 tortillas
  • 1 fresh tomato, sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced, shredded lettuce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Cover brains with water in saucepan, add salt and simmer 15 minutes. Drain well and mash with fork while adding seasonings. Cover and keep warm while preparing taco shells. Fill shells with brain mixture, onions, tomatoes, and shredded lettuce. Serve immediately.

The recipe is from Yolanda Ortiz y Pino’s Original Native New Mexican Cooking. Sure, she specifies “beef brains,” but we know better, don’t we.

Scholars have taken notice of the fact that “the zombie is ubiquitous in popular culture, as note Deborah Christie and Sarah Juliet Lauro, editors of Better Off Dead: The Evolution of the Zombie as Post-Human (2011), which I am just getting around to reading.

One of the contributors, Lynn Pifer, (English, Mansfield U.) notes that the George Romero-style zombie hordes have completely supplanted the old-style Haitian worker-zombie in popular culture.

Something I doubt that any of the contributors deal with is the popularity of the zombie-as-Other in the shooting sports.

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.

Missing Sekmet Statute Mystery Solved

When the statue from the Temple of Goddess Spirituality in southern Nevada disappeared last April, many Pagans wondered if it was a hate crime or what.

“It was foolish kids doing foolish things,” said Candace Ross, temple priestess.

Kids who freaked out and smashed the statue. But a new one is in place.

Is Anybody There?

Do the dead belong in the living room? More information.

Female Viking Warriors? A New Cinematic Arthur? And the Intern’s Tale

¶ Based on only six skeletons, some people are going crazy on Facebook, etc., about female Norse warriors. It’s not that simple, says someone who read the original archaeology paper. But it’s still interesting.

¶ Peg Aloi is a bit short of breath about a possible new film series on the Arthurian legend.

¶ What is it like to be an intern in a witchcraft museum? At least here is someone who knows who Cecil Williamson (Gerald Gardner’s business partner) was.

‘Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes’

sacredlands Sacred Lands and Spiritual Landscapes, papers from the spring 2013 Cherry Hill Seminary symposium, edited by Wendy Griffin, is now available for purchase from CHS.

Contents

Preface, Holli Emore

Introduction, Ronald Hutton

The Land Within, Wendy Griffin

Song of the Cattahoochee: On Being a Southern (Pagan) Witch in Atlanta’s Urban Landscape, Sara Amis

Glastonbury Syndrome: An Ecstatic Moment in Pilgrimage, Christina Beard-Moose

Born-Again Pagans: An Industrial Band Discovers Sea, Hill, and Wood, Hayes Hampton

Into the Sacred Woods: The Inner and Outer Value of a Pagan Sense of Place, Elinor Predota

Betwixt and Between the I-and-Thou, Jeffrey Albaugh

The Persistence of Romanticism in Contemporary Pagan Thought, Chas S. Clifton

My article includes comments on those by Predota, Albaugh, and Hampton, since I served as respondent to the panel session in which they were presented.

The “industrial band” was Coil, but Hampton had a little surprise awaiting him. Even though the book was produced by the Druidic house of ADF Publishing, a weird typo crept in. All of the chapter’s running heads (except two, oddly) read “Born Again Christians.”

“The return of the repressed,” he said wryly.

Printing and publishing are infested with gremlins, I always say.

Blogging Break Over, Book Stuff Ahead

I have taken a brief and unwanted break from blogging, but I hope that it is over. First the MacBook Pro that I use for writing and blogging developed a weird, possibly demonic (or daemonic) directory corruption that flummoxed even the specialists up at Voelker Research. About the same time, my desk/computer chair broke, which felt like a sign. A sign that I should just go hiking and read more novels, possibly. And ponder some vivid and meaningful dreams.

That was wonderful, but I have to give a couple of talks next week, and I needed to prepare. So there I was out on the veranda with a legal pad and a stack of books and print-outs, preparing. If I have learned anything in teaching it is that I am not as good at “winging it” as I like to think I am—unless it is a course that I have already taught ten times over.

So while I am doing that, here is an interview with Doug Ezzy about his new book, Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival.

The book is both a rich ethnographic account of controversial Pagan festival and a provocative reflection on the role of emotions, symbols, and ritual in theories of religion.  The festival involves “a recreation of the Witches’ sabbat . . .  It’s R-rated, it contains adult themes, nudity and sex references”, according to Harrison — one of the festival participants I interviewed.  The theory develops what Graham Harvey and I are calling “relational theory” in the study of religion.

It is on my reading list.

And speaking of reading, expect more book reviews here over the next few weeks.

The Spanish Piper at the Ghost Town

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

Carlos Núñez in Galicia.

I had long admired the music of the Galician piper Carlos Núñez. I bought a couple of this CDs—one of the collaborations with The Chieftains plus Os Amores Libres.

But to hear him live, that would be a big-city proposition. Maybe I would need to attend some festival in Europe.

Not true. It took just a drive through the mountains and then 25 miles of gravel road, ending at a Colorado ghost town that I never had visited (and me a native).

Up at 9,000 feet, it is summer-home territory, and the audience tilted toward hearty retirees in cargo pants and fleece vests. The later summer rains are upon us — as we crossed the Huerfano Valley, even that country looked as green as Gal-i-thia.

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The former S-Curved Bar Tavern

The venue is a ramshackle 1920s (?) dancehall and tavern — a little different from Kennedy Center, where the band will be playing later this month.

“We are so happy to be in thees . . . ghost . . . town,” Carlos said, drawing out the vowels.

And they — him, his brother Xurxo, the drummer; guitarist Pancho Álvarez; and Ontario fiddler Stephanie Cadman — launched into a hard-driving 90-minute set during which dancing in the aisles was not only encouraged, it was pretty near compulsory. (“E-stand-e up!“)

At times Xurxo’s miked bodhran was competing with a bigger drummer — thunder bouncing off the ridges of the Cumbres Range. And the wooden planks of the old dance hall bounced and thrummed.

huefano valley copy

Driving into the Huerfano Valley on the way home.

Behind the group’s appearance were the organizers of the Spanish Peaks International Celtic Music Festival, who for ten years have been bringing big names in Celtic music to southern Colorado to play in old movie theatres, ghost towns, and tiny schools.