A Billion-Candles Candlemas

By the Sun, Candlemas/Imbolc happened this evening, between 8 and 9 o’clock, Mountain Time.

And I was watching an episode of PBS’ American Experience called “The Big Burn.” Coincidence, I think not. :)

(You can find it streaming on their site.)

Ten minutes in, there must have been smoke in the room or something, because I was having trouble with my eyes.

This was my heritage as a Forest Service brat back then and as a rural volunteer firefighter today. I walked outside afterwards, Her cold white light shining through the pines, still on that knife’s edge of beauty and terror, life in the mountain West.

One of these days I will pass again through Coeur d’Alene, and I will stop at Ed Pulaski’s grave to do a full-blown Pagan/Shinto/neo-shamanic thing with incense, flowers, whiskey, and the rest.

But the way things are going, I might have to wait my turn. Firefighters, I have learned, are a ritualistic bunch.

Looking at Your Polis as a Pagan

A Wiccan email list that I am on recently went through a discussion of teaching “theology” to children. It is one of the perennial questions among contemporary Pagans: teach the kids or let them make up their own minds as adults. Surprisingly, some discussants reported that said adult children-of-Pagans regretted their parents’ hands-off approach.

Perhaps because I am allergic to the word “theology,” I want to look at a different approach. (I cannot speak as a parent, because although that was not the plan, I ended up childless. So it goes.)

Talk of theology reminds me of some of the writings of the 17th-century Puritans, like the ones who founded Massachusetts Bay Colony, who worried that their children would never have the life-changing born-again experience that their parents did in that religiously tumultuous century. And even today among evangelical Protestants, you find teens worried that they have not been authentically “born again,” and so what is wrong with them?

Paganism should spread through experience and art, not theology. The theology comes later, if it comes.

Suppose it were the autumnal equinox — not a powerfully magical time in my experience, but worth noting. Here in my part of southern Colorado, I have a choice between a winery’s harvest festival in Cañon City and Pueblo’s Chile & Frijoles festival, now twenty years old.

Yes, both are commercial creations: the Chile & Frijoles [chile peppers and beans] festival is sponsored by Loaf ‘n Jug, i.e. the Kroger grocery chain, and it was created as part of a economic development-driven rebranding of the old multi-ethnic steel mill city on the Arkansas River. And the winery wants to sell wine.

Paganism is the religion of the tribe or of the polis, and selling stuff is part of what the polis is about. (In reflection, Pueblo counts as a polis, but Cañon City is probably too small — perhaps it is part of the city-state of Pueblo. They are in the same SMA.)

Even though Wicca was designed as a small-scale mystery religion for adults only, one can also bring its outlook to the life of the city. And as Raven Kaldera and Tannin Schwartzstein write in Urban Primitive, “City spirits are, not surprisingly, quite social creatures, and they love to be acknowledged, so it’s worth your while to learn to speak to them.” You do that, they continue, at the city’s “heart” or strongest location — and, coincidentally, that might well be the place where urban festivities are held!

Get creative. What’s the Pagan take on Mike the Headless Chicken Days, held in May in the little agricultural town of Fruita, Colo.? Or Nederland, Colo.’s Frozen Dead Guy Days, coming up in the March? That one should be easy.

Imagine the kid whose mental construct of Pagan identity includes not just structured ritual but the vendors’ food stalls on Pueblo’s Riverwalk and whatever mix of norteño and classic rock is coming from the bandstand, flavored by the scent of roasting chile peppers by the truckload? Living headless chickens? Well, you have to leave some space for the uncanny.

So it’s not officially Pagan? You can still live it as Pagan.

2015 Pagan Studies Call for Papers Now Online

The Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s call for papers for the November 2015 annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion can now be viewed online.

General instructions for submitting are here. And the deadline is Monday, March 2.

What Does It Mean?

Seeing a human

How to Ruin the Mysteries, or Religion is not Moral

In retrospect, I was lucky that the high priest of my first coven (mid-1970s) was something of a scoundrel. He was always tapping people for money and favors (“Could you fix my truck’s clutch? Oh, you’re a welder? I have some projects . . .”) — all for the good of the Craft, of course.

He was convinced of his own sexual magnetism and was always coming-on to women, in addition to the fact that he and his wife (the coven HPS) were off-and-on “swingers,” as the term was then. I discovered this when I dropped by the covenstead one afternoon and found them having a slightly awkward getting-to-know you conversation with a couple they had met somehow for that purpose. Needless to say, offers were extended to my partner and me, which we did not accept.

He could play members of the coven against each other, but treated us better than “cowans,” against whom any lie or stunt was permissible. Once when an old friend of mine, a professional calligrapher, did a large piece for him in exchange for a promised piece of silver jewelry (he was also a middling silversmith), and said piece of jewelry kept receding into the future, he brushed off my questions with “He’s a cowan, he can wait.” (The guy is still waiting.)

Most of what he said about his past, training, etc. was probably 90 percent bullshit.

And there was other stuff. But — I cannot over-emphasize this — over the three years I was part of that group (before M. and I finally left over something or other), some doors to the Mysteries were opened.

Both he and she could be effective ritualists and magicians. I can recall some intensely spiritually erotic ritual, for instance, that did not involve any swapping of bodily fluids. I was introduced to the entire Craft subculture as it then existed — including some early small hotel-based “cons”— and found a psychic space that only two years before I had not dreamt existed.

So I learned something. I learned the the Craft is a mystery religion, parts of which are not for kids or public view, and that the Mysteries are not about conventional morality. From that I learnt that one can be a good high priestess, let’s say, without being “moral.”

Later, a professor of Eastern religion would explain to me that Asian religious renunciates wore red, orange, or saffron robes to warn people that they were “hot” in a spiritual sense, but also with an echo of the slang term for sexy.

Yeah, religion — the “juice,” not the social organizations — can be sexy. Hindu gurus are notorious for sexual scandals, as are some Zen teachers, Protestant ministers, Catholic priests . . . you could go on.

Morality ought to be filed under Philosophy, not Religion.

An issue that affects both new religions (like various new Paganisms) and scholars of religion is the enormous, often unrecognized, cultural meme that “religion” equals not just a type of monotheism with a Holy Book, but Protestant Christianity in particular.

When I read about a Wiccan “church” that “followed a Christian format, complete with sermons and congregants sitting in rows, and its High Priestess wore a clerical collar similar to what Christian priests and ministers wear,”  I thought, there it is again, the dead hand of Protestantism on the back of your neck.

When a prominent Pagan writer publicized how she had flounced out of a forty-year-old Wiccan organization because it would not issue a statement on her favorite political issue, I thought of religion scholar Russ McCutcheon’s writing about the naive presumption that “religion equals morality [with] a responsibility for securing the fate of the nation-state or cooking up some therapeutic recipe for attaining self-knowledge or happiness’ (from Critics not Caretakers).

Whatever it is that makes the Craft special, I cannot think of a better way to kill it. Is there a little bit of a split here between those who lean, for instance, toward the approach of Apocalyptic Witchcraft and those who apparently would rather be social workers with pentagrams?

Those who seek the Mysteries, be they in the name of Dionysus, Nyx, Odin, Hecate, or whomever, have to understand that the Mysteries come without an official Book of Instructions.

I know, everything is connected and the personal is political. But does turning your position as, let us say, high priestess into a podium for pronouncing ex officio on this political issue or that one lead to a hollowing out of the magical self?

Or if religion is not about morality, then what does your religious position matter?

Icelanders Building Formal Pagan Temple

An Icelandic Pagan group will begin construction next month on a temple in the capital of Reykjavík, after beginning the planning process eight years ago.

Plans to begin construction of a pagan temple in Öskjuhlíð hill, Reykjavík, have been set in motion. This will be the first pagan temple to be built in the Nordic countries in nearly a thousand years, said the alsherjargoði Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, head priest of the Icelandic Ásatrúarfélag, in an interview with RÚV [text and video in Icelandic].

The Ásatrúarfélag applied for a plot of land to construct a temple in 2006 and was allotted a piece of land in Öskuhlíð in 2008. The 350 square metres (3767 sq ft) temple will have a vaulted ceiling and seat around 250 people. Its construction will be completed next year.

Interestingly — or oddly — it will sit on top of several tanks built to hold geothermal water, so heating won’t be a problem.

Starting 2015 with Giant Geoglyphs

The White Horse of Uffington (Google Earth)

Making large ceremonial marks on the land is an ancient practice. Here are examples from Peru, Chile, England, Brazil, Russia, the Arabian peninsula, and the United States

The Archdruid Santa?

scary santa

He will be coming down the chimney with his golden sickle ready. I hope you’ve been good.

Source.

Solstice at Britain’s Newest Long Barrow

BBC

BBC

How will the archaeologists of the future explain how barrow (also known as as tumulus) building stopped in the Neolithic — and then resumed, 5,500 years later?

We know this one was built on a solar alignment, because the BBC tells us so.

See the barrow under construction here. And yes, dead people.

Saturnalia with the Romans

io-saturnalia

We are in the midst of Saturnalia, so consider this article by Classics scholar Mary Beard on “Five Things the Romans Did at Christmas.”

The headline was just to grab you, because she begins, “OK, the Romans didn’t actually have Christmas. And even Christian Romans didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday on 25 December until at least the fourth century AD. ”

Another sample:

A few Roman writers enter into the spirit of the occasion. Catullus, for example, called it “the best of days”. But mostly they were supercilious lot, complaining about the forced jollity and the forced shut-down (just like me . . .!). The philosopher Seneca tut-tuts about all the dissipation and fact that you can’t get any public business done.

I don’t put myself in the same class as Seneca (or Mary Beard), but I will probably be thinking on Thursday that I should go pick up the mail at our little post office . . .

Read the rest. And also what happens when she “takes the show on the road,” so to speak.