Why Is the Hippo Goddess Holding a Bull by a Chain in the Northern Sky?

Here is the ancient Egyptian depiction of the Big Dipper, seen here in the shape of a bull’s leg. It includes seven stars and is tied to a stake by a goddess in hippo form (right). The Big Dipper is considered the manifestation of the evil god Seth, who murdered his brother Osiris. The goddess prevents Seth from reaching Osiris in the underworld — a myth made possible because the constellation never dips below the horizon. (Image: © Ahmed Amin)

This carving comes from a Greco-Roman-era Egyptian temple in Esna,where decorated walls are being carefully cleaned and original colors seen again.

As workers in Egypt remove soot and dirt from the temple, sometimes with a mixture of alcohol and distilled water, the original painted carvings and hieroglyphics beneath are so vibrant, “it looks like it was painted yesterday,” project leader Christian Leitz, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told Live Science. “But we are not repainting anything, we are just removing the soot.”

So what is Taweret, the Hippo Goddess, doing? She is holding onto a chain attached the Bull’s Leg, one Egyptian name for the north polar constellation called Ursa Major or the Big Dipper—and as explained in the caption above, she is keeping evil at bay.

This constellation has also been called The Plough or Charles’ Wain (Wagon), and that Charles would be Charlemagne (748–814) the Frankish emperor sometimes called the “Father of Europe” but who also ordered the killing of thousands of Pagans (mostly Saxons) who resisted his missionaries.

It is called “the Wagon” in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer’s time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum “freight-wagon, ox cart” and arctos “bear,

At the time the carving was created, the Dipper/Plough/Wagon/Bull’s Leg/Seven Oxen never dipped below the horizon, as seen by Mediterranean viewers, so it never entered the Underworld. “The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes).”

For more photos of the temple, see this article:

It is made out of sandstone with 24 columns supporting the roof and 18 free-standing columns with colorful plant decorations. The experts believe that the temple was decorated for up to 200 years. Its ceiling is especially exceptional for its astronomical and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The inscriptions are also evidence of religious beliefs and cult movements at the time.

Very nice, but I prefer to think back to when Thuban was the pole star. Now those were shining times! It has all been downhill since.

How Makers and Creators Might Price Their Work

King of Cups Tarot Card

Aquarian Tarot, David Palladini, 1979.

When I graduated from college, I owned three Tarot decks: the Rider-Waite/Pamela Coleman Smith deck (of course), the Marseilles deck (for history), and David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot (well, it fit my personal aesthetic at the time).

This is fun, I thought, I should collect more Tarot decks.

And then the Tarot market exploded with publishers like Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, US Games, and a bunch of others coming out with Tarot or Tarot-inspired divination decks. I would have needed another bedroom — and a lot of money — to create the collection.

But it’s all good. In the last year I’ve contributed to crowd-funding for two: the American Renaissance deck, which is still in the works, and the Mushroom Tarot.

A Tarot cloth promoting the Mushroom Tarot.

One of the premiums from the Mushroom Tarot was a bandana — or Tarot cloth —  with the slogan, “In the Name of the Hyphae, the Spore, and the Holy Host.” That may go instead nto my mushrooom-hunting gear. Watch for it on the other blog next August.

So people are making their own decks, and that is wonderful, but how do you decide the production numbers and how to do you price them?

For that you should read “Show Me the Numbers: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing of a Tarot/Oracle Deck,” by Benebell Wen. There is a video and additional text, and I think this difficult topic needs text! It’s not the fun, creative part, but it is essential to think about. (And I guess you need merch like T-shirts and Tarot cloths too.)

Kind of related: Kristen Blizzard, a Colorado foraging-and-cooking blogger, and her husband recently finished a book, Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide.

They were working with a publisher — they weren’t book authors, yet.

Ultimately we decided to jump in blind and figure it out because… mushrooms! Writing a book was never something either of us longed to put on our resumes, yet in the long run I’m glad we did.

So there was research and cooking and writing and photography. You may have taken hundreds of photos for your blog, but food photography is a speciality — she has advice on that too. Pricing and press runs will be someone else’s decision though.

New: the “Rejected Religion” Podcast

Stephanie Shea

The number of high-quality Pagan and esoteric podcasts continues to grow, and I am listing some in the right-hand column.

Today’s add is Rejected Religion, created by Stephanie Shea. She writes,

I hold a Research Master in Religious Studies from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My resesarch interests are located in the areas of Western esotericism, and emergent identity groups. During the course of my studies, I realized that there was a gap between the plethora of information being produced by academics and the mainstream public. This platform acts as a bridge, with the goal to bring these two spheres closer together by offering podcast interviews, YouTube videos, blog posts, book reviews, plus a wide array of information that focuses on the ways that ‘the esoteric’ is found within popular culture. My motto is “illuminating the obscure”  — I strive to provide a historical viewpoint that aims to share information and to highlight misconceptions surrounding all things ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ in an engaging and entertaining way — no stuffy, boring lectures, but instead, down-to-earth discussions about topics that are often vague and therefore misunderstood

If you do not see the blog-and-podcast roll to the right, that is because you are not on the home page. Click the banner at the top — or here — to go there.

“Childish and Credulous Fantasy”: How the BBC Viewed Witchcraft in 1962

Cecil Williamson, left, and BBC interviewer Alan Whicker (BBC).

Pop over to the BBC archive to watch presenter llan Whicker pontificate about witchcraft in a short television segment from Hallowee 1962.

Among other non-information, Whicker trots out the bogus “nine million witches executed” figure from the Renaissance and Early Modern witch trials.

He also interviews Cecil Williamson, Gerald Gardner’s original business partner in the Isle of Man witchcraft museum, whose opening, I suspect, had much to do with the formal creation of Wicca.

William, meanwhile, announces his official “witch ratio”: 1 witch to 53,000 population. Now you know.

The Witch’s Hat: Where Did It Come From?

Abby Cox tracks the history of the black, conical, flat-brimmed hat with a deteour into eighteenth-century dressmaking and other things: “Swedish witches are defnitely cottagecore witches, and I’m here for that.” If you are in a hurry and wish to skip patriarchy, etc., start at the 11-minute mark.

Not discussed: handfuls of the “witchy aesthetic” derive from the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939). It’s amazing how many people think that its costuming and makeup (green skin, striped socks) represent some kind of Historical Truth.

The “eighteenth-century” part is because she spent years as a dressmaker and interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. She is not a historian of witchcraft, but she does make an interesting argument from a fashion viewpoint, Written as an article, this video could have fit into the last issue of The Pomegranate, which was devoted to Pagan art and fashion.

She is not saying that Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends, founded as a radical religious group in the late 1600s ) were seriously mistaken for satanic witches.[1]Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times. She is saying that the Quakers’ “look,” one that emphasized out-of-date fashions for women in particular — “fifty years out of date” — might have influenced the way that witches were portrayed in 18th, 19th, and 20th century popular art. (She dates the first graphic appearance to 1720 — see 27:40 in the video.)

There is no particular dress style associated with the actual women (and men) who were persecuated as witches in the 1400s–1600s. They wore whatever people wore in their time and place.

Notes

1 Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times.

Salem Museum Gives In, Exhibits 1692 Witch-Trial Materials

Samuel Sewall, a witch trial judge, painted by John Smibert (Peabody Essex Museum).

In 2017, Donna Seger, a history professor at Salem State University (Massachusetts) wrote an open letter to the leadership of the Peabody Essex Museum, a big, rich institution in downtown Salem that along with being a major art museum, controls (and usually hides) the town’s historical archives.

Her letter stated,

Please reconsider your decision to remove Salem’s historical archives from Salem.

I consider the Peabody Essex Museum to be an extraordinary asset to our city, fostering engagement, awareness, and edification. Furthermore, I understand that in order for it to flourish, it had to become greater than the sum of its two parts: the former Peabody Museum and Essex Institute. Yet those two institutions, the products of the fruits and labors of generations of Salem residents, created a foundation on which the PEM was built: a strong foundation that is acknowledged in the museum’s mission statement, which asserts its 1799 foundation and status as “America’s oldest continuously operating museum”. There are no explicit references to history in this statement, but it is implicit everywhere, especially in the aim to transform people’s lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of themselves and the wider world. A key path towards self-knowledge and knowledge in general is historical understanding, which is grounded in historical archives full of people as well as papers.

Shortly before that, the travel writer J. W. Ocker[1]Say it with a long O, like “oak-er” wrote in his highly entertaining book A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusettsthat the Peabody Essex, “the oldest continually operating museum in America,” was well, sort of embarassed by its local-history collection, including the surviving documents from the 1692 witch trials.

“We don’t talk about Salem, we talk about the world,” the PEM’s chief marketing officer told Ocker. “The October [witchy] crowd, they don’t go to art museums.[2]I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October. . . . . We are a museum of art and culture, not a museum of social history.”[3]J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Somoone must have suffered a change of mind though, because the Peabody Essex is offering a new exhibit through April 4: “The Salem Witch Trials, 1692.

Follow the links there and you will find more, such as a podcast on the trials’ legacy.

Join [Dinah Cardin] and Chip Van Dyke, your hosts of the PEMcast, as we go beyond the often-told story of the Salem witch trials to give you a deeper understanding of what happened. We’ll explore what life was truly like in a 17th-century home, go to key sites around the city and even find ourselves on a hilltop in Maine. A selection of the largest collection of Salem witch trial documents goes on view at PEM on September 26, with the opening of The Salem Witch Trials 1692. Visitors can also see, from PEM’s collection, possessions related to the judges, and the 25 innocent people tragically died.

Watch it if you can’t visit the exhibit, and be glad that perhaps peace has been made between the high art-focused museum leadership and the events three hundred twenty-eight years ago that remain spirituall potent today.

Notes

1 Say it with a long O, like “oak-er”
2 I think that M. and I proved him wrong, although admittedly we did not visit in October.
3 J. W. Ocker, i Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts (New York: The Countryman Press, 2016), 78–79.

Conference on Current Pagan Studies Seeks Presenters

Last year I had the honor to give a keynote address at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies in Claremont, California. Last year’s conference involved a train trip. This year, like everything else, it’s virtual. Dates are January 16–17, 2021. The keynote speakers are scholar Michael York  and writer and Heathen leader Diana Paxon. I expect that virtual-attendance details and pricing will be announced later.

From program manager Jeffrey Albaugh:

This upcoming meeting of the Conference on Current Pagan Studies, now in its 17th year, will take place in a virtual setting. While the restrictions that keep Pagan studies scholars from gathering together physically are necessary to check the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, these restrictions offer us a unique opportunity to gather utilizing the digital magic of the internet, and opens the conference up to individuals that may not otherwise attend or present.

This year’s conference theme concerns “Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change,” and the online nature of the 2021 Conference on Current Pagan Studies is an aspect of the adaptations all of us are making within our practices of Contemporary Paganisms and Witchcrafts.

Here is this year’s Call for Papers:

Like a living organism, historic and contemporary Paganisms adapt to shifts in the environment, the swelling and shrinking of populations, or the migration of peoples across the landscape. History, practices, belief, even the masks worn by the divine, dance to the music of change, revealing and vanishing within the ka- leidoscope of human experience.

Contemporary Pagans look toward the traditions of the past, observing the ways that we have traveled from some distant place and time, and using the tra- jectory of those journeys to chart paths forward into the future. Many of these “old ways” may be deemed worthy, and others may be found wanting and in- compatible to modern sensibilities. What do we keep? What do we discard? What do we transform? Who do we become?

How do the conditions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic change the content and shape of contemporary Paganisms? How does social distancing practices strengthen or weaken coming together in community, the teaching of magical practices, and the continuation of the various traditions of Witchcraft, Wicca, Reconstructionist, and other practices?

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies is looking for papers that explore these possibilities. How will we endure the extremities of change and find new ways of being in a brave new world? From this point in the here and now, how do we demonstrate respect to those who have gone before, and how will we create a heathy and sustainable future for those who will follow?

The Conference on Current Pagan Studies invites papers that explore this theme from historical, creative, psychological, spiritual and other points of view. We are looking for  papers from all disciplines, because a community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc. As usual we are using the word “Pagan” in its most in- clusive form, covering Pagans, Wiccans, Witches and the numerous hybrids that have sprung up as well as any indigenous groups that feel akin to or want to be in conversation with Contemporary Pagans.

Abstracts should be no longer than 300 words and are due by October 31, 2020. Go to our website  for advice on presenting papers. Please email abstracts to pagan_conference@yahoo.com.

How the Irish Invented Halloween (But Americans Saved It)

Friend-of-this-blog Jenny Butler (University College Cork) leads off this RTE video on “How the Irish really invented Halloween.” (You can watch a larger version at the link.)

Also, divination with snails.

Call for Papers: Pagans and Museums

Ray Buckland (1934–2017) at the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio, which began with his personal collection (From the museum’s Instagram feed).

NOTE UPDATED DEADLINES AT BOTTOM

Museums and contemporary Paganism are inextricably linked. Gerald Gardner, founder of modern pagan witchcraft, first publicized Wicca in 1951 at Cecil Williamson’s Folklore Centre of Superstition and Witchcraft at Castletown (later The Museum of Magic and Witchcraft) on the Isle of Man. Some of his correspondence suggests that the first formal Wiccan coven might have been created partially to provide provenance for the museum’s exhibits.

Sold to Gardner in 1954, the museum housed his collections and was the base from which he promoted modern witchcraft and published Witchcraft Today. Inherited by his high priestess Monique Wilson after his death in 1964, the museum continued for almost a decade before Wilson sold the 10,000-piece collection to Ripley’s Believe it or Not Ltd in 1973. Tamarra and Richard James of the Wiccan Church of Canada purchased much of Gardner’s collection from Ripley’s in 1987. Cecil Williamson, meanwhile, had attempted to establish a new witchcraft museum on the UK mainland at various locations, eventually settling at Boscastle in Cornwall in 1960. Williamson’s Museum of Witchcraft was sold to Graham King in 1996; and has been under the direction of Simon Costin as The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic since 2013.

A number of small museums today focus on contemporary and historical witchcraft and magic: The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cleveland, Ohio was founded by Raymond Buckland, one of the first Gardnerian Wiccans in America. Others include the Witch History Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; The Hexenmuseum Schweiz in Gränichen, Switzerland; Strandagaldur, The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft; the Museo de las Brujas in Zugarramurdi, Spain; and HEX! Museum of Witch Hunt in Ribe, Denmark.

Temporary exhibitions of objects belonging to the “mother of modern witchcraft,” Doreen Valiente, were held in Brighton, UK, in 2016; the Academy of Arcana in Santa Cruz, California, ran for two years between 2015–2017; and objects loaned from The Museum of Witchcraft and Magic to The Last Tuesday Society & The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities in London were displayed in 2018. There are also museums dedicated to stage magic such as the American Museum of Magic in Michigan; the International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts in Las Vegas; The Magic Circle Museum in London; and the Musée de la Magie in Paris.

Exhibitions of objects pertaining to Paganism, witchcraft. and magic also feature in large “universal” museums, galleries, and libraries. Occult walking tours of London include the British Museum; the “Witches and Wicked Bodies” exhibition was held by the National Galleries of Scotland in association with the British Museum between 2013–2015; the British Library presented the exhibition “Harry Potter: A History of Magic” in 2017; which was followed by “Spellbound: Magic, Ritual and Witchcraft” at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 2018. In 2019 “Second Sight: Witchcraft, Ritual, Power” was held at the University of Queensland Art Museum in Australia; and “Waking the Witch” at the Bonington Gallery at the University of Nottingham. Most recently (2019–2020), the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery held “Do You Believe in Magic?”

Beyond Wicca, museums have played important parts in other magical and Pagan revivals. The late nineteenth and early twentieth-century members of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn sought to commune with the collections of large public museums such as the British Museum and the Louvre. Today, ancient Pagan objects are often the focus of quiet reverence by contemporary Pagans in museums, although in early 2020 the Witches of New York conducted a vocal “pop up” ritual to the goddess Hekate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. British Druids have been active participants in the controversy over the storage and repatriation of human remains held in museums; Pagans hold rituals at prehistoric archaeological sites which can be considered outdoor museums; and go on Goddess tours to experience sites and museums in locations such as Ireland, Crete, Malta and Turkey. “Witch City,” Salem, Mass., is a tourist/pilgrimage destination where public witchiness is encouraged; the Witch House is used as a backdrop for evocative Instagram photos and offerings are left at the Witch Trials Memorial.

In contrast, Salem’s Essex Peabody Museum is often ignored, although perhaps not for much longer with an exhibition on the Salem Witch Trials scheduled for September 26, 2020 to April 4, 2021.

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies invites submissions of articles (5000–8000 words) for a special issue on Pagans and Museums, edited by Caroline Tully, University of Melbourne, Australia.

How and why do contemporary Pagans engage with museums today?

Possible topics include

  1. The role of elite museums in the creation of contemporary Paganisms
  2. The role of small museums: e.g., the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic; the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft; Salem witch museums
  3. Pagan perceptions regarding the agency and enchantment of museum objects
  4. Material and sensory aspects of Pagan experience within museums
  5. Pagan use of museums and preserved historic or archaeological sites for religious purposes: e.g., the replica Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee
  6. Pagans and Witch Trials Memorials: e.g., Bålberget Memorial, Sweden; Steilneset Memorial, Norway; Paisley Witches Memorial, Scotland; the Salem Witch Trials Memorial
  7. Pagan attempts to change the narrative in museums, including efforts at removing ancient human remains from display, for example, the efforts of the Honouring the Ancient Dead movement in the UK
  8. Memorializing contemporary Pagan history: e.g., the Doreen Valiente Foundation

Abstracts due 31 December 2020. If accepted, final papers due 31 March 2021.

For information on the submission process see this link.

Please note that The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies uses the University of Chicago Press notes-and-bibliography citation style.