Chaos Magic Goes Mainstream

Peter Carroll, call your office.
I was checking someone on the University of North Texas website today while working on a future Pomegranate article, clicked by chance on the student login page of its website — and this graphic appeared.

Denton, Texas, is a hotbed of chaos magicians? Or is it just the UNT website design office? Someone expects that students will (kind of, sort of) recognize that term?

No One Can Cancel Your Paganism

M. made these smudge sticks — from Artemisia sage, not Salvia sage, because we live in the Mountain West. In English, the verb “to smudge” goes back to the 1400s, at least.

I am handing the microphone today to Tom Swiss and his excellent “Smoking Out the Pagan Gatekeepers” post at his blog The Zen Pagan.

He begins,

In some of my recent internet interactions, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern of young people feeling that they need to ask permission to be Pagan.

To some extent this seems to be connected to the bogus ideas of “closed practices” and “cultural appropriation” (one of our favorite topics here at TZP, cough). Rather than the freedom to worship and practice as we are called (subject to the usual “your right to swing your fist ends at my face” considerations), certain social currents have these new Pagans afraid they will step on a cancel culture minefield and be publicly shamed in the permanent record.

You may have heard of overharvest on species of genus Salvia sage for the smudge stick market. Swiss links to an article about that. That is true, it happens, but you can smudge with all sorts of things. I came up with the acrid smell of genus Artemisia sagebrush; various junipers also work well, because they are oily. Use what you got — all Paganism is local.[1]Or you may also hear, “All sorcery is local.” “All magic is local.” Same thing, basically.

“The gods decide who to work with,” Swiss writes. I totally agree. No Intenet busybody can stand between Pagan X and Deity Y. If the god/dess does not like what you are doing, you will most likely just get sort Inner Planes busy signal. No harm, no foul. You are unlikely to be hurled into the 32nd dimension, and your little dog too

And just to reinforce what he says about the antiquity of the verb “to smudge” in the English language, I offer this from the Online Etymology Dictionary.[2]I love etymology.

early 15c., smogen “to soil, stain, blacken,” of obscure origin. Meaning “to rub out or in” is by 1865. Related: Smudged; smudging. The noun meaning “a dirty mark or stain, spot, smear” is attested by 1768, from the verb.

The smudge meaning “make a smoky fire” is by 1860, also of unknown origin, but perhaps related. According to OED now dialectal and North American. OED also gives it in an earlier, obsolete sense of “to cure (herring) by smoking” (1590s).

The related noun smudge is attested by 1767 as “a suffocating smoke” (to repel mosquitoes, etc.); from 1806 as “heap of combustibles ignited and emitting dense smoke.” Hence smudge-pot (1903). Smudge-stick as a Native American (Crow tribe) artifact is by 1908

It only gets tricky if you claim to have human teachers whom you did not, or to have be blessed by a group that you do not belong to.

If anyone critiques your personal practice (as opposed to setting yourself up as an authority), tell them to go sit on a non-psychoactive cactus.

Notes

Notes
1 Or you may also hear, “All sorcery is local.” “All magic is local.” Same thing, basically.
2 I love etymology.

Talking about Robert Eggers’ “The Northman”

In the spring of 2018, M. and I were preparing for a week in Salem, Mass., so we watched several movies about Salem, witch trials, etc. One of them was The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers.

At the time, I had more to say about Three Sovereigns for Sarah, but I will admit that visually and experientially, The Witch stayed with me longer.

Now Eggers is back with a new “Viking blockbuster,” The Northman, and people are talking about it.

At Amor et Mortem, Anna Uroševic starts her review,

You know that a newly released film has made quite an impact on you when, hours after you’ve left the theater, you obsessively muse upon its indelible imagery and the effect of the moviegoing experience is all you seem capable of discussing with family and friends. In fact, you’re filled with missionary-level zeal in urging people you care about to go see the film as a matter of vital importance. . . .

The plot of The Northman is very straightforward, as no-nonsense as a spear hurtling towards your face (and we see plenty of those in this film): loosely based on the tale of Amleth as recorded in the 12th-century Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, it’s a revenge narrative of a young Scandinavian prince looking to kill his uncle, the man responsible for the treacherous act of fratricide/regicide by killing the prince’s father, the rightful king.

Pagan historian Tom Rowsell was dubious at first after movies, TV series, and games created what he calls “a wave of Viking invasions of popular media, many of which, including History Channel’s Vikings series and the Assassins creed Valhalla video game, copy the ‘biker Viking aesthetic.'”

But his blog post “The Northman: Pagan Themes Explained” sings The Northman’s praises after studying its Pagan elements, even while still faulting its color scheme:

I consider this to be the best Viking film ever made and I expect it will be remembered as such for some time. But while I had hoped this would mark the long awaited end of the biker Viking-age aesthetic which has so permeated popular culture over the last decade, its tawdry mark can still be detected. Not so much in the costumes, but more in regards to the colour palette and score – the former consists of the rather familiar Hollywood medieval drabness with which historical dramas consistently deny the era’s vibrance. The score, while competently composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, and effective in keeping the adrenaline pumping while the blood flows across the screen, will date the film since it owes much to the recently invented percussion driven fusion of neo-folk, world-music and martial-industrial that has become the stereotypical “le Viking music” of our time. Widely perceived as authentic because it uses medieval instruments, the combination of far flung elements such as didgeridoos, Siberian drums and Mongolian throat singing would have been as unfamiliar to Vikings as it was to anyone before the likes of Hagalaz Runedance and Wardruna invented it some 20 years ago.

These are, however, minor quibbles with an expertly crafted film which is well cast, with actors pulling off some phenomenal performances (Nicole Kidman deserves particular praise for her role as the detestable Queen Gudrún). Eggers is certainly among the greatest filmmakers of his generation and regardless of how well The Northman performs at the box office . . .  it will be remembered as a cult classic of cinema history.

At the British newspaper The Guardian, TV-film critic Steve Rose’s whiskers are quivering over the possibility that The Wrong People might like the The Northman too much — but then here is someone who thinks that Jane Austen’s novels credibly could be used as  vehicles of far-right propaganda. The costuming of the leading characteer, Skarsgård, reminds Rose uncomfortably of Jake Angeli, the “QAnon shaman,” who had his fifteen minutes of fame on Jan. 6, 2021. Like we should ban wolf pelts forever. But he admits that The Northman is a “piece of rousing, skilfully made entertainment,” even while spending 90 percent of his review on Those People and what they might be thinking.

As another blogger wrote, it  “takes Heathen cosmology and religion seriously [which] is just a breath of fresh air.”

Little Bulgarian Girls Can Chase Demons Too

A photographer goes to a village in Bulgaria to photograph the Kukeri ritual, a “druidic-oriented ritual,” which “many consider being one of the only remaining practiced pagan rituals in Europe today.”

OK, so he creates images, not history of religion — and the images are great. And he juices it up with a “girlpower” narrative too.

“Cracow Monsters” Is Just “Weak Horror,” Says Polish Professor

Cracow Monsters is a Netflix series about “a young woman haunted by her past [who] joins a mysterious professor and his group of gifted students who investigate paranormal activity — and fight demons.”

Can you say “TV trope“?  I knew you could. Maybe “Cool teacher” or possibly “More than just a teacher,” which may in fact include demon-slaying.

Comes now[1]https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html Andrzej Szyjewski, professor of religious studies at Jagiellonian University, which has been doing business in Cracow/Kraków since 1364, as they calculate it, back when demonology was an academic discipline.

He does not approve of the way that the series treats Slavic supernaturals or his university and city.

The viewers are subjected to a whole series of disgusting and terrifying characters of various origins. It quickly becomes obvious that even Trentowski’s inventive vocabulary and imagination is not sufficient enough to describe the mix of entities gathered under the banner of supposedly Slavic mythology. The screenplay incorporates ideas from other, more contemporary Native Slavic faith believers (Rodnovery) and New Age workshops. For instance, in episode four, Chworz summons a creature called Spas. He is, in essence, a personification of certain holidays, described by Ukrainian Rodnovery volkhv (wisewoman) Halina Lozko, which the series depicts as something similar to Ded Moroz, who in turn can be likened to Santa Claus. Over the course of the series, Spas, carrying a staff decorated with hanging dolls, busies himself with freezing and then hanging people who failed to give him a present. The ‘Slavic Grinch’ meets his end when Alex electrocutes him with a high voltage wire. It therefore seems that the screenwriter didn’t bother to carry out at least a minimum amount of research when it came to the most key aspect of the show. She didn’t know that the name ‘Spas’, coming from the word spasitel, which means ‘saviour’ and denotes Christ, is unsuitable for a pre-Christian demon. . . .

Even when the screenwriter bases the story around concepts introduced by [19th-century writer Bronislaw] Trentowski, she seems not to understand them and misrepresent them, either knowingly or unknowingly. The best example of this is using the neologism bo?yca, which Trentowski means as ‘knowledge of gods and religion’, to signify a kind of protective spirit, a radiant entity guarding the main protagonist. She also calls it an Aitvara, which indeed denoted a guardian spirit, but one that watched over homesteads, not individuals. Aitvaras were reptilian in shape, brought wealth and prosperity, and were absolutely not exclusive to high priests and priestesses.

And futhermore:

One of the series’ strongest points could be its setting: Kraków, a city famous for its rich legendary and historical symbolism. Unfortunately, Kraków also becomes a fantastical amalgamation of real and fictitious places (such as Wanda Mound). Judging from the places visited by the protagonists during their chase after the zapadliska, they can magically jump from one side of the Vistula to the other every few seconds. The viewers will also get the impression that all classes at the Jagiellonian University are conducted solely in Collegium Novum, the administrative centre of the University. Because of this, the eponymous Kraków becomes a simulacrum just as much as the ‘Slavic beliefs’. The most convincing idea related to Kraków in the series is the issue of the curse: the city is unable to develop properly, trapped in a hollow, drowned in smog and ravaged by extreme weather. In the series, Kraków becomes something akin to London, either shrouded in fog or beaten by rain. In this regard, the screenplay rises to the challenge.

Unlike Ukrainian soldiers, I had to pay retail and wait a few months for delivery, but this looks like my temporary Starlink set-up, right down to the bricks.

I probably could not last through all two seasons, but now that I have Starlink and can stream easily to my isolated forest hideout, I am tempted to give it a look all the same, bearing Prof. Szyjewski’s cautions in mind.

(Thanks for the link to my co-editor in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan book series, Scott Simpson, who also teaches at Jagiellonian University and is the reason why I know anything at all about it. Trust me, he is “more than just a teacher.”)

 

 

Notes

Notes
1 https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html

Free Book Reviews from Latest Pomegranate

As ever, book reviews in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies are open-access free downloads. Here are links to the four in this issue.[1]I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

The King in Orange: The Magical and Occult Roots of Political Power by John Michael Greer, reviewed by Chas S. Clifton. Download PDF here.

Greer, a Druid leader, and writier on ecology, spirituality, and the future of industrial society, here confronts class issues in America and their political ramifications, as well as some Big Ideas about historical cycles. Did Kek and Pepe the Frog magically help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump? And what was magically incompetent about the post-election “Resistance”?

Quebec’s Distinct Paganism: A Study on the Impact of Language, Culture, and History in the Development of Contemporary Paganism in Quebec by Marisol Charbonneau, reviewed by Helen A. Berger. Download PDF here.

“One of a growing genre of books and articles that explore the particularities of contemporary Paganism in a specific geographical place. Composed of two distinct linguistic communities, Quebec offers what sociologists call a natural experiment: two different groups in the same place that have different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. This existent distinction between groups permits Charbonneau to explore the question of how much language and cultural differences influence the practice of those who become contemporary Pagans”

Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America, by Barbara Alice Mann, reviewed by Sarah Dees. Download PDF here.

“Barbara Alice Mann contributes to discussions of Indigenous worldviews, mapping what she describes as the “twinned cosmos” comprised of complementary blood and breath energies throughout Turtle Island or North America. Taking a comparative approach, Mann examines the interconnection between blood and breath spirits and energies as they have manifested in multiple communities.”

The Imagination of Plants:  A Book of Botanical Mythology by Matthew Hall, reviewed by Michael D. J. Bintley. Download PDF here.

“A  generously illustrated treasure trove of plant mythology selected from across world from ancient times to the present. This is not all; the backbone of the book is formed by a series of discursive essays in which Hall identifies thematic links between his selections, and makes a series of interventions that will be of equal interest to specialist and general readers alike.

“Passages are drawn from editions easily accessible to readers for further reading, and range from the mythologies of European Antiquity to the Vedas, the Popol Vuh, and more recently recorded indigenous wisdom of (for example) Australia, New Zealand, and North America. Without simply listing the range of people and places covered in the book, it is fair to say that Hall’s collection is generally representative, rather than exhaustive, in its coverage of plants in the global imaginary”

To submit a book for review or to beome a reviewer yourself, please contact Christopher Chase, Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University.

Notes

Notes
1 I receive a small commission on Amazon sales, which helps to pay for this website.

CFP: Pagan Studies Conference at Masaryk University

Paganism and its Others

13-14 June 2022

Masaryk University, Faculty of Arts, Brno, Czechia

The Department for the Study of Religions at Masaryk University invites your participation in a conference on the overall theme of “Paganism and its Others” to be held in Brno, Czechia, 13-14 June, 2022, with in-person participation encouraged but online presentations also acceptable.

Although relating to the religions of ancient times, the contemporary Pagan movements are part of our shared modern world, bringing up many challenges and opportunities in interactions with their Others. It is precisely these interactions and their implications that we would like to explore at this conference.

The topics we seek to cover include (but are not limited to) these:

Paganism, its Others and the war in Ukraine: targeted to the theme of Pagans and their perception of the war in Ukraine. How do different Pagan groups interpret the war in Ukraine? How did the war change the relationship between Pagans in Ukraine and in Russia? Do Pagans actively participate in the war (e.g. in the army)? How do Pagans across Europe perceive refugees from Ukraine? Do Pagans help refugees?

Paganism in relation to Christianity: this could concern the contemporary situation or past Pagan-Christian relations; Pagan views of Christians, past or present; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence with Christianity in contemporary Christian-dominant societies; Pagan acceptance or rejection of Christian elements in Pagan religions; attitudes toward Christian “converts” to Paganism.

Paganism in relation to other minority religions: this could also involve contemporary situation or past history; Pagan views of Jews, Muslims, Eastern religions, New Age movements; strategies of Pagan groups for coexistence, collaboration or competition with other minority religions

Paganism and its internal Others: splits in Pagan groups based on personal or doctrinal differences; successful and unsuccessful strategies to deal with such splits

Paganism and its Sexual and Gender Others: analysis of Pagan responses to increasingly prominent issues of sexual and gender diversity; whether Pagan groups are seeking to be more inclusive of homosexuals, transgendered individuals and others, or excluding them; how Pagan “traditionalists” interpret sexual and gender diversity

Paganism and its Ethnic Others: with most Pagan movements grounded in pre-Christian European religious traditions with primarily “white” European identity and membership, how do Pagans relate to people who are ethnically different in their societies, such as Roma, Africans, Asians? Are Pagans moving to include, exclude or ignore people with such identities in their Pagan associations? Are new interpretations of Pagan traditions developing to enable inclusion of ethnically different persons, or are ethnic borders hardening? Are Pagans supportive of policies and programs to help disadvantaged others such as Roma? Have any Pagan movements developed charity programs to assist such persons and groups?

Paganism and its Scholars: Reflections on the fieldwork and scientific research of Modern Paganism; researcher-researched dynamics, methodologies, theoretical frameworks, advances and problems in Pagan Studies; Pagan Studies in relation to other fields of study.

See Abstract submission & Registration for more information. Both passive and active attendance is free of charge

Organizing bodies: Department for the Study of Religions, Faculty of Arts, Masaryk University

Organizing committee:

Dr. Michael Francis Strmiska (Global Studies Department, SUNY-Orange in New York State, United States)

Dr. Miroslav Vrzal (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Matouš Vencálek (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

Michal Puchovský (Department for the Study of Religions, Masaryk University, Czechia)

A Very Good History of the Vikings

It’s an academic truism that historians and archaeologists do not play well together. Historians like texts. Archaeologists like artifacts. Each profession favors its own methodology.

But there are execeptions. An archaeologist friend wrote to me last year recommending Neil Price’s Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings. Price, who teaches at Uppsala University in Sweden, blends the strands masterfully, along with some climatology, religious studies, and geography.

Why did the “Viking Age,” roughly the 8th through 11th centuries happen as it did? I have seen some people blame population growth – Scandinavia had excess people, and they had to go somewhere.

Wrong. The volcanic “Finbul Winter” — I wrote about it here — cut the Scandinavian population in half in the 530s. It was a terrible time for the Norse, the End of Civilization as They Knew It. An Iron Age version of Mad Max. Whatever the earlier cultures had been — and they included Bronze Age boat trips to Western Europe — this was literally the post-apocalypic version.

The ones who survived probably did so by forming warbands for mutual defense. There is no way that by the mid-700s there were too many people for the land.

So what grew up next were many small chieftaindoms. Pirate kings, you might say. And there was also a shortage of marriagable women, something like we see in China today after decades of the One-Child Policy and selective abortion in favor of boys.

The Big Men could have more than one wife; the poor boys were out of luck. So what is a poor boy to do? Join the jarl’s raiding crew and if lucky come back with lots of loot to impress the girl next door — and meantime, bring back a sex slave too. (So what if she only speaks Old Irish; she is not there for her conversational skills.)

Coupled with [conflict between petty kingdoms] were social pressures—the effects of polygyny creating an underclass of young men disenfranchised by the laws of inheritance and with minimal marriage prospects. A summer or two of maritime violence offered the potential for life-altering change in many directions. Lastly, there was the traditional Scandinavian worldview itself, and its weaponised expression in an assault on the Christian cultures that really were bent on its destruction (274–75).

Although it was left out of the History Channel Vikings series, the slave trade was big for them in both Western and Eastern Europe. So was fighting as mercenaries.

But there is more to Price’s big book that that. With chapters like “The Performance of Power,” “Meeting the Others,” and “Dealing with the Dead,” readers get more than raiders, kings, long ships and mead halls.

It was through the medium of sorcery, not cult, the most of the conversations with the powers were conducted. . . . At its simplest, sorcery was a means, or a method, a set of mechanisms by which people tried to influence or compel the Others to do their biding. In the Viking Age, this was a field of behaviour that lay within the real of ordinary communities rather than any kind of priestly or royal officialdom (221).

There are fascinating calculations, such as it would have taken three to four person-years to prepare the woolen yard and weave the main sail for one Vikig ship. “We might realistically speak of a year’s constant work for about thirty people to fully equip a ship and crew (387).” (Slaves probably did a lot of it, Price suggests.)  Or the wool of two million sheep annually for the sailcloth of the warships, cargo vessels, and fishing boats of Norway and Denmark.

A coin of the Viking-founded city of Kyiv (urkraine.ua).

He gives the East equal space with Western Europe (and North America) and the Mediterranean. I started this book in late February and, trying to take my mind off the news, flipped it open only to read, “According to the Primary Chronicle [Kyiv] was founded by one Oleg (Helgi), a Scandinavian relative of Rurik, who expanded the Rus’ territories along the [Dniepr] river and needed a more southerly base (426).”

That trident (tryzub) insignia you see on Ukrainian aircraft, etc. comes from the Rurik dynasty. In other words, it’s Viking.

The Viking Age, Price writes, “was a time of horrifying violence and equally awful structures of institutionalised, patriarchal oppression. . . . also a period of social innovation, a vivid and multi-cultural time, with considerable tolerance of radical ideas and foreign fairths.”

Their most respected values were ot only those forged in war but also — stated outright in poetry — a depth of wisdom, generosity, and flection. Above all, a subtlety, a certain play of mind, combined with a resilient refusal to give up.

There are worse ways to be remembered (504).

New Pomegranate Published — New Editor Joins

Caroline Tully, U. of Melbourne, Australia

A new issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies has been published online.

The special double issue on the theme of Pagans, museums, and heritage organizations was guest-edited by Pomegranate’s new associate editor, Caroline Tully.

She is an archaeologist at the University of Melbourne, Australia and the author of The Cultic Life of Trees in the Prehistoric Aegean, Levant, Egypt and Cyprus and many academic and popular articles. Caroline is an expert on Egyptomania and the religion of Minoan Crete. Her interests include ancient Mediterranean religions, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema and contemporary Paganisms, particularly Witchcraft and Pagan Reconstructionism. Caroline has curated exhibitions of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman antiquities, and regularly presents lectures and workshops on ancient religion and magic.

Caroline also guest-edited the “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” (vol.22, no. 2) special issue in 2020.

I will make some posts about individual articles, but here are the contents pages. Book reviews are free downloads. Articles can be downloaded for a price — or talk to your friendly librarian.

Starring Ava Gardner as the Faery Queen

Ava Gardner, 1950s.

Ava Gardner (1922–1990) was one of the most famous American film stars of the late 1940s through the 1960s, probably best known for The Night of the Iguana (1964). She had moved to London 1968, which might be why she was cast in a movie that, given my interests, I am surprised to have never heard of: Tam Lin, also known as The Devil’s Widow.  (Link to YouTube.)

“Tam Lin,”  Child Ballad 39[1]Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected. is a traditional song about a young man who takes up with the Queen of Faery and his mortal girlfriend, “fair Janet,” who fights for his return, intercepting the fairies’ ride on Halloween and pitting her love against their magic:

They’ll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an esk and adder;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, I am your bairn’s father.

They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, As ye shall love your child.

Again they’ll turn me in your arms To a red het gaud of airn;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, I’ll do to you nae harm.

A Musical Interlude

Here is a stripped-down version from Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, performing in Toronto in 2013:

Here is the great German neofolk band Faun’s version, in German with English subtitles, featuring an actual hurdy-gurdy for that 16th-century “big band” sound.

“Tam Lin,” the Movie

I like the poster for the Spanish-language version best.

At the northern Colorado covenstead in the late 1970s, Pentangle was one of the bands whose albums were on constant rotation.[2]The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.

You will hear their version of “Tam Lin” in the 1970 movie Tam Lin (also titled The Ballad of Tam Lin or in one version, The Devil’s Widow). It starred Ava Garder (47 or 48 at the time) as Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret”; Ian McShane, 27, as “Tom Lynn,” her current boy-toy — one of a very long series — and Stephanie Beacham, 22, as Janet.

Plus a large cast of long-haired bellbottoms-wearing young people as the equivalent of the Fairy Crew, both a pleasure-seeking “light” version and a more violent “dark” contingent. The director was Roddy McDowell, better-known for his roles in the Planet of the Apes series.

I will return the question of disparate ages later.

You can think of this lot as the “light” fairies.

The Gentry Doing Weird Things in the Big House

Isn’t that the favorite trope of British horror films? The action may start in the city, as does Tam Lin, but the real weirdness is at the country estate where the lord/lady of the manor is a secret Satanist, Pagan, sex magician, Reptilian, whatever. One of my favorites is The Lair of the White Worm (1988), but there are So Many Others.

Tam and Mickey in happier times.

In this movie, once Tam Lin is at the big house, events pretty well follow the ballad’s narrative, with new characters added. He meets Janet (the vicar’s daughter) at Carterhaugh. Sex ensues. She becomes pregnant. He wants to leave his older mistress — but she is not going to make it easy for him, not at all.

The “Carter” Confusion

As an American, I did not have a map of the Scottish Lowlands in my head. When I read the lyrics for the electric-folk band Steeleye Span’s version of “Tam Lin” (Steeleye Span was also in heavy rotation at the covenstead in those days.), they said,

Oh, I forbid you maidens all
That wear gold in your hair
To come or go by Carter Hall
For young Tam Lin is there[3]Tam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.

But “Carter Hall”? To me, that was a brand of pipe tobacco that I saw on store shelves, named for a plantation in northern Virginia.[4]For the record, my Clifton ancestors apparently got off the boat in Surry County Virginia, on the James River, and did not own anything that qualifies as a “hall.”  That is in America, not Scotland, but maybe there was another? (Not according to Google.)

Originally,  the encounter between Tam Lin and Janet occurrs at Carterhaugh, which is a real place on the Scottish border — the name designates a farm and a woodland

Some Scots speakers have a way of dropping final “L” sounds, so “ball” becomes “ba,”  for example, and thus “Carter Hall” and “Carterhaugh” would sound about the same. So some English folksinger could hear “Carterhaugh” and think that “Carter Hall” was the “correct” wording.  The so-called correction introduced a new scribal error. This happens more than you realize.

As the Tam Lin ballad website says on its “Carterhaugh” page, “The town [Selkirk] itself doesn’t have much in the way of tourist industry aimed at Tam Lin fans.”

Older Woman, Younger Man, Younger Woman

The older woman-younger man-younger woman dramatic triangle pops up all the time. In a pre-pubescent version, it is the core of Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Snow Queen,” published in 1844.

I read that as a kid and totally got it “wrong.” I wanted little Kai to live with the Snow Queen. She was magnetic and amazing, and who was pious little Greta coming to drag him away?

And Ava Gardner? In 1966, three years before she made Tam Lin, she tried for the part of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, in which “a disillusioned college graduate [Dustin Hoffman] finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.”

But Anne Bancroft, 35 at the time, got the part. Katharine Ross, 26, played the daughter. Yeah, do the math. Anne Bancroft was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman. Weirdly, The Graduate is described as a “romantic comedy” but also as “the 17th greatest American film of all time.”

Nevertheless, the message from pop culture, whether ballad or film, is the same: “Youth must triumph.” But older lovers have some power too, particularly if they are supernatural figures.

The Wisdom of Traditional Ballads

When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I had a friend named Michael. A decade earlier, Michael had run a small speciality store downtown (before Pearl Street became a pedestrian mall) with another guy whom I will call W.

It seems that W. was in a relationship with an older woman. This woman had an 18-year-old daughter. W., being young and horny, went to bed with the daughter too.

When the mother found out, this did not turn into a porn-movie scenario. Oh no, this was real life.

In Michael’s words, the term “went ballistic” failed to describe the mother’s reaction.

It sounds like the closing verses of one version of the ballad “Tam Lin,” in fact:

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she:
“Shame betide her ill-far’d face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight
In a’ my companie.”
“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” she says,
‘What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree.”

Notes

Notes
1 Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected.
2 The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.
3 Tam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.
4 For the record, my Clifton ancestors apparently got off the boat in Surry County Virginia, on the James River, and did not own anything that qualifies as a “hall.”