The Woman Who Invented the Minor Arcana

Reading a new article on Pamela Coleman Smith, the artist responsible for what is often called the “Waite deck” among Tarot users, this popped out at me:

Tarot has been around since early 15th-century Italy, spun off from traditional playing cards. The 78 cards are split into two groups called the Major and Minor Arcana. The Major Arcana features allegorical characters like the moon, sun, the fool and the lovers, while the Minor Arcana is divided into numbered and face cards in four suits: wands, swords, cups and pentacles. While prior decks were less pictorial in nature, Smith’s is filled with lush imagery that makes their interpretation easier for the reader.

Smith’s Two of Swords (Yale University Library).

“He was the one who instigated the deck, there’s no doubt about that,” [curator Barbara] Haskell[1]Smith’s work appears in At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth Century American Modernism at the Whitney Museum in New York.said. “And he probably had quite a bit of input into the Major Arcana.”

Although Waite may have directed the concepts for those 22 cards, the imagery was all Smith’s own. And since Waite was less interested in the Minor Arcana, which comprises 56 cards and were often more simplistic graphics like playing cards, those ideas were “totally hers,” according to Haskell. Smith completed the 78 images from her Chelsea studio in London, using ink and watercolor.

Smith’s influences for the imagery included the indulgent ink illustrations by English artist Aubrey Beardsley, the luminous paintings of the Pre-Raphaelites, the saturated color blocking of traditional Japanese woodblock prints, and the ornamental details of Art Nouveau, according to Haskell.

Had she received a percentage instead of a fixed fee for her work, she (or her heirs) might have  made quite a lot, but she took the ready money, as so often creators must.

Notes

Notes
1 Smith’s work appears in At the Dawn of a New Age: Early Twentieth Century American Modernism at the Whitney Museum in New York.

Witchcraft, Paganism, and Detective Fiction

Jen Bloofield’s Witchcraft and Paganism in Midcentury Women’s Detective Fiction is avallable as a free PDF download from Cambridge University Press through 7 July 2022, if I understand correctly. Paperback copies are US $20.

From the publisher:

Witchcraft and paganism exert an insistent pressure from the margins of midcentury British detective fiction. Gladys Mitchell’s Come Away, Death is dedicated to ‘Evelyn Gabriel, whom Artemis bless and Demeter nourish; upon whom Phoebus Apollo shine’.Ngaio Marsh’s Off With His Head revolves around a folk dance when ritual words are muttered and a murder is committed. Margery Allingham’s Look to the Lady depicts the spontaneous rebirth of witchcraft in the depths of the English countryside. The theme appears across the work of multiple writers, going beyond chance occurrence to constitute an ongoing concern in the fiction of the period. This Element investigates the appearance of witchcraft and paganism in the novels of four of the most popular female detective authors of the British mid twentieth century. I approach the theme of witchcraft and paganism not simply as a matter of content, but also as an influence which shapes the narrative and its possibilities. The ‘witchy’ detective novel brings together the conventions of Golden Age fiction with the images and enchantments of witchcraft and paganism to produce a hitherto unstudied mode of detective fiction in the midcentury.

How Smokey Bear Would Celebrate the Summer Solstice

It’s a bonfire at mid-June, but a couple of things are a little off.

Flames leapt into the June sky, illuminating the attentive faces of the surroundng watchers, while waves of heat rolled off the fire. Around us was darkness, mountains, and forest.

I was thirsty, so I walked over the cooler to get some water. On the way back, my boot felt loose, so I put it up on the front pumper of Engine 968 to re-lace it.

“It’s a great bonfire,” I thought. “Too bad it’s ten days early.” This was the night of June 11, 2022, and the solstice will come at 3:14 a.m. local (Mountain) time on the 21st.

I live in a Colorado county where evangelical Protestanism is the dominant faith, although there are others, and all the local political races are settled in the Republican primary.[1]As an unaffiliated voter, I can vote in either major party’s primary, so this year I voted as an imaginary Republican, since the alternative is to have no candidates at all. But since I was here, I tried a Wiccan reading of the event: The fire was lit, and people assembled. (That perhaps is backwards from normal practice.) We cast the circle — not drawing it with a sword but digging it with pulaskis, MacLeods, and combi tools.

A spcialized circle-casting tool based on the Army M1088A1 5-ton  6×6 tractor.

Then we marked it in fire —two people circled the perimeter with drip torches to make sure eveyrhing burned

And in water. Another celebrant drove deosil around the circle in a Type 4 wildland engine, spraying a “wet line.”

No salt though.

Pagan-studies scholar Helen Berger recently wrote a summer solstice-themed article for The Conversation (“Academic rigor, journalistic flair”) titled “Wiccan celebration of summer solstice is a reminder that change, as expressed in nature, is inevitable.

All sabbats begin by creating sacred space, mostly outdoors when the weather permits. This is done by those leading the ritual walking around an area, chanting as a form of prayer and sprinkling the area with water and salt, which are believed to be spiritually cleansing.

And it occurs to me that a hypothecal Smokey Bear coven could do a heckuva circle-casting just with what is carried on the trucks. How about a ring of Class A foam?

After all, Smokey Bear is a face of the Great Bear, one of the oldest religions of all. The somewhat Pagan-ish American Buddhist philosopher and poet Gary Snyder composed a sutra for Smokey [the] Bear in 1969. Here it is with some commentary that he wrote in 2005, published in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.

In the sutra, I see Smokey as the incarnation of the ancient brown bear of the North and of [the Japanese mountain bodhisattva] Fudo at the same time. But, of course, the Forest Service didn’t know anything about all those associations and reverberations. That was part of the fun of it all, turning the establishment’s imagery on its head.

You read this far and you are still wondering about the fire? The larger fire department in my county and the smaller one to which I belong are operating under a temporary “automatic mutual aid” plan for wildfires because it is so dry now. If a fire pops up in their service area or ours, the other department is dispatched too.

This was in their area: it took our two engines an hour just to drive there.

In this case, a member of one of the well-established ranching families, stewards of the land, etc etc., had piled up an acre of “slash” — stumps, tree trunks, limbs and so onefrom logging or fire mitigation (ironic) or whatever. All nicely dry.

Then he (or his hired hand) decided to burn some other trash adjacent to it. “We don’t need no steenkeeng permit.”  And the first fire ignited the slash pile.
The flames were visible for miles, and they sure lit up local Facebook pages as well. It was like a small lumberyard on fire — there was no way we had enough water to put it out, so we just made it burn more completely. One lucky engine crew (not mine) got to stay all night to monitor it.

Notes

Notes
1 As an unaffiliated voter, I can vote in either major party’s primary, so this year I voted as an imaginary Republican, since the alternative is to have no candidates at all.

Who Were the People of Stonehenge?

The British Museum is hosting a big exibition on the Neolithic context of Stonehenge, and obviously I cannot go.[1]“Neolithic” basically means stone tools + settled towns + agriculture + domesticated animals + pottery + some degree of social hierarchy. This what they said about it:

The image of Stonehenge is so iconic that if you were to close your eyes right now, you’d likely have a pretty accurate image of the monument in your mind. However, if you were asked to imagine the people who built and lived with the monument, you’d probably struggle a little more. So to help with that, curators Jennifer Wexler and Neil Wilkin have decided to take you on a tour of their British Museum exhibition The world of Stonehenge, to introduce to some of incredible people that built and lived around the time of the monument.

You’ll see some of the best gold work humans have ever created, some of the best stone work humans have ever created, as well as a pretty decent 1.7 kilometre wooden footpath created to cross an inconvenient marsh (trust us, the Sweet Track is awesome). And overall you should come away with a better understanding of who the people of Stonehenge really were, what they thought about the world, and why they built big stone circles.

“One of the frustrating things about this period is that the peope at this tim don’t represent themselves in artwork, at least in any way that we can recognize. So instead, we need to look at what they were doing. And one thing they were doing, in abundance, was making and using stone axes,” notes one of the narrators.

This was the period of hauling huge stones and carrying tens of thousands of baskets of earth to build artificial mounds such as Glastonbury Tor. Who organized all this? How were people motivated? Were there serious penalties if you did not show up with your basket? Why did peope often live in multi-family longhouses? Sometimes, it all seems rather ant-like to me. For 94 generations.

Yet obviously erecting big timbers and later stones was tremendously important. Farmers did not need to know the sky that closely — farmers go by local cues — “When the leaves on [tree] are as big as a mouse’s ear, it is safe to plant,” that kind of thing

Searching “World of Stonehenge” at YouTube.com will bring up more videos.

Notes

Notes
1 “Neolithic” basically means stone tools + settled towns + agriculture + domesticated animals + pottery + some degree of social hierarchy.

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.