From Viking Re-enactor to Practitioner

A still from the BBC video, linked below.

At the BBC, a short video with a man who started doing re-enactments and ended up adopting Norse religion.

Fighting with the Wuffa Viking and Saxon Re-enactment Society, he did not expect that his hobby of more than three years would help him find his own belief through Norse mythology.

“What it is about the Norse gods is they teach you to respect nature and the world and that’s how the world should be run, not like in the modern day,” said Mr Mehmed, who is also known as Magnus Shield-Breaker.

It is a different sort of re-enactment, but in America, Wicca is more or less the “house religion” of the Renaissance Faire circuit, or so says Rachel Lee Rubin in her history of Renn Faires, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture.

The Most Paleo-Pagan Tale Ever Told?

Thanks to the Witches’ Voice Facebook page and other sources, I have been hearing about an ancient Australian story, of “an ancestral creator-being transformed into the fiery volcano, Budj Bim. Almost 40,000 years later, new scientific evidence suggests this long-shared legend of the Dreaming could be much more than a myth.”

New mineral-dating measurements conducted by Australian scientists highlight the possibility that the traditional telling of Budj Bim’s origins may be an actual account of two historic volcanic eruptions that took place in the region about 37,000 years ago – which, if true, might make this the oldest story ever told on Earth.

Pretty impressive. Read the whole thing here.

“Folkloric” Pagan Statues Spark a Confrontation in Poland

Folkloric statue (Notes from Poland).

The news article, “Locals demand removal of “demonic, pagan” sculptures on tourist folklore trail in Poland,” starts this way:

A small community in northern Poland is embroiled in a dispute over 13 wooden sculptures of spirits based on local folklore, pitting Catholics warning of “demonic idolatry” conservatives against officials seeking to promote tourism. Some of the statues are set to be removed as a result.

I am happy to see that the reporter quoted Scott Simpson, my colleague in Pagan studies who co-edits Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies publishing series.

Scott Simpson, a lecturer in religious studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and expert on Polish paganism, told Notes from Poland that “the 13 figures have been selected because they are very local. They belong to stories collected in that area, ethnographically, as an expression of local pride”.

“Amongst the voices complaining about the removal, there are people interested in local folklore,” with no strong religious motivations, added Simpson. Yet “other people amongst them would be Contemporary Pagans, who are religiously offended by the things being taken down.”

Contemporary Pagans in Poland are small in number but “relatively visible, for example, in the folk music scene,” according to Simpson. In Poland, there may be “in the order of 2,500 very active participants in Slavic Native Faith (Rodzimowierstwo)” and a “much broader range of people” who sometimes participate.

“They do not like to see their local folklore removed, which is to them sacred,” said Simpson. And they worry about “seeing that some religions can be put up on a pedestal, but the folk religion is sent away to be put in a museum,” as the local parish priest suggested

So will folkloric tourism win over theology? Does tourism favor Pagans (it certainly does in some places)? If I learn more, I will post it.

“The Witches of Manitou”—More than an Urban Legend

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, ( a former newspaper co-worker of mine) from the Colorado Sun. Click to embiggen.

The Colorado Sun, an online news site, dropped this into my inbox yesterday, giving M. and me both giggles and epic nostalgia. Back in the Eighties, we were “The Witches of Manitou” — at least two of them.

“The Witches of Manitou Springs: History, hysteria and wand-waving Wiccans behind a stubborn urban myth” was co-authored by , and

It begins,

Manitou Springs, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak, is full of whispers of witches and witchcraft.

Maybe you’ve heard it from an Uber driver on the way to an area bar or while scrolling through a travel site. It’s a tale that often wanders through word of mouth. Wherever it comes from, legend has it there are witches in Manitou Springs. More, perhaps, than usual.

But is there an overabundance of witches in this town at the foot of America’s mountain, where at least one apothecary sells miniature broomsticks — or is it just a persistent urban legend?

That much is true. It definitely is a persistent urban legend — I encountered it in my more youthful days, circa 1976. Everybody had heard of ceremonies in “the big cave.”1)Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.

There’s the horror mockumentary, “The Warning,” a film by Summer Moore, a Liberty High School graduate turned filmmaker. Filmed in Colorado Springs, “The Blair Witch Project”-inspired script follows three friends as they investigate a local cult in the forest that borders the town.

While promoting her film in 2015, Moore told The Gazette she spoke with 50 of her classmates who alluded to “true accounts” of dark happenings in Manitou. Moore went on to write, produce, and star in her film. . . .

When Bryant T. Ragan, a history professor at Colorado College, was teaching a class at Colorado College in 2018 titled “Sorcery, Magic, and Devilry: The History of Witchcraft,” he wanted to bring in a practicing Wiccan from Manitou Springs to talk to his students. He ultimately couldn’t track down someone willing to do it

Read the whole thing.


Obviously a must-see. How did I miss it? (The cave in the movie trailer is not the cave that I mentioned above.)

I can say that for a time there was the Iron Mountain Coven, named for the little peak above our house, labeled at the left edge of the photo above.

We used both the second-floor of the Spa Building (labeled) and the basement of an art gallery for ritual/festival/handfasting sites. At the time, a Pagan-friendly couple operated a hot tub and flotation tank-rental business in the Spa Building, which included a large room facing out over the avenue. When ritual ended, the tubs were waiting.2)There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

But I disagree with the Rev. Thorian Shadowalker, Wiccan leader. Salem, Mass., is the “witch capital of the U.S.” as far as I am concerned.

M. worked at Celebration, the West Side (Colorado Springs) metaphysical store mentioned in the article, for a couple of years. Its original owner, Coreen Toll, later served on the Manitou Springs city council and narrowly lost a race for mayor in 2015.

Current mayor John Graham, when he published the Pikes Peak Journal, let me use his equipment to typeset Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which was an ancestor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. John is not a Pagan, but he facilitated Pagan publishing.

So where did the “witches of Manitou” legend originate? Since it was firmly in place by the mid-1970s, it would be easy to blame it on “the Sixties.” To be honest, I cannot say. I do know that our coven was not the first.

To quote a story about the iconic Manitou artist Charles Rockey, who was our own Van Gogh, “Manitou Springs has always harbored a sizeable community of artisans, musicians, potters, healers, New Age masseurs, alternative gardeners, dharma motorcyclists, metaphysical high-techers and liberal-artsy bohemians of every stripe and hue.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
2. There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

The Spirits in the Archives

Snagged off Twitter this morning:

It’s all true. One of these days, one of my favorite archivists might have a tale to share.

And for my librarian friends: if you work at a college or university and have to teach first-year students how to use the library, can you explain that they will be working with spirits?

New Pagan, Paranormal Podcasts Added to the Blogroll

The trees have eyes.

You can buy this artwork in various forms at Strange Familiars’  Patreon site.

Readers, I have reworked the blogroll (right-hand column) to create a new “Podcast” category.

If you are looking at a single post, the blogroll might not display for you. In that case, click the main blog title or the banner photo at the top to switch to the main page.

I had few podcasts mixed in the blogs, but I am listening to more now, and I decided that they deserved their own category.

For instance, I mentioned Strange Familiars recently in my post, “Don’t Follow the Lights across the Moor, said the Monk.” Apparently that episode — with host Timothy Renner interviewing Br. Richard Hendrick about fairies, ghosts, and poltergeists — was their highest-rated ever.

Weird Studies is another solid favorite. Co-host Phil Ford is a musicologist at Indiana University. Who knew you could do such strange and edgy stuff under the roof of the School of Music? About every other time that I listen to Phil and his co-host, J. F. Martel, I have to visit the library.

Some of these podcasts are easily downloaded from their home sites, plus you can get them on Google Play, Apple Podcast, and usually various other podcast sites. I use Apple gear, but I don’t like Apple Podcast very much and prefer to download individual episodes to iTunes.

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 4: Albrecht Auditorium

Jeffrey Albaugh drawing a winning raffle ticket for something from Equinox Publishing.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

Part 2: Holing up in Claremont

Part 3: Harper Hall

I titled this post because my friend Jeffrey Albaugh, one of the conference organizers, more than once admitted that he just loved saying “Albrecht Auditorium.” It’s a German given name and surname and also connects to “Alberich,” the dwarf who guards a treasure in Wagner’s operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

On the opening day, Saturday, January 25th, I admit that among the various talks on dealing with bad changes — extinctions, elections, end times— the one talk that really stuck with me was Murtagh anDoile’s “With a Whimper, not a Bang: The ‘Death’ of Pagan and Magical Traditions.” It put me in mind of a talk that I had with my friend Evan John Jones (English witch, member of Robert Cochrane’s coven in the mid-1960s), who said that on his death, all his Craft-related papers were supposed to be burnt.

From my vantage point, a very long way away, I do not know what happened. As a writer, John left behind at least some records that deserve to be archived. Maybe not everything, but some things.

This is not the Pagan studies conference (photo: Claremont Graduate University).

At any rate, the Albrecht Auditorium is an up-to-date lecture hall at Claremont Graduate University, with lots of elbow room, AC and USB chargers at every seat, and other good stuff. So when I finally had to stand up and fill an hour on the history of Pagan studies and some things that I would like to see more covered in the future, it was a pleasure to be in that room.

It was a good conference where you could hear thoughtful Pagans discuss our response to some of the Big Issues — and like all conferences, the best parts were in the restaurants and bars afterwards! But about about 6:30 on Sunday evening I had to pry myself from the big table at Packing House Wines (in the same complex as Augie’s Coffee, where my Claremont visit began) and accept a ride from a conference-goer who was headed east through San Bernardino anyway.

The train rolled in on time. I had booked a roomette (sleeper) because I knew I would be tired. I dropped my bags, went to the dining car for supper (included), and when I came back the attendant had my bed made up, into which I fell.

Around 2 a.m. an announcement from the conductor woke me (and everyone else).  A man in my car was having an acute asthma attack. “Does anyone have an EpiPen?)”

I thought for a moment — I did not have my first-aid kit with me, so I could not even offer pseudopehedrine. And does a Wilderness First Aid card let you give drugs? I think so, if they are over-the-counter things like that. But I had none. Twenty minutes later we were stopped in Kingman, Arizona, and as another passenger told me at breakfast, the ambulance was waiting and took him away.

And thus on across New Mexico and southern Colorado, where I retrieved the Jeep at the railway station and drove home at night through an increasing snowstorm, past the signs that warn that roads are not plowed after 5 p.m.

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 3: Harper Hall

A cup of the free hotel coffee, and Black Philip and I are ready to conference deliciously.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

Part 2: Holing up in Claremont

It was a 20-minute walk from the hotel to Claremont Graduate University, where the Conference on Current Pagan Studies rents space during CGU’s winter break. CGU is one of the seven “Claremont Colleges” — five undergrad, two graduate schools — that together form a “collegiate university.” Six of them share a campus with a combined library and other facilities. Pomona College, the oldest, dates from 1887; the others were founded in the 1920s, which must have been when Claremont shifted from “citrus town” to residential suburb of Los Angeles.

Walking to CGU, I did not see anything that resembled a “student ghetto,” which made me wonder if there is such a thing as off-campus housing, or if those students must all commute.

No, definitely not the “student ghetto.”


Was I on the right street? I looked at some license plates. Yes, this must be the right building.

When Fritz Muntean started The Pomegranate in 1997, its subtitle was “A New Journal of Neopagan Thought.” That approach fits this conference too, and in fact, a new online journal is in the works that will take up that strand of Pagan publishing, I was told. More on that when I learn more.

The conference draws a mixture of older and younger Pagan academics, at least one outside PhD student researching Paganism in academia, some writers, some original West Coast Pagan figures from the 1960s–70s, and other members of the (chiefly) West Coast Pagan community.

The difference between this and the American Academy of Religion Pagan studies sessions that I am used to is that there is less of a sense of working on issues in the larger world(s) of religious studies and more a sense of telling our own stories, working on our own issues (like what happens to archives when groups shut down?), examining our origin stories, and talking about what is changing.

The first day’s venue: CGU’s Harper Hall, a fine example of 1930s Romano-Californian architecture.

Conference attendees begin to gather in the CGU Board of Trustees room, a comfortable space with open doors onto a courtyard — but pretty soon there were chairs jammed everywhere.

Part 4: Albrecht Auditorium

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 2: Holing Up in Claremont

Sunrise scene, Claremont station.

Part 1: The Southwest Chief

After killing time at Augie’s Coffee, I faced a mile walk through bosky Claremont to the hotel, but because of the roller bag, I gave in and summoned a Lyft driver. No need to put extra wear on the little plastic wheels. That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

Expecting to be told that my room would not be ready until 2 p.m., I was happy to learn that I could have it right there at 8:30 a.m. I could sleep! Only I could not. Exercise is good, so I did walk about a mile to a copy-print shot to get fliers made up promoting The Pomegranate and Jefferson Calico’s excellent new book on Heathenry, Being Viking.

I spotted a Trader Joe’s grocery near the hotel, and picked up a sandwich and a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck.1)Charles Shaw wine, the grocery chain’s house brand, is priced at $1.99 for 750 ml, the same as a small bottle of water at the hotel. Now which is a better deal? Half a bottle gone, I finally slept.

Later, I spent the evening re-reading parts of George Hanson’s The Trickster and the Paranormal (2001). This is not an easy book. Hanson was a paid university parapsychology researcher, one of a “club” of about fifty such people in the United States. As he points out, the budget of one paranormal-themed Hollywood movie is bigger than the budgets of all the programs such as his.

The book is not an easy read. It goes into lots of area: sociological theory, history of paranormal researched, history and personalities of the professional skeptics (think CSICOP), the prevalence of cheating by psychics, etc. Hanson wonders why, when at least half of the population accepts some level of “psi” phenomena, it is so completely off the table for academic researchers. Likewise, scholars of religion are all about texts, not “woo.” They would rather discuss gender theory than people’s experience with divine power. (Hint: part of the problem is monotheism and the idea of a transcendent god who is outside of the cosmos.)

There are exceptions, my favorite being Jeffrey Kripal at Rice University. I want to blog about some of his newer work . . one of these days.

And so to bed, because the next two days would be wall-to-wall sociability.

Part 3: Harper Hall

Notes   [ + ]

1. Charles Shaw wine, the grocery chain’s house brand, is priced at $1.99 for 750 ml, the same as a small bottle of water at the hotel. Now which is a better deal?

Conference on Current Pagan Studies 1: The Southwest Chief

Off-season, the train was only half full, which meant that there were armchairs and tables for the taking in the lounge car. I bought a beer at the snack bar downstairs and watched northern New Mexico go past.

I was honored this year to be asked to give a keynote address at the Conference on Current Pagan Studies.1)The other keynoter was the feminist writer and poet Judy Grahn. Yes, the website badly needs an upgrade. For journeys under 500 miles — and sometimes more — I would rather drive. If the trip is longer, I look first to see if Amtrak will get me there. If all else fails, I end up jammed into a metal cylinder with a bunch of strangers, which is about as much fun as being stuck in an elevator.

Southern Colorado to southern California is a combination of the first two — drive a bit, and then catch Amtrak’s Southwest Chief, get off in San Bernardino, and catch a Metrolink commuter train west to Claremont, where the conference was to be held at Claremont Graduate University.

Santo Domingo Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

I booked a coach seat on the way out, which would be easier on the organizers’ travel budget ($112), and used Amtrak reward points to get a roomette (sleeper) on the way back.2)The best way to accrue reward points is to use Amtrak’s Guest Rewards Mastercard.

Understand that a coach seat on the train is huger than first-class on an airplane. Muchly huger. You have a foot rest and a leg rest. You can recline your seat without bashing the passenger behind you. Smart passengers bring a small blanket and a pillow and make themselves quite comfortable.

Refueling in Albuquerque. Basically, one locomotive pulls the train while the other powers all the onboard electrical systems — refrigeration, HVAC, toilets, lights, etc.

Me, I had a warm jacket, but I forgot the inflatable neck pillow, So it goes. I made myself comfortable, stretched across two seats—the car was only half-full. After a burger at the station snack bar in Albquerque, followed by a little whiskey from my flask, I opened an episode of the Strange Familiars podcast on my phone and rode west into the night.

I usually can sleep anywhere, but not this time. I don’t blame all the podcast discussion of fairy orbs, Bigfoot, “hell gates,” ghosts, etc., but rather the fact that I would have to get off at 5:30 a.m. I knew that either the coach attendant or the conductor would make sure that I made my stop.3)I had ridden this way multiple times before, but always getting off at Fullerton or else Los Angeles Union Station, in the daylight. They are usually good about that. But the monkey mind would not settle down. So when the conductor came down the dimly lit aisle, I was already sitting there with my jacket zipped and my carry-on bag at hand, watching the highway next to us.

You know you are in southern California when the freeway traffic — in the dark, at 5:30 a.m. — is already stop-and-go. The train whistles on past, into the San Bernardino station, a Mission-style edifice four times bigger than it needs to be. (Did the town ever need that station?) Across the tracks is a huge intermodal operation, acres of bright lights and freight containers being stacked onto rail cars.

For a kind of California-gothic touch — think of an abandoned amusement park — the “information booth” on the platform is staffed by this static mannequin, like the old coin-operated “Madame Esmeralda Tells Your Fortune” arcade machines. If you drop in a quarter, will he tell you when the next train is coming? Nope.

On the platform,  a robot voice reminds you that “We care.” It’s about a suicide hotline.

Meanwhile, the pre-dawn students and commuters line the platform, staring at their coffee cups or into the middle distance, until the brightly-lit double-decker Metrolink train rattles in and, after forty minutes, deposits me at Claremont station on its way west to Los Angeles.

The chessboard is at the far left end of the counter.

I’ve done my research: about four blocks away is a coffeehouse that advertises it opens at 6 a.m., and it is now 6:30. I walk into Augie’s Coffee, which sets a high bar for industrial-spartan design, with walls of hexagonal tiles like a 1920s bathroom. The baristas interrupt their chess game (Awww!) to get me a cappuccino and chocolate croissant. Outside, the palm trees are turning from black-and-white and color. I am here.

Next stop: Claremont, California

Notes   [ + ]

1. The other keynoter was the feminist writer and poet Judy Grahn. Yes, the website badly needs an upgrade.
2. The best way to accrue reward points is to use Amtrak’s Guest Rewards Mastercard.
3. I had ridden this way multiple times before, but always getting off at Fullerton or else Los Angeles Union Station, in the daylight.