Another Strange Old-Time Pagan Burial Custom

In this reconstruction, the Mesolithic man, who died in his 50s, wears a wild boar skin. (Image credit: Oscar Nilsson)

If you read something about “a head on a stake,” you probably imagine someone’s head — on a stake — outside the camp of the colorful but violent ancestors. This is different.

About eight thousand years ago in southern Sweden, several people were “buried,” that is to say, placed underwater and their bodies staked down — yet this was done respectfully?

Archaeologists discovered the man’s skull, as well as the remains of at least 10 other Stone Age adults and an infant, in 2012 at the bottom of what used to be a small lake in what is now Motala, a municipality in eastern-central Sweden. However, only one of the adults had a jaw; the rest were jawless, and two of the skulls had been placed on stakes sticking out from the lake’s surface.

The skulls of the dead showed wounds, but also signs of healing. And there were lots of animal bones in with them.

The discovery of a burial containing 8,000-year-old battered human skulls, including two that still have pointed wooden stakes through them, has left archaeologists baffled, according to a new study from Sweden.

It’s hard to make heads or tails of the finding: During the Stone Age, the grave would have sat at the bottom of a small lake, meaning that the skulls would have been placed underwater. Moreover, of the remains of at least 11 adults placed on top of the grave, only one had a jawbone, the researchers said.

The burial did contain other jawbones, although none of them, except for an infant’s, were human. While excavating the site, archaeologists found various animal bones, including dismembered jawbones and arms and legs (all from the right side of the body), said study co-lead researcher Fredrik Hallgren, an archaeologist at the Cultural Heritage Foundation in Västerås, Sweden. [See Images from the Mysterious Burial Found in Sweden]

You can watch the reconstruction of one man’s skull in here. The work is done by Oscar Nilsson, a Swedish forensic artist, who has reconstructed the appearance of a number of ancient people.

A bear’s jawbone, with scrapes from the butchering process indicated. (Image credit: Sara Gummesson; Antiquity 2018)

Here is a photo gallery of images from the site.

Seven of the adults, including two of the females, showed signs of “blunt-force trauma” on their skulls, the researchers wrote in the study. But this trauma didn’t kill them, at least not immediately, because all of the skulls showed signs of healing, [Swedish archaeologist Fredrik] Hallgren said.

So we have people who have been clubbed in the head laid to rest in the lake — but maybe not immediately after they were injured, since some showed signs of healing. For an unknown reason, their lower jaws are missing.

Were they “us” or “them”?

Some hunter-gatherer people are known to deposit animal bones in lakes to encourage their rebirth — you can think of the lake as a womb or perhaps a gateway to the Underworld. And there are traditions of throwing weapons, personal ornaments, and other items into lakes as well.

You could speculate, therefore, that these were “us” — members of that group who were returned to the “womb,” even as the hunters want the animals to be re-born.

On the other hand, heads sticking up on stakes above the water are . . . trophies? guardians? something else?

In an article that I am preparing for the next issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies,1)Free downloads all summer! Diane Purkiss of Oxford University writes,

In creating anodyne and harmless religions, we risk creating powerless religions, religions that cannot address the overpowering emotions that accompany human life. By contrast, our Pagan ancestors understood only too well just how vicious and uncomfortable the relation between the self, time, and nature truly is.

The old-time people had multiple and creative responses to death, we can say that much.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Free downloads all summer!

Interview with an American Pagan Studies Scholar in Latvia

Long-time Pagan studies scholar Michael Strimska has been in Latvia the last few months on a Fulbright, teaching at Riga Stradiiš University. He edited the volume Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives  and guest-edited a recent  issue of The Pomegranate devoted to Paganism and politics.

The university has published an interview with him — here is a sample:

What would you say are the main differences between Swedish, or Nordic, and Latvian and Lithuanian paganism?

That’s interesting. The biggest differences are in the source materials they have to work with. In the Scandinavian countries, what they have left over from the old pagan days, from the original pagan times, is literature. They have a lot of texts that were primarily written down in Iceland (mainly by Christian monks, strangely enough). These texts give a lot of information about the gods and tell stories about people who practiced the religion, but they don’t have any music. Old styles of music were forbidden by the authorities, particularly by Christian authorities. In the Baltic case it’s almost the opposite. Here you don’t have so much rich mythological literature, or rather, you don’t have it put into a form that’s very attractive and accessible. The Scandinavian written materials are very attractive, enjoyable, accessible, and obviously have worldwide appeal. In the Baltic case, while there’s not that kind of rich literary foundation, what you have here is the music, the folk songs, and that tradition is obviously very, very strong and appealing here.

Read the whole interview here.

You can also visit the entry on Dievturi, the revived ( since 1925) Latvian old religion, at the World Religions and Spirituality database.

It is quite detailed, with a chronology, bios of important figures, and a bibliography. It ends on this note:

The contemporary neo-pagan movement in Latvia is characterized by conflicting aspects. On the one hand, in pagan activities, a desire is expressed to juxtapose oneself and one’s national views against globalization trends, which do not conform to the unhurried and contemplative lifestyle of traditional cultures. On the other hand, the latest trends reveal that in Latvia too, paganism is following a similar trajectory to Anglo-American paganism. Respectively, it is gaining New Age features: scientific terminology and a self-reflexive character is entering pagan discourse. In the near future, paganism in Latvia is dependent on its capacity to respond to the challenges of the era. However, looking further into the future, there is some doubt about the existence of “traditional” Dievturiba as something that is capable of survival. This is because Dievturi currently exist on the periphery of social life in Latvia and are providing vitally important answers only to members of the movement. They have never exceeded a thousand members, and there are currently only a few hundred.

Mircea Eliade, Witches, and Fascists

Initiated: Memoir of a Witch, by Amanda Yates Garcia, is a gritty story of growing up as a second-generation Pagan wtich in coastal California. I am partway through it, encountering passages like this: “We go into the underworld to reclaim the integrity of our lineage, to snatch it back from the hands of those who had taken it from us. Sometimes those takers are our own kin,our own blood, ourselves, our Ereshkigals.”  This is one that I want to read slowly and carefully — and as I keep saying, we need more Pagan autobiography.

Amanda Yates Garcia, Oracle of Los Angeles

Amanda Yates Garcia

Her mother was a feminist witch in the orbit of Reclaiming, the group that Starhawk founded. The daughter, however, is even more fiercely anti-patriarchal and, unlike her Unitarian/Reclaiming mother, who “always saw [witchcraft] as a practice of devotion,” Yates Garcia has turned pro — she is the Oracle of Los Angeles.”(“Book a session.”)

Early in her memoir, she quotes the famous historian of religion Mircea Eliade:

In his book Rites and Symbols of Initiation, anthropologist [sic] Mircea Eliade says that puberty initiations usually begin with an act of rupture. The child is separated from her mother. Persephone is dragged down to Hades. A brutal process. Yet in Ancient Greece, the Eleusinian Mysteries were rites of initiation almost everyone chose to perform.

Mircea Eliade, 1950s (?). He seems always to be smoking cigarettes in his photos.

Who Was Mircea Eliade?

Eliade lived from 1907–1986. Through the 1940s and 1950s he described himself as a “wandering scholar,” he and his first wife literally homeless but staying with this friend or that.  Had he returned to his native Romania, the Communist government would have imprisoned him or worse. In the late 1950s he was hired at the University of Chicago, where he helped build a highly influential religious-studies department. At least two of my own professors studied there and knew him, and he came to CU-Boulder a couple of times to guest-lecture in the early 1980s.1)I got to hear him only once, however, and he was quite frail then, with only a year or so to live.

Seeing him quoted in a 2019 book, therefore, is a sign that his name is one to conjure with, that he is an authority to cite. Inside the field of religious studies, the story is more complicated. It has to do with a “civil war” in that discipline that has gone on for a long time and may never end.

In which Micea Eliade “Has Links”

A recent article in the journal Religions by a writer from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, accuses Eliade of “influence” on the current far-right or alt-right. He is a “spiritual source.”2)Mark Weitzman, “‘One Knows the Tree by the fruit That It Bears’: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology.

As a writer, Mark Weitzman is way too fond of constructions in which Person A “has links” to Person B. (Cue the menacing music.) The phrase “has links” can mean anything or nothing: it is empty of actual meaning, but it sounds important. Overusing it is poor journalism and poor scholarship.

For example, as editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, I have published articles from all over: India, Russia, Poland, France, Belgium, UK, Israel, Australia, Latvia, Canada, USA . . .  I know only a fraction of these scholars face-to-face, yet to a politicized writer like Mark Weitzman, I “have links” to all of them. And if any of them have the “wrong” political philosphy, well, now I “have links” to that as well. Sheesh.

Unlike openly “New Right” intellectuals like Alain de Benoist, for instance, Eliade died 34 years ago, a highly respected figure. Why him, why now? Why does Weitzman clalm that his reputation is “indelibly stained”? Weitzman admits that even if some alt-right figures name-drop Eliade — even as Amanda Yates Garcia does name-drops him in connection with witchcraft — that name-dropping may merely be “an attempt to gain intellectual credibility.”

But there is more to the story. Let’s start with his childhood in Bucharest, Romania.

Romania’s Homegrown Fascists, pre–World War Two

Romania’s history is complicated. In historic times, it has been all or partly within the Roman Empire, the Mongol Empire, the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the kingdom of Transylvania, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy, some smaller principalities, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which Romania opposed in World War One. Romania became a constitutional monarchy in 1918, when Eliade was 11 years old. The new government was somewhat democratic, but you cannot say the county had many democratic traditions!

When Eliade was young, a lot of energy went into questions of “After all this foreign domination, who is truly is a Romanian?” “What is Romania?” “Must you be an Orthodox Christian to be a Romanian?” “Should the schools teach only in the Romanian language?” (Others, including Hungarian, were also spoken.)

Gheorghe Eliade

Eliade’s father, Gheorghe, a hawk-nosed gent with a cavalryman’s moustache, had changed the family’s name to “Eliade,” related to the Greek Helios, symbolizing the rising sun of a  potential new nation in the 19th century.

For a young intellectual in the late 1920s and early 1930s, political change was in the air. Benito Mussolini (widely admired in the West, at least at first) was modernizing Italy with his Fascist ideology—should Romania take that path? But what about spirituality? What about a national literature? It was all a swirl.

One group said they had the answers: The Legion of Saint Michael the Archangel, later to be known as the Iron Guard and including the “Everything for the Country” Party.3)It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian. The legion was anti-capitalist, anti-Communist, and pro-Orthodox Christianity.

Wikipedia’s article on the Legion notes that

Even before the Great Depression, Romanian universities were producing far more graduates than the number of available jobs and the Great Depression had further drastically limited the opportunities for employment by the intelligentsia, who turned to the Iron Guard out of frustration . . . . The Great Depression seemed to show the literal bankruptcy of these [National Liberal Party] policies and many of the younger Romanian intelligentsia, especially university students, were attracted by the Iron Guard’s glorification of “Romanian genius” and its leaders who boasted that they were proud to speak Romanian.

Mircea Eliade about age 30 — definitely not a street-fighter revolutionary.

I suppose all that attracted young Eliade, who after studying at the University of Calcutta in India and earning a PhD for his work on yoga, had returned to his home country. But he was always a bookish type, not a street-fighter. The Legion was openly antisemitic; he spoke against that, but the idea of spiritual national renewal still kept him interested, as I see it.

In 1938, after economic downtowns and political turmoil, the king dissolved all political parties and iinstuted a royalist dictatorship. Eliade had lost his university teaching job in 1936 amid the turmoil of the times, and in 1938, when King Carol attacked the Legion, he was scooped up in the mass arrests, sent to jail and then a prison camp from July to November.4)Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.” Writer friends helped him to get the post of cultural attaché in the Romanian embassy in London and later the embassy in Lisbon, where he sat out World War Two in neutral Portugal. “At the age of thirty-three, I left the country with empty hands,” he later wrote.5)Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”

King Carol was replaced by a German-backed military dictatorship in 1941. Romanians fought alongside Germans on the Eastern Front, but after Germany’s defeat, the Communists took over from 1944–1989.

Unable to go home, Eliade found postwar employment teaching in France and later the United States.

If Mircea Eliade is Accused of Fascist Leanings, Who Benefits?

Jonathan Z. Smith. Yes, people often compared his look to Gandalf (Wikipedia).

Eliade was a huge name in religious studies in the 1960s and 1970s, but there was a scholarly backlash against his top-down comparative and structuralist methods and his invocation of universal homo religiousus, the archaetypal transcultural religious person. A new generation of scholars that still respected his work began to critique parts of it, such as Jonathan Z Smith (1938–2017), who himself would go on to hold the endowed Mircea Eliade Chair in history of religions at Chicago.

Eliade knew who his real intellectual opponents were, however. In 1960 he wrote, “To think like a materalist or a Marxist means giving up the primordial vocation of man.”6)Ibid., 86. If I understand Eliade, he means by that vocation that humans to seek transcendence, to break somehow the bonds of earthly life through encounter with a Sacred dimension. He admits that he has “[taken] a position against the myth of the Earth Mother.”7)Ibid. 79.

Who does this talk of “primordial vocation” offend? That significant group of Marxist-influenced religion scholars who reject all talk of “the Sacred,” “the transcendental” or “the supernatural,” and who instead want to intepret all “religious” activity as human power games.

One leading figure of this group is Russell T. McCutcheon (b. 1961), a Canadian scholar now teaching at the U. of Alabama. In his 1997 book Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia, he devotes a chapter to cutting Eliade off at the knees.8)Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds. He is not “concerned primarily with scrutinizing Eliade’s theoretical writings in the light of his early political involvement” (74, emphasis added). He wishes to argue that all defenses of Eliade’s methods and books are theoretically weak and based on the false idea that there is something called “religion” that is “above” human power games. Any thinker who is “anti-modernist” is suspect, in McCutcheon’s view.

In essence, associating Eliade’s mature work with some kind of lingering fascism gives McCutcheon and others a powerful lever to use against someone whom they think is studying religion the “wrong” way, a way that is “ahistoric, apolitical, fetishized, and sacrosanct.” There is no Sacred! Another scholar of similar bent wrote a blog post titled “Urinal Talk at the AAR,” where he sneered at some of the New Testament scholars who make up a big bloc of the American Academy of Religion’s membership:

After a session today I raced to the bathroom to relieve my bladder and overheard a group of individuals coming from another session declaring the following: “Wow; that was so wonderful” “Best session ever!”  “That was incredible!”

Then, most importantly, “You know, that wasn’t even the AAR—that was church!”

And we wonder why others are suspicious that the academic study of religion is actually religious in nature.

In conclusion, whether or not any members of the alt-right “have links” to Eliade is not the the long-term problem.9)Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else. The problem is an ongoing split in the study of religion, between those who might accept a religious or spiritual claim—even while “bracketing it out” of their scholarly work—and those who reject anything transcental and question whether there even is anything called “religiion” once you shine a light on it.

For his voume of work and subsequent effect on scholarship, Eliade remains a major figure. But to the materialists, his view of life as containing spiritual seeking is suspect in and of itself. (Apparently, only fascists go on spiritual quests.) He is a big boulder in the road, and to clear the road for the progress of materialism, any tool will do.

Yet for writers like Amanda Yates Garcia, he remains an authority, one of few scholars of religion who is known outside the academy.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I got to hear him only once, however, and he was quite frail then, with only a year or so to live.
2. Mark Weitzman, “‘One Knows the Tree by the fruit That It Bears’: Mircea Eliade’s Influence on Current Far-Right Ideology.
3. It is true that some of Legion’s insignia have been copied by contemporary alt-right types who probably could not say “Hello” in Romanian.
4. Some of the leaders were “shot while trying to escape.”
5. Mircea Eliade, No Souvenirs: Journal 1957–1969 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), 18. I read “with empty hands” metaphorically, meaning,that he abandoned his old political stance as well — he had dropped his “baggage.”
6. Ibid., 86.
7. Ibid. 79.
8. Which, granted, is how scholarship often proceeds.
9. Whatever it is today, the factious and fissiparous alt-right will probably morph into something else.

Thelema, New York, and Esoteric Publishing: A Quick Review of “In the Center of the Fire”


James Wasserman, In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult 1966–1989 (Lake Worth, Fla.: Ibis Press, 2012).

(In the cover photo, Wasserman is in back and his business and magickal partner Bill Breeze in the foreground.)

Before I found my first Wiccan coven, a friend connected me with (an) Abby of Thelema, a little group of 20-something magicians living in a run-down old house in a run-down neighborhood of Colorado Springs. Three or four other members lived elsewhere but came over for study and ritual. 1)They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on. There was a certain amount of drug use and not always enough food, but someone was the “imperator.”

I learned some things there, but the combination of high-flown titles, material poverty, and self-delusion was pretty strange. The “abby” hit the rocks before long, and I moved on to a more compatible path.

But yes, Thelema. Here, pre-O.T.O., is our protagonist at (the old) Antioch College in Ohio: “This [academic] quarter was particularly laced with drugs, women, and spiritual seeking. School was simply off the radar.” The first quarter of the book, in fact, is a classic Seventies melange of road trips, dope, spiritual teachers, sexual relationships, and more road trips. (Wasserman and I could have passed on the street in Portland — or maybe in Taos.)

Finally Wasserman is in New York City, working at Weiser’s, a pre-eminent metaphysical store, and meeting other esotericists with whom he shares memorable experiences: “How many mornings we later spent on the pier on Hudson River across from my Greenwich Street loft, greeting the dawn with a hit of speed.” After a time, he shifts to the book-publishing side of the business, where he finds a home.

Aleister Crowley’s magickal heirs are deeply involved with texts — and some of the best tales of this memoir involve books, manuscripts, correspondence, and libraries, complete with international court battles over rights, burglaries of occult libraries, leadership struggles within the O.T.O., and Wasserman’s own adventures in magickal pubishing and with heroin. Some times I wonder if you can have Thelemic magic without heroin; Crowley himself certainly could not.

Wasserman’s recounting of his highs and lows through the Seventies and Eighties are brutally honest. A lot of what he tried, e.g. open marriage and the heavy drinking, simple did not work. They usually do not work long-term. Maybe what carried him through so many destructive periods was the magick — and yet, I have seen others on the same path sink to the depths and never rise. He sank, but he rose. In the Center of the Fire is an honest book, and it stands in contrast to many occult memoirs I have read where I felt the author was hiding all the unpleasant stuff and making his or her life look like a sequence of triumphs.

It should interest anyone interested in the late-20th century history of the O.T.O. (including how more of a place was made for women than Crowley had anticipated) in the American esoteric publishing and bookselling scene, and in the bohemian life in New York in the late Seventies and Eighties. You could put in the same shelf as Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan or even with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (Smith makes a brief appearance in Wasserman’s book.)

Maybe witches, magicians, and esotericists of the future will look at 1980s New York the way that would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds regard the Paris of the “Lost Generation.”.

Notes   [ + ]

1. They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on.

Geocaching for Weirdness – 2

Bunny in a swing.

Part 1 is here.

Using the Randonautica app near home is impossible for me, due to the lack of reliable ceullar data service, but I kept reading posts on the Facebook page and on r/randonauts at Reddit.

Then two days ago I had some free time in Pueblo while M. was at an appointment, so I set an intention — a synchronicity related to one of my projects — and requested an “attractor” point.

It sent me to a street address a couple of miles from my location — in a neighborhood near where my mother and stepfather once lived, so I had a sense of it.

There hanging from a tree out front was this cast image of a rabbit, sitting in a little swing. Since one current project is using my scout cameras to try to get more small rodent photos, I called that a “hit.” 1)If I get some good ones, they will be at the other blog. Right now I have just a series of rock squirrel videos.

So what Randonautica really can be is a divination tool, like Tarot cards or the license plate of the car stopped in front of yours. Developers, users, and YouTubers toss the word “quantum” around in a way that would make a physicist cringe.2)I am not a physicist either. They might as well say “spooky.” With Tarot, you hold an intention or a question in your mind while shuffling or cutting the cards; with Randonautica, you do it will waiting for the random-number generator to produce your destination.

One other thing: I thought people might stop saying that X has “gone viral” in these days of COVID-19, but I have seen it said about Randonautica. So many people have downloaded it and tried to use it that its server has just been overwhelmed with requests at times, leading to the apperance of failure and complaints of “I just get a white screen! It’s not working!”

But by analogy with other activities — geocaching included — most of those new users will probably satisfy their curiosity and move before too long.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If I get some good ones, they will be at the other blog. Right now I have just a series of rock squirrel videos.
2. I am not a physicist either.

Catholics in Trouble over ‘Idols’ Again

Idols on the Catholic altar

Various idols on the altar of a Roman Catholic church in England (photo: churchmilitant.com)

Maybe you missed it, but there was a minor scandal at the Vatican last year over the liturgical use of an image of Pachamana, one name given to the indigenous Mother Goddess of the Andean region of South America. Some traditional Catholics were deeply offended:

The statues, which were identical carved images of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman, had been displayed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, close to the Vatican, and used in several events, rituals, and expression of spirituality taking place during the Oct. 6-27 Amazonian synod.1)I realize the “Andean” and “Amazonian” mean different things, but the reporting —  or the pope — is a little confused.

The pope said they had been displayed in the church “without idolatrous intentions,” French agency I.Media reported.

The statues were thrown into the river Oct. 21; a video released on YouTube showed two men entering the Church, leaving with the statues, and then throwing them off a nearby bridge

Pope Francis called the statues “Pachamama”; someone else referred to “Our Lady of the Amazon”; and the pope ended up trying to “walk back” the whole affair:

As bishop of this diocese,” Pope Francis, who is Bishop of Rome, said, “I ask forgiveness from those who have been offended by this gesture” . . .

Vatican spokesmen have said that [the statues] represent “life,” and are not religious symbols, but some journalists and commentators have raised questions about the origins of the symbols, and whether they were religious symbols of Amazonian indigenous groups.

Evidently the Roman Catholic diocese of Brentwood in England not get the memo, because this month they “tweeted a picture of the idols of Shiva and Buddha, alongside an icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd and an African carving advertising an ‘interfaith prayer service.’

Cue the outrage over “Pagan idolatry”: “Within minutes, hundreds of outraged Catholics bombarded the diocese’s Twitter thread accusing Fr. Belevendran of idolatry, syncretism, sacrilege and the heresy of indifferentism.”

A Christian convert from India was scathing:

“Father Belevendran says he is from India,” she said. “Doesn’t he know how the caste system of Hinduism oppressed us for 3,000 years and only Christianity liberated us? Doesn’t he know the idol he placed on the altar is that of Shiva — the Hindu god of destruction?”

“Is the Bishop of Brentwood so racist that he believes Catholicism is only for white English people and not for brown-skinned Indians like me and so I need to go back to Hinduism?” she asked. “The image of Shiva as Nataraja on the altar conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time, which is completely contrary to the biblical linear concept of time.”

I have to agree with her on the concepts of time; she knows her Hindu symbolism. Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to try to smooth things over, using the big, heavy, hot smoking iron of monotheistic triumphantalism:

“Everyone prays as he knows, how he can, as he has received from his own culture. We are not praying against each other, this religious tradition against this, no,” the pontiff added. “We are all united as human beings, as brothers, praying to God, according to our culture, according to our own tradition, according to our beliefs, but brothers and praying to God. This is the important thing.”

In other words, we are all praying to the One God, even those benighted Hindus, Africans, and indigenous Amazonians who do not know better.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I realize the “Andean” and “Amazonian” mean different things, but the reporting —  or the pope — is a little confused.

Geocaching for Weirdness & Other Psychogeography

Randonauts app screenshot

A screenshot of the Randonautica app

Wednesday was the first nice day in a while, so M. and I went hiking on some national forest land near home. We were on a “social trail,” one that is not signed and listed on the forest maps, but we saw maybe four other people there anyway. I stopped partway up to repair a geocache container — not a cache that I own, but one that has been more or less abandoned by its owners. I feel affection for it because it was the first one that I ever found, so I check on it now and then.

What keeps a lot of geocachers going is not the sheer numbers of caches that they find, but the places that the sport (or hobby) takes them.1)Geocaching is a “sport” in that it has rules, and you can be competitive about numbers and categories if you want to be. On the other hand, since I most often do it alone, perhaps it is more a “hobby” or a “pursuit.” What they often mention is how caching takes them to unexpcted places that they never knew existed.

For me those include a deserted lakeside resort in central North Dakota where an artesian well gushes water from a big rusty pipe, a tiny cemetary in Taos, New Mexico, a cavalryman’s grave on a Wyoming hillside, or an abandoned bridge on the Dismal RIver in Nebraska’s Sand Hills.2)You can also find tiny magnetic containers stuck to benches in city parks, but after a while, they are not so special anymore.

In a recent episode titled “Force the Hand of Chance: A How-To Guide to Psychogeography”  on the Strange Familiars podcast, co-host Alison Renner mentions how recent conditions have meant she and her husband, Timothy, have been exploring the seen and unseen environment of their hometown more these days.  When she remarked about walking down an alley that she had never entered before, it reminded me of geocaching.

But insead of using a GPS receiver, the Renners were following a route on a cell phone app called Randonautica, advertised as “The world’s first quantumly generated Choose Your Own Adventure reality game. Explore the world you never knew existed.” 3)There is a forum on Reddit, of course: r/randonauts, and a Facebook group.

Randonautica app puts the user in the Director’s Chair of an adventure story yet to be written. By using the app, the user can break from their mundane day-to-day and take a journey of randomness into the world around them.

Where the mind goes, the universe follows. The Randonautica app is built with mind-machine interfacing technology which allows the user to drive their trip simply by thinking.

A user in Cambodia wrote on Reddit, “Set my intent to’find a portal to another world’…found an arch that led me to a wealthy gated community. Compared to the poverty that most people here live in, it is certainly another world for them.”

Randonauts Facebook profile graphic

Randonauts Facebook profile graphic

Part of the Strange Familiars podcast episode is the Renners trying out the Randonautica app and experiencing at least one strong synchronicity. Timothy Renner also utilzes it in an episode called “Synchronicity Storm on Toad Road,” although it is mentioned only briefly.

I had wanted to try it four days ago, but the app needs a cellular data connection, and I live in what amounts to a cell-service dead zone.

We had things to buy today, so we went to a nearby town and gave it a try. I tried generic requests, such as “anomaly.” The first hit sent us on about a 2.5-mile drive out of town to a certain road — only I knew that that road led into a gravel-mining operation owned by a local paving company, where we would probably not be welcomed to park and explore. If there is an “anomaly” there, it will have to wait.

Our second run took us a newish subdivision out in the desert. It was amazing that Apple Maps knew the roads, since they were just bulldozed dirt, completely unimproved. It looked like we were to drive to the end of one road, park, and climb a small nearby mesa, only this was the sort of place where strange vehicles acting strangely are regarded with acute suspicion. So I canceled that quest too.

But I want to go back, maybe try a more specific request than just “void” or “anomaly,” and most of all, I would rather do it mostly on foot. I want to see if Randonautica leads me to sites of low-to-moderate strangeness.

Even geocachers experience strangeness.If you join and go to the discussion forums, you will find occasional multi-year threads with titles like “Weird or What?” “Help me plant some weird California caches,” “Weird Findings in the Woods,” “Animals are acting weird,” “Weird Adventure,” “What’s that Weird Noise?” and so on.

But what if you don’t want to walk around looking at a screen?

Maybe you think that the Randonautica approach is too impersonal. Maybe you want to really make contact with the genius locii. So take a look at Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s book The City is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists.

She writes,

All by itself, the act of walking puts you in a liminal state — neither here nor there but in between. This makes it especially suitable for spiritual and mystical purposes, where we are already seeking to draw back the veil between the worlds for a momeny and interact with the gods and spirits . . . . Going out on intentional walks as a means of discovering and honoring the spirits of place in a city can take myriad forms.

She has much to say about whom you might encounter and how to interact with them — all in a compact book that will fit into your hip pocket. And if you sit on it, it won’t butt-dial anyone.

Continued in Part 2 here.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Geocaching is a “sport” in that it has rules, and you can be competitive about numbers and categories if you want to be. On the other hand, since I most often do it alone, perhaps it is more a “hobby” or a “pursuit.”
2. You can also find tiny magnetic containers stuck to benches in city parks, but after a while, they are not so special anymore.
3. There is a forum on Reddit, of course: r/randonauts, and a Facebook group.

Neoshaman Barbie Number 2

Neoshaman Barbie 1 with her drum.

There have never been any little girls in my house, so consequently no Barbie dolls, but they cost only about $2–$4 in the thrift stores. So I decided last year to make a neoshamanic Barbie, because I like the idea of “theme” Barbies (like “New Mexico Barbie“) and because the very thought of her reminded me of a certain author and teacher who is “widely acknowledged as a major link between the ancient world of shamanism and modern societies thirst for profound personal healing and a deeper understanding of the pathway to enlightenment.”

I made one and on a warmish day in January placed her way up behind the house in some boulders that I call Ringtail Rocks. She has her magickal assignment, she is hidden by rocks, and I will never disturb her.

Neoshaman Barbie 2 with her necklace of power and her spirit animal.

But there was one more Barbie left, so today, now that the last snow has melted and the trail is dry, she went to a different cluster of boulders with a similar assignment, along with her spirit animal.

These are part of a series of “installations” that I have started. You can tell that I was not a studio-art major, because I cannot produce 3,000 words of art-prose about what I made.

But since producing prose (and editing other people’s prose) is what I do all day, these and the other installations are just thigs that Iet bubble up, and I don’t have to produce a lot of discourse about them. I am not even completely clear on their magickal purpose

A geocacher would spot this as a “suspicious pile of rocks,” but there are no geocaches in the area either.

You can see a couple more on Instagram, because Instagram is no place for long writing.

Now I have this box of skulls and beads and wire and you know, all the usual stuff, and when the weather warms up, I have more un-formed, inchoate subconsciously directed ideas.

“Weird things in the woods” pretty well covers it.

Other Barbie-related posts:

October 29, 2003, “Barbie, the Hot Pagan Witch.”

January 26, 2005: “Inanna Descends to the Underworld (Barbie version).” The link is dead though, and the Wayback Machine did not help.

March 5, 2005, “Some Pagan Publishing Gossip.

April 27, 2006, “Pagan-Studies Barbie.”

“These Are Dangerous Books”

Dale Pendell, erudite writer of “the poison path,” author of Pharmako/Poeia, Pharmako/Gnosis, and Pharmako/Dynamis, died two years ago, but I only recently found a video of his memorial service.

I am starting this video at the 30-minute mark, because that is when Gary Snyder comes on. Quite simply, I think that most of what little wisdom I have about “nature,” the “wild,” and so on comes either from Snyder or from directions his work has given me. Read his poems, read The Practice of the Wild and The Old Ways,1)Buy it used. and you will have it.

Gary Snyder  . . . Beat poet, Zen Buddhist-animist, not a self-proclaimed Pagan but aware of Pagan sensibilities going back to the Old TIme.

Here he reads the introduction that he wrote for Pharmako/Poeira and then gives a short biography of Pendell.

I would not be surprised if a lot of the people pushing “traditional witchcraft” poison-path stuff are not just lifting it from Pendell’s books. Because they are great.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Buy it used.

Read The Pomegranate and Other Equinox Journals for Free

Equinox Publishing, which publishes The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has made the last year’s worth of its journals available online at no cost. Here is the announcement:

Campus and library closures and, for many, the abrupt switch to remote teaching and learning are causing shockwaves through the academic community. If nothing else, the crisis has underlined the critical need for publishers to improve the user experience in accessing content remotely. To help, we are offering the following routes to Equinox content for our current subscribers as well as others who are compiling online courses and may need to access book content:

– all journal issues published in the last 12 months will be opened and all new issues  will be freely accessible until the crisis abates

Read the complete announcement, which affects some ebooks and textbooks, here.

If you try it and have problems — or if you try it and experience success — please let me know in the comments.