Of Animals —  Magical and Cryptic

A new issue of the Hellbore zine, No. 11, “The Animal Issue” has been published. Real life is trying to keep up. (See below.)

Hellebore is available from a few shops in the UK or by mail.

Hares that are witches in disguise, ravens with prophetic powers, sacrificial wrens representing the god-king. Animals are often included in folk horror narratives because of their symbolic traits, or because of the folk beliefs surrounding them. Historically, animals have been understood as objects of cult worship, deities or devils incarnate, witches’ companions, omen bringers. They’ve also been re-imagined as hybrids, chimeras, and cryptids.

In this issue we tell tales of hares, moonlight, and madness, of half-glimpsed uncanny felines and the demon king of cats, of monstrous serpents with an appetite for destruction, of seemingly unassuming yet all-powerful toads. From the Isle of Man to the flatlands of Suffolk, the animals in these stories rise from the forest, from the field, from the waters, to re-enchant the landscape of these isles.

Elizabeth Dearnley’s article “Running with Hares” at least acknowledges North American jackrabbits (true hares). Nothing about Lepus americanus, the snowshoe hare — maybe we need to investigate its magical side.

TImothy Grieve-Carlson writes on the long British tradition of mysterious big cats on an island that is not supposed to have any wild cat larger than the Scottish wild cat, and there are not too many of those.

But wait! There is news about DNA samples from a sheep in Cumbria (NW England) that revealed the presence of something larger. “‘The Beast of Cumbria’ – Big cat DNA confirmed to be on sheep carcass” reads one recent headline.

Somehow I do not think that the old “escaped from a zoo” explanation is adequate anymore.

New Issue of The Pomegranate

Links to articles from the newest issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, (vol. 24, no. 2). These articles are paywalled — but you know a librarian, don’t you? If you don’t, you should.

Four Notable Books in Pagan Studies

From Reading Religion, the book review website of the American Academy of Religion, a post by Ethan Doyle White, who writes,

From Wiccan covens assembling in English drawing rooms to Rodnover midsummer gatherings in rural Russia, the modern Pagan religions represent a fascinating and diverse component of our contemporary religious landscape. Although their age, numerical size, and comparative cultural marginality leaves them outside the so-called “world religions”’ that attract the bulk of our attentions, I strongly believe that this family of new religious movements warrants far greater understanding among scholars of religion. In particular, these traditions offer us important insights into the modern reception of Europe’s pre-Christian heritage, into the construction of new religions, and into the complex interplay of gendered, ethnic, and religious identities in the 21st century.

As co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series, I am happy to have acquired one of the four, Jefferson Calico’s Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America.

Calico’s Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America is interesting in part because he was approaching Heathenry as a non-practitioner, something that set his work apart from much of the ethnographic research on modern Pagan traditions that had gone before. One of the things I particularly appreciated about Calico’s book was the attention he gave to issues of class, a topic often overlooked in academic studies of modern Paganism. Like the earlier work of Mattias Gardell, Calico’s project also highlighted the role of white nationalism and related far-right ideologies within certain sectors of the American Pagan milieu, an issue many other scholars had avoided.

If you are reading this blog, you have probably read The Triumph of the Moon, but all of these are worthwhile — I need to find Kimberly Kirner’s American Druidry now.

Spiritual Drama and the April 8th Eclipse

Religion scholar Bron Taylor, University of Florida who has worked mostly in the non-theistic side of nature religion, a.k.a “dark green religion,” is interviewed about spiritual interpretations of the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse.

To him, it’s partly about re-enchantment:

“People are on their own pilgrimages, and they’re trying to work out their meaning systems,” Taylor said. “This widespread fascination with the eclipse is a prime example of a turn toward the re-sacralization of nature.”

Read it all here.

“The wild world has something to say to us,” Taylor said, “and we should be listening.”

“Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals”

A screenshot from Patrick, Pagans and Party Animals, a video about the saint and the explosion of the secular holiday of St. Patrick’s Day.

Jenny Butler, a Pagan-studies scholar from University College Cork, appears at 3:00 and elsewhere to speak up for the “Pagan” dimension of the story.

Requires free Vimeo account.

Imbolc on Ice

Look south from Bennett Avenue, the bi-level main street of Cripple Creek, Colorado, across Poverty Gulch (once lined by the saloons and brothels of Myers Avenue), and there it sits, like the citadel of the Ice King.

At 9,494 feet (2,894 m.), the early February winds are still cutting and only the lengthening day suggests any turn toward spring. M. and I, plus my Pagan cousin and her partner, fortified ourselves with food and drink in a crowded restaurant and then zipped up all zippers and headed for the Ice Castle at our designated 6 p.m. entrance time.

The restaurant’s Facebook page said that they were so busy with Ice Castle visitors that they were not taking reservations, but we snagged a table by showing up at 4:30, ahead of the dinner rush.

This castle is a commercial venture. I had seen earlier versions in the ski town of Silverthorne in the 20-teens,and thought it would be cool-no-pun-intended to visit, but I was always on my way to or from somewhere else. Now we had our chance at Candlemas season. I like it when the Sacred Wheel matches up with popular activities, even when the coincidence is not planned.

Daytime must be different, but at night the Ice Castle hits the same sort of Underworld vibe that I get sometimes in Taos at PASEO, the fall art festival, when clumps of dark-clad people walk dim Spanish colonial streets until suddenly illuminated by the flare of a flaming gate or a giant robot or an art work projected onto high adobe walls. (See “The Robot God and the Underworld  Gate.”)

So it was sort of like that but without the writhing silent-rave dancers. There was feasting and good conversation and then a chance to stock my memory with images and sensations.

Cripple Creek is a small place, compared to its height c. 1900 when there were three railroads plus street cars and belching smokestacks. I walked Marco the dog around a little, strolling past some of the buildings I visited during a long-ago bout of ghost-hunting, back before the casinos came in. Those visits produced a little book, Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek, which in terms of copies sold is probably my biggest commercial success. Out of print now, but I see it is still on Amazon. (The photo was taken from the driveway of astrologer Linda Goodman’s house.)

Helen Cornish on Witchcraft Drumming and Chanting

The article “Musicking and Soundscapes amongst Magical-Religious Witches Community and Ritual Practices” by Helen Cornish is available as a free download from Religions journal.

Abstract

Drumming and chanting are core practices in modern magical-religious Witchcraft in the absence of unifying texts or standardized rituals. Song and musicality contribute towards self-creation and community making. However, Nature Religions and alternate spiritualities are seldom included in surveys of religious musicking or soundscapes. This article considers musicality in earlier publications on modern Witchcraft, as well as the author’s fieldwork with magical-religious Witches in the UK, to show the valuable contribution they make to discsusions on religious belonging and the sensorium through song, music, percussion, and soundscapes.

Keywords:

musickingsoundscapesmagical-religious Witchcraftcontemporary Paganismritualsensoriumhistoricity

The Creeping Menace of ‘Paganism’

Dear god! Nature religion! (Illustration by Katie Martin, Getty Images).

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple and (visiting at) Harvard Divinity School is like someone who steps in dog shit, comes back indoors, and keeps wondering where the smell is coming from.

“We are all children of the same God,” he announces in a essay in The Atlantic  (link goes to archived version).

And “we” are opposed to [small-p] “paganism,” which is about power, nature-worship, and wealth-worship. “Hug a tree or a dollar bill, and the pagan in you shines through.”((For Wolpe the exemplar of this “paganism” is, of course, Donald Trump, that notorious tree-hugger. But it’s an election year.))

The rabbi’s essay was not the first to make that point — as I will point out — but it hit at the right time and place, and suddenly contemporary Pagans were asking, “What’ s that smell?”

In  her letter to The Atlantic, anthropologist and Pagan studies scholar Sabina Magliocco, “long-time reader of and subscriber to The Atlantic,” lambasted the piece as “misinformed and distorts both historical and contemporary understandings of paganisms in ways that are profoundly damaging to both Indigenous and revived religions.”

Pagan blogger John Halstead observes correctly that the rabbi is not talking about actual people, today’s Pagans, but about this bogeyman lurking in the shadows, one described in 1937 by the historial Arnold Toynbee as “the new paganism.”

Wolpe equates nature with the most violent and base behavior. His fear, like that of so many other monotheists, is that, in the absence of a transcendental ideal of Goodness, we will all turn into savages raping and eating each other.

Halstead’s blog links to other responses to Wolpe’s article. I will mention just two more. The Wild Hunt has also covered this issue, as linked above.

At Harvard’s Program for the Evolution of Spirituality, Dan McKanan and Giovanna Parmigiani posted an open letter to David Wolpe, siscussing how his approach illustrates how hard it is to discuss religion when “many religions define themselves in opposition to other religions.”

One way to do this is to frame the critiques in the most culturally specific manner possible. Judaism did not emerge in response to “paganism” writ large; it emerged in response to the specific religious and political practices of immediately adjacent cultures. But again and again, Wolpe misses the chance to be specific in his critique. Instead, he identifies Donald Trump, Elon Musk, communism, fascism, Friedrich Nietzsche, the QAnon Shaman, and Peter Singer as diverse manifestations of a single phenomenon that he calls “pagan.” This universalizing gesture is especially problematic given the inherent diversity of Paganism.

Later, Dr Parmigiani noted on Facebook that “We heard back from David Wolpe and he appears to be willing to have a conversation with us and the Pagan community at HDS, once the semester starts.”

Holli Emore, executive director of Cherry Hill Seminary, had less luck, telling The Wild Hunt that she had invited Wolpe “to join me one day soon, perhaps on a Zoom call, to chat about how we can better understand each other.”

The rabbi responded, “I have been deluged with advocacies, requests for dialogue and so forth. The article did not and does not address the current pagan [sic] communities nor was it intended to.”

That makes me feel so much better. As she put it, “While his message to me was cordial, it is clear that he has no intention of revisiting his lack of research or redressing the feelings of the many he has slighted.”

The problem is defining Paganism. We have a long history of small-p paganism meaning “outside any [monotheistic] religion.”  This is the straw man pummeled by Wolpe and others, such as the British journalist Louise Perry, whose article “We Are Repaganizing” appeared only two months earlier in the interdenominational Christian magazine First Things.((The story about the babies’ bones sounds like the old anti-Catholic folklore that there are babies buried under every convent.))

Her borrowed definition of “paganism” ias not “an interest in entrails or in praying to Jupiter. Rather, [but]  a fundamentally different outlook on the world, and on the sacred.”

But Christianity takes a perverse attitude toward status and puts that perversity at the heart of the theology. “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” is a baffling and alarming claim to anyone from a society untouched by the strangeness of the Jesus movement.

And that led to converting Pagans by the sword, but we won’t go there. Look over here at the cathedral! And furthermore, as the legalization of abortion proves, “the Western world has arguably always remained more pagan than Christian. In some ways Christianity has been more of a veneer than a substantial reality.”((She quotes from Steven Smith’s Pagans and Christians in the City.))

The Christian writer Rod Dreher, with two bestsellers to his name (The Benedict Option and Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents), is also promoting the view that there was no morality in the ancient world (outside, perhaps, the imperial province of Judea) until Christianity arrived.((Sorry, Confucius. Sorry, Socrates.))

The book I finished last night, Pagan America, will be out from Regnery in March. The author, John Daniel Davidson, is not really talking about Wiccans and suchlike (though they do get significant mention), as much as he is talking about how the kinds of evils that permeated Greco-Roman culture, and that were eliminated by the triumph of Christianity, are coming roaring back now that Christianity has gone into abeyance in the West

Where does that leave today’s capital-P Pagans? You cannot accept Wolpe’s sidestepping of the issue because there are other singers in the choir, like John Daniel Davidson, who are apparently are happy to mix the two, jumping from “pagan = irreligious” to “Your gods are demons.”

(Davidson apparently wants to junk this silly “freedom of religion” idea and put the government firmly on the side of Christianity — his book’s subtitle is “The Decline of Christianity and the Coming Dark Age.”)

So we cannot get away with offering a pagan/Pagan (polytheist-animist) distinction. The cultural tides are moving. The secular talkers of both the right and left have moved from “Pagans don’t exist” to “they are bunch of silly New Agers” to the point of  “viewing with concern.” Pagan readers, don’t be surprised to be asked for your position on sacrificing babies.

The Pagans, the Unicorns, and the Serial Killer

I have complained before about the relative lack of good American Pagan biography and autobiography. John Sulak’s biography of Oberon Zell (b. 1942) and his partner Morning Glory (1948–2014), The Wizard and the Witch was one of the exceptions.((Yes, Morning Glory either invented or co-invented the term “polyamory,” and she was aware of creating a Greek-Latin hybrid.)) While it was first published in 2014, Sulak and Oberon subsequently revised and enlarged it, splitting it into two volumes.  The link goes to volume 1.

It’s also a history of the American Pagan movement in the 1970s-1990s particularly, with a West Coast emphasis. In the early 1980s, the Zells lived at Greenfield Ranch, a ranch in the Coast Range near Ukiah, Calif., that had been divided into acreages for back-to-the-landers and, yes, cannabis-growers, which meant the level of paranoia was fairly high. The ranch was raided by drug agents at least once, as I recall.

My friend the Pagan songwriter Gwydion Pendderwen lived there, and M. and I visited several times between 1978 and his passing in 1982. I have not been back since. Obviously much has changed.

In the late 1970s the Zells got an opportunity to live at Greenfield Ranch as caretakers for an absenteee Pagan parcel-owner, and there they practiced a documented but neglected ancient technique for turning new-born Angora billy goats into true unicorns. These went on the Rennaissance Faire circuit—later under the big top.

As Oberon would say, they were hoping to influence “kids who saw the Unicorn and would recognize it for what it was—not a fantasy creature made of moonbeams, just a small white animal with its own kind of beauty and heart and horn . . . . Those kids would make the connections and see that Magkick was possible and then go on to create their own contribution to that unique world-view [and] make their live whatever they want it to be.” ((John G. Sulak, The Wizard and the Witch: An Oral History of Oberon Zell and Morning Glory (Woodbury, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 2014) 180–81.))

But something darker was afoot. Another Greenfield Ranch resident helped out with showing the unicorns at Renn Faires, etc., so much so that he was sometimes called “Unicorn Man.”

Morning Glory and Angora goat “unicorns.”

His name was Leonard Lake, and he was a serial killer, although he had not really started on his murderous path at that time but apparently was planning it. There is plenty about him online, but my introduction to his story came through Episode 1 of the Trace of the Devastation podcast, a true-crime series about serial killers of the 1980s-90s in the California Gold Rush country.

In that episode, “The Unicorn Man,” you will hear Oberon Zell give his own honest self-appraisal of how he and others were fooled by Lake, whom they took to be just another back-to-the-lander, albeit with a more ex-military outlook.

Anyone can be fooled some of the time. Consider this a footnote to Sulak and Zell’s books.

Now They Are Stealing Pagan Artisans’ Designs

“Did you find an awesome statue of Odin with a price too good to be true?” begins a recent entry at the Wyrd Designs blog.

The article focuses on a Ukrainian Pagan artist who sells on Etsy. Chinese copyists mass-produced his carved wooden statues in resin, along with others. (Those are the genuine works shown.)

But look at the stats on the knock-off site: the Norse statues in the last month sold 3 thousand units (cumulatively of the Odin, Thor, Freya or Loki statues), and they had over 14,000 shares across social media. It’s unclear if they’re only counting the 19 days of November so far, or if that’s sales in the last 30 days. If those stats are real (and not some engineered gimmick designed to get you to purchase), they sold around $60,000 -$69,000 gross profit (varying on if someone purchased one statue, or multiples where a bundle discount comes into play). Even taking into consideration they’d have out of pocket costs to manufacture the cheap knock offs, they’re probably pocketing between $40,000 -$55,000 in net profit in just one month (based on a typical 60-80% profit margins for mass manufactured goods). In a year if you had steady sustained sales, that’s around $480

However, effects may be purchased in advisory of the teen without a antibiotic, despite nonmedically having judicious in viral of the antibiotics convinced. The certain source for which an popularity was caused was 2.78 antibiotics. buy zithromax online Can I require them to her through the internet?

,000 – $660,000 net profit. Near half a million dollars, or more.. Money like that would be revolutionary for artists serving our community.

Three different business are selling those knock-offs on Amazon, for starters, plus they are on other e-commerce sites as well.

There is no immediate cure except to look carefully at the site and try to determine if you are dealing with a real artisan or not. The article suggests some ways of checking, particularly on Amazon, but you cannot always tell if an item was made in some Chinese knick-knack factory or not.

Some sites will have a section on their page dedicated to intellectual property concerns, like TEMU, which gives you the impression that they’re trying to operate ethically. But it’s set dressing, there’s no real accountability process in place at Temu. As an aside, Etsy tends to have solid options from legitimate artisans, though occasionally some knock-offs might infiltrate the service.

Oberon Zell has had to quash illegal reproductions of his Milennial Gaia statue a number of times, as I recall. This was back when he and his late wife, Morning Glory, operated their own crafts business, which now has new management.

If you want a blast from the past, I mentioned one of those Chinese “we’ll make anything” companies, King-Max Products, in this 2007 blog post about Pagan images at a New Age wholesale trade fair.

In a weird way, all this counterfeiting is a sign that Pagan images are becoming more recognizable and marketable, so I suppose you could feel kind of good about that.