Our Thanksgiving Prayer

M. and I have this little tradition where every Thanksgiving we read aloud (people who eat with us have to participate) Gary Snyder’s poem “Prayer for the Great Family.”[1]He says it was inspired by a Mohawk prayer, but you can feel his Pagan-ish form of Zen Buddhism in it too. You can say “in our minds so be it” in unison if you like.

Prayer for the Great Family

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave and aware
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us—
in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space. The Mind is his Wife.
so be it.

Snyder has been influential in my life since I was in high school, as a poet and in a sort of “What would Gary do?” kind of way.[2]And we went to the same college, for what that is worth. He is an old man now, 91, I think. He won’t be around forever. I would walk in his funeral procession to the pyre, if I could, but I probably will not find out in time to dash to California.

Notes

Notes
1 He says it was inspired by a Mohawk prayer, but you can feel his Pagan-ish form of Zen Buddhism in it too.
2 And we went to the same college, for what that is worth.

Interview with Helen Berger, Leading Scholar of Paganism

Prof. Helen Berger

At his blog, now called On New and Alternative Religions, Ethan Doyle While interviews Helen Berger, one of the leading American scholars of contemporary Paganism.

Since completing her PhD research on the early modern witch trials in the 1980s, Berger has devoted her career to the sociological analysis of modern-day communities whose practitioners call themselves witches. Her first book, A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (University of South Carolina Press, 1999), was a landmark in the subject and was followed up with important studies such as Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (with Evan A. Leach and Leigh Shaffer, University of South Carolina Press, 2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for the Self (with Doug Ezzy, Rutgers University Press, 2007), and most recently Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans and Others Who Practice Alone (University of South Carolina Press, 2019). Currently a Professor Emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and an Affiliated Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Berger is continuing to work on the modern Pagan milieu, exploring its relationships with far-right politics. She tells us about her career and her thoughts on the future of the academic study of modern Paganism.

She explains how her interest in today’s Witches and Pagans grew from earlier research on the Salem Witch Trials and similar events. In the mid-1980s, she gave a series of lectures at the Boston Public Library — and realized who was in the audience.

The audience for each of the lectures varied with some people who attended every week and others who came only for a particular lecture. One elderly woman with white hair always sat in the front row, listened intently, and asked interesting questions. I looked forward to seeing her there every week. At the final lecture, when I said what was then a surprising fact; Witches looked like everyone else. You could be living next door to, or working with, a Witch and not know it. She stopped me mid-lecture and asked, “are you saying there could be Witches in the room.” As the average age of the participants had dropped significantly for this lecture, I offered that I thought there probably were Witches in the room. She stood up, turned around with her hands on her hips, and asked, “are there any Witches here?” I think it is because she looked like the quintessential grandmother that a number of people raised their hands.

Read the whole thing. Helen Berger has also published a number of articles in The Pomegranate as well as being one our most valuable peer-reviewers in the sociology of Paganism. Her 2015 article “An Outsider Inside: Becoming a Scholar of Contemporary Paganism” reflected on some of the issues involved.

Early Pomegranates Now Available Free Online

Issue 1 of The Pomegranate, February 1997.

The first eighteen issues of The Pomegranate, back when its subtitle was a still “A New Journal of Neopagan Thought,” are now available in in PDF form from Valdosta State University in Georgia.

Spanning from 1997–2002, these are the issues produced by its founding editor, Fritz Muntean, in Vancouver, BC.

Fritz and I spent some time at the 2001 and 2002 annual meetings of the Americab Academy of Religion seeking an established scholarly publisher to help it become a recognized, peer-reviewed journal, listed in all the databases.

Instead, after a short hiatus, we ended up with a start-up publisher, Equinox, which has helped it to grow in the subsequent years.

Lots of good content here: scroll through the issues here.

An Offer to Buy the Pomegranate, and Other Pagan Studies Scams

Statues of Communist leader Mao Zhedong in various Chinese temples (Bitter Winter).

Periodically I receive these emails, usually in the business-school dialect of babu English. Academic publishing, apparently, is full of scammy stuff like this.[1]I have also encountered them in real estate and in regard to mineral rights.

Dear Editor/Publisher,

Hope this mail finds you in best!

I am writing down this mail as a follow up in reference to the acquisition proposal I had sent recently. I request you to revert back and let us know if we can hope to take this forward.

Please feel free to get back to us with your valuable suggestions/queries.

Hoping for a positive response from your end.

Best regards,
Chia Appu

M&A Consultant
JCFCorp
Singapore | India | UK | US
Mobile/Whatsapp: +44 7451248959
website: www.jcfcorp.com

Not the first, won’t be the last. If I set the price at US $500,000, could I string “Chia Appu” on for a bit? The only problem there is that I do not own The Pomegranate; Equinox Publishing does. I would need to take the money and move somewhere that has no extradition treaty with the UK.

Academia has its scams, all designed for people willing to trade money for shortcuts.Diploma mills” have a hoary tradition, of course.

Sadly, I lost a friend over one of these shortcuts. “R.” had written a couple of articles for Pomegranate in the past, and he was good in his field. He then proposed another article, which appeared ready to publish — except that he wanted to list this Chinese professor as co-author.

Pagan studies is a fairly small world, and I had never heard of this man. I looked him up at [well-known Chinese university], and there he was, in the Dept. of Communist Studies or something like that.

It was clear to me that the Chinese professor had had nothing to do with writing the article, which was based on fieldwork in Western Europe. He was just being offered the chance to pad his c.v. in return for some other favor for R. — like a non-resident teaching position?[2]R. is lucky that he was not required to live there, given a certain well-known disease outbreak.

And there was more to the deal. [Well-known Chinese university] was supposedly starting a center for the study of new religious movements. The university was ready to “throw money at” the center’s projects.

If I were willing to designate their center as a “sponsor” of The Pomegranate and “put some Chinese names on the editorial board . . .  the arrangement [would be] more than nominally profitable [for you].”[3]R. had his own journal, which I am suppose now has some Chinese professors on the editorial board.

And there was no doubt that [Well-known Chinese university] had the cash.

There it was, a naked bribe. An odd  experience. Had I been as financially shaky as R. thought I was — as financially shaky as he himself had often been until later in his career — I might have been more tempted. Sorry, professor of Communist studies, you are not going to buy your way in Pagan studies that easily.

I said no, and R. cut me off completely.

Something chilling occurred to me later. The  incident was about five years ago. Since then, the mainland Chinese government has been cracking down on religion — all religions. The online journal Bitter Winter has carried many articles on the repression of not just “foreign” religions, mainly Islam and Christianity, in the People’s Republic, but also Buddhist and Taoist temples, new Chinese religious movements, and even family and clan memorial halls that go back for centuries.

All of them threaten President Xi Thought, apparently. All you can worship is Communism.

So if [major Chinese University] was preparing to study new reliigious movements, was that just part of a plan to wipe them out? There are predecents for that sort of thinking.

Notes

Notes
1 I have also encountered them in real estate and in regard to mineral rights.
2 R. is lucky that he was not required to live there, given a certain well-known disease outbreak.
3 R. had his own journal, which I am suppose now has some Chinese professors on the editorial board.

This Ain’t Your Film Set-CGI Viking Ship

The Sea Stallion rowed in calm water (Thilde Kold Holdt).

The best description I have ever read of sailing a long ship. I love it when people reconstitute old tech that still works — like the traditional Polynesian canoe that sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii and back in the 1970s, all without a compass, radio, or modern maps.

This is Danish writer Thilde Kold Holdt’s description of rejoining her “crew” for the first trip of the season aboard a traditional long ship, the Sea Stallion: “We’re 65 people on a ship no larger than a bus.”

Old habits must be remembered:

With the sail up, and not currently on duty, I’m no longer tied to my rowing seat, so I crash atop the oars, forgetting, as I do every year, not to lean against the thick shrouds, those enormous tarred ropes which hold up the mast. My long braid gets stuck to the tar and I have to wrench it off. I’m pretty sure this is why Vikings braided their beards.

The video included might remind you of the History Channel Vikings series, but this is not a CGI ship or a movie set, but the real deal, creaking and leaking and going forth.

Monetize Your Doll Collection: Add Ghosts

People are always trying to make money off podcasts, Instagram, etc., but have you thought about dolls? Haunted dolls, that is. And who is to say they are haunted? You, the seller!

“Haunted doll Erwin,” currently for sale on eBay.

On eBay, a Fantastical, Earnest World of Haunted Dolls” in the New Yorker.

But whether any of these dolls are truly haunted seems beside the point. As I scroll through pages of smudged cheeks and wonky eyes, pausing on “ ‘Gracelyn’ (not vampire)” and “Bethany, Sad, Lonely Spirit” and “MECA VERY OLD POWERFUL SOUL,” I feel smug that even a sprawling corporation like eBay, with all its accompanying blandness-inducing powers, can’t suppress the batty and outright bizarre. In their unapologetic weirdness and scrappy prose, haunted-doll listings offer a reprieve from the Internet age’s slick, ironic posturing and its distancing effects.

A quick search this morning turned up quite a few listings.

This is not just pop American occulture either; “Erwin,” for instance, is priced in British pounds.

Was This the Birth of Monotheism?

It was a liveable, walkable city until it suddenly vanished (Rice/West et al, 2021).

There you are, living your polytheistic/animistic Bronze Age life in a middle-sized city of about 8,000 people in what today we call the Jordan Valley when boom!

Actually, you don’t remember anything. You and everyone else nearby were vaporized in an explosion so intense that grains of sand turned into diamonds.

“What god did that?” the outlying surivors wonder. Some hollow-eyed bearded guy has an explanation: the Lord of Storms was punishing the land, and now we must obey Him.

Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground. (Genesis 19:24–25)

Obviously, the people there deserved it. What did they do to anger the LORD? Clearly he wreaked his vengence upon future generations:

The proposed asteroid that exploded over Tall el-Hammam may have also vaporized and ejected the nearby water from the Dead Sea over the area. Being highly toxic from the sheer amounts of salt in the water, the toxic water may have scattered across the lands from the impact; this, according to the research team, may be the reason why the city,together with some nearby settlements, remained uninhabited for hundreds of years after the proposed event took place. The resulting levels of salinity in the area would have been damaging for any crops they may have attempted to grow on the same soil, and would have needed hundreds of years’ worth of rain to wash out.

Fourteen miles away, the important city of Jericho was also smashed.

The very same winds that finished off Tall el-Hammam then reached Jericho, toppling some of its famous walls; some parts of Jericho burned as well.

You may know the story about how “Joshua fit [fought] the battle of Jericho” and “de walls came tumblin’ down.”  And then the Hebrews killed everybody except Rahab the prostitute. 

Well, no. Jericho’s walls came tumbling down two or three centuries before the Hebrews conquered Canaan (an event that not all historicians — even Israeli historians — think actually happened). The destruction formerly blamed on an Egyptian army might well have been caused by this “giant space rock.”

If you live in an “enchanted” world, in which events have meaning, what meaning would you draw from massive destruction out of nowhere?

A Libation for the Mother River

Across the wide Missouri — and she is extra-wide here, backed up by the Big Bend Dam (completed 1963) downstream into a winding reservoir called Lake Sharpe.

I wrote earlier about the hitchhiker whom I called Travis, a post writen on the 19th of October, mostly at the Twenty Below coffeehouse in Fargo, North Dakota, waiting to drive an old friend home to his tiny prairie town after he had been poked and prodded and MRI’d all day at the Sanford Medical Center.[1]All to be told, “No change. The tumor is inoperable.”

We still had some good time outdoors, working the new dog [2]The latest of his German wirehaired pointers under the big skies, driving  the long straight roads, and eating lunch at quirky small-town cafes. In one, I ordered a Reuben sandwich for a change, bit into it, and realize that something was different. Rather than the usual corned beef, it was made with roast beef. But the menu had promised local beef—and that probably was the case, whereas corned beef would have come off the Sysco truck or something like it. And it tasted good, so who cares?

Then on the 22nd  it was time to turn southwest again. When I cross the Missouri River on US 83 — the longest river in North America, actually — it’s always a homecoming, leaving the intensely farmed Midwest for the tan rolling hills of western South Dakota, a change of ecosystems and time zones all at once.

Once in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, I wheeled into a riverside parking lot. I had meant to stop at a municipal park in Pierre, on the east bank (Central Time), but it was full of construction materials and blocked to visitors — a new highway bridge is being built.

In thanksgiving for having returned to the West, I clambered down the rocky riprap with a plastic mug of Jim Bean whiskey and poured it (generously!) to Mother Missouri with a prayer of thanks.

And then on south to Valentine, Nebraska, which has its own poetic bridges across Minnechaduza Creek and the Niobrara River, if you know to take the old highway over the “most beautiful” Bryan Bridge.

Notes

Notes
1 All to be told, “No change. The tumor is inoperable.”
2 The latest of his German wirehaired pointers

The Hitchhiker

The heart of western South Dakota

The heart of western South Dakota: US Highway 212 near the town of Faith.

Leaving Spearfish, South Dakota, on October 17th en route to eastern North Dakota, I decided to skip the Green Bean coffeehouse, as much as I like it, and fueled up on motel-room coffee and a leftover partial burrito. I was on the road shortly after eight, up to Belle Fourche and then east on US 212.

US 50 across Nevada is often publicized as “the loneliest road in America,” but US 212 between Belle Fourche and the Missouri crossing at Charger’s Camp also qualifies. You come to a town of what looks like thirty people and then it’s forty miles to the next place. Tan rolling hills with the occasional butte—Bear Butte, Mud Butte, and the rest—to serve as landmarks. So it goes for more than two hundred miles.

Between Faith and Dupree, having crossed into the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, I saw a figure walking east beside the road. I thought he was a (probably) Lakota teenager with an instrument case (trumpet?) slung on his back. I blew past him at 75 mph and then re-considered. There was almost no traffic. There never is. He was miles from anywhere. Well, who will pick him up if I don’t? I turned the Jeep around. (It’s so hard to break that driving rhythm when you have 450 miles to go.)

As I drove back west, I scanned the two vehicles that I met, a pickup truck and a sedan full of people. I did not spot him. But suppose he was lying down in the bed of the truck?

“I’ll drive to the top of the next rise and have a look,” I thought. Sure enough, a dot in the distance, there he was. I tossed some stuff from the passenger seat into the back.

Travis (we exchanged first names) was grateful. He was no teenager, but rather 33 years old—I got his birthdate and much of his life story. Father an Anglo biker, a regular at the Sturgis motorcycle rally every summer (they had lived in nearby Rapid City), Vietnam vet, died of prostate cancer in 2016. Mother Lakota. For some trivial reason, he had missed visiting his dad at the VA hospital in Sioux Falls, and shortly afterwards, his dad was gone, and he was still angry with himself. He told me where his mom was from—I recognized the name, a little town off the rez, that’s about all.

The grey thing on his back was a duffle bag with everything he owned in it.

He had been visiting a man whom he called his “father figure” (a maternal uncle?) in Iron Lightning, a place I know only from seeing the sign when I go by the turnoff. Let’s just say that there is no Wikipedia entry for Iron Lighting.[1]It’s just ten or twelve houses, I gathered, probably BIA housing. He said that the evening before, he and the other man had walked along the meandering little Moreau River to a butte where eagles nest. They had prayed there.

Then they went to the man’s house and started drinking—sweet wine, by the smell of his sweat. The “father figure” passed out, but Travis had started walking south toward the highway some time around 2 a.m. It is about ten miles out to the highway. He had stopped for a sleep, he said, and was walking again when I saw him about 10:00 a.m.

Food and water? None. I gave him cold coffee and apples from a neighbor’s tree. He said that he had done this kind of reservation hitchhiking before, with an emphasis on “hiking.”

I got his story: the jobs he took off the rez (there is nothing on the rez except tribal government work, basically). The broken marriage to a Lakota woman, who was currently in Eagle Butte, the reservation’s administrative center. The 11-year-old daughter he has not seen for several years. The recent time spent at some rehab center in Wyoming for his alcoholism, which was a good experience, he said, but of course after a couple months, back his old situations, he fell off the wagon. He had worked construction recently in Rapid City, but oddly did not know where Canyon Lake School [2]I attended Canyon Lake School for grades K-4 was, so he must have had a circumscribed view of that town. Or maybe he just paid no attention to elementary schools.

He was headed for Mobridge, a larger town about ninety miles away. I turned north at Dupree, having planned to go through the Standing Rock reservation and on up to I-94 that way, a new route for me. But I realized that turning east to Mobridge and then continuing north on US 83, one of my usual routes, would be about the same distance, so I gave him the hitchhiker’s dream—a straight-through trip to a friend’s house where he hoped to be able to stay awhile. The friend’s pickup was in the driveway, so Travis hopped out, thanked me, and was gone.

Everyone in the world is damaged, has susto or “soul loss,” I often think. We medicalize this condition with terms like post-traumatic stress disorder, but I heard one curandera say that even your birth can set off susto, if it was a difficult birth. This is all just starker out there on US 212, where the tan prairie rolls away and there are no other human beings for miles.

I gently suggested at one point to Travis that he go out somewhere and offer up his problem to his ancestors on both sides . . . make a little offering . . . there might be someone who could give him a nudge in the right direction. Maybe. It’s his choice.

Notes

Notes
1 It’s just ten or twelve houses, I gathered, probably BIA housing.
2 I attended Canyon Lake School for grades K-4