Conference on Current Pagan Studies Moves Online

This year’s Conference on Contemporary on Contermporary Pagan Studies will be an online event, the weekend of 16–17 January.

The theme is “Brave New World: Contemporary Paganisms During Extreme Change,” and the keynote speakers, pictured above, are Diana Paxson and Michael York.

Basic registration is $40 for all sessions, and you can register online here.

Thanks to His Sublime Excellency Gavin Newsom, Caesar of the West, the post-conference bar scene will not. It’s not like you can go to the French Laundry in Claremont.

Forget Ecotourism—Try Fairytourism

Part of Pat Noone’s farm (Agriland)

Ecotourism often involves naturalist-guided tours of relatively wild areas, but also visits to small-scale agricultural producers, also called “agritourism.” Sometimes this operates in a B&B fashion. See, for example, the state of Vermont’s guide.

But never mind milking cows and picking berries. Suppose you could offer encounters with the Other Crowd?

Pat Noone, a Irish farmer in County Galway, is almost there already.

A lot of people come here to see the fairies in this field and they get great experiences here.

“I have the porthole to the fairy world, where the blackthorn meets the whitethorn.”

Noone says that people come to the area and get great experiences of peace, joy, healings and some “find emotions here”.

According to Noone, the members of the aos sí (fairy world) speak normal English to him, as it is the only language he has – but that they “will speak any language you want to speak”.

The fairy fort is a place where the fairies “live and congregate”.

I’ve seen the fairies here on a lot of occasions – playing music, having a drink and dancing.

“They look like the image of yourself – whatever height you are, they will be that height. They are the very same image as us, when they want to show themselves.

“A lot of the time they don’t show themselves and they have shown themselves to people that were here and didn’t show themselves to me.”

Pointing to the branches of the fairy tree in the field, Noone explains that a lot of people tie bits of material as a “thank you or a wish to the fairies”.

“I generally give them [visitors] pieces of rushes from now on; I don’t give them anymore cloths because the whole place was covered in cloths.”

Noone feels that he gets great inspiration when he goes to the field.

I go in here [wondering] about when to sell livestock and that’s only the farming end of it. Just to know when to sell and be ahead and thank God this year I obeyed them [fairies] – I’m well ahead before the lockdown.

“Of course I believe in it – it has helped me in farming a lot.”

I like that this article appeared on Agriland, “Ireland’s Largest Farming-News Portal.”

New Collection on Western Esotericism, Downloadable

Quick, while it’s free, you can download New Approaches to the Study of Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem (he has published in The Pomegranate) and Julian Strube.

The blurb:

This volume offers new approaches to some of the biggest persistent challenges in the study of esotericism and beyond. Commonly understood as a particularly “Western” undertaking consisting of religious, philosophical, and ritual traditions that go back to Mediterranean antiquity, this book argues for a global approach that significantly expands the scope of esotericism and highlights its relevance for broader theoretical and methodological debates in the humanities and social sciences.

That final sentence could be applied to Pagan studies too, which has the potential to upset a lot of comfortable thought about “religion.” But we need to do more.

Revisiting a Colorado Yule Log Hunt

The little southern Colorado town of Beulah has a traditional Yule log hunt that is almost as old as Wicca — it began in 1952.

M. and I attended with a friend and her young son in 2015, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule,” with lots of photos.

Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.

The 1954 Yule Log (Beulah Historical Society)

The “huntsmen” of 1977 — they direct the Yule log hunt (Beulah Historical Society).

When I watch the hunt, I think of something that the English folkorist E. C. Cawte wrote back in the 1970s. He was directing a group of schoolboys in performing a “souling play,” a traditonal entertainment from the winter in which St. George slays someone — who does not stay slain.

Huntsmen of 2015.

“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”[1]E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

The kids in Beulah know it too.

This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.

Original Beulah Yule log blog post and photos here.

Notes

1 E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

Call Deadline Extended for Gothic Encounters with Faerie Conference

John Anster Fitzgerald (1823-1906), Fairies Looking Through a Gothic Arch

Everything academic seems to slo-o-o-w down in 2020, so you can still submit a proposal for the “Ill met by moonlight’: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture” conference at the University of Hertfordshire, 8–11 April 2021.

We are pleased to announce an extension to the CFP for our ‘”Ill met by moonlight”: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture’ Conference. You can now submit proposals up till to 31 January 2021. We hope this will allow people to participate who were concerned about travel restrictions. Anyone who is researching the interplay between fairies (in the widest sense; we are very interested in the global equivalents of these creatures) and the Gothic is welcome to submit a proposal, but please hurry! Please see the web page for full details of how to apply.

We have also extended the conference by one day so that it now runs from 8-11 April 2021. We will be adding further plenaries and activities.

Due to the current pandemic, we have now decided to hold this as an online conference using Zoom. It’s disappointing

that we’re unable to meet in person but it does mean we can have a much more global and diverse event. Further details of the programme will be announced in the future; please keep an eye on the website.

Find the text of the original call for papers here.

Of course, that’s “Gothic”  as in a subgenre of Romantic lierature of the late eighteenth and early nineteentn centures.

Not Easten Germanic tribes notable in late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, and not a black-clothed fashion statement.with (I think) dreary music.

Is Contemporary Druidry an ‘Indigenous’ Religion?

I mentioned in yesterday’s post my sadness at missing one of the Indigenous Religious Traditions sessions at the American Academy of Relligion’s online annual meeting this year. (There is another one though). “Indigenous” is a word of power, like “decolonize..”[1]In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.

Enter Leeds Trinity University PhD student Angela Puca. (She just passed her doctoral oral exam — “viva” to the Brits — with flying colors, says Ronald Hutton, who was her external examiner,” so I suppose she is only waiting on the formalities now. She has been a graduate teaching assistant in the Dept of Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity University in the UK.

She has been researching the way the term indigenous is employed in rehabilitating Italian witchcraft in light of contemporary Paganism, among other things. And in her copious free time, she has created a YouTube channel of short lessons and discussions in Paganism: Angela’s Symposium.

“Indigenous,” she admits, is a political classification invoked to protect the rights of certain colonized minority peoples. Colonization has happened throughout history and has affected almost all peoples at some point. But the term is limited when used to talk about religion, she points out. Some people are characterized as “indigenous” and others, who have lived on the same land for centuries, are not, yet they may have experienced cultural and religious colonization, e.g., what Charlemagne did to the Saxons.[2]Carole Cusack, “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages,” The Pomegranate: The International Journal … Continue reading

But “indigenous traditions” are not necessarily walled gardens. They can import and transform outside influences and just as importantly, they can export and share their own ways. She follows Suzanne Owen in building an argument that today’s European Druidry can be seen as indigenous, for it relates to t”he land, the people, and that which has gone before.”

Is a YouTube video an “oral tradition”? Discuss.

Notes

1 In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.
2 Carole Cusack, “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages,” The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies 13, no. 1 (2011) 33–51.

Lurching into a Virtual Annual Meeting of the AAR-SBL

Screenshot from the annual meeting scheduling app. At least it works better than some of the scheduling choices do!

If this were a normal year — and we know it’s not — I would be in Boston right now with 10,000 of my closest friends, attending the annual meeting of the American Acafemy of Religion and its smaller, parent organization, the Society of Biblical Literature.[1]The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools. A typical meeting involves hearing papers until your brain is full, meeting with publishers and editors, shouting into friends’ ears in noisy hotel bars, attending receptions (free food!), touring the host city, drinking,eating, buying too many books, and generally getting your intellectual batteries recharged.

This year we are all Zoomerati. I got off to a bad start this morning, having quickly walked and fed the dog, made coffee, built a fire in the woodstove to warm the kitchen and dining room for M. when she got up, and settled myself to “attend” the first session of the day, a workshop from the Ritual Studies group.

I had attended a similar workshop last year, which was limited in size by the nature of the workshop. This time, you were supposed to pre-register, and I thought that I had done so, but sometimes I am a little dyslexic about online forms and stuff. The time came, but the “Join” screen button did not.

It turned out to be full. Evidently I messed up when I thought that I had registered — or I had been too late.. Today the  session’s chat room was full of people asking “Do I have to register”” “Can I register?” “I paid for AAR — why can’t I register?” and so on.

Some might have been confused by the Virtual Annual Meeting FAQ page, which states,

Is there a way to make a reservation in advance to attend a session?
No need to do this—just join the session when it begins.

A normal annual meeting is five days. This virtual annual meeing goes from November 29 to December 10, but still manages to produce situations where I want to be in sessions that meet simulataneously.

Like Tuesday. Some scheduler put New Religious Movements (which was the first home of Pagan studies before we got our own unit), Indigenous Religious Traditions, and a  “exploratory session”: “Things That Go Bump in the Night”: Folklore, the Supernatural, and Vernacular Religion,” all at the same time! Ten days they have to work with, yet much of what I want to attend happens all at once.[2]I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.

“But they will be recorded, surely,” you say. Maybe Not that I can see from the info in my planning app! Crap crap crapola. (I would love to be wrong about that.) Do I just jump from virtual room to virtual room? Apparently so.

And there is no book show and no dinner in a nice restaurant on the publisher’s tab. No quick trip on the train up to Salem to buy witch kitsch. No window-shopping on Newbury Street. Just the same old house and the same old screen.[3]I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

But there is at least one book that I bought last year in San Diego that I have yet to read, so I will pretend it’s new.

Notes

1 The SBL was founded in 1880 and the AAR in 1909, originally as the Association of Biblical Instructors in American Colleges and Secondary Schools.
2 I should add that most groups have more than one session; Contemporary Pagan Studies has three, for instance.
3 I pity attendees in Europe, who have to say up through the wee hours to attend.

Why Is the Hippo Goddess Holding a Bull by a Chain in the Northern Sky?

Here is the ancient Egyptian depiction of the Big Dipper, seen here in the shape of a bull’s leg. It includes seven stars and is tied to a stake by a goddess in hippo form (right). The Big Dipper is considered the manifestation of the evil god Seth, who murdered his brother Osiris. The goddess prevents Seth from reaching Osiris in the underworld — a myth made possible because the constellation never dips below the horizon. (Image: © Ahmed Amin)

This carving comes from a Greco-Roman-era Egyptian temple in Esna,where decorated walls are being carefully cleaned and original colors seen again.

As workers in Egypt remove soot and dirt from the temple, sometimes with a mixture of alcohol and distilled water, the original painted carvings and hieroglyphics beneath are so vibrant, “it looks like it was painted yesterday,” project leader Christian Leitz, a professor of Egyptology at the University of Tübingen in Germany, told Live Science. “But we are not repainting anything, we are just removing the soot.”

So what is Taweret, the Hippo Goddess, doing? She is holding onto a chain attached the Bull’s Leg, one Egyptian name for the north polar constellation called Ursa Major or the Big Dipper—and as explained in the caption above, she is keeping evil at bay.

This constellation has also been called The Plough or Charles’ Wain (Wagon), and that Charles would be Charlemagne (748–814) the Frankish emperor sometimes called the “Father of Europe” but who also ordered the killing of thousands of Pagans (mostly Saxons) who resisted his missionaries.

It is called “the Wagon” in a Mesopotamian text from 1700 B.C.E., and it is mentioned in the Biblical Book of Job. The seven bright stars in the modern constellation Ursa Major have borne a dual identity in Western history at least since Homer’s time, being seen as both a wagon and a bear: as in Latin plaustrum “freight-wagon, ox cart” and arctos “bear,

At the time the carving was created, the Dipper/Plough/Wagon/Bull’s Leg/Seven Oxen never dipped below the horizon, as seen by Mediterranean viewers, so it never entered the Underworld. “The seven stars never were below the horizon in the latitude of the Mediterranean in Homeric and classical times (though not today, due to precession of the equinoxes).”

For more photos of the temple, see this article:

It is made out of sandstone with 24 columns supporting the roof and 18 free-standing columns with colorful plant decorations. The experts believe that the temple was decorated for up to 200 years. Its ceiling is especially exceptional for its astronomical and hieroglyphic inscriptions. The inscriptions are also evidence of religious beliefs and cult movements at the time.

Very nice, but I prefer to think back to when Thuban was the pole star. Now those were shining times! It has all been downhill since.