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.

How Makers and Creators Might Price Their Work

King of Cups Tarot Card

Aquarian Tarot, David Palladini, 1979.

When I graduated from college, I owned three Tarot decks: the Rider-Waite/Pamela Coleman Smith deck (of course), the Marseilles deck (for history), and David Palladini’s Aquarian Tarot (well, it fit my personal aesthetic at the time).

This is fun, I thought, I should collect more Tarot decks.

And then the Tarot market exploded with publishers like Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, US Games, and a bunch of others coming out with Tarot or Tarot-inspired divination decks. I would have needed another bedroom — and a lot of money — to create the collection.

But it’s all good. In the last year I’ve contributed to crowd-funding for two: the American Renaissance deck, which is still in the works, and the Mushroom Tarot.

A Tarot cloth promoting the Mushroom Tarot.

One of the premiums from the Mushroom Tarot was a bandana — or Tarot cloth —  with the slogan, “In the Name of the Hyphae, the Spore, and the Holy Host.” That may go instead nto my mushrooom-hunting gear. Watch for it on the other blog next August.

So people are making their own decks, and that is wonderful, but how do you decide the production numbers and how to do you price them?

For that you should read “Show Me the Numbers: Self-Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing of a Tarot/Oracle Deck,” by Benebell Wen. There is a video and additional text, and I think this difficult topic needs text! It’s not the fun, creative part, but it is essential to think about. (And I guess you need merch like T-shirts and Tarot cloths too.)

Kind of related: Kristen Blizzard, a Colorado foraging-and-cooking blogger, and her husband recently finished a book, Wild Mushrooms: A Cookbook and Foraging Guide.

They were working with a publisher — they weren’t book authors, yet.

Ultimately we decided to jump in blind and figure it out because… mushrooms! Writing a book was never something either of us longed to put on our resumes, yet in the long run I’m glad we did.

So there was research and cooking and writing and photography. You may have taken hundreds of photos for your blog, but food photography is a speciality — she has advice on that too. Pricing and press runs will be someone else’s decision though.

New: the “Rejected Religion” Podcast

Stephanie Shea

The number of high-quality Pagan and esoteric podcasts continues to grow, and I am listing some in the right-hand column.

Today’s add is Rejected Religion, created by Stephanie Shea. She writes,

I hold a Research Master in Religious Studies from the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My resesarch interests are located in the areas of Western esotericism, and emergent identity groups. During the course of my studies, I realized that there was a gap between the plethora of information being produced by academics and the mainstream public. This platform acts as a bridge, with the goal to bring these two spheres closer together by offering podcast interviews, YouTube videos, blog posts, book reviews, plus a wide array of information that focuses on the ways that ‘the esoteric’ is found within popular culture. My motto is “illuminating the obscure”  — I strive to provide a historical viewpoint that aims to share information and to highlight misconceptions surrounding all things ‘esoteric’ or ‘occult’ in an engaging and entertaining way — no stuffy, boring lectures, but instead, down-to-earth discussions about topics that are often vague and therefore misunderstood

If you do not see the blog-and-podcast roll to the right, that is because you are not on the home page. Click the banner at the top — or here — to go there.

“Childish and Credulous Fantasy”: How the BBC Viewed Witchcraft in 1962

Cecil Williamson, left, and BBC interviewer Alan Whicker (BBC).

Pop over to the BBC archive to watch presenter llan Whicker pontificate about witchcraft in a short television segment from Hallowee 1962.

Among other non-information, Whicker trots out the bogus “nine million witches executed” figure from the Renaissance and Early Modern witch trials.

He also interviews Cecil Williamson, Gerald Gardner’s original business partner in the Isle of Man witchcraft museum, whose opening, I suspect, had much to do with the formal creation of Wicca.

William, meanwhile, announces his official “witch ratio”: 1 witch to 53,000 population. Now you know.

The Witch’s Hat: Where Did It Come From?

Abby Cox tracks the history of the black, conical, flat-brimmed hat with a deteour into eighteenth-century dressmaking and other things: “Swedish witches are defnitely cottagecore witches, and I’m here for that.” If you are in a hurry and wish to skip patriarchy, etc., start at the 11-minute mark.

Not discussed: handfuls of the “witchy aesthetic” derive from the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939). It’s amazing how many people think that its costuming and makeup (green skin, striped socks) represent some kind of Historical Truth.

The “eighteenth-century” part is because she spent years as a dressmaker and interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. She is not a historian of witchcraft, but she does make an interesting argument from a fashion viewpoint, Written as an article, this video could have fit into the last issue of The Pomegranate, which was devoted to Pagan art and fashion.

She is not saying that Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends, founded as a radical religious group in the late 1600s ) were seriously mistaken for satanic witches.[1]Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times. She is saying that the Quakers’ “look,” one that emphasized out-of-date fashions for women in particular — “fifty years out of date” — might have influenced the way that witches were portrayed in 18th, 19th, and 20th century popular art. (She dates the first graphic appearance to 1720 — see 27:40 in the video.)

There is no particular dress style associated with the actual women (and men) who were persecuated as witches in the 1400s–1600s. They wore whatever people wore in their time and place.

Notes

1 Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times.