Lifting up Love & Light in North Carolina

A mug with the Pagan triple goddess symbol is pictured at Quantum Soul in Carrboro on Sunday 

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A mug with the Pagan triple goddess symbol is pictured at Quantum Soul in Carrboro on Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

The student newspaper at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, does the annual Pagans-and-witches story but reaches out a little farther to interview a graduate student working in that area.

“There are lots of different ways that people celebrate this time of year and engage in this time of year and the best thing to do to learn more is actually to just ask people,” Mary Hamner, a Religious Studies graduate student studying paganism and witchcraft at UNC, said.

* * * *

According to Hamner, it is very difficult to estimate pagan and witch populations in the U.S., but assumptions can be made based on statistics concerning witchcraft-related book sales or the number of posts under certain hashtags on social media.

She cautioned people from making the mistake of thinking pagans and witches are “fringe groups,” or a group with extreme views, especially in the South.

“The South has this really entrenched history in Protestant Christianity in particular,” she said. “That doesn’t erase the fact that it is a really diverse region and many other religious groups have been here the whole time just because they are not the ones routinely who get the microphone handed to them.”

Now if we could get the Daily Tar Heel  to follow  Pomegranate style and capitalize “Pagan” while lowercasing “religious studies,” which is not a proper noun unless you are talking about the UNC Department of Religious Studies.

Go Light the Lantern at Your Door

Go light the lantern at your door
and honor those who’ve gone before.
The worlds that part us now are twain
for Hallow’s Eve is here again.

The westering sun grows pale and wan.
The day grows dark

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, the nights draw long.
The autumn leaves are ticked with fire;
fruit hangs ripe upon the brier.

Witch Like Me

It is late October, so naturally the best time to publicize Diana Helmuth’s The Witching Year: A Memoir of Earnest Fumbling Through Modern Witchcraft.

It looks to me like she took A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (2008) and Wiccan-ized it.

Instead of avoid cloth of mixed fibers (no polyester-cotton blend for him) or seeking an adulterer to stone, Helmuth decides to celebrate the feast of Lammas:

I realized this while reading a book, flipping through some pages, and I go, oh crap. I don’t have the sacred knife. I don’t have an altar. I don’t have anything.

Like Jacobs, she was a “none” who wanted to venture among the savages — actual believers, as she told National Public Radio interviewer Mallory Yu:

I wanted to be thought of as intelligent. So I rejected most religion and most spirituality throughout most of my life.

And then during COVID, and in general, as I got older, the idea of a self-directed religion that promised me a way to have some control over the universe – I think increasingly we find ourselves facing things that really affect us deeply that we have very little control over – right? – climate change, housing prices, health insurance bills, pandemics, who’s going to become the president?

And here’s this religion – this spirituality – that says, you can have an effect on these things that feel so much bigger than you. You just need a couple of candles and some willpower.

There is a long tradition of “among the savages” writing in America. As a young reporter in the 1980s I briefly met a tall but baby-faced guy who, having graduated from Colorado College, as I recall, went back to high school and passed himself off as a senior in order to write about high school from the inside. (At least one female writer has done that too.)

Maybe the best example is a book that was a classic of the Civil Rights Era but would probably never get published now, although it is still in print after sixty years:  John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me (1961). A white writer from Texas, Griffin, who lived from 1920–1980, decided that the only way he could write about African-American life was to temporarily become one. His experiment was underwritten by the black-oriented magazine Sepia in return for first publication rights. From Wikipedia:

In late 1959, John Howard Griffin went to a friend’s house in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once there, under the care of a dermatologist, Griffin underwent a regimen of large oral doses of the anti-vitiligo drug methoxsalen, and spent up to 15 hours daily under an ultraviolet lamp for about a week. He was given regular blood tests to ensure that he was not suffering liver damage. The darkening of his skin was not perfect

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, so he touched it up with stain. He shaved his head bald to hide his straight brown hair. Satisfied that he could pass as an African-American, Griffin began a six-week journey in the South.

But even Griffin was following the footsteps of another white journalist who made a similar journey eleven years earlier.

So there is a pretty good way to get a book: pass yourself off as a member of Group X and write about it. If you do in graduate school, it is ethnography; otherwise, creative nonfiction.

Magic in the United States, a new podcast by Heather Freeman of U. of North Carolina-Charlotte, has just launched. As one of her panel of advisors, I have had the opportunity to listen to several episodes. They are well-organized and not t00 long (usually under 30 minutes). So far I have heard about the famous murder of a Pennsylvania Dutch pow-wow doctor and the beginnings of Spiritualism — it’s a wide-reaching show.

Here is the 3-minute trailer, if you need more convincing..

The local alt-weekly, Queen City Nerve, interviewed her about the project:

Magic can mean different things to different people. For many, it’s reserved for those fantastical worlds seen on screen, but for others, it’s not so far removed. For Heather Freeman, its proximity to our world is something she seeks to explore in her podcast Magic in the United States: 400 Years of Magical Beliefs, Practices, and Cultural Conflicts.

The podcast, which explores spiritual and mysterious concepts throughout the country starting from the 1600s to the present day, launched on Oct. 24, with a new episode airing every Tuesday

“It really spans the gamut. So I started putting together a proposal for a podcast series to do this project looking at magic in the United States,” she recalled. “There’s tons of podcasts about witchcraft

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, about ceremonial magic, and then also about religious practices that get called magic. But historically, calling these practices magic is a racist pejorative.” . . . .

Freeman said exploring why certain practices get called magic while the word “religion” is reserved for more mainstream practices is at the heart of her podcast.

“This question of ‘What is religion?’ is really challenging,” she said. “If most people understand religion as one of these major monotheisms, they’re missing a lot.”

You can find and subscribe to the podcast at its home page or at the usual podcast places.

A Knife in the Woods

Large butcher knife on forest floor.
M. and I went yesterday to check our favorite mushroom grounds. The radar had shown thunderstorms up there earlier in the week

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, but whatever rain fell had soaked right in. Nothing was coming up yet, not even LBMs. ((The mushroom hunter’s catch-all term: “Little brown mushrooms.” Like “little gray bird” when you are looking for birds.))

Stepping into a small clearing, probably part of a 1980s skid trail, I looked down and saw a knife. An eight-inch chef’s knife with a single-bevel (“chisel”) edge, to be precise — Asian-style, so probably Chinese-made. Much like this one.

I had made my offerings just minutes before at a hollow stump. This find seemed definitive. It was like something said, “Sorry, no mushrooms. Would you like a knife?”

It went into M’s pack, and since it was long and sharp we nested it between the pages of Vera Evenson’s Mushrooms of Colorado and the Southern Rocky Mountains. She was OK with taking it home, but she said later that she would rather have had mushrooms.

That is the second time I have found a knife at my feet. The first time was in Teller County, Colorado, east of Florissant, when I was in my mid-twenties. It was the last day of Februrary, consequently, the last day of small-game hunting. No dog then — just me, my old Ford F-100 truck, and Granddad’s shotgun. I didn’t see a rabbit, but walking through the woods I found an antler-handled knife.

A little time later,  I found an aluminum camping cup.

I was new to the Craft then, but I could see a certain pattern here. Would there next be an aluminum camping plate with a pentagram scratched on it?

Well, no. But it was “a moment.”

As for yesterday’s knife, it might have been lost last season by one of the Vietnamese ((I think. Or other SE Asian.)) market-hunters recreational mushroom hunters with very large appetites and pillowcases to fill I saw in that area last year.

Whatever it’s origins, I touched up the edge, and M. is slicing vegetables with it now.

Latvian to Head European Congress of Ethnic Religions

U?is Nastevi?s
Uġis Nastevičs (Facebook).

Latvian Pagan Uġis Nastevičs,  a resident of Riga, was elected president of the European Congress of Ethnic Regions at a meeting in that city earlier this month. He works there as a translator and guide.

The group defines “ethnic religion” as  “religion

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, spirituality, and cosmology that is firmly grounded in a particular people’s traditions. In our view, this does not include modern occult or ariosophic theories/ideologies, nor syncretic neo-religions.

Delegates from seventeen countries also passed what is called the “Riga Delaration,” which begins with these statements:

We, the undersigned, represent religious communities upholding the traditional, ethnic religions of diverse peoples of Europe. We hold deep reverence for our ancestors, the Gods and Goddesses they worshiped and the worldview and values that they bequeathed to us. Our spiritual traditions are inseparable from our traditional culture, and both require support and protection.

We call on all the governments of the nations of Europe and the European Union to grant our religions the same respect and privileges that are accorded to other religions in European societies and legal systems. We ask for the following specific measures:

Of the items listed, Nastevi?s said that his personal priority was ” to contribute to securing the status and protection of holy places, many of which are getting already vandalized and desecrated.

Ronald Hutton’s Gresham Lectures Available Online

The five lectures that Ronald Hutton gave this past spring in the Gresham College series Finding Britain’s Lost Gods are available for viewing online. Each lasts about an hour.

  1. Gods of Prehistoric Britain

  2. Paganism in Roman Britain

  3. Anglo-Saxon Pagan Gods

  4. Viking Pagan Gods in Britain

  5. Finding Lost Gods in Wales

  6. How Pagan was Medieval Britain?

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Bigfoot on the High Wire?

Sabina, magician and dancer (Paranormal Cirque photo).

Everything is paranormal these days. Even Stormy Daniels, the porn actress whom Donald Trump made famous, also bills herself as a paranomal investigator and medium. (“How to arouse a ghost”?)

Driving past a shopping mall parking lot last week, I saw an assortment of new-looking trailers and motorhomes and circus tents. The paranormal circus was in town, specially, the  R-rated “Paranormal Cirque”  touring unit of the Cirque Italia.

Under this Clown Castle, the black and red big top tent, Acrobats of the Air, Illusionists, freaks, mysterious creatures and all the elements that make one think of a “normal” Circus but that of normal has very little!

A new show with breathtaking implications always poised between fun and the most uninhibited fear that will transport you to a dark world inhabited by creatures with incredible circus art abilities.

A crazy yet fun fusion between Circus, theatre, and cabaret in perfect harmony with the evolution of a show that brings you back to when we dream … and when we had nightmares and fantasies. Scare

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, encompass, amuse and surprise are the ingredients for a mixture of emotions impossible to forget. This is truly a Paranormal experience like no other.

Mothman would be a great act, but he probably does not want to leave the East Coast.

The Scholar and the Unabomber

Federal marshalls with Ted Kaczynski in custody, Helena, Montana, 1996.

Theodore “Unabomber” Kaczynski, my former neighbor, loosely speaking, has died at age 81. From 1998–2021 he was in the “Supermax” facility at the federal prison complex outside Florence, Colorado, a place I usually drive past once or twice a week. More recently he was in a federal prison hospital, possibly an improvement to being in a concrete box 23 hours a day.

Shortly after he arrived at ADX Florence, I was walking up Pike’s Peak Avenue to the post office. I saw a man on the sidewalk who looked a lot like a prominent scholar of American nature religion, but I knew that that guy lived in the Southeast and would not be in Florence. Until he said, “Hi, Chas.”

The scholar was sharing a motel room in nearby Cañon City with one of the editors of  the Earth First! journal. Back when Earth First! was the freewheeling, ecotage-promoting, Neanderthal-affirming organization that dated its publication by the Celtic wheel of the year

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, I had been a subscriber. In fact, I had had dinner one night with co-founder Dave Foreman in Boulder one time and had a great conversation about Neanderthal people, as they were understood and theorized back in the 1980s.

Apparently the EF! editor was on Kaczynski’s approved visitor list. The scholar, who had been around EF! before, had hoped to get on that list too, with research interests in mind. Unfortunately, “Uncle Ted” said no.

Dave Foreman split with Earth First! in 1990. I had not given all EF! as much thought in the 90s, but when M. and I paid a visit to their motel, we found  . . . a different tone.

Kacyznski’s message of distrust in  technological “progress” was important, the editor((More properly, member of the “editorial collective”?)) affirmed. But there was that public-relations problem with his “unique program of direct action,” as she put it.

In the motel hallway, I shook my head. Unique program of direct action — that is how you describe sending letter bombs when you speak fluent Enviro-tankie. Earth First! had changed all right. The journal had lost its Pagan-ish-adjacent flavor. And where are they now? More an idea than a (loose) organization, still invoked by ecotageurs. ((Funny thing, Uncle Ted was no fan of the political left, at least in some of his writings as quoted at the link.))

My Interview about Time Slips, Synchronicity, and a ‘Fairy Portal’

As promised, my interview with host Timothy Renner of the Strange Familiars podcast has now dropped: “Episode 395, Time Slips and Portals.

You can play it on the site or download it. ((I always download podcasts and shuffle them onto and off of my iPhone, because I do not always listen in sequence and I don’t want the petty tyranny of some app saying, “Do you still want to subscribe to Podcast X? You have not listened in three weeks!”))

I tell three stories of “time slips” that happened when I was much younger — just making a start as a journalist, just married . . .

One happened in a medieval castle in Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford, Ireland, which apparently is well-known to paranormal investigators now, but maybe not so back then, when it was quiet and dusty.((And the Celtic Tiger was just a blue-eyed kitten.)) Not only was my experience temporarily overpowering, but it was “sealed” by a knock-out synchroncity the following year.

One occurred at highway speed on the I-95 bridge over the Susquehanna River. Again

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, it looped around and re-appeared over a business lunch in Colorado Springs.

The third, closest to home, happened when I was gathering the stories that went into a little book called Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek.((The cover photo was taken from a house owned by the famous astrologer Linda Goodman, for what that is worth.))

And then jump forward to 2019, when M. and I were mushrooming, and, it would appear, Someone decided to teach me to be a little more respectful. Or something.

I did not see Anyone, but I did see “the ravine that was not there,” and for a moment almost entered it. The thought of doing that — and beckoning M. to join me — gives me chills even now three and a half years later.

And if my voice sounds a little scratchy, you can put that down to spring allergies.