Season of the Witch(crap), Part 3

As a rule, media witches are always young and female (Mercator).

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

“Witchcrap”: superficial journalistic treatments of Wicca, Witchcraft, and related Pagan paths.

• In The Atlantic,Young black women are leaving Christianity and embracing African witchcraft in digital covens.” Except the article discusses a convention and gets to the digital stuff later. I think the “penchant for digital religion” extends across racial boundaries

• Meanwhile, “Though it is the subtext of savagery that animates narratives around witches, white women who take up the mantle of witch magic rarely understand themselves to be engaging in Indian or savage play,” proclaims the online magazine New Inquiry.

• The Australian Catholic magazine Mercator keeping an eye on Wicca too, but the article is by Massimo Introvigne, who is a well-known scholar of new religious movements and also a Roman Catholic. “The Rise and Rise of Wicca.”

Spike groans, “Spare Me This Pagan Revival.” “Pagans are generally perverts, and not even sexy ones.”

• And from India, Swarajya magazine offers “The Religion They Want to Build,” which notes the Indo-Europeaness of much revived Western Paganism:

As is expected from the linguistic kinship among Indo-European languages, European Pagan cultures show striking similarities with various Indic indigenous traditions. For instance, among Lithuanian Neo Pagans, the notion of Damumas as a foundation of the world order is a central idea. According to Lithuanian ethnologist and Romuva ideologue Jonas Trinkunas, the word Damumas is linked etymologically to the Sanskrit dharma and the Pali Dhamma. J P Mallory, a prominent Indo-European scholar cites another linguistic parallel in a Lithuanian proverb — ‘Dievas dave dantis; Dievas duous duonoss’. The proverb translates as ‘God gave us teeth, God will give bread’. The Sanskrit equivalent of the proverb is Devas adadat datas, Devas dat dhanas.

Not so crappy. And another indication that some Hindus are realizing that they have more in common with us than with the Middle Eastern monotheisms.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

Candace Aguilera trained in Guatemala’s jungle (Colorado Springs Independent).

“Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1” here.

Continuing . . .

• One more “high” priestess joke, and you’re out of here. From the Colorado Springs Independent, the weekly that gets all the cannabis advertising because the chain-owned daily paper won’t touch it: “Meet Colorado’s High Priestess of Cannabis.” Yes, it’s that favorite form of American creativity: Let’s start a church!

• The Catholic News Agency views the number of self-proclaimed witches with alarm: “Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise.” With video.

• If you dare . . . “Go inside a Wiccan ceremony.” Also with video. Fairly mild sauce, actually.

• It’s the Guardian again: “The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co [sic] are casting their spell over TV.”  “Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist” — yes, that’s all it takes to be a media witch.

• And on public [sic] radio, “When you hear the word ‘witch,’ what does your mind conjure?” Damn, that’s clever writing. This time it’s the 1A show: “Hex in Effect: Why Witches are Back.” (Were we gone? Did I miss that memo?) A teaser for the radio show, which you can listen to if you have unlimited earbuds time.

• On Halloween, Vox.com covered the Sephora witch-kit kerfuffle, which is already old news. “The occult is having a moment. Companies want in, but not if witches can help it.” So much is wrong with this. Is there something measurable called “the occult”?  Sigh. I wanted to list everything Vox gets wrong, I would need a bigger blog. At least The Onion tells you that it is non-serious. Anyway, this one is over.

Maja, photographed by Frances Denny of Brooklyn. Denny is descended from a Salem witch-trial judge of 1692. That qualified her to “explore what it means to be a witch today.”(Daily Mail).

• Ah, those millennials. Now they are “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I could be snarky and say, “Hey, the Seventies called and they want their headlines back.” Or I could say that this is something that is always going on. Decades. Centuries.

The Daily Mail just goes for the photo shoot. If you don’t look like these “actresses, authors, and a technician,”  are you a real witch?

At least the photographer was inspired by a a worthwhile book, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692. (What does it say that the Daily Mail cannot even get a book title right?)

Link fixed — sorry.

Don’t go away. There will be more. And guess what is missing from almost all of these articles.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1

When I look out my window,
Many sights to see.
And when I look in my window,
So many different people to be
That it’s strange, so strange

Strangeness. Back before there was an Internet, dear readers, I clipped and photocopied newspapers and magazine articles on Wicca, other Paganisms, etc., and sorted them into folders labeled “Witchcrap 1970s,” “Witchcrap 1980s,” and so on. Eventually, printed-out Web pages joined the rest. Why the name? Because so much of it was crap, but at least it kept the idea out there.

Dear readers, I have to say that this past “season of the witch” has been extraordinary! I have so many bookmarked links that this will be a two-part blog post (or three-part). So . . . in no particular order, it’s “Best of Witchcrap 2018”!

• Those of us in the know know that the heartland of America is the heartland of Paganism, so a title like “Occult Rituals in the Backwoods of Wisconsin” should not raise any eyebrows. After all, who else is in the backwoods of Wisconsin? Circle Sanctuary, that’s who. This one is not really about Paganism, however, so much as it is about murder and “Goatman.” You know, teenagers summoning Satan and all that. Not Selena Fox.

• In Britain, the ever-so-earnest Guardian newspaper asks, “Why Are Witches So Popular?” Since it’s the Guardian, the answer must be that “this new wave is linked to the bubbling cauldron of contemporary politics.” Move along, nothing religious to see hear. No invisible friends — Karl Marx said they don’t exist.

• Elsewhere on the political spectrum, inviting witches into politics is seen as a bad thing — and to be honest, it does not produce predictable results. In the Washington Examiner, “Emails: Kyrsten Sinema summoned witches to her anti-war rally.” She won a close election though, “hocus-pocus” or not.

• Meanwhile, in Pagan-friendly but officially Lutheran Iceland, “Icelanders abandon National State Church, as old pagan Ásatrú continues to grow.” The Pagan Association of Iceland claims 1.2 percent of the population, all of whom could fit into Colorado Springs with room left over. But still, I do feel that 1 percent is a kind of tipping point, the point where “they” have to take you seriously. Also, 6.9 percent of Icelanders are registered as “nones.”

Continue to Part 2!

Continue to Part 3!

 

The Gods Do Not Vote, So Why Are You Asking Them?

Hexing in progress. (Reuters via National Review)

When I was a kid, I read some condensed version of the Iliad for young people. I did not understand the gods.

After all, I was raised to be a Christian. In the Bible, YHWH was supposed to take care of his special people, the Jews, although sometimes he expressed his care and concern . . . oddly. The Christians continued that idea with themselves as the special people, and so on with other monotheistic religions. Obviously, God favored the “good guys.”

In the Iliad, the Greeks are the “good guys,” near as, although the Trojans are not especially villainous, just the other team. But the story is told from the Greeks’ point of view. Yet some of the gods favored on side and some the other. How could that be?1)You don’t really hear about the Trojans’ religion as a separate thing.

Later in life, having changed quite a bit, I would write about the Iliad, linking to the story of a Navy SEAL killed in combat, whose mother reflected, “He was born to do this job.”

That is the polytheistic view of life. The world is a mess. The world is beautiful. The gods are eternal (or as good as). The gods work at cross-purposes, and sometimes humans are caught between them.

Meanwhile, I see some Pagans convinced that they know how the gods vote — or would vote, if they could produce a photo ID at the polling place.

Are these the same Pagans who sneer at that subset of evangelical Christians who apparently think that Jesus is a Republican?2)After 2,000 years of worship, he is definitely a god. And maybe he is a Republican. Or like in the TV version of American Gods, there are multiple Jesuses and one is a Republican.

If you are really a polytheist, then you must accept that the gods do not vote. Their values are not always aligned with our day-to-day political values. Really, what does Aphrodite care about Colorado’s proposal to change the redistricting process or about who wins the race for Pueblo County coroner? Should I consult Hekate about my congressional candidates?

In the context of discussing a Heathen theological question, Galina Kraskova puts the issue this way:

To assume, moreover, that the Gods share our political affiliations is incredibly narrow-minded and naïve. It might help motivate us to become involved politically, it might allow us to feel a certain connection to whatever Gods we venerate, it might even make us feel better but it is a terribly humanizing view of Powers that are well beyond our factiousness, or the limitations of temporality and human foolishness. It’s really a shame that we insist on bringing our Gods down to our short-sighted level (and I think we all do this at times).

On the other hand, statements such as, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” might be comforting but do represent a kind of crypto-monotheism, especially when people capitalize History and treat it as a force equivalent to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic Only God.

This “history” is apparently quasi-sentient and going somewhere other than to its own destruction. It is no coincident that the statement is attributed to a Unitarian minister.

Some Pagans I know (or know of) are working with various American archetypes 3)I  use Salmon too! in the sense of asking protection and blessing, which is OK. It’s like always ending a spell with “Or something better.”4)It is always good when you can rid yourself of annoying people by blessing them. That means not ordering the gods around: “[Deity], cause [Candidate] to win the election!”

In the mundane world, stories like “Witches Hex Kavanaugh” are great clickbait.5)For readers outside the USA, the article refers to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, recently added to the US Supreme Court after a contentious confirmation process in the Senate.

Here is the old-line conservative magazine National Review, suffering from a drop in circulation, taking a clickbait-ish shot at “progressive” Witches:

Notes   [ + ]

1. You don’t really hear about the Trojans’ religion as a separate thing.
2. After 2,000 years of worship, he is definitely a god. And maybe he is a Republican. Or like in the TV version of American Gods, there are multiple Jesuses and one is a Republican.
3. I  use Salmon too!
4. It is always good when you can rid yourself of annoying people by blessing them.
5. For readers outside the USA, the article refers to Judge Brett Kavanaugh, recently added to the US Supreme Court after a contentious confirmation process in the Senate.

Coming Soon — Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America

What do I like about Being Viking beyond Mark Lee’s arresting cover design? It is that author Jefferson Calico can move beyond rehashing the folkish-universalist issue and look at some things not normally talked about, such as social class.

Americans will talk you to death about race and ethnicity, but then turn around and pretend that the high-level university bureaucrat with a summer home on Martha’s Vineyard and the guy making a lot of overtime pay in a Texas oilfield are both earning “middle-class salaries.” While the English divide social-class issues with a microtome, we pretend that we all aspire to the same thing.

That is just one way that Being Viking moves beyond the radical politics-obsessed approach taken by authors such as Jennifer Snook in American Heathens or Mattias Gardell  Gods of the Blood. (If you look at Gardell’s publishing history, he jumps from one sensational topic to another.) Calico is strong on history, ritual, polytheism, and the social side of American Heathenry.

So I am delighted this book is now being published in Equinox’s Contemporary and Historical Paganism series, for which we are always seeking new titles.

You can pre-order the book now or recommend it to your university library by clicking the buttons on its Equinox web page.

Too Late for Protestors, Term “Mabon” is Taking Hold in Pop Culture

Saturday was the fall equinox (as I usually call it), and various various voices reminded us again that the term “Mabon” was not Authentically Celtic. (Although disagreeing, John Beckett sums up the objections here.)

Others disagreed: Jason Mankey suggested that perhaps a god wanted it that way.

Mankey linked to an older blog post by Aidan Kelly, one of the pioneers of 1960s California Paganism and also a man whom I consider a co-founder of the field of Pagan studies, based his textual criticism of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows back in the 1980s.

Back in 1974, I was putting together a “Pagan-Craft” calendar—the first of its kind, as far as I know—listing the holidays, astrological aspects, and other stuff of interest to Pagans. We have Gaelic names for the four Celtic holidays. It offended my aesthetic sensibilities that there seemed to be no Pagan names for the summer solstice or the fall equinox equivalent to Yule or Beltane—so I decided to supply them.

By now, “Mabon” is showing up more and more in popular culture, such as Modern Drunkard magazine. (What is more popular than booze?) Their “Today’s Reason to Drink” for September 22nd read,

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day of Autumn. Summer just blew by, didn’t it? If that makes you a little melancholy, well, it’s also the International Day of Radiant Peace. Yeah. Also? It’s Batman Day. And Car Free Day. And Chainmail Day. Yes, Chainmail Day is finally upon us. Also? It’s Dear Diary Day. And Fish Amnesty Day. And Hobbit Day. And Ice Cream Cone Day. And International Rabbit Day. If you don’t have a rabbit, some grocery stores keep them in the freezer section. They’re called fryers, and I think we know why. If none of those strike your fancy, it’s also Love Note Day and Elephant Appreciation Day. You can combine those, if you don’t mind getting odd looks down at the zoo. And it’s National Museum Day. And if you’re a Wiccan, it’s Mabon, which sounds a bit sinister, but it’s just their version of the Autumnal equinox. The list goes on. It’s National Centenarian’s Day. National Hunting and Fishing Day. National Public Lands Day. National Rock n’ Roll Dog Day. I don’t even want to know what that’s about. And National Singles Day. National White Chocolate Day. READ in America Day. And finally, Remote Employee Appreciation Day. There are others, but they’re even more frivolous than National Rock n’ Roll Dog Day, if you can believe it. It’s like everyone with an agenda or wacky idea picked the first day of Autumn, so as to steal from its majestic power, and they just piled on. So pick one and raise a drink. Or, since it’s Saturday, pick a lot of them and raise a lot of drinks. Why not? It’s freaking Wiccan Hobbits in Chainmail Riding a Centenarian Elephant Day! Let’s go nuts!

One-hundred-year-old Wiccan hobbits in chainmail . . . how are you going to come back at that?

Emily Dickson is the High Priestess of a new Tarot Deck

Emily Dickinson as the High Priestess in the American Renaissance Tarot.Read this interview at Reality Sandwich with Thea Wirsching, who together with artist Celeste Pille has created the American Renaissance Tarot deck,, based on leading writers, artists, and activists of the 19th century such as Emily Dickinson,   “I’ve seen the American Renaissance period described as the literature that appeared in the years 1830-1865,” Wirsching says, “but for this project I’ve expanded the range to 1825-1875, to include early comers and late bloomers.”

She continues,

I think it’s become fashionable to criticize and even to hate America, particularly in liberal and academic circles. Many of us are walking around in a lot of shame over who we are as a nation, and feel uncomfortable taking pride in a country that was built on the exploitation of African slaves and the genocide of indigenous people.  And while I don’t think we should ever forget those horrific facts in our history, we’ve also thrown the baby out with the bathwater and rejected the knowledge that American culture has also been productive of incredible writers, thinkers, visionaries, and spiritual savants. I think collective shame keeps the left from embracing an educated patriotism that could help us turn the political tide; this project celebrates outspoken abolitionists such as Thoreau and Lydia Maria Child, successful black men like Frederick Douglass and Martin Delany, and philosophical innovators like Emerson.  These Americans inspire pride and reverence in our history.

The project is more than half-completed, and as things are done today, it is at least partly crowd-funded. I’ll make a donation . . . but they had better have Nathaniel Hawthorne in there some place!

Where Were the Witches Hanged in Salem? (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Proctor’s Ledge from the Walgreens parking lot, filtered by Dreamscope.

Once there was a dirt road, the “Boston road,” that ran beside a pond on the way out of Salem.  (Now it is called Boston Street.) Then there came a railroad, and a shoe factory, and today a Walgreens drugstore with the actual witch execution site in back, next to the drive-up prescription window.

Why did no one know that?

When the last person who remembered the executions of 1692 was gone — and with no one interested in building a memorial to a shameful episode — memory of the site was lost. People knew that they took place “over there” (gesturing to the southwest), and the most notable geographic feature over there became known as Gallows Hill. As Emerson Baker, a history professor at Salem State University puts it,

The executions on Gallows Hill were the climax of one of the most famous events in American history, but the hangings themselves are poorly documented. The precise location and events of the executions have been, until this point, generally lost to history. Tradition has simply placed it broadly on Gallows Hill, which covers many acres of land. In the 17th century Gallows Hill was common land located just outside the boundary of the city of Salem, then defined by a protective palisade (a fortified wall)

Watch this videotaped lecture delivered in October 2016 at the Salem Witch Museum by Prof. Baker and local historian Marilynn K. Roach. They point  out that Sidney Perley, a Salem lawyer and antiquarian, worked out the answer in the early 20th century — they call him their “patron saint.” Key evidence: sight lines from known 17th-century houses from which people viewed the hangings: they could see Proctor’s Ledge but not Gallows Hill from there.

For even more information, see Baker’s Gallows Hill Project website.

With the site identified, Baker said, descendants of the accused witches contacted him from all around the country, offering contributions toward a memorial. But Salem’s mayor, Kimberly Driscoll, stepped forward and said that building the memorial was the city’s responsibility. Here is the city’s news release. (They did accept donations but funded it mostly through a state Community Preservation Act grant.)

The Proctor’s Ledge rock outcropping is in the wedge-shaped parcel between Proctor, Pope, and Boston streets. There are  houses on Proctor and Pope, and much of the site is in residents’ back yards. The pink line is the crest of the ledge, roughly, and the blue dot the memorial site. North is at the top.

The memorial on Pope Street. Very simple, with kind of a “Park & Rec” low-maintenance touch. “Hey, George, do we will have some of those granite blocks left over from the XYZ project?”

As for me, I liked the view from the Walgreens better, and I left a little tribute (an antique British shilling) there under a stone.1)If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor. The contrast between the stark rock outcropping where “witches” died and the tidy Walgreens drive-up lane is just another Salem thing. You cannot easily make them mesh, any more than you can mesh those nineteen people and today’s Pagan Witches. (Well, I can think of one way, and I will try to deal with it later.)

The name “Gallows Hill” is wrong too. For one thing, as Marilynn Roach points out, the sheriff’s and constables’ expense records and requests for reimbursement survive, in minute details. And nowhere is there something like “X shillings for dressed timber and labour for building of ye gallows.”

There are no oaks on Proctor’s Ledge today (mostly locust), but in 1692 apparently there was a big oak tree with sturdy, spreading branches. No cost, just bring a ladder. Hence the sapling oak in the memorial??

Archaeologists crawled all over Proctor’s Ledge and used ground-penetrating radar, but they found nothing: no bones, no remnants of any structure. There had been a report of bodies dumped in crevices in the rocks, but if so, their families or somebody recovered them.

Salem State University.

And now some “woo,” since you have read this far. On June 25, 1914 a fire burned through the southern part of Salem, pretty much everything south of Derby Street. Eighteen thousand people were left homeless, and more than 1,300 buildings destroyed, many of them wooden tenements housing factory workers (shoes, textiles, etc.) Photo source here.

Where did it start? At the foot of Proctor’s Ledge.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If archaeologists ever find it, they might attribute it to a Victorian-era visitor.

Where Were the Witches Hanged in Salem? (Part 1)

Gallows Hill municipal water tank, Salem, Massachusetts

No one was hanged on Gallows Hill, but it makes a good high spot for a municipal water tank. The park is called Gallows Hill Park, of course.

I left our Salem apartment last Thursday to walk to the site, but what people used to think was the site is not the site. In fact, the true location, which was of course known at the time and remembered through at least the mid-18th century, when the last persons who witnessed the executions of 1692 would have been passing away, was then forgotten.

Somehow, Gallows Hill, because of its prominence, became fixed in people’s minds and was promoted throughout the 19th century as the site. The city acquired it and some nearby land in 1936.

My walk took me past Salem High School, home of the fighting (a) Sharks, (b) Pirates, (c) Sailors, or (d) Aw, c’mon, you can figure it out.1)Get your “Fear the Witches” cap here: http://spssalemhs.learningnetworks.com/Pages/SPS_HSAthletics/index

Go Witches, take State!

I waked through typical New England streetscapes of (mostly) white-painted frame houses mixed with some commercial areas. The “No Tour Buses” sign was a clue that I was near someplace important — but was I?

Turning onto Proctor Street from Highland Avenue. One of the victims was a farmer named John Proctor, but his family kept on going and later owned land in the area. And are those artificial flowers a memorial or just someone’s decorative touch on Proctor Street?

I walked right past Gallows Hill Park (do the tour buses go there?) because it was not the place and continued on Proctor Street.

Read Part 2 Here

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. Get your “Fear the Witches” cap here: http://spssalemhs.learningnetworks.com/Pages/SPS_HSAthletics/index

The Southwest Follows Us to Salem & Salem Follows Us Home

Yet another addition to the Peabody Essex Museum is under construction.

Before M. and I left on this trip, someone mentioned a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the big Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. As it happened, the exhibit ended just before we arrived, but that’s all right — we can visit a whole museum devoted to her painting in Santa Fe whenever we are down there.

We live in southern Colorado – within the province of New Mexico, if you follow a pre-1821 map.1)Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away. So we often feel that Santa Fe, more than Denver, is our cultural capital.

T. C. Cannon, self-portrait, 1975 (Wikipedia).

And what did the PEM have to replace O’Keefe: an exhibit devoted to the artist T. C. Cannon. 

Cannon (1946-1978) was an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe, born in Oklahoma. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, then joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, returned to the US and painted up a storm until dying in a car crash in Santa Fe.

There’s almost another connection — a high-school friend of mine taught at IAIA, but not until a time after Cannon had finished there.

Coming soon, Kakawa in Salem! Photo made a few yards to the right of the one above.

No trip to Santa Fe is complete without a stop at Kakawa chocolate house, tucked away between some state government offices and the art galleries on Paseo de Peralta, where you can take your chocolate the way that Marie Antoinette drank hers or — my preference — the way that the emperor Moctezuma II  drank his, with chiles.

Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?

Artemisia Botanicals

Further east on Essex Street sits Artemisia Botanicals, the serious herb shop in town (as opposed to the jars of herbs in some of the witch shops that have probably sat there for years and years), offering herbs, teas, oils, jewelry, and, of course, psychic readings.

We picked up a few things — for me it was a package of copal incense sticks. I have copal resin and like to use it for certain things, but there are times when sticks are just convenient. I looked at the label: They were from Fred Soll’s Incense in Tijeras, N.M., which is just east of Albuquerque. According to Mapquest, Tijeras is 358 miles (573 km) from my house, whereas Salem (had I chosen to drive), is about 2078 miles (3325 km).

But at last we are home. Then I see an unfamiliar car in the driveway.

Two nicely dressed men are at the bottom of the stairs, one middle-aged, one twenty-something. The older man holds a small, leather-bound book. When I step out onto the porch, he starts into a spiel about visiting the neighbors2)Never saw you before, buddy. and conducting a survey about how to find happiness.

¡Madre de dios! ¡Los puritanos!

I tell him that I never talk about religion before breakfast, and I am just about to sit down at the table. And that the best way out of the driveway is to pull toward the garage door, then cut your wheels hard as you back up.

Maybe they were just evangelicals, not Calvinists, but we live on an obscure road in the woods, and this was only the second missionary visit in twenty-five years.

The mystery of why the Kakawa chocolate house is coming to Salem has been solved! You can read the rest here.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away.
2. Never saw you before, buddy.