In September, the flow is just a trickle, typical for the season. So I made a little wreath. M. used to make wreaths professionally, woven from grapevines from our backyard at the Cañon City house and filled out with dried flowers. Mine was simple by contrast: a willow branch and some Liatris (blazing star) blossoms. Yet my thanks and best wishes were sincere.
I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.
The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.
The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.
Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).
But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.
My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.
In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.
Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.
Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.
So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.
I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.
Photo: The Very Reverend Jane Hedges rides the 55-foot high “helter-skelter” inside Norwich Cathedral in England.1)While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican church — evidently the word makes them think of filmy skirts, tambourines, and sex. If you want a sort of objective correlative for the church’s health today, there it is, a downward spiral. (BBC)
Be patient, I am coming at this the long away around.
I was raised in the American Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, at the time. When I walked into an Anglican church in Canada or in Jamaica (where we lived for a couple of years) and picked up a prayer book, it obvious we were all in the same family, so to speak. There was an Anglican joke that referenced the church’s strength in all the former British colonies in Africa: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules.”
None of this is true anymore. In the United States, several different organizations compete for the allegiance of local Episcopal church parishes: the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Church in America, the Church of Nigeria, and The Episcopal Church, the original body. And there are more. It’s very complicated and not germane at this point, except to say that the total membership of The (original) Episcopal Church is cratering.
The Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, from Norwich Cathedral, said he could see why people would be surprised to see the helter-skelter.
But in addition to showcasing the roof, he said it was “part of the cathedral’s mission to share the story of the Bible” and was a “creative and innovative way to do that”.
I don’t remember miniature golf (crazy golf) in the Bible, but maybe they are using a different translation.
I have two takeaways from this story.
For one, it is obvious that a lot of the Anglicans have “lost their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say.2)That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain. In other words, their connection to their deity is not there anymore, there is no “juice,” and they are just trying to fill the void by social movements and entertainment.
For the second, at least within the liturgical churches there is a lot of learning for children. Not the hellfire part, but the importance of symbolic art, the transformative power of music (especially when you are doing the long chants yourself), some knowledge of sacred theater, exposure to ritual ways of dealing with birth, sickness, death, and everything else, and even a little about meditation and sacred reading.
I walked out the door myself at age 16. I was not mad at any one. No priest molested me or any of the altar boys that I knew about. I was not stewing about “adult hypocrisy” more than the average teenager might. I had just come to the conclusion that the church’s picture of the cosmos was not mine and that I could no longer accept its theology. So I spent the next five years as a “seeker” before someone showed Herself to me.
Now if I had a dollar for every Pagan who has said in my hearing “We won’t ‘push our religion’ on our children,” I could pay my fare to the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Diego next fall.
What I would like to say is, “If you don’t put something in that space, what are they going to fill it with?” Digital nothings? People need forms for doing things. We need to be aware of other dimensions. I am no longer a Christian, but I do in retrospect thank the church for giving me a “vocabulary” of ritual and so forth — not the only ways of doing ritual, but at least some ways.
Of course, being Christian, all their focus was on the vertical axis — God up there, us down here. There was no significant “horizontal” engagement with the other-than-human world, aside from an occasional Blessing of the (domestic) Animals. Everything was put here for us to use, as described in Genesis. (The “stewardship” teaching is just watered-down domination.)
It delights me to see adult Pagans involving children in ritual and other “horizontal” engagements, giving them ways to think about relationships with other beings and ways to mark life’s changes. Memories made with the body and witch actions last longer than words and doctrines.
Letting perfectly good food sit on an ancestor shrine was so foreign to my kids when our family began ancestor offerings. It smacked against their overculture, their appetites, their unawareness that physical objects are envelopes of intent.
If the parents are Wiccan, for example, will the kids be Wiccan? Who knows? But at least they will have a vocabulary for the sacred dimensions of life.
While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican church — evidently the word makes them think of filmy skirts, tambourines, and sex.
That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain.
There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.
You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
You have full cloth bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”
That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge. Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep drop-off that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we? Nice job, pixies!
I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.
“Are we lost?” asked M.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”1)Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”
Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.
A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.
I turned on the GPS, clicked the Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?
This old hollow fir trunk looked like the mask of a forest god.
But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.
We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.
I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”
A few items for context: a.) My family immigrated to Northern California shortly after the Gold Rush, and that’s where I grew up; b.) it was apparent to me that Fairy beings of European character were present and active in Northern California, and I later gathered that post-Gold Rush practitioners had more or less done things to make these Fairy beings feel at home; and c.) it was apparent to me that the European settlement of the Americas–and particularly the European settlement of California–had massively, catastrophically disrupted Native American lives and cultures and those of resident Fairy beings known to Native Americans. In my experience, at least, contact with Fairy beings of NativeCalifornian character was complicated and chancy. (Read the whole thing.)
You can read quite a few supportive stories if you look at the North American section of The Fairy Census 2014–2017 (PDF file, 5.3 MB).
It is part of an ongoing research project, the Fairy Census.1)Ha, like it’s possible to count them!
The Fairy Census is an attempt to gather, scientifically, the details of as many fairy sightings from the last century as possible and to measure, in an associated survey, contemporary attitudes to fairies. The census was inspired by an earlier fairy census carried out by Marjorie Johnson and Alasdair Alpin MacGregor in 1955/1956, a census that was published in 2014.
There are two (anonymous) census forms: one for witness accounts and one for second-hand accounts (experiences of grandma, uncle, friend etc). Confidentiality is assured and, in the case of publication, personal details will be changed to assure anonymity. Note, however, that by filling out these forms you approve their use in an academic survey.
Some of the results (Fairies speaking Irish?) would sound like the Fair Folk came over the water. But maybe they just offer up whatever will resonate or disturb us the most. (“Gray” aliens, for instance.)
In the PDF, the experiences, recorded between 18 Nov 2014 and 20 Nov 2017, are divided into five sections based on geography: Britain and Ireland; North America; Europe; Australasia; and the ‘Rest of the World’. Editor Simon Young, a British historian who has written extensively on the topic of folklore, says that the Census is being released in PDF format free of charge in the hope that it will allow and encourage others to undertake their own research into the topic of fairies.
In my own comment, I mentioned Alex Bledsoe’s “Tufa” novels. In his telling, the Fair Folk were here before the first immigrants followed their dogs through Berengia, tens of thousands of years ago. I suppose that that is possible.
I like this one. I have added some paragraph breaks, punctuation, and notations.
§215) US (Alaska). Male; 2000s; 31-40 . . .
‘I, at the time, worked as a sawer [sawyer] for *** crew fighting wildfires in the Alaskan interior forests. As we were cutting line around the fire, it began to rain a bit ,and for the most part the fire was controlled but still not contained.2)There is a technical distinction here used by wildland firefighters.
It is our job to cut line around the entire fire to eliminate any chance of it drying up and spreading. So it was [a] low-adrenaline regular run-of -he-mill day at work. Slow and steady. My saw partner and I would each run the saw till the tank ran out and switch. One would act as saw[y]er and the other as swamper.3)The assistant who tosses the cut branches and small tree trunks out of the way. As we switched tanks, I began to cut and he began to swamp the trees; the burnt hot ones go into the black while the green ones went to the green side, this [thus] cutting our eight to ten foot control line on top of this rocky ridge.
As I was cutting down these pecker poles about two to three inch wide and ten to fifteen feet tall, I went to cut into the bottom of one, and right before my eyes the tree shrunk down and a not-so-handsome little man about a foot tall with a beard and many wrinkles on his face stared up at me and screamed ‘Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo’.
My hands held steady [on]the saw that vibrated from the four hundred and fifty cc motor and my eyes widened large. My partner later told even through the screen protective lenses he could tell something [was] amiss.
He yelled ‘***, *** [the sawyer’s name].’ With no response, I stood stiff. He shook my shoulder; then my partner, a seasoned veteran and paramedic shut off the saw and again asked me what happened? I still stay[ed] stiff into [sic] he turns me with grabbing both shoulders and tells me to take a seat. For fifteen minutes he tries to get what happened out of me.
How could I tell this man who trusts me with his life that I saw? That I saw… Finally he says he will have to call our crew supervisor,. I turn to him and say ‘***, I saw an elf!’ He looks at me and just shakes his head in full acceptance. I look puzzlerd, I say ‘You saw it too?’ He says ‘no’. I say ‘what?’ Trying to read his mind, ‘others, others on the crew have seen them?’ He nods his head, yes. Understanding this I keep silent and continue about my day. I nor the others on the crew were ready to share and hold their truth amounts the possibility of fall out that could have incurred. Happy to share it now. Blessings and love to the many dimensional beings we share this world with.’
‘Old rugged kinda ugly though I don’t like to say so. Kinda bald and dirty.’ ‘I said elf to my buddy but it could easily be a name. I just know what I saw. It was in the woods, and my wisdom spoke up and remembered something that lay dormit [? dormant].’ ‘[Fairies are] a dimensional being that can support humans if they wise up in connection with Mother Earth. Fairy is a large dimension of characters. Some to trust while others are a bit more tricky.’ ‘Being a thirty-nine-year old man that has retired from a job that most people considered brave, tough, and masculine. I love sharing this story to those who are like. Well I [it?] got me thinking anyway.’
I’m not the sawyer on our fire department’s crew, but I took the class. My own chainsawing usually takes place on the hill behind the house, for reasons of firewood or fire mitigation. I don’t feel so bad about cutting dead stuff—and I have left a few beetle-killed pines for the cavity-nesting birds, but I get more and more edgy about cutting live stuff.
“Hey, I need to cut these little trees, Just pretend that I am a fire, OK? It will mean more water for the rest of you.”
We have forest fire burn scars4)That’s the new term. We used to just say “burns.” on all side. If you are going to live as an animist, there is always someone else you have to talk to.
Let’s face it, all traditional (that word again) polytheisms involved sacrifice, usually of animals. You give to the gods, they give to you, right? There was even carryover into the Middle Eastern monotheisms — Kapparot for some Jews,sacrifices of sheep or cattle at Eid al-Adha, and of course Jesus as the “lamb of God” who is the supreme sacrifice. Some people sacrifice their sanity—less blood that way.
[Kondo] worked as a [Shinto] shrine maiden in Japan during college, and there are elements of the KonMari technique that borrow from Shinto beliefs, specifically the notion that inanimate objects are bearers of kami, or divine essence—in the same way that plants, animals, and people are. That’s why Kondo taps piles of old books to “wake them up,” folds clothes so that they can rest more comfortably, and asks her clients to thank pieces of clothing for their service before setting them aside. Paradoxically, the exercise of cultivating empathy for the things that surround us, rather than encouraging materialism, seems to lead Kondo’s clients to also have empathy for one another, and for themselves.
It’s a show where a nice little Japanese lady comes into your home and teaches you how to keep your home neat and organized. (I SWEAR IT IS PAGAN-ISH…keep reading…stop rolling your eyes. …put that tongue back in your mouth, too.) Kondo spent 5 years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and the religion’s animism is apparent throughout the show. Before Kondo begins, she greets your home, and teaches everyone she meets how to appreciate the spirit and effort immanent in all the things in your life. If the events of this show are not an example of magic in action I cannot think of a show that is. Her clients discuss how the energy in their homes and personal spaces changes as they move through her method of tidying, which includes giving a heartfelt blessing to any items being discarded and a focus on keeping that which gives you joy.
But wait, there’s more. I was also reading a passage from Aidan Wachter’s new book, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic. I might have more to say about it later, but let me just say now that if you played a round of “If you had just one book on magic, what book would you have?” Six Ways is definitely a contender. Whether your path is Heathen or Hoodoo, there is something here for you.
In a section on “Warding Your Home” (how many of us do that regularly?) he writes of washing windows:
Now take your bucket [of spiritually charged vinegar and water that you have prepared] and clean your windows and doors, again asking what you wish. “Window, allow only helpful spirits and allies into this house, and send away all harmful influences that seek ingress into this place.” Do this with all the windows and doors . . . . When you operate your windows or doors, thank them for their work, being clear what you are thanking them for. This is important. In modern terms, be proactive, not reactive. Ask your door to protect your home when you leave, and thank it when you return!
We train ourselves as we train our house of spirits By being clear to the others around you, we become more clear to ourselves. Expect feedback if you are doing this right!
It’s all about maintaining relationships, right? And thank your old sneakers before you put them in the trash.
Before we go any further, we should define both “tradition” and “ritual” because people often use them interchangeably. Although traditions can be religious in nature, ritual is more specific to spiritual matters. So, for the sake of clarity in this article, we will use “ritual” to describe spiritual matters and “tradition” to describe non-spiritual matters.
Most rituals, even for Christian hunters like myself, originate from our pagan ancestors. Some of these rituals are pre-hunt and some of them are post-kill. As humans, we have always asked for blessings before the hunt and given thanks for our success after it. This is not so different than the pre-planting rituals and the post-harvest rituals in our agrarian history. We need food to survive, so we ask for assistance and when we’re full, we express our gratitude in hopes that our appreciation will be looked upon kindly when it comes time to ask for assistance again.
Climer lives in northern Colorado, but he was kind enough to rendezvous in Florence, a southern Colorado town that I visit weekly. (Try the Pour House coffeehouse if you are there.)
My first writing on Craft hunting ritual was published in 1992, in the chapter “Witches and the Earth” in Witchcraft Today, Book One: The Modern Craft Movement, that being a four-book series that I edited for Llewellyn in the 1990s. It included a description of pre-hunt ritual performed by my hunting partner and myself.
About a year ago, the Rev. Jim Murray had a vision. In that vision, members of his church, the First Church of the Nazarene, 84 Stanford Ave., would walk every walkable street in Pueblo and pray over the city.
It was a daunting challenge. The maps of Pueblo listed more than 1,200 streets covering more than 340 miles. When you double that by walking down both sides of each street to reach every home or business or school, the distance is nearly 800 miles.
“In any political economy of the sacred, therefore, conflicts over space are inevitable” — David Chidester. (Photo: Muslims in Milan’s central square, 2009).
It put me in mind of an essay by religion scholar David Chidester called “Mapping the Sacred” in which he writes, “Of course, religion inevitably spills out of the privatized enclaves of homes, churches, mosques, temples, or synagogues to assert broader claims on urban space, taking to the streets, so to speak, to negotiate religious presence, position, or power in the city.” 1)David Chidester, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012), 35. As an aside: Chidester is writing about Cape Town, which is currently in the middle of ecological crisis — running out of water — due to a combination of drought and growing population. Who is next? Phoenix? Albuquerque?
A French scholar suggests that such religious demonstrations in the polis are a sign of globalization:((Lionel Obadia, “Urban Pareidolias: Fleeting but Hypermodern Signs of the Sacred?” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 47, no. 1 (2018): 2-6. DOI: 10.1558/bsor.33670.
Similarly, modernity has been associated with the decline and the privatization of religion, whilst globalization has meant the return of religion in social arenas and in public spaces. Consequently, the world is a new (social and political) theater for religious dynamics. The spatial expansion of religions is remarkable in urban and public spaces, perhaps the more visible site of the “return of religion” in Europe and globally—prayers and processions in the streets of secular global cities, the semiotics of religious clothes (Muslim hidjab, Buddhist robe, Jewish kippah) and, of course, the problem of religious buildings in Europe are evidences of such a reinjection of religion in the spatial and sociological heart of so-called “secular” modernity. Cities are, in this perspective, very important and strategic sites for the observation of the mutations of religion.
So you don’t have musicians and followers enough to stage a public procession, so what to you do. Maybe instead of imposing your sacred meanings on the polis, you go looking for them instead. Not “I put Hermes here!” but “Where does Hermes show up?”
That is what one of my favorite Pagan writers, Sarah Kate Istra Winter (a/k/a Dver) advocates in three short books, built up upon her blog, A Forest Door. (Look in the “Pagan Bloggers” sidebar — she has stopped updating it, but I keep it there for the archive.)
Speaking of being fully Pagan in urban settings, if you can possibly get your hands on Sarah Kate Istra Winter’s new little book entitled The City is a Labyrinth: A Walking Guide for Urban Animists, please do so. It is full of simple, practical, doable ways to come into relationship with an urban landscape.
And none of them involve wagging your butt at Allah.
David Chidester, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2012), 35. As an aside: Chidester is writing about Cape Town, which is currently in the middle of ecological crisis — running out of water — due to a combination of drought and growing population. Who is next? Phoenix? Albuquerque?
For the most part, these pieces aren’t about witches who cast circles, brew potions, and worship The Goddess. They’re not about witches who summon spirits or make pacts with the devil. They’re about young women who adopt the mythology and especially the fashion of witchcraft without any of its magical or religious elements.
It’s easy to dismiss this as “witchcrap” or “consumerism,” but Beckett makes a point that I have thought about too — let’s keep those symbols out there in the public view. “So when someone else promotes witchcraft – even if they’re only propagating the aesthetic of witchcraft – they’re providing publicity for all of us under the Pagan umbrella.”
Something that has always struck me as particularly odd about the pagan community is the fascination with the spirits of far off places when local spirits are standing right in front of us and staring us in the eye. I have a couple of ideas as to why this is, but when it comes down to it you are a product of the energies and spirits that you were raised around and those spirits are a product of the people and land that they inhabit as well. Chances are you probably have more in common with your local spirits than you think.