The Most Paleo-Pagan Tale Ever Told?

Thanks to the Witches’ Voice Facebook page and other sources, I have been hearing about an ancient Australian story, of “an ancestral creator-being transformed into the fiery volcano, Budj Bim. Almost 40,000 years later, new scientific evidence suggests this long-shared legend of the Dreaming could be much more than a myth.”

New mineral-dating measurements conducted by Australian scientists highlight the possibility that the traditional telling of Budj Bim’s origins may be an actual account of two historic volcanic eruptions that took place in the region about 37,000 years ago – which, if true, might make this the oldest story ever told on Earth.

Pretty impressive. Read the whole thing here.

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.

Blogging Break Over, Book Stuff Ahead

I have taken a brief and unwanted break from blogging, but I hope that it is over. First the MacBook Pro that I use for writing and blogging developed a weird, possibly demonic (or daemonic) directory corruption that flummoxed even the specialists up at Voelker Research. About the same time, my desk/computer chair broke, which felt like a sign. A sign that I should just go hiking and read more novels, possibly. And ponder some vivid and meaningful dreams.

That was wonderful, but I have to give a couple of talks next week, and I needed to prepare. So there I was out on the veranda with a legal pad and a stack of books and print-outs, preparing. If I have learned anything in teaching it is that I am not as good at “winging it” as I like to think I am—unless it is a course that I have already taught ten times over.

So while I am doing that, here is an interview with Doug Ezzy about his new book, Sex, Death, and Witchcraft: A Contemporary Pagan Festival.

The book is both a rich ethnographic account of controversial Pagan festival and a provocative reflection on the role of emotions, symbols, and ritual in theories of religion.  The festival involves “a recreation of the Witches’ sabbat . . .  It’s R-rated, it contains adult themes, nudity and sex references”, according to Harrison — one of the festival participants I interviewed.  The theory develops what Graham Harvey and I are calling “relational theory” in the study of religion.

It is on my reading list.

And speaking of reading, expect more book reviews here over the next few weeks.

Nevil Drury 1947–2013


Nevill Drury

Nevil Drury, well-known Australian writer and teacher on magical and esoteric topics, died yesterday at home of cancer and liver failure.

I had the experience of working with not long ago when he did an article for The Pomegranate: the International Journal of Pagan Studies on “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.”

His Facebook page. His author page at

A page of interviews with him from his website.

Two Important New Books in Pagan Studies

Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, edited by Kaarina Aitamurto and Scott Simpson, has now been released in hardcover. (No paperback edition appears to be coming in the near future.)

You can read the complete table of contents and see ordering information at Acumen Publishing’s website.

Also being released in June — Pop Pagans: Pagans and Popular Music, with contributions from some of the people on my blogroll, I am happy to say.

The same publishing arrangement applies, one of the reasons that my series co-editor and I said farewell to Acumen.

The Bushranger and the Witches

A quirky story has been filtering out of Australia in bits and pieces.

First came the discovery of the headless skeleton of Ned Kelly (1854–1880), the country’s most infamous bushranger (outlaw) of the 19th century, which involved DNA matching and other modern techniques.

Then his descendents appealed for whoever had the skull to bring it back.

Then comes a “self-proclaimed” (a term used to avoid libel suits) witch from New Zealand who says that she has it — “given” to her by a security guard (under what circumstances?).

This woman, Anna Hoffman, was supposedly a friend of Australia’s most famous pre-Wiccan witch and trance-artist, Rosaleen Norton of Melbourne. An Australian writer on occultism, Nevill Drury, has devoted quite a lot of time to writing about Norton. including a recent article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, titled “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.

Which is why I am blogging about Ned Kelly.

“The Occult Experience” of 1985

A friend pointed me to the Vimeo page where you can see The Occult Experience (95 min.), an Australian television documentary from 1985, researched and co-produced by Nevill Drury, on witchcraftandprimitivepeopleandsatanismandexorcismandallkindsofspookystuff.

Watching it was hard, because I kept turning away after encountering such portentous statements as “The search for supernatural powers continues in spite of science and technology” or that people practice “ancient Celtic traditions of nature worship.”

No one unpacks these assertions at all. Rather, they are just delivered as though they were the Final Word.

At one point, the narrator intones, “How does it feel to be a witch in the computer age?” (At the time the documentary was made, I thought my KayPro II portable personal computer was cutting-edge.)

It has its historical interest. Hey, there’s Herman Slater doing ritual in a Manhattan street. Why? You won’t learn from the film!

And at about the 20-minute mark, Alex Sanders delivers version number 1,045 of the original “I was initiated by my grandmother” story, which has been imitated so many times.

Back then, boys and girls, to be a Craft leader you had to have some special story to tell about your magical heritage or you were nobody.

And look, there is Janet Farrar taking her clothes off while chatting with her late husband, Stewart. And the paintings of Rosaleen Norton—can’t have an Australian production without those. Drury would build his later academic career on them.

Margot Adler, Olivia Robertson  . . .  so many names. But no context.

The whole film is thunderingly pretentious and yet basically content-free. You would not learn anything systematic here about the development of contemporary Paganism—which might be Satanic and which might be “primitive” and might involve “altered states of consciousness” (quick clip of Esalen), and is certainly spooky spooky or silly silly, depending on your perspective.

It make me wish that I could take those clips and arrange them into a meaningful narrative. Maybe some day someone will.

Apotropaic Magic, Size 9

I don’t know if the custom of hiding used shoes and clothing in a house under construction to ward off evil influences ever crossed the pond to North America from Britain. If you know of instances—or of people still doing it—let me know in the comments.

I first learned of this custom at an archaeology conference at the University of Southampton some years back. Archaeologists are delighted with such finds. Often they provide the only samples of ordinary people’s clothing, which otherwise would have been worn until it fell apart.

The custom apparently went to Australia with the convicts and other early settlers, however.

Convict's shirt (BBC).

A few blocks away from the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the imposing, vivid orange structure of the Hyde Park Barracks.

Built to house some 50,000 unfortunate convicts transported from the UK between 1819 and the mid-1840s, the jail was among the first substantial structures constructed in the city.

On the second floor, under the boards of a wooden staircase, workers found a striped prisoner’s shirt.

[Historian Ian] Evans rejects the idea that the shirt could have been put under the stairs by accident. Just like the Harbour Bridge shoe, he believes it was hidden for a purpose.

But if you are renovating an 18th or 19th-century building and find an old shoe under the floor, now you know why it was there—maybe. (And did this custom die out completely, and if so, why?)

Five Kinds of “Witch” and Other Reflections on the Academic Study of Contemporary Paganism

Australian writer, blogger, and scholar Caroline Tully continues her interview with Professor Ronald Hutton on the history of witchcraft and related topics.

On the perceptions of conflict between scholars and practitioners:

When some Pagans now express hostility to academics, they are generally doing so in defence of ideas which were originally articulated by other academics. Most often, they are defending what was the general scholarly orthodoxy about historical witchcraft in the mid twentieth century, represented finally and most famously by Margaret Murray of the University of London. What bewilders and angers some members of the public most about professional scholarship now is not actually that it is entrenched and manufactures consent, but that it has overturned many of the received truths of previous decades. To challenge orthodoxy effectively is currently the fastest and most certain way to make an academic career, and the pace of argument and change can be bewildering for people on the outside who want stability and certainty, or at least to continue to believe what they were originally taught about something.

Read the rest.

The forthcoming issue of The Pomegranate will include Tully’s own article on this topic, and it should be available as a free download.