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.

Say It Again: ‘Repressed Memories’ Do Not Exist

Yet another study attacks the theory of “repressed memory,” which has sent real people to real jails for crimes that they supposedly committed against children.

Professor Grant Devilly, from Griffith University’s [Queensland, Australia] Psychological Health research unit, says the memory usually works in the opposite way, with traumatised people reliving experiences they would rather forget.

“It’s the opposite. They wish they couldn’t think about it,” he said.

In a briefing to the US Supreme Court, Professor Richard McNally from Harvard University described the theory of repressed memory as “the most pernicious bit of folklore ever to infect psychology and psychiatry”.

Where do “repressed memories” come from? Therapists help patients to invent them, as described in this 1993 article from American Psychologist.

Here is another article by Prof. Devilly on the “memory wars.”

During the “Satanic abuse” scare of the 1980s, some prominent Pagans were fooled by supposed abuse survivors who came to Pagan gatherings and would spout some nonsense about how “I was abused by ‘witches,’ but now I see that your kind of Witchcraft is not like that.”

The template for many such fantasies was Lawrence Pazder’s Michelle Remembers, about a little girl in Victoria, B.C., who supposedly spent her childhood as the plaything of a ring of organized and powerful Satanists.

And I will admit that I was blown away by the story when I first read it, such that I did not notice the obvious plot holes.

I say “plot” because it is a work of fiction, dreamed up cooperatively by patient and doctor (who later married) under hypnosis.

These “moral panics” seem to come through on a regular basis, and all you can do is seek the facts and hope that justice does, in fact, move slowly and deliberately and not at lynch-mob speed.

Zippy, the Halloween Slug

I have heard of most of these Halloween folk customs.

The one with the slug is new to me, though, but maybe someone in the Pacific Northwest could try it and report.

Meanwhile, Red Witch in Melbourne is in the midst of a Halloween countdown, examining the commercial side of the holiday in Australia. (Some images may be NSFW.)

It’s Been Linked with the Darkness!

Confront your misgivings! Join the Rev. Peter Owen-Jones, Anglican priest, into this journey into the deepest heart of darkness — among some ordinary-seeming Australian Witches.

“I’m aware of certain objects, quite frankly, that have always disturbed me.”

A giggle-worthy proof that pith-helmet anthropology of religion lives on. Will the Rev. Owen-Jones go skyclad?

(Via Caroline Tully.)

Tribal Gallimaufry

¶ Some people think that modern life is cold and heartless and that it would be better to live in a tribe. But what happens when the tribe’s inner circle does not want you? Sometimes it means that you lose your fat monthly check, for one thing.

¶ Blogger/journalist Rod Dreher is heated about about sexy Halloween costumes for little girls. Like a lot of his commenters, I think that the costume pictured would be fun for a kid to wear and sexy only to a pervert.

In 1985, David Garland, now 39, of Liverpool, NSW, did something similar, but in reverse. While bicycling, he was struck by a four-wheel drive. He wasn’t expected to recover from his injuries, but did, only to notice that he could now see and hear things imperceptible to others.

And he ended up Wiccan.

¶ Weirdest search string to bring a reader here lately: this are leaking car, basement, wicca.

Under Southern Skies

Doug Ezzy, sociologist and co-editor of Researching Paganisms also edited an anthology by “Down Under” Witches called Practising the Witch’s Craft: Real Magic Under a Southern Sky. He writes to say that it is now available from Amazon for the rest of the world.

It ranges from Gardnerians to Goddess Spirituality, city Witches to country Pagans, young to old, and easy to understand to somewhat thoughtful. I think it provides a good representation of the diversity of Witchcraft traditions in Australia.

Apart from where the contributors live and the chapter on the Wheel of the Year, there’s not much that’s distinctly Australian about it. Australian Craft is noticable for its ecclecticism and absence of established traditions and this is reflected in the chapters.

And then he flatters me by saying that he modeled it on my early-1990s Llewellyn series, Witchcraft Today.

The Rehabilitation of Rosaleen Norton

Back in the 1950s, the artist and occultist Rosaleen Norton was the witchcraft scene in Australia, at least according to some of the older books I have read. Her relationship with Sir Eugene Goosens, conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, was a scandal, as were her paintings, some of which were confiscated as indecent.

Now that scandal has achieved folkloric status, and Norton’s memory is a local tourist attraction, as you may read here (scroll to the bottom).

Things have changed a little.

Goosens, incidentally, worked hard for a new classical-music venue in Sydney; now the Sydney Opera House with its white “sails” is the tourism-poster icon of Australia. I think that it will be a while before there is a Rosaleen Norton retrospective exhibit in the lobby, but think of the connection.