Harry Potter Fans not all that into Magic, Witchcraft

Glancing back at Oberon Zell’s sporadic blog, I see mention of the “Azkatraz” Harry Potter convention in San Francisco last July. (Scroll down to the “Escape from Azkatraz” subhead in Aug. 1, 2009 entry.)

The Zells took a vendor space for their Mythic Images business of New Age, Pagan, and Goddess-oriented images, etc.

But it was not a very successful show, as Oberon notes:

And that gets me to the second important lesson we learned: Harry Potter fans aren’t interested in Wizardry, Witchcraft, Magick, an online school, or anything that isn’t specifically and only about the Harry Potter stories and characters. The only successful vendor was the one selling licensed trademark Harry Potter merchandise—such as Hogwarts House patches and regalia, movie replica wands, Harry Potter games and toys—and pointy hats. I bought a really nice new one,as well as several books from the book vendors. And we sold two copies of the A Wizard’s Bestiary: A Menagerie of Myth, Magic, and Mystery by managing to convince some folks that the magickal beasts featured in the Harry Potter stories could be found in this book. This is true, and I do hope they’ll go on to read about other beasties as well.

I don’t doubt his observations. It’s not that the Harry Potter books “drive children to witchcraft,” it is more that some Pagan Witches hope that Potter-readers will wonder what real witchcraft is. Most, however, probably will not, having enjoyed the stories just as stories.

John Keel Has Died

Author and Fortean John Keel died Friday in New York.

Not long after his signature book, The Mothman Prophecies was published, I saw on the Colorado Springs downtown library’s new-books shelf and passed it by–repeatedly–because the title sounded too weird.

From the Cryptomundo obituary:

After years of writing parts of the story in various articles and other books, in 1975, Keel published The Mothman Prophecies, an account of his 1966-1967 investigation of sightings of the Mothman, a “winged weirdie” reported in and around Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Keel corresponded with Ivan T. Sanderson quietly for months, trying to determine what kind of bird might be involved with the sightings. It was later, as Keel more fully revealed the tale of the sightings and concurrent phenomena, that other elements came into the mix.

“Other elements” is putting it mildly. When I finally read The Mothman Prophecies, I realized that it offers a vivid depiction of the strangeness that any investigator of the paranormal encounters, the feeling that part of your body or part of your consciousness is sliding into an unfriendly parallel universe. Never mind the Mothman, read it for the psychology.

Priestess Honored by Cherry Hill Seminary

Judy Harrow, Wiccan priestess and teacher, has been honored by having Cherry Hill Seminary’s online library named for her.

Don’t go looking for the libary yet–it is under construction. And it will be entirely digital, since Cherry Hill offers primarily online classes.

CHS blurbs thusly:

A Wiccan priestess since 1977, Harrow founded Proteus Coven in 1981, and held several leadership offices for Covenant of the Goddess, on both national and regional levels, including National First Officer in 1984. She founded the Pagan Pastoral Counseling Network in 1982, and served as the first editor of the Network’s publication. Harrow co-created a successful workshop series, “Basic Counseling Skills for Coven Leaders,” which grew into a series of intensive workshops for Pagan elders on a range of topics. She also founded the New York Area Coven Leaders’ Peer Support Group, and served as Program Coordinator for the first Mid-Atlantic Pan-Pagan Conference and Festival, as well as several other Pagan gatherings.

I would add that Judy has been preaching about the need for professional counseling education for coven leaders as long as I have known her, and she followed her own advice.

She is also the author or editrix of Spiritual Mentoring: A Pagan Guide, Devoted To You: Honoring Deity in Wiccan Practice, and Wicca Covens: How to Start and Organize Your Own.

One bit of bibilographic essay writing missing from that list is her contributions to the 50th anniversary edition of Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today. Since we are still waiting for a scholarly biography of Gardner, her two essays included in that edition, “Looking Backward: Gardner’s Sources” and “Looking Forward: Gardner’s Hunches,” should be read by everyone studying Wiccan history.

The Mists of Avalon and Its Antithesis

I recently re-read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon for the first time in years, in order to cite it in a paper.

Now I am reading its antithesis, Simon Young’s A.D. 500: A Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland.

Based on the fiction of a geographer in Constantinople writing a guide to the “Dark Isles” based on contemporary reports and present-day archaeology, Young’s sixth century agrees very little with Bradley’s except, perhaps, on the importance of Tintagel.

If Tintagel is a work of Nature’s art, then man has, however, botched its decorations. The British Celts who live there are not great builders….The king’s court is a timber shack, something approximating in size and finish to one of our royal stables.

You want all-wise Druids at the close of Pagan Ireland?

But even in their reduced state, these old men–the young with spiritual gifts turn to the Church–have a certain notoriety. Instantly recognizable for their curious cloaks and their shaved heads–each has a short tuft over the forehead–they walk from place to place officiating over oaths and sacrifices (it is better not to ask of which sort).

Young admits that the story of the last Temple of Bacchus in Britain is “necessarily speculative,” but does offer sources for it, as for all his information.

Young’s book is a useful corrective to the “matter of Britain’s” multiple re-tellings–the last time I checked, library databases listed more than 900 works under the category of “King Arthur-Fiction.”

Books at AAR That I Could Not Resist

Checking some of the post-AAR blogging, I see people listing book purchases from the publishers’ exhibit. Here are mine:

The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction. (I should also get Kocku’s Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge, and I need something by the discipline’s éminence grise, Antoine Faivre, such as Access to Western Esotericism.)

• Doug Cowan’s Sacred Terror: Religion and Horror on the Silver Screen. That’s research material too. Doug is one of those scholars who manages to teach effectively, write a lot, and still have a life.

• Ordered for later delivery, Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain.

Trapped in Chicago Bookstore

Hotel room view, across Grant Park towards the Field Museum, Aquarium, etc.

When I booked this hotel, across the street from the Chicago Hilton Hotel, the AAR‘s main annual meeting venue, I had no idea that it was only a block from one of Chicago’s Powell’s bookstores. M. and I are in deep trouble.

I restricted myself to just two purchases today: Anna Reid’s The Shaman’s Coat: A Native History of Siberia and Giorgia Geddes’ Nichivo: Tales from the Russian Front 1941-43. Both count as “research.” (Those are Amazon links, but you can search Powells’ inventory through Advanced Book Exchange.)

And given the heavy emphasis on book-buying at AAR, I still do not understand why someone does not set up a “pack-and-ship” booth in the exhibit hall!

The coffee shops are filling up too: “My dissertation advisor thinks I should go for publication, so he’s being real hard on me.”

Good luck with that.

Here is a spooky story, worthy of Fate magazine. Political writer (and Orthodox Christian) Rod Dreher has his own ghost-story post.

Seeing the World with Greek Eyes

“I am a Greek born 2,381 years after my ancestors built and dedicated the Parthenon . . . . I am telling Greek history outside the conventional Christian worldview,” writes Eaggelos G. Vallianatos, author of The Passion of the Greeks: Christianity and the Rape of the Hellenes

Born in a Greek village, Vallianatos came to the United States as a young man and earned a doctorate in history at Wisconsin. He has written three other books on globalization and agriculture.

A little bit like Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick’s A History Of Pagan Europe, his book moves from a general discussion of Greek religion through the conquest of a disunited Greece by imperial Rome to the fall of the empire as seen by Greek historians, lingering on the late Christian emperors’ persecution of the Pagan “Hellenes,” those who saw Greek literature, culture, and religion as intertwined.

One appendix discusses and rates works by many noted classicists. Vallianatos likes Robin Lane Fox and Ramsay MacMullen, who “[makes] some difference to our understanding of the dreadful record of Christianity in the Mediterranean,” but has no use for Polymnia Athanassiadi: “Her Christian bias shines through in everything she says about Julian.” And so on.

As its title suggests, the book is passionate. I have read only as far as Chapter 4, “The Treason of Christianity,” because I can take it only in small doses. But I will continue all the way to the end, believe me.

Death No Longer Entrances Me

I did not have time to cruise the whole INATS-West show three weeks ago, but I did walk through the big Llewellyn booth, since it was close by my friends’ booth.

I scooped up some of the free stuff, including a flier for “a Gothic Book of the Dead.

It’s one of life’s little ironies that I missed the whole Goth movement by just a few years. I would have been perfect for it.

I had the look: Tall, slim, dark hair, green eyes, and pale skin — if I stayed out of the Colorado sun, which I did not do. (Being pale in Portland, Oregon, was pretty easy, however.)

I tended to wear vests and silk scarves, and at age 17 had a seamstress friend sew me a cape — grey with black lining, which fell somewhere between Elvish and Army of Northern Virginia.

In my late teens and early twenties, I liked to take long walks at night, even through cemeteries. (Living near Portland’s Mount Scott cemetery complex was a bonus during my junior year at Reed.) I wrote poetry and thought that the Arnold Bocklin type font was the coolest. You get the picture.

Moving (unknown to me) towards Paganism, which I formally adopted the summer that I turned 21, I might have been attracted to suggestions on how to benefit from a book that discussed, “Meditating on gravestone sculptures, creating a necromantic medicine bag, keeping a personal book of the dead, and other exercises will help you explore the vital, transformative forces of death.”

Now, though, I am more likely to say, “You go right ahead — I’ll pass.”

This is not to say that the Dead cannot be influential sometimes. But I don’t get all gushy about walking in cemeteries anymore. Too many people close to me have died in the last five years, and I have developed a nice sideline in estate and family trust management, not that I ever wanted to do it. You want a “personal book of the dead”? How about the file boxes full of documents in the garage, the resting places of the ka-soul?

Fooling the Cyber-Censors

Yesterday I wrote a review of The New Generation Witches: Teenage Witchcraft in Contemporary Culture, a collection of papers edited by Hannah Johnston and Peg Aloi, for the upcoming issue of The Pomegranate.

Teen Witches, a fluid and constantly changing group, have been heavily dependent on the Internet, because they are often alone and either ignorant of Pagan groups or not welcome there as full-fledged members–the latter partly a result of the various satanism scares and their blowback onto contemporary Pagans.

In Aloi’s own chapter, “A Charming Spell: The Intentional and Unintentional Influence of Popular Media upon Teenage Witchcraft in America,” she writes how some of the Net-filtering programs such as Cybersitter blocked words such as “witchcraft” or “neopagan.”

Internet censorship and the use of filtering software threatened to shut down teenage pagan internet activity. So one result has been that teens got very creative with the names they gave their sites. Instead of calling it ‘Teen Witchcraft Study Group’ it would become ‘Seekers of the Emerald Moon’ or ‘Oak Grove Musings.’

Honestly, since I never have had to cope with filtering software, this problem and responses to it were not on my radar. But don’t tell me that it is the only reason for some of the extravagant group names one encounters in the Pagan world.

From Morgue to Magic and Metaphysics

I stopped by the new home of Isis Books on my way to INATS last June 30.

It’s the third home for the Denver area’s oldest Pagan-oriented bookstore, now about thirty years old.

Chatting with owner Karen Charboneau-Harrison, I asked her what the building at 2775 South Broadway used to be — Google Maps still shows it as a plain commercial building with columns in front — until Karen and her husband Jeff turned them into Egyptian pillars.

“A morgue,” she said. “The stained glass was already here when we moved in.”

They have remodeled the former morgue garage into a set of little offices/therapy rooms that are rented out to various counselors, massage therapists, etc., which is why the sign out front now says “Healing Oasis.”

The bookstore is in what used to be the chapel, and there is plenty of room for the mail-order operation.