Witchcraft and paganism exert an insistent pressure from the margins of midcentury British detective fiction. Gladys Mitchell’s Come Away, Death is dedicated to ‘Evelyn Gabriel, whom Artemis bless and Demeter nourish; upon whom Phoebus Apollo shine’.Ngaio Marsh’s Off With His Head revolves around a folk dance when ritual words are muttered and a murder is committed. Margery Allingham’s Look to the Lady depicts the spontaneous rebirth of witchcraft in the depths of the English countryside. The theme appears across the work of multiple writers, going beyond chance occurrence to constitute an ongoing concern in the fiction of the period. This Element investigates the appearance of witchcraft and paganism in the novels of four of the most popular female detective authors of the British mid twentieth century. I approach the theme of witchcraft and paganism not simply as a matter of content, but also as an influence which shapes the narrative and its possibilities. The ‘witchy’ detective novel brings together the conventions of Golden Age fiction with the images and enchantments of witchcraft and paganism to produce a hitherto unstudied mode of detective fiction in the midcentury.
Cover of issue 66, published June-July 1975, edited by Paul Screeton.
The Ley Hunter was a British zine devoted to “earth mysteries” (which could include such things as Fairy encounters as well as ley lines, etc.) published from 1965–1998. As Isaac Koi describes it,
Its website described it as “the longest running journal to cover the ‘earth mysteries’ complex of study areas (it invented the term over 20 years ago!)”, including “‘ley lines;, (earth tie geophysical) energies (studied from both a primary sensing – experiential – point of view and that of physical monitoring), folklore, traditional lifeways, archaeology, all aspects of geomancy or sacred geography, shamanism and other aspects of archaic consciousness, unexplained natural phenomena, and so on”.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post my sadness at missing one of the Indigenous Religious Traditions sessions at the American Academy of Relligion’s online annual meeting this year. (There is another one though). “Indigenous” is a word of power, like “decolonize..”In the 1990s, every grad student in humanities wanted to “foreground the hegemony.” Now it’s “decolonize the [blank] body,” or something like that.
“Indigenous,” she admits, is a political classification invoked to protect the rights of certain colonized minority peoples. Colonization has happened throughout history and has affected almost all peoples at some point. But the term is limited when used to talk about religion, she points out. Some people are characterized as “indigenous” and others, who have lived on the same land for centuries, are not, yet they may have experienced cultural and religious colonization, e.g., what Charlemagne did to the Saxons.Carole Cusack, “Pagan Saxon Resistance to Charlemagne’s Mission: ‘Indigenous’ Religion and ‘World’ Religion in the Early Middle Ages,” The Pomegranate: The International Journal … Continue reading
But “indigenous traditions” are not necessarily walled gardens. They can import and transform outside influences and just as importantly, they can export and share their own ways. She follows Suzanne Owen in building an argument that today’s European Druidry can be seen as indigenous, for it relates to t”he land, the people, and that which has gone before.”
The mid-6th century must have been a terrible time in the Mediterranean world, in Western Europe, and probably other places as well.
If you look up “the plague of Justinian,” you will find that much has been written on a bubonic plague outbreak during the rule of the Eastern Roman emperor Justinian, peaking around 540–541 CE. Apparently that is part of a larger disaster that started around 536.
I was introduced to Catastrophe by my friend and mentor, the English witch Evan John Jones, who had bought it shortly before I visited him in Brighton, and I stayed up late a couple nights speed-reading it after he and Val, his wife, had long gone to bed.
All that concatenation of volcanic eruption-plague-and climate change was brought back to mind by this article, “The Long, Harsh Fimbul Winter is not a Myth,” subtitled, “Probably half of Norway and Sweden’s population died. Researchers now know more and more about the catastrophic year of 536.”
Reconstructed Bronze Age house in Norway, typical of houses built up until 536 CE (Wikimedia Commons).
In essence, massive short-term climate changes slammed Scandinavia, northern Germany, and the Baltic region in the 530s, leading to abandonment of farms and settlements and the projected deaths of up to half of the peoples there.
“First came the Fimbul winter that lasted three years. This was a warning of the coming of Ragnarok, when everything living on Earth came to an end.”
This is how the story of the long harsh winter, called the Fimbul winter in Norwegian, begins, both in Norse mythology and in the Finnish national work of epic poetry, the Kalevala.
But why are stories that warn of a frozen end-time found in Nordic mythologies?
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[Swedish archaeologist Bo] Gräslund was first to suggest that the Fimbul winter was a real event, and that it took place in the years after 536. He also pointed out that the 13th century Icelandic historian Snorre in his book Edda was not only concerned that it was very cold and the winters were snowy — Snorre was also concerned because there were no summers for several years in a row.
Whereas David Keys looks toward a volcano in Indonesia as the culprit, the Scandinavians are suspecting an eruption in Central America or Mexico:
“This must have happened somewhere near the Equator. Maybe it was El Chichón volcano in southern Mexico,” [climate scientist Fredrik Charpentier Ljungqvist] said.
The tiny particles from the two volcanic eruptions remained in the atmosphere for several years, leading to strong cooling in the northern hemisphere. Ljungqvist points out that there are now a number of studies of annual rings in old trees that confirm this.
He points out that the cumulative effect of two huge volcanic eruptions in the years 536 and 540 was what made this cooling quite exceptional and very long lasting.
The archaeological evidence is chilling, no pun intended:
In Denmark, archaeologist Morten Axboe found that large quantities of gold and other precious metal jewellery were sacrificed right after the climate shock.
Axboe’s theory is that these sacrifices were actions of desperate people. They sought to mollify higher powers and asked them to bring the sun back into the sky.
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In Rogaland and the surrounding areas, until the disaster 1500 years ago, there were many skilled goldsmiths.
Both they and their craft disappeared.
The same thing happened to the many talented potters who had lived in western Norway before the Merovingian Period, from Jæren in the south to Sogn in the north.
It would take another thousand years before equally fine pottery was made in Norway.
You can’t blame people for thinking that this was The End, or at least a good preview of what The End would look like.
Stonehenge may be the most famous example, but tens of thousands of other ancient sites featuring massive, curiously arranged rocks dot Europe. A new study suggests these megaliths weren’t created independently but instead can be traced back to a single hunter-gatherer culture that started nearly 7000 years ago in what is today the Brittany region of northwestern France. The findings also indicate societies at the time were better boaters than typically believed, spreading their culture by sea.
The seafaring part is interesting. Since those people evidently did not do boat burials (on land), we have no idea what kind of vessels they had, but they had something.
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.
• 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.”