How Smokey Bear Would Celebrate the Summer Solstice

It’s a bonfire at mid-June, but a couple of things are a little off.

Flames leapt into the June sky, illuminating the attentive faces of the surroundng watchers, while waves of heat rolled off the fire. Around us was darkness, mountains, and forest.

I was thirsty, so I walked over the cooler to get some water. On the way back, my boot felt loose, so I put it up on the front pumper of Engine 968 to re-lace it.

“It’s a great bonfire,” I thought. “Too bad it’s ten days early.” This was the night of June 11, 2022, and the solstice will come at 3:14 a.m. local (Mountain) time on the 21st.

I live in a Colorado county where evangelical Protestanism is the dominant faith, although there are others, and all the local political races are settled in the Republican primary.[1]As an unaffiliated voter, I can vote in either major party’s primary, so this year I voted as an imaginary Republican, since the alternative is to have no candidates at all. But since I was here, I tried a Wiccan reading of the event: The fire was lit, and people assembled. (That perhaps is backwards from normal practice.) We cast the circle — not drawing it with a sword but digging it with pulaskis, MacLeods, and combi tools.

A spcialized circle-casting tool based on the Army M1088A1 5-ton  6×6 tractor.

Then we marked it in fire —two people circled the perimeter with drip torches to make sure eveyrhing burned

And in water. Another celebrant drove deosil around the circle in a Type 4 wildland engine, spraying a “wet line.”

No salt though.

Pagan-studies scholar Helen Berger recently wrote a summer solstice-themed article for The Conversation (“Academic rigor, journalistic flair”) titled “Wiccan celebration of summer solstice is a reminder that change, as expressed in nature, is inevitable.

All sabbats begin by creating sacred space, mostly outdoors when the weather permits. This is done by those leading the ritual walking around an area, chanting as a form of prayer and sprinkling the area with water and salt, which are believed to be spiritually cleansing.

And it occurs to me that a hypothecal Smokey Bear coven could do a heckuva circle-casting just with what is carried on the trucks. How about a ring of Class A foam?

After all, Smokey Bear is a face of the Great Bear, one of the oldest religions of all. The somewhat Pagan-ish American Buddhist philosopher and poet Gary Snyder composed a sutra for Smokey [the] Bear in 1969. Here it is with some commentary that he wrote in 2005, published in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle.

In the sutra, I see Smokey as the incarnation of the ancient brown bear of the North and of [the Japanese mountain bodhisattva] Fudo at the same time. But, of course, the Forest Service didn’t know anything about all those associations and reverberations. That was part of the fun of it all, turning the establishment’s imagery on its head.

You read this far and you are still wondering about the fire? The larger fire department in my county and the smaller one to which I belong are operating under a temporary “automatic mutual aid” plan for wildfires because it is so dry now. If a fire pops up in their service area or ours, the other department is dispatched too.

This was in their area: it took our two engines an hour just to drive there.

In this case, a member of one of the well-established ranching families, stewards of the land, etc etc., had piled up an acre of “slash” — stumps, tree trunks, limbs and so onefrom logging or fire mitigation (ironic) or whatever. All nicely dry.

Then he (or his hired hand) decided to burn some other trash adjacent to it. “We don’t need no steenkeeng permit.”  And the first fire ignited the slash pile.
The flames were visible for miles, and they sure lit up local Facebook pages as well. It was like a small lumberyard on fire — there was no way we had enough water to put it out, so we just made it burn more completely. One lucky engine crew (not mine) got to stay all night to monitor it.

Notes

Notes
1 As an unaffiliated voter, I can vote in either major party’s primary, so this year I voted as an imaginary Republican, since the alternative is to have no candidates at all.

Starring Ava Gardner as the Faery Queen

Ava Gardner, 1950s.

Ava Gardner (1922–1990) was one of the most famous American film stars of the late 1940s through the 1960s, probably best known for The Night of the Iguana (1964). She had moved to London 1968, which might be why she was cast in a movie that, given my interests, I am surprised to have never heard of: Tam Lin, also known as The Devil’s Widow.  (Link to YouTube.)

“Tam Lin,”  Child Ballad 39[1]Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected. is a traditional song about a young man who takes up with the Queen of Faery and his mortal girlfriend, “fair Janet,” who fights for his return, intercepting the fairies’ ride on Halloween and pitting her love against their magic:

They’ll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an esk and adder;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, I am your bairn’s father.

They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, As ye shall love your child.

Again they’ll turn me in your arms To a red het gaud of airn;

But hold me fast, and fear me not, I’ll do to you nae harm.

A Musical Interlude

Here is a stripped-down version from Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, performing in Toronto in 2013:

Here is the great German neofolk band Faun’s version, in German with English subtitles, featuring an actual hurdy-gurdy for that 16th-century “big band” sound.

“Tam Lin,” the Movie

I like the poster for the Spanish-language version best.

At the northern Colorado covenstead in the late 1970s, Pentangle was one of the bands whose albums were on constant rotation.[2]The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.

You will hear their version of “Tam Lin” in the 1970 movie Tam Lin (also titled The Ballad of Tam Lin or in one version, The Devil’s Widow). It starred Ava Garder (47 or 48 at the time) as Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret”; Ian McShane, 27, as “Tom Lynn,” her current boy-toy — one of a very long series — and Stephanie Beacham, 22, as Janet.

Plus a large cast of long-haired bellbottoms-wearing young people as the equivalent of the Fairy Crew, both a pleasure-seeking “light” version and a more violent “dark” contingent. The director was Roddy McDowell, better-known for his roles in the Planet of the Apes series.

I will return the question of disparate ages later.

You can think of this lot as the “light” fairies.

The Gentry Doing Weird Things in the Big House

Isn’t that the favorite trope of British horror films? The action may start in the city, as does Tam Lin, but the real weirdness is at the country estate where the lord/lady of the manor is a secret Satanist, Pagan, sex magician, Reptilian, whatever. One of my favorites is The Lair of the White Worm (1988), but there are So Many Others.

Tam and Mickey in happier times.

In this movie, once Tam Lin is at the big house, events pretty well follow the ballad’s narrative, with new characters added. He meets Janet (the vicar’s daughter) at Carterhaugh. Sex ensues. She becomes pregnant. He wants to leave his older mistress — but she is not going to make it easy for him, not at all.

The “Carter” Confusion

As an American, I did not have a map of the Scottish Lowlands in my head. When I read the lyrics for the electric-folk band Steeleye Span’s version of “Tam Lin” (Steeleye Span was also in heavy rotation at the covenstead in those days.), they said,

Oh, I forbid you maidens all
That wear gold in your hair
To come or go by Carter Hall
For young Tam Lin is there[3]Tam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.

But “Carter Hall”? To me, that was a brand of pipe tobacco that I saw on store shelves, named for a plantation in northern Virginia.[4]For the record, my Clifton ancestors apparently got off the boat in Surry County Virginia, on the James River, and did not own anything that qualifies as a “hall.”  That is in America, not Scotland, but maybe there was another? (Not according to Google.)

Originally,  the encounter between Tam Lin and Janet occurrs at Carterhaugh, which is a real place on the Scottish border — the name designates a farm and a woodland

Some Scots speakers have a way of dropping final “L” sounds, so “ball” becomes “ba,”  for example, and thus “Carter Hall” and “Carterhaugh” would sound about the same. So some English folksinger could hear “Carterhaugh” and think that “Carter Hall” was the “correct” wording.  The so-called correction introduced a new scribal error. This happens more than you realize.

As the Tam Lin ballad website says on its “Carterhaugh” page, “The town [Selkirk] itself doesn’t have much in the way of tourist industry aimed at Tam Lin fans.”

Older Woman, Younger Man, Younger Woman

The older woman-younger man-younger woman dramatic triangle pops up all the time. In a pre-pubescent version, it is the core of Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Snow Queen,” published in 1844.

I read that as a kid and totally got it “wrong.” I wanted little Kai to live with the Snow Queen. She was magnetic and amazing, and who was pious little Greta coming to drag him away?

And Ava Gardner? In 1966, three years before she made Tam Lin, she tried for the part of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, in which “a disillusioned college graduate [Dustin Hoffman] finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.”

But Anne Bancroft, 35 at the time, got the part. Katharine Ross, 26, played the daughter. Yeah, do the math. Anne Bancroft was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman. Weirdly, The Graduate is described as a “romantic comedy” but also as “the 17th greatest American film of all time.”

Nevertheless, the message from pop culture, whether ballad or film, is the same: “Youth must triumph.” But older lovers have some power too, particularly if they are supernatural figures.

The Wisdom of Traditional Ballads

When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I had a friend named Michael. A decade earlier, Michael had run a small speciality store downtown (before Pearl Street became a pedestrian mall) with another guy whom I will call W.

It seems that W. was in a relationship with an older woman. This woman had an 18-year-old daughter. W., being young and horny, went to bed with the daughter too.

When the mother found out, this did not turn into a porn-movie scenario. Oh no, this was real life.

In Michael’s words, the term “went ballistic” failed to describe the mother’s reaction.

It sounds like the closing verses of one version of the ballad “Tam Lin,” in fact:

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she:
“Shame betide her ill-far’d face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight
In a’ my companie.”
“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” she says,
‘What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree.”

Notes

Notes
1 Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected.
2 The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.
3 Tam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.
4 For the record, my Clifton ancestors apparently got off the boat in Surry County Virginia, on the James River, and did not own anything that qualifies as a “hall.”

Pagan Studies: 2022 American Academy of Religion Call for Papers

(Photo: Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau)

The Call for Proposals for the Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, November 19–22, 2022 is now available, and the PAPERS System is open for submission.

This is the Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit’s particular call, to save you searching.

More info from the AAR secret headquarters in north Georgia:

  • The Annual Meeting will have an in-person only format this year. There will not be a virtual component for the 2022 meeting. For future years, we are exploring the possibility of offering a separate, virtual meeting in addition to the in-person Annual Meeting.
  • Annual Meeting proposal submission is restricted to current AAR members only. You will need to renew your membership in order to log into the PAPERS site.
  • Exceptions will be made for scholars outside of the field of Religious Studies and Theology on a case-by-case basis. Requests must be submitted through the AAR Membership Waiver for Proposal Submission form by February 25, 2022 to be considered.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals is Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. EST.

Wines for Esotericists

The Alchemist, a blended red from the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey.

What has been happening over at the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, down in Cañon City, Colorado? They have gone hermetic!

M. and I celebrated equinox season today by attending the winery’s Harvest Festival. It was packed. SInce the focus is on wine, many attendees turned it into a picnic in front of the music stage.

It’s not the first time we have attended this festival as an alternative to the much bigger Chile & Frijoles fest in Pueblo. (The latter was much shrunken in 2020, but back this year with beer, bands, and vendors — and some excellent roasted Pueblo chiles in there somewhere.)

But this year we were ready for something smaller and leisurely, more focused on the grapes than the grain and hops — but with roasting green chiles too, of course!

Picnickers at the 2021 Harvest Fest, the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey, Cañon City, Colorado.

I was wandering though the tasting booths and craftspeople’s booths when I saw one tasting booth labeled “As Above, So Below.”  Every occultist knows that phrase, but what was it doing at a wine-tasting? Had I stumbled into a John Crowley novel?

This was the sort of event where you pay your money, get a glass and some tickets, and trade tickets for tastes. And I was out of tickets.

No matter, I asked some questions, then went to the “express” tent and bought a bottle of The Alchemist: “Perfectly balanced and sustainable, as the universe intended. Syrah and Verona grapes come together for a wine that is sure to enlighten. Have a drink, it’s your destiny.”

I might have been just as happy with The Theurgist: “Fun and approachable – magically delightful.” Well, no one ever called the Emerald Tablet “fun and approachable,” but wouldn’t “Emerald Tablet” be a good name for a vinho verde?

The Astrologist, meanwhile, is a riesling-sauvignon blanc blend: “Fun and refreshing in a way Nostradamus would never have predicted.” But M. and I drink more reds, so . . .

I should point out that despite the name and the cross on the label, it’s the Winery AT Holy Cross Abbey, not OF.

“The abbey,” as everyone in the area calls it, was indeed started by Benedictine monks in the 1920s. They operated a respected high school for boys, both day students and boarders, until the 1980s, when it closed due to the lack of vocations — not enough new monks, and the existng brothers all elderly. It’s the same problem that hit many Roman Catholic institutions around then. Eventually the order sold the whole complex after renting out the school buildings for a while for a satellite community college campus and other uses.

So no monk ever touches the wine today — although the Benedictines planted the first grapes. Here is the current management team. But apprently some esotericists do enter the picture. I need to follow up on this. Research might begin at the winery shop, where I can buy The Theurgist for research purposes.

Will the Temple Return to Florence? A Small Town Watches

Masonic temple building on fire, 4 August 2021 (KKTV, Colorado Springs).

In March 2020, when the Masonic temple building up in Florence, Colorado, went on sale, I wrote a post titled “Start Your Own Magical Lodge in Southern Colorado.” Maybe I was a little under the spell of the AMC television series Lodge 49.

I had the usual fantasies about what I would do if I had the building and a jillion dollars. I had been all over the ground floor, the basement (essentially untouched since 1920 or so), but not the second floor with the lodge rooms.

I used to visit a coffeehouse on the ground floor, and the owner said that the Masons were good landlords. (I think the building started out with a bank on the ground floor in the early 1900s. It is part of the Florence Historic District.) When I first came to the area, an auto parts store was in the space later taken by the coffeehouse.

Then the Masonic lodge, slowly shrinking, sold the building in April 2020 for a mere  $335,000. Lodge 97 A.F. & A. M. was no more.

The new owners were doing something upstairs — contractors came and went, and I could see new windows all around.

Meanwhile, the coffeehouse had relocated across the street and down a block. Smart move.

Late at night on August 4th, the building caught fire. Firefighters attempted an interior attack but had to retreat, switching tactics to “surround and drown.” I don’t think that the Florence VFD gets to use their aerial apparatus very often, but that night they did.

“Main Street fires are the fires that we’re afraid of because the buildings are so old and there’s so many hidden chases in there for the fire to travel through, which is what happened on this one,” said the fire chief.

Three days after the fire. Most of the roof is gone.

It wasn’t exactly Notre Dame de Paris, but the old Masonic temple was part of my mental landscape, as well as for all those who lived in Florence. I had spent a lot of hours there.

The new owners had converted the upper floor to apartments, which were not yet occupied. Retail businesses on the ground floor had the usual smoke and water damage.

I figured that was it, and soon it would just be a pile of bricks. Perhaps the Masons had kept the salamanders at bay for a century, but something had gone wrong.

Another view on the 19th, with dumpsters and trailers.

On my last visit to Florence, I saw trailers from a disaster-recovery firm and what looked like preparations for clearing debris. Did enough of the steel roof trusses survive?

Fingers crossed — maybe it will not be lost.

This Sounds like a Druidic Homily

Lilac bud. (Pueblo Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center)

I was reading the online version of the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain this afternoon and happened onto this article provided by the Pueblo Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center, formerly known more prosaically as Pueblo Mountain Park: “Nature’s Classroom: Imbolg, Time of Germination.”

The park has a long and interesting history. I have mentioned it before in connection with its Yule Log tradition.

The Yule log celebration is  Pagan-ish for sure. So is this Imbolg column. You could have told me that I was reading one of John Beckett’s Druidic homilies, and I would have believed you.

Homily: a short commentary on a sacred topic — something less formal than a sermon.

Especially when the writer moves from observing nature “out there” to personal transformation.

Again, the trees are giving us an ample lesson and functional metaphor for our own new growth and blossoming. Perhaps you are working to lose weight, or to strengthen underused muscles, or to heal some aspect of your body or psyche. These things take time.

It sounds to me like creeping Paganism. Heh.

Revisiting a Colorado Yule Log Hunt

The little southern Colorado town of Beulah has a traditional Yule log hunt that is almost as old as Wicca — it began in 1952.

M. and I attended with a friend and her young son in 2015, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule,” with lots of photos.

Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.

The 1954 Yule Log (Beulah Historical Society)

The “huntsmen” of 1977 — they direct the Yule log hunt (Beulah Historical Society).

When I watch the hunt, I think of something that the English folkorist E. C. Cawte wrote back in the 1970s. He was directing a group of schoolboys in performing a “souling play,” a traditonal entertainment from the winter in which St. George slays someone — who does not stay slain.

Huntsmen of 2015.

“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”[1]E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

The kids in Beulah know it too.

This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.

Original Beulah Yule log blog post and photos here.

Notes

Notes
1 E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

I Am Interviewed about “My Magical Thing”

Julian Vayne, author of a number of books on articles on psychedelia, esoteric matters, and occulture, has a series on YouTube called “My Magical Thing,” These are short interviews with other occulture-types to discuss some object that has a special meaning to them, either of its own nature or the story of how they came to have it.

Julian interviewed me in June, and I wanted to be outside so that I could have a supporting cast of broad-tailed hummingbirds. They don’t show up too well though, and there was glare in a face. . . oh well.

A New Approach to “The Locals”

I wonder when this white fir was cut. The 1950s? Anyway, it seemed like a good place for offerings.

This time last year M. and I were picking mushrooms at higher elevations — and almost were trapped in a fairy portal. At least, that is what it seemed like. I might have provoked That Crowd by feeling a little too arrogant about my woodsmanship, but at least I saw the trap in time.

Admittedly, we were right up against the red zone, “extreme drought” in southern Colorado.

That event was August 6th. This year we returned to the same spot on July 29th, just to see if any mushrooms were coming up — there had been a few good rains up high — but there was nothing, edible or otherwise. It’s been a bad bad drought year, even in the high country (above 10,000 feet / 3,050 m).

But I had another purpose. Drought or not, I wanted to leave something for The Locals. The Other Crowd. Them. I did not know what protocol would work in “the mushroom grounds,” so I just brought some whiskey and a tobacco bundle, made from Nicotiana rustica that I had grown last year and dried, tied up in a scrap of old bandana.

Whiskey in a stump.

I poured some bourbon into a natural “cup” formed by the stump, and I tied the tobacco bundle to a protruding spike of wood inside the hollow stump.

We went back up there on August 6th, a year after the “portal” event. Still not a mushroom in sight. But I strolled past that stump and the tobacco bundle was gone. Flat gone. This is not an area that gets many human visitors.

The lore is that if an offering disappears, it has been accepted. Now if we could have more rain. But that is a different ritual and a different story.