Building an Altar to the Dead

A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Your Own Altar This Día de Muertos,” from the Remezcla (” the most influential media brand for Latino Millennials”) website.

Rooted in pre-Hispanic traditions and mixed with elements of Christianity, the ofrendas – which can consist of several levels, depending on space – are a place of gathering. Not only do they unite the living and the dead, they’re also a space to share stories. Each family member contributes by talking about their history.

You can build ofrendas, which include items that reveal a little into the person you’re celebrating, anywhere within your home. Centered around the photos of a loved one, ofrendas typically commemorate those you knew personally. But it’s not rare to see ofrendas honoring celebrities, especially those we feel we know firsthand.

The beauty of these altars is they can take any shape and are highly customizable. But they should represent the four elements: fire (candles), wind (papel picado), earth (food), and water. While no two ofrendas are alike, here is a eight-step guide to get you started.

I published a similar set of instructions earlier along with some reflections. 

And after that, La profesora became upset that students were doing it wrong — in other words, they were being too much multicultural with their altars to celebrities, etc., and so the campus-wide altar building in the Student Center was stopped, while only one “correct” altar was erected in a showcase in one classroom building.

Interview with Carl Weschcke’s Biographer

Melanie Marquis (Voyage Denver).

I once stayed a couple of nights at Carl Weschcke’s house, when he lived out in Marine on St. Croix, and on the drive back and forth to the old Llewellyn Publications office in St. Paul I heard a lot of his stories — but I am sure there are more!

Colorado author Melanie Marquis has written several books for Llewellyn, but the one that I most want to see is Carl Llewellyn Weschcke: Pioneer & Publisher of Body, Mind & Spirit.

From the publisher’s description:

To the countless people he inspired, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke will forever be known as the Father of the New Age. This vivid and entertaining book tells Carl’s story, from a childhood influenced by his Spiritualist grandfather to his early days as a member and president of the Minnesota NAACP. Discover the fascinating account of how he transformed Llewellyn Publications from a small publisher of astrology pamphlets into the largest and most important publisher of body, mind, and spirit literature. Read about Carl’s relationships with the most influential thinkers and teachers of the counterculture, and his public Wiccan handfasting and enduring relationship with his wife, Sandra. Written by longtime friend Melanie Marquis?and including photos and contributions from authors, artists, family, friends, and collaborators?this is a book that looks back at the kindling of a movement while empowering fellow travelers on their journey forward.

When people talk about the history of Paganism, most of the emphasis is on the groups, leaders, and inspirational writers. Carl did some writing too, but I focus on his accomplishments as publisher and facilitator. He added Wiccan and then other Pagan titles to what had been an astrology-focused list. He threw parties. He published Gnostica, his “magalog” (magazine + catalog) with people like Isaac Bonewits (briefly editor) and Robert Anton Wilson writing for it. His Gnosticon festivals, along with the Church of Wicca’s Samhain Seminars (both of them hotel-based conventions) were among the first large Pagan gatherings where people actually met practitioners from other groups beyond their own.

Really, could you imagine North American Paganism without Llewellyn books, say what you will about some of them? No Buckland’s “Big Blue Book“? No Scott Cunningham? No Silver Ravenwolf? No Chas Clifton’s Witchcraft Today series?

According to Marquis, interviewed on the website Voyage Denver, Carl was “an absolutely fascinating man who took a small mail-order company of astrology pamphlets and built it into a multi-million dollar publishing house focused on New Age and occult literature. He was also a lifelong student of the occult sciences. and a dedicated activist and engaging speaker and outspoken leader during the civil rights era.”

Read the whole interview about her life and her writing here.

The Ghosties Are Here Early

A ghostie joins La Catrina at the Hanging Tree Cafe.

I came down to Pueblo today and stopped for breakfast at the Hanging Tree Café, where it is already Halloween. And here I was getting geared up for the Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend, which is my personal autumn equinox ritual. Time is out of joint! But at the Hanging Tree, La Catrina is always in the window. (I was complaining about this last year too, only this year I did Instagram it. It is what it is.)

A Wreath for Hardscrabble Creek

Earlier this month I wrote about tossing offerings into the Cache la Pourdre River in northern Colorado, and it hit me that I had not done anything about a certain creek in the southern part of the state — a creek that has been hit hard with three summers of flash-flooding (thanks to a forest fire at its headwaters) yet which still sustains my well, among other things.

In September, the flow is just a trickle, typical for the season. So I made a little wreath. M. used to make wreaths professionally, woven from grapevines from our backyard at the Cañon City house and filled out with dried flowers. Mine was simple by contrast: a willow branch and some Liatris (blazing star) blossoms.  Yet my thanks and best wishes were sincere.

A Proposal for Honoring the Spirit of the Poudre River

I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.

The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.

The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.

Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.

My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.

In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.

Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.

Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.

So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.

I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.

Edited to add: See what they are doing at Twin Cities Pagan Pride!

Related posts:

What is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”? (with procession and midsummer wreath-tossing)

Can You Put Your Paganism in the Street?

Getting Lost among the Mushrooms

Boletus edulis (Porcino, Steinpilze, etc.)

There are at least five stages to mushroom-hunting.

  1. You walk in the woods but do not see the mushrooms.
  2. You begin to see mushrooms here and there.
  3. Your unconscious is seeing mushrooms. For example, every reddish-tan thing on the forest floor that approximates the cap of a bolete will jump out and grab your attention.
  4. Even before you see the mushroom, you know it is right around that clump of trees — and it is. (This happens to me rarely, but it has happened)
  5. You have full cloth bags of mushrooms in your pack or in your hands. Then you look around, and it’s “Holy Pan, how did we get to be here? And just where are we?”

That was yesterday, up in the Wet Mountains, a thick fir forest at about 11,000 feet elevation. “Let’s swing around and work back to the Jeep,” I said to M., and she was ready, so we started moving slowly up the broad ridge. Then I looked around, and there to the north (on our left), was a steep drop-off that I had never seen before — any steeper and no trees could have grown on it. Where did that come from? Just where were we? Nice job, pixies!

I could see daylight ahead, so I hustled to the gentle crest of the ridge. Walking fast at that altitude mixed with just a little anxiety had my heart going thumpety-thump.

“Are we lost?” asked M.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Maybe we are a little south of where we should be.”1)Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

Far in the distance were were Sheep and Little Sheep mountains. Yes, we were too far south. We just needed to go east to cut the little dirt Forest Service road we had come up on. I got my compass, and saw that East was not precisely where I thought it was.

A few minutes on, we came to a small clearing, and looking downslope to the south, I could see a gravel road — not our road, but one that I knew intersected it. Since I had a clear view of the sky and was high up, I checked the iPhone. Sure enough, three bars.

I turned on the GPS, clicked the  Avenza Maps app, and discovered that I did not have the necessary topopgraphic map loaded. Nor had I brought a paper map. Why should I? Hadn’t we been mushroom-hunting that area since the 2000s without getting lost?

This old hollow fir trunk looked like the mask of a forest god.

But there was a good county road map loaded in the phone, the one that EMS and volunteer firefighters use for navigating mountain subdivisions. Sure enough, the blue dot was close to the road that I was looking for. We would have crossed it anyway, but the high-tech confirmation was comforting, I will admit.

We kept walking, and about half a mile later, there was the Jeep parked in the overgrown old skid road where we had left it.

I think the forest spirits have a message: “Don’t get cocky, kid. The world is a sharp as the edge of a knife.”

Notes   [ + ]

1. Later, at home, she said, “I can read you like a book. You were lost.”

I Can Quit Collecting at Any Time; In Fact, I Have

1940s technology to the rescue.

But I still get a twinge when reading about this typewriter repairman-restoration specialist in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. One of three in the state, it turns out.

“Talk QWERTY to me: A vintage typewriter shop in Glenwood Springs gets analog hearts racing.”

Typewriters are lined up on floor-to-ceiling shelves. They are tucked away in rows of sturdy carrying cases. They squat, solid and reliable, on every surface. In the basement, there are typewriter towers and canyons. Typewriter belts, washers, feet, springs and other bits fill bins and boxes — so many, there are “parts for parts,” owner Darwin Raymond observed wryly.

Typewriters are lined up on floor-to-ceiling shelves. They are tucked away in rows of sturdy carrying cases. They squat, solid and reliable, on every surface. In the basement, there are typewriter towers and canyons. Typewriter belts, washers, feet, springs and other bits fill bins and boxes — so many, there are “parts for parts,” owner Darwin Raymond observed wryly.

One of these days, my travels will bring me to Glenwood Springs again.

A North American Tarot Deck

Emi Brady’s North American Tarot deck. (Photo: Colorado Public Radio).

This would make a nice bookend to the American Renaissance Tarot — Emi Brady’s North American Tarot.

For more than a decade, Denver artist and printmaker Emi Brady toyed with the idea of her own tarot card deck. She “wasn’t ready” until more recently.

“Technically, I wasn’t ready and I think emotionally I wasn’t ready,” Brady said. “I was definitely still learning a lot of things about myself and I think the Tarot is about having a depth of knowledge and compassion for yourself and for others. And I just wasn’t there”  . . . . .

Her own deck, The Brady Tarot, is a set of hand-colored, linocut cards that she released in 2018. The imagery features nature, particularly fauna and flora native to North America. One of the most important things she wants is for people to realize that animals also “have rich inner lives and we’re not alone on this planet.”

Read the rest at Colorado Public Radio.

Publishing Thoughts after AAR-SBL 2018

Nothing gladdens an editor’s heart like seeing an author with his new book. Here Jefferson Calico talks about Being Viking: Heathenisn in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, who also presented a paper in a Contemporary Pagan Studies session.

I got so busy with the “Season of the Witch(crap)” series that I wrote nothing about last month’s joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature.1)The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

The meeting this year was in Denver for the first time since 2001. Although I live in Colorado, I visit Denver only once or twice a year, and when I do, I feel like a country mouse in the urban canyons. There was a time when I sold print advertising up there once or twice a month and was pretty familiar with the central areas, but so much has changed, that my memories are palimpsests, and I have to learn its geography all over again. That restaurant that I remember as moderately priced is now more expensive, and they don’t have any tables available.

That said, if you are a meeting planner, Denver’s convention center is easy to navigate, is withing about four blocks of thousands of hotel rooms, and also within a short walk from many restaurants, so that 10,000 hungry intellectuals discharged into the city center can find places to eat lunch.

And you can take an Amtrak train (or a commuter train from the airport) into the city center and then ride a free shuttle bus into the hotel district. M. and I drove, however, handing our mud-splattered Jeep over to the hotel parking valet for the duration.

But enough boosterism. I was there with a light heart: I am no longer co-chair of the AAR’s Contemporary Pagan Studies Unit, and I had no obligations to anyone about anything, not to mention no obligation to attend the 7:15 a.m. chairs’ breakfast (yawn) or the tense negotiations of the steering committees’ reception, where, drink in hand and shouting in someone’s ear, you attempt to arrange joint sessions for the following year.

Thank you, term limits!

Instead, I went to sessions and talked to authors, coming away with a possible two books for the Equinox series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism and a contribution to an editing collection that is in progress. I will not name these, because I do not wish to jinx them.  The series, I should say, has published more than one book as it has moved from publisher to publisher, but after a merger and a de-merger, we had to re-set the meter to zero. Long story.

I also came away with plans for a guest-edited issue of The Pomegranate  on
Traditionalism and Paganism. I had always though of Traditionalism as concerned mainly with esoteric approaches to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but there is also Pagan or Pagan-friendly version, largely traceable back to the French philosopher Alain de Benoist.

And then we get into some very tricky territory. Here there be dragons.

Soon I will post all the “calls for papers” for three special issues of The Pomegranate, each with a well-qualified editor, and if you are working in any one those areas, I hope that you will get in touch.

Notes   [ + ]

1. The SBL is actually the parent of the AAR, but the child organization is now much bigger and broader.

Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

Candace Aguilera trained in Guatemala’s jungle (Colorado Springs Independent).

“Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1” here.

Continuing . . .

• One more “high” priestess joke, and you’re out of here. From the Colorado Springs Independent, the weekly that gets all the cannabis advertising because the chain-owned daily paper won’t touch it: “Meet Colorado’s High Priestess of Cannabis.” Yes, it’s that favorite form of American creativity: Let’s start a church!

• The Catholic News Agency views the number of self-proclaimed witches with alarm: “Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise.” With video.

• If you dare . . . “Go inside a Wiccan ceremony.” Also with video. Fairly mild sauce, actually.

• It’s the Guardian again: “The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co [sic] are casting their spell over TV.”  “Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist” — yes, that’s all it takes to be a media witch.

• And on public [sic] radio, “When you hear the word ‘witch,’ what does your mind conjure?” Damn, that’s clever writing. This time it’s the 1A show: “Hex in Effect: Why Witches are Back.” (Were we gone? Did I miss that memo?) A teaser for the radio show, which you can listen to if you have unlimited earbuds time.

• On Halloween, Vox.com covered the Sephora witch-kit kerfuffle, which is already old news. “The occult is having a moment. Companies want in, but not if witches can help it.” So much is wrong with this. Is there something measurable called “the occult”?  Sigh. I wanted to list everything Vox gets wrong, I would need a bigger blog. At least The Onion tells you that it is non-serious. Anyway, this one is over.

Maja, photographed by Frances Denny of Brooklyn. Denny is descended from a Salem witch-trial judge of 1692. That qualified her to “explore what it means to be a witch today.”(Daily Mail).

• Ah, those millennials. Now they are “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I could be snarky and say, “Hey, the Seventies called and they want their headlines back.” Or I could say that this is something that is always going on. Decades. Centuries.

The Daily Mail just goes for the photo shoot. If you don’t look like these “actresses, authors, and a technician,”  are you a real witch?

At least the photographer was inspired by a a worthwhile book, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692. (What does it say that the Daily Mail cannot even get a book title right?)

Link fixed — sorry.

Don’t go away. There will be more. And guess what is missing from almost all of these articles.