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.

Wines for theurgists? What’s this?

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?

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.

Neoshaman Barbie Number 2

Neoshaman Barbie 1 with her drum.

There have never been any little girls in my house, so consequently no Barbie dolls, but they cost only about $2–$4 in the thrift stores. So I decided last year to make a neoshamanic Barbie, because I like the idea of “theme” Barbies (like “New Mexico Barbie“) and because the very thought of her reminded me of a certain author and teacher who is “widely acknowledged as a major link between the ancient world of shamanism and modern societies thirst for profound personal healing and a deeper understanding of the pathway to enlightenment.”

I made one and on a warmish day in January placed her way up behind the house in some boulders that I call Ringtail Rocks. She has her magickal assignment, she is hidden by rocks, and I will never disturb her.

Neoshaman Barbie 2 with her necklace of power and her spirit animal.

But there was one more Barbie left, so today, now that the last snow has melted and the trail is dry, she went to a different cluster of boulders with a similar assignment, along with her spirit animal.

These are part of a series of “installations” that I have started. You can tell that I was not a studio-art major, because I cannot produce 3,000 words of art-prose about what I made.

But since producing prose (and editing other people’s prose) is what I do all day, these and the other installations are just thigs that Iet bubble up, and I don’t have to produce a lot of discourse about them. I am not even completely clear on their magickal purpose

A geocacher would spot this as a “suspicious pile of rocks,” but there are no geocaches in the area either.

You can see a couple more on Instagram, because Instagram is no place for long writing.

Now I have this box of skulls and beads and wire and you know, all the usual stuff, and when the weather warms up, I have more un-formed, inchoate subconsciously directed ideas.

“Weird things in the woods” pretty well covers it.

Other Barbie-related posts:

October 29, 2003, “Barbie, the Hot Pagan Witch.”

January 26, 2005: “Inanna Descends to the Underworld (Barbie version).” The link is dead though, and the Wayback Machine did not help.

March 5, 2005, “Some Pagan Publishing Gossip.

April 27, 2006, “Pagan-Studies Barbie.”

Start Your Own Magickal Lodge in Southern Colorado

Does watching TV shows with “Lodge” in the title make yourself wish that you, yourself, headed a magickal order? Or do you need headquarters for your existing esoteric order?

Here is a chance to buy the old Masonic hall (originally a bank with lodge rooms upstairs) in almost-trendy Florence, Colorado.

One warning. Real-estate listings always lie. The Pour House coffeehouse has moved out, so you will need to find a new tenant for that ground-floor commercial space. You can easily find another antiques dealer to rent it — more income for building upkeep, purchase of new regalia, and printing elaborate esoteric books.

As for the Masons, sources tell me that they are about done for. They sold the building, and I think the few elderly members left have consolidated with another lodge in a nearby town.

“The Witches of Manitou”—More than an Urban Legend

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, ( a former newspaper co-worker of mine) from the Colorado Sun. Click to embiggen.

The Colorado Sun, an online news site, dropped this into my inbox yesterday, giving M. and me both giggles and epic nostalgia. Back in the Eighties, we were “The Witches of Manitou” — at least two of them.

“The Witches of Manitou Springs: History, hysteria and wand-waving Wiccans behind a stubborn urban myth” was co-authored by , and

It begins,

Manitou Springs, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak, is full of whispers of witches and witchcraft.

Maybe you’ve heard it from an Uber driver on the way to an area bar or while scrolling through a travel site. It’s a tale that often wanders through word of mouth. Wherever it comes from, legend has it there are witches in Manitou Springs. More, perhaps, than usual.

But is there an overabundance of witches in this town at the foot of America’s mountain, where at least one apothecary sells miniature broomsticks — or is it just a persistent urban legend?

That much is true. It definitely is a persistent urban legend — I encountered it in my more youthful days, circa 1976. Everybody had heard of ceremonies in “the big cave.”[1]Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that … Continue reading

There’s the horror mockumentary, “The Warning,” a film by Summer Moore, a Liberty High School graduate turned filmmaker. Filmed in Colorado Springs, “The Blair Witch Project”-inspired script follows three friends as they investigate a local cult in the forest that borders the town.

While promoting her film in 2015, Moore told The Gazette she spoke with 50 of her classmates who alluded to “true accounts” of dark happenings in Manitou. Moore went on to write, produce, and star in her film. . . .

When Bryant T. Ragan, a history professor at Colorado College, was teaching a class at Colorado College in 2018 titled “Sorcery, Magic, and Devilry: The History of Witchcraft,” he wanted to bring in a practicing Wiccan from Manitou Springs to talk to his students. He ultimately couldn’t track down someone willing to do it

Read the whole thing.

Obviously a must-see. How did I miss it? (The cave in the movie trailer is not the cave that I mentioned above.)

I can say that for a time there was the Iron Mountain Coven, named for the little peak above our house, labeled at the left edge of the photo above.

We used both the second-floor of the Spa Building (labeled) and the basement of an art gallery for ritual/festival/handfasting sites. At the time, a Pagan-friendly couple operated a hot tub and flotation tank-rental business in the Spa Building, which included a large room facing out over the avenue. When ritual ended, the tubs were waiting.[2]There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

But I disagree with the Rev. Thorian Shadowalker, Wiccan leader. Salem, Mass., is the “witch capital of the U.S.” as far as I am concerned.

M. worked at Celebration, the West Side (Colorado Springs) metaphysical store mentioned in the article, for a couple of years. Its original owner, Coreen Toll, later served on the Manitou Springs city council and narrowly lost a race for mayor in 2015.

Current mayor John Graham, when he published the Pikes Peak Journal, let me use his equipment to typeset Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which was an ancestor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. John is not a Pagan, but he facilitated Pagan publishing.

So where did the “witches of Manitou” legend originate? Since it was firmly in place by the mid-1970s, it would be easy to blame it on “the Sixties.” To be honest, I cannot say. I do know that our coven was not the first.

To quote a story about the iconic Manitou artist Charles Rockey, who was our own Van Gogh, “Manitou Springs has always harbored a sizeable community of artisans, musicians, potters, healers, New Age masseurs, alternative gardeners, dharma motorcyclists, metaphysical high-techers and liberal-artsy bohemians of every stripe and hue.”

UPDATE 25 March 2020: The Wild Hunt interviewed me for their follow-up story, “The Witches of Manitou Springs and Their Tale of Two Cities.

Notes

Notes
1 Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
2 There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.