“What it is about the Norse gods is they teach you to respect nature and the world and that’s how the world should be run, not like in the modern day,” said Mr Mehmed, who is also known as Magnus Shield-Breaker.
I read an alternative-history novel now and then,1)Robert Harris’ Fatherland remains an all-time favorite. especially those in which the Pagans triumph. For instance, John M. Ford created a 15th-century world, Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History, in which Julian the Philosopher, the last Pagan emperor, did put on his armor before that skirmish with the Persians, and, consequently, made possible a Pagan empire centered on Byzantium — not that they are necessarily the good guys to Western Europeans.2)Bonus: fans of Richard III of England will like this one a lot. There are also vampires.
Another book that I have ordered is The Kingdom of the Wicked, Book One: Rules by Helen Dale, an Australian writer who is also a lawyer and one-time Classics scholar. In an review essay titled “Return of the Pagans,” she writes,3)Law & Liberty describes itself as focused “on the classical liberal tradition of law and political thought and how it shapes a society of free and responsible persons.”
Kingdom of the Wicked is a work of speculative fiction. It takes place in a Roman Empire that’s undergone an industrial revolution. My initial academic training was in classics (I became a lawyer later to pay the bills), so I’m well aware pagan Rome had different cultural values from those now present in the modern, industrialized West.
She says of herself that she “lacks a religious orientation.”
This serves to explain [my] mystification at adherents of both immanent and transcendent religions. We classical liberals really do spend a lot of time asking, “I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?” In doing so we forget how rare we are in the population. Minding other people’s morality is deeply human. It turns up everywhere, a cosmic homeopathic joke with only memories of being funny.
The first half of Pagans & Christians in the City is given over to comparative religion. Smith outlines the underlying logic of Roman paganism and emergent (Catholic) Christianity and draws out similarities and differences. He discusses how paganism locates the sacred within the world — it’s an immanent religiosity whereby the divine emerges from the natural environment. Christianity and Islam, by contrast, are instances of transcendent religiosity — they place what is most sacred outside the world, in part because God made the world.
While classicists and scholars of comparative religion appreciate this distinction, it’s not widely known otherwise. For my sins I once spent a couple of years tutoring Latin, losing track of students’ pleading enquiries about what Romans actually believed. That I resorted to suggestions like “read Ovid’s Metamorphoses while stoned” or “go to Japan and get a priest or priestess to explain the significance of The Great Ise Shrine” gives a sense of the magnitude of Smith’s achievement. Without once falling back on theologically similar Shinto (which I’ve pillaged as a novelist and teacher of classics), he takes Roman paganism seriously as a religious tradition on its own terms and renders it real and alive.
In the second half of Pagans & Christians in the City, Smith sets out a bold claim. In short, he argues that paganism never went away. The immanent orientation to the sacred it advances is not only in direct competition with Christian transcendence, but competition between the two orientations continues today — it manifests in the US as “culture wars” — because a number of progressive values comport readily with pagan conceptions of the sacred. This is particularly so when it comes to sex and sexuality. To take two of Smith’s case studies among many: modern liberal democracies have simply abandoned the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim view of same-sex attraction and abortion and substituted the pagan Roman view wholesale.
Where this leads includes a discussion of what happens when monotheism goes wrong: “bigotry, misogyny, vandalism, and what amounts to a war on human sexuality” contrasted with the other extreme: “If, however, you’re one of those fashionable humanists for whom Roman civil religion and civic nationalism seem sophisticated and high-minded, you will learn how those fine ideals were drenched in blood — both animal and human — and the extent to which Roman sexual liberality was founded on terrifying exploitation of slaves and (sometimes) non-citizens.”
Again we have the argument that environmentalism functions as a substitute immanent religion, a theme familiar both to some religion scholars and to some Christian preachers.
So “the Pagans” here are not contemporary religious Pagans, be they Heathens or Hellenic reconstructionists. But they are a broadly drawn collection of people whose values might well match with those of many or most Wiccans, etc. etc. And these values are in sometimes violent conflict with the “transcendental” values, even when the conflict is cast in secular terms.
Caroline Tully is an Australian scholar of Classics, archaeology, and esotericism with a background in fine arts:
I am an Honorary Fellow in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. I have a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Monash University, Graduate and Postgraduate Diplomas in Classics and Archaeology and a PhD in Aegean Archaeology from the University of Melbourne. From 1996 to 2010 I worked as a professional tapestry weaver at the Australian Tapestry Workshop, during which (from 1999 to 2005) I also worked as a feature writer, reviewer and news and events editor at Australia’s Witchcraft Magazine. I returned to university study in 2004, started PhD research in 2009 and was awarded my Doctorate in 2017. My PhD, which is on tree worship in the Late Bronze Age Aegean and East Mediterranean (primarily Crete and mainland Greece, with comparative material from Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt), is currently in press with Peeters Publishers and due out this year. I also work on the reception of the ancient world, particularly the ways in which ancient Egyptian and Minoan (Bronze Age Crete) religions have been interpreted by late nineteenth century British magicians such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and their spiritual heirs, the 20th and 21st century ceremonial magicians, witches and Pagans.
The Wild Hunt had a short interview with her last year, but here is a long version of her interview by Rick de Yampert.
I think Paganism is inherently creative because of its this-worldly, rather than other-worldly, focus. There is a wide spectrum of aesthetic expression that manifests in the materiality of Paganism; in the ritual objects we use, the way we design rituals, our robes (or lack thereof), direct – bodily – contact with deities, ecstatic expression, sexuality, and the general artistic legacy of all forms of ancient pagan religions that we are able to draw upon in order to create our religion and rituals. However, the initial impulse to create this special issue came from the creativity, often aligned with business savvy, of Witches on Instagram; the sex-positive feminist collective website, Slutist.com; and the fact that Witchcraft was appearing in high fashion contexts such as catwalk collections and featuring in magazines like Vogue. Witchcraft has become glamorous – and I’m not talking about its traditional faerie glamour, but fashionista glamour. Bloggers, Peg Aloi (“The Young Ones:Witchcraft’s Glamorous New Practitioners”), and Thorn Mooney (“The HipsterWitch: Aesthetics, Empowerment and Instagram”), have already noted that this is a new kind of Witchcraft, less focussed on deities, Pagan history and community, and more focussed on self-care and characterised, to quote Mooney, by “a strong entrepreneurial streak”. These Witches are also politically active, more multicultural than Paganism has traditionally been, and read magazines like Sabat and Ravenous, and books like Kristen J. Sollee’s Witches, Sluts, Feminists: Conjuring the Sex Positive. This issue of The Pomegranate is interested in research on these new slick Witches – who are they? Are they really so new after all? What does it mean for Witchcraft to be so distinctively stylish?
There was a period during the early days of modern Asatru where it was the norm for folks to wear Viking reenactment garb for events and rituals. There was an idea that by trying to recreate the look and feel of the Viking age, folks could better connect with our Gods and more “authentically” practice our religion. Perhaps that was a necessary stage in order to reject what folks were used to and embrace something that was very different. Perhaps folks felt better connected to an idealized time, a better time for our folk’s spirituality, by attempting to imitate the dress of that period. Happily, our religion has grown and developed over the last 50 years and, in the AFA, we no longer feel the need to reenact something dead, instead, we enact something living and vibrant in our own day and in our own real lives. Just as the Vikings did not dress up as cavemen in order to be more spiritual, we do not need to dress up as Vikings to be pious.
In the Wiccan world, I have gotten mixed messages over the years. There is the definite priestess-y fashion statement that involves auburn hair and flowing garments. I have no problem with that — in fact, I married one of them, although I have not seen M. in flowing garments for years. She turned out to be a boots-and-jeans type of gal, which is fine with me.
But against the Renn Faire Wicca stereotype, there was the Denver old-guard/Gard HP who told me during a festival around 1990 that “You can tell the elders. They’re the ones in blue jeans.” Of course, the old guard/Gard types don’t wear jeans in ritual, except maybe at mountain festivals.
So I have often wondered if “dressing like the ancestors” takes you out of the mundane world, but simultaneously if it is not also an obstacle.
[Kondo] worked as a [Shinto] shrine maiden in Japan during college, and there are elements of the KonMari technique that borrow from Shinto beliefs, specifically the notion that inanimate objects are bearers of kami, or divine essence—in the same way that plants, animals, and people are. That’s why Kondo taps piles of old books to “wake them up,” folds clothes so that they can rest more comfortably, and asks her clients to thank pieces of clothing for their service before setting them aside. Paradoxically, the exercise of cultivating empathy for the things that surround us, rather than encouraging materialism, seems to lead Kondo’s clients to also have empathy for one another, and for themselves.
It’s a show where a nice little Japanese lady comes into your home and teaches you how to keep your home neat and organized. (I SWEAR IT IS PAGAN-ISH…keep reading…stop rolling your eyes. …put that tongue back in your mouth, too.) Kondo spent 5 years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and the religion’s animism is apparent throughout the show. Before Kondo begins, she greets your home, and teaches everyone she meets how to appreciate the spirit and effort immanent in all the things in your life. If the events of this show are not an example of magic in action I cannot think of a show that is. Her clients discuss how the energy in their homes and personal spaces changes as they move through her method of tidying, which includes giving a heartfelt blessing to any items being discarded and a focus on keeping that which gives you joy.
But wait, there’s more. I was also reading a passage from Aidan Wachter’s new book, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic. I might have more to say about it later, but let me just say now that if you played a round of “If you had just one book on magic, what book would you have?” Six Ways is definitely a contender. Whether your path is Heathen or Hoodoo, there is something here for you.
In a section on “Warding Your Home” (how many of us do that regularly?) he writes of washing windows:
Now take your bucket [of spiritually charged vinegar and water that you have prepared] and clean your windows and doors, again asking what you wish. “Window, allow only helpful spirits and allies into this house, and send away all harmful influences that seek ingress into this place.” Do this with all the windows and doors . . . . When you operate your windows or doors, thank them for their work, being clear what you are thanking them for. This is important. In modern terms, be proactive, not reactive. Ask your door to protect your home when you leave, and thank it when you return!
We train ourselves as we train our house of spirits By being clear to the others around you, we become more clear to ourselves. Expect feedback if you are doing this right!
It’s all about maintaining relationships, right? And thank your old sneakers before you put them in the trash.
Remember, there are at least three definitions for “pagan/Pagan.”
A nonreligious person or an unbeliever, from a monotheistic perspective.1)For Jews, this means to never have them as close friends or family. For Christians, it means they should be converted. For Muslims, it means they should be converted, and meanwhile, it permissible to enslave them.
A person philosophically opposed to monotheisms on the grounds that they are life-denying cosmologies that desacralize the world. An example that I will return to is the French philosopher Alain de Benoist, known for his book On Being a Pagan, and other works. Camille Paglia fits here too. Such philosophical Pagans, however, often look down their noses at category 3.
Persons who declare that they are following a Pagan religion. This may represent a reconstructed version of what their ancestors did or a new set of practices deemed compatible with ancient Paganism or a reconstructed version of practices from an admired ancient culture (for instance, if I were a Hellenic reconstructionist although not Greek by heritage). In addition, “Pagan” sometimes is employed to cover all polytheistic,2)There are “atheist” and “humanistic” Pagans, it is true. Perhaps they are merely Unitarians who like to be in the woods. animistic, and indigenous religions
A lot of Douthat’s piece is about position #1.
Here are some generally agreed-upon facts about religious trends in the United States. Institutional Christianity has weakened drastically since the 1960s. Lots of people who once would have been lukewarm Christmas-and-Easter churchgoers now identify as having “no religion” or being “spiritual but not religious.” The mainline-Protestant establishment is an establishment no more.
Then he goes into a “spiritual smorgasbord” section, where the “religious impulse” produces new creations of spiritual entrepreneurs who “cobble together pieces of the old orthodoxies” that are still under the overarching monotheist worldviews.
What is that conception? Simply this: that divinity is fundamentally inside the world rather than outside it, that God or the gods or Being are ultimately part of nature rather than an external creator, and that meaning and morality and metaphysical experience are to be sought in a fuller communion with the immanent world rather than a leap toward the transcendent
That sounds exactly like what Benoist was writing in the early1980s, or like various other people in the “#2 Pagan” category. But we have not even gotten to Wiccans, Heathens, Druids, etc.!
He finally gets to Wiccans, etc., at the end, consigning them to a “New Age” category, which just shows his ignorance. After all, if your Paganism includes “the gods are a part of nature,” you are not New Age but very Old Age. “New Age” is all about leaping towards the transcendent, just in a more gnostic way than in the churches.
By the end, he is broadly hinting that this “new paganism” will lead to an increase in demonic possession — just follow his last hyperlink.
But no, it’d not “backwards” insofar as Doughtat is not really writing about us practicing Pagans. We are just an afterthought. He is indeed concerned about the loss of Christian hegemony, a concern raised a couple of generations ago in western Europe but only more recently popping up in North America, where Christianity was always the 600-pound gorilla in the religion room.3)Now it’s what, the 300-pound gorilla? He sees the #1-#2 “paganism” that is replacing it as a falling away from The Truth.
For Jews, this means to never have them as close friends or family. For Christians, it means they should be converted. For Muslims, it means they should be converted, and meanwhile, it permissible to enslave them.
There are “atheist” and “humanistic” Pagans, it is true. Perhaps they are merely Unitarians who like to be in the woods.
Saturday was the fall equinox (as I usually call it), and various various voices reminded us again that the term “Mabon” was not Authentically Celtic. (Although disagreeing, John Beckett sums up the objections here.)
Mankey linked to an older blog post by Aidan Kelly, one of the pioneers of 1960s California Paganism and also a man whom I consider a co-founder of the field of Pagan studies, based his textual criticism of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows back in the 1980s.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day of Autumn. Summer just blew by, didn’t it? If that makes you a little melancholy, well, it’s also the International Day of Radiant Peace. Yeah. Also? It’s Batman Day. And Car Free Day. And Chainmail Day. Yes, Chainmail Day is finally upon us. Also? It’s Dear Diary Day. And Fish Amnesty Day. And Hobbit Day. And Ice Cream Cone Day. And International Rabbit Day. If you don’t have a rabbit, some grocery stores keep them in the freezer section. They’re called fryers, and I think we know why. If none of those strike your fancy, it’s also Love Note Day and Elephant Appreciation Day. You can combine those, if you don’t mind getting odd looks down at the zoo. And it’s National Museum Day. And if you’re a Wiccan, it’s Mabon, which sounds a bit sinister, but it’s just their version of the Autumnal equinox. The list goes on. It’s National Centenarian’s Day. National Hunting and Fishing Day. National Public Lands Day. National Rock n’ Roll Dog Day. I don’t even want to know what that’s about. And National Singles Day. National White Chocolate Day. READ in America Day. And finally, Remote Employee Appreciation Day. There are others, but they’re even more frivolous than National Rock n’ Roll Dog Day, if you can believe it. It’s like everyone with an agenda or wacky idea picked the first day of Autumn, so as to steal from its majestic power, and they just piled on. So pick one and raise a drink. Or, since it’s Saturday, pick a lot of them and raise a lot of drinks. Why not? It’s freaking Wiccan Hobbits in Chainmail Riding a Centenarian Elephant Day! Let’s go nuts!
One-hundred-year-old Wiccan hobbits in chainmail . . . how are you going to come back at that?
Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the [Peabody-Essex] museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?
Now I know. I stopped at Kakawa in Santa Fe yesterday and spoke with Tony Bennett, who owns it together with his wife, Bonnie. This is what they do.
Aztec-style chocolate: cacao, chiles, other spices, flowers.
And they decided several years ago that Kakawa would fit right into the commercial building that they own adjacent to the museum. Then their architect died, and there were other complications, but Kakawa is on-track to open in the near future. In addition, Tony said, there would be a Kakawa kiosk inside the museum. Some buenas noticias for Salem.
We live in southern Colorado – within the province of New Mexico, if you follow a pre-1821 map.1)Not that the Spanish ever settled this far north, although Gov. Juan Bautisa de Anza’s epic 1776 pursuit of Comanche raiders ended in a battle not far away. So we often feel that Santa Fe, more than Denver, is our cultural capital.
Cannon (1946-1978) was an enrolled member of the Kiowa tribe, born in Oklahoma. He studied at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, then joined the Army, fought in Vietnam, returned to the US and painted up a storm until dying in a car crash in Santa Fe.
There’s almost another connection — a high-school friend of mine taught at IAIA, but not until a time after Cannon had finished there.
Coming soon, Kakawa in Salem! Photo made a few yards to the right of the one above.
Imagine our surprise to see this storefront on Essex Street next to the museum: Kakawa is coming! Sure, I’d believe it in Aspen, Colo., or Scottsdale, Ariz., but Salem? I would love to know how they picked Salem, but I suspect that their new outlet will do well, being perfect for someone seeking a historical “elixir” after a morning of museuming. A Salem-Santa Fe axis — who knew?
Further east on Essex Street sitsArtemisia Botanicals, the serious herb shop in town (as opposed to the jars of herbs in some of the witch shops that have probably sat there for years and years), offering herbs, teas, oils, jewelry, and, of course, psychic readings.
We picked up a few things — for me it was a package of copal incense sticks. I have copal resin and like to use it for certain things, but there are times when sticks are just convenient. I looked at the label: They were from Fred Soll’s Incense in Tijeras, N.M., which is just east of Albuquerque. According to Mapquest, Tijeras is 358 miles (573 km) from my house, whereas Salem (had I chosen to drive), is about 2078 miles (3325 km).
But at last we are home. Then I see an unfamiliar car in the driveway.
Two nicely dressed men are at the bottom of the stairs, one middle-aged, one twenty-something. The older man holds a small, leather-bound book. When I step out onto the porch, he starts into a spiel about visiting the neighbors2)Never saw you before, buddy. and conducting a survey about how to find happiness.
¡Madre de dios! ¡Los puritanos!
I tell him that I never talk about religion before breakfast, and I am just about to sit down at the table. And that the best way out of the driveway is to pull toward the garage door, then cut your wheels hard as you back up.
Maybe they were just evangelicals, not Calvinists, but we live on an obscure road in the woods, and this was only the second missionary visit in twenty-five years.
One of the Contemporary Pagan Studies Group’s sessions at the American Academy of Religion was titled “Magic in the Time of the Tower” (see program screenshot below), and attendance was good.
There was discussion of magical workings coordinated by social media, and of magical workings blabbed about on social media.
At least one presenter acknowledged that the latter might not be a good idea, according to some practitioners. Don’t you remember the old “Magician’s Pyramid,” of which the last for the four admonitions was “To keep silent”?
Or as they say now, “The first rule of Magic Club is you do not talk about Magic Club.”
When some of the presenters spoke, I suspect that they — or rather the people whom they were describing — think that “the Tower” stands at 721–725 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan — in other words, Trump Tower.
But there are other towers. And “Tower Time” did not start in January 2017. It has been going on for a while.
The days of building grander universities under the assumption that tuition can always be raised, because the students can always get federal grants and loans — how long will that continue?2)Since I spent about 21 years working in colleges and universities — and many of my friends still do — this issue cuts close to home for me.
Click to embiggen.
America has too many colleges and universities, just like it has too many shopping malls, and for much the same reason: everyone thought that there was room for another, and theirs would be a success.
And what about religious groups? The big example is the Roman Catholic Church, where I doubt if the leadership yet understands how much trust they lost over the clerical sexual abuse scandals. The pope can come out on his balcony and say whatever — and the news media report it — but fewer and fewer people deeply care.3)And yet, if those church leaders compromise with secular society and toss out their traditional teachings, do they “lose their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say?
And that comes on top of the church’s long history of allying with repressive political regimes in both Europe and Latin America.
In the unending exposes of financial, moral and sexual turpitude we are witnessing a similar humiliation of a ruling elite. The critical role played by prestige in upholding the current status quo was no less important for the Western elite than it was for the old [imperial British] District Commissioners. Not so very long ago the elites were accepted as woke, part of the mission civilisatrice; better educated, better looking, better dressed, destined to greater things, the smartest people in the room. They could pronounce on matters of morality, politics and even the climate. What a shock it was to find through the Internet and social media it was all a sham; and these gods of Washington and Hollywood and the media were deeply flawed and despicable people.
Then there’s the problem that, somehow, over the past half-century or so the educated classes that make up the “expert” demographic seem to have been doing pretty well, even as so many ordinary folks, in America and throughout the West, have seen their fortunes decaying. Is it any surprise that claims to authority in the form of “expertise” don’t carry the same weight that they once did?
You’re not going to fix all this by burying rotten carrots. You might fix it first by be responsible for as much of your own life as you can. I don’t mean that you have to weave your own cloth. Just don’t be the person who can’t change a tire, sew on a button, or understand a loan document.
And find your community. Not merely the online community: is your Instagram follower going to bring supper over when you’re sick? Can you call your Facebook friend if you need a ride to the doctor?
Not just a religious community, either. When my Jeep drove itself into a gully near the house (long story), I did not look for a Pagan friend, but rather a neighbor with a big winch-equipped truck who likes solving mechanical problems. (Depending on your neighbors means you cannot just condemn them for their voting patterns and otherwise ignore them.) But that only works if the neighbor can depend on you. If it really is “Tower Time,” the response is to work at the ground level.