Imbolc on Ice

Look south from Bennett Avenue, the bi-level main street of Cripple Creek, Colorado, across Poverty Gulch (once lined by the saloons and brothels of Myers Avenue), and there it sits, like the citadel of the Ice King.

At 9,494 feet (2,894 m.), the early February winds are still cutting and only the lengthening day suggests any turn toward spring. M. and I, plus my Pagan cousin and her partner, fortified ourselves with food and drink in a crowded restaurant and then zipped up all zippers and headed for the Ice Castle at our designated 6 p.m. entrance time.((The restaurant’s Facebook page said that they were so busy with Ice Castle visitors that they were not taking reservations, but we snagged a table by showing up at 4:30, ahead of the dinner rush.))

This castle is a commercial venture. I had seen earlier versions in the ski town of Silverthorne in the 20-teens,and thought it would be cool-no-pun-intended to visit, but I was always on my way to or from somewhere else. Now we had our chance at Candlemas season. I like it when the Sacred Wheel matches up with popular activities, even when the coincidence is not planned.

Daytime must be different, but at night the Ice Castle hits the same sort of Underworld vibe that I get sometimes in Taos at PASEO, the fall art festival, when clumps of dark-clad people walk dim Spanish colonial streets until suddenly illuminated by the flare of a flaming gate or a giant robot or an art work projected onto high adobe walls. (See “The Robot God and the Underworld  Gate.”)

So it was sort of like that but without the writhing silent-rave dancers. There was feasting and good conversation and then a chance to stock my memory with images and sensations.

Cripple Creek is a small place, compared to its height c. 1900 when there were three railroads plus street cars and belching smokestacks. I walked Marco the dog around a little, strolling past some of the buildings I visited during a long-ago bout of ghost-hunting, back before the casinos came in. Those visits produced a little book, Ghost Tales of Cripple Creek, which in terms of copies sold is probably my biggest commercial success. Out of print now, but I see it is still on Amazon. ((The photo was taken from the driveway of astrologer Linda Goodman’s house.))

The Pizzica Video that Tore My Heart

Just as the reality of coronavirus lockdown descended (even on those of us who live in lightly populated areas), two differnt Facebook friends linked to this YouTube video, released on April 17th. The location is the Piazza Sant’Oronzo in the southern Italian city of Lecce, at the heel tip of the “boot.”

The dance is a traditional style called pizzica. I had learnt about it only recently, when I met an Italian scholar living in the US, Giovanna Parmigiani, who published an article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies about how some residents of that region were, in a sense, re-paganzing the dance, but in their own unique way, reflective of their regional history and their understanding of tradition.

While the opportunity exits, you can download her article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism,” for free. Just visit the linked page and click “PDF.”((If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.))

Based on conversations with Giovanna, reading her work, watching videos, I realized that the Lecce dancer’s performance turned the pizzica tradition on its head.

  1. Instead of being at a crowded festival, the dancer is alone.
  2. Instead of wearing white, she is wearing black.
  3. Instead of having live music, she dances to recorded music.
  4. Instead of being in a crowd, she is alone.
  5. She is alone.

The newspaper La Repubblica picked it up and placed the video on its own YouTube channel, commenting

A dancer dressed in black dances the pinch in the heart of Lecce. In Piazza Sant’Oronzo, on what is the symbol of the city: the coat of arms of the She-wolf, on which the woman moves almost as if she wanted to awaken everyone from slumber. The video that appeared on Facebook has become a sort of exorcism, in the days of quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The taranta of evils to be chased away at a mad pace is known, and this is the message launched by the dancer. Who, assures those who filmed it by turning off the social controversy that have not missed, lives 40 meters from the square, and then moved within the limits imposed by the [lockdown] decree [Translated with].

I get the “exorcism” part, but watching this late at night sent me into a horrible dystopian place, a real tragic place, where the dancer and the few passers-by (and the cop at 2:39) were the last people in a deserted city, not exorcising but defying their inevitable deaths from . . . .whatever it was.

When I remember the spring of 2020, I will remember this video as much as I remember the equally deserted Main Street of my nearest little town.

For even though my daily life has “social distancing” built in and even though I do have easy contact with nonhuman nature, and thank the gods for that, I know that I am still connected to the collective unconscious and the world soul, not to mention the internet.

And so I have had some really chilling dystopian dreams, right down to masses of people committing suicide becasue there was nothing left to live for and no way to survive. That particular dream might partly have been launched by reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the week before at the urging of a friend.((His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you?)) Bad choice. But without the pandemic, I doubt it would have lodged itself in my psyche.

On a happier note, Giovanna is expanding her paper into a book, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which will be published in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series one of these days. Dance on!

The Robot God and the Underworld Gate

Robot God
“With Open Arms We Welcomes That Which Would Destroy Us.” Camino de la Placita, Taos, September 2019

Earlier this month, M. and I were in Taos, New Mexico, for what I think was the fifth annual PASEO outdoor art festival. The interesting thing about PASEO is that it happens mostly at night, in a town with a late-medieval street plan that was built for ox carts and is still kind of sparing with streetlights. You spend your time walking in semi-darkness from one pop-up installation to another.

Some installations sound better on the page than they are experienced in person, but here are a couple that worked for me.

At least one year, equinoctial rainstorms lashed the night, but this year the festival was moved earlier in the month, and the weather was good for an Underworld-flavored Pagan-ish art experience.

Above and below:

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us by Christian Ristow of Taos is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. From a distance, it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it’s a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

Walking up Civic Plaza (which is actually more of a street and not the plaza), we passed under this flaming arch.

Numinous Eye Arch, with the Robot God in the distance.

Its creator, Oakland, Calif., artist Ryon Gesink, writes,

The Numinous Eye Arch sculpture is a large steel archway with a looming giant spotlight eye at its apex. It gazes impassively in mysterious stoic surveillance, with a dozen [propane-fueled] torches along its length creating a dome of golden firelight. Some 18 years ago I began to feel a strong urge to create a sort of gateway or portal for people to pass through, beyond which one enters an unfamiliar hallucinatory world and goes on to encounter dangers and challenges emerging from one’s own subconscious. Could be a Gate to Hell or a Gate to Heaven, depending…

Past that and around the corner, more leaping flames, but those were the outdoor fires heating the patio at the Martyrs Steakhouse,((There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here.)) which we passed, only to re-enter PASEO-space when we encountered a troupe of girl dancers, bedecked in rave-ish electroluminescent hoops and bands.

Taos Un/Connected by Amber Vasquez and Taos Youth Ballet in Taosis a roaming dance performance piece exploring the unique and ever-changing qualities of human relationships. From comfortable friendship or the awkwardness of new love to the isolating “connectedness” that social media can create. Dancers will both speak and dance as they travel in a train of movement.

OK, we’re in artspeak-territory here, but you just let it be and drift with the crowd through the semi-lit alleys and plaza, following the dancers until they finish under the glare of the monumental statue of Padre Martinez((Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark.)) in the main plaza.

If I might venture into UPG territory, moments at PASEO, out on the dark streets, do indeed have an Underworld feel to them. Ryon Gesink must have plugged into that energy. I have visited that place in dreams a time or so, checking on recently deceased family members. The crowds shuffle along, and it is so hard to see, except when there is an occasional brightly lit scene, and those are very rare.((Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.))

I will probably go back. Taos, after all, is where I officially became a Pagan, and it left its mark.

Animist Blog Carnival — Dreams

The March Animist Blog Carnival, on the theme of dreams, is hosted at Pray to the Moon.

We have a more modest collection of writings for this month. But, being an avid dreamer, I am not at all surprised. I find more often than not, when I begin to prattle about dreams, the response is invariably, “I don’t dream,” or “I never/rarely remember my dreams.” However, I also find that those people who are in tune with the dreamworld never disappoint in their storytelling.

A Dream, a Dog, and a Forest Fire

A forest fire burning above Hardscrabble Creek.

Last Monday, the 22nd, I came home from a week-long trip. On Tuesday, I was temporarily homeless, a condition that persisted until Friday.

Tuesday’s weather was warm and windy, with the highest gust in the area clocked at 79 mph. Somehow — I still have not heard the definitive story — a tree hit a power line or a power line hit a tree . . . or something — and a raging forest fire began.

Within an hour, fourteen houses plus barns, sheds, etc., near mine had been erased. Eventually that night the fire burned 2,100 acres (850 ha).

M. and I were 45 minutes’ drive away when we saw the smoke. I brandished my county-issued volunteer firefighter ID card, and we passed through four road blocks.

When we arrived home, she quickly left again with the dogs, her favorite faux leather jacket, her laptop computer, a sack of dog food, a bag of apples, a bottle of wine, and the clothes on her back.

She was not sure where she was going, since the road to town was closed to “civilian” traffic.

I left home dressed in my wildland-fire gear, with my laptop too, and also my bunker gear in case I had to face a structure fire. As it happened, it was too late to save any houses — I ended up working until about 9 p.m. chasing spot fires that kept multiplying in the trees along the dry stream bed of Hardscrabble Creek.

I talk about the experience at Southern Rockies Nature Blog here, here, and here.

But there is a part that I left out in that blog.

On the night of the 19th, I believe it was, sleeping my friend’s slightly haunted house* in a small North Dakota prairie town, I had a dream.  In the dream, M. and I were at a house in the woods, although it was not our house and not our woods.

The house had a long gravel driveway (as does ours), and M. was setting up a card table beside it in order to eat a meal out in the sunshine (as we sometimes do). Standing on the steps, I looked down the driveway past her and saw a large tawny animal.

“Wow, that’s a big coyote,” I thought. Then I realized that it was a sort of bleached-out-looking tiger. I wanted her to come to the house right away.

In the morning, I tried to think about associations with tigers. True, we had recently watched the “Siberian Tiger Quest” episode of Nature. (It is excellent.) Otherwise, the only thing that came to mind was William Blake’s poem that starts,

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,

Burning. Forests.

I told M. about my dream during the time when we were staying at a motel 15 miles away, me commuting to the fire house, and she spoke of something that struck her oddly.

At a house about 250 yards away lives a chocolate Lab named Boone. We hear him bark now and then. But on Monday night he bayed all night long, so persistently that M. shut the bedroom window, turned on a fan, and muttered about his stupid owners who would not bring him indoors.  If I ever hear him bay through the night again, I am going to be very nervous.

I do think that events cast their shadows before them, but it is so hard sometimes to know what the shadows signify.

* I will discuss the “haunted” part soon. It was a post that I had meant to write this week.

The Dream Philosophical Academy

Three night ago, I was dreaming that someone was lecturing on some sort of gnostic philosophy. “Gnostic” was the term used in the dream, although it might not have been appropriate.

The lecturer drew a distinction between the Pagan view of “remembering” the soul’s perfection, versus a Christian approach of attempting to become more and more perfect.

The former, at least, seems like fairly mainstream Platonic teaching.

All this was followed by a very cinematic dream about a young man returning by train to his home town in Wyoming. Since Amtrak does not serve Wyoming, and since it seemed that through CGI that the Wind River Range had been moved closer to the town, it was clear that I was dreaming.

The way I figure it, I had just joined the Association for the Study of Esotericism because of some new projects that I am pursuing, and they were just getting my coordinates into their dream-projector.

A Movie That Takes Dreaming Seriously

The best part about watching movies in the little mountain town is that after driving the four-block length of Main Street, we enter the darkness, winding through hills and a long canyon, then a mile of gravel road, and then home.

It lets the movie’s spell slowly fade, which is helpful after watching Inception.

(The second-best thing is that the little theatre’s sound-system does not rattle your fillings, unlike a typical Tinseltown movie box.)

In the game of describing movies in terms of other movies, I thought of a hyperdimensional Flatliners with the Gnostic overtones of The Matrix and a faint, faint whiff of Lost Horizon.

Anne Hill, who has better access than I to first-run movies, blogged about Inception last month.

Today [unlike the ancients], we say that we “had” a dream, and believe that dreams come from within us, like a cough, a bad mood, or a stirring in our souls. We worry that dreams reveal something disturbed in our psychological makeup, or we try to explain them away by saying they are just random brain activity. “Inception’s” success as a thriller stems in part from turning the tables on our “scientific” understanding of dreams, and bringing back the more archaic fear of dream-meddling from without.

She links to Robert Waggoner, who writes on lucid dreaming—read his post, “Ten Things I Like about Inception.”

If you step outside of Plato’s physical cave and stumble into Plato’s lucid dream cave, who’s to know?

I still think that not enough teaching about the Craft talks about dreaming and its power. Even though Inception is mostly about corporate espionage, exploding cars, shoot-outs, and derring-do, I admire a movie that takes the dreaming world(s) seriously as realms that interact with this one.

Do you know if you are dreaming right now?

Video Gaming and Lucid Dreaming

Some researchers think that playing video games may help dreamers to have and control lucid dreams more ably.

The first study suggested that people who frequently played video games were more likely to report lucid dreams, observer dreams where they viewed themselves from outside their bodies, and dream control that allowed people to actively influence or change their dream worlds – qualities suggestive of watching or controlling the action of a video-game character.

. . . .

Virtual reality simulators have already been used to help PTSD patients gradually adjust to the threatening situations that plague their waking and sleeping thoughts. If [Jayne] Gackenbach’s hunch is correct, perhaps video games could also help relieve the need for nightmares.

As I recall, Jaron Lanier, the computer scientist credited with inventing the term “virtual reality,” once said that he had hoped that VR technology would be used to give people practice in navigating after-death states of consciousness, what the Tibetan Book of the Dead calls the bardo states.

But that was not what the market wanted, apparently.

Gallimaufry with Grosbeaks

Black-headed grosbeak, evening grosbeak, downy woodpecker. Photo by Chas S.  Clifton
First black-headed grosbeak of the season (left).

If it’s Beltane, why I am still splitting firewood? Usually I observe the rhythms of the “Celtic” year by turning off the furnace at Beltane and relighting it at Samhain, using just supplemental wood heat otherwise. Not this year.

But during a brief sunny interval yesterday morning, the first black-headed grosbeak of the season landed on a feeder, and I snapped a quick picture through the window. That’s a downy woodpecker on the shadowed side, and up above, facing the camera, a male evening grosbeak—they have been hanging around for a couple of months, an unusual “irruption,” as birders say.

Other stuff:

•  The Beltania music festival happens next weekend, just down the road. The weather still looks iffy. A friend on a Colorado Pagan email list said that spring weather is “manic depressive.”  My own mental image for Beltane is snow on lilac blossoms.

• I liked this quote from an interview with Lon Milo DuQuette at Patheos:

I have a new book coming out in November (from Llewellyn) titled Low Magick — It’s All in Your Head, You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is. It’s autobiographic and contains stories of magickal operations I’ve done over the years. The title is a bit tongue-in-cheek, facetiously using the term “Low Magick” to refer to any magickal operation one actual performs rather than those one just talks or argues about.

• Jonathan Ott, who gave us the world “entheogen,” had his home destroyed by fire, needs help.

• An article on depression and dreams offers this:

In the 1970s, psychologists noted that people suffering from depression also report more dreams than average. In fact, people who are clinically depressed may dream three or four times as much. The quality of REM dreams (also called “paradoxical sleep”) is different too: more intense emotions, more negative themes, more nightmares, and more unpleasant dreams, in general.

And consequently depressed people often sleep worse. It’s a vicious circle.  Processed food is also linked to depression—another vicious circle. Feel low -> eat worse, etc.

• The Pagan Newswire Collective has two new group blog projects: The Juggler, on the arts, and Warriors & Kin, about issues facing past and current Pagan military personnel. They will be added to my blogroll.