Who Were the People of Stonehenge?

The British Museum is hosting a big exibition on the Neolithic context of Stonehenge, and obviously I cannot go.[1]“Neolithic” basically means stone tools + settled towns + agriculture + domesticated animals + pottery + some degree of social hierarchy. This what they said about it:

The image of Stonehenge is so iconic that if you were to close your eyes right now, you’d likely have a pretty accurate image of the monument in your mind. However, if you were asked to imagine the people who built and lived with the monument, you’d probably struggle a little more. So to help with that, curators Jennifer Wexler and Neil Wilkin have decided to take you on a tour of their British Museum exhibition The world of Stonehenge, to introduce to some of incredible people that built and lived around the time of the monument.

You’ll see some of the best gold work humans have ever created, some of the best stone work humans have ever created, as well as a pretty decent 1.7 kilometre wooden footpath created to cross an inconvenient marsh (trust us, the Sweet Track is awesome). And overall you should come away with a better understanding of who the people of Stonehenge really were, what they thought about the world, and why they built big stone circles.

“One of the frustrating things about this period is that the peope at this tim don’t represent themselves in artwork, at least in any way that we can recognize. So instead, we need to look at what they were doing. And one thing they were doing, in abundance, was making and using stone axes,” notes one of the narrators.

This was the period of hauling huge stones and carrying tens of thousands of baskets of earth to build artificial mounds such as Glastonbury Tor. Who organized all this? How were people motivated? Were there serious penalties if you did not show up with your basket? Why did peope often live in multi-family longhouses? Sometimes, it all seems rather ant-like to me. For 94 generations.

Yet obviously erecting big timbers and later stones was tremendously important. Farmers did not need to know the sky that closely — farmers go by local cues — “When the leaves on [tree] are as big as a mouse’s ear, it is safe to plant,” that kind of thing

Searching “World of Stonehenge” at YouTube.com will bring up more videos.

Notes

Notes
1 “Neolithic” basically means stone tools + settled towns + agriculture + domesticated animals + pottery + some degree of social hierarchy.

Ronald Hutton’s Goddess Book Available for Pre-order

From the publisher, Yale University Press:

In this riveting account, renowned scholar Ronald Hutton explores the history of deity-like figures in Christian Europe. Drawing on anthropology, archaeology, literature, and history, Hutton shows how hags, witches, the fairy queen, and the Green Man all came to be, and how they changed over the centuries.

Looking closely at four main figures—Mother Earth, the Fairy Queen, the Mistress of the Night, and the Old Woman of Gaelic tradition—Hutton challenges decades of debate around the female figures who have long been thought versions of pre-Christian goddesses. He makes the compelling case that these goddess figures found in the European imagination did not descend from the pre-Christian ancient world, yet have nothing Christian about them. It was in fact nineteenth-century scholars who attempted to establish the narrative of pagan survival that persists today.

The book will be out later this spring. For some reason, Yale UP is not taking pre-orders, but you can pre-order from Amazon,[1]If you do, you will help me pay my hosting fee or from several other sources linked on the Yale UP catalog page.

Notes

Notes
1 If you do, you will help me pay my hosting fee

“Wælcyrge or Witchcraft: Identifying Heathendom in late Anglo-Danish England”

Just one of many presentations from the just-finished online conference  Performing Magic in the pre-Modern North.

Here, Ross Downing deals with such issues as whether witchcraft and Heathenry were defined differently in the time of King Alfred the Great in the late 9th century, including details as the execution of condemned witches as well as animals accused of being witches’ familiars (although that was not the Anglo-Saxon term), including ethnic and gender issues in witchcraft accusations.

These all look fascinating, and I will have to watch three a week to finish by Candlemas. Read more about the conference, which focused on Scandinavian but here includes Anglo-Saxon and Danish-ruled England.

There is an enormous amount of material here, and it is all free at this time.

How Old is the Cerne Abbas Giant?

If you have read anything on ancient Paganism(s) in Britain, you have probably read about the Cerne Abbas Giant, the huge figure made of chalk (crumbled into ditches) with an upraised Hercules-style club and an upright Cernunnos-style penis.

You probably read that he was prehistoric, or at least pre-Roman — although some dissidents claim there was no record of the giant’s existence before the late 1600s CE.

Now archaeologists have been working to date the site, and they are coming up with a different age.

Invoking Gods and Elves

I am thinking of starting a series called “What You Can Do with a Master’s Degree,” such as be a lecturer or start your own online school. There was a time, pre-television, when well-known authors went on lecture tours, city to city, speaking to local literary societies, school groups, and the like. John Cowper Powys, author of A Glastonbury Romance, was one of many.[1]“Powys had success as an itinerant lecturer, in England, and in 1905–1930 in the US, where he wrote many of his novels and had several first published. He moved to Dorset, England, in 1934 … Continue reading

And I can think of one very popular Pagan-studies YouTuber who just completed a PhD, so there goes my titl — (except she started her YouTube channel first.

Maybe I should call it, “Start Your Own College,” in the orginal sense of “college” as an “organized association of persons invested with certain powers and rights or engaged in some common duty or pursuit.” You would need some collaborators. Or maybe all such people are part of the Invisible College of Pagan Studies and just don’t know it.

This is part one of a two-part video on Anglo-Saxon Paganism by Tom Rowsell of Survive the Jive, a former journalist, also filmmaker and scholar of medieval history, in which he received a master’s degree in 2021. He writes,

I continue to take an interest in polytheistic religions. The most recent direction of the StJ project since 2016 has been population genetics, with focus on the culture, identity and religion of the Indo-Europeans. My videos are based on thorough interdisciplinary research, drawing from archaeology, linguistics, historical sources, comparative mythology and population genetics — particularly archaeogenetics.

You can find Rowsell in the usual places: his “Survive the Jive” blog, YouTube channel, Tumblr, Instagram, and probably others.

I will return to this topic. Meanwhile, your suggestions are welcome.

Notes

Notes
1 “Powys had success as an itinerant lecturer, in England, and in 1905–1930 in the US, where he wrote many of his novels and had several first published. He moved to Dorset, England, in 1934 with his American partner, Phyllis Playter.’ [Wikipedia]. No master’s degree though.

Neopagan Jewelry of 1951 and the Origins of the Tiki Bar

From the Evening Star (Washington, DC)  newspaper, 1 April 191. It was published 1852–1981.

Back in 1951, when Wicca was first being introduced to the world, largely via Gerald Gardner and Cecil Williamson’s seasonal museum on the Isle of Man, a store in Arlington, Virgina advertised that “the neo-pagan influence on fashion is one of the style news notes of the Spring season.”

Say what? Tim/Otter/Oberon Zell, who pushed “Neo-Pagan” as a religious designator in the pages of Green Egg, was still a little boy then, and that influential Pagan zine was almost two decades in the future.

So herein lies a tale and also a connection to the “tiki bar” craze, which has now become retro-cool.

For this research I thank Scott Simpson, co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s books series on “Contemporary and Historical Paganism,” who made some connections after prowling through Library of Congress databases.

He noted the line about “Bird of Paradise” fashions (the necklace would cost about $20 in today’s money) and linked it to a movie that premiered that year, Bird of Paradise, starring Debra Paget as “Kalua,” an “island princess.”[1]Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.

So this is one of those “Will the princess be thrown in the volcano to appease the angry gods?” movies that used to be popular. Cultural anthropologists are welcome to cringe now. You can watch it on YouTube.

But it was not the first. The Bird of Paradise began as a 1912 stage play, set in Hawaii, credited with creating an image of Hawaii as a land where native girls “dance the hula, play ukuleles, live in grass huts, and worship volcano gods.”

Dolores del Rio as “Luana” in the 1932 version of Bird of Paradise in s tender moment with Joel McCrae, plsying “Johnny Baker,” a visiting yachtsman.

Then there was the 1932 film version with Dolores del Rio as “Luana” and the same “appease the angry gods” motif. You can watch it on YouTube.

Even bigger was the huge success of the musical South Pacific (1949) and subsequent movie (1958), both based on one story in James Mitchener’s short-story collection Tales of the South Pacific.

The  “tiki bar” craze began in the 1930s and survived World War Two’s Pacific Theater. The Trader Vic’s chain, the only one that I was familiar with, started as a tropical-themed restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1934 — just two years after the first Bird of Paradise film.

Original menu cover from the first Trader Vic’s in Oakland (Wikipedia).

Some people had good wartime memories involving fruity drinks with umbrellas in them and tropical sunsets.

My stepmother lost her first husband, a young Navy ensign, when a German submarine sank his ship in 1942. But two years later she was in Honolulu, working as some general’s secretary, and filling a photo album of pictures of friends sitting around tables full of drinks with umbrellas in them, not to mention a lot of shots on the theme of “Me and Colonel So-and-So at the beach.”

She was not adverse to visiting Trader Vic’s either in later years.

Here is Wikipedia on the origins of the term “tiki.”

What interests me now though is that “neopagan” was enough in the American vocabulary that it could be used in advertising copywriting! [2]I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted. And did it envoke angry volcano gods, semi-nude Polynesian girls, and rum drinks?

Scott Simpson found some other earlier uses of it (besides the G. K. Chesteron one that I already knew about). For instance, a group of young “creatives” at Cambridge University was using it c. 1908, including the artist Gwen Ravarat and the poet Rupert Brooke.

“But the New-Pagans seem to have had no real spiritual direction. The members went on long coutry walks and slept under canvas, but they made no serious attempt to restore the Pagan religions.”[3]Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

For example, In Italy, a poet named Giosuè Carducci (1835–1907), winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, wrote a poem titled “Hymn to Satan,” by which he meant, in a sort of Romantic sense, Lucifer as symbolic of the of rebellious and indepedent spirit. He also wrote poems dedicated to some of the old Roman gods. Based on that, he was sometimes referred to as a “neopagan” in his time.

And that is just one example. So it was not a common term, but it was out there. Especially when you wanted to honor the volcano gods.

Notes

Notes
1 Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.
2 I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted.
3 Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick,  A History of Pagan Europe (London: Routledge, 1995), 216.

Call for Papers: Fairies and Gothic Literature and Culture

“Fairies and fashion” as a suggested topic? Someone must have seen my “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk” post! Seriously, there are some fascinating topics under potential consideration for this conference:

Call for papers: Gothic encounters with enchantment and the Faerie realm in literature and culture

University of Hertfordshire, 8–10 April 2021.

The Open Graves, Open Minds (OGOM) Project was launched in 2010 with the Vampires and the Undead in Modern Culture conference.We have subsequently  hosted symposia on Bram Stoker and John William Polidori, unearthing depictions of the vampire in literature, art, and other media, before embracing shapeshifting creatures and other supernatural beings and their worlds. The Company of Wolves, our ground-breaking werewolf and feral humans conference, took place in 2015. This was followed by The Urban Weird, a folkloric collaboration with Supernatural Cities in 2017. The OGOM Project now extends to all narratives of the fantastic, the folkloric, the fabulous, and the magical.

More details at the association’s blog.

Fashion Designers Borrowing from Paganism

From a fashion shoot at Breen Down— site of Dion Fortune’s novel The Sea Priestess. Headpiece by Charlotte Rodgers, photo by Marc Aitken (www.marcaitken.com).

In her Pomegranate article “High Glamour: Magical Clothing and Talismanic Fashion,” designer Charlotte Rodgers asks, “Why now?”

The iconography and visuals associated with magic are highly evocative and responsible for a major part of its appeal. The strong, often iconoclastic imagery exerts a particularly powerful draw for the artist or craftsperson because of its ability to fire the imagination, and to inspire creative work in response. Until recent times, creative interpretations of magic within mainstream fashion have mainly been on a subtle and subversive level; generally within a counter cultural context.  So why is magical symbolism being appropriated within high fashion at this particular point in time?

This article is part of Pomegranate’s “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue, guest-edited by Caroline Tully. All content may be downloaded for free at this time.

Catholics in Trouble over ‘Idols’ Again

Idols on the Catholic altar

Various idols on the altar of a Roman Catholic church in England (photo: churchmilitant.com)

Maybe you missed it, but there was a minor scandal at the Vatican last year over the liturgical use of an image of Pachamana, one name given to the indigenous Mother Goddess of the Andean region of South America. Some traditional Catholics were deeply offended:

The statues, which were identical carved images of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman, had been displayed in the Carmelite church of Santa Maria in Traspontina, close to the Vatican, and used in several events, rituals, and expression of spirituality taking place during the Oct. 6-27 Amazonian synod.[1]I realize the “Andean” and “Amazonian” mean different things, but the reporting —  or the pope — is a little confused.

The pope said they had been displayed in the church “without idolatrous intentions,” French agency I.Media reported.

The statues were thrown into the river Oct. 21; a video released on YouTube showed two men entering the Church, leaving with the statues, and then throwing them off a nearby bridge

Pope Francis called the statues “Pachamama”; someone else referred to “Our Lady of the Amazon”; and the pope ended up trying to “walk back” the whole affair:

As bishop of this diocese,” Pope Francis, who is Bishop of Rome, said, “I ask forgiveness from those who have been offended by this gesture” . . .

Vatican spokesmen have said that [the statues] represent “life,” and are not religious symbols, but some journalists and commentators have raised questions about the origins of the symbols, and whether they were religious symbols of Amazonian indigenous groups.

Evidently the Roman Catholic diocese of Brentwood in England not get the memo, because this month they “tweeted a picture of the idols of Shiva and Buddha, alongside an icon of Jesus the Good Shepherd and an African carving advertising an ‘interfaith prayer service.’

Cue the outrage over “Pagan idolatry”: “Within minutes, hundreds of outraged Catholics bombarded the diocese’s Twitter thread accusing Fr. Belevendran of idolatry, syncretism, sacrilege and the heresy of indifferentism.”

A Christian convert from India was scathing:

“Father Belevendran says he is from India,” she said. “Doesn’t he know how the caste system of Hinduism oppressed us for 3,000 years and only Christianity liberated us? Doesn’t he know the idol he placed on the altar is that of Shiva — the Hindu god of destruction?”

“Is the Bishop of Brentwood so racist that he believes Catholicism is only for white English people and not for brown-skinned Indians like me and so I need to go back to Hinduism?” she asked. “The image of Shiva as Nataraja on the altar conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time, which is completely contrary to the biblical linear concept of time.”

I have to agree with her on the concepts of time; she knows her Hindu symbolism. Meanwhile, Pope Francis continues to try to smooth things over, using the big, heavy, hot smoking iron of monotheistic triumphantalism:

“Everyone prays as he knows, how he can, as he has received from his own culture. We are not praying against each other, this religious tradition against this, no,” the pontiff added. “We are all united as human beings, as brothers, praying to God, according to our culture, according to our own tradition, according to our beliefs, but brothers and praying to God. This is the important thing.”

In other words, we are all praying to the One God, even those benighted Hindus, Africans, and indigenous Amazonians who do not know better.

Notes

Notes
1 I realize the “Andean” and “Amazonian” mean different things, but the reporting —  or the pope — is a little confused.

From Viking Re-enactor to Practitioner

A still from the BBC video, linked below.

At the BBC, a short video with a man who started doing re-enactments and ended up adopting Norse religion.

Fighting with the Wuffa Viking and Saxon Re-enactment Society, he did not expect that his hobby of more than three years would help him find his own belief through Norse mythology.

“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.

It is a different sort of re-enactment, but in America, Wicca is more or less the “house religion” of the Renaissance Faire circuit, or so says Rachel Lee Rubin in her history of Renn Faires, Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture.