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.

Pagan Children & the Anglican Death Spiral

Photo: The Very Reverend Jane Hedges rides the 55-foot high “helter-skelter” inside Norwich Cathedral in England.[1]While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican … Continue reading If you want a sort of objective correlative for the church’s health today, there it is, a downward spiral. (BBC)

Be patient, I am coming at this the long away around.

I was raised in the American Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, at the time. When I walked into an Anglican church in Canada or in Jamaica (where we lived for a couple of years) and picked up a prayer book, it obvious we were all in the same family, so to speak. There was an Anglican joke that referenced the church’s strength in all the former British colonies in Africa: “The Africans pray, the Americans pay, and the British make the rules.”

None of this is true anymore. In the United States, several different organizations compete for the allegiance of local Episcopal church parishes: the breakaway Anglican Church in North America,  the Anglican Church in America, the Church of Nigeria, and The Episcopal Church, the original body. And there are more. It’s very complicated and not germane at this point, except to say that the total membership of The (original) Episcopal Church is cratering.

In England, where the church was “established,” i.e., intertwined with the government as the official church of the nation, its piight is even worse, As columnist Rod Dreher (himself an Orthodox Christian) sneerlingly wrote, “Would the last Anglican left please remember to bring out the vestments? The Victoria & Albert Museum would no doubt like to preserve some evidence that there once was a thing called the Church of England.”

You can imagine his reaction to this article, in which clergy at a medieval cathedral defend their decision to (temporarily, they say) remove all the furnishings and replace them with amusement park rides and miniature golf:

The Reverend Canon Andy Bryant, from Norwich Cathedral, said he could see why people would be surprised to see the helter-skelter.

But in addition to showcasing the roof, he said it was “part of the cathedral’s mission to share the story of the Bible” and was a “creative and innovative way to do that”.

I don’t remember miniature golf (crazy golf) in the Bible, but maybe they are using a different translation.

I have two takeaways from this story.

For one, it is obvious that a lot of the Anglicans have “lost their contacts,” as the ceremonial magicians say.[2]That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain. In other words, their connection to their deity is not there anymore, there is no “juice,” and they are just trying to fill the void by social movements and entertainment.

For the second, at least within the liturgical churches there is a lot of learning for children. Not the hellfire part, but the importance of symbolic art, the transformative power of music (especially when you are doing the long chants yourself), some knowledge of sacred theater, exposure to ritual ways of dealing with birth, sickness, death, and everything else, and even a little about meditation and sacred reading.

I walked out the door myself at age 16. I was not mad at any one. No priest molested me or any of the altar boys that I knew about. I was not stewing about “adult hypocrisy” more than the average teenager might. I had just come to the conclusion that the church’s picture of the cosmos was not mine and that I could no longer accept its theology. So I spent the next five years as a “seeker” before someone showed Herself to me.

Now if I had a dollar for every Pagan who has said in my hearing “We won’t ‘push our religion’ on our children,” I could pay my fare to the American Academy of Religion meeting in San Diego next fall.

What I would like to say is, “If you don’t put something in that space, what are they going to fill it with?”  Digital nothings? People need forms for doing things. We need to be aware of other dimensions. I am no longer a Christian, but I do in retrospect thank the church for giving me a “vocabulary” of ritual and so forth — not the only ways of doing ritual, but at least some ways.

Of course, being Christian, all their focus was on the vertical axis — God up there, us down here. There was no significant “horizontal” engagement with the other-than-human world, aside from an occasional Blessing of the (domestic) Animals. Everything was put here for us to use, as described in Genesis. (The “stewardship” teaching is just watered-down domination.)

It delights me to see adult Pagans involving children in ritual and other “horizontal” engagements, giving them ways to think about relationships with other beings and ways to mark life’s changes. Memories made with the body and witch actions last longer than words and doctrines.

I am taking this quote from John Beckett’s blog out of context, but it fits. The topic is “sacrifice.”

Letting perfectly good food sit on an ancestor shrine was so foreign to my kids when our family began ancestor offerings. It smacked against their overculture, their appetites, their unawareness that physical objects are envelopes of intent.

If the parents are Wiccan, for example, will the kids be Wiccan? Who knows? But at least they will have a vocabulary for the sacred dimensions of life.

Miniature golf they can learn on their own.

Notes

Notes
1 While her official biography says she was ordained a “deaconess” in 1980, she was elevated to “priest” in 1994. You can’t say “priestess” in the Anglican church — evidently the word makes them think of filmy skirts, tambourines, and sex.
2 That is not the same as dropping a contact lens into the lavatory sink drain.

All the Books Set in Glastonbury

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, destroyed at the orders of Henry VIII

Ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, destroyed at the orders of Henry VIII (Wikimedia Commons).

From  Vicki Steward’s  blog Normal For Glastonbury: Life in the Oddest Town in England, a list of all the novels set in Glastonbury.

There some Phil Rickman titles there that I had missed, possibly because they were categorized as YA and published under a different name.

Marion Zimmer Bradley, of course, Faye Weldon, and lots of others. And the heavyweight, John Cowper Powys’ A Glastonbury Romance. Unlike Vicki Steward, I  have read it. It is odd and complex, but so was he.

A Festschrift for Ronald Hutton

Magic and Witchery: Celebrating the Twentieth Anniversary of ‘The Triumph of the Moon’ will be published in September by Palgrave Macmillan.

I love rolling the word Festschrift around, and if you are not used to it, this is what it means: “In academia, a Festschrift  (plural Festschriften) is a book honoring a respected person, especially an academic and presented during their lifetime. It generally takes the form of an edited volume, containing contributions from the honoree’s colleagues, former pupils, and friends” (Wikipedia).

From the publisher:

This book marks twenty years since the publication of Professor Ronald Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon, a major contribution to the historical study of Wicca. Building on and celebrating Hutton’s pioneering work, the chapters in this volume explore a range of modern magical, occult, and Pagan groups active in Western nations. Each contributor is a specialist in the study of modern Paganism and occultism, although differ in their embrace of historical, anthropological, and psychological perspectives. Chapters examine not only the history of Wicca, the largest and best-known form of modern Paganism, but also modern Pagan environmentalist and anti-nuclear activism, the Pagan interpretation of fairy folklore, and the contemporary ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ phenomenon.

Here are the contents:

1. Twenty Years On: An Introduction — Ethan Doyle White and Shai Feraro, editors

2. The Goddess and the Great Rite: Hindu Tantra and the Complex Origins of Modern Wicca — Hugh B. Urban

3. Playing the Pipes of PAN: Pagans Against Nukes and the Linking of Wiccan-Derived Paganism with Ecofeminism in Britain, 1980–1990 — Shai Feraro

4. Other Sides of the Moon: Assembling Histories of Witchcraft —Helen Cornish

5. The Nearest Kin of the Moon: Irish Pagan Witchcraft, Magic(k), and the Celtic Twilight — Jenny Butler

6. The Taming of the Fae: Literary and Folkloric Fairies in Modern Paganisms — Sabina Magliocco

7. “Wild Nature” and the Lure of the Past: The Legacy of Romanticism among Young Pagan Environmentalists — Sarah M. Pike

8. The Blind Moondial Makers: Creativity and Renewal in Wicca — Léon A. van Gulik

9. “The Eyes of Goats and of Women”: Femininity and the Post-Thelemic Witchcraft of Jack Parsons and Kenneth Grant — Manon Hedenborg White

10. Navigating the Crooked Path: Andrew D. Chumbley and the Sabbatic Craft — Ethan Doyle White

11. Witches Still Fly: Or Do They? Traditional Witches, Wiccans, and Flying  — Chas S. Clifton

12. Afterword — Ronald Hutton