Witch Dance is a Phenomenon

“Time was,” Minnesota witch Steven Posch wrote in 2016, “here in Paganistan, the Besom Brigade used to show up at the Heart of the Beast May Day Parade, black steeple hats and all, doing our precision broom drills down the middle of Bloomington Avenue.”

A sort of drill team with witches’ brooms popped up in several places in the 2000s; Here is a grainy video from Pantheacon 2008.

I was researching something about Wicca in Germany, and up popped this Witch Dance video. Apparently the belly-dancers got involved, put some shimmy in the besom brigades’ sweeping, and now it’s an international thing. From Germany, here is the Tribal Gypsy Dance troupe:

A few years ago at Nokomis beach in Florida, some pirate flavor:

This year, the Witches of Wasburn, Wisconsin, help celebrate Zombie Days:

And this year in Frenchtown, New Jersey, a plaintive call from the bourgeois bohemians in the YouTube comments:

Hello Tricia. We checked this account but didnt see an email posted by way we could get in touch with you. That said, my husband and I live in Milford NJ. We are throwing a Christmas party and are wondering if you could teach our guests a dance. If so, please let us know your fee. You’re great at teaching groups of people and feel you would make a wonderful addition to the occasion. Please think about it.

I am all for putting your Paganism in the street (or on the beach or Salem Common) where it belongs. But Pagan studies friends, this is waiting for some theoretical lenses!

Back for the Yule Log — Now with Goats!

The Yule goats await their big moment in the 2022 Beulah Yule Log Hunt.

After two years’ hiatus, the Yule Log was hunted again last Sunday in Beulah, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Wet Mountains. This hunt is a twentieth-century revival, passed (along with log splinters) from Lake Placid, New York to Palmer Lake, Colorado to Beulah, where the tradition was renewed in 1952. (Photos from 1954 and 1977 here.)

(Here’s a report of M’s and my first Yule log hunt in 2015.)

Diana Miller with a red-tailed hawk from the Raptor Center.

In the introductory program, inevitably, some local clergyman has to make the usual solsticial wordplay between Son and Sun.

That was subtly countered by  my friend Diana, local resident and director of a raptor rehabiitation center, who steps up with a red-tailed hawk on her wrist and delivers an invcation that de-centers humankind in favor of wild animals. (As she did in previous years.)

A huntsman and two companions.

After final instructions from the head huntsman (one of a dozen who serve as guides, referees, and whippers-in for the hunt) the hunters (mostly teens) scramble uphill into the wooded slopes of Pueblo Mountain Park.

Those of following the hunt stroll behind them, and all too soon, there is a shouting and and a trumpet blast from up the ridge.

But what is this sound? “Click click jingle jingle!”

It’s the Yule goats, harnessed to the log, instead of having it pulled down off the mountain only by the huntsmen and whoever else volunteers.

Pulled by goats. Hmm. How long before a Thor-figure joins the huntsmen?

You May Be Celebrating Ostara, But Are You Vogue-ing Ostara?

Actually, this piece comes from the well-known British HPS, author, and academic Vivianne Crowley, and it is worth reading.

On 20 March, druids, witches, and lovers of nature will gather to celebrate the spring equinox, one of the eight festivals of the Wheel of the Year. For millennia, the spring equinox was celebrated across cultures as a time of fertility, creativity, and renewal. But spring celebrations are not just for people who want to greet the dawn at Stonehenge. Here are a few ideas to try out this year at home.

She has a new memoir/how-to out titled Wild Once, which is going on my To-Read list. A tip of the pointy hat to the publicist at Penguin.

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.

The Ghosties Are Here Early

A ghostie joins La Catrina at the Hanging Tree Cafe.

I came down to Pueblo today and stopped for breakfast at the Hanging Tree Café, where it is already Halloween. And here I was getting geared up for the Chile & Frijoles Festival this weekend, which is my personal autumn equinox ritual. Time is out of joint! But at the Hanging Tree, La Catrina is always in the window. (I was complaining about this last year too, only this year I did Instagram it. It is what it is.)

A Proposal for Honoring the Spirit of the Poudre River

I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.

The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.

The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.

Biologists studying the Poudre River above Fort Collins (Colorado Parks & Wildlife).

But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.

My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.

In Fort Collins, a sign under a bridge shows the river’s flow in cubic feet per second.

Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.

Where College Avenue, the main north-south commercial street, crosses the Poudre River.

So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.

I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.

Edited to add: See what they are doing at Twin Cities Pagan Pride!

Related posts:

What is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”? (with procession and midsummer wreath-tossing)

Can You Put Your Paganism in the Street?

These Heathens Reject “Garb”

Next comes shoe polish, gentlemen! (Photo from The Runestone).

I have heard complaints from some Heathen groups about too many people trying to copy the movie-Viking look of Ragnar Lothbrok, Brjorn Ironside, and the rest of the Vikings TV seriies.

Now Matthew D. Flavel, Alsherjargothi of the Asatru Folk Assembly, makes it official. No garb!

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.

I was wondering about the appeal of “dressing like the ancestors” some years ago.

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.