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.

“Folkloric” Pagan Statues Spark a Confrontation in Poland

Folkloric statue (Notes from Poland).

The news article, “Locals demand removal of “demonic, pagan” sculptures on tourist folklore trail in Poland,” starts this way:

A small community in northern Poland is embroiled in a dispute over 13 wooden sculptures of spirits based on local folklore, pitting Catholics warning of “demonic idolatry” conservatives against officials seeking to promote tourism. Some of the statues are set to be removed as a result.

I am happy to see that the reporter quoted Scott Simpson, my colleague in Pagan studies who co-edits Equinox Publishing’s Pagan-studies publishing series.

Scott Simpson, a lecturer in religious studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and expert on Polish paganism, told Notes from Poland that “the 13 figures have been selected because they are very local. They belong to stories collected in that area, ethnographically, as an expression of local pride”.

“Amongst the voices complaining about the removal, there are people interested in local folklore,” with no strong religious motivations, added Simpson. Yet “other people amongst them would be Contemporary Pagans, who are religiously offended by the things being taken down.”

Contemporary Pagans in Poland are small in number but “relatively visible, for example, in the folk music scene,” according to Simpson. In Poland, there may be “in the order of 2,500 very active participants in Slavic Native Faith (Rodzimowierstwo)” and a “much broader range of people” who sometimes participate.

“They do not like to see their local folklore removed, which is to them sacred,” said Simpson. And they worry about “seeing that some religions can be put up on a pedestal, but the folk religion is sent away to be put in a museum,” as the local parish priest suggested

So will folkloric tourism win over theology? Does tourism favor Pagans (it certainly does in some places)? If I learn more, I will post it.

A New Book for the Pagan Studies Series on Pagan Aspects of Pizzica in Southern Italy

A year ago I photographed Jefferson Calico (r.), author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, a visitor to the Equinox Publishing booth at the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature joint book show at their annual meetings in Denver, Colorado.

I am happy to say that Giovanna has now signed a contract with us in the Contemporary and Historical Paganism series for her new book, which has a working title of The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy. A little piece of it is in the current issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies as “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”1)If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?

Q:  Two books is a “series”?

A: It is more complicated than that. The series was originally published by AltaMira Press, a division of Roman & Littlefield, an American publisher. The first book in the series was Barbara Davy’s (a Canadian scholar) Introduction to Pagan Studies (2007), followed by my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006).2)Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first. There were others in the series, some acquired by my first co-editor, Wendy Griffin.

Wendy stepped down, and was replaced by the late Nikki Bado. Meanwhile, editorial changes at Rowman left Nikki and me looking for another home. We quickly found one at Equinox, which was already publishing The Pomegranate. Nikki and I brought in more books, including Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music and Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, whose co-editor, Scott Simpson, stepped up to replace Nikki after her death and continues as series co-editor now.

Meanwhile, there was a merger, a de-merger, and a sale, and those books in the “Series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism” ended up with Routledge, who discontinued the series. Meanwhile, we carried on with Equinox, starting over from scratch, more or less.

Q: What does pizzica sound like?

A: Try this (it’s kind of a formal performance):

Drummers might like this one:

This one is fun too. Remember that this part of the Italian peninsula was settled by Greeks way back.

One last thing: if you order from the links, I do get a small commission, which helps with the Web-hosting bill. Thanks.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?
2. Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first.

Catholic Church Struggles with De Facto Polytheism

This is an old story, but it erupts in new forms. Polytheistic-style devotion keeps irrupting in the Roman Catholic Church, much to the concern of the hierarchs.

From The Catholic Herald (UK): “The Church’s life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte: The Church in the Americas is sounding the alarm over a macabre new devotion.”

To the great consternation of the Church, over the past 17 years veneration of a Mexican folk saint that personifies death has become the fastest-growing new religious movement in the West. At this point there are no systematic surveys of the precise number of Santa Muerte devotees, but based on 10 years of research in Mexico and the US, we estimate there are some 10 to 12 million followers, with a large majority in Mexico and a significant presence in the United States and Central America. However, the skeletal folk saint, whose name translates into English as both Saint Death and Holy Death, now has followers across the globe, including in the UK, where there are sufficient devotees to support a Facebook group specifically for British followers . . . .

To understand the devotion to death, we must also examine the historical record. Across the Americas, and in particular in Mexico, death deities were prevalent during the pre-Hispanic era prior to colonisation. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Maya and the Aztecs, turned to death gods and goddesses for healing ailments, and also to guarantee safe passage into the underworld.

Yes, devotion to Santa Muerte is huge, and I have heard of some American Anglo Pagans who also participate in her cult, particularly in the Southwest.

El Niño Fidencio (Kid Fidencio), a folk saint of northern Mexico who is frequently channeled by healers.

There are more “folk saints.” One of my graduate-school professors, of partially Mexican ancestry, was fascinated by the cult of El Niño Fidencio, one of several folk saints who emerged from the chaotic years of revolution and civil war in early 20th-century Mexico.

Another of that period is Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers. It’s not to hard to find statues of him. He is one of a whole choir of “narco saints” (the linked article includes N. S. de Guadalupe; she is versatile).

A Little-Known Welsh Magical Practice

“Myths surrounded” the caiman, says the BBC.

Burying large reptiles under the floor. It must be a “Pagan survival,” right? Doubtlessly an apotropaic custom, like scorch marks on wooden beams as charm against fire, or leaving old shoes and such inside the walls during construction.

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.

Baltic Gothic: A Quick Review of “November”

In rural 19th-century Estonia, as depicted in the film November, people did not merely put out food offerings for the Dead on All Souls Day — they fed them. And talked to them. And if the Dead wished to enjoy a sauna, a fire had already been lit. And then things get weird.

November is a beautifully photographed black-and-while film (with a little infrared too?). Sometimes it is such a series of images that I felt as though I was watching someone’s curated Instagram feed or Tumblr blog, until the snowman started talking or the Devil twisted someone’s neck and took his soul.

Maybe instead of “Baltic Gothic,” we should call it “Estonian Hoodoo.”

Things you will find in November: shapeshifting; wolves; dirty doings at the crossroads; servants who steal from German aristocrats justifying their thefts in the name of Estonian nationalism; people stealing from each other; sleepwalking; the Plague personified as a beautiful woman, a goat, or a pig; lots of folk magic (with some spectacular failures); dreams; visions; love; and death.

The society depicted is nominally Christian but the other elements justify the label Pagan-ish. In fact, it made me think of a novel that I had read, The Man Who Spoke Snakish, which is set in medieval Estonia at the time of Christian crusades against the Baltic Pagans.

Color me surprised. November is based on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk, who wrote The Man Who Spoke Snakish as well. This novel was Rehepapp ehk November (Old Barny aka November), and I am not sure if it has been published yet in an English translation.

If you liked The Man Who Spoke Snakish or the 2015 movie The Witch, you would like this one. Read more reviews at IMDB.com.

An Amber Alert from 1284 CE

The ratcatcher and the rats, part of a civic pageant in Hamelin today.

“Amber alert” defined for readers outside the USA.

In five days it will be the 733rd anniversary of the most famous missing children case in Western Europe. What happened to the children of Hamelin, a town (current population about 57,000) in what is today the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen)?

A June 2010 article in the Fortean Times by Maria Cuervo summarized various possible explanations; Cuervo reprints it in a more readable format on her blog here.

Years ago I read a science-fiction story of explorers coming to another planet and finding a human community who built their houses in a vaguely medieval German style. Yes, they were the descendants of the children led away by the ratcatcher, through some kind of interdimensional portal. If you know the author and title, post them in the comments.

Folktales and Human Migration

An interesting article from Scientific American, in which the author breaks several folktales, like the origin of the contellation Ursa Major—the “Cosmic Hunt”—into memes and then treats them in a sort of genetic way, to see if they match up with ancient human migrations, to the extent that we understand those.

Carl Jung, the founding father of analytic psychology, believed that myths appear in similar forms in different cultures because they emerge from an area of the mind called the collective unconscious. “Myths are first and foremost psychic phenomena that reveal the nature of the soul,” Jung argued. But the dissemination of Cosmic Hunt stories around the world cannot be ex­­plained by a universal psychic structure. If that were the case, Cosmic Hunt stories would pop up everywhere. Instead they are nearly absent in Indonesia and New Guinea and very rare in Australia but present on both sides of the Bering Strait, which geologic and archaeological evidence indicates was above water between 28,000 and 13,000 B.C. The most credible working hypothesis is that Eurasian ancestors of the first Americans brought the family of myths with them.

Read it all (with graphics): “Scientists Trace Society’s Myths to Primordial Origins

Massive 2015 Year-End Link Dump! Something for Everyone!

This is a Druid knife. It says so.

Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .

• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.

• I saved this link from the Forest Door blog because I liked this thought:

This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.

Local cultus is the new kale.

Is a knife named for Druids meant for Druids? (Echoes of allegations of human sacrifice?) Just what does “Druid” mean here?

• I did like John Halstead’s post on “the tyranny of structurelessness.” See also “Reclaiming.” See also “The Theology of Consensus.”

• Turn off the computer and play a 1,600-year-old Viking war game.

• From last July, a Washington Post story on Asatruar in the Army.

A photography book of modern British folklore. Not an oxymoron.

• More photography: “Earth Magic – Photographer Rik Garrett Talks About Witchcraft.”

What if witches hadn’t changed that much since medieval times and were still fairly close to the popular imagery conveyed by their early enemies during the classical witchhunts?

• So you’re a Pagan? Here are ten ways to show respect for your elders. It’s the Pagan way.

• Philosophy should teach you how to live. “Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers.” Also, it’s Pagan.

• Reviewing a book on Greek and Roman animal sacrifice, which was, after all, the chief ritual back in the days when Paganism was the religion of the community.

• Was it the bells? Morris dancers attacked by dogs.

• Camille Paglia’s definition of “Pagan” is not mine, but she still kicks ass. Also, “Everything’s Awesome, and Camille Paglia Is Unhappy!”

• Embiggen thy word-hoard! Visit the Historical Thesaurus of Engish.

• But if you really want to go down the 15th-century rabbit hole, follow The Great Vowel Shift.

The New Yorker covers psychedelic therapy. To learn more, follow and donate to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Also: “How Psychedelics Are Helping Cancer Patients Fend Off Despair.”

Looking good for an academic interview.

A review from last year of Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.

• From the Chronicle of Higher Education: “How to Be Intoxicated.” Not surprisingly, Dionyus figures in more than does binge-drinking.

• Apparently the Yakuza, the Nipponese Mob, planned to call off Halloween due to a gang war. So how did that work out?