Joining Folklore: The Electronic Journal of Folklore

The Estonian Literary Museum, Tartu

Last month I accepted an invitation to join the editorial board of Folklore: The Electronic Journal of Folklore, which is published by the Estonian Literary Museum in the city of Tartu.

They have not yet updated the website, but you know how that goes.

Because Folklore is government-supported and Web-only, you can read the contents online. The articles are in English—otherwise I would not be much use to them, nor would the other board members from the USA, Ireland, India . . .

Here, for example, is “The Transmission of Knowledge among Estonian Witch Doctors,” by the editor, Mare Kõiva, the one who invited me.

It is not all about Estonia, however; I see articles from the other Baltic nations and from Finland, Russia, Ireland, and elsewhere. And you will find occasional articles on native Paganism, shamanism, etc.

My family has no Baltic corrections, although my oldest sister spent the last couple of years of her life in Kaunas, Lithuania, which is too long a story to tell here.

It would be great to go there sometime, pick a few mushrooms, and read or write in a room like this one.

Maybe I could drop in on the secret cyberforce. They probably have already read this post.

Our guys in Multicam are there too. You didn’t know? They probably never get to use the folklore reading room.

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.

I Want to Call Dior’s Cruise Collection ‘Pagan-ish’ too

Earlier this summer, the fashion house of Dior produced a publicity video for their autumn-winter 2020–2021 haute couture collection that appeared — to my eyes — to be all about the the Other Crowd, so I blogged it as “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk.”

Athough I don’t follow trends in haute couture, I had fashion on my mind, as The Pomegranate’s issue on “Paganism, art, and fashion” was coming out just then. (Free downloads are still available — get them while you can!)

About that time I also wrote a post, “The Pizzica Video that Tore my Heart,”  In it, a woman defiantly performs the traditional dance called pizzica in a lockdown-deserted piazza in the southern Italian city of Lecce, in the region of Salento, “the heel of the boot.”

Pizzica has been taken up and (re)-Paganized by some of the local Pagan community, as discussed by Giovanna Parmigiani in a recent Pomegranate article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”[1]This is a paid download. But talk to a librarian.

So what did Dior do to introduce their 2020-2021 “cruise collection” but create their own spectacle in Lecce, including pizzica.

I found it a little spooky. Maybe I was infuenced by the earlier solo pizzica video in the deserted (seemingly de-populated) square.

The scene is dominated by musicians and dancers.

There was a dazzling set by feminist artist Marinella Senatore, in collaboration with Puglia-based light designers Fratelli Paris, where 30,000 coloured bulbs evoked the luminaire of local folk festivals and contained a number of the artist’s slogans; a rousing score by the Italian composer Paolo Buonvino, who conducted an 18-strong orchestra from Rome, alongside 21 local musicians; a performance by Italian rock musician Giuliano Sangiorgi, folk dancers, and, of course, a vast 90-look collection worn by a slew of the world’s top models. “An Ode to Puglia: How Dior’s Cruise Show Celebrates Italian Craftsmanship.”

Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has roots in the region. The clothing featured used local products: fabrics from “Le Costantine Foundation, which aims to preserve centuries-old textile arts in Puglia . . .  lace embroiderer Marilena Sparasci; weavers Tessitura Calabrese, and more.”

The folded kerchiefs worn by some of the models were also a nod to local traditional costume.

I wanted to focus on the music and dancing, which made the silent models parading through the square seem like inter-dimensional beings. Interlopers. Visitors. Part of “the phenomeon.” That is perhaps not what Chiuri intended.

So —visitors from another dimension, ecstatic music, a certain feminist flavor, beauty, nighttime, tradition — does that add up to “Pagan-ish”?

Notes

Notes
1 This is a paid download. But talk to a librarian.

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

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.