Christmas, When the Veil is Thin

Christmas Eve 2020

In December (yeah, this is late) I was tapped by a public library in Oregon to give an hour’s Zoom lecture on the “Pagan origins of Christmas.”

I did it, but that format is still pretty weird. How many people are watching? Three? Thirty? Three hundred? And are they awake? No post-lecture Q&A or chat was scheduled by the organizers, so I will never know. On the other hand, they sent the check promptly.

While I agree there is some swapping of symbols back and forth, I will just say that Yule and Christmas are still fundamentally different.[1]And Santa is not a flying shaman; he never flew before about 1823, and his red and white suit commemorates Coca-Cola, not Amanita muscaria. Old-time Santa Claus/Father Christmas figures wore various … Continue reading The Christmas Story is just that, a linear narrative, while the Pagan Yule is cyclical and performative. We used a few minutes of video from the Denver winter solstice custom of Drumming Up the Sun at Red Rocks Amphitheatre to introduce my talk.

Another thing  — it’s been drilled into me since my twenties that the “veil between the worlds” is thin at Samhain, so it was a jerk back into someone else’s story to be reminded, while doing my research, that there is a whole parallel tradition of the “veil being thin” and the dead walking on Christmas Eve. (Also domestic animals talking and other nonordinary stuff.)

In fact, M. and I always do that, hang a candle lantern at Christmas Eve, Pagans that we are. For the Holy Family? For the dead? Is is just one of those customs that you follow, while the rationale changes from generation to generation? It has always seemed like the right thing to do.

Over in the sidebar of the blog — if you are looking at the main page — is a list of magickal and paranormal podcasts. One of my favorites is Timothy Renner’s Strange Familiars. For the last two Decembers, Renner, who sometimes calls himself a “Marian animist,” has invited on Br. Richard Hendrick, an Irish Franciscan monk with a deep interest in paranormal matters, albeit seen through a Roman Catholic lens.

For the 2020 show, “The Three Magi, Mary Magalene, and More,” he wrote, “We discuss the pagan [sic] origins of Christmas, the Three Magi, Mary Magdalene, the Holy Grail, the teachings of Saint Francis, Christmas legends and rituals, and much more. Brother Richard also relates some stories of his encounters with The Other.”

In my talk, I did not have time to get into “thinning of the Veil” stuff, and I did not know if was appropriate for my invisible audience, but listen to this episode if you want to hear more.

And the show with Brother Richard from 2019 was pretty spectacular too!

You could imagine the Pagan Dead (countless generations of them) showing up at Samhain and the Christian Dead at Christmas, but really, from their perspective, does it matter?

Notes

Notes
1 And Santa is not a flying shaman; he never flew before about 1823, and his red and white suit commemorates Coca-Cola, not Amanita muscaria. Old-time Santa Claus/Father Christmas figures wore various colors — often green — frequently with fur trim.

The Witch’s Hat: Where Did It Come From?

Abby Cox tracks the history of the black, conical, flat-brimmed hat with a deteour into eighteenth-century dressmaking and other things: “Swedish witches are defnitely cottagecore witches, and I’m here for that.” If you are in a hurry and wish to skip patriarchy, etc., start at the 11-minute mark.

Not discussed: handfuls of the “witchy aesthetic” derive from the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939). It’s amazing how many people think that its costuming and makeup (green skin, striped socks) represent some kind of Historical Truth.

The “eighteenth-century” part is because she spent years as a dressmaker and interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg. She is not a historian of witchcraft, but she does make an interesting argument from a fashion viewpoint, Written as an article, this video could have fit into the last issue of The Pomegranate, which was devoted to Pagan art and fashion.

She is not saying that Quakers (the Religious Society of Friends, founded as a radical religious group in the late 1600s ) were seriously mistaken for satanic witches.[1]Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times. She is saying that the Quakers’ “look,” one that emphasized out-of-date fashions for women in particular — “fifty years out of date” — might have influenced the way that witches were portrayed in 18th, 19th, and 20th century popular art. (She dates the first graphic appearance to 1720 — see 27:40 in the video.)

There is no particular dress style associated with the actual women (and men) who were persecuated as witches in the 1400s–1600s. They wore whatever people wore in their time and place.

Notes

Notes
1 Some propaganda, however, showed Quakers as influenced by the Devil, so the boundary was blurry at times.

How the Irish Invented Halloween (But Americans Saved It)

Friend-of-this-blog Jenny Butler (University College Cork) leads off this RTE video on “How the Irish really invented Halloween.” (You can watch a larger version at the link.)

Also, divination with snails.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, dear readers. This day finds me still coping with the 16.5 inches (41 cm) of snow that fell this week, working simultaneously on two journals (a new Pomegranate is coming!) and preparing to start a book-editing project. And my own stuff too, of course.

It doesn’t feel very Halloween-ish, to tell the truth, but the British neighbor is throwing a Bonfire Night party on the compromise date of November 2nd, and I am looking forward to that.

Bargains in Witch Kitsch All This Month!

As of Tuesday, it’s Witch Kitsch Month. So if this is the time when you stock up on plastic skulls and manufactured stuffed ravens, hit your local thrift store — it’s a whole lot cheaper than Spirit World or some party store.

Prices are low, low, low — horrifically low.

At Goodwill, I found a simply adorable giant rubber rat (not pictured), which probably will become a geocache in some deserted building. Today I lingered over this coffee cup and a skull-themed nightlight — and this Halloween owl—but opted instead for a little battery-powered three-color strobe light ($1.49), made to be put inside your jack-o-lantern. I see it inside a hanging mask, animal skull, or something else instead.[1]Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

Notes

Notes
1 Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

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.)

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.

Photos: Mexico City’s Day of the Dead Parade

No one does the Day of the Dead like the Mexicans, who, after all, made it what it is today.

And there was a pre-parade: on October 24, the Catrinas parade. The photos above are from the Catrinas parade, but you might have a hard time telling the difference.

Locally, I saw this coming on September 29th!

Paganism belongs in the streets!