Mojo and Materiality: 300 Goddesses

The bulk of Morning Glory Zell's goddess-image collection is in these cabinets.

After Isis Oasis and Lucky Mojo, the final stop on the pre-AAR annual meeting “Mojo and Materiality” tour was the home of Oberon and Morning Glory Zell of the Church of All Worlds.

They contribute to Pagan “materiality” through through their business, Mythic Images, which features Oberon’s and other designers’ statues, plaques, and jewelry.

But they also have a huge collection of occult and Pagan-related images and objects of their own, gathered and created over the past forty-some years.

Morning Glory uses these images in workshops on the Divine Feminine, and is prepared to discuss the stories, cultus, and relationships of each one. We did not have time for a full workshop, of course, but she gave a sort of hands-on meta-presentation about how she does them.

My only regret is that the sun had set, so we could not see the grounds and outside shrines.

The I-word: Idolatry

Two years ago at the American Academy of Religion, we had a Pagan Studies session with “idolatry” in the title. Sessions are described by posters on easels outside the meeting rooms, and I heard a few snickers from people passing in the corridor.

Inside the room, people were talking about statues, etc., as windows on the divine. One paper compared the ritual treatment, dressing, and so on of a Madonna in a Spanish village with a goddess image in Glastonbury.

At the  Get Religion blog, which examines the journalistic treatment of religion, there was some discomfort with the way a reporter in India wrote of an “idol” of Jesus that had been vandalized. To me it seemed that the word was used merely in a technical sense, but to the blogger it seemed defamatory: “For a Western audience calling a statue of Jesus an idol is thoughtless or a deliberately provocative statement — both have meanings bellow the surface.”

But I doubt if the original article was meant to provoke, merely to describe.

Meanwhile, here is a review of a new novel with this premise: “This is a sprawaling and subversively funny satire centered around two down-on-their-luck entrepreneurs who stumble upon the idea of reviving for-profit idolatry. Selling statues of household gods to the masses, and building a neo-pagan religion around it.”

I think that this has already been done, guys. Have you looked at the Sacred Source catalog lately? “Fair-trade statuary featuring ancient deities” — looks like they are avoiding the I-word too.

(I have blogged on related topics before. See “The Street of the Idol-Makers” and “Casual Labor at the New Age Trade Show.“)

Now there is a somewhat more sophisticated, more nuanced way in which the monothesists use “idolatry.” It is when they accuse people of putting lesser goals ahead of the Ultimate Goal, as they see it.

Here is Catholic blogger Elizabeth Scalia writing at First Things:

But I wonder if it is not the first and greatest sin named by Yahweh and given to Moses, that is most at fault: the sin of idolatry. We have loved ourselves so well; we have denied ourselves nothing and placed too much of what we love between ourselves and God; we have cherished mere things or other people; over-identified with ideas or ideologies and made an afterthought of God, who will not be mocked.

You can find essentially the same rhetoric from Muslims, merely substituting “Allah” for where Scalia, a few paragraphs down, writes “the Triune God.”

Here “idolatry” is not about whether material things can embody a divine presence, but it has become a metaphor for misplaced philosophical or spiritual priorities. I have less quarrel with that. But I still mistrust the implied devaluation of “the material”—not in the sense of a $4,000 wristwatch, but in the sense of the Earth around us.

Idol Thoughts

After three days of hearing papers and networking at AAR-SBL, our brains were full, so half a dozen friends and I headed for the traveling Etruscan exhibit at Atlanta’s Fernbank Museum. It was wonderful to get away from the convention-hotel district.

The exhibit on ancient Etruscan life was organized by subjects: feasting, domestic life, war, the gods, etc. In a case of religious items I saw several small hand bells. One looked almost identical to a “Sanctus bell” that I remembered from my altar-boy days, the kind rung at key moments during Mass. There is probably a line of unbroken ritual ringing of small bells from ancient northern Italy to your nearest parish church.

The jewelry case held a ring with a carnelian set in gold. One of the Pagan women raised her hand: her ring was almost identical.

You exit the exhibit into a special gift shop, of course. There among the reproduction Etruscan ware was a statuette of Diana that looked familiar. I turned it over: the label said “JBL Images,” which is the old name of Sacred Source. Yes, their India-made idols were scattered throughout the shop. They must be the Wal-Mart of idolatry. (Does that make Mythic Images the Target of idolatry?)

Wear your carnelian, ring the bell, honor the gods of the city–does anything ever really change?