The Hitchhiker

The heart of western South Dakota

The heart of western South Dakota: US Highway 212 near the town of Faith.

Leaving Spearfish, South Dakota, on October 17th en route to eastern North Dakota, I decided to skip the Green Bean coffeehouse, as much as I like it, and fueled up on motel-room coffee and a leftover partial burrito. I was on the road shortly after eight, up to Belle Fourche and then east on US 212.

US 50 across Nevada is often publicized as “the loneliest road in America,” but US 212 between Belle Fourche and the Missouri crossing at Charger’s Camp also qualifies. You come to a town of what looks like thirty people and then it’s forty miles to the next place. Tan rolling hills with the occasional butte—Bear Butte, Mud Butte, and the rest—to serve as landmarks. So it goes for more than two hundred miles.

Between Faith and Dupree, having crossed into the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, I saw a figure walking east beside the road. I thought he was a (probably) Lakota teenager with an instrument case (trumpet?) slung on his back. I blew past him at 75 mph and then re-considered. There was almost no traffic. There never is. He was miles from anywhere. Well, who will pick him up if I don’t? I turned the Jeep around. (It’s so hard to break that driving rhythm when you have 450 miles to go.)

As I drove back west, I scanned the two vehicles that I met, a pickup truck and a sedan full of people. I did not spot him. But suppose he was lying down in the bed of the truck?

“I’ll drive to the top of the next rise and have a look,” I thought. Sure enough, a dot in the distance, there he was. I tossed some stuff from the passenger seat into the back.

Travis (we exchanged first names) was grateful. He was no teenager, but rather 33 years old—I got his birthdate and much of his life story. Father an Anglo biker, a regular at the Sturgis motorcycle rally every summer (they had lived in nearby Rapid City), Vietnam vet, died of prostate cancer in 2016. Mother Lakota. For some trivial reason, he had missed visiting his dad at the VA hospital in Sioux Falls, and shortly afterwards, his dad was gone, and he was still angry with himself. He told me where his mom was from—I recognized the name, a little town off the rez, that’s about all.

The grey thing on his back was a duffle bag with everything he owned in it.

He had been visiting a man whom he called his “father figure” (a maternal uncle?) in Iron Lightning, a place I know only from seeing the sign when I go by the turnoff. Let’s just say that there is no Wikipedia entry for Iron Lighting.[1]It’s just ten or twelve houses, I gathered, probably BIA housing. He said that the evening before, he and the other man had walked along the meandering little Moreau River to a butte where eagles nest. They had prayed there.

Then they went to the man’s house and started drinking—sweet wine, by the smell of his sweat. The “father figure” passed out, but Travis had started walking south toward the highway some time around 2 a.m. It is about ten miles out to the highway. He had stopped for a sleep, he said, and was walking again when I saw him about 10:00 a.m.

Food and water? None. I gave him cold coffee and apples from a neighbor’s tree. He said that he had done this kind of reservation hitchhiking before, with an emphasis on “hiking.”

I got his story: the jobs he took off the rez (there is nothing on the rez except tribal government work, basically). The broken marriage to a Lakota woman, who was currently in Eagle Butte, the reservation’s administrative center. The 11-year-old daughter he has not seen for several years. The recent time spent at some rehab center in Wyoming for his alcoholism, which was a good experience, he said, but of course after a couple months, back his old situations, he fell off the wagon. He had worked construction recently in Rapid City, but oddly did not know where Canyon Lake School [2]I attended Canyon Lake School for grades K-4 was, so he must have had a circumscribed view of that town. Or maybe he just paid no attention to elementary schools.

He was headed for Mobridge, a larger town about ninety miles away. I turned north at Dupree, having planned to go through the Standing Rock reservation and on up to I-94 that way, a new route for me. But I realized that turning east to Mobridge and then continuing north on US 83, one of my usual routes, would be about the same distance, so I gave him the hitchhiker’s dream—a straight-through trip to a friend’s house where he hoped to be able to stay awhile. The friend’s pickup was in the driveway, so Travis hopped out, thanked me, and was gone.

Everyone in the world is damaged, has susto or “soul loss,” I often think. We medicalize this condition with terms like post-traumatic stress disorder, but I heard one curandera say that even your birth can set off susto, if it was a difficult birth. This is all just starker out there on US 212, where the tan prairie rolls away and there are no other human beings for miles.

I gently suggested at one point to Travis that he go out somewhere and offer up his problem to his ancestors on both sides . . . make a little offering . . . there might be someone who could give him a nudge in the right direction. Maybe. It’s his choice.

Notes

Notes
1 It’s just ten or twelve houses, I gathered, probably BIA housing.
2 I attended Canyon Lake School for grades K-4

“Witness of Another World” is a Powerful Documentary about “Visitor” Encounters

Aside from an occasional excursion, I am not much into UFO studies. It was years after it came out that I read Jacques Vallée’s [1]Born in France, Vallée has spent most of his life in the US. His career includes astronomy, software engineering, venture capitalism — and UFO studies. Passport to Magonia, and it shaped my thinking.

I put its thesis like this: Instead of chugging through interstellar space to Earth, the UFO-nauts have always been here. “They” appear in many different shapes, some humanoid, some not, as it suits their fancy. Sometimes They just like to mess with us for reasons we do not understand. Or in more refined language,

As an alternative to the extraterrestrial visitation hypothesis, Vallée has suggested a multidimensional visitation hypothesis. This hypothesis represents an extension of the ETH where the alleged extraterrestrials could be potentially from anywhere. The entities could be multidimensional beyond space-time, and thus could coexist with humans, yet remain undetected (Wikipedia).

Back in the 1970s, Vallée and his wife flew to Argentina to investigate the case of Juan Pérez, a 12-year-old boy from a gaucho family in northern Argentina. Sent out one morning to bring in the family herd, Juan saddled his favorite horse, Cometa (Comet), and rode off into the pastures. On his ride, Juan encountered . . . something . . . that seemed to be a typical flying saucer. Tying Cometa to the craft’s ladder, he went up into it, he said.

There he encountered two beings. When he went home and told his story, he soon became a UFO celebrity. Cometa, however, sickened and died mysteriously only a few days after the encounter.

Juan’s life was wrecked. Call it PTSD. Call it a bad case of susto (soul loss). He fled the ufology scene. He ended up a fifty-ish bachelor, living an isolated life with just his dogs, working seasonally on neighboring ranches and otherwise alone.

There he was until an Argentine filmmaker, Alan Stivelman, decided to reunite him with Vallée, with whom he had had a good relationship as a youth. Vallée was enthusiastic about the plan — all he wanted was a couple of months to study intensively to improve his Spanish.

Stivelman’s documentary, Witness of Another World, is just beautiful movie-making. Whether on Argentinian pampas or up north in the jungle villages of Guaraní Indians, who play an important part in the documentary (Juan has some Guaraní ancestry) or exploring the texture’s of Juan’s crumbling house, it is good to look at.

It is a story of a man brought back from the edge, a spiritual rescue mission, where ufology meets shamanism meets a compassionate reunion of old friends —  the eighty-year-old scientist and the grown-up but still frightened gaucho boy.

You can rent it (download) for $4.99 or buy it (download) for $12.99. It is on Amazon Prime as well.

Listen to what Jacques Vallée has to say about “the phenomenon,” his term for the whole UFO/demon/fairy/visitor complex. Watch what the shamans do. And remember that “They” are not necessarily our friends.

Bonus: On his Dreamland podcast, Whitley Strieber interviews director Alan Stivelman, with contributions from Jacques Vallée.

Notes

Notes
1 Born in France, Vallée has spent most of his life in the US. His career includes astronomy, software engineering, venture capitalism — and UFO studies.

When Pagans Fought Back and Won (Sort of)

Lithograph by well-known Indian artist Parker Boyiddle created in 1980 for the 300th anniversary of the Great Pueblo Revolt. My copy hangs over my desk, wherever I live.

Today’s Pagans, particularly those who inspired by an ancient polytheistic tradition, often wonder why their Pagan ancestors gave up their beliefs.

It’s a complicated story. Some, like the Saxons conquered by Charlemagne, were in a convert-or-die situation, and thousands died.

Sometimes, as in the Roman West, you get the feeling that the upper classes, at least, just followed a fashion set by the emperor: “If you’re going to get ahead, it helps to be a Christian.”  The lower classes were slowly brought around by a mixture of preaching, examples, and punishments.

The Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, whose best-known work, Things Fall Apart, is set in a late-19th-century Igbo community, describes government-backed missionaries’ influence on the community, and some of the people’s response (or rather, non-response) might surprise you.

In one instance, however, indigenous people fought a war against the missionaries and won. It was Pagans 1, Catholics 0, at least until the rematch.

To summarize a lot of history: During the 16th century, several Spanish expeditions crossed or probed the upper Rio Grande Valley of what is now New Mexico, as well as entering settlements to the west, such as Zuni (New Mexico) and the Hopi towns (Arizona).

Serious colonization began in 1598 under the leadership of Don Juan de Oñate. About fifty Franciscan monks and priests were part of his expedition, bringing not just their gospel but Mexican chiles, tomatoes, and melons, as well as Eurasian peach tree seedlings and more, thus changing foodways of the American Southwest forever. More colonists, soldiers, and missionaries continued to arrive subsequently, although never in large numbers.

It was the usual story:

The Franciscans not only wanted to replace the idolatrous religious practice of the Pueblos, which were clearly the work of the omnipresent Devil, but also all aspects of their non-European, barbarian way of life The Indians needed to learn to wear proper clothes and shoes, to be modest, and to never engage in adultery.[1]Jake Page, Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom (Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2013), 57.

Over the next eighty years there were sporadic acts of resistance but nothing major. The leaders of rebellions were usually questioned, tortured, and executed. In one 1675 round-up of rebels, 47 religious leaders (medicine men) from nearby Pueblo towns were brought to Santa Fe, where a few were hanged and the rest flogged and imprisoned. One man, a shaman named Po’pay (also spelt Popé), from San Juan Pueblo (now using its old name of Okeh Owingeh again), upon his release announced to the people back home that the gods had given him a plan.

He and his group carried out an astonishing strategy: they organized warriors who spoke multiple languages (all unwritten), over distances of hundreds of miles, to all rise up on the same day, 11 August 1680. Inevitably, there were some security leaks — the Spanish governor in Santa Fe found out what was planned, and so Po’pay told people in his area to strike a day early.

The priests died first. Churches — even huge adobe edifices like the first church at Pecos — were burned internally and then torn down brick by brick. Other warriors attacked Spanish farms and ranches, killing and looting. In the north, survivors fled to the governor’s palace, the casas reales, in Santa Fe, while others further south gathered at Isleta, south of today’s Albuquerque. Twenty-one Franciscan friars “achieved martyrdom” that first day.

At Hopi, after they torched the churches, “the two-hundred-pound bells, so piously hauled the thousand miles from New Spain [Mexico] over the years, were destroyed, except at Oraibi where they were hidden, and remain so to this day.”[2]Ibid., 115.

The survivors, less than half of the colonial population, prepared to break out of their siege in Santa Fe, even though most were not fighting men. But the Indians, who outnumbered them, let them go, and they straggled south, eventually stopping where Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, now stands.

Good bureaucrats, the Spanish censused the survivors:

Catalina de Zamora passed muster with four grown nieces, Spaniards, all on foot and extremely poor, and five servants [presumably Indians]. The enemy killed two of her nephews and more than thirty relatives. She does not sign because of not knowing how.[3]Ibid. 136.

When you read that the natives of western North America “got horses from the Spanish,” 1680 is when that happened.

No Golden Age emerged in the former colony. Some communities mounted a “de-Hispanization” campaign. At Okeh Owingeh, Po’pay ordered un-baptism ceremonies and forbade his people to ever mention Jesus, Mary, or other saints again.  Other communities relocated to more defensible locations, expecting that the Spanish would return — which they did, twelve years later, in 1692.

Meanwhile, inter-tribal wars flared up again, Apache raids were a constant problem, and drought was always lurking.

The Reconquista is sometimes described as “bloodless,” but it was not. Many Pueblo towns looked at their odds and decided to surrender. Without the grand coalition of 1680, the 50 veteran Spanish soldiers who accompanied the new (or returning) colonists could defeat the warriors of any single town.

Yet in some places, there were bitter fights. Archaeologists found evidence of them only relatively recently — David Roberts’ The Pueblo Revolt (linked at the image) tells that story. Jake Page’s Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom, which I have quoted here, is stronger on the cultural background issues and the long-term effects of the Great Pueblo Revolt and the Reconquest. I would recommend it as a good first book on the revolt.

With the Reconquest, the Franciscans and other Catholic missionaries came back too, but they never ruled the Pueblo towns as before. Many tribal members took a “dual faith” approach, attending Mass but also celebrating their own festivals or blended festivals, while keeping much of their various Old Religions a private matter. It was, Page notes, “a mutual accommodation.”

Notes

Notes
1 Jake Page, Uprising: The Pueblo Indians and the First American War for Religious Freedom (Tucson: Rio Nuevo, 2013), 57.
2 Ibid., 115.
3 Ibid. 136.

The Little Fire God Went Running

The opening paragraph of the novel that made me a Tony Hillerman fan:

Shulawitsi, the Little Fire God, member of the Council of the Gods and Deputy to the Sun, had taped his track shoes to his feet. He had wound the tape as Coach had taught him, tight over the arch of the foot. And now the spikes biting into the packed earth of the sheep trail seemed a part of him.

From Dance Hall Of The Dead (1973) by Tony Hillerman, one of a series of more-than-mysteries set in and around the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico, and all still in print.

What Is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?

Maypole procession at Colorado’s Beltania festival, 2011. (Photo by Robin Vinehall.)

When it comes to large-scale ritual, the traditional Wiccan circle does not scale up well. It was made for a small-group mystery religion, where twelve or thirteen people really is the maximum.[1]OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.

That Wiccan circle, as far as I can tell, was based on the magic circle of the ceremonial magician, designed to hold one, maybe two, possibly three individuals—but usually just one. And as many teachers will tell you, the magician’s circle was supposed to give the Bad Stuff out, whereas the Witches’ circle is supposed to keep the Good Stuff in.

But like a balloon that can be inflated only so far before it pops, the magic circle seems to lose cohesion when it grows too big. Its fabric tears, and, for all I know, the Good Stuff leaks out.

It may still worth with large groups as a way for a maximum number of people to have a good look at some theatrical event happening in the center. Make a son et lumière production out of calling the Quarters—that helps when you have a large outdoor gathering.

On the negative side, I have attended large rituals where people brought folding chairs to sit in because they knew that they would wait a long time for anything to happen—for the oracular priest to make it around to where they sat, for instance. It was deathly dull.

Last month at the Heartland festival, held at a 160-acre site with a network of internal gravel roads, I saw a small procession passing ahead of one of the main evening rituals. I perked up at that, but the participants were more like camp criers: “Come to the ritual.”

No no no no no. The procession should BE the ritual—for most people. That is when you bring the gods out of the temple and take them down the street. It’s interactive, and it involves the bodies of the participants. Let everyone join in! Consider what is done in India or in Catholic countries and urban neighborhoods on certain saints’ days.[2]Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.

Instead of the procession being a warm-up act, I modestly suggested to two members of the Sacred Experience Committee (in other words, the ritual producers), it should be the Main Event. Idols! Musicians! Costumes!

If a more conventional ritual follows, that’s fine, but don’t expect everyone to come. But bring the procession past their campsite and entice them to join it because it is loud, colorful, and physical.

I remember one New Mexico festival in the late 1980s where the rituals were pretty good—maybe because the group was not too huge. But then one evening a handfasting was announced, and the campers spontaneously grabbed torches and lanterns and drums and flutes and processed behind the officiants to the site—and there was more “juice” in that procession than in the official circle-style ritual.

I’ve attended a few Pueblo Indian rituals since my dad used to drag me down to Zuni when I was three, and I have noticed something: The tribes don’t expect everyone to participate. The specialists—the appropriate religious society or priesthood—will perform both the hidden parts and the public parts—dances and so on. Many people will just be spectators. The important thing is that the ritual is performed for everyone’s benefit, whether they pay close attention or are off seated on an adobe wall eating watermelon or chatting up a potential romantic partner.

Likewise the old-time Pagans had used processions as a major large-group activity. Sometimes they ended, for example, at a sacrificial altar, and then the specialists took over. (Everyone ate later.) They did not make everyone sit in rows inside a temple—most activity took place outside the temple. Making you stand or sit around indoors while the specialists do their thing is the Christians’ mistake.[3]Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, … Continue reading

Right now, we are in the middle of summer festival season in the US and elsewhere. Tell me what you see. Are people getting away from the “Let’s just make a big ol’ circle and call the Quarters” model? There has to be something that works better.

Notes

Notes
1 OK, maybe up to twenty or so, but that is more than enough, especially if they are skyclad and all waving athames.
2 Saints, gods, what’s the difference. We are trying to raise energy.
3 Yes, the liturgical churches—Orthodox, Catholic, fancy Anglican—will give you visualization exercises etc. to do during the service, and there are postural changes—sitting, standing, kneeling—in some churches, but it is not what I would call movement.

North America’s Four-Footed God

When I was new to Paganism, I thought about pantheons. Should I be signing with Team Celtic, Team Roman, Team Germanic, or whom?

Now I don’t really care. Sometimes you don’t come to the pantheon, the pantheon comes to you — and it may be a motley crew at that.

My own pantheon includes Hermes, Tlaloc (I live at the fringe of his territory), the Moon, and a forest god who has manifested as a young blue spruce tree dusted with golden aspen leaves.

But maybe I should make room on the shelf for Old Man Coyote, whose howl, says Dan Flores, author of  Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History, could be “the original national anthem of North America.” His publisher says,

Coyote near my house this summer.

Coyote America is both an environmental and a deep natural history of the coyote. It traces both the five-million-year-long biological story of an animal that has become the “wolf” in our backyards, as well as its cultural evolution from a preeminent spot in Native American religions to the hapless foil of the Road Runner. A deeply American tale, the story of the coyote in the American West and beyond is a sort of Manifest Destiny in reverse, with a pioneering hero whose career holds up an uncanny mirror to the successes and failures of American expansionism.

Coyote likes camps, villages, towns, and cities. He lived with the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan — the word coyotl itself is Aztec (Nahuatl), pronounced COY-yoht, so we Westerners who say it as two syllables actually favor an older pronunciation than the Hispanicized co-yo-te.[1]As a boy in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, I was taught that only Easterners and tourists said kiy-yo-te.

As a deity, he was Huehuecoyotl, or “Venerable Old Coyote, “who sounds so much like the widespread North American god-avatar often called ‘Old Man Coyote’ that the empire-minded Aztecs may have borrowed him from tribes far northward, in what is now the western United States,” Flores writes.

Europeans had old experiences, stories, myths, and preconceptions about gray wolves, bears, and foxes and long employed folk stories about them to investigate human nature. But coyotes are different. The coyote is an American original whose evolutionary history has taken place on this continent, not in the Old World. We see it not from the traditional vantages but from a sideways one, and from that perspective everything looks different.

But you don’t honor him/her/them by feeding them, at least not directly. Maybe you honor Coyote by telling Coyote stories. They are easy to find.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Wrong canid in the title, but a movie nevertheless inbued with the spirit of Old Man Coyote is The Grey Fox (1982), starring Richard Farnsworth.  I treasure my VHS copy.

Notes

Notes
1 As a boy in the Black Hills of western South Dakota, I was taught that only Easterners and tourists said kiy-yo-te.

Not Ainu or Polynesian, Scientists Say of Kennewick Man

One reconstruction gave him a thick beard (Int. Business Times).

One reconstruction gave him a thick beard (Int. Business Times).

Kennewick Man, the roughly 9,000-year-old skeleton found twenty years in Washington state was the subject of a long court battle between physical anthropologists and archaeologists who wanted to study him and contemporary tribes who wanted to claim him under NAGPRA rules.

Suspiciously, the Corps of Engineers dumped rock and gravel all over the area where his skeleton washed out along the Columbia River, making it impossible to say if he was buried with anyone else.

Some scientists described the skull as “Caucasoid” — which is not the same as “Caucasian” in a racial sense, but which could indicate common ancestry with today’s Polynesians or perhaps the ancient Ainu people of Japan. That did not stop other people from claiming a European origin for him.

Current study says no:

The breakthrough in confirming the ancestry of the skeleton after years of research came with DNA testing, which enabled scientists to compare DNA in an ancient finger bone from Kennewick Man with saliva samples from Colville tribal members, where genetic similarities were confirmed.

Whoever he was, he lived hard, active life and might have gone down fighting.

Part of a spear had remained lodged in Kennewick’s right hip bone at a 77-degree angle, but, remarkably, the spear did not cause his death. The cause of his demise remains a mystery. What is known is that this athletic, rugged hunter suffered many physical traumas before finally expiring in his mid-to-late 30s. [Other estimates put him in his forties—CSC]

Now the skeleton goes to a coalition of local tribes who plan to rebury it near where it was found.

An Ancient Solar “Observatory” in Arizona

The Sun Dagger at Chaco Canyon — an Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) residential/ritual/governmental (?) complex in northeastern New Mexco that flourished during what where the early Middle Ages in Europe — is well-known among archaeoastronomers, as is the possible solar alignment built into one of the grand kivas nearby at Casa Rinconada.

Now another solar “clock” is being claimed at the the ancient Puebloan site preserved at Wupatki National Monument in northern Arizona, where moving shadows and petroglyphs mark the solstices and equinoxes: an “imaging calendar,” as it is called.

To quote someone on the Casa Rinconada website,

“The historical accuracy of the alignment may be less important than its symbolic value, especially for those who flock to the site on the summer solstice.

“Casa Rinconada has become a place where people come to see an alignment. In our culture, we haven’t been taught to relate to the natural rhythm of what the sun and the earth are doing throughout the year. So here’s a place where you can come and see that—not a representation of a solstice, but the actual solstice, as mediated by a building. It’s a wonderful experience.”

So perhaps we look at all astronomical alignments in whatever country as wonderful examples of nature religion. Casa Rinconada attracted a crowd during the Harmonic Convergence of 1987, when various New Age thinkers, led by José Argüelles, promoted prophecies connected to a planetary alignment: “The convergence is purported to have ‘corresponded with a great shift in the earth’s energy from warlike to peaceful.'”[1]No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.

The New Age event was spoofed at a Pagan festival in New Mexico that summer by a dance performance of the “Harmonica Vigins.”

My view on astronomical alignments was being warped in the 1980s by seminars with Davíd Carrasco, a scholar of Mesoamerican religion who has spent a lot of time working with temple alignments and associated mythology.

My take-away was that astronomical alignments are mostly about priestcraft and power. Farmers don’t need rows of giant stones to tell them when to plant. Every locale has its indicators: here in the southern Colorado foothills, when the emerging leaves of Gambel oak are thumbnail-size,[2]“As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric. the chance of a frost is usually past. (Usually!) And I know that the sun sets in a notch on the ridge to the west at the equinoxes, for what that is worth.

Being able to proclaim the cycles from the temple steps is probably more about showing how “King Jaguar” enjoys of the favor of the gods than anything else.

Notes

Notes
1 No doubt you have noticed how much more peaceful the world is.
2 “As big as a mouse’s ear,” some people like to say, because it sounds more folkloric.

Three Items about the Dead

Whose Bones Are Those?

The Halloween news rush brought item about a new unit established at an Oxford college to perform cross-disciplinary investigations of religious relics

In what is thought to be the first research body of its type in the world, the unit, based in Keble College, will bring together experts in radiocarbon dating, genetics, osteology —the study of bones — chemistry, geography and archaeology with leading authorities in ancient Greek and Hebrew, Byzantine studies, ecclesiastical history and theology.

I am not sure what tone to take with this — not my saints after all — and it really does not matter to me if the skull of St. Cuthbert or whatever turns out to be someone else. One on level, this is interesting archaeology. On another, it feels like a re-run of the 16th century — the “stripping of the altars” and all that — but with “functional” science (instead of Protestantism) taking on “superstitious” religion (instead of Catholicism).

So why now? Is there a culture war motive, with “leading authorities in . . . . theology” participating in the disenchantment of the world? On the other hand, they hint that they may have found John the Baptist.

Four Scary Places

Still thinking about the dead? So are the editors at Indian Country Today, which ran this piece titled ” Get Spooked! 4 Scary Places to Visit This – or Any – Halloween,” on Friday last.

Halloween is the holiday when we face fear and get right in the face of the supernatural. Children wear costumes and adults seek out opportunities to confront the unknown or, some would say, the misunderstood. In that spirit, we offer four places you can go to laugh at your deepest anxieties. Or scream.

But why would you scream? Read it and find out.

Beads of copal (Wikimedia Commons).

Paganism at the Public Library

If I had time to drive over to Pueblo, Colo., today, I could view the winners of the public library’s Día de los muertos altar contest. Unfortunately, they were supposed to be set up at 1 p.m., so set-up is in progress as I write, with winners announced at 3:30 p.m.—and everything dismantled by 4:30.

The entry form states,”Altars judged on overall appearance, originality, and creativity reference [sic] to traditions of Día de los Muertos.” Battery-operated candles only, please.

The instruction sheet goes on to tell you that you may commemorate “ancestors past, celebritys [sic] or beloved pets.” So maybe Vlad the Impaler could count as a celebrity, as he did at the university on the mesa in 2007?

As I wrote in 2011, I am sensing some tension between people who want the altars to be done only in some correct Mexican-ish manner, and those wanting to take the tradition in new directions.

The instructions are quite specific as to how you are supposed to represent Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire, and of course copal incense (not burning, though) is recommended. (I like copal too.)

So I regret that I cannot see these altars, but I appreciate that the library is teaching an effectively Pagan tradition. My gardening priestess, however, wants me to haul a big round of bale of spoiled hay from a neighbor’s ranch for winter mulch this afternoon, however. That’s another Samhain ritual.

Magic Earth Lines 2: The 37th Parallel

snake blaksless

Houses built of upright or stacked stone slabs in defensible locations characterized the Apishapa River canyon sites from about 1000–1400 CE .

The ranch was owned by a man named Howard Munsell (now deceased). Unlike a lot of Southern Plains ranchers who are, shall we say, standoffish toward strange visitors, he had previously run a trail-ride business, and so he was able to handle several dozen campers on his land, providing water and basic sanitary facilities.

(After his passing, the 13,000-acre [5260 ha.] ranch was sold: see photos at this real estate agency’s website.)

One May weekend in the 1980s, M. and I took our turn at carefully piloting our ’69 VW Westfalia camper across a ford in the Apishapa River. What was the attraction? An archaeological site — and the 37th degree of north latitude.

apishapa rock art

Apishapa Culture rock art, probably from 1000–1400 CE.

Most of our fellow campers were UFO hunters. A couple were “crusties” who looked like they had crawled out of a Dumpster just long enough for the weekend. For our part, we were excited about a chance to get into a place that is normally closed to outsiders, look for rock art, and just poke around. If the Space Brothers landed, that would be only a bonus.

doveThe organizers had an elaborate esoteric diagram that guided them to the spot, which was on the 37th parallel.

In fact, the idea that Latitude 37° North is a “paranormal freeway” persists:

Chuck [Zukowski] has investigated several cattle mutilations in Southern Colorado over the past few years, and while preparing a talk for a recent UFO conference, he was trying to look for patterns in the places that the mutilations took place. With this on his mind, Colorado had its largest natural earthquake in a century. It was a 5.3 on the Richter scale and centered in the southwest part of the state. Within 15 hours Virginia received one of the largest earthquakes it had ever had as well. It registered as a 5.8. Neither quake caused much damage, but Chuck noticed that they were both near the 37 degree latitude line. He then noticed that his cattle mutilation cases were also near the 37 degree latitude line.

Oh dear. Cattle mutilations. Been there, done that, got the Fate magazine T-shirt. But I can credit the “mutilation” flap for introducing me both to ceremonial magic and newspaper reporting as a job, which is another story.

So what does this all mean? I have no idea. Chuck has speculated that perhaps there are secret military bases in these areas. It is hard to say, and Debbie says she is still in the middle of increased UFO reports.

Yeah, me neither. But I will always be glad that I could walk the bluff along the Apishapa (Ute for “stinking water,” by the way, referring to its late-summer stagnant pools) while the true believers watched for UFOs.

UPDATED TO ADD: I did read Ben Mezrich’s The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth behind America’s UFO Highway. It’s junk. It’s full of basic geographical mistakes, for one thing (“El Paso” is not a city in Colorado, but Mezrich keeps saying that it is). Apparently he wrote it from taped phone calls or something and never visited the places that he writes about — he just takes everything that Zukowski tells him and treats it as gospel.

Magic Earth Lines 1: “Discovering” Ley Lines