I Am Interviewed about “My Magical Thing”

Julian Vayne, author of a number of books on articles on psychedelia, esoteric matters, and occulture, has a series on YouTube called “My Magical Thing,” These are short interviews with other occulture-types to discuss some object that has a special meaning to them, either of its own nature or the story of how they came to have it.

Julian interviewed me in June, and I wanted to be outside so that I could have a supporting cast of broad-tailed hummingbirds. They don’t show up too well though, and there was glare in a face. . . oh well.

“The Woman Who Inspired Wicca”

This popped up on Twitter recently:

There is no conference that I know of, which may say something about how small a set of academics are interested in Wiccan history. Maybe we Pagan-studies types do not have anything new to say right now, because this issue has been covered pretty well. The debunking of Murray’s claims was underway in the 1960s by such historians as Elliot Rose  (A Razor for a Goat: A Discussion of Certain Problems in the History of Witchcraft and Diabolism) and Norman Cohn (Europe’s Inner Demons).

In my own experience, I would say that by about 1980, Wiccan elders were quietly beginning to abandon the Murray-ite thesis of unbroken ancient Pagan religion lasting to the 17th century or later.

Leave it to First Things, a Catholic-leaning magazine on religious issues, to weigh in on the upcoming centenary, which deserves to be noted.

While Margaret Murray was by no means a founder or adherent of Wicca, the religion to which her writings gave birth, The Witch-Cult in Western Europe inspired the now global phenomenon of neopaganism. There can be no doubt that Murray had a brilliant scholarly imagination—too brilliant, perhaps, for the serious flaws in her reasoning to be seen by many. While few Wiccans and neopagans now believe literally that their religion has existed since prehistory, Murray’s legacy persists in the strange idea that witchcraft was a religion, an idea long since debunked by historians of witchcraft. It is ironic that this idea, devised by a feminist historian, often eclipses the reality that the accusation of witchcraft was a misogynistic construct weaponized against innocent women. Murray’s unsubstantiated claim that these women practiced a secret pagan religion was, ultimately, a calumny against the victims of a dark era of misogynistic violence.

Read the whole thing here: “The Woman Who Inspired Wicca” by Francis Young.

“Goblins, Goat-Gods, and Gates”: Weird Studies does “Hellier”

I wrote about my encounter with 2019’s take-off[[It doesn’t seem right for say “went viral” right now, don’t you think?))paranormal web series hit Hellier in this post, “Don’t Follow the Lights across the Moor, said the Monk.”

Now my favorite podcasters, J. F. Martel and Phil Ford of Weird Studies, have produced the episode on Hellier and related things — with them, there will always be related things. Usually they send me to the library website with a bunch of interlibrary-loan requests.

It is called “Goblins, Goat-Gods, and Gates.” And you see will that there is a references list.

The podcasters write:

On the night before this episode of Weird Studies was released, a bunch of folks on the Internet performed a collective magickal working. Prompted by the paranormal investigator Greg Newkirk, they watched the final episode of the documentary series Hellier at the same time — 10:48 PM EST — in order to see what would happen. Listeners who are familiar with this series, of which Newkirk is both a protagonist and a producer, will recall that the last episode features an elaborate attempt at gate opening involving no less than Pan, the Ancient Greek god of nature. If we weren’t so cautious (and humble) in our imaginings, we at Weird Studies might consider the possibility that this episode is a retrocausal effect of that operation. In it, we discuss the show that took the weirdosphere by storm last year, touching on topics such as subterranean humanoids, the existence of “Ascended Masters,” Aleister Crowley’s secret cipher, the Great God Pan, and the potential dangers of opening gates to other worlds … or of leaving them closed.

No, I haven’t listened to it yet. Weird Studies episodes are saved for long drives, and M. and I are going to the city tomorrow.

“The Witches of Manitou”—More than an Urban Legend

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs

The old spa town of Manitou Springs, located in the foothills west of Colorado Springs. Photo by Mark Reis, ( a former newspaper co-worker of mine) from the Colorado Sun. Click to embiggen.

The Colorado Sun, an online news site, dropped this into my inbox yesterday, giving M. and me both giggles and epic nostalgia. Back in the Eighties, we were “The Witches of Manitou” — at least two of them.

“The Witches of Manitou Springs: History, hysteria and wand-waving Wiccans behind a stubborn urban myth” was co-authored by , and

It begins,

Manitou Springs, a picturesque mountain town nestled in the shadow of Pikes Peak, is full of whispers of witches and witchcraft.

Maybe you’ve heard it from an Uber driver on the way to an area bar or while scrolling through a travel site. It’s a tale that often wanders through word of mouth. Wherever it comes from, legend has it there are witches in Manitou Springs. More, perhaps, than usual.

But is there an overabundance of witches in this town at the foot of America’s mountain, where at least one apothecary sells miniature broomsticks — or is it just a persistent urban legend?

That much is true. It definitely is a persistent urban legend — I encountered it in my more youthful days, circa 1976. Everybody had heard of ceremonies in “the big cave.”1)Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.

There’s the horror mockumentary, “The Warning,” a film by Summer Moore, a Liberty High School graduate turned filmmaker. Filmed in Colorado Springs, “The Blair Witch Project”-inspired script follows three friends as they investigate a local cult in the forest that borders the town.

While promoting her film in 2015, Moore told The Gazette she spoke with 50 of her classmates who alluded to “true accounts” of dark happenings in Manitou. Moore went on to write, produce, and star in her film. . . .

When Bryant T. Ragan, a history professor at Colorado College, was teaching a class at Colorado College in 2018 titled “Sorcery, Magic, and Devilry: The History of Witchcraft,” he wanted to bring in a practicing Wiccan from Manitou Springs to talk to his students. He ultimately couldn’t track down someone willing to do it

Read the whole thing.

Obviously a must-see. How did I miss it? (The cave in the movie trailer is not the cave that I mentioned above.)

I can say that for a time there was the Iron Mountain Coven, named for the little peak above our house, labeled at the left edge of the photo above.

We used both the second-floor of the Spa Building (labeled) and the basement of an art gallery for ritual/festival/handfasting sites. At the time, a Pagan-friendly couple operated a hot tub and flotation tank-rental business in the Spa Building, which included a large room facing out over the avenue. When ritual ended, the tubs were waiting.2)There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

But I disagree with the Rev. Thorian Shadowalker, Wiccan leader. Salem, Mass., is the “witch capital of the U.S.” as far as I am concerned.

M. worked at Celebration, the West Side (Colorado Springs) metaphysical store mentioned in the article, for a couple of years. Its original owner, Coreen Toll, later served on the Manitou Springs city council and narrowly lost a race for mayor in 2015.

Current mayor John Graham, when he published the Pikes Peak Journal, let me use his equipment to typeset Iron Mountain: A Journal of Magical Religion, which was an ancestor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. John is not a Pagan, but he facilitated Pagan publishing.

So where did the “witches of Manitou” legend originate? Since it was firmly in place by the mid-1970s, it would be easy to blame it on “the Sixties.” To be honest, I cannot say. I do know that our coven was not the first.

To quote a story about the iconic Manitou artist Charles Rockey, who was our own Van Gogh, “Manitou Springs has always harbored a sizeable community of artisans, musicians, potters, healers, New Age masseurs, alternative gardeners, dharma motorcyclists, metaphysical high-techers and liberal-artsy bohemians of every stripe and hue.”

UPDATE 25 March 2020: The Wild Hunt interviewed me for their follow-up story, “The Witches of Manitou Springs and Their Tale of Two Cities.

Notes

↑ 1. Actually, it was an abandoned limestone quarry, and it definitely was a site of high-school keg parties and that sort of thing. It was demolished when an upscale housing development was built in that area.
↑ 2. There was a separate legend about the “old Indian curse” on the Spa Building, which does have a soda spring in its lobby.

“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

↑ 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.

Witchcraft Cycles and the Official Witch of LA

“Official Witch” Louise Huebner with Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, late 1960s.

Jason Mankey’s Raise the Horns blog (in the sidebar) carries his look back over the previous decade, “Paganism & Witchcraft in the 2010’s.” I urge you to read it.

I would like to add just a little bit of nuance to one passage:

Until recently Modern Witchcraft was generally tied into some sort of spiritual system. Most of the self-identified Witches I knew twenty years ago talked at least a little about the sabbats or maybe “the Goddess.” Today that’s no longer really the case and “Witchcraft” seems to be associated more simply with just “magic.” There are some who will argue that it’s always been that way, but I disagree. Books on Witchcraft emphasized a variety of different things, a lot of today’s Witchcraft simply focuses on magickal practice.

Apparently I am one who disagrees, because it feels like we are swinging back to the 1960s–1970s, when there were books out on witchcraft that had nothing to do with Wicca; in fact, few people have ever heard of Wicca. But everyone has heard of witchcraft.

To continue ….

I interviewed Amanda Yates Garcia recently and read her book, much of her story was familiar to me because we are of a similar age, however . . . With the exception of Michael Hughes I didn’t know any of the people who blurbed her book (rare for me in the Witch-world), and I’m pretty sure Yates Garcia and I have never been to the same event. That’s not a knock on her (or I hope, me), just an example of the two parallel Witchcraft worlds that exist today. She’s operating in a different sphere than I am on Patheos and at Llewellyn, and that’s OK, but it seems more common today than it did 20 years ago.

Here again,we have cycled around. Amanda Yates Garcia immediately reminded me of Louise Huebner (1930–2014), who got herself named Official Witch of Los Angeles County in 1968. Here is her story how how it happened.

She claimed to have learned witchcraft from her mother and grandmother. Someone has put her 1969 album Seduction through Witchcraft up on YouTube, so you can experience it yourself. Different media, same shtick, am I right?

“A lot of today’s Witchcraft simply focuses on magickal practice”? That is true and probably will continue to be true.

Have We Indeed Reached “Peak Witch”?

I doubt it. But that is the kind of significant question that the New York Times is asking during Witchcraft and Paganism Media Month: “When Did Everybody [sic] Become a Witch?

Witches are influencers who use the hashtag #witchesofinstagram to share horoscopes, spells and witchy memes, and they are anti-Trump resistance activists carrying signs that say “Hex the Patriarchy” (also the title of a new book of spells) and “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.”

Witches are panelists, they are podcasters, they are members of The Wing (which calls itself a “coven”), they are in-house residents at swanky Manhattan hotels and some might say that one is even a presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. (Alyssa Milano, of “Charmed” fame, recently fund-raised for Williamson. Coincidence?)

Wait a minute, I thought that Marianne Williamson was a Jewish New-Ager. It is so confusing.

There are some interesting links here though.

It’s October, and You Know What That Means: Media!

It’s in this issue.

At The New Yorker, they have discovered that astrology is back. In never leaves, actually — ask the people at Llewellyn —but new media interest is cyclical as the Moon. Maybe it is just astrology’s “growth” on social media that gets noticed.

In July, I was ushered into a glass-enclosed conference room on the sixth floor of a building in Tribeca to meet with Banu Guler, the thirty-one-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of the astrology app Co-Star, whose Web site promises to allow “irrationality to invade our techno-rationalist ways of living.” Guler is a casting director’s idea of a tech executive. She is a vegan who used to design punk zines and was a bike messenger until she got into “a gnarly car wreck.” She has cropped hair, a septum piercing, and a tattoo of Medea on the back of one leg. Why Medea? I asked. “Witchcraft,” she explained. A copy of Liz Greene’s “Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet” lay between us. Guler hasn’t read it, but it’s been on her Goodreads list forever.

That is a little stomach-turning, in that Liz Greene is one of the best astrologers out there. When I decided that I was less into astrology than in previous years, I got rid of most of my books — except for Liz Greene’s and Robert Hand’s.

Maybe Guler needs a tattoo of Media, not Medea.

Margot Adler’s Old Radio Station Shuts Down

Margot Adler, 1946–2014

Well-known Pagan writer Margot Adler worked for National Public Radio, but she also had a presence at  Pacifica’s WBAI in New York City, where she hosted a talk show called “Hour of the Wolf.”

The show continued after her death, but no more: WBAI has shut down. Apparently the “listener-supported” thing no longer worked for them. And their website links to articles about Margot no longer work either.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the station had been a platform for the counterculture, broadcasting everything from Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” to George Carlin’s “Filthy Words.”

More recently, it hit financial turbulence, laying off nearly two-thirds of its staff in August 2013. In November of that year, musicians including Pete Seeger staged a benefit concert for WBAI at the Cutting Room.

In March 2014, after falling $1.8 million behind on rent in the Empire State Building, the station received an emergency loan to prevent the building’s holding company from seizing its assets. It then relocated to 4 Times Square.

Pacifica said Monday it would relaunch WBAI once it’s able to create “a sustainable financial structure for the station.” Until then, it said WBAI’s signal would carry “a network source called Pacifica Across America.”

“Out of the Broom Closet” — American Wicca in the late 1980s

Valdosta State University in Georgia has digitized and posted two videos by Wiccan journalists Malcolm Brenner and Lezlie Kinyon. (That is Brenner’s voice-over narration.)

This one, Out of the Broom Closet, was released in 1991 from video shot in the preceding years.

This documentary begins with a protest of Z. Budapest speaking about witchcraft at the St. Theresa Public Library in San Jose, California on July 12, 1986. What follows are formal and informal interviews of Pagan leaders explaining what Wicca is, how the general public has a misconception of what witchcraft is, and why it is important for practitioners to come “Out of the Broom Closet” to educate the public.

It and much more are cataloged in VSU’s  New Age Movements, Occultism and Spiritualism Research Library (NAMOSRL), created by librarian Guy Frost.