Let’s Have More Writing about Pagan Experience

I used to complain about the dearth of American Pagan biography and autobiography. Michael Lloyd’s Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan and John Sulak’s The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism made a big dent in that, but we could use more.

Meanwhile, we could use more nonfiction writing too!  Currently, much Pagan nonfiction comes in two flavors. First is the how-to-be-a-better-Pagan genre, which has kept Llewellyn in business all these years. I have done my part to contribute to it.

And there is the blogger-ish “Oh, look what a devoted devotional polytheist I am — I spent half a day assembling a playlist for my evening devotions. Here it is!”

What I want to see more of is just good writing on what it feels like to be Pagan. Hence I have come to admire Eric Scott’s writing, including his novella The Lives of the Apostates or this Wild Hunt column on a trance-possession ritual at a Pagan festival last May.

Afterwards, while talking about my friend’s difficulty coming down from the possession of the mask, the ritual’s high priest held mixture of concern and scientific questioning. The masks had been enchanted to deactivate upon removal, a sharp and seamless conclusion to the ritual, but Eris had still been laughing in my friend’s ears at the time she went to bed. The kill-switch had gone awry somehow; something must have been wrong with their masks.

Not “what should you do” but “what was it like?”

Wild Men of Europe

I mentioned Charles Fréger’s book Wilder Mann: The Image Of The Savage three years ago, but here is a magazine article with a selection of the photos.

The article’s author writes,

As it happens, I’ve attended pagan rituals myself, in rural Austria, and I’ve met men who work on their intricate, large, wooden Krampus masks all year long in preparation for the fantastical Krampus “performance” in early December. I mention this as a prelude to explaining that (in my opinion) telling the difference between some authentic pagan belief and just people partaking in a fun pastime isn’t a straightforward proposition. It isn’t that such people are necessarily undertaking such rituals in order appease the earth goddess Erda and improve next year’s crop yield or anything like that, but at the same time I think that participants and spectators alike would agree that everyone is getting something necessary out of it, something communal, something emotional.

Well no, we would not want to think that it was actually religious, would we? On the other hand, indigenous religions don’t require creeds. Some people go to the ceremony for the “something emotional” only, and that’s all right.

Wicker Man, Wicker Masks

One of the Armagh Rhymers’ masks, via The Bosky Man.

At The Bosky Man, Andy Letcher tells how playing a gig at the Ludlow Medieval Fair let him to meet an Irish band whose members perform wearing wicker masks, made by a 90-something-year-old Irish mask-maker who is the last of his kind.

That’s a pity because both invoke an odd, almost indescribable atavistic feeling. It seems to me extremely important that we all should know that feeling first hand, that we should experience it at key moments in our lives and in the yearly round of winter, spring, summer, fall. For whatever else the feeling is, it’s the sense of being brought up sharply against something Other, and you never know, that might just save us from ourselves.

I agree; in fact, I helped to write a book about that subject.

More Pagan than the Pagans

Two videos that surprised Pagan bloggers by their Pagan feel, despite their sources.

1. Via Hecate of Washington, DC, a link to a Vimeo slideshow of the “Rappahanock Halloween Festival” sponsored by the Summerisle Old Dominion Hunt in northern Virginia.

She comments, “How many Pagan Samhein [sic] events have you been to that even come close to this? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how often we Pagans ‘skip’  the elements of ritual that appeal to Younger Child. Maybe we, in the words of the LOLcat posters, R doing it wrong.”

2. From the House of Vines, a link with the comment, “This music video gets it more right than most of the Pagan rituals I’ve been to.”

When I worked with Evan John Jones on the book Sacred Mask, Sacred Dance, I found a passage in the book Ritual Animal Disguise by the British folklorist E.C. Cawte about how school children introduced to masked mumming immediately absorbed the parts of Stag and Dog and so on. It’s all there, just waiting.

It’s Thanksgiving-Put Your Mask On

I have a long-standing interest in masks and masked ritual, going back to when I helped Evan John Jones with Sacred Mask Sacred Dance.

So consider than on the East Coast a century ago, Thanksgiving (or at least the last Thursday in November), rather than Halloween, was the time for masking and trick-or-treating.

Thanksgiving itself was a sort of irregular, off-and-on holiday until it was deliberately fixed to mark the start of the Christmas shopping season during Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.