Pagan film critic/professor Peg Aloi looks at 2022’s offerings and concludes,”This year was a veritable sparkly cornucopia of weird, witchy, wonderful films and TV steeped in occult and pagan imagery and storylines.”
This was number one:
You Won’t Be Alone (2022, dir. Goran Stolevski) This gorgeous film (a Sundance 2022 premiere) set in Eastern Europe in the 19th century is a stunning debut by Australian/Macedonian filmmaker Goran Stolevski. It follows a young woman raised by a witch (drawn from a folklore legend) and the ways she learns about nature and humanity by inhabiting the bodies of different people. It’s a gorgeous exploration of empathy and the possibilities and limits of human existence. With a fine international cast (including Lamb’s Noomi Rapace and Beautiful Creatures’ Alice Englert), lyrical cinematography and a beguiling soundtrack, this was my favorite film of the year. (Full review in The Arts Fuse) (streaming/rental on Prime, AppleTV, Vudu, etc.)
The plot of The Northman is very straightforward, as no-nonsense as a spear hurtling towards your face (and we see plenty of those in this film): loosely based on the tale of Amleth as recorded in the 12th-century Gesta Danorum by Saxo Grammaticus, it’s a revenge narrative of a young Scandinavian prince looking to kill his uncle, the man responsible for the treacherous act of fratricide/regicide by killing the prince’s father, the rightful king.
Pagan historian Tom Rowsell was dubious at first after movies, TV series, and games created what he calls “a wave of Viking invasions of popular media, many of which, including History Channel’s Vikings series and the Assassins creed Valhalla video game, copy the ‘biker Viking aesthetic.'”
I consider this to be the best Viking film ever made and I expect it will be remembered as such for some time. But while I had hoped this would mark the long awaited end of the biker Viking-age aesthetic which has so permeated popular culture over the last decade, its tawdry mark can still be detected. Not so much in the costumes, but more in regards to the colour palette and score – the former consists of the rather familiar Hollywood medieval drabness with which historical dramas consistently deny the era’s vibrance. The score, while competently composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough, and effective in keeping the adrenaline pumping while the blood flows across the screen, will date the film since it owes much to the recently invented percussion driven fusion of neo-folk, world-music and martial-industrial that has become the stereotypical “le Viking music” of our time. Widely perceived as authentic because it uses medieval instruments, the combination of far flung elements such as didgeridoos, Siberian drums and Mongolian throat singing would have been as unfamiliar to Vikings as it was to anyone before the likes of Hagalaz Runedance and Wardruna invented it some 20 years ago.
These are, however, minor quibbles with an expertly crafted film which is well cast, with actors pulling off some phenomenal performances (Nicole Kidman deserves particular praise for her role as the detestable Queen Gudrún). Eggers is certainly among the greatest filmmakers of his generation and regardless of how well The Northman performs at the box office . . . it will be remembered as a cult classic of cinema history.
“Tam Lin,” Child Ballad 39Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected. is a traditional song about a young man who takes up with the Queen of Faery and his mortal girlfriend, “fair Janet,” who fights for his return, intercepting the fairies’ ride on Halloween and pitting her love against their magic:
They’ll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an esk and adder;
But hold me fast, and fear me not, I am your bairn’s father.
They’ll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold;
But hold me fast, and fear me not, As ye shall love your child.
Again they’ll turn me in your arms To a red het gaud of airn;
But hold me fast, and fear me not, I’ll do to you nae harm.
A Musical Interlude
Here is a stripped-down version from Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, performing in Toronto in 2013:
Here is the great German neofolk band Faun’s version, in German with English subtitles, featuring an actual hurdy-gurdy for that 16th-century “big band” sound.
You will hear their version of “Tam Lin” in the 1970 movie Tam Lin (also titled The Ballad of Tam Lin or in one version, The Devil’s Widow). It starred Ava Garder (47 or 48 at the time) as Michaela “Mickey” Cazaret”; Ian McShane, 27, as “Tom Lynn,” her current boy-toy — one of a very long series — and Stephanie Beacham, 22, as Janet.
Plus a large cast of long-haired bellbottoms-wearing young people as the equivalent of the Fairy Crew, both a pleasure-seeking “light” version and a more violent “dark” contingent. The director was Roddy McDowell, better-known for his roles in the Planet of the Apes series.
I will return the question of disparate ages later.
The Gentry Doing Weird Things in the Big House
Isn’t that the favorite trope of British horror films? The action may start in the city, as does Tam Lin, but the real weirdness is at the country estate where the lord/lady of the manor is a secret Satanist, Pagan, sex magician, Reptilian, whatever. One of my favorites is The Lair of the White Worm (1988), but there are So Many Others.
In this movie, once Tam Lin is at the big house, events pretty well follow the ballad’s narrative, with new characters added. He meets Janet (the vicar’s daughter) at Carterhaugh. Sex ensues. She becomes pregnant. He wants to leave his older mistress — but she is not going to make it easy for him, not at all.
The “Carter” Confusion
As an American, I did not have a map of the Scottish Lowlands in my head. When I read the lyrics for the electric-folk band Steeleye Span’s version of “Tam Lin” (Steeleye Span was also in heavy rotation at the covenstead in those days.), they said,
Oh, I forbid you maidens all
That wear gold in your hair
To come or go by Carter Hall
For young Tam Lin is thereTam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.
But “Carter Hall”? To me, that was a brand of pipe tobacco that I saw on store shelves, named for a plantation in northern Virginia.For the record, my Clifton ancestors apparently got off the boat in Surry County Virginia, on the James River, and did not own anything that qualifies as a “hall.” That is in America, not Scotland, but maybe there was another? (Not according to Google.)
Some Scots speakers have a way of dropping final “L” sounds, so “ball” becomes “ba,” for example, and thus “Carter Hall” and “Carterhaugh” would sound about the same. So some English folksinger could hear “Carterhaugh” and think that “Carter Hall” was the “correct” wording. The so-called correction introduced a new scribal error. This happens more than you realize.
I read that as a kid and totally got it “wrong.” I wanted little Kai to live with the Snow Queen. She was magnetic and amazing, and who was pious little Greta coming to drag him away?
And Ava Gardner? In 1966, three years before she made Tam Lin, she tried for the part of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, in which “a disillusioned college graduate [Dustin Hoffman] finds himself torn between his older lover and her daughter.”
Nevertheless, the message from pop culture, whether ballad or film, is the same: “Youth must triumph.” But older lovers have some power too, particularly if they are supernatural figures.
The Wisdom of Traditional Ballads
When I lived in Boulder, Colorado, I had a friend named Michael. A decade earlier, Michael had run a small speciality store downtown (before Pearl Street became a pedestrian mall) with another guy whom I will call W.
It seems that W. was in a relationship with an older woman. This woman had an 18-year-old daughter. W., being young and horny, went to bed with the daughter too.
When the mother found out, this did not turn into a porn-movie scenario. Oh no, this was real life.
In Michael’s words, the term “went ballistic” failed to describe the mother’s reaction.
It sounds like the closing verses of one version of the ballad “Tam Lin,” in fact:
Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And an angry woman was she:
“Shame betide her ill-far’d face,
And an ill death may she die,
For she’s taen awa the bonniest knight
In a’ my companie.”
“But had I kend, Tam Lin,” she says,
‘What now this night I see,
I wad hae taen out thy twa grey een,
And put in twa een o tree.”
Say what? Tim/Otter/Oberon Zell, who pushed “Neo-Pagan” as a religious designator in the pages of Green Egg, was still a little boy then, and that influential Pagan zine was almost two decades in the future.
So herein lies a tale and also a connection to the “tiki bar” craze, which has now become retro-cool.
For this research I thank Scott Simpson, co-editor of Equinox Publishing’s books series on “Contemporary and Historical Paganism,” who made some connections after prowling through Library of Congress databases.
He noted the line about “Bird of Paradise” fashions (the necklace would cost about $20 in today’s money) and linked it to a movie that premiered that year,Bird of Paradise, starring Debra Paget as “Kalua,” an “island princess.”Note that her name is only an “h” away from the name of the popular Mexican coffee liqueur, introduced in 1936. Perhaps it was the writer’s drink of choice.
So this is one of those “Will the princess be thrown in the volcano to appease the angry gods?” movies that used to be popular. Cultural anthropologists are welcome to cringe now. You can watch it on YouTube.
Some people had good wartime memories involving fruity drinks with umbrellas in them and tropical sunsets.
My stepmother lost her first husband, a young Navy ensign, when a German submarine sank his ship in 1942. But two years later she was in Honolulu, working as some general’s secretary, and filling a photo album of pictures of friends sitting around tables full of drinks with umbrellas in them, not to mention a lot of shots on the theme of “Me and Colonel So-and-So at the beach.”
She was not adverse to visiting Trader Vic’s either in later years.
What interests me now though is that “neopagan” was enough in the American vocabulary that it could be used in advertising copywriting! I think of advertising language because I spent a year in my early twenties as a copywriter in an ad agency. It was the English major’s equivalent of being drafted. And did it envoke angry volcano gods, semi-nude Polynesian girls, and rum drinks?
Scott Simpson found some other earlier uses of it (besides the G. K. Chesteron one that I already knew about). For instance, a group of young “creatives” at Cambridge University was using it c. 1908, including the artist Gwen Ravarat and the poet Rupert Brooke.
“But the New-Pagans seem to have had no real spiritual direction. The members went on long coutry walks and slept under canvas, but they made no serious attempt to restore the Pagan religions.”Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick, A History of Pagan Europe(London: Routledge, 1995), 216.
The Witch of Kings Cross, a documentary on the life of Australian artist and witch Rosaleen Norton (1917–1979), directed by Sonia Bible, is being premiered in Paris as part of L’Estrange Festival. Often described as Australia’s “most persecuted artist,” Norton blended art and magic in a way often called “demonic,” at least in the 1950s and 1960s.
This was an earlier trailer for the film’s crowdfunding campaign, and you can see the Australian occult writer Nevil Drury talkiing about about her:
In 2010, The Pomegranate published an article by Drury titled “The Magical Cosmology of Rosaleen Norton.” This one is not free, but you can read the abstract here, and if you know a librarian or two, maybe they can get it for you.
Influenced by a range of visionary traditions, including Kundalini Yoga, Kabbalah, medieval Goetia and the Thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, Norton embraced a magical perspective that would today be associated with the so-called ‘Left-Hand Path’, although this term was not one she used to describe her work or philosophy. Norton’s artistic career began in the 1940s, with publication of some of her earliest occult drawings, and reached a significant milestone in 1952 when the controversial volume The Art of Rosaleen Norton – co-authored with her lover, the poet Gavin Greenlees – was released in Sydney, immediately attracting a charge of obscenity. Norton rapidly acquired a media-led reputation as the wicked ‘Witch of Kings Cross’, was vilified by journalists during the 1950s and 1960s, and was branded by many as demonic. But Norton’s magical approach was not entirely ‘dark’. Her perception that the Great God Pan provided a source of universal vitality led her to revere Nature as innately sacred, and in many ways she can be regarded as a significant forerunner of those Wiccans and Goddess worshippers from a later generation who would similarly embrace the concept of sacred ecology and seek to ‘re-sacralize’ the Earth.
“Where life comes out of an espresso machine.” Rosaleen Norton pops up in this short film about her neighborhood in Sydney, done in that classic mid-century style with a narrator who sounds like he stepped over from a cop show.
One of the last films made by the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) was Dreams, which he wrote himself, based on his own dreams. It premiered in Cannes in 1990 to “a polite but muted reception.”
As a Pagan, I notice that it opens and closes with processions, which I think are the most elementary form of ritual, more basic even than ritual circles. The first procession, however, is not meant for human eyes. It is a wedding procession of the “foxes” (Japanese, kitsune). I am no expert on Japanese lore, but they seem in what I have read to act a lot like the Fair Folk. When a little boy witnesses their procession, he is in big trouble.
Here is an excerpt from “Kitsune Wedding,” and you can get the whole movie from Netflix or elsewhere.
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.
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.
Oooh, scary Pagans! We spend a lot of time with the curtains drawn, gazing at candles, right. We wear black robes . . . Seriously, there is some good stuff here:Pagans, a short documentary.
To tell the story of the dramatic rise of neo-paganism in America, though, you quickly run into a roadblock. “No two pagans seem to agree on the same definition” of paganism, Iqbal Ahmed, who spent two years researching a large community of pagans in Southern California for his short documentary Pagans, told me. Because of this confusion, Ahmed said, “it’s no wonder that relatively informed laypeople might have still have misconceptions about paganism.”
In fact, Ahmed came to the world of paganism with his own set of preconceived notions. “Paganism conjured images of ’80s films about satanic cults,” he said. “I envisioned blood rituals, pentagrams, and hedonism.” Pagans, which is featured on The Atlantic today, aims to dispel some of this haze. By focusing on an intimate community of pagans who live within 200 miles of one another and often worship together, Ahmed’s film showcases paganism’s diversity of people and beliefs. “I found pagans of every ilk,” Ahmed said. Among his film’s subjects are teachers, social workers, and PTA members who engage in various pre-Christian practices steeped in ceremony and superstition.
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.
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.
That is Tiger as in Tiger tank, not the big cat. This is a World War II movie. If you don’t like war movies, stop. If you are the kind who reacts with “T-34s in the mud. Cool!” then keep reading.
After an engagement with the Germans in which a Red Army armored unit is mostly destroyed, a Russian driver is found in his tank, badly burned but still alive. He makes a miraculous recovery but loses his memory—he remembers his military skills but forgets his name, personal history, and so forth.
He also talk to tanks. In one scene, he walks along a line of railroad flatcars carrying damaged Red Army tanks to the rear, and each one tells him, somehow, how it was knocked out.
A seemingly invincible German Tiger tank is wreaking havoc with Russian units, and the mysterious driver is given command of an upgraded T-34 and told to locate and destroy “the White Tiger.” Naydënov, the driver, believes that the Tank God warns him when he is in danger, and he also comes to think that the White Tiger is itself animated, not needing a human crew. Although he eventually engages and damages the White Tiger, it escapes.
After the German surrender, a Russian officer finds Naydënov still hunting the White Tiger. He tells the tanker that the war over now. To quote Wikipedia,
But Naydënov disagrees, saying that the war will not truly end until the White Tiger is destroyed. Naydënov believes the White Tiger has gone into hiding and has been recovering from its wounds since their last battle. He claims it will return in several decades unless it is completely destroyed. Naydënov then vanishes along with his tank, seemingly into thin air.
At this point the movie becomes strange. In our normal linear history, Adolf Hitler is dead by then, but the final scene is a monologue between Hitler and some shadowy figure, sitting in an elegant office, in which the German leader talks about the “eternal struggle,” how all of Europe inwardly wanted Nazi German to attack the USSR, and how war is the normal human state.
It’s like additional dialog by Julius Evola. “The blood of the heroes is closer to God than the ink of the philosophers and the prayers of the faithful” — that kind of thing.
Considering that this is a Russian movie, it is the kind of twist that makes me wonder sometimes that although Germany lost the physical-plane war against the USSR, if it did not win on some other plane of existence. Eternal struggle . . .