Season of the Witch(crap), Part 2

Candace Aguilera trained in Guatemala’s jungle (Colorado Springs Independent).

“Season of the Witch(crap), Part 1” here.

Continuing . . .

• One more “high” priestess joke, and you’re out of here. From the Colorado Springs Independent, the weekly that gets all the cannabis advertising because the chain-owned daily paper won’t touch it: “Meet Colorado’s High Priestess of Cannabis.” Yes, it’s that favorite form of American creativity: Let’s start a church!

• The Catholic News Agency views the number of self-proclaimed witches with alarm: “Number of Americans who say they are witches is on the rise.” With video.

• If you dare . . . “Go inside a Wiccan ceremony.” Also with video. Fairly mild sauce, actually.

• It’s the Guardian again: “The season of the witch: how Sabrina and co [sic] are casting their spell over TV.”  “Diverse, digitally savvy and definitely feminist” — yes, that’s all it takes to be a media witch.

• And on public [sic] radio, “When you hear the word ‘witch,’ what does your mind conjure?” Damn, that’s clever writing. This time it’s the 1A show: “Hex in Effect: Why Witches are Back.” (Were we gone? Did I miss that memo?) A teaser for the radio show, which you can listen to if you have unlimited earbuds time.

• On Halloween, Vox.com covered the Sephora witch-kit kerfuffle, which is already old news. “The occult is having a moment. Companies want in, but not if witches can help it.” So much is wrong with this. Is there something measurable called “the occult”?  Sigh. I wanted to list everything Vox gets wrong, I would need a bigger blog. At least The Onion tells you that it is non-serious. Anyway, this one is over.

Maja, photographed by Frances Denny of Brooklyn. Denny is descended from a Salem witch-trial judge of 1692. That qualified her to “explore what it means to be a witch today.”(Daily Mail).

• Ah, those millennials. Now they are “ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology.” I could be snarky and say, “Hey, the Seventies called and they want their headlines back.” Or I could say that this is something that is always going on. Decades. Centuries.

The Daily Mail just goes for the photo shoot. If you don’t look like these “actresses, authors, and a technician,”  are you a real witch?

At least the photographer was inspired by a a worthwhile book, Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692. (What does it say that the Daily Mail cannot even get a book title right?)

Link fixed — sorry.

Don’t go away. There will be more. And guess what is missing from almost all of these articles.

The Pueblo Revolt and Pagan History

Commemorative poster by Kiowa artist Parker Boyiddle Jr. (1947–2007).

Some time in the early 1980s, M. and I were traveling through northern Arizona on one of our VW Bug-and-cheap tent tours, when we stopped for lunch at the Hopi Cultural Center, a/k/a The Cafe at the Center of the Universe.

We could not afford much at the gift shop, but I bought this poster, which commemorates a signal event in the Pagan history of North America — the time in August 1680 when the different Pueblo tribes, separated by language and geography,1)It is at least 350 road miles from Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, where the revolt was planned) to the Hopi villages. Teenage boys ran the distance—an event recreated in 1980. rose up simultaneously, killing Christian priests, destroying churches, and chasing the Spanish settlers back to what is today Mexico.2)The Spanish did, however, come back in the Reconquista of 1692. It is often called the “bloodless” reconquest — as in this somewhat-biased link — but it was not. Calling it the ‘bloodless reconquest” perpetuates the myth that the simple natives welcomed the Catholic priests.

The poster has hung by my desk in three or four different houses.

For a good, sensitive history of the revolt, I recommend David Roberts’ The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion that Drove the Spaniards out of the Southwest.

Two things recently  brought the Pueblo Revolt back to my mind.

For one, last month American blogger Galina Kraskova linked to a Hindu blog, which itself was about “How Japan Dealt with the Christian Threat.” (This followed an earlier post by the same blogger on “Japan’s Defeat of Christianity and Lessons for Hindus.”) In short, during the early 17th century the Japanese shoguns all but eliminated the Catholic Christianity that had been spread by (mainly) Portuguese missionaries among the population. Their tactics included threats, torture, imprisonment, and a sort of  Buddhist Inquisition.3)For the movie version, see Silence, 2016, directed by Martin Scorsese. Now the Japanese approach is endorsed by some Hindus who advocate restricting or eliminating Christian missionary activity in India.

Pottery jar by Virgil Ortiz from “Revolt 1680/2180.”

But back to the Pueblo Revolt, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center has a show up by Virgil Ortiz, an artist from Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, titled “Revolt 1680/2180.” It will be on display through the first week of January 2016, and I must see it.

Ortiz’s Revolt storyline transports the viewer back more than 300 years to the historical events of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt, and then hurtles forward through time to the year of 2180 – introducing a cast of characters along the way. Though the narrative will be largely based on the Revolt 1680/2180 storyline that the artist has been developing for some time, Revolution will focus on the Aeronauts and other main Revolt characters: Po’Pay, Translator and the Spirit World Army, Tahu and her army of Blind Archers, Runners, and Gliders. Set in the future of 2180, the pueblos are in chaos, the invasion of Native land continues, the scourge of war rages everywhere. The Aeronauts summon their fleet and prepare for extreme warfare against the invading Castilian forces. Desperately, the Aeronauts search for any remaining clay artifacts from the battlefields. They know that challenges and persecution will continue, so it is imperative to preserve and protect their clay, culture, language, and traditions from extinction.

If you can be in Colorado Springs over the next three months, the museum is open Tuesday-Sunday.

Notes   [ + ]

1. It is at least 350 road miles from Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan Pueblo, where the revolt was planned) to the Hopi villages. Teenage boys ran the distance—an event recreated in 1980.
2. The Spanish did, however, come back in the Reconquista of 1692. It is often called the “bloodless” reconquest — as in this somewhat-biased link — but it was not. Calling it the ‘bloodless reconquest” perpetuates the myth that the simple natives welcomed the Catholic priests.
3. For the movie version, see Silence, 2016, directed by Martin Scorsese.

You’re Using Too Many Cards and Other Tarot Stuff

You are using too many cards — and too many candles.

The title of this post was inspired by a recent post by Thorn Mooney on Oathbound: “The Celtic Cross is Kind of Terrible.”

Near as anyone can tell, the Celtic Cross comes out of the assorted Golden Dawn materials and was propagated (if not totally invented) by A.E. Waite in the early 20thcentury. Waite was super into the Holy Grail/Celtic religion thing and was, like many of his colleagues, invested in demonstrating how there was a great deal of commonality in the various schools of occult thought, intersecting with ancient religions, etc., etc. Nobody at the time was really above making weak claims as to the antiquity of assorted pieces of occult wisdom, and the Celtic Cross just sort of gently leached into the magical water supply as the tarot’s popularity grew.

Like Thorn, I started with the “little white book (LWB) that listed vague keywords for each card, the usual bullshit history about the totally ancient art of divination with tarot, and instructions on performing a reading with the ubiquitous Celtic Cross spread.

If you want to hear people doing cold readings with three-card spreads, listen to the consultation segments of the Lucky Mojo Hoodoo Rootwork Hour podcasts. You might pick up a few tips on divination — and the card readers almost always all three-card spreads.

Unrelated rant. I was watching the miniseries version of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell recently and, once again, the candles! Were there enough beehives in England to make wax for all those candles? Remember, back then the lighting choices were candles handmade from beeswax, high-end oil lamps burning oil rendered from whale blubber, or simple wick-type lamps burning some kind of animal fat or olive oil. That was all! Petroleum-based lighting did not start in a big way until the 1860s.

But if you watch(ed)  it, give credit to the costumers and set designers. Those were some of the most authentic-looking c.1800 men’s britches I have ever seen. Note how the men’s styles break on generational lines. You are seeing the 17th-18th century fashion of wigs suddenly ending (except in court) in the space of a few years, and also a total change in women’s styles with the Neoclassical revival.

The interior spaces were done well in terms of furniture, colors, and the general level of crime. But too many candles.

Childermass’s Tarot cards were a treat though. Such a level of greasiness!

“A Completely Alien Society”: The Making of “The Wicker Man”

The Wicker Man, made in 1973 and starring Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle, Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie of the West Highland Police, and Britt Ekland as Willow, the Aphrodite Pandemos of Summerisle, is remembered simultaneously as “the best British horror film ever” and one of the favorite movies of the Pagan revival during the 1970s, 1980s, and beyond.

Pagans for the most part emphatically do not view it as  horror film, although some avert their eyes or explain away the last few minutes. Instead, they see Summerisle, the fictional Scottish island setting, not as a “a completely alien society” but as a place where they would very much like to live — or at least go on holiday.

In 1998, to mark its twenty-fifth anniversary, BBC Scotland produced The Wicker Man Enigma,  this half-hour documentary about The Wicker Man’s making and, equally important, its mysterious post-editing existence. Some of the cast were re-interviewed: Lee reads dialogue that was cut from the final version, while Edward Woodward revisits the Scottish hotel where key scenes were filmed, socializing with some of the locals who were extras there in the “Green Man” pub.

Various trivia are examined, such as whether Britt Ekland actually had two nude body doubles rather than one, or whether a complete negative still exists, and how The Wicker Man inverts a common trope of horror films, in which sex leads to death — think of Dracula or any number of “dead teenager” movies.

Our Salem Film Festival

Prompted by J. W. Ocker’s A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts, M. and I held a little Salem film festival. (We skipped The Lords of Salem.)

In order of creation, we watched these three movies:  Three Sovereigns for Sarah (1985), Hocus Pocus (1993), and The VVitch (2015).

(This looks like a bootleg copy, but I wanted this scene. Sorry about the quality.)

Three Sovereigns for Sarah, a three-part PBS documentary, is well-done, using authentic trial testimony in spots. Vanessa Redgrave, playing accused witch Sarah Cloyse, just dominates it — although she has some competition from the young actresses playing the “afflicted” girls. 1)Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

A historical consultant told Ocker, “We had a lot more power on the production than historians usually have on commercial things.” They were even able to nix Alexander Scourby’s casting as a judge, because Scourby would not shave his beard, which was historically inappropriate. Clean-shaven Patrick McGoohan replaced him.

The church meeting house where the Rev. Samuel Parrish holds forth was built for the movie, and like all 17th-century buildings, included recessed fluorescent lighting. OK, that’s a joke. But compared to the moody available-light shooting in The VVitch, Three Sovereigns for Sarah is lit like a TV soap opera, giving a sort of “witchcraft under the microscope” vibe.

On the plus side, it gives you the feel of what happened. And guess what — no one is hung for being an herbalist or a healer. That is romantic mush that started in the 1960s and 1970s. It may make you feel good, but it is not about what happened in 1692 in America — or elsewhere.

Importantly, the film gives Sarah Cloyce a speech in which she explains how neatly the witchcraft accusations matched property disputes in Salem Village. In other words, adults were feeding suggestions to the “afflicted” girls about whom to denounce. That is usually the way it works in “children’s crusades.”

BEELEEVE THE CHILDREN!

Of Hocus Pocus (1993), Ocker observes,

The witches are played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Nijimy in, if not exactly career-defining roles, roles that will probably outlast anything they’ve ever done. There are entire generations of people who know Hocus Pocus, but have no idea about wind, wings, sex, city, hair, or spray.

Yes, but it’s Disney (kids win, witches lose). That is probably why I had no interest in it in 1993, and besides, I had student papers to grade. And Sex and the City will be Parker’s role that I remember.

If Three Sovereigns for Sarah presents a documentary-style take on the 1692 witchcraft panic, The VVitch gives us the imagined European witchcraft of the 16th–17th centuries transplanted to New England, where tiny cleared islands of Christianity struggle to survive up against dark walls of savage forests, In that, it echoes some of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s spookier fiction, in which he dips from the same well.

But it’s a horror movie, so the central character witch is herself a teenager, not a mature woman. Of course you have your pact with the devil, the Witches’ Sabbat, spectral flight, possession, and Black Phillip, the goat who is more than a goat. In lighting, costuming, and general atmosphere, it is the best of the three. Unlike the other two, it was not filmed partly in or near Salem but near Kiosk, Ontario, in order to get the best cinematic forests.

Also, it gives me a segue into talking about Nathaniel Hawthorne and witchcraft, coming up.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Sarah Cloyce is depicted . . . differently . . . by Nathaniel Hawthorne. I am coming to that.

Mystery Deity in Hitler Hex

Chief hexer Ted Caldwell intones an incantation. On the right, in dark shirt and tie, is author William Seabrook. Thomas McAvoy, Time-LIfe.

Today the Internet served me “Putting a Hex on Hitler: LIFE Goes to a ‘Black Magic’ Party.”

For background, you have to know that the pictorial weekly news magazine Life had a regular feature called “Life Goes to a Party” — and many of these parties featured big-name musicians — Time-Life’s music division sold albums of the associated tunes. My parents had a boxed set, divided by decades: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and so on.

“The occult ceremony climaxes as hexers hammer nails into the heart and throat of the image of Hitler,” LIFE reported. “The hexers called on the pagan deity, Istan, to transmit the image’s wounds to the flesh of the living Hitler . . . chanting in unison: ‘We are driving nails and needles into Adolf Hitler’s heart!'”

Istan??

With reporter and photographer on hand, this ceremony is better attested than the alleged Lammas 1940 ritual by English witches that was supposed to turn back a threatened German invasion.

The south coast of England was a worried place in the summer of 1940. France had fallen, leading to the Dunkirk evacuation (now a major motion picture that I have not seen), and also to France and Britain abandoning their assistance to Norway, which Nazi Germany had invaded in April 1940.

Even Gerald Gardner had joined the Home Guard, a force of lightly armed volunteers prepared to fight and die along the coast when the expected German invasion crossed the Channel.1)Conventional military historians suggest that the Germans cancelled their invasion plans because (a) Hitler really wanted to invade the Soviet Union more than the UK and (b) the British Royal Navy was still powerful and capable of disrupting the invasion.

Gardner himself is the main source for that story. His museum collaborator, Cecil Williamson, wrote a magazine article on British witchcraft in 1952 that also mentions it, but he had been working with Gardner for a couple of years at that point, and Gardner may have been his principal or only source. Doreen Valiente, who was not there either, said the rite was worked on May Eve 1940, at the two following full Moons, and at Lammas.2)My source here is Aidan Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964. Or did the story just grow in the telling?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Conventional military historians suggest that the Germans cancelled their invasion plans because (a) Hitler really wanted to invade the Soviet Union more than the UK and (b) the British Royal Navy was still powerful and capable of disrupting the invasion.
2. My source here is Aidan Kelly’s Crafting the Art of Magic, Book I: A History of Modern Witchcraft, 1939-1964.

“The Love Witch” — “Twin Peaks” Meets “Bell, Book and Candle”

Photo: Anna Biller Productions.

Last November, Peg Aloi of The Media Witches reviewed The Love Witch under the deadline, “Why Real Witches Are Going to Love (or Maybe Hate) the Love Witch.”

A pagan friend I watched the film with was shocked and called it “irresponsible and potentially damaging.” His concern is not unreasonable; the film’s portrayal of witches could easily be misinterpreted by viewers whose understanding of modern witchcraft is grounded in horror film imagery.

Its almost satirical air and its wooden dialog give it a period feel, the period being the mid-1960s to 1970s, the era of Rosemary’s Baby or The Trip — an earlier highpoint of Occult Revival. (Is it the classic Ford Mustang in the opening scene?)

But to me, it felt like Bell, Book and Candle (1958, female witch obsessed with love) meets Twin Peaks (1990–1991, detective in over his head, mysterious goings-on, red draperies) with additional dialog by Gerald Gardner.

Put The Love Witch on the list for when you and your fellow cultists get together for Semi-serious Occult Move Night.

I Lived in Magic: A Video Biography of Oberon Zell

Produced and directed by Danny Yourd (Animal Studio), this meditative interview with Oberon Zell (co-founder of the Church of All Worlds and the man who put “Neo-Pagan” into the American religious vocabulary in the 1970s) is a valuable piece of American Pagan history. (It can also be viewed at the Vimeo site.)

Interspersed with video clips from the 1970s, 1980s, and on to the present — including the quixotic New Guinea mermaid quest — it pivots on his relationship with his life partner, the late Morning Glory Zell. (Their lives are also examined in John Sulak’s  The Wizard and the Witch: Seven Decades of Counterculture, Magick & Paganism, which might be the best inside look at the American Pagan scene ever written.)

Oberon reflects on his life, on his loss of Morning Glory, but he is not giving up. “Don’t let it die,” were among her last words, and so the grey-haired wizard carries on. I know that he will do so until he is gone, and something like the mythic cry of Merlin is heard in the redwoods of California.

Books and Movies for a Pagan Mindset

I have been thinking that I needed to add a new category of reviews — not just books etc. deliberately focused on Paganism (which to my mind automatically includes polytheism), but those that promote a Pagan mindset without coming out and saying it.

Go ahead and say it: Pagan-ish.

My first candidate is a movie from last year, Captain Fantastic, starring Vigo Mortensen. Oh, there some hints — check out his necklace. But it is all done in a low-key, positive way.

Review: “The Sisterhood of Night”


Pagan film critic Peg Aloi has interesting things to say about a new movie, The Sisterhood of Night.

Not only does it have the traditional element of teenage girls, secrets, and occultism (see, not coincidentally, Salem, Mass., 1692) but there is a social-media element too:

The film cleverly allows us to speculate for a bit about the rumor mill’s potential accuracy, and to wonder at social media’s shocking failure as a networking tool when one simply decides to stop using it.

The movie has a Facebook page too.

Teenage boys, of course, are never ever interested in this stuff.