On the Dock, Pontifex, We’ve Always Been “D et D”

A study of ancient Roman dockworkers’ bones showed changes in their diet over time as the wealth of Rome declined:

When times were good, the dockworkers of Portus, the maritime port of Imperial Rome, enjoyed a surprisingly diversified diet. But new analysis of ancient animal and human remains — detailed in the journal Antiquity this week — suggests the diets of the city’s working class shifted as Rome fell into decline.

True, I am sure. But the article does not mention the fact that dockworkers historically skimmed off cargo, so I suspect that when “the dockworkers of Portus ate diversified diets featuring animal proteins, imported wheat, olive oil, fish sauce and wine from North Africa,” they were helping themselves to cargo.1)The invention of the “Conex box” and subsequent larger shipping containers certainly reduced casual theft of cargo, but no system is perfect.

As the union dockworker says in the classic movie On the Waterfront (1954), “One thing you’ve got to understand, Father, on the dock we’ve always been ‘D and D.'”

“What’s that?” asks the activist Catholic priest.

“Deaf and dumb.”

Watch the trailer. Then if you have not seen it, find On The Waterfront.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. The invention of the “Conex box” and subsequent larger shipping containers certainly reduced casual theft of cargo, but no system is perfect.

Quick Review: “The Pagan King”

Medieval Pagan Latvians

Some 13th-century Latvian Pagans get the bad news: the  crusading Brothers of the Sword are coming, and their choice will be death, baptism, or both.

My “Pagan-ish” blog tag seems mostly to go to Latvian materials, and here is another one, The Pagan King.

Set in the 13th century, when the Baltic peoples were to be the last Europeans Christianized at sword’s point, it is the story of a young man named king of Semigallia, a region now mostly encompassed by the nation of Latvia.

He does not know it, but his land is the target of one Max von Buxhoeveden (probably based on this bishop), who has gained the pope’s blessing to lead a crusade against the Semigallian Pagans.1)This would probably be Pope Innocent III, who in the movie is capable of carrying out his own poisoning and stabbing — staples of the medieval pagacy — instead of contracting such activities out to professionals.

Namejs, the young king, is called to the throne just as he is about to lead a trading voyage to Constantinople. Without much preparation, he is thrust into a role of negotiating tribal alliances and trying to determine whom he can trust, all the while facing an invasion.2)In other words, 97 percent of human history. His people must adjust from celebrating Midsummer with happy lake-jumping and torch-lit Semigallian football matches (Shirts versus Skins) to all-out war.

In terms of the religion, The Pagan King punts the football, to use American rather than Semingallian rules. Although there is a wonderful sanctuary of standing stones and caves, the script speaks only of “the gods who are within us.” Not even Perkons (Perkunas) is name-checked. On the other hand, Namejs’ wife does appear to speak a little Snakish — is that a Latvian motif?

The costuming and set design seems to be a spin-off of the 2013–2019 History Channel television series Vikings. There are not enough beehives in Semegallia to produce wax for that many candles!!

In this movie, however, keep your eye on characters with the shaven head-plus-long beard “Ragnar Lothbrok” look. They are never what they seem.

Unless you cannot tolerate medieval battle scenes, of which there are several, you should watch The Pagan King. Here is the trailer:

Notes   [ + ]

1. This would probably be Pope Innocent III, who in the movie is capable of carrying out his own poisoning and stabbing — staples of the medieval pagacy — instead of contracting such activities out to professionals.
2. In other words, 97 percent of human history.

Baltic Gothic: A Quick Review of “November”

In rural 19th-century Estonia, as depicted in the film November, people did not merely put out food offerings for the Dead on All Souls Day — they fed them. And talked to them. And if the Dead wished to enjoy a sauna, a fire had already been lit. And then things get weird.

November is a beautifully photographed black-and-while film (with a little infrared too?). Sometimes it is such a series of images that I felt as though I was watching someone’s curated Instagram feed or Tumblr blog, until the snowman started talking or the Devil twisted someone’s neck and took his soul.

Maybe instead of “Baltic Gothic,” we should call it “Estonian Hoodoo.”

Things you will find in November: shapeshifting; wolves; dirty doings at the crossroads; servants who steal from German aristocrats justifying their thefts in the name of Estonian nationalism; people stealing from each other; sleepwalking; the Plague personified as a beautiful woman, a goat, or a pig; lots of folk magic (with some spectacular failures); dreams; visions; love; and death.

The society depicted is nominally Christian but the other elements justify the label Pagan-ish. In fact, it made me think of a novel that I had read, The Man Who Spoke Snakish, which is set in medieval Estonia at the time of Christian crusades against the Baltic Pagans.

Color me surprised. November is based on a novel by Andrus Kivirähk, who wrote The Man Who Spoke Snakish as well. This novel was Rehepapp ehk November (Old Barny aka November), and I am not sure if it has been published yet in an English translation.

If you liked The Man Who Spoke Snakish or the 2015 movie The Witch, you would like this one. Read more reviews at IMDB.com.

Pentagram Pizza with Milky Devotion and Unlikely Polytheism

Is this a case of misplaced devotional offerings? The Tamil Nadu Milk Dealers Association says yes.

• The Live Science news site is not the place where you expect tor read about Norse (or any other) polytheism, but this article strikes a reasonable note.

Icelandic elves again, this time on the BBC. I never get tired of reading this stuff though.

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.