The Siberian band Otken — check out their YouTube channel.
(Thanks for a friend here in the Hardscrabble country.)
A Pagan Studies Blog by Chas S. Clifton
The Siberian band Otken — check out their YouTube channel.
(Thanks for a friend here in the Hardscrabble country.)
In the spring of 2018, M. and I were preparing for a week in Salem, Mass., so we watched several movies about Salem, witch trials, etc. One of them was The Witch, directed by Robert Eggers.
At the time, I had more to say about Three Sovereigns for Sarah, but I will admit that visually and experientially, The Witch stayed with me longer.
Now Eggers is back with a new “Viking blockbuster,” The Northman, and people are talking about it.
At Amor et Mortem, Anna Uroševic starts her review,
You know that a newly released film has made quite an impact on you when, hours after you’ve left the theater, you obsessively muse upon its indelible imagery and the effect of the moviegoing experience is all you seem capable of discussing with family and friends. In fact, you’re filled with missionary-level zeal in urging people you care about to go see the film as a matter of vital importance. . . .
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.'”
But his blog post “The Northman: Pagan Themes Explained” sings The Northman’s praises after studying its Pagan elements, even while still faulting its color scheme:
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.
At the British newspaper The Guardian, TV-film critic Steve Rose’s whiskers are quivering over the possibility that The Wrong People might like the The Northman too much — but then here is someone who thinks that Jane Austen’s novels credibly could be used as vehicles of far-right propaganda. The costuming of the leading characteer, Skarsgård, reminds Rose uncomfortably of Jake Angeli, the “QAnon shaman,” who had his fifteen minutes of fame on Jan. 6, 2021. Like we should ban wolf pelts forever. But he admits that The Northman is a “piece of rousing, skilfully made entertainment,” even while spending 90 percent of his review on Those People and what they might be thinking.
As another blogger wrote, it “takes Heathen cosmology and religion seriously [which] is just a breath of fresh air.”
Ava Gardner (1922–1990) was one of the most famous American film stars of the late 1940s through the 1960s, probably best known for The Night of the Iguana (1964). She had moved to London 1968, which might be why she was cast in a movie that, given my interests, I am surprised to have never heard of: Tam Lin, also known as The Devil’s Widow. (Link to YouTube.)
“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.
“Tam Lin,” the Movie
At the northern Colorado covenstead in the late 1970s, Pentangle was one of the bands whose albums were on constant rotation.The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.
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.)
Originally, the encounter between Tam Lin and Janet occurrs at Carterhaugh, which is a real place on the Scottish border — the name designates a farm and a woodland
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.
As the Tam Lin ballad website says on its “Carterhaugh” page, “The town [Selkirk] itself doesn’t have much in the way of tourist industry aimed at Tam Lin fans.”
Older Woman, Younger Man, Younger Woman
The older woman-younger man-younger woman dramatic triangle pops up all the time. In a pre-pubescent version, it is the core of Hans Christian Anderson’s story “The Snow Queen,” published in 1844.
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.”
But Anne Bancroft, 35 at the time, got the part. Katharine Ross, 26, played the daughter. Yeah, do the math. Anne Bancroft was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman. Weirdly, The Graduate is described as a “romantic comedy” but also as “the 17th greatest American film of all time.”
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.”
|↑1||Click here for information on where in Scotland the different versions were collected.|
|↑2||The definitive book on the British electric-folk revival of the 1960s–1970s is Rob Young’s Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music.|
|↑3||Tam Lin here presented as a sort of young robber knight, but working for the Faeries.|
|↑4||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.”|
I was reading something recently that dumped all over The Matrix (1999), the movie that gave us the term “red-pilled.”
It’s pretty gnostic, but I liked it. I did not see the second two in the series.
But now there is a new one coming at Christmas, and John Morehead posted the trailer at TheoFantastique. It’s on YouTube, so I lifted that. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Jada Plnkett Smith will be back.
Meanwhile, are Matrix, Reloaded and Revolutions worth watching? Is there more there than CGI and explosions?
The sound track for the trailer is “White Rabbit” which rock historians know was released in 1967. That song has legs! (Insert Energizer Bunny joke here.)
Earlier this summer, the fashion house of Dior produced a publicity video for their autumn-winter 2020–2021 haute couture collection that appeared — to my eyes — to be all about the the Other Crowd, so I blogged it as “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk.”
Athough I don’t follow trends in haute couture, I had fashion on my mind, as The Pomegranate’s issue on “Paganism, art, and fashion” was coming out just then. (Free downloads are still available — get them while you can!)
About that time I also wrote a post, “The Pizzica Video that Tore my Heart,” In it, a woman defiantly performs the traditional dance called pizzica in a lockdown-deserted piazza in the southern Italian city of Lecce, in the region of Salento, “the heel of the boot.”
Pizzica has been taken up and (re)-Paganized by some of the local Pagan community, as discussed by Giovanna Parmigiani in a recent Pomegranate article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”This is a paid download. But talk to a librarian.
So what did Dior do to introduce their 2020-2021 “cruise collection” but create their own spectacle in Lecce, including pizzica.
I found it a little spooky. Maybe I was infuenced by the earlier solo pizzica video in the deserted (seemingly de-populated) square.
The scene is dominated by musicians and dancers.
There was a dazzling set by feminist artist Marinella Senatore, in collaboration with Puglia-based light designers Fratelli Paris, where 30,000 coloured bulbs evoked the luminaire of local folk festivals and contained a number of the artist’s slogans; a rousing score by the Italian composer Paolo Buonvino, who conducted an 18-strong orchestra from Rome, alongside 21 local musicians; a performance by Italian rock musician Giuliano Sangiorgi, folk dancers, and, of course, a vast 90-look collection worn by a slew of the world’s top models. “An Ode to Puglia: How Dior’s Cruise Show Celebrates Italian Craftsmanship.”
Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, has roots in the region. The clothing featured used local products: fabrics from “Le Costantine Foundation, which aims to preserve centuries-old textile arts in Puglia . . . lace embroiderer Marilena Sparasci; weavers Tessitura Calabrese, and more.”
The folded kerchiefs worn by some of the models were also a nod to local traditional costume.
I wanted to focus on the music and dancing, which made the silent models parading through the square seem like inter-dimensional beings. Interlopers. Visitors. Part of “the phenomeon.” That is perhaps not what Chiuri intended.
So —visitors from another dimension, ecstatic music, a certain feminist flavor, beauty, nighttime, tradition — does that add up to “Pagan-ish”?
|↑1||This is a paid download. But talk to a librarian.|
Just as the reality of coronavirus lockdown descended (even on those of us who live in lightly populated areas), two differnt Facebook friends linked to this YouTube video, released on April 17th. The location is the Piazza Sant’Oronzo in the southern Italian city of Lecce, at the heel tip of the “boot.”
The dance is a traditional style called pizzica. I had learnt about it only recently, when I met an Italian scholar living in the US, Giovanna Parmigiani, who published an article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies about how some residents of that region were, in a sense, re-paganzing the dance, but in their own unique way, reflective of their regional history and their understanding of tradition.
While the opportunity exits, you can download her article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism,” for free. Just visit the linked page and click “PDF.”If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.
Based on conversations with Giovanna, reading her work, watching videos, I realized that the Lecce dancer’s performance turned the pizzica tradition on its head.
The newspaper La Repubblica picked it up and placed the video on its own YouTube channel, commenting
A dancer dressed in black dances the pinch in the heart of Lecce. In Piazza Sant’Oronzo, on what is the symbol of the city: the coat of arms of the She-wolf, on which the woman moves almost as if she wanted to awaken everyone from slumber. The video that appeared on Facebook has become a sort of exorcism, in the days of quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The taranta of evils to be chased away at a mad pace is known, and this is the message launched by the dancer. Who, assures those who filmed it by turning off the social controversy that have not missed, lives 40 meters from the square, and then moved within the limits imposed by the [lockdown] decree [Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator].
I get the “exorcism” part, but watching this late at night sent me into a horrible dystopian place, a real tragic place, where the dancer and the few passers-by (and the cop at 2:39) were the last people in a deserted city, not exorcising but defying their inevitable deaths from . . . .whatever it was.
When I remember the spring of 2020, I will remember this video as much as I remember the equally deserted Main Street of my nearest little town.
For even though my daily life has “social distancing” built in and even though I do have easy contact with nonhuman nature, and thank the gods for that, I know that I am still connected to the collective unconscious and the world soul, not to mention the internet.
And so I have had some really chilling dystopian dreams, right down to masses of people committing suicide becasue there was nothing left to live for and no way to survive. That particular dream might partly have been launched by reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the week before at the urging of a friend.His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you? Bad choice. But without the pandemic, I doubt it would have lodged itself in my psyche.
On a happier note, Giovanna is expanding her paper into a book, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which will be published in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series one of these days. Dance on!
|↑1||If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.|
|↑2||His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you?|
A year ago I photographed Jefferson Calico (r.), author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, a visitor to the Equinox Publishing booth at the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature joint book show at their annual meetings in Denver, Colorado.
I am happy to say that Giovanna has now signed a contract with us in the Contemporary and Historical Paganism series for her new book, which has a working title of The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy. A little piece of it is in the current issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies as “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?
Q: Two books is a “series”?
A: It is more complicated than that. The series was originally published by AltaMira Press, a division of Roman & Littlefield, an American publisher. The first book in the series was Barbara Davy’s (a Canadian scholar) Introduction to Pagan Studies (2007), followed by my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006).Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first. There were others in the series, some acquired by my first co-editor, Wendy Griffin.
Wendy stepped down, and was replaced by the late Nikki Bado. Meanwhile, editorial changes at Rowman left Nikki and me looking for another home. We quickly found one at Equinox, which was already publishing The Pomegranate. Nikki and I brought in more books, including Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music and Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, whose co-editor, Scott Simpson, stepped up to replace Nikki after her death and continues as series co-editor now.
Meanwhile, there was a merger, a de-merger, and a sale, and those books in the “Series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism” ended up with Routledge, who discontinued the series. Meanwhile, we carried on with Equinox, starting over from scratch, more or less.
Q: What does pizzica sound like?
A: Try this (it’s kind of a formal performance):
Drummers might like this one:
This one is fun too. Remember that this part of the Italian peninsula was settled by Greeks way back.
One last thing: if you order from the links, I do get a small commission, which helps with the Web-hosting bill. Thanks.
I was on my way to a little town in North Dakota where a friend lives about at the intersection of Norway and Washington streets — can you get any more perfect than that? And every little town is dominated by a Lutheran steeple.
A friend in Poland and I were emailing about how the eastern Dakotas and eastern Canadian prairies line up with Russia, ecologically. Only this is what you see instead of onion domes.
I drive on by, blasting Hedningarna (The Heathens) or some other Norski neo-folk on the Jeep’s speakers. The poor immigrants— their pastors thought that even Hardanger fiddle music was devilish. So much left behind.
I had to follow Wind over Tide, “a folk band specializing in traditional music of the British Isles and Americas with special emphasis on tales of seafaring and adventure,” which was kind of a challenge.
The evening before I was scheduled to give the keynote address at the Fort Collins (Colorado) Pagan Pride Day on August 24th, M. and I were driving around the city, buying groceries for the camping trip we planned to take after the event, and sight-seeing a little bit.
The university town where I spent some of my teenage years has tripled in size. Yes, it’s weird seeing what was ag land turned into “technology parks” alternating with chain hotels and chain restaurants. And the drive up from the Denverplex was hellish.
But one thing has changed for the better — the community’s relationship with the Cache la Poudre River, which leaves the mountains nearby and flows down through the city before continuing eastward across the High Plains.
My outdoorsy friends and I went rock-climbing at Horsetooth Reservoir, backpacking in the Rawah Wilderness, etc., and hunting wherever, but we ignored the Poudre River once it came out of the canyon and was no longer considered fishable. I don’t recall anyone canoeing it or anything like that. It was just a conduit to farms and towns further east.
Now the river has been dignified as the Cache la Poudre National Heritage Area. In the city, the change is huge. Suddenly it is a place that people want to visit for hiking, biking, kayaking, tubing, fishing, and so on. And at its nearest, it flows along edge of the downtown area, only three or four city blocks from the park where the festivities take place.
So as I was standing there talking about nature religion and urban animism and such things, it hit me: the Pagan Pride Day ought to end with a procession to “honor the river.” (“Honoring” sounds suitably bland and inclusive, don’t you think?) Make up some wreaths of native flowers and grasses and toss them in with appropriate invocations. And of course there would be music.
I put that suggestion into my talk. Whether anyone takes me up on it remains to be seen. Meanwhile, I should be doing something like that for Hardscrabble Creek. Devotion begins at home.
Edited to add: See what they are doing at Twin Cities Pagan Pride!
—What is Wrong with Large-Scale Ritual?
—Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”? (with procession and midsummer wreath-tossing)
At one time, we had a book on the Sun as feminine (as in much of the old Germanic tradition) in the pipeline for the Equinox Publishing Pagan studies series. That did not work out, for complicated reasons. Meanwhile, enjoy the video, which is especially interesting if you are used to the Father Sun/Lady Moon dichotomy.
And I have been listening to Wolcensmen a lot of late. Here is their YouTube channel.