Passing of Margot Adler—Will NPR Admit She was Wiccan?

For those of you not on Facebook, this was the announcement of Margot Adler’s passing, posted by her son, Alex.

Old friends, long time fans, today at 4am Margot breathed easily for the first time in two weeks. Later today, at 10:30am she was pronounced deceased.

Her condition had been getting much worse over the weeks and months and the brain radiation (which she had a treatment of scheduled today, tomorrow, and wednesday) was thought to help her double vision, since it was the cause.

Well, Margot and John both won’t be seeing double anymore, but they will be seeing each other for the rest of time.

With much love and difficulty do I write this,

Her son, Alex

I told M. about it as she was listening to National Public Radio’s  “All Things Considered,” and her first question was why NPR had not mentioned it, given Margot’s many years as a reporter there.  Maybe they cannot move that fast. When they do, do you think that they will mention that she was composing hymns to the Olympian deities as a teenager, let alone that she was a Gardnerian Witch?

I suspect that they will be more comfortable with her politics and status as a “Red-diaper Baby” than with her religious views. Link to the Facebook tribute page.

UPDATE: At least the NPR blog mentioned it, but putting it after the facts that she was Alfred Adler’s grand-daughter (though she never met him) and that she wrote about vampires: “Margot had a long-standing interest in the occult.”

Ah, “the occult.”

UPDATE 2: You will find more updates on news media treatments of Margot’s passing in the comments.

New York Occult Revival (2)

In February I linked to a description of a “magickal revival” in New York City. People say these things are cyclical.

Now Joe “Vampires” Laycock weighs in: “Why Hipsters May Be Perfect Source for Brooklyn Occult Revival,” a sort of Durkheimian look at the same idea.

More than their magical services, magicians offer their clients the chance to interact with a fascinating personality. Exotic objects and spiritual narratives help clients to feel that they are receiving personalized attention from metaphysical forces, directed at them through the magician.

In this sense, it is not surprising that Brooklyn—commonly associated with Hipsters—is producing compelling magicians. The Hipster’s project of cloaking oneself in an air of aloof mystery and repurposing strange objects into emblems of one’s personal brand is excellent preparation for the magician’s craft.

Or does magick bloom in difficult economic time or times of psychic shifts?

‘Weird Tales,’ Hex Signs, and Folklore

Joe Laycock examined the mythologies behind True Detective. (I have not seen it, being much the same situation as Jason Pitzl-Waters.)

Religion scholar Philip Jenkins has suggested these two sources—contemporary Satanic Panic and the “weird tales” of pulp horror—are connected. He suggests that it was the weird tales authors of the 1920s, notably Lovecraft and Herbert Gorman, who first introduced the idea of secret, murderous cults into the American consciousness.

¶ Those so-called “hex signs” on Pennsylvania Dutch barns? They have little to do with witches and magic, notes librarian of esotericsm Dan Harms in a book review.

From time to time, I’m asked if The Long-Lost Friend has anything to do with hex signs, those beautiful star and flower figures that decorate the barns across much of eastern Pennsylvania and adjacent areas where German settlers made their homes.  The answer is, “Not really,” with a follow-up about the possibility of a mystical link that might or might not be present.  Hex Signs provides us with answers to these questions, and much more.

¶ Speaking of folklore, Ethan Doyle White notes a free online special issue of the journal Folklore, focusing on folklore and Paganism. Lots of good material there.

New York’s ‘Occult Revival’: Everything Old Is New Again

From The Revealer (see blogroll under Religion and Journalism): “Chapel Perilous: Notes From The New York Occult Revival.”

There’s been a magical revival happening in New York City for two to three years,” Damon Stang, the “shop witch” for Catland Books in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, told the New York Times last year. “I think it’s a nostalgia that people have for a sense of enchantment with the world.”

There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz. . . . .

In the academic study of religion, “the occult” is neither settled as a term nor a community. At its most basic level, it indicates a kind of hiddenness — a concealed truth. In popular usage, this usually means pagan nature worship, witchcraft, spirit communication, magic and other fringe religious ideas. The scholar Catherine Albanese, in her magisterial A Republic of Mind and Spirit, investigated many American practitioners of these forms as “metaphysicals,” a particular variety of religious actor for whom the power of the mind and the existence of a concealed “energy” within the body and the world, are essential. It’s a useful term, but hardly ever applied outside of the academy. The people I met at the conference preferred the words “occult” and “esoteric” to describe their interests, often using them interchangeably. How can a revival be studied when it is unclear what, exactly, is being revived?

Worth reading, among other things, for the reminder about Robert Anton Wilson’s idea of the “chapel perilous.” I could tell stories . . .  and I am certain that you could too.

Beavering Away at Home

beaver ponds10-13Once in a while, I like to note that Hardscrabble Creek is a real place. The beaver pair had kits this year, and they also expanded their dams from two to five. A couple of years ago, they left because they had eaten all the available deciduous forage, mostly narrowleaf cottonwood and willows. Will the rising water table encourage more beaver-edible trees to grow? (They don’t eat pines.) Can they keep expanding their string of dams upstream?

And here are some links:

¶ At Occult Chicago, Rik traces sites associated with Thee Church of Satan in the 1970s.

¶  Artforum notes the recent Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions.

¶ Anton Lavey’s daughter Zeena describes how her Halloween experience when she was a little girl living with her father, the founder of the Church of Satan.

For the first quarter century of my life, back when I was the devil’s defender, Halloween wasn’t the fun and merriment it was for many others.

¶ Oh no! I bought the Halloween candy, but I forgot to pray over it!

Vril: It’s the Secret

Before there was Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land or The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, water-sharing, grokking, TANSTAAFL, and line marriage, there was Edward Bulwer-Lytton and The Coming Race, published in 1871.

As Egil Asprem recently noted in a blog post titled “The (all too) secret history of Vril,”

It is astonishing how much of modern occultism is dependent on works of fiction. The machinations of secret societies, the malicious rituals of satanic cults, and the magicians’ adventures on the astral plane have all been portrayed in great detail in works of fiction, which have in turn directly influenced the creation of real organisations and inspired new ritual practices among self-styled occultists. The entire current of Rosicrucian initiatory societies even had its main impetus in a text considered by its authors to be a playful ludibrium — although no doubt one that expressed deep convictions.

Read it.

A Day and a Night in Occult Chicago

A statue of the goddess Ceres tops the Chicago Board of Trade building, as seen from a classroom building at DePaul University.

For the third time in four years, we had a pre-conference event that tied into Pagan studies somehow. (Previously: Montréal, San Francisco.)

This was the Occult Chicago conference organized by Jason Winslade at DePaul University—his take on “Chicago Quarter,” an urban orientation class that all first-year DePaul students must take.

Imagine a bright new student who, however, does not know a Theosophist from a Chicago Bear. Suddenly she (who maybe just took this section because it fit her schedule) finds herself immersed in a world yogis, magicians, witches, astrologers, hucksters, publishers, and — this being Chicago — architecture.

Jason Winslade (black cap) points out the location of the former Chicago Masonic Temple on State Street, accompanied by “Occult Chicago” blogger Rik Garrett, right.

Those of us who attended the one-day version (see also Jason Pitzl-Waters’ review) heard some of the students’ capstone presentations, learned that the first skyscraper in Chicago was built by the Freemasons, listened to representatives of contemporary magical groups, and visited sites and building associated with occult organizations, hauntings, violent deaths, and publishing houses.

Mural on the tenth floor of the Fine Arts Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago.

One highlight was the Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan Ave., where at one time the Thelemite Choronzon Club held its meetings and the Akbar Lodge of Theosophists had its office.

The Pookah (right)  and friends pursue the skeptical German professor in a Terra Mysterium skit.

Finally came a performance by the Terra Mysterium steampunk theatre troupe. You might think that a classroom would not make the best performance space, but the performance was laced with academic parody, so it worked.

Three Related Blog Posts

From Deborah Castellano, who also blogs at Charmed, I’m Sure: “The Art of Career Occultism.”‘

Let me ask you, how do you see a career occultist?  Do you see her as someone who gets up and does sun salutations, writing in her dream diary over herbal tea and an organic scone, sauntering through a field with an animal companion as she chooses herbs to harvest while wearing something fabulous and floaty, coming home to her gorgeous dedicated workshop for afternoon sketching for new designs?  Because . . .if so, you’re going to be greatly disappointed as to what’s actually the job.

From Heather Awen at Adventures in Animism: “Dancing in the Ashes of the New Age.”

A friend recently said to me that she’s going to go for it and do some really hard things to make her dreams of working to improve children’s lives a reality. She said that she had to believe the Goddess would provide for her. I used to believe that. I want to believe that, but I don’t anymore. I asked her to explain this, not to be a bitch, but because I was hoping she’d be able to convince me that the Goddess works this way. . . . .  How did the Goddess decide who to provide for? So why should I trust that “we always get what we need” when clearly the facts say that we don’t?

Both are about facing some facts of mundane life and a balance between willing, affirming, etc., and actually doing.

At Pantheon, Star Foster is talking about an ancient philosopher who could help sort these questions out: Epictetus.

So as I sit here worrying How am I to live? and How do I cope with this huge change in my life? I am finding my answers in Epictetus.

He lived from 55-135 CE. He was at first a slave — an educated slave, as some were, but still a slave. That ought to give him a certain amount of street cred, don’t you think, when it comes to knowing what you can change and what you cannot?

Call For Papers, Presentations, Workshops, Rituals and Performances Mapping the Occult City: Exploring Magick and Esotericism in the Urban Utopia

A pre-conference for the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religions in Chicago, on Friday November 16, 2012, presented by Phoenix Rising Academy and DePaul University.

In his classic essay, “Walking in the City,” ethnologist and historian Michel de Certeau distinguished between the “exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive” that comes from viewing the city from a high vantage point and the quotidian negotiations of the walker at street level, who creates his or her own map, takes shortcuts and resists the strategies of typical urban planning.

One perspective is totalizing and distancing, constructing an illusory, unified view of the metropolis, while the other seeks out hidden avenues of knowledge and intersections of stories, myths, and happenings. The occultist tends to shift between both views, sometimes spinning grand narratives of the city as a New Atlantis, a utopian civilization of knowledge and wonder, other times imagining a secret world of dark mysteries, unknown to most passersby, that lay just beyond the twilight of the streetlamps.

Many esotericists, conspiracy theorists, and urban fantasy authors have speculated on the occult meaning of symbols, monuments, and architecture in major cities, from Cleopatra’s Needle in London to the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. Or they see powerful sigils in the neon signs, building facades and billboards. Some speak of urban ley lines and “energy centers” that bubble with occult power ready to be tapped into by those with the right sense and ability. These energy centers are focused on geometric street patterns or the lines created by the placement of sacred sites in the city, such as churches, temples, and cemeteries. Others speak of haunted places, charged with story and legend, often full of the sense of violence, trauma and the urgency of events that occurred there.

Historically, cities have been home to countless esoteric groups who have met, planned, and conducted ritual within the towering buildings that glitter the metropolitan skyline.

For instance, Chicago, the location of this year’s AAR conference, was once the home of the 32 floor Masonic Building, owned by the Illinois Freemasons, and the tallest building in the world in 1892. Prominent figures in the esoteric world have spoken, performed and offered their wisdom to the masses through the many salons, lectures, performances, congregations, conferences, and world’s fairs that have been either publicly advertised or available only to those with the right password and invitation.

Cities are where the ideas of Western esotericism spread to the masses through these public events and the many urban publishing houses. Cities are also home to public events and happenings that connect the esoteric, the theatrical and the political world through protest and public actions and happenings, such as the W.I.T.C.H. protests at Chicago’s Federal Building on Halloween 1969.

Finally, cities are centers of diversity and diaspora and often become hothouses for the development of hybrid traditions based on immigrant cultures, such as Santeria and Vodun. For scholars of magick and esotericism, cities like Chicago can offer up rich resources for tracking group activities and events through library archives and public records.

Understanding occult life in the city, in both its historical and contemporary contexts, is crucial in mapping the proliferation of ideas and connections between practitioners and traditions. Popular practical texts have addressed how the practice of magick changes in an urban setting, especially when the magician or witch must adapt a nature-centered practice to a city-based practice.

nvestigating esoteric actions in the city can reveal the ways in which the practitioner is caught up and complicit with strategic structures of power while also offering possibilities for the occultist to resist those structures through the kind of tactical, magical moves described by de Certeau. As the Occupy movement and other political protests proliferate, especially in America’s election year, what are the possibilities for harnessing and directing the energy of the occult city?

Phoenix Rising Academy would like to explore these intersections of the esoteric and the urban, focusing on the city as a locus for power and knowledge, both hidden and revealed. Are cities oppressive entities that stifle creative and esoteric drives or do they hold in their structures the potential for powerful action? To this end, we invite scholars and practitioners to submit proposals for papers, presentations, rituals and performances that address these questions pertaining to the occult city.

Though our focus is primarily on American cities, particularly Chicago, we welcome explorations in other prominent global metropolitan centers. For this pre-conference, we plan on creating 2-3 panels of papers, presentations, performances, rituals, workshops, roundtables, or discussion groups.

Possible topics may include (but are not limited to)

• The activities of certain groups, traditions, and communities, both historical and contemporary, in particular cities.

• The city life of prominent esoteric figures and how that city life shaped their ideas and practices. · Particular events, meetings, lectures, performances, happenings, protests whose urban setting featured prominently in their execution and influence.

• The mythology of the occult city, based on legend, occult symbolism, and esoteric symbolism of architecture and urban planning.

• A practical approach to working magick and ritual in the city, perhaps based on Urban Shamanism or Chaos Magick.

• Interpretations of the city and its occult power by urban fantasy authors.

• The intersections of the occult and the political through the use of ritualized protest actions, focusing on setting and urban scene.

• Though not focusing on hauntings per se, an investigation of spiritualism, mysticism and psychic practices prominent in urban settings.

• A study of how hereditary or hybridized indigenous practices survive, evolve and adapt in an urban setting.

With your submission, please include the following: Presenter information (name, mailing and email addresses, phone number) Type of presentation (paper, non-paper presentation, workshop, performance, roundtable).

Note: if you are proposing a roundtable discussion, please submit info for all participants. Title and affiliation (institution, organization, independent scholar, or practitioner). Proposal or abstract (not to exceed 250 words). Should include title of presentation and a clear description of the presentation’s intent, plus any audio/visual needs. Biographical data (not to exceed 200 words).

Please email all submissions by August 20th to Dr. Jason L. Winslade, DePaul University, jwinslad@depaul.edu. Please include “PRA Pre-Conference” in the subject line. All submissions will be reviewed and you will be notified of a decision one week after the deadline