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.)
I was researching something about Wicca in Germany, and up popped this Witch Dance video. Apparently the belly-dancers got involved, put some shimmy in the besom brigades’ sweeping, and now it’s an international thing. From Germany, here is the Tribal Gypsy Dance troupe:
And this year in Frenchtown, New Jersey, a plaintive call from the bourgeois bohemians in the YouTube comments:
Hello Tricia. We checked this account but didnt see an email posted by way we could get in touch with you. That said, my husband and I live in Milford NJ. We are throwing a Christmas party and are wondering if you could teach our guests a dance. If so, please let us know your fee. You’re great at teaching groups of people and feel you would make a wonderful addition to the occasion. Please think about it.
I am all for putting your Paganism in the street (or on the beach or Salem Common) where it belongs. But Pagan studies friends, this is waiting for some theoretical lenses!
After two years’ hiatus, the Yule Log was hunted again last Sunday in Beulah, Colorado, a small town in the foothills of the Wet Mountains. This hunt is a twentieth-century revival, passed (along with log splinters) from Lake Placid, New York to Palmer Lake, Colorado to Beulah, where the tradition was renewed in 1952. (Photos from 1954 and 1977 here.)
In the introductory program, inevitably, some local clergyman has to make the usual solsticial wordplay between Son and Sun.
That was subtly countered by my friend Diana, local resident and director of a raptor rehabiitation center, who steps up with a red-tailed hawk on her wrist and delivers an invcation that de-centers humankind in favor of wild animals. (As she did in previous years.)
After final instructions from the head huntsman (one of a dozen who serve as guides, referees, and whippers-in for the hunt) the hunters (mostly teens) scramble uphill into the wooded slopes of Pueblo Mountain Park.
Those of following the hunt stroll behind them, and all too soon, there is a shouting and and a trumpet blast from up the ridge.
But what is this sound? “Click click jingle jingle!”
It’s the Yule goats, harnessed to the log, instead of having it pulled down off the mountain only by the huntsmen and whoever else volunteers.
Pulled by goats. Hmm. How long before a Thor-figure joins the huntsmen?
Until recently many academic disciplines and subjects avoided the subject of the occult, deeming it too ‘irrational or ‘eccentric’ for serious study. Exceptions to this include the discipline of anthropology, which since the 19th century, embraced the study of religion and belief from Western rationalist perspectives. In recent decades anthropology has explored magic and occultism from a broader range of viewpoints, including phenomenology, relativism, and post-structuralism. In the last two decades adjacent disciplines to design history such as history, art history, sociology, cultural studies, and film studies have increasingly embraced occult subjects. Likewise, the interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities has examined Indigenous, Western and Eastern ideas about the relationships between humans and the natural world, including esoteric, folkloric, and occult concepts.
However, within the field of design history esotericism, occultism, and magic have been largely overlooked with no sustained explorations of their relationships with design and the decorative arts. Notable exceptions to this include studies such as Zeynep Çelik Alexander, ‘Jugendstil Visions: Occultism, Gender and Modern Design Pedagogy’ Journal of Design History, Vol. 22, Issue 3, September 2009, pp. 203–226, and Elizabeth Otto, Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics (The MIT Press, 2019)
I will have to get this issue of the journal when it’s published. (Pointy hat tip to Sabina Magliocco for the link.)
Even though The Pomegranate published its “Paganism, Art, and Fashion” special issue a while back, this remains a topic of editorial interest.
A photographer goes to a village in Bulgaria to photograph the Kukeri ritual, a “druidic-oriented ritual,” which “many consider being one of the only remaining practiced pagan rituals in Europe today.”
Cracow Monsters is a Netflix series about “a young woman haunted by her past [who] joins a mysterious professor and his group of gifted students who investigate paranormal activity — and fight demons.”
Comes nowhttps://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.htmlAndrzej Szyjewski, professor of religious studies at Jagiellonian University, which has been doing business in Cracow/Kraków since 1364, as they calculate it, back when demonology was an academic discipline.
The viewers are subjected to a whole series of disgusting and terrifying characters of various origins. It quickly becomes obvious that even Trentowski’s inventive vocabulary and imagination is not sufficient enough to describe the mix of entities gathered under the banner of supposedly Slavic mythology. The screenplay incorporates ideas from other, more contemporary Native Slavic faith believers (Rodnovery) and New Age workshops. For instance, in episode four, Chworz summons a creature called Spas. He is, in essence, a personification of certain holidays, described by Ukrainian Rodnovery volkhv (wisewoman) Halina Lozko, which the series depicts as something similar to Ded Moroz, who in turn can be likened to Santa Claus. Over the course of the series, Spas, carrying a staff decorated with hanging dolls, busies himself with freezing and then hanging people who failed to give him a present. The ‘Slavic Grinch’ meets his end when Alex electrocutes him with a high voltage wire. It therefore seems that the screenwriter didn’t bother to carry out at least a minimum amount of research when it came to the most key aspect of the show. She didn’t know that the name ‘Spas’, coming from the word spasitel, which means ‘saviour’ and denotes Christ, is unsuitable for a pre-Christian demon. . . .
Even when the screenwriter bases the story around concepts introduced by [19th-century writer Bronislaw] Trentowski, she seems not to understand them and misrepresent them, either knowingly or unknowingly. The best example of this is using the neologism bo?yca, which Trentowski means as ‘knowledge of gods and religion’, to signify a kind of protective spirit, a radiant entity guarding the main protagonist. She also calls it an Aitvara, which indeed denoted a guardian spirit, but one that watched over homesteads, not individuals. Aitvaras were reptilian in shape, brought wealth and prosperity, and were absolutely not exclusive to high priests and priestesses.
One of the series’ strongest points could be its setting: Kraków, a city famous for its rich legendary and historical symbolism. Unfortunately, Kraków also becomes a fantastical amalgamation of real and fictitious places (such as Wanda Mound). Judging from the places visited by the protagonists during their chase after the zapadliska, they can magically jump from one side of the Vistula to the other every few seconds. The viewers will also get the impression that all classes at the Jagiellonian University are conducted solely in Collegium Novum, the administrative centre of the University. Because of this, the eponymous Kraków becomes a simulacrum just as much as the ‘Slavic beliefs’. The most convincing idea related to Kraków in the series is the issue of the curse: the city is unable to develop properly, trapped in a hollow, drowned in smog and ravaged by extreme weather. In the series, Kraków becomes something akin to London, either shrouded in fog or beaten by rain. In this regard, the screenplay rises to the challenge.
I probably could not last through all two seasons, but now that I have Starlink and can stream easily to my isolated forest hideout, I am tempted to give it a look all the same, bearing Prof. Szyjewski’s cautions in mind.
(Thanks for the link to my co-editor in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan book series, Scott Simpson, who also teaches at Jagiellonian University and is the reason why I know anything at all about it. Trust me, he is “more than just a teacher.”)
“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.”
Pagan writer Rhyd Wildermuth, now living in the Ardennes Forest, or as he prefers, “The Forests of Arduinna,” offers this video of a local end-of-winter celebration called Buergbrennen (castle-burning).
He sees it as an ancient Pagan celebration taken over by the Christian church. Maybe so. Or maybe some Luxembourgish Ronald Hutton will discover that it was started by a parish priest in the early nineteenth century as a folkish morale-builder for his congregation.
Doesn’t matter. Either way, it fits Clifton’s Second Law of Religion, that all true religions have torchlight processions, at least occasionally. No torches? All you have then is a social movement or a social club.
No animals or policemen were harmed in the making of this video
M. and I have this little tradition where every Thanksgiving we read aloud (people who eat with us have to participate) Gary Snyder’s poem “Prayer for the Great Family.”He says it was inspired by a Mohawk prayer, but you can feel his Pagan-ish form of Zen Buddhism in it too. You can say “in our minds so be it” in unison if you like.
Prayer for the Great Family
Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day—
and to her soil: rich, rare and sweet in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing, light-changing leaf
and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind
and rain; their dance is in the flowering spiral grain in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and silent
Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
clear spirit breeze in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
freedoms, and ways; who share with us their milk;
self-complete, brave and aware in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
holding or releasing; streaming through all
our bodies salty seas in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
bears and snakes sleep— he who wakes us— in our minds so be it.
Gratitude to the Great Sky
who holds billions of stars— and goes yet beyond that—
beyond all powers, and thoughts and yet is within us—
Grandfather Space. The Mind is his Wife. so be it.
Snyder has been influential in my life since I was in high school, as a poet and in a sort of “What would Gary do?” kind of way.And we went to the same college, for what that is worth.He is an old man now, 91, I think. He won’t be around forever. I would walk in his funeral procession to the pyre, if I could, but I probably will not find out in time to dash to California.