CFP: Design and the Occult

Screenshot from Dior’s Autumn-Winter 2020-2021 haute couture promotional video.

After my various posts on the Pagan-ish presentations by the House of Dior in particular (such as “The Tarot of Dior” and “Dior Dresses the Fair Folk” and “I Want to Call Dior’s Cruise Collection Pagan-ish Too“), I was happy to see this call for papers, “Design and the Occult.”

Here is a little of it — visit the link for all the particulars.

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.

Little Bulgarian Girls Can Chase Demons Too

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.”

OK, so he creates images, not history of religion — and the images are great. And he juices it up with a “girlpower” narrative too.

“Cracow Monsters” Is Just “Weak Horror,” Says Polish Professor

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.”

Can you say “TV trope“?  I knew you could. Maybe “Cool teacher” or possibly “More than just a teacher,” which may in fact include demon-slaying.

Comes now[1]https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html Andrzej 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.

He does not approve of the way that the series treats Slavic supernaturals or his university and city.

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.

And futhermore:

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.

Unlike Ukrainian soldiers, I had to pay retail and wait a few months for delivery, but this looks like my temporary Starlink set-up, right down to the bricks.

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.”)

 

 

Notes

Notes
1 https://grammar-ttlms.blogspot.com/2007/07/comes-now.html

Starring Ava Gardner as the Faery Queen

Ava Gardner, 1950s.

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 39[1]Click 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

I like the poster for the Spanish-language version best.

At the northern Colorado covenstead in the late 1970s, Pentangle was one of the bands whose albums were on constant rotation.[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.

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.

You can think of this lot as the “light” fairies.

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.

Tam and Mickey in happier times.

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 there[3]Tam 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.[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.”  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.”

Notes

Notes
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.”

Celebrating Spring with a Castle-Burning

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

You can subscribe to Wildermuth’s writing on Substack.

Our Thanksgiving Prayer

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.”[1]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.[2]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.

Notes

Notes
1 He says it was inspired by a Mohawk prayer, but you can feel his Pagan-ish form of Zen Buddhism in it too.
2 And we went to the same college, for what that is worth.

This Sounds like a Druidic Homily

Lilac bud. (Pueblo Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center)

I was reading the online version of the Pueblo (Colorado) Chieftain this afternoon and happened onto this article provided by the Pueblo Nature and Wildlife Discovery Center, formerly known more prosaically as Pueblo Mountain Park: “Nature’s Classroom: Imbolg, Time of Germination.”

The park has a long and interesting history. I have mentioned it before in connection with its Yule Log tradition.

The Yule log celebration is  Pagan-ish for sure. So is this Imbolg column. You could have told me that I was reading one of John Beckett’s Druidic homilies, and I would have believed you.

Homily: a short commentary on a sacred topic — something less formal than a sermon.

Especially when the writer moves from observing nature “out there” to personal transformation.

Again, the trees are giving us an ample lesson and functional metaphor for our own new growth and blossoming. Perhaps you are working to lose weight, or to strengthen underused muscles, or to heal some aspect of your body or psyche. These things take time.

It sounds to me like creeping Paganism. Heh.

Revisiting a Colorado Yule Log Hunt

The little southern Colorado town of Beulah has a traditional Yule log hunt that is almost as old as Wicca — it began in 1952.

M. and I attended with a friend and her young son in 2015, and I wrote a blog post about it, “Invoking the Birds and Hunting in the Woods at Yule,” with lots of photos.

Then I chanced across another set of older pix on Facebook at the Beulah Historical Society’s page. Here is one from 1954 and one from 1977. Those “huntsmen” from 1977 look like they are ready to get back to their moonshine stills, but I think a couple of them worked at the steel mill down in Pueblo, a city that is a sort of mash-up of Pittsburgh and Albuqueque, although much smaller than either of those. One’s surname is either Slovenian or Czech; I had a co-worker who might have been his relative.

The 1954 Yule Log (Beulah Historical Society)

The “huntsmen” of 1977 — they direct the Yule log hunt (Beulah Historical Society).

When I watch the hunt, I think of something that the English folkorist E. C. Cawte wrote back in the 1970s. He was directing a group of schoolboys in performing a “souling play,” a traditonal entertainment from the winter in which St. George slays someone — who does not stay slain.

Huntsmen of 2015.

“The boys found the play much easier to learn and perform than others they were given . . . and the Wild Horse seemed to know, without rehearsal, exactly what he was supposed to do.”[1]E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

The kids in Beulah know it too.

This year, of course, everything fun has been cancelled, but up in Beulah, they are planning for 2021. Covid-19 should not last as long as Oliver Cromwell.

Original Beulah Yule log blog post and photos here.

Notes

Notes
1 E. C. Cawte, Ritual Animal Disguise (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1978), 224.

I Want to Call Dior’s Cruise Collection ‘Pagan-ish’ too

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.”[1]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”?

Notes

Notes
1 This is a paid download. But talk to a librarian.