Have We Indeed Reached “Peak Witch”?

I doubt it. But that is the kind of significant question that the New York Times is asking during Witchcraft and Paganism Media Month: “When Did Everybody [sic] Become a Witch?

Witches are influencers who use the hashtag #witchesofinstagram to share horoscopes, spells and witchy memes, and they are anti-Trump resistance activists carrying signs that say “Hex the Patriarchy” (also the title of a new book of spells) and “We are the granddaughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn.”

Witches are panelists, they are podcasters, they are members of The Wing (which calls itself a “coven”), they are in-house residents at swanky Manhattan hotels and some might say that one is even a presidential candidate, Marianne Williamson. (Alyssa Milano, of “Charmed” fame, recently fund-raised for Williamson. Coincidence?)

Wait a minute, I thought that Marianne Williamson was a Jewish New-Ager. It is so confusing.

There are some interesting links here though.

It’s October, and You Know What That Means: Media!

It’s in this issue.

At The New Yorker, they have discovered that astrology is back. In never leaves, actually — ask the people at Llewellyn —but new media interest is cyclical as the Moon. Maybe it is just astrology’s “growth” on social media that gets noticed.

In July, I was ushered into a glass-enclosed conference room on the sixth floor of a building in Tribeca to meet with Banu Guler, the thirty-one-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of the astrology app Co-Star, whose Web site promises to allow “irrationality to invade our techno-rationalist ways of living.” Guler is a casting director’s idea of a tech executive. She is a vegan who used to design punk zines and was a bike messenger until she got into “a gnarly car wreck.” She has cropped hair, a septum piercing, and a tattoo of Medea on the back of one leg. Why Medea? I asked. “Witchcraft,” she explained. A copy of Liz Greene’s “Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet” lay between us. Guler hasn’t read it, but it’s been on her Goodreads list forever.

That is a little stomach-turning, in that Liz Greene is one of the best astrologers out there. When I decided that I was less into astrology than in previous years, I got rid of most of my books — except for Liz Greene’s and Robert Hand’s.

Maybe Guler needs a tattoo of Media, not Medea.

Bargains in Witch Kitsch All This Month!

As of Tuesday, it’s Witch Kitsch Month. So if this is the time when you stock up on plastic skulls and manufactured stuffed ravens, hit your local thrift store — it’s a whole lot cheaper than Spirit World or some party store.

Prices are low, low, low — horrifically low.

At Goodwill, I found a simply adorable giant rubber rat (not pictured), which probably will become a geocache in some deserted building. Today I lingered over this coffee cup and a skull-themed nightlight — and this Halloween owl—but opted instead for a little battery-powered three-color strobe light ($1.49), made to be put inside your jack-o-lantern. I see it inside a hanging mask, animal skull, or something else instead.1)Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Its package  was unopened. Some wholesaler probably dumped them because the package said “Requires 2 AA batteries,” whereas the battery holder is sized for AAA batteries. Made in China.

The Robot God and the Underworld Gate

Robot God

“With Open Arms We Welcomes That Which Would Destroy Us.” Camino de la Placita, Taos, September 2019

Earlier this month, M. and I were in Taos, New Mexico, for what I think was the fifth annual PASEO outdoor art festival. The interesting thing about PASEO is that it happens mostly at night, in a town with a late-medieval street plan that was built for ox carts and is still kind of sparing with streetlights. You spend your time walking in semi-darkness from one pop-up installation to another.

Some installations sound better on the page than they are experienced in person, but here are a couple that worked for me.

At least one year, equinoctial rainstorms lashed the night, but this year the festival was moved earlier in the month, and the weather was good for an Underworld-flavored Pagan-ish art experience.

Above and below:

With Open Arms We Welcomed That Which Would Destroy Us by Christian Ristow of Taos is a sculpture of a seated robot deity. From a distance, it is beautiful and seductive, yet on closer inspection it reveals its true nature. It is not evil; it’s a robot. It has its own directives. And like any god, we created it and gave it its power.

Walking up Civic Plaza (which is actually more of a street and not the plaza), we passed under this flaming arch.

Numinous Eye Arch, with the Robot God in the distance.

Its creator, Oakland, Calif., artist Ryon Gesink, writes,

The Numinous Eye Arch sculpture is a large steel archway with a looming giant spotlight eye at its apex. It gazes impassively in mysterious stoic surveillance, with a dozen [propane-fueled] torches along its length creating a dome of golden firelight. Some 18 years ago I began to feel a strong urge to create a sort of gateway or portal for people to pass through, beyond which one enters an unfamiliar hallucinatory world and goes on to encounter dangers and challenges emerging from one’s own subconscious. Could be a Gate to Hell or a Gate to Heaven, depending…

Past that and around the corner, more leaping flames, but those were the outdoor fires heating the patio at the Martyrs Steakhouse,1)There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here. which we passed, only to re-enter PASEO-space when we encountered a troupe of girl dancers, bedecked in rave-ish electroluminescent hoops and bands.

Taos Un/Connected by Amber Vasquez and Taos Youth Ballet in Taosis a roaming dance performance piece exploring the unique and ever-changing qualities of human relationships. From comfortable friendship or the awkwardness of new love to the isolating “connectedness” that social media can create. Dancers will both speak and dance as they travel in a train of movement.

OK, we’re in artspeak-territory here, but you just let it be and drift with the crowd through the semi-lit alleys and plaza, following the dancers until they finish under the glare of the monumental statue of Padre Martinez2)Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark. in the main plaza.

If I might venture into UPG territory, moments at PASEO, out on the dark streets, do indeed have an Underworld feel to them. Ryon Gesink must have plugged into that energy. I have visited that place in dreams a time or so, checking on recently deceased family members. The crowds shuffle along, and it is so hard to see, except when there is an occasional brightly lit scene, and those are very rare.3)Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

I will probably go back. Taos, after all, is where I officially became a Pagan, and it left its mark.

Notes   [ + ]

1. There is a reason for that name. It is too long to go into here.
2. Northern New Mexico’s one-man Renaissance, and he had only the period from 1821-1846 in which to make his mark.
3. Or you get flat fluorescent lighting on the way in, which is almost as bad.

A Little-Known Welsh Magical Practice

“Myths surrounded” the caiman, says the BBC.

Burying large reptiles under the floor. It must be a “Pagan survival,” right? Doubtlessly an apotropaic custom, like scorch marks on wooden beams as charm against fire, or leaving old shoes and such inside the walls during construction.

Talking to the God of Tanks

The mysterious German “White Tiger” tank charges forth to ambush the protagonists from within a ruined Russian village.

Recently I started a post label called “Pagan-ish.” Now maybe I should make one called “animist-ish,” having watched the 2012 Russian movie White Tiger.

That is Tiger as in Tiger tank, not the big cat. This is a World War II movie. If you don’t like war movies, stop. If you are the kind who reacts with “T-34s in the mud. Cool!” then keep reading.

After an engagement with the Germans in which a Red Army armored unit is mostly destroyed, a Russian driver is found in his tank, badly burned but still alive. He makes a miraculous recovery but loses his memory—he remembers his military skills but forgets his name, personal history, and so forth.

He also talk to tanks. In one scene, he walks along a line of railroad flatcars carrying damaged Red Army tanks to the rear, and each one tells him, somehow, how it was knocked out.

A seemingly invincible German Tiger tank is wreaking havoc with Russian units, and the mysterious driver is given command of an upgraded T-34 and told to locate and destroy “the White Tiger.” Naydënov, the driver, believes that the Tank God warns him when he is in danger, and he also comes to think that the White Tiger is itself animated, not needing a human crew. Although he eventually engages and damages the White Tiger, it escapes.

After the German surrender, a Russian officer finds Naydënov still hunting the White Tiger.  He tells the tanker that the war over now. To quote Wikipedia,

But Naydënov disagrees, saying that the war will not truly end until the White Tiger is destroyed. Naydënov believes the White Tiger has gone into hiding and has been recovering from its wounds since their last battle. He claims it will return in several decades unless it is completely destroyed. Naydënov then vanishes along with his tank, seemingly into thin air.

At this point the movie becomes strange. In our normal linear history, Adolf Hitler is dead by then, but the final scene is a monologue between Hitler and some shadowy figure, sitting in an elegant office, in which the German leader talks about the “eternal struggle,” how all of Europe inwardly wanted Nazi German to attack the USSR, and how war is the normal human state.

It’s like additional dialog by Julius Evola. “The blood of the heroes is closer to God than the ink of the philosophers and the prayers of the faithful” — that kind of thing.

Considering that this is a Russian movie, it is the kind of twist that makes me wonder sometimes that although Germany lost the physical-plane war against the USSR, if it did not win on some other plane of existence. Eternal struggle . . .

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.

A Pagan-ish Easter Ceremony in Poland

Rękawka is a celebration held in Krakow the Tuesday after Easter, so loosely speaking, it is a spring equinox festival. My friend in Krakow calls it “a civic holiday with Pagan roots.”

Rękawka is also one name for the tumulus (artificial mound) in the video. The celebration has long included throwing offerings of food and coins from the mound. “It is possible that this was based on, perhaps even pre-Slavic, mound and a combination of threads from the legend of Krakow with Slavic beliefs. The rite may also be an echo of the ancient Celtic traditions related to the cult of the god of death Smertius” (Source).

From what I understand, in Poland as in elsewhere, there is a certain overlap between historical re-enactors and contemporary Pagans.

The Japanese Do Animism So Well — But So Can You

Two things I was reading this week came together. One was this article in The Atlantic: “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo Isn’t Really a Makeover Show,” about the Japanese author of  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, who now has a show on Netflix.

[Kondo] worked as a [Shinto] shrine maiden in Japan during college, and there are elements of the KonMari technique that borrow from Shinto beliefs, specifically the notion that inanimate objects are bearers of kami, or divine essence—in the same way that plants, animals, and people are. That’s why Kondo taps piles of old books to “wake them up,” folds clothes so that they can rest more comfortably, and asks her clients to thank pieces of clothing for their service before setting them aside. Paradoxically, the exercise of cultivating empathy for the things that surround us, rather than encouraging materialism, seems to lead Kondo’s clients to also have empathy for one another, and for themselves.

Marie Kondo

Podcaster Fire Lyte at Inciting a Riot picked upon the animistic, Pagan-ish elements too:

It’s a show where a nice little Japanese lady comes into your home and teaches you how to keep your home neat and organized. (I SWEAR IT IS PAGAN-ISH…keep reading…stop rolling your eyes. …put that tongue back in your mouth, too.) Kondo spent 5 years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and the religion’s animism is apparent throughout the show. Before Kondo begins, she greets your home, and teaches everyone she meets how to appreciate the spirit and effort immanent in all the things in your life. If the events of this show are not an example of magic in action I cannot think of a show that is. Her clients discuss how the energy in their homes and personal spaces changes as they move through her method of tidying, which includes giving a heartfelt blessing to any items being discarded and a focus on keeping that which gives you joy.

But wait, there’s more. I was also reading a passage from Aidan Wachter’s new book, Six Ways: Approaches and Entries for Practical Magic. I might have more to say about it later, but let me just say now that if you played a round of “If you had just one book on magic, what book would you have?” Six Ways is definitely a contender. Whether your path is Heathen or Hoodoo, there is something here for you.

In a section on “Warding Your Home” (how many of us do that regularly?) he writes of washing windows:

Now take your bucket [of spiritually charged vinegar and water that you have prepared] and clean your windows and doors, again asking what you wish. “Window, allow only helpful spirits and allies into this house, and send away all harmful influences that seek ingress into this place.” Do this with all the windows and doors . . . . When you operate your windows or doors, thank them for their work, being clear what you are thanking them for. This is important. In modern terms, be proactive, not reactive. Ask your door to protect your home when you leave, and thank it when you return!

We train ourselves as we train our house of spirits By being clear to the others around you, we become more clear to ourselves. Expect feedback if you are doing this right!

It’s all about maintaining relationships, right? And thank your old sneakers before you put them in the trash.