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.

Quick Review: THE IMMORTALS by Jordanna Max Brodsky

The old gods live among us, moving unseen, taking new forms, their powers diminished as people no longer honor them. That was the premise of Neil Gaiman’s magical road-trip novel, American Gods, and it is also the backstory to The Immortals (2016), for here the Olympic deities have abandoned Greece after the anti-Pagan emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official and legal religion of the empire.

Pious followers of reconstructed Hellenic religion should avoid this book. I am not going to give away all  the plot, but let’s just say that your screams of rage might alarm your neighbors.

Think of it as Mary Stewart — romantic suspense thriller — meets Dan Brown — the action stops while Robert Langdon, professor of symbology, explains the secret meaning behind events — only in this case it is Theodore Schultz of the Columbia University classics department who stops the breakneck action to explain the secret mythic plans behind a series of crimes.

Over time, some of the gods have gravitated to Manhattan, even Artemis the hunter, now a freelance private investigator and avenger of wrongs against women, currently using the name of Selene DiSilva. Hades lives under a disused subway station. Hermes (“Mr. Dash”) is now a film producer.

Paired with Professor Schultz, Artemis seeks to stop a revival of the Mysteries that involves human sacrifice (please, no screams of outrage), one victim being his former lover. But the question is, will she, the chaste goddess, fall in love with him — and if so, will she have to kill him? And does she really need her divine status?

The Immortals is a  page-turner, and definitely worthy of the label “Pagan-ish.”

Some Pagan-ish Advice, Offered as “Brutal Truths”

You know the most-quoted verse from Hávamál:

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well

. . . there is a lot more, of course.

After you read #7 in this list, you will think of it — as someone in the comments did. But were the Norse poet writing today, he might add a line:

Bandy no speech with a bad man:
Often the better is beaten
In a word fight by the worse.
Don’t read the comments.

 

A Secular Solstice or Truly “Pagan-ish”?

I saw this sign last Friday at the public library in Pueblo, Colorado, and I liked it for a bunch of reasons.

Sometimes I get tired of the “jolly old elf” and would not mind seeing a more dignified winter monarch(s). For all its other problems, I thought that the Soviet Union’s promotion of (non-religious) “Grandfather Frost” was a pretty good idea. (Here is more about him, with regional variations.)

So has he infiltrated  the public library system? And has the Snow Maiden come along as well?

If she has, I am for it. But then I was the little boy who read Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen” and came away thinking that the Snow Queen was in fact admirable, not the villainess from whom the little boy had to be “saved.”

Meanwhile, our Pueblo Winter King can aspire to equal that Sakut “Khan of Winter” (photo at left).

I have not heard how the metro Denver “solstice war” is playing out this year — here was the 2015 version — but this year’s astronomical solstice is at 1628 GMT, so 0928 Mountain Time, Thursday the 21st. Perfect for drumming-up.

 

“The Love Witch” — “Twin Peaks” Meets “Bell, Book and Candle”

Photo: Anna Biller Productions.

Last November, Peg Aloi of The Media Witches reviewed The Love Witch under the deadline, “Why Real Witches Are Going to Love (or Maybe Hate) the Love Witch.”

A pagan friend I watched the film with was shocked and called it “irresponsible and potentially damaging.” His concern is not unreasonable; the film’s portrayal of witches could easily be misinterpreted by viewers whose understanding of modern witchcraft is grounded in horror film imagery.

Its almost satirical air and its wooden dialog give it a period feel, the period being the mid-1960s to 1970s, the era of Rosemary’s Baby or The Trip — an earlier highpoint of Occult Revival. (Is it the classic Ford Mustang in the opening scene?)

But to me, it felt like Bell, Book and Candle (1958, female witch obsessed with love) meets Twin Peaks (1990–1991, detective in over his head, mysterious goings-on, red draperies) with additional dialog by Gerald Gardner.

Put The Love Witch on the list for when you and your fellow cultists get together for Semi-serious Occult Move Night.