The Pizzica Video that Tore My Heart

Just as the reality of coronavirus lockdown descended (even on those of us who live in lightly populated areas), two differnt Facebook friends linked to this YouTube video, released on April 17th. The location is the Piazza Sant’Oronzo in the southern Italian city of Lecce, at the heel tip of the “boot.”

The dance is a traditional style called pizzica. I had learnt about it only recently, when I met an Italian scholar living in the US, Giovanna Parmigiani, who published an article in The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies about how some residents of that region were, in a sense, re-paganzing the dance, but in their own unique way, reflective of their regional history and their understanding of tradition.

While the opportunity exits, you can download her article, “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism,” for free. Just visit the linked page and click “PDF.”1)If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.

Based on conversations with Giovanna, reading her work, watching videos, I realized that the Lecce dancer’s performance turned the pizzica tradition on its head.

  1. Instead of being at a crowded festival, the dancer is alone.
  2. Instead of wearing white, she is wearing black.
  3. Instead of having live music, she dances to recorded music.
  4. Instead of being in a crowd, she is alone.
  5. She is alone.

The newspaper La Repubblica picked it up and placed the video on its own YouTube channel, commenting

A dancer dressed in black dances the pinch in the heart of Lecce. In Piazza Sant’Oronzo, on what is the symbol of the city: the coat of arms of the She-wolf, on which the woman moves almost as if she wanted to awaken everyone from slumber. The video that appeared on Facebook has become a sort of exorcism, in the days of quarantine due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The taranta of evils to be chased away at a mad pace is known, and this is the message launched by the dancer. Who, assures those who filmed it by turning off the social controversy that have not missed, lives 40 meters from the square, and then moved within the limits imposed by the [lockdown] decree [Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator].

I get the “exorcism” part, but watching this late at night sent me into a horrible dystopian place, a real tragic place, where the dancer and the few passers-by (and the cop at 2:39) were the last people in a deserted city, not exorcising but defying their inevitable deaths from . . . .whatever it was.

When I remember the spring of 2020, I will remember this video as much as I remember the equally deserted Main Street of my nearest little town.

For even though my daily life has “social distancing” built in and even though I do have easy contact with nonhuman nature, and thank the gods for that, I know that I am still connected to the collective unconscious and the world soul, not to mention the internet.

And so I have had some really chilling dystopian dreams, right down to masses of people committing suicide becasue there was nothing left to live for and no way to survive. That particular dream might partly have been launched by reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road the week before at the urging of a friend.2)His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you? Bad choice. But without the pandemic, I doubt it would have lodged itself in my psyche.

On a happier note, Giovanna is expanding her paper into a book, The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy, which will be published in Equinox Publishing’s Pagan studies book series one of these days. Dance on!

Notes   [ + ]

1. If this free download does not work for you during the summer of 2020, please contact me.
2. His own son is named Cormac — what does that tell you?

Thelema, New York, and Esoteric Publishing: A Quick Review of “In the Center of the Fire”


James Wasserman, In the Center of the Fire: A Memoir of the Occult 1966–1989 (Lake Worth, Fla.: Ibis Press, 2012).

(In the cover photo, Wasserman is in back and his business and magickal partner Bill Breeze in the foreground.)

Before I found my first Wiccan coven, a friend connected me with (an) Abby of Thelema, a little group of 20-something magicians living in a run-down old house in a run-down neighborhood of Colorado Springs. Three or four other members lived elsewhere but came over for study and ritual. 1)They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on. There was a certain amount of drug use and not always enough food, but someone was the “imperator.”

I learned some things there, but the combination of high-flown titles, material poverty, and self-delusion was pretty strange. The “abby” hit the rocks before long, and I moved on to a more compatible path.

But yes, Thelema. Here, pre-O.T.O., is our protagonist at (the old) Antioch College in Ohio: “This [academic] quarter was particularly laced with drugs, women, and spiritual seeking. School was simply off the radar.” The first quarter of the book, in fact, is a classic Seventies melange of road trips, dope, spiritual teachers, sexual relationships, and more road trips. (Wasserman and I could have passed on the street in Portland — or maybe in Taos.)

Finally Wasserman is in New York City, working at Weiser’s, a pre-eminent metaphysical store, and meeting other esotericists with whom he shares memorable experiences: “How many mornings we later spent on the pier on Hudson River across from my Greenwich Street loft, greeting the dawn with a hit of speed.” After a time, he shifts to the book-publishing side of the business, where he finds a home.

Aleister Crowley’s magickal heirs are deeply involved with texts — and some of the best tales of this memoir involve books, manuscripts, correspondence, and libraries, complete with international court battles over rights, burglaries of occult libraries, leadership struggles within the O.T.O., and Wasserman’s own adventures in magickal pubishing and with heroin. Some times I wonder if you can have Thelemic magic without heroin; Crowley himself certainly could not.

Wasserman’s recounting of his highs and lows through the Seventies and Eighties are brutally honest. A lot of what he tried, e.g. open marriage and the heavy drinking, simple did not work. They usually do not work long-term. Maybe what carried him through so many destructive periods was the magick — and yet, I have seen others on the same path sink to the depths and never rise. He sank, but he rose. In the Center of the Fire is an honest book, and it stands in contrast to many occult memoirs I have read where I felt the author was hiding all the unpleasant stuff and making his or her life look like a sequence of triumphs.

It should interest anyone interested in the late-20th century history of the O.T.O. (including how more of a place was made for women than Crowley had anticipated) in the American esoteric publishing and bookselling scene, and in the bohemian life in New York in the late Seventies and Eighties. You could put in the same shelf as Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan or even with Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids (Smith makes a brief appearance in Wasserman’s book.)

Maybe witches, magicians, and esotericists of the future will look at 1980s New York the way that would-be Hemingways and Fitzgeralds regard the Paris of the “Lost Generation.”.

Notes   [ + ]

1. They did have a lot of Crowley’s books, and if I had been more attuned and had had some extra money, I could have bought them all from the member who ended up with them, held them a while, and re-sold them at a profit. But I didn’t. I just wanted to move on.

Read The Pomegranate and Other Equinox Journals for Free

Equinox Publishing, which publishes The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, has made the last year’s worth of its journals available online at no cost. Here is the announcement:

Campus and library closures and, for many, the abrupt switch to remote teaching and learning are causing shockwaves through the academic community. If nothing else, the crisis has underlined the critical need for publishers to improve the user experience in accessing content remotely. To help, we are offering the following routes to Equinox content for our current subscribers as well as others who are compiling online courses and may need to access book content:

– all journal issues published in the last 12 months will be opened and all new issues  will be freely accessible until the crisis abates

Read the complete announcement, which affects some ebooks and textbooks, here.

If you try it and have problems — or if you try it and experience success — please let me know in the comments.

 

A New Book for the Pagan Studies Series on Pagan Aspects of Pizzica in Southern Italy

A year ago I photographed Jefferson Calico (r.), author of Being Viking: Heathenism in Contemporary America with Giovanna Parmigiani, a visitor to the Equinox Publishing booth at the American Academy of Religion-Society of Biblical Literature joint book show at their annual meetings in Denver, Colorado.

I am happy to say that Giovanna has now signed a contract with us in the Contemporary and Historical Paganism series for her new book, which has a working title of The Spider Dance: Tradition, Time, and Healing in Southern Italy. A little piece of it is in the current issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies as “Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism.”1)If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?

Q:  Two books is a “series”?

A: It is more complicated than that. The series was originally published by AltaMira Press, a division of Roman & Littlefield, an American publisher. The first book in the series was Barbara Davy’s (a Canadian scholar) Introduction to Pagan Studies (2007), followed by my book Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America (2006).2)Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first. There were others in the series, some acquired by my first co-editor, Wendy Griffin.

Wendy stepped down, and was replaced by the late Nikki Bado. Meanwhile, editorial changes at Rowman left Nikki and me looking for another home. We quickly found one at Equinox, which was already publishing The Pomegranate. Nikki and I brought in more books, including Pop Pagans: Paganism and Popular Music and Modern Pagan and Native Faith Movements in Central and Eastern Europe, whose co-editor, Scott Simpson, stepped up to replace Nikki after her death and continues as series co-editor now.

Meanwhile, there was a merger, a de-merger, and a sale, and those books in the “Series in Contemporary and Historical Paganism” ended up with Routledge, who discontinued the series. Meanwhile, we carried on with Equinox, starting over from scratch, more or less.

Q: What does pizzica sound like?

A: Try this (it’s kind of a formal performance):

Drummers might like this one:

This one is fun too. Remember that this part of the Italian peninsula was settled by Greeks way back.

One last thing: if you order from the links, I do get a small commission, which helps with the Web-hosting bill. Thanks.

Notes   [ + ]

1. If you do not want to buy access to the article, have you talked to your friendly inter-library loan librarian?
2. Wait, you say, those numbers are out of sequence. All I can say is that Barb’s was actually printed first.

Pomegranate 21.1 Published—Table of Contents

The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies

Issue 21.1 (2019) table of contents

Articles
Fallen Soldiers and the Gods: Religious Considerations in the Retrieval and Burial of the War Dead in Classical Greece
Sarah L. Veale

Attitudes Towards Potential Harmful Magical Practices in Contemporary Paganism – A Survey
Bethan Juliet Oake

Spiritual Pizzica: A Southern Italian Perspective on Contemporary Paganism
Giovanna Parmigiani

The Ethics of Pagan Ritual
Douglas Ezzy

“The Most Powerful Portal in Zion” – Kursi: The Spiritual Site that Became an Intersection of Ley-lines and Multicultural Discourses
Marianna Ruah-Midbar Shapiro , Adi Sasson

Book Reviews-open access
Stephen Edred Flowers, The Northern Dawn: A History of the Reawakening of the Germanic Spirit. Vol. 1, From the Twilight of the Gods to the Sun at Midnight
Jefferson F. Calico

Liselotte Frisk, Sanja Nilsson, and Peter Åkerbäck, Children in Minority Religions: Growing Up in Controversial Religious Groups
Carole M. Cusack

Ronald Hutton, The Witch: A History of Fear, from Ancient Times to the Present
Chas S. Clifton

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween, dear readers. This day finds me still coping with the 16.5 inches (41 cm) of snow that fell this week, working simultaneously on two journals (a new Pomegranate is coming!) and preparing to start a book-editing project. And my own stuff too, of course.

It doesn’t feel very Halloween-ish, to tell the truth, but the British neighbor is throwing a Bonfire Night party on the compromise date of November 2nd, and I am looking forward to that.

Interview with Carl Weschcke’s Biographer

Melanie Marquis (Voyage Denver).

I once stayed a couple of nights at Carl Weschcke’s house, when he lived out in Marine on St. Croix, and on the drive back and forth to the old Llewellyn Publications office in St. Paul I heard a lot of his stories — but I am sure there are more!

Colorado author Melanie Marquis has written several books for Llewellyn, but the one that I most want to see is Carl Llewellyn Weschcke: Pioneer & Publisher of Body, Mind & Spirit.

From the publisher’s description:

To the countless people he inspired, Carl Llewellyn Weschcke will forever be known as the Father of the New Age. This vivid and entertaining book tells Carl’s story, from a childhood influenced by his Spiritualist grandfather to his early days as a member and president of the Minnesota NAACP. Discover the fascinating account of how he transformed Llewellyn Publications from a small publisher of astrology pamphlets into the largest and most important publisher of body, mind, and spirit literature. Read about Carl’s relationships with the most influential thinkers and teachers of the counterculture, and his public Wiccan handfasting and enduring relationship with his wife, Sandra. Written by longtime friend Melanie Marquis?and including photos and contributions from authors, artists, family, friends, and collaborators?this is a book that looks back at the kindling of a movement while empowering fellow travelers on their journey forward.

When people talk about the history of Paganism, most of the emphasis is on the groups, leaders, and inspirational writers. Carl did some writing too, but I focus on his accomplishments as publisher and facilitator. He added Wiccan and then other Pagan titles to what had been an astrology-focused list. He threw parties. He published Gnostica, his “magalog” (magazine + catalog) with people like Isaac Bonewits (briefly editor) and Robert Anton Wilson writing for it. His Gnosticon festivals, along with the Church of Wicca’s Samhain Seminars (both of them hotel-based conventions) were among the first large Pagan gatherings where people actually met practitioners from other groups beyond their own.

Really, could you imagine North American Paganism without Llewellyn books, say what you will about some of them? No Buckland’s “Big Blue Book“? No Scott Cunningham? No Silver Ravenwolf? No Chas Clifton’s Witchcraft Today series?

According to Marquis, interviewed on the website Voyage Denver, Carl was “an absolutely fascinating man who took a small mail-order company of astrology pamphlets and built it into a multi-million dollar publishing house focused on New Age and occult literature. He was also a lifelong student of the occult sciences. and a dedicated activist and engaging speaker and outspoken leader during the civil rights era.”

Read the whole interview about her life and her writing here.

How Do You Write to a Pagan Author?

I got this email last week from a publishing firm that I had never heard of. I did my due diligence — I looked at their website and read an article about them from Publishers Weekly. Apparently their nonfiction business model is to do deep data analysis and see what is trending, then commission books about those things.

Apparently one of those trending things is Paganism. Yeah, I know, surprise surprise.

So I got this letter, and I wonder who else got it too. I’m still chuckling at the first sentence:

I hope this finds you in a joyously supernatural or naturalistic environment. My name is [redacted] and I help manage acquisitions for  [name of company], a nonfiction book publisher that is the fastest growing in the world. Given your incredible passion for all that encompasses the pagan realm, with a strong background as a Pagan writer as well, I thought you would be interested in potentially authoring a new book we seek to publish.

I am still trying to sort that out. If I were in a “supernatural environment,” would I be reading email? Wouldn’t I be feasting with the Fairie Queen or something? As for “naturalistic,” that usually a term in art criticism: “closely resembling the object imitated.”1)“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Maybe she meant that I was sitting with my Power Book under the pine trees— a nice image, but not how I work.

Let’s leave aside my “incredible passion” (sweetie, you don’t know me that well) and the inconsistent capitalization of Pagan/pagan. Also, “fastest growing” should be hyphenated. Anyhow, I bet she sent out a batch of these, don’t you?

Thank you, [name redacted], for brightening my week. But I have too much on my plate to write another “Paganism 101” book.

Notes   [ + ]

1. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

A New Study of Solitary Pagans

Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans, and Others Who Practice Alone is a new study from Helen A. Berger, a sociologist of religion who has been studying contemporary Paganism for decades. Her body of work is large enough now that future scholars will be returning to it again and again for its depth.

It is published by the University of South Carolina Press, which says,

Solitary Pagans is the first book to explore the growing phenomenon of contemporary Pagans who practice alone. Although the majority of Pagans in the United States have abandoned the tradition of practicing in groups, little is known about these individuals or their way of practice. Helen A. Berger fills that gap by building on a massive survey of contemporary practitioners. By examining the data, Berger describes solitary practitioners demographically and explores their spiritual practices, level of social engagement, and political activities. Contrasting the solitary Pagans with those who practice in groups and more generally with other non-Pagan Americans, she also compares contemporary U.S. Pagans with those in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

Berger brings to light the new face of contemporary paganism by analyzing those who learn about the religion from books or the Internet and conduct rituals alone in their gardens, the woods, or their homes. Some observers believe this social isolation and political withdrawal has resulted in an increase in narcissism and a decline in morality, while others argue to the contrary that it has produced a new form of social integration and political activity. Berger posits the implications of her findings to reveal a better understanding of other metaphysical religions and those who shun traditional religious organizations.

Prof. Berger has authored or co-authored a number of books on contemporary Paganism, including A Community of Witches: Contemporary Neo-Paganism and Witchcraft in the United States (1999),  Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States (2003), Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self (2007), Witchcraft and Magic: Contemporary North America (2005).

In addition, she has mentored a number of younger social scientists studying contemporary Paganism (and other things) as well as having served on the steering committee for Contemporary Pagan Studies within the American Academy of Religion.

I will be looking to find this book at the AAR-SBL book show in November and will probably come home with a copy.

New Issue of The Pomegranate Published

Issue 20.2 (2018) table of contents
Articles
On the Agony of Czech Slavic Paganism and the Representation of One’s Own Funeral among Contemporary Czech Pagans
Giuseppe Maiello

An Esbat among the Quads: An Episode of Witchcraft at Oxford University in the 1920s
Graham John Wheeler

Pagan and Indigenous Communities in Interreligious Contexts: Interrogating Identity, Power, and Authenticity
Lee Gilmore

Claiming Europe: Celticity in Russian Pagan and Nativist Movement (1990s–2010s)
Dmitry Galtsin

The Hunt for Lost Identity: Native Faith Paganism in Contemporary Lithuania
Dalia Senvaityte

Book Reviews-open access
W. Michael Ashcraft, A Historical Introduction to the Study of New Religious Movements
Carole M. Cusack

Anthony Ephirim-Donkor, African Personality and Spirituality: The Role of Abosom and Human Essence
Douglas Ficek

Jefferson F. Calico, Being Viking: Heathenry in Contemporary America
Galina Krasskova