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 . . .

Siberian Shamans Hold Camel Sacrifice — It’s Traditional, They Say

Watch this powerful video, which is also embedded in this article in the Moscow Times online: “Siberian Shamans Revive Ancient Camel-Burning Rite ‘to Help Russia.’”  The location is given merely as “the Irkutsk region” but elsewhere there are references to Tuva, a Central Asian republic that is part of the Russian Federation.

The shaman quoted, Artur Tsybikov, says that the sacrifice is traditional but has not been performed for thee hundred years.  I am guessing that he means in a time before the area came under imperial Russian rule and before Orthodox Christian missionaries arrived with imperial backing.

Tysbikov is also involved with political efforts to boost the prestige of traditional shamanism and animism, including this shamanic congress.

Let’s face it, all traditional (that word again) polytheisms involved sacrifice, usually of animals. You give to the gods, they give to you, right? There was even carryover into the Middle Eastern monotheisms — Kapparot for some Jews,  sacrifices of sheep or cattle at Eid al-Adha, and of course Jesus as the “lamb of God” who is the supreme sacrifice. Some people sacrifice their sanity—less blood that way.

Russian Witches Work Magically for Putin

I saw this video (there is a higher-resolution version at the link) on a Moscow Times story, “Russian Witches Cast Spells in Putin’s Support.”

Russian witches and seers performed on Tuesday one of their most powerful rituals, “the circle of power,” to pass on their mystical energy to President Vladimir Putin.

Dozens of people who claim to have supernatural powers stood side by side, reading spells in their effort to support the Russian head of state.

Self-proclaimed leader of the Russian witches Alyona Polyn said the main intention of the gathering is to enhance quality of life in Russia, the whole world in general and to support the president. (Read the rest.)

Who is Alyona Polyn? I asked a Pagan studies colleague in Eastern Europe who responded, quoting Polyn’s website:

“Alyona Polyn is a clairvoyant hereditary witch, author of magic books, oracles, and the world’s only complete Tarot deck.” I don’t see any place on her website where she calls herself any kind of yazychnik.  She says in one of her videos that “wedma’”(witch) is often “confused” with “Vedism”(usually meaning the Book of Veles end of Rodnoverie) and shamanism, which I think counts as distancing herself at least a little from both of those.  And there are no Slavic deities prominently mentioned on her website, and no obviously Gardner-derived materials.  Nor does she seem to hang out much with the Moscow chapter of PFI from what I can see online.

We in the United States have seen news stories about Pagan Witches working against President Trump. Consider, however, that Russia and the United States are both large and diverse countries. There might be Russian magickal practitioners working against President Putin, for all I know. And I would not bet against the possibility that some American Witches, etc., are working on behalf of President Trump. But as I said, “The Gods Do Not Vote, So Why Are You Asking Them?”

Rodnoverie: A Quick History of Russian Pagan Revival

Kaarina Aitamurto, a Finnish scholar who has studied the Russian Pagan revival extensively, has written a short history of the Rodnoverie movement(s) and their founders and exponents for the World Religions and Spirituality website. (Think of it as an online scholarly encyclopedia.)

In the 2000s, the Rodnoverie movement grew rapidly due to the Internet. In Russia, the Rodnoverie was among the first religions to seize the opportunities of the online space. Small communities created sites and displayed photographs of their festivals online. The availability of footage of rituals also created some uniformity in the ideas of what Rodnoverie festivals should be like. Individuals in remote parts of the country could participate in online discussions and seek likeminded people in their areas. In these discussions, many revealed that they had thought that they were the only ones adhering to the pre-Christian faith and expressed their enthusiasm to find these online and offline communities.

Rodnoverie was the subject of her PhD research, and she lists her publications on her University of Helsinki website.

Pentagram Pizza: It Resembles the Shaman’s Drum

Shaman from Tuva (Siberian Times).

• Once again, magic and sports don’t mix. According to Siberian Times (July 1), shamans invoked the ancestors to aid Russia’s team in their World Cup match against Spain. As a result (?), Russia won 4–3. But then they lost to Croatia a few days later and are now out of the tournament. Those ancestors, so fickle. (See also, magic and politics).

• Still on Russian shamans: Now they are seeking official recognition as a “traditional religion.”

For the first time ever, the shamans of the Russian Federation have come together and elected “the supreme shaman of Russia” – Kara-ool Dopchun-ool, head of the Kyzyl Local Religious Organization of Shamans – done so by an almost unanimous vote (115 out of 166 votes) and called for official recognition as a traditional religion of the country.

And there is a “United Council of the Shamans of Russia.” How do you think that that will turn out? Is herding shamans like herding cats? Still, it is an interesting bid for greater legitimacy.

• Can occult studies make you crazy? Or just a little unbalanced?

Over the years, as I’ve studied this subject, I’ve encountered a fair number of cautionary tales. People who become unduly interested in psychic phenomena – interested to the point of obsession – can find their mental health deteriorating, their relationships fragmenting, and their social status undermined. Of course, obsession is a bad thing regardless of its focus, but I suspect that it’s easier to become obsessed with the paranormal than with, say, stamp collecting. Something about this field of inquiry tends to draw people in and make them vulnerable to harm.

Read the whole thing. Was Arthur Conan Doyle driven over the edge? The article references The Trickster and the Paranormal, which is one of those “every esotericist should have this book” books. You can end up “one foot over the line,” it’s true.

Pagan Idols of the Mesolithic

The Shigir figure

Across northern Europe from the Ural Mountains to Ireland, the people erected wooden figures, of them quite large, as the ice age known as the Younger Dryas waned and the people could move into new, now-forested, lands. And they kept on during so until more recent times.

At Twilight Beasts, Rena Maguire writes,

There are stories from the deep past we won’t ever hear with our ears, but that’s not to say we cannot hear them. Archaeology tells those stories, the ones that I think matter.  The past I’m talking of is the one wrapped in skins and furs against the spiteful cold of the Younger Dryas. It has wise eyes and a hopeful heart; it knows what sustenance may still grow in snow and biting cold, and knows where the animals go to drink deep in parched summers. That past is carried in each and all of us, we are here because our ancestors survived the ice and cold with wisdom, courage and plain stubbornness. There’s times, however, something is found in bog, field or lake which beckons us to gather round in a circle, sit down, put the phone on silent, and listen to the past intently.

The Shigir wooden idol is one such object. It is an enigmatic wooden figure which, I admit, I could spend days just looking at, and ‘listening’ to, for it must have such a story to tell of the people who made it. It was found in a peat bog (all the best things are, imo) 100km north of Yekaterinburg, Russia, at the end of the 19th century. It stands head and shoulders (literally) above other objects of the past as it would have measured around 5 m  when complete, a tower of song, stories and memory set down some 11000 years ago. It is made of larch wood, and decorated with deep zig-zag lines on the torso, with 8 intriguing smaller faces carved as part of the design of the body. All the faces are unique and expressively stern.

More idols and a bibliography at the link. I love a good bibliography.  Read the whole thing!

Large-Group Ritual: Magic, Worship, or “Just What We Do”?

A friend in Poland sent a link to this music video, adding that it looks a lot like the Midsummer celebration in his village but needs the volunteer firefighters, more kielbasa, and more vodka, except, “Our river’s a fair bit wider, too.” He describes the St. Nicholas Orchestra as “Pagan-friendly,”  and into  the “anti-clerical stratum” of Polish folk culture. Note the procession!

My post from the 18th, “What Is Wrong With Large-Scale Ritual,” got a lot of responses (thanks!) here and on Facebook, but I noticed that the responses could be sorted into several categories without too much hammering and shoving.

  1. Lots of large-scale rituals are boring, and it’s time someone said so.
  2. #1 might be correct, but we do them right.
  3. Yes, let’s forget Wiccanesque circles and do processions instead, which is my current position. It’s about religion, not magical self-transformation.

Jim Dickinson argues that worship and magic(k) are not incompatible at large rituals:

Relative to the other commenter’s statement that we ‘should emphasize worship over magic-working’…I believe ritual should be both worship and magick, as often as possible. Magick is the tool that is used to create a space in which the likelihood of spiritual experience is increased. Magick, religion and spirituality are equal parts of the process. Magick helps creates spaces (physical, mental , energetic…etc.) in which spiritual experiences are fostered (against all the anti-spiritual energies in our modern worlds) and religion is the negotiated language we use to try to communicate (albeit imperfectly) to one another the essence of those mystery/spirit experiences. The synergy of religion and magick is what humans use to try to foster those mystery, spiritual experience for one another. All three are needed for a community to advance together. And a huge part of large-scale ritual, IMHO, should be providing a community bonding component.

But there is a reason that I posted the music video above. It’s about community too. And in any community you have the 80/20 rule, meaning that eighty percent of the people are not magical specialists and don’t want to be. They just want a little “juice” in their lives now and then, as well as a blessing on their important life moments.1)When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

In the 1980s when American Pagan festivals were newish and still somewhat small, almost everyone participated in group ritual. As the attendance grew, so did a tendency that I have noticed at big festivals for people to camp in groups, decorate their camps . . . and then just stay there. Do you want to get them out of their lawn chairs and into the (temporary autonomous) community?

Here’s another large-scale summer solstice ritual, Russian Rodnovery (Native Faith) this time, via the French newspaper Le Figaro:

There is a circle again—it is hard to say how big it is or how long the circle ritual lasted. Children are involved, and there is movement, which are good signs.

Notes   [ + ]

1. When they are “hatched, matched, and dispatched,” as the Anglican vicar says.

A Top Nazi’s Library, “Violent” Heathens, and a Middle Eastern “Old Religion”

himmler and hitler

Heinrich Himmler (front, leather coat) chats with der Führer.

According to the Daily Mail (dial skepticism appropriately) a collection of occult books1)Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle. owned by Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler has been found in the Czech Republic.

The bulk of the collection was called the ‘Witches Library’ and concentrated on witches and their persecution in medieval Germany.

One of Himmler’s quack theories was that the Roman Catholic Church tried to destroy the German race through witch hunts.

UPDATE, March 31, 2016: The Wild Hunt reports that the news story quoted above resulted from a misunderstanding, and that there were no “occult books,” just some Masonic books.

• At Religion Dispatches, thoughts on how the History Channel series The Vikings both “subverts and supports the violent heathen trope” (my italics).

In one scene, the Christian Prince Aethelwulf, who earlier in the series said that “it is just not possible to imagine a world in which there is both one god and several,” unleashed genocidal fury on a settlement of unarmed, pagan [sic], Viking2)“Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice. farmers who had been promised protection by the king. Yet,3)No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it! the show includes vestiges of the violent heathen trope that’s been a staple of how dominant religious groups have portrayed minority religious groups throughout history.

• According to this article, some Kurds, who are various in conflict with Sunni and Shiite Arabs and Iranians, are going back to the Old Religion, that of Zoroaster. (It has hung in some places all these centuries since the Arab Muslims rolled over Persia in the 8th century.)

The small, ancient religion of Zoroastrianism is being revived in northern Iraq. Followers say locals should join because it’s a truly Kurdish belief. Others say the revival is a reaction to extremist Islam.

One of the smallest and oldest religions in the world is experiencing a revival in the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. The religion has deep Kurdish roots – it was founded by Zoroaster, also known as Zarathustra, who was born in the Kurdish part of Iran and the religion’s sacred book, the Avesta, was written in an ancient language from which the Kurdish language derives. However this century it is estimated that there are only around 190,000 believers in the world – as Islam became the dominant religion in the region during the 7th century, Zoroastrianism more or less disappeared.

So does this count as a “Native Faith” movement, like Rodnoverie, etc., but not polytheistic?

Notes   [ + ]

1. Hans Thomas Hakl probably has more than Himmer did—but no castle.
2. “Viking” is a job description, not an ethnicity. “Norse” would be a better choice.
3. No comma needed after an introductory conjunction. So stop it!

Pagan-Studies Scholars Tell Their Stories

Pom header

The new double issue of The Pomegranate is something different. It contains two long papers, but the rest is devoted to a special section on scholarly autobiography conceived and edited by Doug Ezzy (U. of Tasmania).

Doug visited Hardscrabble Creek in November 2014 and while holed up in the guest cabin, speed-reading my library, thought how interesting it might be to get some of the long-time Pagan-studies scholars to tell their stories. How did they get started? What obstacles did they face? Who helped them? And so on.

We drew up a list of people to ask for contributions—all from the English-speaking world for this volume, so I see a second special section ahead in the future. Most were happy to write something.

By arrangement with the publisher, my editorial, “A Double Issue of The Pomegranate: The First Decades of Contemporary Pagan Studies,” is a free download. Because workers deserve to be paid, the entire special section costs £17.50  (US $25.40), normally the fee for a single article.

Articles

The Divine Feminine in the Silver Age of Russian Culture and Beyond: Vladimir Soloviev, Vasily Rozanov and Dmitry Merezhkovsky,” Dmitry Galtsin

Elements of Magic, Esotericism, and Religion in Shaktism and Tantrism in Light of the Shakti Pitha Kamakhy?” Archana Barua

Special Section – Paths into Pagan Studies: Autobiographical Reflections

“The Pagan Studies Archipelago: Pagan Studies in a Cosmopolitan World,” Douglas Ezzy

“The Old Pomegranate and the New,” Fritz Muntean

“Walking Widdershins,” Wendy Griffin

“Playing Croquet with Hedgehogs: (Still) Becoming a Scholar of Paganism and Animism,” Graham Harvey

“Navigating Academia and Spirituality from a Pagan Perspective,” Michael York

“An Outsider Inside: Studying Contemporary Paganism,” Helen A Berger

“The Owl, the Dragon and the Magician: Reflections on Being an Anthropologist Studying Magic,” Susan Greenwood

“The Academy, the Otherworld and Between,” Kathryn Rountree

“Making the Strange Familiar,” Sarah Pike

“Reflecting on Studying Wicca from within the Academy and the Craft,” Melissa Jane Harrington

“Pagan(ish) Senses and Sensibilities,” Adrian Ivakhiv

The War on Halloween

Sergei_Aksyonov_3486318b

Sergei Aksyonov Photo: REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

It’s that time of year, time for the Russians to take their turn at complaining that Halloween is an evil Western import.

Segei Aksyonov, who has been placed in charge of the Crimean peninsula, which Russia recently snatched from Ukraine, called the holiday “cultural colonisation.”

Meanwhile, a spokes-priest for the Russian Orthodox Church suggests that celebrating Halloween leads to terrorism:

He also regrets that “when our country struggles against global terrorism, some of our citizens, may be jokingly, disguise in evil forces, making their children use to play with evil.”

Obviously, the Russian church is still catching up on clerical education following the end of the USSR. The root meaning of “cosmetic” is not “beauty” but “order,” with a secondary meaning of “ornamentation.” Look it up.

But if you want “cultural colonization,” (and I revert to the American spelling,)  just look here:
russians at McDsI took this photo last month on the Greek island of Corfu. The Russian guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy was in port, and sailors wandered the old town district on shore leave.

And did they end up in the hundreds of perfectly acceptable Greek bars and restaurants? No, they were always at McDonalds.

Look, spend your rubles on a good Corfu sofrito and some Corfu “real ale” and have fun on Halloween, OK?

If, that is, it is possible to feel festive while cruising up and down the Syrian coast.