Archives For December 2010

A Blessed Solstice

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 21, 2010 — 25 Comments

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.”William Blake

Today* is the Winter Solstice (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, then it’s the Summer Solstice), the longest night and shortest day of the year. This year a full lunar eclipse will be visible on the solstice in North America.


Sun Halo at Winter Solstice.

This time of year is held sacred by many modern Pagan and Heathen traditions, and has a rich history in ancient pagan religion.

The solstice time was marked as special by pre-historic peoples in both Ireland and England. While there is scant evidence of specific celebrations, it is generally thought that the pagan Celts did mark the solstice time.

Germanic pagans and modern Heathens celebrate Yule at this time. During this holiday the god Freyr was honored. Several traditions we associate with Christmas (eating a ham, hanging holly, mistletoe) come from Yule.

The ancient pagan Romans celebrated Saturnalia which typically ran from December 17th through the 23rd. The festival honored the god Saturn and featured lavish parties and role-reversals. From Saturnalia we can see the traditions of exchanging gifts and decorating evergreen trees indoors that would be adopted as Christmas traditions. Following Saturnalia were the birth celebrations in honor of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun) and Mithras both held on December 25th.

Many modern Pagans, including Wiccans, Witches, several Druidic traditions, and their many off-shoots hold this time as one of the eight Sabbats/holy days. Usually called Winter Solstice or Yule. It is a time when many of these traditions celebrate the re-birth of the god by the mother goddess.

Here are some quotes on our winter observances.

“Virtually all cultures have their own way of acknowledging this moment. The Welsh word for solstice translates as “the point of roughness,” while the Talmud calls it “Tekufat Tevet,” first day of “the stripping time.” For the Chinese, winter’s beginning is “dongzhi,” when one tradition is making balls of glutinous rice, which symbolize family gathering. In Korea, these balls are mingled with a sweet red bean called pat jook. According to local lore, each winter solstice a ghost comes to haunt villagers. The red bean in the rice balls repels him. In parts of Scandinavia, the locals smear their front doors with butter so that Beiwe, sun goddess of fertility, can lap it up before she continues on her journey. (One wonders who does all the mopping up afterward.) Later, young women don candle-embedded helmets, while families go to bed having placed their shoes all in a row, to ensure peace over the coming year.”Richard Cohen, The New York Times

“The winter solstice is a pagan tradition that predates Christian beliefs, according to [Kristan] Cannon-Nixon. “It’s basically a New Year’s (celebration) and the Christian Christmas all rolled into one.”  She said when Sudbury’s pagan community and others interested in their beliefs gather on Dec. 19 at O’Connor Park, the evening will begin with a potluck dinner.  She said feasting together is an ancient tradition.  Following the meal, a ritual takes place, where pagans gather in a circle to pay “respect to the gods.” Cannon-Nixon said the ritual allows pagans to give thanks for the good things in their lives.”Jenny Jelen, Sudbury Northern Life

“The holiday is rooted deeply in the cycle of the year. It is the winter solstice that is being celebrated, seedtime of the year, the longest night and shortest day. It is the birthday of the new Sun King, the Son of God—by whatever name you choose to call him. On this darkest of nights, the Goddess becomes the Great Mother and once again gives birth. And it makes perfect poetic sense that on the longest night of the winter, “the dark night of our souls”, there springs the new spark of hope, the Sacred Fire, the Light of the World, the Coel Coeth.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

Light the sky, oh heart, with such bold ray,
That the dark will lose its longing for the day.
Gaze too, upon full moon in earth’s eclipse
And see where self’s long shadow guards the way.

- T. Thorn Coyle, Rubaiyat for Winter (excerpt)

No matter what your religion or tradition, may this year’s winter celebrations and observances bring you peace and joy!

* The Winter Solstice happens on December 21st at 23:38 UTC. Which means that it happened at approximately 03:35 PM PST for me. You can calculate the time for your own neck of the woods, here.

I gave this issue a glancing mention back in May, and thought that would be the end of it. But it seems I’m wrong, the issue of English actor Idris Elba, who happens to be black, playing Heimdall in the upcoming “Thor” movie has hit the newswires again. This time it is the Council of Conservative Citizens, an organization born from the segregationist White Citizens Council, making waves about this “attack [on] conservatives values,” and urging a boycott of the film.

“Norse mythology gets a multi-cultural remake in the upcoming movie titled “Thor,” by Marvel studios. It’s not enough that Marvel attacks conservative values and promotes the left-wing, now mythological Gods must be re-invented with black skin. It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves. An upcoming movie, based on the comic book Thor, will give Norse mythology an insulting multi-cultural make-over. One of the Gods will be played by Hip Hop DJ Idris Elba.”

First off “Hip Hop DJ” Idris Elba is actually a critically acclaimed British actor, not that such distinctions matter to groups like the CCC (they also think the Black Panther comic is “extremist”). Further, as I said the last time, this is an adaptation of a comic book, and not an adaptation of the Eddas. Anyone who actually paid attention to said comic book over the years would know that the pantheons of “gods” in the Marvel Universe aren’t racial/cultural manifestations of the divine but extra-dimensional aliens/beings who decided to take these forms.

“Yes, Marvel’s pantheon are ostensibly Norse gods. They have Nordic names, they’re fond of horned helmets and axes, and they love a night in the mead hall. But they are not ethnically Nordic or Scandinavian. Marvel has fudged them into a category of “extra-dimensional aliens” who possess technology so powerful and advanced that humans classify it as magic. One could get into a headache of an argument wondering why they favor the look of the early medieval, but hey, whatever rocks their world. They’re gods / extra -dimensional aliens. We may not even be perceiving them accurately, but in whatever way our feeble human brains can comprehend their awesomeness.”

Here’s Marvel Comic’s official take on these “gods”.

“Inhabiting the Nine Worlds in the other-dimensional Asgardian system are six races of humanoid life forms. Each race is different and intelligent, but the most powerful race is that of the Gods. The Gods are the most human looking and believed to have inhabited Earth at one time only to move to Asgard sometime later. Norsemen and Germanic tribes used to worship the Asgardians nearly a millennium ago and that is why some of the names differ slightly like Wotan instead of Odin. Even though certain Gods are still interested in humanity such as Thor, the Asgardians do not have any more active worshippers or seek to have any.”

Now, unless your personal pantheon also includes Ego the Living Planet and Galactus (portrayed as far stronger than any of the gods), these are not the gods of the Norse that were, and are, worshiped in the real not-comics world (in addition, the notion/assertion that gods couldn’t change the color of their skin if they wanted to seems like an insult to their power). Anyone going to the Thor movie, or reading the comic, hoping for a religio-cultural thrill, will ultimately be disappointed. These are Marvel’s toys to play with, not divine beings (unless your Norse gods talk to you in a faux-Shakespearean patois and team up with enhanced human beings to defeat evil).

This controversy over what will most likely be an extended cameo by a black actor in an overwhelmingly white cast is entirely manufactured to draw attention to the CCC. They seem to miss being called racists so much that they are baiting comic book fans into doing it. Sadly, though I searched and searched, I couldn’t find their boycott pages for when Christopher Lambert played Raiden, or Keanu Reeves the Buddha. It seems their quest for purity only goes in one direction.

John Morehead’s always wonderful TheoFantastique features a discussion with Pagan academic and film critic Peg Aloi over the upcoming Nicolas Cage film “Season of the Witch”. In it, Cage stars as a 14th century Crusader charged with escorting a suspected witch to a remote abbey to conduct a ritual they hope will cure the Black Plague. While both Morehead and Aloi are fans of occult-laced genre films, Aloi has some general concerns about the messages sent by films like “Season of the Witch”.

My main concern in terms of any negative repercussions for modern witchcraft is that one of the trailers I saw does include images of the pentagram, and seems to be equating it with evil. This is typical Hollywood occultism, and of course the symbol probably was associated with the occult in the Middle Ages. But since modern witches use this symbol, I suppose this film may provide yet another example of negative associations. But this kind of thing then opens up the possibility that the type of witchcraft portrayed in the film should somehow be equated with Wicca or modern witchcraft, which is problematic, because of course it shouldn’t.

As for the story itself and any relevance it has to contemporary discussions of religion, or of modern witchcraft, I do think that it may provide an opportunity to consider how we view images of the witch in history. Why is the witch a dangerous female? Why is she not always what she seems? Why is she thought to be so powerful that she causes disease and destruction? Why has witchcraft historically been such a lynchpin in so many eras of cultural turmoil? In any case, this looks like it will be a fairly entertaining film, if not a remarkable piece of cinema, although it has a great cast and a very fine production designer. I’m hoping it will be pretty good. Of course, some audience members aren’t inclined to forgive Nic Cage’s last foray into occult stories after the diabolical remake of The Wicker Man. So there will no doubt be some who think he’s “got it in for us.”

The whole discussion is worth a read, you may also want to see more clips from the film to decide whether it is something you’d want to take a chance on when it comes to a theater near you.

Personally, whether this film turns out to be sympathetic towards the suspected witch, or simply turns her into an evil demonic force, I’m not much for caring. Despite starring in one or two decent films, Nicolas Cage is (or has devolved into) a b-grade hack of an actor. The fact that he starred in ruinous remakes of both “The Wicker Man” (turning it into a comedic freak-show) and “Wings of Desire” (renamed “City of Angels”), two of my all-time favorite films, makes him box-office poison to my movie-going dollars. I keep expecting him to star as Howard Beale in a remake of “Network” so he can befoul that classic as well.

As for the content of the film, if I was going to see a Black Death centered film with Crusaders and a suspected witch in it, I’d much rather take my chances on the Sean Bean-starring (you know, Boromir in “Lord of the Rings”“Black Death”. Which treads much of the same ground, but seems far more intelligent.

“Black Death” has earned a 79% fresh rating on the  Tomatometer, an achievement I don’t think “Season of the Witch” will achieve. In any case, do check out the discussion between Peg and John.

At the Huffington Post, Hindu American Foundation co-founder Suhag Shukla talks about Western culture’s use and appropriation of Hindu sacred imagery using the recent Newsweek Obama-Nataraj cover as one example.

‘Hindus don’t respect their own icons so why the big deal over Newsweek’ was the rumbling of some. One need only take a quick stroll through the aisles of an Indian grocery store anywhere in America and, especially throughout India, to find Lakshmi brand flour, Ganesh brand rice or Saraswati brand camphor (all brands named after Hindu Gods). These are but a few examples of the infinite commercial invocations of sacred images seen throughout the Indian, majority Hindu context. Why then should Hindu Americans be upset by the Newsweek cover or even Burger King’s placement of the Goddess Lakshmi on a burger?

The answer is simple — it matters who is using the image, and even more importantly, why. For decades, we’ve watched Hinduism’s sacred images plastered on advertising, packaging and billboards on an ever-increasing variety of consumer products throughout India. Indeed, not every Indian or Hindu use is done with a nod to the sacred, but one will often sense an inside understanding — even reverence — in its use. Manufacturing companies in the Hindu world also use images of Hindu deities to invoke God’s blessings for the success of their endeavor, or it may be that the business is a family business with a family name that has religious connotations.

Shukla acknowledges that there are many different Hindu perspectives on these appropriations, but that Hindus should “assert the right to rule-making” when it comes to their sacred iconography.

As ties between the Hindu community and modern Pagans continues to deepen, we’ll have to decide where we stand as the American Hindu community tries to draw boundaries between what is and isn’t an acceptable usage of their sacred images. It also raises the question of how modern Pagan faiths should respond to usages of our own iconography within popular culture and advertising. How would we have felt if, instead of Nataraj, they portrayed Obama as Cernunnos? What about terrible movies that mangle pre-Christian mythology? HAF seems to be advocating that religious groups take a more active role in policing their iconography and imagery, should we be following their example?

Two articles from the Reuters newswire yesterday struck me as highlighting the difference in perceptions between religious groups who hold power, and those that don’t. First, Pope Benedict XVI, in a message for the Roman Catholic Church’s World Day of Peace, took time to place special emphasis on the “hostility and prejudice” towards Christians in Europe.

“… he reserved his strongest words for Europe, where the Church says it is under assault by some national governments and European institutions over issues such as gay marriage, abortion and the use of Christian religious symbols in public places. [...] The Pope put what the Vatican has termed “aggressive secularism”, such as gay marriage and restrictions on religious symbols such as crucifixes, nativity scenes and other traditions, on the same level as religious fanaticism. [...] “It should be clear that religious fundamentalism and secularism are alike in that both represent extreme forms of a rejection of legitimate pluralism and the principle of secularity.”

That Benedict would put gay marriage on the same plane as terrorism says a lot about how much a post-Christian Europe, specifically a post-Catholic Europe, scares him. Confusing a slip from utter social dominance with persecution and prejudice. Meanwhile, in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church, in alliance with the government, is using laws against “extremism” to target religious minorities.

When armed Russian security officers forced their way into Alexander Kalistratov’s home, he hardly imagined they were after his books. The local leader of a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Siberia now faces up to two years in prison if found guilty this week of inciting religious hatred for distributing literature about his beliefs. [...] In the case against Kalistratov, activists say local authorities are really aiming at cracking down on groups that are frowned upon by the Russian Orthodox Church.

Nor are Jehovah’s Witnesses the only group to feel the sting of this deepening collusion between church and state, Pagan groups in Russia, including the Mari Traditional Faith, are increasingly finding themselves accused of extremism for even mild criticisms of Christianity.

In response to an appeal by the local state prosecutor, Yoshkar-Ola Municipal Court found Vitaly Tanakov guilty of religious and ethnic hatred in 2006, sentencing him to 120 hours’ forced labour. In 2009, Mari El Supreme Court ruled that his leaflet – “A Priest Speaks” – contained religious and other extremism. It is now banned throughout Russia.

Peoples influenced by the Bible and Koran “have lost harmony between the individual and the people,” argues Tanakov, in what is actually one of only a few references to other faiths in his leaflet. “Morality has gone to seed, there is no pity, charity, mutual aid; everyone and everything are infected by falsehood.” By contrast, he boasts, the Mari traditional faith will be “in demand by the whole world for many millennia.”

One can only wonder what Benedict thinks of his Orthodox counterparts in Russia, does he envy them their power? Does he wish he could “suggest” raids on “secularists” and religious minorities that displease him? Does he long for a time when heads of state hung on his words and depended on the Church for social control? It seems obvious to those who are religious minorities that his attack on secularism is really an attack on the freedoms of non-Christians to live without the shadow of the Catholic Church hanging over every aspect of their lives. Why else would he care about crosses in the public square, or if gay couple were allowed to marry? “Christianophobia” is about control, the kind of control the Russian Orthodox Church seems to be enjoying once again in post-Soviet Russia.

When it comes to politically transgressive art, where does the line get drawn between exploration and endorsement? If you sing about fascists, does it make you a fascist? Does such art empower and fuel extremism? The post-industrial musical genre known as “neofolk” has long dealt with these questions, with many artists having to issue position statements due to past collaborations or friendships with various infamous individuals. The whole issue gets progressively murkier the more individual bands and artists are put under the microscope by music critics and various “antifa” (anti-fascist) activists. Why does this matter to the modern Pagan community? Because there is a significant overlap between neofolk and various Pagan, Heathen, and occult groups, and we should be alert and educated to how these conflicts may affect us.

The reason I’m bringing this up now, is that Rose City Antifascists, the Portland, Oregon chapter of the Anti-Racist Action Network, has put out an alert about the Austrian band Allerseelen (who broadly affiliate themselves with Paganism), who are touring the West Coast and Pacific Northwest this month, and opening for the popular metal band Agalloch on certain dates.

“This December, the Austrian far-Right “post-industrial” and martial music project Allerseelen is set togive a series of performances on the US West Coast. Allerseelen is the project of Gerhard Petak (AKAKadmon and Gerhard Hallstatt) who also incorporates other performers into the act when playing live. Several of the Allerseelen shows are scheduled to take place in larger venues supporting the prominentPortland, Oregon “dark metal” group Agalloch, who will be touring to promote their new album. Thehitching of Allerseelen onto the tour of a larger heavy metal act will provide new outlets for Petak’sextreme-Right messages. Agalloch, the group which Allerseelen will support, is at present crossing overfrom underground cult status to something nearer the mainstream, the group’s latest album even beingpromoted with a write-up and “exclusive first listen” on National Public Radio’s music webpage. It istroubling that the act Agalloch chose to expose to its growing audiences has a long history of far-Rightinvolvement and propaganda, and is attempting to make aspects of fascist discourse acceptable.Agalloch’s decision to further link itself to Petak / Allerseelen by appearing on a new compilation CDreleased by Petak’s label is likewise of concern to anti-fascists and is of similar poor judgment.”

Nathan Carson, owner of the booking agency Nanotear, denies any fascist intentions in putting the tour together, and  claims he’s being harassed by anonymous individuals spurred on by the Rose City Antifascists.

“Anti-fascist bloggers calling me out for booking an Allerseelen tour. I guess they don’t know about my Jewish blood (and big nose). [...] they phoned me from a blocked number at 10:30 this morning to get a statement from me. I refused to be quoted on 6 hours of sleep but told them I was entirely unaware of any fascist connections and that I’d make a personal decision myself after spending a week in the van with Allerseelen (who are also staying at my house.) [...] they’ve posted my private cel # on some sort of site or list. I’m fielding blocked calls from uppity college students that are demanding to know why I’m promoting a fascist band in Portland. When I ask them their names and why they are calling from a blocked #, they invariably hang up. I’m anti-fascist in principle too, of course. But I don’t see a smoking gun or a strong case in this instance.”

So how fascist, or neo-fascist, is Allerseelen and frontman Gerhard “Kadmon” Petak? They cite his admiration of traditionalist philosopher, and Nazi/fascist sympathizer, Julius Evola, his links to European New Right publications, and song lyrics that seem to praise various Nazi figures. All of which seems to make him a politically unsavory individual that I would prefer to avoid, but the report gets murkier when they start digging into his ties with “right wing occultism,” his admiration of Leni Riefenstahl, and connections to figures like musician/publisher Michael Moynihan (who also edits the “radical traditionalist” journal Tyr). As for Petak himself, he claims to have no political motivations (and denies fascist affiliations), something the Rose City Antifascists refute.

“What is the meaning of Petak’s denial of any politics or political motivation? While not referring explicitly to Allerseelen, Anton Shekhovtsov’s article “Apoliteic music: Neo-Folk, Martial Industrial and ‘Metapolitical Fascism’” points to an answer by discussing Evola’s concept of apoliteia as well as European New Right influence in relation to certain sectors of the post-industrial scene. 91 From a stance of apoliteia, Petak is able to claim detachment from worldly politics, yet apoliteia far from the same as pure political apathy. Rather, Petak appears to be active in a metapolitical “invisible order” engaged in anti-Enlightenment culture wars, along the lines of the European New Right and its Right-Gramscian project. While Petak does not dirty his hands in Right-wing Party-building, he nevertheless contributes to a climate favorable to fascist politics, through fighting for the hearts and minds of countercultural audiences. He knows what he is doing.”

So is Petak a stealth neo-fascist softening the underground for traditionalist takeover, or is he more of a dilettante engaging with transgressive politics and figures in order to gain attention? I personally find bands who recklessly/cynically dabble in Nazi/fascist imagery and themes tiresome and wouldn’t support them with my time or money, but I’m not sure enough of a case has been built here to tar Agalloch, or the tour promoter, as neo-fascist supporters/sympathizers by working with this band. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether Allerseelen are a pernicious influence, or just creatively bankrupt.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, politics in neofolk can get murky, especially when you are dealing with terms like “radical traditionalism”, which might mean different things to different groups. Make no mistake, there are racist and neo-fascist bands within genres like neofolk, metal, and punk, and they should be opposed when they try to increase their audience by infiltrating Pagan or Heathen communities, but we should also be careful to thoroughly investigate for ourselves before acting. Whether this is such a case, is up to each individual to decide.

For the second time this year Greenville, North Carolina’s Hindu Temple has been broken into and vandalized. Stealing nothing, the vandals seemed content with desecration, smashing the shrine and altar, and overturning the murti (divine images).

“It looks very odd. My first impression was that they must have stolen something, but looking at the shrine of worship, it appears they just came in to do this,” temple member Rajesh Verma said, pointing to the desecrated shrine. Another television, DVD equipment, other electronics and a collection box with money inside were not stolen, Verma said. [...] It was the second time this year the temple has been burglarized, Verna said. In January, someone broke in through a bathroom window and stole a television, he said. Nothing was vandalized during that incident, he said. The members are not feeling secure now, Verma said. “I’d never experienced anything like this in 15 to 20 years, but to have this happen twice in a year is very worrisome,” Verma said.

The verdict is still out as to whether this is a religiously-motivated hate-crime. The police say there is some evidence of “possible juvenile involvement,” though the involvement of younger people doesn’t preclude this from being an anti-Hindu incident.

This incident is truly tragic because, for the most part, Hindu temples have been growing and thriving in the United States. A quick scan of the news will show the local government in Sugar Hill, Georgia aiding a Hindu congregation in getting their temple plans off the ground, a new 10-12 thousand square foot Hindu temple starting construction this Summer in Michigan, and a $2 million addition to New England’s oldest Hindu temple in Ashland, MA.

“The temple, first conceived by a small group of Indian immigrants in 1978, was built slowly over the next dozen years. Its ornate exterior iconography was carved by a team of Indian artisans, and its granite deities, including Sri Lakshmi, the goddess of auspiciousness and prosperity, were shipped from India. The community has grown dramatically since the high-tech boom of the mid-1990s, when many Indian professionals moved to the Boston area, leaders of the temple said.”

Hopefully the problems facing the Hindu community in Greenville are truly isolated, and don’t signal the beginning of some sort of anti-Hindu sentiment. The growth and acceptance of Hindu sacred spaces is a positive omen for modern Pagans as we start to gather the recourses and will to create our own dedicated spaces, like the new Goddess Temple in Ashland, Oregon opening in the Spring.

“The temple, founded by Graell Corsini and 18 others, will open under a full moon on the spring equinox, the women say. It will enshrine the great goddess mother of ancient times, working in equal partnership with the “sacred masculine” God to “celebrate the divinity in everything,” Corsini said. [...] Corsini founded AvaSha Goddess Temple in Mount Shasta and came with two of its priestesses to found the Ashland temple. For the Ashland site, she says she “received a vision” from the Celtic goddess Bridgit to draw together 19 trained priestesses, the same as the number at Avalon, a mythical sacred isle associated with Glastonbury and Arthurian legend.”

Modern Pagans have much to learn and gain from the Hindu community, and we should support them as they spread their temples across the United States, learning from their experiences. This could be an excellent time for Pagans in the Greenville area to reach out, and show solidarity and  support during this time of trials.

The Religion Clause blog links to a new Rasmussen survey about attitudes towards religious symbols on public lands, and the celebrating of religious holidays at public schools.

“A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 74% of Adults say religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents should be allowed on public land.  Only 17% disagree and feel these symbols should not be allowed. [...] Eighty percent (80%) of American Adults also favor celebrating religious holidays in the public schools, another area subject to repeated legal challenge. This includes 43% who believe all religious holidays should be celebrated in the schools and 37% who think only some of those holidays should be recognized.”

These results will no doubt spur various activists into thinking that they have a mandate to return Christ to the public square, and Bibles to the classrooms. But the problem with these seemingly overwhelming majorities in favor of “religious symbols” on public lands, or “celebrating religious holidays” in schools is who gets included, and who gets left out.

In the survey questions, Rasmussen asks: “Should religious symbols like Christmas Nativity scenes, Hanukkah Menorahs and Muslim Crescents be allowed on public land?” A careful look at the question itself would show its limitations. The examples are all from the dominant monotheisms, the “real” religions (Despite the recent up-tick in anti-Muslim fervor in this country, few would actually argue that it isn’t a legitimate faith.). What would happen if that question was expanded to include Wiccans? Druids? Asatru? Satanists? What about truly fringe New Age faiths like Summum?

As for religious holidays in school, do you think they’ll really acknowledge the Wiccan Wheel of the Year alongside Christian and Jewish holidays? We’re still having trouble just getting excused days off for Pagan holidays, much less having them celebrated in the school. It should also be pointed out that the 80% of people who support supporting religious holidays in public schools are nearly split down the middle on the question of if “all” faiths would be included in that. Considering the fact that equal treatment for Pagans still gives politicians and school boards the vapors, I’m not enthused at the prospect of opening the doors to celebrating religion in a supposedly secular education system.

The reason religion has been slowly removed from the public sphere isn’t, as some would argue, because of rampant anti-Christian or anti-religious sentiment. Instead, it is because equal treatment is usually denied (whether maliciously or through ignorance) to minority faith groups by the majority and a total removal of religion from the equation is the only thing that can ensure fairness to all belief systems and philosophies. The reason our nation has certain protections built into its constitution and its amendments is so we don’t end up with a system where two wolves and a lamb vote on what to have for dinner. There may be massive majorities in favor of inserting faith back into our schools and the public square, but the problem with majorities is that they aren’t always right.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note, a series more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Scarlet Imprint Declares War: The esoteric publishing house Scarlet Imprint, after learning of the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, has thrown down the magickal gauntlet.

“It is not enough to dither or ask What would Aleister Crowley do? We are here NOW. It is for us to confront this direct attack on our freedom. This is a critical time, and magick, if it is to prove anything at all, is the art of applying leverage at critical moments in time, as the Temple of Psychic Youth would say: To force thee hand of chance. [...] We will use our art to envisage a different future. We will take magic onto the streets. We swear vengeance. And we, we are Legion.”

The publisher also suggests closing your Amazon account (because they closed Wikileak’s hosting account), closing your Mastercard and Visa account (because they froze donations to Wikileaks), and supporting the hacker attacks of Anonymous. However, they don’t suggest cancelling your Paypal account, nor have they closed theirs, even though that site has also frozen donations to Wikileaks. Then again, they also stress that the most important action is to “enchant for freedom.”

“This is a time for Witchcraft, for the birth of a rhizomatic underground of resistance. This is the Witchcraft advocated by Jack Parsons in the face of McCarthyism. This is the Witchcraft that has drunk wisdom from the bloody grail of mystery.”

The problem with all the outrage, media blitz, and no-doubt politically motivated pressure to have Assange extradited is that it is causing some reasonable people to whitewash what might have actually been rapeEngaging in some troubling victim-blaming. Perhaps these accusations are being overblown, or used as a way to “get Assange,” but they shouldn’t be erased because we support the leaking of government documents. As for Wikileaks itself, I’m generally a fan of transparency and whistle-blowers, and I’m even a fan of occasionally “crushing bastards,” but I’m not sure I’m ready to swear vengeance on its behalf just yet.

Pulling the Trigger: LAShTal points us to the launch of Trigger93: A Journal of Magic(k), Culture, and The Issues.

“Trigger93 is a radical new journal of literature, art, and the uncanny—a journal that juxtaposes magic(k)ally informed works created by established artists and academics with similar works created by established practitioners of magic(k). Our first issue, The Word, explores the relationship between language and the spirit, and includes contributions from writer and Columbia Professor, Michael Taussig; ceremonial magician, James A. Eshelman; artists Simryn Gill, Mikala Dwyer and Tamara Wyndham; and cartoonist, Seth Tobocman, to name a few. Trigger93: The Word will be available 12/17/10″

You can pre-order your copy now. Always nice to see a new esoteric/magickal publication hitting the “stands”.

The Difference Between Scholars and Practitioners: Over at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek, Chas Clifton talks about being a Pagan within Pagan Studies, and how what religion scholars do is very different from what practitioners writing for their own communities do.

So if I were revising Her Hidden Children (I have no plan to do so), I would have to take [Bron Taylor’s] ideas into account. The conversation would continue. Not that I am right and he is wrong, or vice versa, but I would have to sort out the differences and similarities, intellectual influences (e.g., he gives Henry Thoreau much more space than I do), and so on, because I think that Dark Green Religion is a significant book, and it would be a glaring omission to ignore it now.

These are just two books, against the flood of practitioner-oriented texts coming out from Llewellyn and other publishers.  And neither I nor Bron (so far as I know) are teaching workshops on “How to be a better nature-religionist,” complete with breathing exercises, movement, and song. Other people could do that much better. Audiences want to hear a speaker with a schtick.

I think some of us have fallen into the trap of labeling Pagan Studies works as “advanced” books for our faiths, when they should instead be seen as an illuminating aid towards deeper understanding of how and why we do what we do. How we got to where we are today, and what that might mean for our future. This should be separated from books that actually seek to deepen our own practices, works on practice and theology from authors like Brendan Myers or Thorn Coyle.

King Arthur Wants Reburial: The Salisbury Journal reports that Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon is seeking judicial review and reburial of cremated remains taken from Stonehenge in 2008.

King Arthur said: ‘This is not just a Druid or Pagan issue, and we have the support of thousands of people from all walks of life from nations around the world and all the major faiths, who have signed our petition demanding that the remains be re-interred at what should have been their final resting place. ‘The remains will never go on display and they should just be reburied.’ The remains were removed from the site for tests to be carried out as part of The Stonehenge Riverside Archaeological Project.

This move was sparked by Sheffield University asking for an extension to retain the remains for five years, something Pendragon vociferously opposes, calling for the “timely return of our ancestors.” As I’ve noted several times before on this site, there is no consensus among British Pagans on this issue, with many, most notably Pagans for Archeology, opposed to the reburial of ancient human remains. Other groups, like Honouring the Ancient Dead (HAD), only call for the reburial of remains that “have no scientific or research potential”.

Reminder on Operation Circle Care: I’d just like to end with a quick reminder that it’s not too late to donate towards Operation Circle Care, which sends care packages to Pagan military personnel serving in war zones.

“For the fourth year in a row, Circle Sanctuary is honoring and supporting active duty Pagan service members through Operation Circle Care. This year, we are widening our focus and sending Yuletide care packages to active duty Pagan troops serving in any overseas theater of operation, including Germany, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, or on board Navy ships. The success of this program is due to the generous support and donations from Pagan community members from many paths and places. With your continued support, it is our goal to honor and remember each and every Pagan US military service member we can with a special personalized gift for Yule, just as we have in years past.”

You can find a list of donation suggestions, and ways to help, at their web site.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

While I generally keep my music podcast A Darker Shade of Pagan from getting entangled in the daily workings of The Wild Hunt, every once in awhile I like to alert my readership of some great Pagan and Pagan-friendly music that I come across. Since I just posted my ADSOP top ten of 2010 show, I thought I would share what I thought were some of the best albums that speak to the Pagan soul from the past year. Consider it a gift-giving guide to the Pagan in your life dissatisfied by what usually passes for “Pagan music”.

ADSOP’s Top Ten Albums of 2010

10. Various Artists – “We Are All One in the Sun: Tribute to Robbie Basho” [Purchase: CDMP3]

A tribute to the seminal composer and guitarist Robbie Basho, this collection gathers several modern-day psych-folk (and folk-folk) luminaries to interpret his work, including Arborea, Fern Knight, and Meg Baird. While none of the artists may approach Basho’s mastery of the guitar, they do succeed in channeling his expansive and esoteric spirit. Highlights include Arborea’s haunting cover of “Blue Crystal Fire”, Fern Knight’s rendition of “Song For the Queen”, and Helena Espvall’s take on “Travessa Do Cabral”. A worthy collection that serves as a nice introduction to Basho’s work and the contributing artists.

09. Woodland - “Seasons In Elfland: Shadows” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

An American contemporary of such Europeans artists as Faun (who contributed to this album) and Omnia, Woodland seems to have reached a new level of maturity and consistency with this latest release. While their debut release, “Twilight”, never really resonated with me, “Shadows” proved that I had missed something the first time around. Both childlike and dark, the band takes a trip though the Unseelie and its darker mysteries, buoyed by the almost-whispered secret-spilling vocals of Kelly Miller-Lopez. A well known commodity within the Faerie subculture, Woodland is a band ready to break out to a larger audience.

08. Dyonisis – “Intoxicated” [Purchase: CDMP3]

This ethereal-rock band returns after three years with the surprisingly strong “Intoxicated”. Weaving layered, almost choral, vocals, and tackling subjects that are both mythic and personal, Dyonisis manages to breath new life into the genre. The pinnacle of the album may be the 7-plus minute long “Eve’s Song”, a roaring epic defense of the first woman who “wants to know things”. A statement of reclaiming power, choice, and sexuality from a patriarchal world. Other stand-outs include “We Are”, “Arachne’s Song”, and “Lunatic”. Truly a band that deserves more exposure outside the goth/darkwave underground.

07. Noblesse Oblige – “Malady” [Purchase: CDMP3]

How can you not enjoy an occult concept album that takes it cues from Aleister Crowley, Kenneth Anger, and Christina “Goblin Market” Rossetti? Using tarot, ghost stories, and Vodou as signposts along the way, Noblesse Oblige mixes world music, folk, and electronics to create a sinfully appealing sound. Something of a left-field release for the usually EBM/Industrial-heavy Metropolis Records, “Malady” is fascinating album that rewards serious listening, but works just as well as backdrop to whatever decadence you have planned. Check out their video for “The Great Electrifier” for a taste of the sound and aesthetic.

06. Sharron Kraus – “The Woody Nightshade” [Purchase: CDMP3]

Sharrond Kraus’ grabbed the top spot in 2008 with her masterful album “The Fox’s Wedding”, and returns in 2010 with “The Woody Nightshade”, an album that is just as intimate and personal but almost stripped of the mythic overtones of her previous work. Not to say it isn’t there at all, as songs like “Evergreen Sisters” and “The Woody Nightshade” prove, but this seems like an album born of love’s endings, a theme that repeats throughout. The sound is almost stripped bare, emphasizing sounds of fingers on guitar-strings and a lone lamenting voice. This is a record that wants to convey the singer sitting in the room with you, playing her heart out.

05. Íon – “Immaculada” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

A album for mystics that mixes the sounds of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, “Immaculada” soars between folk and haunting darkwave soundscapes with ease. Masterminded by Duncan Patterson (Anathema, Antimatter), and featuring an array of heavenly guest vocals, it truly encapsulates a spiritual journey. Starting with an (immaculate?) conception, traveling through love and loss, and ending with a “Return to Spirit”. This is an album that grows more complex and enriching as you listen to it. Romance, loss, religion, spirituality, it’s all there, wrapped into this package.

04. Brendan Perry – “Ark” [Purchase: CDMP3]

We’ve waited over a decade, but we finally have a new Brendan Perry solo album, and I’m pleased to say it’s as strong and captivating as anything he’s ever done. Half of the hugely influential Dead Can Dance, Perry has been the quieter member of late, with former partner Lisa Gerrard releasing several soundtracks and solo albums in the past ten years. On “Ark”, Perry makes up for lost time, temporarily casting aside his preferred folk instrumentation to work with electronic backings, hearkening at times back to Dead Can Dance’s very early goth-inflected work. But this is no nostalgia trip, “Ark” is very current, dealing with war, the Middle East, and the environment, while also touching on personal themes. With so many following in his footsteps, it’s good to have the originator back amongst us once more.

03. Rajna – “Offering” [Purchase: CD, MP3]

For those of you who like Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard’s solo work, but miss the dynamic energy and interplay of Dead Can Dance, Rajna may be the closest you’ll ever get to a sonic reunion. Inspired by the band, this French duo have released what I consider their strongest album yet. “Offering” has a strong focus on the Mediterranean and is, in the words of the band, “an experience in time, back to hidden and forgotten worlds of the Antique, like a pathway to Eleusis and its sacred temples and mysteries.” I must have listened to the album at least a hundred times since receiving it and I still find myself surprised and drawn in by some sound or nuance I missed before. Essential for any DCD fan.

02. Fern Knight – “Castings” [Purchase: CDMP3]

I’ve been a fan of Fern Knight for years, so I was truly excited to hear that there was a new album on the way, and that the album was going to be a concept record focusing on the tarot. Traveling from “Zero to Infinity”, the band’s pleasing mixture of psych-folk and progressive-rock sounds are a perfect vehicle for the “well-worn archetypes” they encounter on their sonic journey. Fern Knight shows how to take elements and themes that could drag down a lesser band into pretentiousness and instead provide us something enthralling. One of the best albums to explore the occult made in recent memory. Check out their video for “The Poisoner” for a taste.

01. Pandemonaeon – “Dangerous Beauty” [Purchase: CDMP3]

If one band that operated within a modern Pagan context stood out among all the others this year, it would have to be Pandemonaeon. There is a tendency within our communities to judge our bands and artists lightly, graded on a curve created from our desire for music and art created “for us”. Thankfully there is no need to do that here, not only is “Dangerous Beauty” a great “Pagan” album, it’s a great album period. A powerful melding of metal, folk, goth, and Pagan-fueled chant Pandemonaeon successfully raise the bar for “Pagan music” with a collection of songs that truly rock, truly move you. There were many talented Pagan artists who released albums this year, but only Pandemonaeon managed to stretch the boundaries and create something lasting. Please read my interview with Sharon Knight of Pandemonaeon for more insight into “Dangerous Beauty” and this band.

You can download my latest podcast, featuring songs from all these albums, here. I hope you’ll explore these releases, and perhaps find some new music to love. As always, apologies to all the other artists who released great albums this year, I only have room for ten.