Quick Notes: Salem Psychics, No Unsacred Place, and Camelot

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 10, 2011 — 14 Comments

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Sunday morning.

The Issue of Salem Psychics: While I’ve been covering the back-and-forth over the issue of licensing psychics in Salem, Massachusetts, this Atlantic Wire does a darn good job of encapsulating the issue to date.

What the Fight Is Really About: Government regulation vs. the free market. The Boston Globe’sRob Anderson puts it into context. “While it may not be the most conventional of examples, the dispute is not all that different from the dilemmas cities have dealt with licensing other businesses like taxicabs,” he notes. “In fact, the episode makes for what University of Michigan economics professor Mark Perry calls ‘a good case study of occupational licensing, with economic lessons in barriers to entry, contestable markets, and government regulation vs. market competition.'”

Barring some major political or cultural shift I can’t see Salem returning to its far stricter licensing policies. The last battle over regulations in Salem back in 2007 got truly strange, and what we have now is a compromise solution. For more on this issue, see my Psychic Services and the Law series.

Checking In with No Unsacred Place: This past Monday I introduced the latest Pagan Newswire Collective topic-focused group blog No Unsacred Place. Now that we are a solid week in, I wanted to check back in as it “explores the relationships between religion and science, nature and civilization from a diversity of modern Pagan perspectives.”

This is a very impressive set of opening posts, and I look forward to many more. I hope that you’ll head over and check out No Unsacred Place, participate in conversation, and subscribe to their feed (or like them on Facebook).

Morgan, Merlin, Paganism: I feel somewhat silly writing about a show I’ve only seen brief clips of, but until the witch-heavy season of True Blood starts in June, Starz new series “Camelot” is the most pagan-y television show going at the moment. Anyway, the A.V. Club has a wrap-up of the latest episode (beware, spoilers!) and touches on themes of paganism, magic, and proto-feminism.

“I can’t help but wonder how this series would be had it gone the same route (perspective-wise, if not in execution) as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. Avalon made Morgan a distinctively more heroic figure than Camelot does, but there’s an argument to be made that this iteration of Morgan could have, and perhaps should have, been the entry point for the series. […] The show’s conflation of paganism and proto-feminism could be potentially problematic, but it recognizes that the mix of the two is a sociological product, not something to be admired or emulated. Morgan’s time in a nunnery, away from Uther, fostered a desire to both connect with and overcome her father’s place on the throne.”

I’m fully supportive of making Morgan the focal character. So much has been made of the Arthur-Lancelot-Guinevere theme in modern Arthuriana that more outside perspectives would be a breath of fresh air. In fact, a creative writer or director has dozens of viewpoints to choose from, and some of the more successful recent takes (like Bernard Cornwell’s Warlord Chronicles) took advantage of that possibility. In any case, I know this series has plenty of cheese, but I can’t help but anticipate when it’ll finally hit Netflix and I can watch it for myself.

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

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Chris Boydston Taub

    Dish Network was nice enough to give me Starz for a year, so I've been able to follow Camelot through its first two episodes. I like a few of things about it, and you mentioned one of them. Morgana is a stark raving madwoman in this film. She doesn't care who she uses or what she does to get her way. That kind of focus is hard to pull off in an acting role, but she does it pretty well.

    The other thing I like is the amount of time, energy, and will it takes to pull off magic. Merlin and Morgana suffer sheer exhaustion and sometimes pain from spellcasting. It's a nice touch.

    The Arthur focus is okay. Arthur likes Gwen who is already betrothed to someone else but likes Arthur so there's a whole triangle thing going on in the beginning. So Arthur's not squeaky clean. Gwen is already showing signs of infidelity before Lancelot even appears in the show. For that matter Merlin isn't always so nice. At one point in the program he pointed out to Arthur, "Don't forget who made all this happen for you." So Merlin is just as fixated as Morgana.

    I admit it's a fun show. I hope it lasts a bit since I don't have a Harry Potter fix anymore.

  • Rheana

    I've also been watching it as well. What I'm not liking about the show is that Merlin, the seasoned magician, is forever going around preaching about the morals of not using magick because "there is always a price". This price is always dark and never worth using magick. I'm a little dismayed that they thus show magick in a negative light. Basically with all the foreshadowing, this will eventually be Morgana's undoing.

    I also don't like that they plop her onto us as an already evil, mad, vengeful and power lusting character. Her mild references in episode 3 of female power is only depicted in the worst possible way. She routinely seduces, poisons, magicks and manipulates men in every way possible and these are her "feminine powers".

    Essentially, magick has a terrible price if you use it. The male (former) magician has this wisdom and refuses to use it even to save his own life, and the power hungry, insane woman (including her thirst for magickal power) is the villan. The moral this portrays is magick is bad, and empowered women are evil witches. (Sounds like Pat Robertson's comment about feminism, witches and lesbians.) All of the "good" women are explicitly compliant to the wishes of men.

    The rest of the show I do like, but I am disappointed that magick and feminine power are portrayed in such a negative manner.

    Just as a side note, there has been a "Merlin" series on SciFi for a few years that is quite good. A few episodes are blatantly ridiculous or with poor effects, but the vast majority are actually really good. The main theme throughout the show is the persecution of magickal practitioners and how they all variously struggle with hiding their magick in the face of that persecution. Some rebel, others bide their time and wait to come out freely under Arthur's rule. It gives quite a lot of scenarios that put thought into those issues and I really appreciate that about the series.

    It also takes it's time developing Morganna's character. She starts off truly loving, sweet and close to Uther. We see her struggle with her emerging abilities first with fear of being a witch and then of Uther killing her for it within the context of being very close to him.. She later embraces her powers and the label witch, and then she discovers Uther killed her mother for being one, too, and we see the slow gradual betrayals she encounters change her into hard hatred towards Uther and all who stand with him. It's a much more compelling story in my view, to watch her character develop like this.

    The show also portrays both good and misguided people in the magickal and mundane communities both. It's more balanced and fair. And it's been out for a while and is available through Netflix.

    • Merlin is a good series. The problem is that Merlin himself seems to become rather anti-magic/old ways himself as the series goes on. I've read somewhere that in the later seasons (as the syfy is several seasons behind the UK) that Merlin ends up coming to believe Christianity is a great too to keep the forces of Magic at bay or do away with them entirely. Also, too often Magic and those that use it or are a part of it, are often shown in at least a negative light, if not as outright evil. It's a good series, but it's not always accurate and even if a lot of magical creatures are not "user friendly" too often the anti-magic theme runs through as gospel.

      • Vermillion

        Actually SyFy (everytime I type that a small piece of me dies) is sort of up to date with the UK, we just got Season 3 and S3 ended in the UK a couple of months ago, they start filming 4 this summer I think? So not full seasons behind, we're just late.

        As for Merlin coming to believe anything about Christianity I haven't seen anything like that. Most of the griping about Merlin has to do with Arthur being flipping CLUELESS about Merlin doing magic and whatnot. Morgana actually was pretty awesome up until the last season or so where she's…kind of insane. Magic users are frowned upon in the series more because of Uther being a tool then anything else, there are a couple of things that are tweaked from the standard accepted Arthurian mythos. I just like Merlin because Guinevere & Morgana are friends, Gwen (as she's called in the series) isn't flightly or a shrill or anything like that. She's actually smart and hates Arthur because he's a bit of a dick.

        But yes! I recommend Merlin highly. Haven't seen Camelot, so I'll withhold my judgement until I do so but I would love to see a sort of Arthurian tale told strictly from the view of the women, not just Morgan.

        • Chris Boydston Taub

          "SyFy (everytime I type that a small piece of me dies)"

          Okay, that made me spit out my drink and laugh. I completely agree.

    • Rheana,

      I took much of the same thing away from Camelot that you did. I do love the show, but I'm a bit aggravated with how they treat morgan and especially how they treat magic. Personally, I'm rooting for her. The way I see it, she's kinda justified in having the throne. Of course we all know she won't. LOL

      Then again, I couldn't deal with the Mists of Avalon movie. That kinda took away Morgan's power also. The book had such a wonderful scene of drawing down the goddess energy and, for me, it was Morgan's most powerful scene for me.

  • fyreflye

    As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, you don’t have to wait a long time to see episodes of Camelot and you don’t have to pay for it. It’s available from SideReel with a free and even hassle free membership. So are many other shows you might prefer to watch on your computer. Here’s the page for Camelot http://liten.be//GPzU7

  • Tabby

    I love the show and actually found it by accident. I like the fact that it isn't the same old played out story. Merlin is interesting character, and I've always paid a little more attention to him than the other characters. The way he acted when he wouldnt use his magick to free himself makes me wonder what his reasoning is behind it. I hope we find out! I'm very interested in the way they do the whole thong and can't wait to see more. I also have dish and I am loving them for this free year since I found this show. 🙂

  • I think its interesting to watch aspects of Paganism and Wicca become marketable, relevant and accepted in our consumerist society. While we could argue about its deteriorating the "purity" of the path, no one can argue that it isn't allowing our culture to become more accepted and mainstream.

    • Chris Boydston Taub

      Oh I think that's been around since Buffy. Once Willow became a sexy dark lesbian witch everyone was on board. Charmed helped that along, too. Sabrina did to an extent. Wow…The Craft, Practical Magic. I think I see a timeline forming here.

    • Paganism is also a natural fit for "popular culture", aside from considerations about marketability and consumerism. In traditional Pagan societies religion was completely uncompartmentalized, it was seamlessly interwoven with all aspects of life, including, especially, things like entertainment and general merry-making.

      Creativity itself (and no matter how cravenly commercialized it is, all forms of entertainment relies on creative individuals) is a gift from the Gods. The Muses have more than one way to get their messages out there, while also creating Beauty for Beauty's own sake.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Interesting to run into a question about the last time I laid hands on an animal just before the time came round for me to get off my duff and feed the cat. =^.^=

  • Star Foster

    Just wanted to say I adore Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Trilogy, and I am immensely enjoying his treatment of Paganism in his Saxon Chronicles. He marries good history, realistic religion and fantastic characters. He is my hero.