I’d like to highlight three excellent essays worth checking out today.
In Defense of Magic: Andrew Sullivan points to an excellent essay by Jessa Crispin, editor and founder of Bookslut.com, that talks about the endurance of religion, of irrational beliefs, of magic, in a seemingly rational and increasingly secular age. In the process she discusses two new books, Ronald Hutton’s “Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain,” and Nevill Drury’s “Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic”.
“Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to wash the world of its sins of superstition and religion? And yet humanity keeps clinging to its belief systems, its religious leaders, and its prayer. More than that, we’re dipping back into the magical realms — one would think that if superstition were to be eradicated through the power of reason and rationality, magic would be the first to go. It turns out our hunger for the irrational and the intuitive is more insatiable than previously assumed. We have our Kabbalah, our Chaos Magick, our Druids. We have our mystics and tarot card readers and our astrologers on morning news shows explaining why Kate and William are a match made by the gods. Wicca is a fast growing religion in the United States, and my German health insurance covers homeopathy and Reiki massage, both of which have always felt more like magic than science to me.”
The whole thing is well worth reading, a defense against the atheists who have trouble acknowledging that these beliefs fill a need in us, while owning the excesses and subconscious drives that fuel adherence to illogical practices.
Believing in Satan(ists): Erik Davis reprints an essay he wrote on religious Satanism, reviewing a 2009 scholarly anthology edited by Jesper Aagaard Petersen entitled “Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology”. I was particularly drawn to his critique of the elasticity of the term “Satanism”, and how that might matter to modern Pagans.
“While Peterson makes a good claim for the relative elasticity of the term Satanism, there are problems with the term that become more apparent the farther the topic departs from LaVey’s legacy. Though the figure of Satan has been drastically recontextualized, his name and essential iconography still fundamentally imply an oppositional or even parasitic relationship to the broader Judeo-Christian tradition. But as the transgression of Christian norms loses its spunk, and as the broad course of Neo-paganism and contemporary ritual magic reframe occult practice within more eclectic, global and, increasingly, “shamanic” contexts, it is inevitable that the specifically Satanic current loses some nominal coherence. In this sense, the splitting off of Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set from LaVey’s Church of Satan in 1975 is paradigmatic, as Aquino replaced LaVey’s cocktail-sipping devil with a more sober and recondite Egyptian god. Should Setians still be called “Satanists”? If the answer is yes, aren’t scholars running the risk of shoe-horning darkside practitioners and metaphysicians into a homogenous framework that unintentionally parrots fundamentalist Christian exegetes for whom Odin, Kali, and Harry Potter are all masks of a single Dark Lord? If the answer is no, does the “Satanic milieu” that the contributors to this volume have done such a fine job of clarifying lose broader explanatory power?”
The blurry ground between “post-Satanic” belief systems and modern Paganism hasn’t really been fully explored. “Dark” (or “Nocturnal”) Paganism has become a marketing term in recent years, and I believe more study is warranted on the intersections of subculture, Left-Hand Paths, post-Satanic systems, and modern Paganism. As for Davis, I highly recommend his most recent collection of essays entiled “Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica”.
The Substance of Thor (and Loki): Over at Killing the Buddha, Eric Scott, who recently shared his mixed feelings over marketing Nordic gods in “Valhal-Mart,” shares his review of the Marvel Comics film “Thor.”
“My understanding of the ancient Germanic myths revolves around two themes. The first is that virtue consists of equal parts strength and wisdom. The second is the Germanic worldview of an entropic universe, where civilization will always fall into ruin. Beneath its hammy, explosion-filled superhero veneer, Thor deals with both of these themes. Thor’s character development exemplifies the first, as we watch the bold and foolish prince grow wise. Loki exemplifies the second: despite his good intentions, Loki falls, becoming a monster in the name of ending monsters.
So what should pagans take away from this movie? Certainly not mythological accuracy: if you only knew the myths, most of the film will probably seem nonsensical. I admit that the mythological discrepancies still leave me conflicted, if only because they drastically alter the relationships among some of these deities. But I left the theater feeling much better about Thor than I expected; while it may not get any of the surface right, it captures a surprising amount of the substance. Thor gives us the glories and the tragedies of Norse mythology, if we’re willing to abide a little trickery in the delivery. Loki would be proud.”
That’s all I have for now, have a great day!