Archives For Religion

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Holt-v.-Hobbs-Infograph1

  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Casey Rae

Casey Rae

[The following is a guest book review from Casey Rae. Casey Rae is a musician, public policy wonk and the editor/publisher of The Contrarian Media. An in-demand speaker, he gives frequent talks at conferences and campuses on issues at the intersection of creativity, technology, policy and law, and is a go-to source for major media outlets from NPR to the New York Times. Casey works alongside leaders in the music, arts and performance sectors to bolster understanding of and engagement in key policy and technology issues, and has written dozens of articles on the impact of technology on the creative community. Casey is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and VP for Policy and Education at the Future of Music Coalition. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Media & Democracy Coalition and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.]

I’ve told the story more times than I can count. Five or six years old, hanging out with my high school-age uncles in a town just a couple of clicks from Stephen King‘s place and a few hurried steps through a creepy wooded path to the university where he once taught English (in the same department where my grandmother worked). Actually, “hanging out” with my uncles is probably an overstatement. More like “invading the personal space of.” The adult me is grateful either way.

81FurFykFBL._SL1417_Already a monster movie fanatic on the prowl for anything scary, I would pore through my uncles’ LP collection looking for cool covers. this was the late 1970s; a golden age for outré album sleeves. On this particular afternoon, I recall pulling out a pair of records—Alive II by KISS, and Some Enchanted Evening, a concert from Blue Öyster Cult. My parents had decent taste in music, so this wasn’t so much a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany as it was an opportunity to make choices based on my own interests—in this case, horror stuff. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that curious about the music, but my uncle said we could listen.

First up was KISS. I was definitely impressed with band members’ demonic kabuki gear and sensational makeup. The music, not so much. Even as a rock ‘n’ roll tadpole, I recognized what a shitty band KISS are. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion.

Blue Öyster Cult was next. Frankly, the cover was a little too scary, depicting a black-robed skeleton astride a satanic steed, bony fingers gripping a scythe. Beast and beastie canvassed an angry Martian landscape beneath a cruel midnight sky. I had no idea what any of this was meant to symbolize, but I grokked its heaviness.

From the first needle drop I was in love. “Godzilla” was my favorite, but I was also taken by “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which even in its live embodiment possessed a haunted quality that I couldn’t put my tiny fingers on. Still can’t.

My uncle and I subsequently had a conversation about what a “reaper” is (“he collects vegetables at harvest time”); later I went back to my own burg to ruminate over the connections between these uncanny sounds and images.

And I’ve never stopped.

I’m not alone. I can name several books by legitimate occult scholars that make some attempt to trace these ley-lines; music scribes often hint at the witchier aspects of the rock Renaissance (roughly 1964-1982). But given that each camp has limited sightlines into the other, there is an opportunity for someone to bring focus to a topic that is too often tawdry or incomplete.

9780399167669_medium_Season_of_the_WitchPeter Bebergal‘s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll [Tarcher/Penguin 2014], is an admirable attempt at uniting the tribes. First, we need a common vernacular. To Bebergal’s definition, “the occult” is less a fixed system and more of a worldview that encompasses many spiritual traditions operating outside of mainstream religious practices. Bebergal’s interest in the subject appears to be fairly similar to my own—we both became enamored of rock music as a form of escapism at a time when other entertainment options were scarce or unbearably straight-laced. Rock, with its otherworldly visual language, coded lyrics, symbolic imagery and strident musicality, provided a perfect vessel for the projections of pre-adolescents and teenagers—largely male, definitely “gifted,” and lacking an outlet for our own creative impulses. We constructed elaborate mythologies around rock, populated by a pantheon of musical heroes and villains, wizards and warriors. Record albums became a kind of palimpsest, an (un)holy writ that only the initiated could hope to discern.

And some of us never grew out of it. Which is why it’s great to encounter a fellow traveler like Bebergal, who brings a scholar’s discipline to this esoteric quest. Bebergal is a lively writer who nonetheless resists hyperbole—quite a feat given the breathlessness this topic tends to elicit. Perhaps more impressive is the book’s comprehensiveness—from Delta blues to beatnik bluster to acid evangelists to metal overlords, Season of the Witch puts the hellfire in highbrow.

Season of the Witch is strongest in its examination of the history of African Americans as they endured the cruelties of slavery only to experience the anguish of segregation. Yet even under these injustices, black Americans preserved elements of their original musical and spiritual traditions, some of which were channeled through Christianity. It is difficult and often ill-advised for those outside a specific cultural group to construct a narrative around the real struggles of a people. Especially when the topic of investigation has been used by the socioeconomic and political elite to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. To his credit, Bebergal avoids many common pitfalls. His comparative analysis of early rock ‘n’ roll and its cultural and spiritual foundries compels examination of the African-American experience. To sidestep these histories is to ignore America’s own troubled past and potential for a better future. Key to the latter is for today’s generations to become more familiar with America’s musical and cultural legacy, including its abuses.

Those who enjoy cultural anthropology and religious studies will find plenty to appreciate in Bebergal’s account of how West African trickster god and “guardian of pathways” Eshu connects to Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world in Hatian (and later Louisianan) Voudon. When confronted with the all-pervasive Christian dichotomy of good/evil, these spirits took on a more sinister shape, one that to Bebergal’s reckoning informs the devilish stereotypes found in Delta blues, and later, rock.

But this is hardly a singular ethnomusicology. For his next trick, Bebergal pegs Greco and European mythologies (DionysusPan) to the pagan urges present in 1960s American and European counterculture. This flowering—which ultimately inspired the civil rights agenda along with the LSD-soaked technolibertarians of Silicon Valley—paved the way for a fuller exploration of the occult by progressive rockers of the 1970s, some of whom made a serious study of such metaphysical thinkers as Paramahansa Yogananda and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others. Acting as an accelerant was The Beatles, whose fraternization with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi served as a cosmic permission slip for legions of seekers.

It’s clear that Bebergal has done real investigation; the ideas of such occult luminaries as Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are given more serious consideration than is common to your average rock tome. For example, Bebergal does not refer to Crowley as a “satanist”— an inaccuracy common to pretty much every book on Led Zeppelin I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). And even occult scholars make mistakes; a recent book on Crowley noted that the Zeppelin LP on which “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed was IV, not III. This may not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but if I can’t trust you to get a detail like that right, can I trust you to illuminate how Rosicrucianism came to Europe?

While it is clear that Bebergal has done his homework, he hasn’t fully soaked in the hermetic traditions of the West (aka magick and its many offshoots). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are other writers, such as Erik Davis, who hit that groove. Bebergal is forthright about how he has less of an interest in the occult as a standalone topic than exploring how the symbols and associations found in rock got there to begin with. To me, this makes his occult research that much more impressive. I’ll take Bebergal’s even-keeled examinations over dilettantism or pedantry any day.

My only real complaint with Season of the Witch—besides jealousy over having not written it—is that its informational organization is a bit awkward. Not much of a gripe, given the difficulties in synthesizing and systemizing such a broad range of concepts and histories. Bebergal’s presentation is like a particularly awesome grad school lecture—it occasionally meanders, it’s not entirely concise, but is rich in context and conviction. (Apparently, we also share a lecture style.)

Some may grouse about what the book leaves out, but let’s give Bebergal a break—it would be fundamentally impossible to catalog every tributary that connects such massive bodies of water. That said, it would be interesting to teach a class in rock and the occult in a manner that could capture even more correspondences. If I were to design such a course, I’d readily assign Season of the Witch as the introductory text.

Kudos to Bebergal for taming the wily spirits of rock long enough to capture their essence in this fascinating book.

Happy Autumnal Equinox

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 22, 2014 — 2 Comments

September 23nd, 02:29 UT, will mark the Autumnal Equinox (the evening of the 22nd in North America) which signals the beginning of Fall in the northern hemisphere (our friends in the southern hemisphere are celebrating the Spring Equinox). On this day there will be an equal amount of light and darkness, and after this day the nights grow longer and we head towards Winter. In many modern Pagan traditions this is the second of three harvest festivals (the first being Lughnasadh, the third being Samhain).

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

Photo by Jason Thomas Pitzl.

“In the U.S. this equinox comes on September 22 at 10:29 p.m. EDT, 9:29 p.m. CDT, 8:29 p.m. MDT or 7:29 p.m. PDT. In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun is rising later now, and nightfall comes sooner. This is our autumn equinox, when the days are getting shorter in the Northern Hemisphere. At this equinox, day and night are approximately equal in length. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, people are enjoying the cooler days of autumn even as preparations for winter are underway. South of the equator, spring begins.”Deborah Byrd, EarthSky

The holiday is also known as “Harvest Home” or “Mabon” by Wiccans and Witches, “Mid-Harvest”, “Foghar”, and “Alban Elfed” by some Druidic and Celtic-oriented Pagan groups, and “Winter Finding” by modern-day Asatru. Most modern Pagans simply call it the Autumn Equinox. Here are some media quotes and excerpts from modern Pagans on the holiday.

“Autumn is my favorite season. As the Autumnal Equinox/Mabon/Alban Elfed approaches, I’m thinking of how this season has always carried a sense of magic and spirit… of descent into the sacred secrets of time… a place of reckoning, with a wise power that can see you as you go, while all the foliate cover falls away… a place where truth can’t hide. Truth is powerful and healing and terrible and cleansing and undeniable, and this is the cathartic season where you feast on it, and it feasts on you. Then you journey deep into winter to rest and wrestle and plan, and in spring rebirth comes and you assemble yourself anew, incorporating your truth, with summer being the field to practice it on and cultivate its fruits. It’s a powerful cycle. It’s a part of life for us humans, whether we’re aware of the process or not. It’s nature, and we come from the Earth and her seasons – our psyches formed by our environment… our home… our mother.” –  Lia Hunter, PaganSquare/Sage Woman

“Despite the bad publicity generated by Thomas Tryon’s novel, Harvest Home is the pleasantest of holidays. Admittedly, it does involve the concept of sacrifice, but one that is symbolic only. The sacrifice is that of the spirit of vegetation, John Barleycorn. Occurring one quarter of the year after Midsummer, Harvest Home represents midautumn, autumn’s height. It is also the autumnal equinox, one of the quarter days of the year.”Mike Nichols, The Witches’ Sabbats

“On the equinox, everyone helps to make the feast, often with veggies harvested from the garden.  Little ones are given simple tasks like mashing the potatoes, and my oldest daughter loves to help roll out the pie crust for the apricots and apples collected at Grandma’s house.  Like most days, we like to talk about where our food comes from – the cycle of life that provides for us all.  But on this day, things are a little quieter.  There’s important questions to contemplate. Once the bounty is on the table, beginning to cool off, we begin.  First, I take down the special Harvest glass from the cupboard – a simple goblet engraved with fall leaves and wheat stalks.  It’s filled full of grape juice, a reminder of all the fruits and vegetables we harvest in this season.  We pass it carefully around the table, hand to hand, each family member toasting the things for which they are thankful.  In a way, it resembles a Heathen sumbel rather strongly; but instead of separate rounds, the Gods, ancestors, and spirits are hailed haphazardly along with love, family, and many of the other things we appreciate in our lives.” – Molly Khan, Patheos.com

“Although the specific date of the Autumn Equinox was not marked by any ritual in Celtic tradition, there is evidence that, at some point roughly halfway between Lughnasadh and Samhain, communities would involved themselves with a ceremony that reflected the processes then at work in the Year. This was usually a conclusion to ritual themes invoked at Lughnasadh, and focused on the end of the main harvest activities (i.e., the grain harvest), although it did not imply the end of the entire Harvest season, which continued until Samhain.”Alexei Kondratiev, The Apple Branch: A Path to Celtic Ritual

“The English holiday Harvest Home was a very real holiday for centuries. There was no set date for Harvest Home but the things that were celebrated on the holiday are what most of us would expect in early Fall. There were games, ritual celebrations of the harvest, corn dollies, feasting, and parades. Many of these may or may not be “ancient pagan” in origin but they certainly all feel pagan, and are at the very least pagan in the sense that they revolve agricultural cycles.”Jason Mankey, Patheos.com

May you all enjoy the fruits of your harvest this season.

Canadians in Print

Dodie Graham McKay —  September 20, 2014 — 7 Comments

For many pagans, books are the gateway to knowledge. They are our first teachers of magic and offer a new world of esoteric lore and knowledge. If you enter the home of just about any modern pagan you will no doubt find a bookshelf (or many bookshelves!) piled high with books written by English authors such as Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente or the Farrars. There will no doubt be more than a few by high profile American writers, names like Margot Adler, Isaac Bonewits and Scott Cunningham or maybe the more contemporary Orion Foxwood or Christopher Penczack. Both Britain and the United States both have successful and high profile publishers of pagan books, Minnesota based Llewellyn Worldwide LTD. being easily one of the most prominent. But north of the border, up in Canada, a growing number of writers are finding their way into print and injecting a Canadian influence into the pagan publishing world. But does being from Canada influence pagan writing?

Kerr Cuhulain, Grand Master and founder of a Wiccan order of Knighthood called the Order of Paladins and author of several books including “Pagan Religions, a Diversity Training Guide “and “Full Contact Magick” had this to say about being Canadian:

Kerr Cuhulain

Kerr Cuhulain 

“I think that it’s given me the opportunity to stand outside of the US and UK Pagan communities and observe what they do. I’ve always been more interested in doing what works than doing what is traditional.”

Lady Sable Aradia, author of the newly published “The Witches Eight Paths to Power: A Complete Course in Magick & Witchcraft adds:

“I’m very proudly Canadian. We are products of our culture and environment, and I think that our particular style of understatement and ability to laugh at ourselves is one of my strengths as a writer. Being Canadian also puts me outside of a lot of the politics of North American Paganism, which allows me the luxury to comment on them from the position of an observer in many ways.”

But are Canadians really different from our American neighbours? Aside from spelling some words differently (yes, we spell it neighbours.) and pronouncing the last letter of the alphabet as zed, not zee, Canadians are culturally different as well.

Brendan Myers, a prolific pagan Canadian writer, with more books under his belt than many people read in a year, had this to say about cultural differences between Canada and the US:

Dr. Brendan Myers

Dr. Brendan Myers

“… Canada is really a fringe country. We may be a rich, developed, industrialized nation, with the world’s second-biggest playground, but we’re not very populous, nor especially influential in world affairs. Standing in the shadow of our larger neighbour to the south, we are easily overlooked, or assumed to be culturally the same as that larger neighbour. Our history is not that of a conquering empire-builder, except perhaps by proxy of two of our founding nations, England and France. What is more, Canada arguably has no national mythology. One can easily point to other countries with big stories like “The American Dream”, or “The French Revolution”; these stories might be objectionable, they might have dark sides, and they may even be illusions, but they are definitely glamorous. We Canadians have no equivalent. A transcontinental railroad, a national public health care service, “peace, order, and good government”, and other “Canadian dreams” we’ve had over the centuries, don’t really deliver the same glamour. Ours is a wholesome but boring national brand. (Mind you, that might be okay.)

In that respect, as a Canadian writer, I find myself pulled in two directions. In one way, I want to write something that shows I come from a truly independent and unique nation, a distinct society (know what I mean?), and that we’re not just Americans with funny woolen hats. But in the other way, I want to write something that non-Canadians might still find interesting, and I worry that painting my stuff in red Maple leaves will turn people off.”

One of the biggest challenges for Canadian writers trying to get published is the lack of a big name publisher of pagan books in our own country. So how do these books make it to bookstore shelves? Response to this was varied between these three authors and all answers revolve around our close proximity of our neighbours to the south. Carving out our own distinct Canadian paganism is a tough one when so much of our culture, both pagan and mainstream, is overshadowed by the United States. So, is it hard to get published?

Sable:

“I would have to say not in my experience, actually. At least, not as long as you’re willing to deal with American publishers. The truth is that with such a big market just south of us, it’s very difficult for an independent Canadian arts scene to develop, and I would say that the Pagan market is more difficult still since it’s so small.”

Brendan:

“There are very few Canadian publishers who will carry a book about paganism in their catalogue. All the publishers I’ve ever worked with have been based in England or the USA. Publishers outside Canada often assume that no one outside of Canada will be interested in a Canadian perspective. I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that writers in countries with larger populations, richer economies, and empires in their history, don’t need to worry about that. They benefit from a macro-economic and geo-political privilege, and a glamorous national mythology, which allows them to reach an international audience with a lot less effort.”

Kerr:

“I do not find it to be a problem at all. I’ve a large audience in the US, so it is pretty easy to find publishers for my works.”

As a former police officer/dispatcher and former Preceptor General of Officers of Avalon, an organization representing Neo-Pagan professionals in the emergency services (police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians), Kerr’s books reflect a Warrior spirit so often perceived from the outside of United States paganism through the work of groups like Circle Sanctuary’s Lady Liberty League or Order of the Pentacle.

Brendan’s books come from his academic background. Dr. Brendan Meyers earned his Ph.D in philosophy at the National University of Ireland, and now serves as professor of philosophy at Heritage College, in Gatineau, Quebec. His philosophy background informs his pagan writing. This theme of academia is also reflected by other Canadian writer/academics such as Shelley Rabinovich Ph.D (The Encyclopedia of Modern Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism (with James Lewis, and ‘An Ye Harm None': Magical Ethics and Modern Morality (with Meredith Macdonald), and Sian Reid Ph.D (Between the Worlds: Readings in Contemporary Paganism)

What resources exist to promote sales and expose writers to new readers? Canada is a huge country; 9,984,670 square kilometers (3,855,101 square miles) stretching from the Pacific Ocean in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east, yet the population is just over 35 million, less than the state of California. Our pagan population is thinly and widely scattered. In this dispersion is a sense of camaraderie and support that is essential for our combined success:

Brendan:

“I get excellent support from the Canadian public, and I’m very grateful for it. I’ve attended pagan events to promote my work in seven out of ten provinces now. The administration of the college where I work has supported my publishing efforts: even the Director General, my most senior manager, read Loneliness and Revelation.” 

Kerr:

“Most of the members of my Order of Paladins are Canadian. I just got back from teaching at PanFest in Edmonton. The support is there, I’m happy to say.”

Sable:

Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia

“Well, my local community has certainly been supportive! And the shop owners I’ve contacted through Western Canada have generally welcomed me with open arms. There’s a strong East/West divide so I don’t think many people have heard of me on the other side of the country yet, but I think there’s a general “us Canucks gotta stick together” sentiment, and I know that the friends I made at the Canadian National Pagan Conference in Montreal in 2010 have been making a great effort to spread the word. So, I would have to say that I feel very supported!”

Taking advantage of this support, Sable Aradia is about to embark on a book tour of western Canada. The tour will span four provinces, no small feat as it can take six to twelve hours to get from one city to another. Packed in her van will also be musical equipment as Sable is an accomplished singer and musician. She will also be doing house concerts to help supplement her travels. Her adventures started off close to home so far and she had this to say about how it is going:

“It’s off to a good start! I started in my hometown of Vernon, BC for the book launch and I sold out. The following weekend I went to Nelson, Castlegar, Enderby and Kelowna for World Goddess Day. This weekend I was at a Kelowna bookstore and a metaphysical store in Penticton (all towns in the province of British Columbia). Then at the end of the month I’m heading eastward.”

T. Scarlet Jory

T. Scarlet Jory

For books with very distinct regional flare, T.Scarlet Jory has released “Magical Blend: Book of Secrets (BOS)” and “Magical Blend: Book of Spells & Rituals (BOS) (Volume 2)”. These books celebrate landmark Le Melange Magique/The Magical Blend, a pagan shop in Montreal Quebec. This shop, which sadly has closed its doors, served customers in both of Canada’s official languages, English and French. It was known for its selection of in-house made teas, bath salts, incense and more.

Scarlet reminisces: “When the store’s physical location closed and the reference books of shadows developed by all the staff suddenly were no longer available to the public, I felt it was important to compile them and print them. That way everyone can access them again. The knowledge is a collection of gems from dozens of experienced staff members who helped the community.”

One curious book, written in 1989 by Kevin Marron, a reporter from The Globe and Mail, a national newspaper, “Witches, Pagans & Magic in the New Age” was the story of the people he met while investigating allegations of Satanic ritual abuse (remember the Satanic Panic folks? It happened in Canada as well!). While not a pagan himself, Marron provides a rare and sympathetic peek at the Canadian Pagan scene in the late 1980’s.

Many other voices have contributed to recording the story of Canadian Paganism. Some of the books may be harder to find, and unlikely to show up in foreign book or occult shops, but have value and interest to Pagans everywhere. The rise of e-readers and online shopping may put a Canadian book in your own collection soon.

Amid a flurry of controversy and confusion, the Oklahoma Civic Center Music Hall in Oklahoma City will be become the setting for a public Black Mass this Sunday, Sept. 21. The event, which is being billed as “enlightening and educational,” is reportedly now sold out. The purpose of the public staging, as written in the Civic Center’s blurb, is to bring a feared ritual “into the light.”

Just as problems arose when a Harvard University Extension club attempted to sponsor a Black Mass, the Oklahoma event has inspired local protests that began immediately after the Civic Center listed the Black Mass on its schedule. However, in this story, the ensuing controversy took a few unexpected twists and turns that go well-beyond typical outrage from the city’s Catholic community.

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma City Skyline [Photo Credit: Urbanative, CC - Wikimedia]

Oklahoma’s Archbishop Paul Coakley was the first to react publicly. On July 1, he issued a news release that read, “We are astonished and grieved by this proposed sacrilegious event.” He called on the Civic Center to cancel the event and on Oklahoma Catholics to pray.

A month later, after getting no response from the Civic Center, the Archbishop published an open letter asking all Christians to pray for protection, saying, “I am certainly concerned about the misuse of a publicly supported facility for an event which has no other purpose than mocking the Catholic faith.”

Despite public pressure, the Civic Center maintained a position of neutrality. Recently, general manager Jim Brown explained to a Christian news network, Aleteia:

Since we’re a City of Oklahoma facility we’re required to abide by all First Amendment rights to the Constitution, which don’t allow us to turn away any productions … As a public facility, we’re required to rent to organizations and individuals as long as they abide by our policies and procedures.

None of this public pressure is new to the Civic Center.  In 2010, a Satanic church called Four King Princes, originally The Church of IV Majesties, held a exorcism in the same space. At that time, the Center made clear that it upholds the city’s policy of non-discrimination. And that policy still stands today.

Governor Mary Fallin

Governor Mary Fallin [Courtesy of the State of Oklahoma]

While the Civic Center itself has remained neutral, Oklahoma’s state officials have not. On Aug. 13 Governor Mary Fallin released a statement in which she said, “It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.”

Unfortunately, in making that public statement, Fallin not only demonstrated religious bias but also managed to muddle an already volatile situation. She assumed that The Satanic Temple was responsible for the upcoming Black Mass.

This may seem like an easy mistake. The Satanic Temple is a very active, vocal and public organization that works aggressively in defense of religious freedom. The organization is behind the quest to place a Baphomet statue in the Oklahoma courthouse and assisted the Harvard Club with its Black Mass in May. Just this week, The Satanic Temple announced that it would begin distributing religious materials to students in Florida’s Orange County Public Schools. The news release reads:

In response to a recent School Board decision in Orange County, Florida that allows for the dissemination of religious materials in public schools, The Satanic Temple has announced they will follow suit by providing Satanic materials to students during the new school year. Among the materials to be distributed are pamphlets related to the Temple’s tenets, philosophy and practice of Satanism, as well as information about the legal right to practice Satanism in school.

However, The Satanic Temple is not behind the upcoming Oklahoma Black Mass. Representative, Lucien Greaves told The Wild Hunt that it has “nothing to do with the event” and said:

There was some confusion about this when Gov. Fallin specifically, erroneously, denounced The Satanic Temple in relation to this Black Mass prompting us to disseminate a press release making clear that we are not involved, and asking an apology from the governor’s office. The governor never replied.

Sunday’s Black Mass was organized by a local Oklahoma Satanic church called Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. When asked about the church’s intentions, co-Founder Adam Daniels told ABC News that “One of the dictates of the church is not only to educate the members but to educate the public … and to debunk the Hollywood-projected image of our beliefs.”

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Adam Daniels [Photo Credit: A. Daniels, Flickr, CC lic]

Despite this and other attempts at explanation, Daniels was unable to mollify the community. Confusion and frustrations only mounted. Then, Aug 20, the saga took a twist when Archbishop Coakley filed a lawsuit against Dakhma of Angra Mainyu. He did this after learning that Daniels planned to use a consecrated host in ritual. Archbishop Coakley said:

Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is really present in the form of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. The local organizers of this satanic inversion intend to use a stolen consecrated Host obtained illicitly from a Catholic Church to desecrate it as a sacrifice to Satan. Through this lawsuit, I hope to avoid the desecration of the Host.

According to reports, Daniels claims that he didn’t steal the wafers and that they were mailed to him by a Turkish priest. He then accused the Church of attempting to defame his character and planned a countersuit. However, after days of negotiations, Daniels agreed to return the host to the Church and, in return, the Archbishop dropped the lawsuit.

While that portion of the conflict ended, other protests continued. The conservative Christian TFP Student Action organization launched an online petition asking both the Civic Center and Governor “to stop the sacrilege.” The petition now has over 85,000 signatures.

To complicate matters, this summer’s national publicity has also dredged up problems from Daniels’ past, providing more sensational fodder for protesters for local media. Daniels is on Oklahoma’s sex offender registry. Although he has publicly addressed the offense in 2010, he has reportedly developed a reputation that has led to several group conflicts and mistrust within his own religious community.

It was this reputation and associated conflicts that triggered, in part, the The Satanic Temple’s quick response to Governor Fallin’s error. Greaves explains that there are certainly many different interpretations of Satanism. He is unfamiliar with Daniels’ particular beliefs so he could not “condone nor condemn” his work.  However, he said:

We do know … that Mr Daniels has developed a very poor reputation in his community, one that further encouraged us to make clear his lack of affiliation with us. We have built a great deal of goodwill among Oklahomans who understand the importance of our attempts to preserve an environment of religious liberty/pluralism in their home state. We certainly don’t want activities beyond our control to compromise that in any way.

Despite the flurry of concerns, both personal and religious, the Black Mass will be staged as planned. After the lawsuit was finally dropped, the only remaining issue was to ensure that the ritual itself would uphold all state laws. As noted on the site, Daniels assures the public:

The Black Mass being performed at the [Oklahoma] Civic Center has been toned downed as to allow it  to be performed in a public government building. The authenticity and purpose of the Black Mass will remain in tact [sic] while allowing for slight changes so that a public viewing can occur without breaking Oklahoma’s laws based on nudity, public urination and other sex acts.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach Daniels for further comment. However, if “preserving religious equality” or educating the public are indeed Daniels’ goal, the extraneous complications, stories of theft, and a dubious past may have muddied his mission. It can be very difficult to spot religious freedom activism through lawsuits and accusations of impropriety. Regardless of any these issues, the event will go on and the city-run Civic Center will uphold Daniels’ constitutional right to free expression of his religion. In that way, Dakhma of Angra Mainyu has ultimately managed to test the boundaries and soundness of religious tolerance and freedom in Oklahoma City.

Almost from the beginning comic books have lent themselves to repurposing mythology in order to tell stories. Usually this process was indirect, with new characters like Superman and Batman acquiring mythic resonances over time. However, the riches of ancient cultural myths and stories were far too tempting to simply borrow elements from, and soon you had figures like Thor and Hercules fighting alongside more down-to-earth heroes. In the late 1980s and through the 1990s this dive into ancient myth and religion took a more serious turn as writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Jamie Delano, and Grant Morrison grappled with increasingly complex notions regarding the narrative reality of fantasies they were producing. Comic books, many started to argue, were the conveyers of the new mythologies.

“Promethea is, from the very first issue, described as a fictional character. Now there’s a strange loop of self-reference going on there, because you’re reading about this fictional character who is perfectly aware that she is a fictional character and indeed that is the source of her occult power. So it’s kind of more or less saying that, yes, this emblem of Promethea that you are looking at—this is the actual goddess Promethea. That this is an actual embodiment of the imagination. In fact for one panel I thought that we pretty much manifested the god Hermes. How would a god of language and communication manifest in a physical universe? And of course, just as a goddess of dreams would manifest through dreams, then a god of language and images and communications, and, if you like, comic strips, would probably manifest through a comic strip.” – Alan Moore

For those embrace a polytheistic belief system in the modern world, who take seriously the “old” gods and goddesses, these philosophical twists and turns within the comic medium (not to mention the quality story-telling) started attracting a lot of attention. Soon, works like Grant Morrison’s “The Invisibles” were being used as inspiration for real-life occult and religious practice with Morrison himself taking gleeful part. The role of religion in comic books and how it has influenced the people reading them was now something being seriously studied and written about. Now, a new generation of books are continuing this process, most notably “The Wicked + The Divine” by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. 

wicked-divine

“Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to start a new ongoing superhero fantasy. Welcome to THE WICKED + THE DIVINE, where gods are the ultimate pop stars. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.”

What’s interesting about “The Wicked + The Divine” is that it portrays a world where gods seemingly walk among us, but in a manner that leaves plenty of ambiguity as to what’s really going on (all wrapped up in a murder mystery). The divine beings take seat in ordinary mortals, instantly changing them into celebrities, at least until they die. A reporter, who happens to have studied mythology in college, gives voice to the natural skepticism towards such a phenomenon, critiquing the strange appropriations and contortions of these “gods.” This is mythology in a post-modern world, as pantheons and cultures are jumbled. Where The Morrigan and Baphomet do underground performance art to a select group of followers, and Lucifer is locked in jail claiming to be framed. As seemingly miraculous things continue to pile up, the series looks at the thin line between fame and faith.

“I’ve always thought that if comics are a part of pop culture [then] they should reflect pop culture, but a lot of the time comics, superhero comics especially, just feed on themselves. For me, comics should take from every bit of pop culture that they can; they’ve got the same DNA as music and film and TV and fashion and all of these things.”Kieron Gillen

This series isn’t the first time that Gillen and McKelvie have traveled mythic territory. The series Phonogram dealt directly with the idea of music as magic, complete with aspects of gods who oversaw different musical epochs (the goddess Britannia, for example, oversees British guitar pop). Both series, by fusing pop-culture and fame with myth and magic, allow for the creation of a new tapestry of ideas. Making us see how the revels we read about in ancient texts might truly manifest in our modern world.

WickedDivine1_web1

“Phonogram was explicitly about our world. It’s a fantasy which is happening around us all, unnoticed except for those who’ve fallen into its world. In a real way, it’s real. Conversely, W+D is much more overt. The appearance of the gods changes the world, and has changed the world going back. There’s the strong implication that certain figures in our world simply didn’t exist in The Wicked And The Divine‘s world, because they were replaced by a god.”Kieron Gillen

“The Wicked + The Divine” like Moore’s “Promethea” and Gaiman’s “The Sandman,” gives us another context through which we can think about the numinous world; About gods, magic, and how we interact with both of those concepts. While the depictions may seem irreverent to some of the devout, an interesting and vital exploration is taking place, and I think it’s a journey worth taking. Issue #4 of the series is out today, available digitally and in most comic book stores. Digital back-issues can be purchased at Comixology and other digital comic outlets.

Whether it’s spelled Voodoo, Vodou, or Voudoun, this frequently-misunderstood religion of the African diaspora is starting to get a makeover in the American consciousness. A traditionally secretive religion, Vodou has long been represented in movies and television shows as being focused on sticking pins in dolls and making people into zombie slaves. That image is starting to change, however, in ways that could make members of the Pagan community sit up and take notice.

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

© Canadian Museum of History, Frank Wimart

In contrast to the Hollywood vision of Vodou, an exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago seeks to present an accurate picture of Haitian Vodou through its artifacts. According to a press release about the exhibition, “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti looks beyond myths and manufactured Hollywood images – exhibition visitors will see no dolls with pins stuck into them. Instead, the exhibition explores the underground history and true nature of a living religion and reveals Vodou as a vital spiritual and social force which remains an important part of daily life in Haiti.” Text and video of members of the religion are used to explain the symbolism behind, and uses of, the more than 300 objects, many of which are on loan from the Marianne Lehmann Collection in Pétionville, Haiti.

Patrons of the Field Museum will come away with some understanding of Haitian Vodou, one of the major branches practiced in the United States today. The other is Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo, a tradition which evolved in that southern city thanks in part to the fact that slave families were more likely to be kept together than they were in the East. Followers of the two paths kept mostly to themselves in the city, according to a profile of the religion in Newsweek, although initiation into both wasn’t entirely unknown. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina changed all that; many Vodou practitioners lived in the Ninth Ward, which bore the brunt of the damage when the levies broke:

“After Katrina, the remaining members began to forge a new, cross-faith community. The mixed ceremonies and social gatherings served a support network for participants from both sides of voodoo as they rebuilt their lives. “We became more close-knit. Those of us who stayed and didn’t evacuate opened what lines of communication had been closed,” says Michael “Belfazaar” Bousum, an employee of Voodoo Authentica and a priest of New Orleans voodoo.

“The new scene has also encouraged members of the ancient religion to create a web presence —- forums such as “Vodou, Voodou, Vodoun, Vodun” on Facebook and “A Real Voodoo Club” on Yahoo Groups are popular —- as well as welcoming outsiders to their events for the first time. “Before, you really would have had to know who a mambo or a houngan was to participate in a public or private ceremony. You would have to be in the inner circle. Now it’s accessible with a few keystrokes,” says Parmelee. “Plus, people who left are returning. The community is definitely coming back.””

New Orleans Healing Center

New Orleans Healing Center

The most impressive demonstration of this new face of Vodou is surely the New Orleans Healing Center, a 55,000-square-foot complex which has become a focal point for the religion since it opened in 2011. The center hosts public ceremonies, a bustling shop, and has gone a long way towards normalizing perceptions of this religion in New Orleans. It cost a reported $13 million to build, including both public and private funds, and represents the type of infrastructure many Pagans yearn for, and others shun.

There are many reasons why such an massive project was possible in the Vodou community, while similar ideas remain dreams for Pagans. For one, while there are different schools of thought, Vodou is not an “umbrella” of often unrelated faiths, as Paganism is. For another, Paganism is wrestling with questions of money that Vodou has mostly put to rest.

Lilith Dorsey

Lilith Dorsey

“Gardner said not to charge for spiritual services,” explained Lilith Dorsey, who writes the blog Voodoo Universe, but “Marie Laveau was the first to charge for services.” She was referring to Gerald Gardner, whose contributions to Wicca in the 1950s set the tone for many conversations in the Pagan community today, and 19th-century Vodou priestess Laveau, whose impact on New Orleans Voodoo was equally seminal. “Some people may have no other way of making a living,” she said, “they might be uneducated, or crazy, or this is just the only skill they have.” Instead of having a cultural bias against accepting money, in Vodou it’s expected.

One of the interesting details about this mainstreaming of Vodou is the monotheistic bent it’s taking. The Newsweek article is quite clear on that point, saying that both New Orleans and Haitian Vodou “are monotheistic (the highest god is Bondyè, the “good lord”), are mostly oral- instead of text-based and celebrate thousands of cosmic and natural spirits (akin to Catholicism’s saints).” Since Dorsey writes about Vodou for a Pagan site, The Wild Hunt asked her if Vodou is a monotheistic religion.

“That’s a sticky question,” Dorsey replied. “It’s more acceptable to be monotheistic in this culture. I approach it anthropologically: if you offer to it, it’s a god or goddess. I consider lwa and oreshas to be gods. In the Catholic Church they call them saints, but they function like gods.” However they function, though, in her experience, “People don’t want to have a lot of gods.”

Dorsey, who maintains connections to the Vodou communities in New Orleans and New York City, also said that not everyone is happy with the public face of Vodou that is emerging. “Will it be good? I can’t say. On one hand, the more neighbors you have who practice Voodoo the more okay it seems. I have neighbors who are okay with Voodoo but not with ‘evil Santeria.’ On the other hand, public ceremonies mean cameras, and there are things one should not be taking pictures of. “That’s hard for the average person to determine. I do a class on ritual blessings for camera, and once you start talking about photography, that’s another whole level.”

Art museums and shiny new healing centers are signs that the face of Vodou is changing fast. Dorsey said that, like water, it will find its own level. When it does, it could be possible to draw some conclusions about how Pagan religions may change as they become more normalized, for good or ill.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

Let’s start off this week by taking a tour of the ‘big four’ Pagan/Polytheist portals.

10513320_1519749801581160_4666587913269014328_nFirst stop is the recently launched Polytheist.com (see our news story about the launch), which has debuted columns by P. Sufenas Virius LupusConor O’Bryan Warren, Niki WhitingTamara L. Siuda, and many more. Helenic Polytheist artist Markos Gage (aka The Gargarean) captures a bit of the general buzz and excitement of the launch of this new site. Quote: “Something like the PLC is a privilege, a gift. Although you dudes went to some hotel in a town with a weird name, gave lectures to one another for a weekend and went home, it has affected people outside. Reading and hearing the fallout of this event has really set a spark in my heart that makes me *want* to be part of the community. This is why I am honoured to be invited to write on this site and sincerely hope I contribute some insight to the beauty of polytheism into the future.” From what I’ve heard, this is just the beginning, so be sure to keep an eye on this site as it develops!

PatheosLogoDarkBG_bioAt the Patheos.com Pagan channel, John Beckett writes about the commodification of humanity, Sarah Thompson shares a prayer of compassion for Z. BudapestSterling shares on de-colonizing ourselves so we can help others, and T. Thorn Coyle writes on becoming leaders. Quote: “We can surround ourselves with a cloak of righteousness, or with sycophants, or just friends who won’t be honest with us, in hopes “oh please oh please oh please” that we won’t be honest with them, in turn.Sometimes I say that my primary work as a teacher is to help those who work with me to become better adults. A martial arts instructor I know often comments that what he really wants to teach is adulthood. I think he does. It just takes a long time. Why? Because of the process of becoming. We learn a little bit today, and the rest slides by, until an event happens, or we learn enough other things, and then all of a sudden, that thing we saw or heard four years ago makes sense. And those of us who are teachers or leaders or parents are involved in that same process. Continuously.”

376350_10151961862130725_916104467_nAt the Witches & Pagans hosted PaganSquare, Steven Posch shares a proverb from his favorite dystopian novelsKai Koumatos describes being a Witch in seminary, Taylor Ellwood talks about anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in magical work, Deborah Blake extolls basil, and Aline “Macha” O’Brien discusses when consensus decision making is not truly consensus decision making. Quote: “The most common problem I’ve encountered is what I will indelicately term the ‘bully factor.’ It’s always deliberate, if perhaps unconscious. It’s simply a fact of life that some voices carry more weight than others. And it has nothing to do with volume. I’ve just experienced, once again, decision-making by the ‘bully factor’ trying to pass itself off as consensus. When there is a call for a sweeping decision that doesn’t allow for individual voices to speak on different perspectives on an issue, it’s extremely difficult for one or more individuals to voice an objection. Even when the facilitator asks for any objections or concerns, anyone voicing such concerns risks derision and disdain, resulting in one’s concerns being dismissed. That person (or persons) may be viewed as being an antagonistic malcontent rather than a valued contributor to the process. Hence, alienation and a breakdown of communal trust.”

witchvoxFinally, at The Witches’ Voice, the normal selection of weekly essays is replaced by a special response to the “New Atheists” by Mike Nichols, author of “The Witches’ Sabbats.” Quote: “In this essay, I plan to analyze the following TWO questions: “Do you believe in God?” and “Do you worship Nature?” Although in my culture, the first is usually asked with reference to Christianity and the second is usually asked with reference to Paganism, I have come to realize the two questions are eerily parallel. And they both share the same crop of problems. Let’s start with ‘Do you believe in God?’ I have been asked that question with surprising regularity for almost as long as I can remember. It didn’t take me too long (high school, perhaps?) to come to the conclusion that this was one of the most absurd questions anyone could ever ask me –or anyone else. What could such a question possibly mean? In order to answer whether or not I believed in ‘God’, I would obviously need to know what my questioner meant by the term.”

In Other Pagan Community News:

  •  Óski’s Gift, a scholarship funded by the household of Galina Krasskova and Sannion, is quickly nearing its deadline for submissions. Here’s what Sannion had to say about the initiative: “Óski’s Gift is a scholarship our household is contributing $300 towards twice a year, awarded to people who are doing work on behalf of their gods and communities. All that one has to do to be eligible is send a short (900-1300 word) description of what that work is to Galina at krasskova@gmail.com. Anyone, from any polytheist tradition, can enter. If you would like to contribute money in addition to what we are offering for the scholarship contact Galina.” Deadline is September 20th.
  • The Emergent Studies Institute is holding a webinar on the subject of eco-spirituality featuring Luisah Teish, M. Macha Nightmare, ecopsychologist Ginny Anderson, and several others. Here’s a quote about Luisah Teish’s presentation: “Examining the myths that have shaped our attitudes toward Woman as representative of Nature (Goddesses, Mermaids, Demons etc.) and to physical environment (Forest, Ocean or Earth). We delineate the ways that these myths have impacted our lives as individuals and as members of the global community. After exploring alternative myths from variety of cultures we discuss the worldview they represent and their effect on Woman and Nature.” The webinar takes place on October 4th.
  • Just a reminder that the I:MAGE London 2014 show is coming up at the end of October. Quote: “In most magical and esoteric traditions the end of October is a sacred time of year, a time for honouring the dead and communicating with the spirit world. It is a time to acknowledge the winter months and delve into the darker part of the year and of the self. The boundaries between the familiar and what is Other shatter. The veil is thin. The magic begins. For I:MAGE 2014, artists will explore what it means to communicate with spirits through art. They will give us a glimpse of a unifying theme across different esoteric practices and offer us the perfect opportunity to introduce you to a truly international show.”
  • September 26th will see the release of a new issue of the always excellent Abraxas Journal. Quote: “Abraxas journal Issue #6 offers more than 160 large format pages of essays, poetry, interviews and art. Printed using state-of-the-art offset lithography to our usual high standard, contributions for Abraxas #6 include an interview by Anna Dorofeeva with the artist, Penelope Slinger, who also kindly designed the cover for this issue; an evocative photographic essay by Victoria Ballesteros of Marjorie Cameron performing a Chen-style sword form of tai-chi, published here for the first time; Matt Marble explores the Hermes of Harlem, Robert T. Browne; Kelly Hayes shares with us a powerful series of images documenting the spiritual lives of an Afro-Brazilian community just outside Rio de Janerio; and we are especially pleased to offer a special feature on Leonora Carrington, with essays from two leading scholars; Susan L. Aberth and Wouter J. Hanegraaff.” 

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

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix,  440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) - [Greek Reporter]

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

[Wikipedia Commons]

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

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[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing 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 let’s get started!

150318_285637801541688_2098495770_nJust as we were going to press, the passing of Jeff Rosenbaum was announced. The cause of death was a brain tumor. Rosenbaum is perhaps best known as the conceiver and a founder of the Association for Consciousness Exploration (ACE), the Chameleon Club, the Starwood Festival, and the WinterStar Symposium. Through the 1990s and early 2000s the Starwood Festival was arguably one of the most popular (and populous) outdoor festivals of its type, thanks to organizers cross-pollinating Pagan communities with other religious and visionary movements, featuring guests like Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson. Rosenbaum talked a bit about this organizing vision when he was interviewed in the book “Modern Pagans.”

“Starwood is a big college of alternative thinking and alternative spirituality that suddenly appears like a carnival or circus. The tents go up, it stays there for a week, and then BOOM it’s gone, til next year. We have 140 or more classes from 9:30 in the morning till 6:15 in the evening–sometimes as many as 12 at a time. You can learn about Druidism, Ceremonial Magic, Wicca, Tibetan Buddhism, and Native American Practices. We have classes on psychedelia and psychology, and different “movement systems” like tai chi, yoga and aikido. Past speakers have included Timothy Leary, quantum physicist Fred Allen Wolf, Paul Krassner, and Steven Gaskin, who created the Farm, the biggest hippie commune in America. It’s all included in the cost of admission.”

As Rosenbaum puts it, he was “a student of an eclectic array of spiritual paths, philosophies, and illuminating pursuits,” and it was that wide-ranging desire to experience and know that drove his life. In addition to his work with ACE and Starwood, he was Robert Anton Wilson’s lecture agent for six years during the 1980s, played guitar & percussion with Ian Corrigan and Victoria Ganger in the bands Chameleon and Starwood Sizzlers, and was published (and interviewed) in a number of Pagan-themed publications. Tributes to Rosenbaum are already flooding his Facebook profile, but I think the most apt was a posthumous status update from Jeff Rosenbaum himself, which I think does a good job of capturing his spirit. Quote: “At 6:23 pm EST tonight I crossed over and left my body behind. My friends were by my side, the Firesign Clones were playing on the TV. It was calm and peaceful. Thank you all for your good wishes and support. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.” What is remembered, lives. ADDENDUM: Here’s an obituary written by close friend Ian Corrigan.

dwsLWG1w_400x400The Pagan Environmental Coalition of NYC has sent out a call for help. The People’s Climate March is less than a month away and the number of Pagans pledging to march as part of the Interfaith contingent is “exploding,” according to organizers. PEC-NYC has started an Indigogo campaign with the goal of $3,000 by Sept. 18th. The monies will cover supplies for the weekend and hopefully, fund the transportation for Pagans from far-away to get to NYC for the weekend.  “$10 is breakfast for ten people. $100 is a bus ticket for a marcher from the midwest, $250 is a train ticket for a west coast based Marcher.” said Courtney Weber, an organizer with PEC-NYC. “We are at a pivotal point in history, and history has shown that boots in the streets truly can change the world. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to show world leaders that the people want serious action to address climate change, now. Marching alongside other faiths is the perfect opportunity to increase our knowledge and understanding of one another, and cross belief-barriers to fight for a common cause.” The link to the campaign can be found, here. If you are interested in attending the march with a Pagan contingent, please see their blog

pic01Pagan organizations and individuals have endorsed a campaign to urge California Governor Jerry Brown to sign California Senate Bill (SB) 1057 into law. The measure, which overwhelmingly passed in both the Assembly and the Senate, would mandate the reform of history and social science materials used in California schools. Supporters of 1057 claim it will “prevent bullying and promote a positive self-image for children” of different religions, backgrounds, and ethnicities. This will be done by requiring “an expert advisory group to create new History-Social Science Content Standards in a fair, open, and transparent manner. The advisory groups will be composed of scholars and educators, and must make a good faith effort to seek the input of representatives from diverse communities.” Pagan organizations that have signed on to this effort include the American Vinland Association/Freya’s Folk, Our Lady of the Wells Church, and The Patrick McCollum Foundation. In addition, Sabina Magliocco, author of “Witching Culture,” has signed on as a supporting academic. SB 1057 has also garnered the support of several religious minorities in California, including Hindu, Jain, and Jewish organizations.

10513320_1519749801581160_4666587913269014328_nThe new resource/website Polytheist.com will be launching this week! In an update to the forthcoming site’s Facebook page, posted last night, the official launch’s imminent arrival was heralded. Quote: “Coming this week, the official launch of Polytheist.com! Please stay tuned for this exciting set of columns, from a talented team of writers, voices, and visionaries from our Polytheist communities!” Polytheist.com, once launched, will be a “an online hub of columnists, contributors and content creators who are dedicated to many gods across many traditions.” The site is spearheaded by Anomalous Thracian (aka Theanos Thrax), who recently explained why this site is important. Quote: “For some time, many Polytheists have been seeking a place for discussing their religions, their divine relations, and their living lineages in such a way that effectively maximizes the vastness of the all-connecting technologies of the internet age to reach out to and commune with other like-minded and like-religioned groups and individuals, without inviting the targeting and resistance often experienced in spaces not dedicated to this specific aim.” Stay tuned, as we will be talking more about this project very soon. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark that link!

Margot Adler

Margot Adler

Earlier last month I reported on an initiative to raise money for a memorial bench in Central Park honoring Margot Adler, author of the landmark book “Drawing Down the Moon,” who passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Quote: “Many of you have asked about ways to honor Margot’s memory. After discussions with a few of her closest friends, it’s been decided that collecting donations toward buying a memorial bench in her name in Central Park is the best plan. It’s something she spoke of in her final days. As you know, she lived on the edge of the park nearly her entire life and walked through it daily.” I’m happy to report that the month-long fundraiser has managed to raise over $11,000 dollars, enough to pay for the memorial bench, and to also endow a tree in the park. A large number of Pagans and Pagan organizations donated money towards this initiative, including The Sisterhood of Avalon, the Michigan Council of Covens and Solitaries, and The Witches’ Voice. This is a fitting tribute, one that will no doubt become a place of pilgrimage for all who honored her and her work.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

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