Archives For Aleister Crowley

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. Pagan Community Notes is just one of the many regular features The Wild Hunt brings you to help keep you informed about what’s going on in our interconnected communities. If you appreciate this reporting, please consider donating to our Fall Funding Drive (and thank you to the over 200 supporters who have already donated). Now, on to the news…

Patrick McCollum

Patrick McCollum

Pagan prison chaplain Patrick McCollum has penned an open reaction letter in response to a New York Times article about a Southern Baptist Bible college located inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary. In the letter, McCollum cautions fellow prison chaplains against celebrating this move unless they’d want to see a similar setup for a Wiccan seminary, and ends with the advice he’d give the warden in Louisiana if asked. Quote: “I support the good work of the seminary, and I would encourage the warden or other wardens, if they want to move in this direction, and if it were found that such programs were Constitutional ( which I seriously doubt) to invite minority faiths to have the same support and advantages they are offering the Bible college.  I would also caution the current seminary to review their objectives and adjust them to bring service to all and a good general education, without including conversion as a component.  If inmates feel moved after seeing the good work done by the seminary to convert, more power to them. While there is a serious question as to whether the situation described is Constitutional at all, the more important question is, is it ethical? Is it okay to submit confined inmates who cannot escape or move out of range of this program and who know up front that signing up for it will put them in good favor with the warden and staff and make their prison stay more comfortable and even give them status.” Religious education in prison is an ongoing issue, one that Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has decided to explore with their new Pagan Life Academy.

1391905_10151682113826724_2043938403_nWriter, occultist, and musician Lon Milo DuQuette will be releasing a new album, “Gentle Heretic,” on October 31st. Downloads of the new songs are already available at CD Baby. Quote: “After a twenty five year hiatus from the music business and the recording studio, Lon Milo DuQuette is in the midst of a burst of musical creativity. Eighteen months after his 2012 debut on Ninety Three Records, DuQuette has wrapped production on “Gentle Heretic”, his third collection of original material. While “Heretic” maintains the wit and stylistic traditions established in his first two Ninety Three works (“I’m Baba Lon” and “Baba Lon II”), DuQuette has sharpened his satirical pen on some tracks, pulling few punches politically or philosophically. A prolific author and expert in Western Hermeticism, the Aleister Crowley disciple’s new disc tweaks the beaks of the one percent, pokes fun at the proselytizers – there’s even a scathing salvo served on a certain December holiday. Mixed in with these messages are some delightful frolics covering everything from reincarnation to a quantum theory of courtship. The final forty-one seconds might be described as the acoustic equivalent of a YouTube cat video.” You can find out more about this release at Ninety Three Records.

banner4Pandora’s Kharis, a charity circle run by Hellenic Polytheists, was recently launched. The new group, sponsored by Elaion, aims to raise money for “charities and causes which align with our ideals, our Gods and our communities.” Quote: “Pandora’s Kharis is a movement which arose from within the Hellenistic Polytheistic community, and sponsored by Hellenistic Polytheistic organization Elaion. Its goal is to come together as Hellenists–followers of the ancient Hellenic (Greek) Gods–and collect funds monthly to support a worthy cause, decided upon by vote from the members of the group. Donations will be collected throughout the month and provided to the organization on the Noumenia; the religious beginning of the new month, which coincides with the return of the moon after it’s just gone through its dark phase. It is a time of hope and promise, and Pandora’s remaining gift after the amphora was opened was exactly that. As such, she has been elected to represent what we stand for: to keep an open eye of wonder towards the world, to see the good in it, and to offer hope to those in need.” In an editorial for Witches & Pagans, Terence P. Ward praised the formation of Pandora’s Kharis, noting that “perhaps even more exciting — at least from a business perspective — is that the idea is easily replicated.  Wiccans, Heathens, polytraditional solitaries all could create their own groups for amplifying the power of their giving.  By narrowing the focus from the incredibly broad and often contradictory beliefs of Pagans down to the ethics and values of a particular subset of the Paganiverse, we are likely to see more public giving by Pagans.” More information can be found at the organization’s new web site.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • A new London-based shop based around traditional conjure work, London Conjure, was launched this week. The enterprise was founded by Katelan Foisy (“La Gitana”), who is based in New York City, and Sister Enable, based in the UK. Quote: “Though much of their work is based on Romany “Gypsy” Magic passed down from generation to generation and traditional Hoodoo conjure work, they also work with spirits used in Haitian Vodou, Santeria or other enlightened spirits depending on what will work best to achieve their clients’ objectives.” You can learn more about the founders, here. You can also read a Q&A with Katelan Foisy.
  • A new book of commentaries on Aleister Crowley’s The Book of the Law“Overthrowing the Old Gods: Aleister Crowley and the Book of the Law,” has been published. Quote: “Boldly defying Crowley’s warning not to comment on the Book of the Law, Ipsissimus Don Webb provides in-depth interpretation from both Black and White Magical perspectives, including commentary from Dr. Michael A. Aquino, who served as High Priest of the Temple of Set from 1975 to 1996. Webb examines each line of the Book in the light of modern psychology, Egyptology, existentialism, and competing occult systems such as the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff and contemporary Left-Hand Path thought.”
  • At PNC-Minnesota, Lisa Spiral Besnett covers the 32nd Annual Women and Spirituality Conference in Mankato, Minnesota. Quote: “This conference is sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, Mankato.   Cindy Veldhuisen, the Business Manager for the Conference, told me that there were about 540 attendees this year.  This is up from last year. Some of the reason for the increase in attendance can likely be attributed to this year’s keynote speaker, Starhawk.  This is Starhawk’s third appearance as keynote speaker for the Woman & Spirituality conference.  She draws attendees from across the five state area as well as from the east coast, Colorado and Canada.  Many of the women I spoke with who were familiar with Starhawk were also alumni of the Diana’s Grove Witch Camp.”
  • Cosette, in Australia, gives an update on the Pagan/New Age event in Wedderburn, which experienced opposition from local Christian groups. Quote: “It sounds to me like there was a lot of interest in the New Age festival and that’s what people really went out there for. What Tonkin and other Christians like her fail to realize is that there’s a church on every corner and a Bible in every motel room, library, and book shop. Christianity is the dominant and privileged religion in Australia; finding information about it and other Christians is easy. Finding Witches, Wiccans, good resources, and a supportive Pagan or New Age spiritual community is much harder, and made all the more difficult by people like Tonkin who seek to defame alternative religions, and frighten those seeking them while attempting to silence those who practice them.”
  • Issue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine was released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.”

That’s all I have for now, please remember to support The Wild Hunt during our Fall Funding Drive so that we can continue to bring you reporting from our interconnected communities!

The Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a fraternal and religious organization which boasts magician and philosopher Aleister Crowley as its most famous member, and subsequently are legal caretakers of much of Crowley’s intellectual property, recently made several important announcements concerning one of Crowley’s most important co-creations: The Thoth Tarot. The Thoth deck was a joint effort of Crowley and the artist Lady Frieda Harris, and is one of the most influential tarot decks of our modern age. The deck drew from many of Crowley’s magical theories, and incorporated substantial changes from the dominant Rider-Waite deck. In their April 10th news release, the O.T.O. announced that Lady Harris’ tarot art, which has recently been restored by a conservation specialist at the Warburg Institute (which own the original paintings), will be given a major showing at the Venice Biennale.

"Adjustment" by Lady Frieda Harris

“Adjustment” by Lady Frieda Harris

“The Biennale is the first time so many Thoth paintings will be on public display for such a length of time—about 5 months. Attendance at the last Biennale approached 400,000, so this will introduce the Thoth Tarot to a large, new and sophisticated audience. [...]  The nine paintings included are: Atu VIII – Adjustment, 1940, Atu XII – The Hanged Man, 1938–40, Atu XV – The Devil, 1938–40, Atu XVI – The Tower (or: War), 1939, Atu XVIII – The Moon, 1938–40, Atu XIX – The Sun, 1938, Queen of Wands, 1938–40, Ace of Cups, 1940, Queen of Cups, 1938–40.” 

This is amazing news for those who’ve longed to see Lady Frieda Harris’ work in person, but perhaps the even bigger news is that the O.T.O. has also announced that it will be litigating against U.S. Games over their publication of the Thoth tarot deck.

“O.T.O. is filing suit in U.S. Federal Court against U.S. Games Systems, and perhaps others, over the Thoth Tarot Deck. Years ago O.T.O. licensed the Thoth Tarot to AGMüller (whose assets are now part of Königsfurt Urania, a division of Carta Mundi, the world’s largest card producer). In an attempt (clearly misguided in retrospect) to “make room” in the deal for U.S. Games, who had long published the deck under an arrangement with Samuel Weiser dating from the days when the deck was public domain in the U.S.A., we set up the deal to let U.S. Games continue in North America, supplied with the decks by AGMüller, with U.S. Games executing a separate license with O.T.O.—the U.S. copyright to the Thoth Tarot had by then been restored, in 1996. We concluded our contract with AGMüller for world distribution less North America. The “set-aside” of North America to accomodate U.S. Games gave rise to a last-minute clause in our contract with AGMüller that allowed AGMüller to ship decks to U.S. Games royalty unpaid—it being understood that U.S. Games would take care of its royalty obligations for North American English sales through the separate contract that they were expected to conclude with O.T.O. To my surprise and dismay U.S. Games then refused to sign the contract—or even discuss the contract any longer; and this was the contract that O.T.O. had negotiated hard with AGMüller to get for U.S. Games. Sadly, this loophole in our AGMüller contract has been exploited ever since, to the detriment of both copyright owners of theThoth Tarot. The grand total paid to the copyright owners for North American English language deck sales (by far the largest market in the world) has been exactly zero.”

If I understand this correctly, the allegation is that U.S. Games is exploiting a contract loophole to avoid paying royalties due the O.T.O., and doing so under the pretense that they don’t have to since they’ve never signed a contract. If this is accurate, then it would make two very popular tarot decks that U.S. Games is enriching itself with on uncertain legal footing. As I reported back in December of 2012, U.S. Games claims to have sole control over the Rider-Waite tarot deck despite A.E. Waite’s works entering the public domain in much of the world starting in 2013. In that case, U.S. Games is claiming Rider-Waite artist Pamela Coleman Smith as a full co-creator despite evidence that points to her paintings being done as “work-for-hire.”

"The Lovers" by Lady Frieda  Harris

“The Lovers” by Lady Frieda Harris

“Starting in 2013 the primary question will rest on what rights, if any, deck illustrator Pamela Colman Smith had to the work. Were they work for hire, or is Smith to be considered a co-author, blocking the deck from entering the public domain? In the past U.S. Games itself has acknowledged that their copyright claims rest with Waite, and that it all ends in 2012 [...] However, a 2008 interview (published in 2010) with U.S. Games founder Stuart Kaplan makes it very plain that the company has changed course and now believes their rights extend until 70 years after the 1951 death of Smith.”

In the case of the Rider-Waite deck, U.S. Games is betting that no one will have the time or resources to commit to a major legal challenge before their time finally runs out in 2021 and the original deck unarguably enters the public domain, but it’s a different story with the O.T.O. who have already fought and won legal battles relating to their control over the Thoth deck.

“OTO filed suit in US Federal Court in Southern California against Focus Features, NBC Universal and Vivendi for copyright infringement in connection with the appropriation of images from the Thoth Tarot cards to promote the Woody Allen film “Scoop,” where they were used on the poster, DVD packaging and in the press kits. The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties. Under the terms of the agreement, the details of the settlement are confidential. This was a significant legal case, since OTO took on the world’s largest media conglomerate, represented by the best law firm in Hollywood. We have long taken on corporations many times our size before, e.g. Simon and Schuster, Doubleday and Harper and Row, but NBC Universal Vivendi is many, many times larger and more powerful than all these combined.”

Further, the O.T.O. seems completely unafraid of U.S. Game’s litigious muscle saying they are “prepared thoroughly for the case, both legally and financially,” that they “fully expect a typical American-style defense strategy that seeks to pit their considerable financial resources against ours” and are “confident of winning.”

To say it will be interesting to see what happens next is a vast understatement. Though some may not realize it, the market for tarot, divination, novelty, and gaming cards is huge, and U.S. Games has been making millions of dollars over the past several decades thanks to its control over popular decks like the Rider-Waite and the Thoth. If the O.T.O.’s confidence in their case bears out, it could mean a new American publisher for the Thoth deck, the deck going out of print in America for an undetermined period, or possibly a large settlement from U.S. Games (or some combination of these). Further, this case could raise troubling ethical issues relating to how U.S. Games has been doing business, issues which might concern authors and artists contracted with the company.

I have contacted U.S. Games for an official statement or response to the O.T.O.’s allegations, and will print that here once/if I receive anything. The Wild Hunt will continue to follow this story as it develops.

ADDENDUM: Stuart Kaplan, founder of U.S. Games, sent me the following statement in reply to my queries.

“U. S. Games Systems is a distributor of the Crowley decks which are published by AGMuller who we understand holds a license from OTO. AGMuller no longer publishes the extra Magus cards, and they are not available. U.S. Games Systems has not received any filing of litigation. The company has not done anything wrong and it will vigorously defend against any lawsuit.”

I am starting this journey in the early days of American cinema; from its inception in 1895 through its development into a viable culturally-influential industry. I’ve dated this period as “pre-1939.”  Many of you will recognize 1939 as being the release date of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM)’s classic film The Wizard of Oz, a film that contains the most iconic Hollywood witch in American cultural history.

From 1895 to 1916 moving pictures were just a technical novelty. As film historian Jeanine Basinger said, “No one really took movies very seriously. It was thought that they were a fad.” Most early movies depicted actual events, landscape photography, historical re-enactments or popular stories. (Basinger, American Cinema, 1994)

During these first two decades, only nine American films contained a witch.  Of these nine, five were dramatizations of beloved fantasy stories. The list includes The Magic Sword (1901), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910), His Majesty the Scarecrow (1914), Mary PIckford in Cinderella (1914), and Snow White (1916).

In all of these films, the witch is a non-threatening, non-theological fairy tale construct. Her appearance and behavior recall the circus-clown or court jester with a big round collar and colorful patchwork clothing, or a heavy wizard cape and cone hat.  She plays the role of the buffoon.

William Wenslow's Wicked Witch from the original printing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

William Wenslow’s Wicked Witch from the original printing of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Because this is the silent film era, filmmakers primarily used visual cues to define character. To do so, they had to draw from pre-cinematic cultural sources in order to speak to their viewers.  The witch as clown motif can be found in still renderings from that time period. It is even a common element in Mother Goose drawings. Additionally, all of these stooped, elderly witches are surrounded by other non-cinematic icons such as brooms, cauldrons, and pointed hats.

The concept of magic focuses on transformation and trickery. For example, In His Majesty the Scarecrow (1914), Mombi the Witch transforms her three ugly companions into beautiful maidens. In Snow White (1916), the witch transforms the Queen from bland to beautiful. The use of magic in this way is reminiscent of something you might find in a Shakespearean comedy of mistaken identity (e.g. As You Like It)

Of the earliest nine films, the remaining four did not recreate fantasy stories. However, they have very little influence on the construction of the Hollywood witch. These include a lost animated experimental short called Bewitched Matches (1913). The first filming of Shakespeare’s MacBeth (1916) and an historical narrative called The Witch of Salem (1913).

The fourth film, The Mysteries of Myra (1915), is the most interesting of these early witch movies. The popular seventeen part film serial recounts the tale of Myra Maynard, the daughter of an Occult leader, who is repeatedly hunted by her dead father’s devil-worshipping Order. In each episode, the narrative tackles an Occult subject with no mention of witchcraft until episode thirteen. In this aptly numbered episode, a cloaked witch helps Myra escape the satanic Order.

Film restoration artist Eric Stedman, notes that episode thirteen is the only one to “introduce traditional fantasy – magic and characters rather than concepts derived from then – current spiritualism.”  What spiritualism? He is referring to  the public’s growing interest in Occult practice and, of course, Aleister Crowley. Some of the film’s Occult imagery  recalls the popular images of Crowley himself.  Interestingly, at the time of filming, Crowley was living in New England not terribly far from the production lots in Ithaca, NY.  .

Shot from one of the Occult scenes from The Mysteries of Myra (1915)

Shot from one of the Occult scenes from The Mysteries of Myra (1915)

Despite the narrative proximity of witchcraft and Satanism in the serial, the writers clearly separated the two magical practices.  In this way, the witch remained a fantasy construction.  At some point in the pre-cinematic entertainment world, the witch was separated from her satanic connection and became trapped within a fairy tale.  As such, she is denied all theological relevance or esoteric meaning – good or bad.  Although it is outside my exploration, I would speculate that this is the result of Victorian cultural styling and the increasing dominance of rational thought.

Now, let’s move to the period ranging from 1916 to 1932.  During these sixteen years, there is only one Witch film – a lost animated short called At Rainbow’s End (1925).  Why did the witch disappear? At this time movies had transitioned from novelty to commodity. The new industry, now located in California, had to maintain viewer interest through realistic sensationalized marketing strategies.  Remember, this is before the Production Code. The fantasy witch had no place in salacious, adult entertainment and, therefore, disappeared.  (Eric Smoodin, Animating Culture, 1993)

However, by 1932, the world and Hollywood had drastically changed.  Silent films turned to sound (Talkies) and the Hayes Commission began enforcing its Catholic-based moral censorship code. Additionally, the country had lived through a World War, the free-wheeling roaring 1920s and was now in a deep economic depression. Hollywood responded with wholesome, upbeat and glittery escapist films. Not surprisingly the fantasy witch reappears.  From 1932-1939, Hollywood produced five witch films including Disney’s Babes in the Woods (1932), Betty Boop’s Snow White (1933), Betty Boop’s Baby Be Good (1935), The Greedy Humpty Dumpty (1937) and Disney’s Snow White (1937).

At first glance, these animated witches appear to be similar to the earlier variety.  They are “hags in rags” with cauldrons, brooms and pointy hats.  However, there is a difference.  In Disney’s Babes in the Woods (1932), the witch plays the buffoon, but she is more grotesque in form.  Her pointy face and emaciated body are gangly and sharply angled.  Her clothes, now dark and ragged, are topped with a flowing torn cape.  This iconic look is repeated over and over throughout the period.

wicked-queen-685

Walt Disney’s Wicked Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

Then in 1937 Disney released what would become his masterpiece – the first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  In its wake, the film created a famous American Hollywood witch – the Wicked Queen. She is the first witch to step out of the side-show act and enter the realm of macabre.  Disney’s Queen is an amalgam of the early fairy tale witch, the 1930s animated hag and something new, something darker.  While she is still trapped within the fairy tale narrative, she is frightening and intense in both her forms:  “a hag in rags” and glamorous queen.

In addition, for the first time in Hollywood’s history, we witness the witch as a representative of “transgressive female sexuality.” Film professor Elizabeth Bell notes that Disney’s production papers describe the Queen’s “beauty as sinister, mature [with] plenty of curves.” The Wicked Queen is a femme fatale who is defined as “represent[ing] demonic natural forces that, like a cyclone, threaten to uproot man from himself.”  In this historic film, the Hollywood witch transmutes into what feminist film theorist Barbara Creed calls “the monstrous feminine.”  (Elizabeth Bell, “Somatexts at the Disney Shop,” From Mouse to Mermaid, 1995)

During the Pre-1939 period, the witch began her journey as a side-show act devoid of any esoteric or theological meaning.  By the end, she had transformed into an allegory for the powerful, independent, sexualized woman.  Was this a function of America’s need to reinforce traditional gender roles during the Depression? Or was it simply a function of Disney’s own conservative nature?

In the next post, we’ll move on and follow the transformation.  Next stop, the year 1939 with the release of The Wizard of Oz and the birth of the all-American Hollywood Witch.

 

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

Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Cécile Pouilly, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

  • In response to the burning of Kepari Leniata in Papua New Guinea, covered here at The Wild Hunt yesterday, Amnesty International and the United Nation’s human rights office have both urged the government to take “concrete” actions to stop witch-killings in the Commonwealth nation. Quote: “We urge the Government to put an end to these crimes and to bring perpetrators of attacks and killings to justice through thorough, prompt and impartial investigations in accordance with international law [...] We note with great concern that this case adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea [...] We urge the Government to take urgent action to prevent further cases through education, to provide protection to persons accused of sorcery and witnesses of sorcery-related killings, and to provide medical and psychosocial treatment for victims.” Let us hope that the death of Kepari Leniata was not in vain, and this will trigger safeguards against this horror happening again in Papua New Guinea. 
  • The Pagan Newswire Collective bureau in Minnesota reports on the 6th anniversary of the Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance, and debates whether there will be a 7th as membership has dwindled in recent years. Quote: “The organization notes that while over 300 people have been involved with UMPA over the past six years, membership has dwindled and that is prompting leadership to ask members and the community, ‘… does this mean UMPA is no longer needed? We don’t know. This is an opportunity gather for a great meal, entertainment, and to join in and discuss the future of UMPA; either find some new leadership and participation, or dissolve the organization and pass on any funds raised to another non-profit.’”
  • Author and magician Donald Michael Kraig has been named “Acquisitions Editor: Magic(k) and Occult Topics” over at Llewellyn Worldwide and he wants you to write! Quote: “I’ve been fortunate enough to travel all over the U.S. and Europe giving workshops. Everywhere I go I hear the same sort of thing, “I could write a better book!” Whenever I hear people say that I encourage them! “Please do! We need new books and better books all the time.” Some of the people I’ve encouraged have gone on to write numerous popular books. They had the determination to do the work and see it through to the end. I congratulate them!” Congratulations to Kraig on his new role! 
  • Science Fiction blog io9 takes the new film version of The Sorcerer and the White Snake to task for making a religious/supernatural persecutor the hero, when he should have been the villain. Quote: “If [Jet] Li had simply been a villain — or if the movie had allowed him to be –- White Snake could have surpassed a lot of the limitations it sets upon itself; one genuinely interesting performance can make up for a lot of mediocre special effects. In one version of the original Chinese fairy tale, Fahai actually is the villain — although he’s a vengeful terrapin demon who takes the form of a monk, rather than an actual monk. But I can’t help but think that would have been a better choice for everyone.”
  • While I’m on the subject of io9, they review a recent episode of the show Supernatural that apparently had an abundance of OTO/Crowley references. Quote: “Last night’s episode of Supernatural had a lot to offer: a hot lady in a great 1950s dress, several Aleister Crowley references, and at least one trip to the coolest comic book store in the world.” [Hat-tip Invocatio]
  • It seems that Satan totally loves the full moon.
  • What do you do when you rely on the conservative Christian vote, but know that the country is getting more and more religiously diverse? Can you please one without alienating the other? Quote: “The challenge confronting the GOP as it attempts to broaden its base is not limited to Jewish voters. A survey conducted by Pew last year found that more than six in ten (61%) non-Christian affiliated Americans (a group that includes Hindus, Jews and Muslims) agreed that ‘religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party.’ Nearly two-thirds of religiously unaffiliated Americans also affirmed this statement. These groups are among the fastest-growing religious communities in the U.S. And if the GOP is serious about appealing to these voters, its candidates must navigate the difficult path of keeping conservative Christians engaged and committed while not appearing beholden to them.”
A fiasidi pauses to say a silent prayer while sweeping the pathway between the shrines for the male Togbui Adzima deity and his wife, Mama Wena in the sacred forest. Photo: Dana Romanoff/The Revealer

A fiasidi pauses to say a silent prayer while sweeping the pathway between the shrines for the male Togbui Adzima deity and his wife, Mama Wena in the sacred forest. Photo: Dana Romanoff/The Revealer

  • The Revealer looks at life in and around the Adzima shrines in Ghana. Quote: “While visitors shape much of the activity in the shrines, they are also homes for the priests, their wives and their children. Since a priest is rarely allowed to leave the proximity of the shrine, his wives take turns staying with him and cooking his meals. The priests’ wives have their own homes nearby, built for them either by the priest or on their own, where they reside intermittently, along with their children or relatives. The priest’schildren visit daily, asking for lunch money and school fees. The shrines are not simply or only religious spaces—they’re households, with children running around, studying for school, preparing meals, washing clothes, and entertaining guests.” This is an amazing piece, please go read the whole thing.
  • Rev. Irene Monroe writes about how Haitian Vodou is accepting of LGBTQ people, even if some of the individual practitioners are not. Quote: “Gay males in Haitian Vodou embrace the divine protection of Erzulie Freda, the feminine spirit of love and sexuality. Gay males are allowed to imitate and worship her. Lesbians are under the patronage of Erzulie Dantor, a fierce protector of women and children experiencing domestic violence. Erzulie Dantor is bisexual and prefers the company women. Labalèn is a gynandrous or intersexual spirit. And LaSirèn who is the Vodou analogue of Yemayá, a maternal spirit, is a revered transgender.”
  • Oh, and Vodou didn’t cause the Superbowl blackout, in case you were wondering
  • At HuffPo ReligionPagan and interfaith minister Wes Isley has an honest question about grief. Quote: “Maybe that sense of spiritual isolation after grief is universal no matter what faith we practice. And maybe I’ll feel more like my old self in six months or so. But what if I don’t? What if I abandon this Pagan path? I’ve already lost my partner; must I lose my faith, too? This brings me to my central dilemma: Whatever spiritual path we choose should be able to sustain us through the toughest of times; if it fails to do so, is it worth keeping? Once before, I changed my faith when it no longer made sense and failed to sustain. Is that about to happen again?” Maybe some of my wiser readers can help him out? 

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

For some time now there’s been a current of occult and magic(k)al elements within the arts, most notably in the worlds of fashion and fine art. An especially popular theme within this current today are the works of magician Aleister Crowley, most likely due to the influence of experimental filmmaker Kenneth Anger, who introduced several famous actors and musicians to Crowley’s philosophies and practices. I mention Anger specifically, because a recent ritual performance of a Crowley working at L&M Arts in Los Angeles stems directly from his influence, involving Anger collaborator Brian Butler. Why is this of note? Because Butler was joined (and almost joined) by some rather famous names.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working.

Noot Seear at The Bartzebel Working

“Tuesday night, artist/musician Brian Butler assisted by Twilight: New Moon actress Noot Seear, and actor Henry Hopper [son of Dennis Hopper] was supposed to  invoke Bartzabel, the forceful spirit of Mars into to the body of actor/hipster/James Franco at L&M Gallery to celebrate “For The Martian Chronicles” exhibit, honoring the work of sci-fi author Ray Bradbury. But UPDATE: JAMES FRANCO MISSED HIS FLIGHT AND THERE WAS AN UNANNOUNCED STAND-IN, ACCORDING TO COMMENTS AFTER THIS WENT TO PRESSWe have revised this post to reflect this. According to L&M Gallery, Material Basis was performed by Christopher Emerson.”

I’ll leave commentary on the ritual itself to Lisa Derrick, who noted that “despite the act of invoking and drawing a magical circle, at the end of the ritual, there was no closing or banishing–kinda like sterilizing a jar, making jam, then leaving it unsealed in a toilet.” What I’m more interested in are the larger cultural questions this poses. Is this just a closed cul-de-sac of the hipster famous (and semi-famous) slumming it with robes and a bit of Thelema to bring a bit of excitement to their lives (and the LA gallery scene), or does this represent something else? Are Seear, Franco, Emerson, and others earnestly interested in ritual magick? It’s not all that unusual to see an occasional “big name” become truly interested in Paganism or the occult, but it is unusual to see a number of them expressing their interest at once (publicly).

 

My second question is, if this is simply theater, a performance in tribute to Crowley and the mystique of magic(k), does this event signify a new resurgence of ritual as performance art? Performance art has often turned to religion and magical ritual as a vehicle for expression, Gina Ulysse’s recent avant-garde meditation, “Voodoo Doll, What if Haiti Were a Woman,” or the “Manhattanhenge” workings in New York, for instance. But both of those have a sincerity at their core that implies adherence to the underlying belief systems involved. While I have no doubt that Brian Butler is a sincere occultist, one wonders how Seear or Franco understand or experience events like this. In short, can you separate the art of magic(k), of religion, from its tenants or belief systems? One spectator at the event seemed dissatisfied with how the ritual performance seemed to want to both be a serious ritual, and be a performance piece.

“Would it be an actual (attempted) evocation of Bartzabel, the spirit of Mars? Would it rather be a piece of performance art inspired by Crowley’s evocation of the same? It was neither – or, to be more specific, it was BOTH and that’s why it failed miserably. Evocation is an art unto itself. Even if one is skeptical as to the efficacy of magical activity outside the purely psychological realm, one must recognize the fact that every art form has its own rules. Film has its rules. Theater has its own. Performance art also has certain ideals and conventions that make exclusive demands on the artist. Successful evocation is no different.”

If we are going to see more high-profile ritual magic(k) as performance art, then the ritual must be respected as an art form in of itself, one that can be appropriated, surely, but treated with care all the same. Practitioners who have connections with the art world will also have to decide how they want to engage with this trend, and if it serves their beliefs and practices well to become involved, or distance themselves. Finally, for the famous, semi-famous, or nearly famous who decide to practice these rituals, if only for the sake of performance, should remember that even the intoning of lines and mere participation can have consequences. Not of the dark and spooky alarmist variety, but simply that invoking your Will ritually can change you, and those around you.  What begins as fun, can turn into something else, and no one should make a decision like that lightly.

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I’m back from FaerieCon! First off, I’d like to thank all the wonderful folks who stepped up to do guest-posts while I was away: Sharon Knight, Star Foster, T. Thorn Coyle, Teo BishopLaura LaVoie, and Eric Scott. They all did an excellent job of providing interesting, informative, provocative, and inspiring pieces for you, and I hope you’ll follow them at their own blogs and projects in the future. As for me, I’ve returned to an avalanche of stories of interest to our communities, so I’m going to unleash the hounds in an attempt to get caught up.

That’s all I have time for today, expect a write-up of my FaerieCon adventures in the near-ish future. In the meantime, do check out my interview with Qntal’s Michael Popp at A Darker Shade of Pagan. As always, some of these stories may be expanded upon in future posts.

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

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

I’ve often been intrigued by the novels written by Pagans and occultists. Whether well-known like Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” now in the process of being pitched as a feature film, or obscure like Stewart Farrar’s post-apocalyptic Wiccans-save-the-world (or at least Britain) novel “Omega.” I feel that religiously-motivated works like this can often tell you a lot about the beliefs, ambitions, and hopes of the author. While “religious fiction” is often synonymous today with Christian literature, we shouldn’t forget that modern Paganism and the occult/magickal arts have a long used fictional stories as a way to teach and entertain, from Gerald Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid” to Dion Fortune’s “The Sea Priestess.” One of the most influential novels of all time is “The Metamorphoses of Apuleius” (aka “The Golden Ass”) by Lucius Apuleius, an initiate to the cult of Isis, written between 160-170 CE. So it’s fair to say there’s a long lineage of “Pagan” novels.

Lon Milo DuQuette has now added his own volume to this tradition, a work that takes a romping fictionalized look at the early life and magical adventures of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley“Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” is set during Crowley’s time with The Golden Dawn and features a who’s who of famous occultists from that period, including William Butler Yeats, Maude Gonne, and Bram Stoker. DuQuette, who has written several texts on magick and the occult, and is something of an expert on the subject of Crowley, brings a knowledgeable flair to the dramas and intrigues of the time, putting his own unique spin on history. I was lucky enough to have  brief email exchange with DuQuette  about the new work, how it came about, and what he really thinks about Crowley’s fiction.


Lon Milo DuQuette

Several occult authors over the years have dipped their toes into writing fiction, most recently Raymond Buckland and Donald Michael Craig, what prompted you to go this route?

“Aleister Crowley — Revolt of the Magicians” is actually my second novel. The first, “Accidental Christ — The Story of Jesus as Told by His Uncle” came out a few years ago. “Revolt…” began not as a book but as a screenplay I was hired to write about 10 years ago. It was optioned by a film production company, and for a while looked like it would actually be produced … but nothing came of it. I had more or less forgotten about it when I was contacted again about nine months ago. As it turns out another film company is interested in the story but in order for the project to qualify for partial funding from (whatever the newest incarnation of …) the UK Film Council the screenplay must be written by a Brit or a Commonwealth citizen. They could, however, adapt the screenplay from a novel written by a non Brit. So I transformed my screenplay into a novel so it might be transformed into a screenplay. Have I confused you enough?

I love the genre of fiction. It is like taking a holiday. I love creating characters and breathing life into them … observing them develop and behave in my mind like independent entities. It’s very magical.

‘Revolt’ is a fantasy (albeit based on historic events and characters) about Crowley and his involvement in the breakup of the Golden Dawn.

You’ve written about Aleister Crowley and his teachings for several years, so it must be something of a “no-brainer” to make him the protagonist of your novel. Did your experience and history make it easy or hard to put yourself inside the head of this fictionalized Crowley?

It was curiously easy, and lots of fun.

Literary works featuring Crowley, or ficitonal characters based on Crowley, have been appearing since 1908. Crowley himself engaged in the practice for “Moonchild”. Do you feel this long literary history influenced you at all? Is there a sort of “fictional” Crowley egregore that feeds the many, many, “Crowleys” in various mediums?

I can’t say it influenced me at all. I wanted to follow a young Crowley, brilliant, naive, passionate … encountering for the first time the world of magick and the secret forces that would later shape him into an adept. This Crowley has never to my knowledge been explored in literature.

In addition to Crowley, your book features Bram Stoker, Moina and MacGregor Mathers, William Butler Yeats, and Maude Gonne, among others. Was it a challenge bringing all these larger-then-life figures together in one book, or did the real-life events on which the novel is loosely based help drive the drama and characterization?

Yes, the real-life events drove the plot, and I shamelessly used the dramatis personae as caricatures. It was great fun, and not at all hard. People point out that there is no evidence that Bram Stoker was a member of the Golden Dawn … I ask them to read the book to see how his presence is justified. Besides … It’s a fantasy people …. lighten up!

Now that the book has been out for over a month now, have you gotten much reaction from occultists, Thelemites, modern Golden Dawn members, and other interested magick-makers about the work? Has the response to these “fairytale caricatures,” as you put it, been largely positive?

So far the personal feedback and the few Amazon reviews have been positive. I’m sure I’ll eventually catch s–t from all directions.

In the book, one of your characters says that “this story can‘t be told as a history because truth cannot be revealed in history.” Do you believe that’s the case with the infamous Golden Dawn schism? Do you think that someday we’ll have more fictionalized retellings of famous incidents in Pagan and occult history? Sort of like Katherine Kurtz’s ”Lammas Night” or even Gardner’s “High Magic’s Aid”?

The development of myth is a strange and inscrutable process. It isn’t people or institutions that drive the process, but the alchemy of human consciousness that chisels the elements of a myth upon the stone of our souls. No one at this point, I believe, can predict what the mythological Crowley will eventually become.

If someone wanted to research the real events that inspired your novel, where would they start? Are there any good books covering that period?

“Perdurabo: The Life of Aleister Crowley” by Richard Kaczynski is the most complete and brilliant biography of Crowley. Kaczynski takes great pains to put all the events of Crowley’s life within the context of the history and characters of his world.

Also, “The Battle of Blythe Road: A Golden Dawn Affair (Golden Dawn Studies No 14)” capably edited by Darcy Kuntz

What authors inspire you in your own writing? Are there any occult-themed works of fiction that you find yourself returning to again and again? What would you suggest to someone who loves “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” and wants to read more?

You know … It’s even hard for me to read Crowley’s fiction. It’s like trying to be detached and objective when reading the manuscript of a friend’s novel. You know the author too well … you spot the phoniness of it all … embarrassed by the transparent affectations of the ‘voice’. I feel the same way about Dion Fortune’s fiction … only she is, in my opinion, painfully and distractingly obvious in her attempt to be 19th century-ish.

Other than Crowley himself, the writers who inspire me the most are for the most part not occultists at all … Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the screenplays of Robert Benchley, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and (believe it or not) the lyrics of Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, and Dorothy Fields. Great wit is the voice of the gods. I worship wit. Wit is Ruach sizzling upon the altar of the Neshamah.

Now that you’ve written one novel, are you going to write more? If so, will they also be themed around the occult and magic(k)al history? What other works outside of novels do you have planned for the near future?

Who knows when I’ll feel called to write another novel. I’m currently working on two magical texts with a spring 2011 deadline. I’d talk about them but it’s a little early in the game.

I’d like to thank Lon Milo DuQuette for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. In addition to  “Aleister Crowley – Revolt of the Magicians” he recently published “Low Magick: It’s All In Your Head … You Just Have No Idea How Big Your Head Is” a follow-up to his acclaimed autobiography, “My Life With The Spirits: The Adventures of a Modern Magician”.