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Athena Valletri. Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a Greek original by Kresilas or Alkamenes, ca 420 BCE. University of Missouri, Columbia, MO. Photograph by the author.

Athena Velletri.
Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a Greek original by Kresilas or Alkamenes, ca 420 BCE.
University of Missouri, Columbia, MO.
Photograph by the author.

Athena looms. She towers. She stands above me, dominating my entire field of vision. She raises her right hand into the air, as if to bring some other addressee to a pause; she stretches her left hand to me, palm upturned, as though she were offering to help me to my feet. Fabric folds around her body, bunching together at her waist and shoulder – enough fabric, it seems, to wind around the world. Her war-helm rests atop her head; on her breast sits the head of Medusa. I stare up into her eyes; they are blank, but that blankness is the opposite of empty. Every emotion is inscribed on Athena’s face.

I kneel there before the goddess for a long moment, my breathing haggard from the proximity of the sublime.

Somewhere behind me, I can hear women’s voices. I think they are talking about payroll. In front of me, behind Athena’s back, a car passes by. I see it through the mini-blinds: a black Acura. The windows face out onto the Mizzou North parking lot, which lies off of Business Loop 70 in Columbia, Missouri, the college town where I live. The building itself used to be a cancer center; other medical facilities still share the parking lot. The neighborhood is an aging commercial district, separated from the main campus by about a mile and a half. Around Mizzou North, one finds a Ford dealership, a Break Time gas station, a Payless shoe store, a Long John Silver’s. It is a strange place to go looking for gods – and yet here they are.

The University of Missouri is moving its Museums of Art, Archeology, and Anthropology over to this building from their old homes on the central campus, and so most of the collections aren’t yet on display. One galley, however, is open – the Cast Gallery, full of plaster casts of ancient Greek and Roman statuary. The casts on display are packed together in a single L-shaped room on the first floor of the building. I found it rather cramped, but the density of the collection heightened my sense of the sublime; within only a few hundred square feet, the Venus de Milo, the headless Nike of Samothrace, and the Apollo of Olympia shared space with the tender pair of Hermes and the infant Dionysus and the mute horror of Laokoön and His Sons being killed by sea-serpents. A row of luminary busts sits against one wall: the heads of Homer, Sophocles, and Theseus all sit together, members of parliament never elsewhere convened in history.

But the piece de resistance, at least for me, was the Athena Velletri. A copy of an original housed in the Louvre, Athena Velletri dominates her section of the gallery, and I found myself drawn to her over the dozens of other masterpieces littering the room. Perhaps it was simply the size of the statue – Athena stands 10 feet tall, such that her outstretched left arm is at eye-level for the average person – or perhaps it was the intricate details of the bunched cloth in her robe. More likely, it was simply that Athena has always been one of my favorite goddesses, as far back as I knew what a goddess was. (Just now, I remember something: the first book – or long story, at least – that I ever wrote, when I was twelve. The main character worshipped Athena. Write what you know, so the saying goes.)

As I knelt before the Athena, I found my mind wandering away from the cast gallery, and even away from the milieu of the classical world in general, moving instead to Walter Benjamin’s famous essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In that essay, Benjamin advanced a theory of “the aura” of an individual artwork – that is to say, the combination of history and physical presence that serves to instill art with the value of authenticity. For Benjamin, this aura originated in the religious functions that works like the Athena Velletri would have had in their classical origins, and which was maintained even after the end of the Pagan period: “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition,” he writes. “This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable. An ancient statue of Venus, for example, stood in a different traditional context with the Greeks, who made it an object of veneration, than with the clerics of the Middle Ages, who viewed it as an ominous idol. Both of them, however, were equally confronted with its uniqueness, that is, its aura.” When art became separated by religion, that holy aura came to be embodied in other ways: in aesthetics, in majesty, in l’art pour l’art, all of which he theorized would find their final culmination in fascism.

Benjamin argues that reproduction cannot help but destroy the aura of the work of art, finding its most triumphant expression in the creation of modern art forms like the film, a genre of art that has no “original” to possess an aura at all, only the many copies[1]. (I’m hardly the first to ask this, but one wonders what he would have made of the internet.) In the age before mechanical reproduction – before photographs or high quality lithography, certainly before instant Google searches and Wikipedia – to experience a work of art, one had to physically travel to that work of art, had to confront its aura personally. Even if one had never worshipped Athena, had lived in a world that had, to all appearances, abandoned worship of that goddess two thousand years before, to see the Athena Velletri was to be a part of Athena’s cult.

The Athena that rises above me is made of plaster, smooth and white. Her right arm is a little out of joint, exposing a crease that reveals the many pieces of which she is made. She is, indeed, a copy of a copy, and perhaps more iterations than that. I am sure that some museum shop would happily sell me a copy of this statue, one of many anonymous thousands. And yet the aura is there – not the aura of aesthetic and authenticity, as proposed by Benjamin, nor even quite the old cultic aura he supposed was held by the Greeks. For me, it is an aura of overpowering recognition. I was raised without temples, but with the longing for them; I suppose I made the identification of the museum with the mysteries long ago. I kneel and whisper my prayers to Athena, to the Athena, to the goddess in the plaster. I am still trying to catch my breath.

 

[1] He thought these new art forms, bereft of aura, could resist the fascism from which he had fled, and was on the whole much more positive about technology than most art critics.

In 2014, artist and pop surrealist Dina Goldstein finished her third large-scale project called “Gods of Suburbia.” The series is comprised of 11 photographs that depict gods, goddesses, prophets and other figures of religious import within a thoroughly unexpected composition. Each photograph challenges the dominant visual and narrative concept of deity by tearing down religious stagecraft and putting up something completely mundane. In other words, Goldstein takes these sacred or celebrated figures and drops them into the framework of contemporary Western society.

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

Dina Goldstein [Photo Credit: Robert Kenny, 2011, CC. lic. via Wikimedia]

“‘Gods of Suburbia’ is a visual analysis of religious faith within the context of modern forces of technology, science and secularism. The series plays with narrative and religious iconography in order to communicate how organized belief has become twisted within a global framework driven by consumerism and greed. The project challenges the viewer – religious or secular – to embark on a journey of self-reflection as they contemplate the relevance of dogmata in modernity.” – Dina Goldstein, Gods of Suburbia

Goldstein’s concept, as illustrated in a “making of” video, is not to mock religion, but rather to illustrate its precarious place within modern society. For example, in “Ganesha,” Goldstein presents the Hindu God sitting alone on a bench in an elementary school play yard. He is being bullied by two young boys, while other children play in the background. Using Ganesh as a bullied minor is particularly poignant due to his marked physical difference and his role as a representative of a minority culture and religion. In this piece, the Hindu God symbolically embodies the outcast child.

While religious figures have been subjects for the arts since before antiquity, not everyone is comfortable with visual representations of the divine. For many, there are limits and rules. Some are personal and some are created by religious law.

Within his own personal practice, Hermeticist Jonathan Korman demonstrates this difference. He said, “In the context of modern Pagan culture: I am an enthusiast for visual representations of the gods as a matter both of magickal technique and of cultural taste, and on my altar I keep a cast marble statue of Hermes to honor him as my personal patron deity. On the other hand, being an ethnically Jewish modern Pagan, I honor the god of the Torah יהוה as my personal tribal deity, so my altar also has an empty space for that god, whom I honor by not speaking the name or making any visual representation.”

The issue becomes more complex when the depiction of a deity is presented outside of what might be considered a “proper” proscenium of culture, reverence and religiosity. This brings us back to Goldstein’s work. The Israeli-born, Jewish artist has created images of gods that are not of her own belief, and that lack expected, reverent iconography and religious narratives. The photographs are purely cultural commentary and not meant for worship purposes.

Ryan Smith, co-founder of HUAR, uses visual representation of the gods within his own Heathen practice and also enjoys such expressions outside of a religious framework. But he said, [Non-religious] uses should also show respect to the cultures they came from … I only take issue if it’s being used to reinforce negative stereotypes held regarding marginalized groups. Punching up is always good, punching down not so much.”

Not surprisingly, Goldstein has been criticized for “punching down.” In a press release, Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism expressed concern that Goldstein’s work “trivializ[ed] the highly revered deities of Hinduism, Ganesh and Lakshmi … Artists should be more sensitive while handling faith related subjects.”

After looking at Goldstein’s “Voodoo Queen” composition, Patheos writer Lilith Dorsey is only left with questions. She said, “The accompanying website says the images are supposed to inspire ‘self-reflection,’ it’s a little naive to think this isn’t part of most devoted people’s daily practice. The image itself leaves me reflecting instead on Goldstein herself, why did she choose to represent my religion with what looks like phantom ghost children and are those chicken feet on the ceiling? It’s a stunning image visually, but I’m not sure exactly why she felt moved to take it in that direction.”

Additionally, due to current global politics, Goldstein herself is unsure how or whether to include “Muhammad the Prophet” in the upcoming March show. In a January interview, she said, “I figured out a way to [depict Muhammed] in a way that adhered to their laws.” As she notes, his face is not shown, and he has a supernatural glow.

But Goldstein knows her art is provocative. She told the Vancouver paper, “Of course, people are going to get insulted, but that’s what happens when you start discussing religion because no matter what you say about it, it’s an extension of magical thinking.”

Pagan artist Valerie Herron enjoys Goldstein’s work, adding “Religion is supposed to evolve with social change, and I think this is one of [her] assertions with this series. It’s nothing very avant garde, putting ancient deities in the context of modern life is a concept well familiar to contemporary Polytheists. In addition, good art is supposed to create dialogue through pathos, catharsis or humor. While I can see the potential for some folks of the faiths represented in Goldstein’s series to decry a flippant representation of their deity/deities, I think [her] work has always been about starting uncomfortable conversations through visual juxtaposition.”

Like Goldstein, Herron also depicts the divine in her art. However, in her case, the imagery is within or close to her own belief structure, and often used as devotional images. She said, “At this point, I find it impossible to keep my creative practice and my spiritual practice separate.” In describing the process of visually capturing a deity, Herron said, “As soon as I begin to envision the specific visage of a god, I begin a conversation with them. I don’t really know how else to explain it, especially since I don’t consider myself a hard theist, but the God’s input becomes crucial to the piece.”

Valerie Herron's Isis [Reprinted with permission]

Valerie Herron’s Isis [Reprinted with permission]

From inception to presentation, “Gods in Suburbia” does not have the same inspiration, purpose or goal as Herron’s work. Despite that difference, Goldstein’s photographs do evoke strong reactions. Rather than spiritual reverence, these responses are, as Goldstein suggests, meant to “inspire insight into the human condition.”

In this exploration of the human condition, she did not omit Paganism. The photograph titled “Horned God and Moon Goddess” depicts a nude, pregnant woman atop a white horse and a horned male figure resting within a stereotypical suburban backyard. The accompanying text reads, in part, “Wicca is a modern witchcraft religion that draws upon a diverse set of ancient pagan motifs and ritual practice … [Wicca] is something we associate with people who are on the fringe of society, which is why my Wiccan god and goddess are living outside the mainstream, along the periphery of Suburbia.”

All interpretive meaning is subjective, and the narrative understanding of this particular image can evoke other ideas. For example, the photo recalls the reality of religious ritual practice in home environments or notes society’s need to control natural space. It also suggests that Witchcraft, “associated with people who are on the fringe,” does exist in what is largely considered normative cultural space.

These readings correspond to Goldstein’s assertion that the series explores religion’s existence in contemporary society – one that has become increasingly secular, increasingly separate from the natural world, increasingly consumer-focused and increasingly distance from a depth of meaning. In a number of her photographs the religious figures appear lost, forlorn, overwhelmed, disillusioned and simply out of place. The prophet Muhammad, for example, is ignored by a classroom of children absorbed in social media and texting.

In the photographs titled “Buddha” and “Elohim,” Goldstein tackles the uncomfortable intersection of commercialism and religion. “Buddha” is ignored as blindfolded shoppers purchase overpriced groceries in a Whole Foods market. In “Elohim,” a forlorn “God” sits with a Santa suit in the background. As she notes, he’s forced to “take odd jobs to survive.” Both photographs depict the sacrifice of meaning to the glory of consumerism.

As an extension of that concept, these two photographs, along with others, indirectly suggest concerns raised by the commercialized depictions of the divine, such as in movies, television shows or comic books. Writer Karl Siegfried of the Norse Mythology Blog said, “I’m old enough to be able to tell the difference between entertainment and religion. Marvel’s Thor has built up its own internal mythology over more than half of a century … I think that’s great, just as I think Tolkien’s Middle-earth mythos is fantastic. It doesn’t mean that I blót to Frodo of the Nine Fingers.”

Korman agreed saying that he’s “not above” enjoying representations of divinity outside of religious practice. He added, “Nathan Fillion’s Hermes in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters may not be much like my Hermes, but it still tickles me, and if it helps get a few kids saying his name, that suits me just fine.”

Dorsey, expressed some reservations, saying “My fellow Vodou practitioners and myself were quite upset at a commercial clothing chain using a veve as a window display to gain sales and most certainly attention. The American Horror Story television depiction of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau left a bad taste in my everything, but I still have high hopes for the Marie Laveau comic book character. This is because girls today so strongly need a positive female superhero with kickass pagan powers, not that she has been written that positively yet, but I can dream.”

Although humanity has a long history of visually depicting gods and other sacred figures for many purposes, there clearly are limits of tolerance, some personal and others created by culture and religious law.

As for Goldstein, her “Gods in Suburbia” series is certainly provocative and pushes hard on many of those boundaries. The use of photography alone mirrors her message. As a relatively newer technological art form, the camera symbolizes modernity’s own pressure on religious practice, and demonstrates the hyper reality of our over-dependence on images. It turns this modern visual technology, and by association the observer, into a voyeur, who violates the privacy of the spiritual world – a world that isn’t necessarily comfortable existing in that way, in being viewed.

Whether you like her work or whether you’re offended by it, Goldstein ultimately leaves you with many questions about religion’s fit within contemporary society.

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!

310617-250We here at The Wild Hunt do as much as we can to cover our ever-expanding and ever-changing religious movement, but sometimes we miss out on cool stuff. Like, for instance, The Morrigan’s Call, a weekend retreat held June 6th – 8th in Massachusetts (sponsored by Morrigu’s Daughters).  The retreat, dedicated to Celtic goddess the Morrigan, was focused on “self-empowerment, confidence and in living a magical life,” inspired several attendees to write about their experiences on the Internet. Corvus Black said the weekend was “intense,” and instilled the “sense of being in a tribe.” Morgan Daimler called the weekend “an awesome and amazing thing to experience,” while Stephanie Woodfield says she feels changed by the experience. Quote: “I feel changed. It is amazing how often I have said that in the course of a handful of years. So much has happened, my life has taken so many interesting changes, never the ones I expected but sometimes what the Gods have in store for you is far better than the futures we imagine for ourselves. The Morrigan has been an ever present force in my life, and I didn’t think I could feel closer to Her, but I do.” You can learn more about Morrigu’s Daughters, an online sisterhood dedicated to the Morrigan, at their official website.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 9.48.54 AMFulgur Esoterica has announced details of I:MAGE 2014, their annual exhibition of esoteric art. This year, the concept will be “Traveling With Unfamiliar Spirits.” Quote: “The spirit world comes to life in this two-week-long celebration of esoteric art. The show’s theme coincides with the time of year: the beginning of the dark months. Popular culture calls it Hallowe’en but contemporary Witches and Druids across Europe and North America call it Samhain, Heathens Winter Nights, Greek reconstructionist movements Thesmophoria; Vodou practitioners celebrate Fete Ghede, followers of Santeria and indigenous religions in Latin America observe Día de los Muertos, while Welsh folklore advises staying away from cemeteries on Calan Gaeaf. 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.” The event will be centered at the Cob Gallery in London, from October 21st through November 2nd. You can look at the list of I:MAGE-sponsored events here. Here are a list of the exhibiting artists.

Morpheus Ravenna

Morpheus Ravenna

Last week I reported on Morpheus Ravenna’s IndieGoGo campaign to fund the creation of a book dedicated to Celtic goddess The Morrigan. Since then, the campaign has surpassed its $7,500 goal, and has raised over $10,000 dollars, taking the initiative into stretch goals, and allowing for expanded offerings. Quote: THANK YOU. You guys are amazing, and I’m so proud to be part of such a passionate community. I was going to video us enjoying our traditional method of celebrating by cracking open a bottle of champagne with a sword… but the champagne bottle got so excited it popped as soon as the foil was off! So this is what we caught on camera. Minus all the jokes about prematurely popping our corks, of course. […] as we’ve already met the primary goal, I’m putting your funds to work. I’ve jettisoned the extra hours I was working at a second job, and those hours have now been dedicated in my schedule to writing the book. This almost triples the amount of time each week that I will be able to dedicate to the book!” Part of those stretch funds will go towards funding additional art works for the book, including work by Valerie Herron, who also did the amazing Cernunnos header you see here at The Wild Hunt. Below I’ve embedded a celebratory video response from Morpheus Ravenna, who is no doubt working on the book as we speak. 

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • Peter Grey, author of “Apocalyptic Witchcraft,” has published an essay at Scarlet Imprint on “rewilding” Witchcraft in the face of chaos and eco-disaster. Quote: “How tame we have become. How polite about our witchcraft. In our desire to harm none we have become harmless. We have bargained to get a seat at the table of the great faiths to whom we remain anathema. How much compromise have we made in our private practice for the mighty freedom of being able to wear pewter pentagrams in public, at school, in our places of employment. How much have the elders sold us out, genuflecting to the academy, the establishment, the tabloid press. In return for this bargain we have gained precisely nothing.”
  • Speaking of events I missed, here’s a review of 2014’s Beltania festival in Colorado. Quote: “‘B14′ was a festival of firsts: the first year of our Rainbow Welcome Center, the first year we held a Continuous Bale Fire and the first year our Pagan Military were honored for their service in an official manner, honored in person by Selena Fox! For the first time this year, festival goers had multiple choices of Main Rituals from various backgrounds to attend on Saturday night. In addition to the Living Earth’s ritual, we had a Heathen Blot led by the fabulous Wolf Thye and Kathy Burton or the Gnostic Mass led by the local group Crux Ansata Oasis. I personally felt a lot of excitement from people who were looking forward to participating in something new.” Seriously folks, when does Selena Fox sleep?
  • Llewellyn Worldwide has announced the publication of their 2014 Tarot Catalog, so tarot enthusiasts rejoice! Quote: “We are proud to bring our readers our FOURTH annual tarot catalog! Discover the newest in tarot offerings from Llewellyn, Lo Scarabeo, and Blue Angel, plus get free shipping on US orders over $25 and 20% savings when you order online with the promo code found on the cover! Hurry, savings good through 8/1/14!” Read it online here.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 10.25.31 AM

  • PNC-Minnesota interviews Gardnerian Elder Ed Fitch at Heartland Pagan Festival. Quote: “I find it is very good to work as a coven because you can exchange ideas, and do power workings with them. Solitary you get to study and meditate. People have personalities and there are sometimes conflicts. When that happens it is best to just ease away genially and then do your own research and study. I like both ways of working.”
  • Medusa Coils reminds us that Glastonbury Goddess Conference is coming up in July. Quote: “The 19th Annual Glastonbury Goddess Conference will be held July 29-August 3 in Glastonbury, England, with fringe events starting July 26. Themed ‘Celebrating the Crone Goddess: The Cauldron and the Loom.'”

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

Reclining Pan

Eric O. Scott —  March 7, 2014 — 6 Comments
Reclining Pan, c. 1535, attributed to Francesco da Sangallo. Photo by Preston Page.

Reclining Pan, c. 1535, attributed to Francesco da Sangallo. Photo by Preston Page.

Pan lies at the end of a hallway on the first floor of the St. Louis Art Museum, stretched out on his back on a bed of stone. In his right hand, he holds his pipes, ready to bring them to his lips for a song; he rests his head against his other arm, his left hand toying with the head of a goat whose skin the god wears as a cloak. Bunches of grapes rest between his shaggy feet. A tiny salamander crawls near his right hoof. I cannot read his absent gaze; while he would seem to be reclining in leisure, something in the way the god’s lips hang just slightly agape makes me think he is in some sort of sublime state, either pain or rapture.

This Pan is a statue, of course – Reclining Pancarved from a discarded chunk of marble, and once used as a fountain. (Water would have poured from the bag under Pan’s back, which seems highly impractical.) He was carved in the Renaissance, probably by an artist named Francesco da Sangallo, sometime around 1535, and spent most of his half a millennium of life in the collection of the Barberini family, whose members were princes and cardinals. He came to America, and to St. Louis, two years after World War II, where he has been ever since.

So far as I know, Reclining Pan is not considered one of the great works of Renaissance sculpture – not bad, but not one of the masterpieces. But you would not know that from the way my family treated it whenever we visited the Art Museum while I was growing up. We did not always go immediately to Pan, but inevitably, our labyrinthine paths through the museum would lead us to the hallway where he lays. My parents love art, and would happily observe and discuss nearly anything in the museum collections, but Reclining Pan merited a special reverence. He was our icon, our site of devotion.

But he was not alone. In the rest of the European art, there were other works that featured the gods of antiquity: Bartolomeo Manfredi’s Apollo and Marsyas was always a favorite, with its vivid colors and the wonderfully expressive faces of its subjects. If we wandered downstairs to the Ancient Art section, we found other pieces that usually caught my eye: small statues of Horus, Osiris, Ma’at and Thoth in the Egyptian cases, two headless statues of Artemis, an amphora showing the meeting between Heracles and Apollo at Delphi. A young Pagan could spend all day scouring the collections, looking for traces of the gods, and I often did.

When I was perhaps eleven or twelve – just beginning to understand what my religion was, and how it was different from what most of my peers at school practiced – I remember looking at the scenes painted on the case of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht’s mummy, detailing the path his soul would take in the afterlife. I looked at the gods – Osiris, Isis, Anubis, and many more – painted on the casket, and I recognized some of the scenes from the Book of the Dead. Then I looked at the information placard; it said that Amen-Nestawy-Nakht had lived during the 22nd Dynasty, sometime around 900 BC. I paused, and read the placard again. I don’t have the proper metaphor for how this revelation hit me: this person had lived a thousand years before Jesus. A thousand years! I was closer to the Renaissance than this priest of Amun had been to the birth of Christ. And yet we had statues of these gods on our family altar; I may have even had my own statue of Horus in my bedroom by that point. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that, in some way, I was connected to something so ancient.

I look at certain things in the Art Museum more critically now than I did as a child. I can’t help but be aware of the colonial stigma attached to the mummy of Amen-Nestawy-Nakht, for example, who had once been interred in the Theban necropolis and would, I am sure, have preferred to stay there, rather than passing into the hands of French collectors and eventually a museum on the other side of the Earth. I notice that the two statues of Artemis on display are both missing their heads, and I wonder what happened to them, whether some patriarchal malefactor destroyed the face of the goddess in an attempt to show his domination of her. And I can’t help but note the irony that Reclining Pan was carved for the family of a Catholic cardinal, the very embodiment of the religion that displaced the worship of gods like Pan.

But still, when I am home and have the time, I make this tiny pilgrimage. Part of growing up Pagan was learning to take comfort in the little reminders of my faith that infiltrated the world around me. I kept my chapels hidden in plain sight. Other visitors to the Art Museum might only have seen a statue of a strange-faced faun reclining on a comfortless bed of stone. I saw a god, and something more than a god.

I saw the face of an old friend.

 

 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!

Elk_River_WV_mapSince I’ve started tracking Pagan responses to the West Virginia water contamination crisis, the fundraiser set up by Solar Cross Temple to aid locals has raised over $1100 dollars. Quote: “Since the 15th, Solar Cross has received $1165 in donations for this cause. We will be sending money to West Virginia tomorrow. We give thanks to everyone who spread the word, and to Crow, Ellen, Kristina, Shannon, Christine, Jenya, Samara, Marian, Laura, Helene, Mary, Fortuna, Jody, James, Tony, Sean, Joan, Lily, Karen, Denise, Rebecca, Rosalind, Kimberly, Elizabeth, Jason, Gerald, Lezlie, Kimberly, Justyna, Christine, Rhiannon, Jennifer and Misha.” In addition, organizers of the CUUPs ritual in West Virginia, which drew support from Pagan leaders like Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, said that “the energy surge we felt came from folks all over the U.S., as well as Italy, France, & Australia.” Events and actions in West Virginia, and other affected areas is ongoing. Recent commentary highlighted here from Anne Johnson and Sara Amis give some much-needed perspective as this story progresses. We will keep you updated.

Oberon (Tim) Zell, an important figure in the early Pagan councils.

Oberon Zell.

Back in December, I spotlighted efforts by Oberon Zell and a coalition of Pagan scholars who are advocating capitalization of the word “Pagan” by journalists when referring to the religious movement. Now, Zell and his coalition have sent out a new press release, and are promoting a Change.org petition, which they hope will garner 500 signatures. Quote: “To address this issue, a coalition has been formed of academic scholars in the field of religious studies, who have done research into contemporary Paganism, and written books on the subject. Their purpose was to create a simple petition to the Associated Press and Chicago Stylebooks to capitalize “Pagan” and “Paganism” when speaking of the modern faiths and their adherents in future editions. The petitions were mailed off to the Stylebook editors on Monday, Dec. 2, with 60 extremely impressive signatures. Many people concerned with religious equality subsequently asked to sign the petition, so to facilitate further signatories, the coalition has created an online master version in Change.org.” You can see the original appeal and signatories, here.

Christine Hoff Kraemer

Christine Kraemer

Christine Kraemer, a scholar and Managing Editor of the Pagan Channel at Patheos.com, has launched a new initiative for, quote, “building Pagan intellectual culture face-to-face.” The concept is simple enough, an organized book club with a local face-to-face component. Quote: “Each month, we read a book: popular fiction (dystopian and utopian novels are a favorite genre); literary fiction, like Candide; modern social or historical commentary, like Neil Postman’s Technopoly; or classics of philosophy, like The Symposium (which we actually repeat once a year). Next, we gather in person with a set start and end time – no Pagan Standard Time here. Once gathered, we sit around a table so everyone can see each other, books in hand, pitchers of water in the center, and glasses for each of us. Alcohol consumption and snacks are put off until the formal discussion is finished. To open the seminar, a participant offers an opening question (usually a different person each meeting). And then we’re off!” You can read more about the initiative, and how to participate, here.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

 

PSG 2014 Logo White Small for Web

  • Hey Pagan Spirit Gathering fans, the popular Pagan festival has unveiled its official artwork for 2014. Quote: “While we have been holding Pagan Spirit Gatherings for over thirty years, each year’s gathering has its own unique character and energy,” said Selena Fox, Executive Director of Circle Sanctuary. “To help guide that energy we give each year has a theme that explores different aspects of the celebration and our community. This year’s theme is ‘Heart and Harmony’ and I’m thrilled our beautiful new logo that so perfectly captures the spirit of that idea.”
  • As mentioned in our latest Pagan Voices, Morning Glory Zell is currently in the hospital due to kidney problems, with doctors re-starting chemo treatments. A new update on her status (which seems to be improving) and a suggested visualization for those wanting to do healing work has been posted on Facebook. Quote: “Please visualize a huge IV bag, larger than the hospital, hanging above the hospital. It is filled with pulsating, rainbow, glittering, swirling vortices of energy. A silver tube runs from the bag to MG’s left arm, where it joins the IV. MG is using this visualization – and is feeling the energy coming from ALL OF YOUR PRAYERS, CANDLES AND RITUALS. MG has asked that I thank everyone who is working on her behalf. She knows you are there.” May her recovery be swift and complete.
  • Just a reminder that the Maetreum of Cybele is still trying to raise funds to fight an appeal of their win in the Appellate court. Quote: “The well pump for the Maetreum died last Sunday and we are still trying to raise the 3000 needed for the last legal fees of our battle. Please contribute if you can via paypal to centralhouse@gallae.com. The contributions stopped over the weekend.”
  • Phantasmaphile has news of an upcoming London exhibition of channelled artworks by Ethel le Rossignol. Quote: “Huge kudos to Mark Pilkington and his Strange Attractor for putting together an astounding-sounding show of Ethel le Rossignol’s channeled paintings.  A spirit medium in the early 20th century, she and her teeming, mystical visions fall into vibratory lockstep with the Hilma af Klints, Wassily Kandinskys, and Emma Kunzes of the era – though hers appear to be decidedly more figurative.”
  • Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum will be speaking at the “Life, Death, Near Death and Beyond: An Exploration” event in March. Quote: “Together we will look at the issues of life, death, near death and beyond. All at a gorgeous eco-retreat center and certified organic farm on Maui.” The event headliner is Ram Dass. You can see a promotional video, here.

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

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.

  • Will Marianne Williamson become the first New Age guru elected to Congress? Williamson, who rocketed to fame with the publication of “A Return to Love” in 1992, is challenging Democrat Henry Waxman in California’s 33rd Congressional District of the U.S. House of Representatives. Quote: “In these first days of her unlikely campaign, Ms. Williamson is making the case that an injection of her brand of spirituality is what American politics needs. ‘America has swerved from its ethical center,’ she said. ‘Most of us want to feel that we can have a progressive conversation and contextualize it morally. To me, drone use is a moral issue.'” Unseating the popular Waxman may be difficult, and Democratic operatives are skeptical that she’ll succeed. Still, Williamson’s candidacy does introduce an interesting dynamic of spiritual progressive “Left-Coast” superstars deciding to take an active interest in political matters.
  • The Hopi Tribe has filed suit against a Paris auction house, hoping to stop the sale of sacred Katsinam masks. French laws are far more permissive about such sales, and doesn’t have the regulations that the United States has regarding indigenous sacred items. Quote: “Advocates for the Hopis argue that selling the sacred Katsinam masks as commercial art is illegal because the masks are like tombs and represent their ancestors’ spirits. The tribe nurtures and feed the masks as if they are the living dead. The objects are surreal faces made from wood, leather, horse hair and feathers and painted in vivid pigments of red, blue, yellow and orange.” This is not the first time such a sale has transpired, and the Hopis hope this new round of court battles will provide a different outcome.
  • The Guardian reports that the Vatican and Bodleian libraries have launched an online archive of ancient religious texts. Included in those texts will be several works of interest to my readers. Quote: “The works to be digitised include the small but staggering collection of Greek manuscripts in the Vatican, including ancient texts of works by Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Hippocrates.” 
  • I maybe be downright chilly towards the antics of New Age gurus, but early New Age music? That’s another thing entirely. Quote: “Forget everything you think you hate about New Age music. I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1999 is a stunning compilation of beautiful, chill, complex, psychedelic, trancy, spacey, and surprisingly deep music that was self-published and self-distributed, mostly on cassette tapes in a 1970s and early-1980s heyday of experimentalism.” Like Disco, commercial plunder ruined the genre, but both are having their proper place in history restored.
  • Televangelist Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, died on November 30th. During his life Crouch was dogged by accusations of fiscal impropriety and plagiarism, among other things. The Los Angeles Times has a thorough obituary for the curious.
Lance Reddick

Lance Reddick

  • Actor Lance Reddick, famous for his work with the show Fringe, is joining the cast of American Horror Story: Coven as the loa Papa Legba, who oversees communication, and acts as the intermediary between our world and the word of spirits and powers (as such he is uniquely honored within Haitian Vodou). There’s just one problem, he’s being decribed as, quote, “voodoo Satan” by the producers. Quote: “The character, described as Coven‘s version of ‘voodoo Satan,’ plays a pivotal role in the life of Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) and will be an important figure in the series’ remaining four episodes. Show co-creator Ryan Murphy teased Legba’s involvement in our recent EW AHS: Coven cover story: ‘You find out that’s how come Marie Laveau looks so good — because she sold her soul!'” So, that’s problematic, to put it nicely. I imagine practitioners of Vodou who are already unhappy with how their faith is being portrayed won’t be especially pleased by this new turn of events. I will be following up on this story soon.
  • Brooke McGowan of the Tea Party News Network is apparently concerned that Wiccans are making God, like, really, really, angry. Quote: “In this nation we have turned away from the God of the Bible and we’ve told him he’s simply not welcome here,” McGowan said. “We have welcomed pluralism, atheism, secular humanism, Wicca and even Islam.” What a charmer! I bet she’s fun at parties.
  • The Fayette County jail in Pennsylvania will now allow Wiccan services for inmates thanks to the efforts of Kathryn Jones. Quote: “Kathryn Jones of Uniontown told the board Wednesday she has ’15 years’ leadership as a Wiccan.’ […] Jones said she had been permitted to conduct services in the prison chapel in the past, but recent requests have been denied. ‘I’ve asked for months for a visit in the chapel,’ Jones said. […] Angela Zimmerlink and Vincent Zapotosky, county commissioners who serve on the prison board, said Jones’ requests are to be granted, provided her requested times do not interfere with previously scheduled uses of the room.” Sometimes, activism can be a simple as not going away.
  • Here’s the first official trailer for Pompeii, out in February. Quote: “The film stars Kit Harington as an enslaved Celtic gladiator named Milo who falls in love with a noblewoman (Emily Browning) on the eve of a massive volcanic eruption that destroys Pompeii, an event that also brings him face-to-face with the man who slaughtered his family years earlier.”

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.

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!

Circle Magazine

Circle Magazine

The latest issue of Circle Magazine (#115) is now at the printers, and available for order at the Circle Sanctuary store. Quote: “This issue features inspiration to honor our families, from birth, through childhood to departed ancestors. Also in this issue, connect with the season with rituals, crafts and songs for the Solstice, Yule and the New Year!” Lady Liberty League, Circle Sanctuary’s religious freedom advocacy arm, also notes that there are many items in this issue of interest to their mission. Quote: “Lots for Lady Liberty League fans in the new issue of Circle Magazine, shipping to subscribers and online now! Get the final report on all the collaborative work LLL did to address religious violence on Facebook & read the LLL End-of-Year Statement from LLL Case Manager, Minerva Thalia. ALSO look for ‘Advocating for Pagan Children in the Public School System’ by public school teacher Aurora Lightbringer, and read her ‘6 Key Strategies to Address Religious Discrimination in Schools.’ You won’t want to miss this on!” So check it out!

cropped-PconBanner13aHey there PantheaCon watchers! The largest indoor Pagan conference in the United States has just released its 2014 programming schedule, featuring a dizzying array of talks, panels, and workshops. Quote: “The PantheaCon 2014 schedule is now available, and we are again offering you two ways to view it!  First, you can click here to see the list of presenters and events by room.  If you would like to see presenter biographies and event descriptions, you can click here to access our improved Personal Schedule tool – it also allows you to to customize your schedule by selecting only those events that you want to attend. You will need a valid email address to use this tool.  Email programming(at)pantheacon.com if you experience any issues.” Some early highlights: the band Woodland playing at PantheaCon for the first time ever, a formal panel on privilege within modern Paganism moderated by T. Thorn Coyle, a panel discussion on sacrifice hosted by Coru Cathubodua, Lupercalia with Ekklesia Antinoou, and much, much, much, more! So check it out, and keep in mind that this schedule could change depending on additions or changes in attendance. Also, schedules for hospitality suites aren’t posted yet, so that’s another aspect to keep an eye out for.

1425710_10201953836920156_1475050013_nWitches of Michigan and the Michigan-Midwest Witches Ball have issued a statement saying they would being taking over the Tempest Smith Foundation’s scholarship program, after it was publicly announced that the advocacy organization would be closing down. Quote: “As everyone may/or may not know, Tempest Smith Foundation is closing their doors very soon. We (Witches of Michigan and Witches Ball) have joined forces to continue with TSF’s scholarship program. Met with the lawyer yesterday, to form a Non Profit and apply for 501c3 by the end of the year this will have been accomplished. I like to thank those who donated money to the cause, we raised enough for the 501c3, and generous donations from WOM and MWB paid for creation of the Non-profit. Starting on 1/1/14 we will accepting applications for pagan high school seniors for $500 scholarship.” The new scholarship will be called the Michigan Pagan Scholarship, and the nascent organization has started a group on Facebook. The Tempest Smith Foundation has been “a voice for diversity tolerance in its Michigan community and an advocate of anti-bullying campaigns,” and it looks like Michigan Pagans are going to make sure its legacy lives on.  We will report more on this story as it develops.

In Other Pagan Community News:

Adela Leibowitz "Isis and the goat-fish of Ea (Enki)" 2012

Adela Leibowitz “Isis and the goat-fish of Ea (Enki)” 2012

  • Esoteric artist Adela Leibowitz has opened a new show this month at hpgrp Gallery in New York, with pieces focusing on Mesopotamian and Egyptian Mythology. Quote: “Unlike earlier series such as Fairytales of the Macabre (2004) and The Cassandra Prophesies, (2006), which focused on Western tales, Leibowitz turns to Eastern religions and mythologies in “Mesopotamian and Egyptian Mythology.” In this exhibition, she continues her explorations by re-animating gods and goddesses, chaos demons, sages, protective deities and mythical hybrids. She places them in lush, tropical landscapes that represent a primal world where humans, animals and nature co-exist together in harmony. In essence, she creates utopias.” Also, check out the Phantasmaphile write-up. The show runs through December 21st.
  • Just a reminder that the New Alexandrian Library’s short crowd-funding initiative to continue the ongoing construction on their future physical space in Delaware has less than a week to go. So if libraries run by Pagan and esoteric interests is something you value, be sure to visit their IndieGoGo page and add your support. For all of my coverage of the New Alexandrian Library, click here.
  • In other crowd-funding news, as I mentioned on Monday, Starhawk has launched an IndieGoGo campaign to fund diversity scholarships for Earth Activist Trainings. Quote: “A small investment in Earth Activist Training has a huge ripple effect. Any amount you can donate will help diversify the environmental justice movement, bring new perspectives and insights into the permaculture movement, and give activists and community leaders the tools they need to build that beautiful world of the future we know is possible!”
  • Treadwell’s in London is hosting a one-person play about artist and occultist Austin Osman Spare on November 30th. Quote: “Set in the artist’s studio at the Elephant and Castle on the night  of a Blitz bombing, it shows Spare growing old in poverty, yet fiercely committed to his vision. In the course of the night, a rogue sigil unleashes unpredictable consequences. This ‘play conceived as an act of magic’, performed by the author, is both an homage to AOS and a playful exploration of Constable’s own esoteric work to ‘set us free from ourselves.’ John Constable is a poet, playwright and magical practitioner best-known for The Southwark Mysteries, and for his acclaimed stage adaptation of Gormenghast.”
  • I’m always a big fan of crowd-funded tarot and oracle decks, and the Kickstarter for the Tarot of Delphi looks rather nice. Quote: “Curated with fine art from the late 1830s to the early 1910s, the Tarot of Delphi is like a mini-museum. You can wander through this captivating deck – exploring the imagery, absorbing the colors and light, envisioning the lives depicted – and imagine yourself within its mythic narrative.”

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

In the modern art world, the traditional gallery system that many of us feel we know from popular media depictions has slowly given way to an ever-expanding series of international art fairs and biennials where the high-rollers buy, sell, discover new work, and hob-nob. These large-scale events have become the place to gain attention, so it is notable that the upcoming Florence Biennial in Italy will be featuring the work of Mexican artist Cristina Francov.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” by Cristina Francov.

“Cristina Francov is a Mexican artist whose work offers visions and allegories through a series of self-portraits and transfigurations of her own body.

Her early fascination with both esoteric mysteries and the great European masters developed into a form of hybrid digital photography which is humanistic, mysterious and carnal all at once. Cristina is entirely self taught in the art of photography but an academic foundation in the methods of oil painting and drawing mixed with her natural talent led her to become recognised both nationally and internationally for her contribution to the art of digital manipulation (she has exhibited in London, Germany and Italy alongside several solo shows in Mexico).

Cristina’s ‘El Trìgono de las Lesiones’ has been selected for this year’s Florence Biennale (Italy, November 30th Cristina’s work, international audiences will be given the opportunity to better understand an artistic movement which is only now gaining the attention and historical recognition it deserves.”

In her artist’s statement, Francov describes the work as “a soul, lost between two dimensions,” that “uses the remains of birds, minerals and flesh to materialize itself on the Earth plane. Confused and doubtful of its existence and potential humanity, is unable to naturalize and accept itself into one single creature.” 

Francov is part of a larger resurgence of occult, esoteric, and folkloric themed works within the fine art world. Allison Meier at Hyperallergic notes that the “undercurrent of the occult in culture ripples back to the surface of our collective consciousness” and that we are enjoying high point in “a periodic surge in fascination with the unknowable, the rites, rituals, and art that make up its history.” Certainly, Pam Grossman’s excellent blog Phantasmaphile is clear evidence of this renewed interest, as it reports on and reviews a growing number of artists and exhibitions that focus on esoteric subjects. Grossman is also an associate editor of the journal Abraxas, which spotlights many of these artists, including Francov, and whose parent company Fulgur Esoterica represents the artist.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" (detail) by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” (detail) by Cristina Francov.

Cristina Francov’s inclusion in the Florence Biennial follows the well-received I:MAGE exhibition in London which focused on occult and esoteric art, and the high-profile showing of Lady Frieda Harris’ Thoth Deck paintings at the Venice Biennale. When I spoke with Abraxas co-founder Christina Oakley Harrington during the I:MAGE exhibition, she expressed that the time had come for this kind of art to break through to a broader audience.

“The art world is waking up to the inner realities of its artists, and to the fact that for many centuries, right through modernism, many artists have been profoundly influenced by esoteric ideas and have worked intimately through (and with) occult symbolism. Medieval art history includes the study of iconography and symbolic programmes, but artists of more recent centuries have received no such attention, until the past ten years.  Even the surrealists, some of whose work is profoundly occult, have had their imagery largely overlooked or treated in solely personal terms.

The trends of 20th century art-history and art criticism meant there have been 80 years of writing on art which concentrates not on the inner experience of the artist, or of their symbolic language, but rather on form and materials. This is now changing, and it is very exciting indeed.”

Cristina Francov

Cristina Francov

Change within culture begins when we change the way we look at the world, when we shift the lens of our experience. The rise of artists like Cristina Francov shift perceptions, and enrich our encounters with subtle realms. This trend within the world of art is one that we should embrace, and one that should push more of us towards a new level of excellence in our creative output. You can see more of Francov’s work at her official website. A limited number of prints of “El Trìgono de las Lesiones” are available at the Fulgur Esoterica website. The Florence Biennial will run from November 30th through December 8th, 2013.

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.

Nina Davuluri

Nina Davuluri

meet

  • Sometimes the tourist-attraction witch business is so good you decide to go solo, at least that seems to be the case with the latest Wookey Hole witch, Sunny Van der Pas, who wants to launch her own clothing line. Quote: “Actress Sunny Van der Pas is leaving her role after two years to launch her own clothing line based upon her costumes. But now directors at the popular tourist attraction need a little magic of their own to find a replacement witch in time for Halloween. […] The attraction employs a witch pro rata, largely over the summer holidays, Halloween and Christmas, They are expected to live in the site’s caves during busy periods and to teach witchcraft and magic. The role normally attracts thousands of applicants, who then compete in for the post X Factor style auditions.” For the uninitiated, the Wookey Hole cave system in the UK (about 20 miles from Bath) has become something like the British version of Salem here (except even more tourist-y).
  • NPR highlights Candomblé in Brazil, spurred by a recent survey that saw an uptick in adherents. Quote: “Sitting among the faithful here is Marcilio Costa, who is the commercial officer at a foreign consulate in Sao Paulo. He became an initiate a year and a half ago, and he says he’s open about it. ‘Among Brazilians, yes. People understand better now. … All my friends know my religion, every single one of them,’ Costa says. ‘I don’t hide from no one.'”
  • The Paris Review interviews poet Gregory Orr, who opines on the nature of myths. Quote: “The beautiful thing about myths is that you’re never telling a myth, you’re retelling it. People already know the story. You don’t have to create a narrative structure, and you don’t have to figure out where it ends. As a lyric poet, you can take the moments of greatest intensity in the myth, or the moments that interest you most, or the ways of looking at the story that you think would be most fun to rethink—you don’t have to do the whole story. You want to know what human mystery can be revealed by retelling it. D. H. Lawrence said that myths are symbols of inexhaustible human mysteries. You can tell them a hundred, a thousand times, and you’ll never exhaust the mystery that’s coded into that story. That may be a little hyperbolic, but I believe it.” 
  • The Secular Student Alliance has launched the “Secular Safe Zones” program at high schools and colleges. Quote: “The program enlists ‘allies’ like Schmidt among faculty, administrators, counselors and others on college and high school campuses who are trained in the needs of nonreligious — or ‘secular’ — students. So far, there are Secular Safe Zone allies at 26 college and high school campuses in 14 states, including California, Nevada, Ohio, Utah, Illinois, Florida and New York.” This is based off of similar LGBTQ efforts, and you have to wonder how long it will be before various religious groups launch their own “safe zone” programs.
  • Blah, blah, blah, Christian persecution in the United States, blah, blah, blah, Obama is a pagan, blah blah blah. Quote: “As Barber explained, the Obama administration is the “modern-day equivalent” of ancient Rome, demanding that citizens must worship Caesar in the form of progressiveism.”

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.

September 27th through the 29th in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,” a “weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together.” In anticipation of OCCULT’s launch next month, I conducted a short interview with co-producer Aepril Schaile to talk about the event, why this is the right time for it, and supporting the arts within a Pagan context.

Aepril Schaile. Photo by Cheryl Fair.

Aepril Schaile. Photo by Cheryl Fair.

OCCULT is called an “Esoteric Salon,” merging artistic and metaphysical pathways through performance, workshops, and talks. What inspired you to help make this event happen? Why is now the right time?

Sarah Jezebel Wood and I began talking about this vision last year. We are both Witches, and Thelemites, and practicing Artists. Sarah is an accomplished bellydancer and teacher, and she is devoted to nurturing the work of artists in her communities. Sarah worked with Alex and Alison Grey at CoSM for several years, and so this idea of Art and Magick being one unit is not a new one for her. The timing was an intuitive thing—we felt that the fact that the vision was forming for us both with such excitement in that very moment meant that its time had come–synchronicity! We also recognize a movement into a New Aeon, and with it comes new ways of doing things. At the time of the Parisian Salons of the turn of the last century, there was also a renaissance in occult and Magickal consciousness in connection to Art. We have the romantic notion that the time is now for this mixing of art, magick, thought, creativity, personality, passion, vision, and spirit to take place.

You are an artist who has worked in several mediums, most notably dance and music, do you think the Pagan community engages with the arts in a constructive way? Are we paying enough attention to the importance of art within our traditions, are we supporting our artists? If not, is OCCULT a step towards addressing that issue?

I personally feel that my work has been recognized and supported in wonderful ways by the Pagan and Witchcraft communities. In particular my work in dance, which probably most widely known, but music, too; I receive mail by email and even paper letter (fun!) with heartfelt and thoughtful words, and it is incredible to me what power art has to animate and inspire the spirit and imagination. I also tend to bring the Witches and Thelemites out of the woodwork wherever I travel for performance–they make themselves known in my workshops and after shows, as they come out to see me, and this is amazing to me! The Thelemic community has been great in supporting this work; OCCULT has many Thelemic presenters and artists on board for our debut year, and the full support of our local body, Knights Templar Oasis. That said, I am greedy; I’d like more overall engagement. Our Artists are our Shamans; they are our Seers and Healers and Guides. OCCULT is an effort to make this connection more conscious and enlivened. I’d like to see more Pagans, Witches and Occult practitioners support the arts by coming out to shows, explicitly recognizing each other’s work, and continue developing a more sophisticated sense of what art is and why it matters. OCCULT is, to us, a step in that direction.

occultYou live and work in Salem, and that’s where OCCULT is being held. Is there something special about Salem that makes an event like this possible?

We are here doing this work on the shoulders of those who came before us. As all things move in cycles, we feel that the time is correct for the coming together of new ideas and approaches. We feel that Salem is indeed an epicenter, and that is undergoing a renaissance of ideas and vision. Many of the old Witch wars have run their course, and there is a thirst for more visible and inclusive happenings that go beyond Witch-Disney type money making tourist hype. We have perceived that there is a new generation that seeks to engage with the magickal arts in a more sophisticated and integrated way. The greater Salem area is full of artists, and many of the Pagans, Witches, occult practitioners, Thelemites and Ceremonial Magicians we have in our circles are also creative artists. We are building on some of the occult themed art shows and events that have already happened in Salem, and expanding upon those ideas and happenings.

OCCULT’s vision statement seems to call for a return to meaning in art, a process of re-enchantment that rejects mere commercialism as the end-all, be-all of making art. That art needs magick just as much as magick needs art. How should the Pagan community start living this ethos? How should the world of fine art?

I hold a Master’s of Fine Art, so I am acquainted with the art world from both an academic and a practicing artist’s viewpoint. I felt alienated early on by the emphasis that I perceived on materials and form, as opposed to content and meaning. I was also, quite naively, stunned by some of the divorcing of spirit from the artistic process. I had automatically perceived art as being inherently spiritual, and magickal. I found that what I recognized as ancient mythological and archetypal patterns would often be dismissed as “cliché”. Would the ancient Greeks at Eleusis have said, “Let’s not do this ritual theatre thing anymore…its been done to death already…so…cliché?” Of course not! But there is a place for keeping art innovated and contemporary, and to keep it growing while honoring these ancient patterns. Many of the artists that Sarah and I chose for OCCULT create work which has this quality: it is informed by contemporary fine art, but it honors and expresses beyond that. Some of the work is deeply self-exploratory and shamanic, some is talismanic, some is ritualistic, some is qabalistic, some surrealistic, etc.

Assuming OCCULT’s success, what’s next? Will this be the first of many salons? Will you take it outside of Salem? Can OCCULT become a new model for Pagan and esoteric engagement with the arts?

Thank you for assuming our success! Wonderful! Yes, Sarah and I plan is to make this a yearly event. We hope to stay in Salem; one of the great challenges that we have had has been space, as it is as a premium in Salem! We have had great experience with the First Universalist Society, both with their open minded and all inclusive spiritual vision, and they have just been super easy and supportive to work with. It turns out that their event coordinator, Alex Coco, is also a Pagan, and along with his wife Nicke, runs Eastern MA Pagan Pride Day! So we lucked out! We’d like to keep it here in Salem, and continue to attract the caliber of teachers and artists that we have this year. We have been so very blessed thus far in manifesting this dream!

***

You can find out more about OCCULT at the event’s website.