Archives For Erik Davis

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.

Margaret Mahy (Photo: David Hallett)

Margaret Mahy (Photo: David Hallett)

That’s it for now, have a great day! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these 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.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

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 companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce 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 lets get started!

Patrick McCollum’s India Speech: On February 26th, Pagan chaplain and activist Patrick McCollum spoke at the International Conference on Spiritual Paradigm for Surmounting Global Management Crisis at the School of Management Sciences in Varanasi, India. McCollum shared a Pagan perspective toward resolving the questions raised at the conference, and his remarks were captured on video and recently posted to Youtube. You can read McCollum’s account of his India trip, here.

Rachael Watcher, Public Information Officer at Covenant of the Goddess (COG), and a trustee of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN), was also in India at the same time as Patrick McCollum, and gives an account of her trip  to attend a conference produced in part by the International Center for Cultural Studies. You may also be interested in my recent post about the Hindu-Pagan panel at PantheaCon. For more on Patrick McCollum’s work, check out his recent guest-post on the Pew Forum’s survey on religion in American prisons.

2011 Pagan Pride Day a Success: Every year between August and October dozens of local events are held worldwide to educate the public about modern Paganism, build local bonds in the community, and hold food drives to give something back. These events happen under the banner of Pagan Pride Day, an all-volunteer organization that has been coordinating the event since 1998. At the end of February the Pagan Pride Project sent out a press release breaking down the statistics of the previous year, declaring it a “huge success.”

Pagan Pride Day logo

Pagan Pride Day logo.

“There were a total of 83 events on four continents: in the United States, we held 66 events, Canada held 8 events in 4 provinces, Latin America saw 6 events in 5 countries, and the European Union held 3 events. In total, 42,799 attended our events worldwide, which was less than 2010, but still much higher than 2009 and 2008. Pagan Pride Day events will continue to grow in 2012 and beyond. These celebrations are free to attend and are geared towards increasing public understanding and acceptance of members of our religion and bringing the Pagan community together.

Pagan Pride Days are also giving back to our communities. At our 2011 events, people gave 29,073 pounds of food for local shelters and food banks in the United States and around the world. People attending Pagan Pride Day events also donated blood for local blood banks, financial donations to the Humane Society, food pantries, the Red Cross, SPCA, Cystic Fibrosis and the Spiral Scouts. Never forgetting our animal friends, 340 pounds of pet food were collected along with pet supplies. Also, some events donated money to charities in their communities, totaling over $1,700.00, in lieu of donations of food and goods.”

The Board of Directors also thanked the local event coordinators, volunteers, and public sponsors for their support in making the 2011 events a success. Events like these destroy the notion that Pagans aren’t interested in giving back to their community, or in joining charitable efforts. While Pagan Pride Day is now almost taken for granted by the wider Pagan community, we should never forget the important on-the-ground work they do every year to change people’s conceptions. If you want to get involved, there are instructions here. In addition, several local Pagan Pride Days have Facebook pages and other resources, consult your local search engine for more details.

Good News for Fans of Pagan Chants: Ivo Dominguez Jr, author of the recently-released book “Casting Sacred Space: The Core of All Magickal Work”, and co-owner of Bell, Book, and Candle in Delaware, has restarted the classic website “Panpipe’s Pagan Chants,” an archive of Pagan chants to be used in ritual and celebrations.

“In the early days (1996) of the pagan internet explosion, I maintained a Pagan chants archive that has long gone to dust. It is now being revived a chant at a time. All the chants need to be re-recorded as they were originally done in a low fidelity Real Audio format. This was fine in the days of slow connections, but it will no longer do. The chants will now be available as MP3 files. I hope you enjoy them and if you are interested in adding your chants here, contact me. Whenever possible I will list authors and if it has been recorded by them.  Please buy their works if they are available. You may use any of the chants I have written for noncommercial purposes.”

So, if you’ve been recycling the same two or three chants during ritual, you now have an opportunity to broaden your group’s repertoire. If you find the service useful, and would like to see it grow, Ivo asks that folks make a donation to the New Alexandrian Library Project.

In Other News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day! Happy Easter to my Christian friends.

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’d like to highlight three excellent essays worth checking out today.

In Defense of Magic: Andrew Sullivan points to an excellent essay by Jessa Crispin, editor and founder of Bookslut.com, that talks about the endurance of religion, of irrational beliefs, of magic, in a seemingly rational and increasingly secular age. In the process she discusses two new books, Ronald Hutton’s “Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain,” and Nevill Drury’s “Stealing Fire from Heaven: The Rise of Modern Western Magic”.

“Wasn’t the Enlightenment supposed to wash the world of its sins of superstition and religion? And yet humanity keeps clinging to its belief systems, its religious leaders, and its prayer. More than that, we’re dipping back into the magical realms — one would think that if superstition were to be eradicated through the power of reason and rationality, magic would be the first to go. It turns out our hunger for the irrational and the intuitive is more insatiable than previously assumed. We have our Kabbalah, our Chaos Magick, our Druids. We have our mystics and tarot card readers and our astrologers on morning news shows explaining why Kate and William are a match made by the gods. Wicca is a fast growing religion in the United States, and my German health insurance covers homeopathy and Reiki massage, both of which have always felt more like magic than science to me.”

The whole thing is well worth reading, a defense against the atheists who have trouble acknowledging that these beliefs fill a need in us, while owning the excesses and subconscious drives that fuel adherence to illogical practices.

Believing in Satan(ists): Erik Davis reprints an essay he wrote on religious Satanism, reviewing a 2009 scholarly anthology edited by Jesper Aagaard Petersen entitled “Contemporary Religious Satanism: A Critical Anthology”. I was particularly drawn to his critique of the elasticity of the term “Satanism”, and how that might matter to modern Pagans.

“While Peterson makes a good claim for the relative elasticity of the term Satanism, there are problems with the term that become more apparent the farther the topic departs from LaVey’s legacy. Though the figure of Satan has been drastically recontextualized, his name and essential iconography still fundamentally imply an oppositional or even parasitic relationship to the broader Judeo-Christian tradition. But as the transgression of Christian norms loses its spunk, and as the broad course of Neo-paganism and contemporary ritual magic reframe occult practice within more eclectic, global and, increasingly, “shamanic” contexts, it is inevitable that the specifically Satanic current loses some nominal coherence. In this sense, the splitting off of Michael Aquino’s Temple of Set from LaVey’s Church of Satan in 1975 is paradigmatic, as Aquino replaced LaVey’s cocktail-sipping devil with a more sober and recondite Egyptian god. Should Setians still be called “Satanists”? If the answer is yes, aren’t scholars running the risk of shoe-horning darkside practitioners and metaphysicians into a homogenous framework that unintentionally parrots fundamentalist Christian exegetes for whom Odin, Kali, and Harry Potter are all masks of a single Dark Lord? If the answer is no, does the “Satanic milieu” that the contributors to this volume have done such a fine job of clarifying lose broader explanatory power?”

The blurry ground between “post-Satanic” belief systems and modern Paganism hasn’t really been fully explored. “Dark” (or “Nocturnal”) Paganism has become a marketing term in recent years, and I believe more study is warranted on the intersections of subculture, Left-Hand Paths, post-Satanic systems, and modern Paganism. As for Davis, I highly recommend his most recent collection of essays entiled “Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica”.

The Substance of Thor (and Loki): Over at Killing the BuddhaEric Scott, who recently shared his mixed feelings over marketing Nordic gods in “Valhal-Mart,” shares his review of the Marvel Comics film “Thor.”

“My understanding of the ancient Germanic myths revolves around two themes. The first is that virtue consists of equal parts strength and wisdom. The second is the Germanic worldview of an entropic universe, where civilization will always fall into ruin. Beneath its hammy, explosion-filled superhero veneer, Thor deals with both of these themes. Thor’s character development exemplifies the first, as we watch the bold and foolish prince grow wise. Loki exemplifies the second: despite his good intentions, Loki falls, becoming a monster in the name of ending monsters.

So what should pagans take away from this movie? Certainly not mythological accuracy: if you only knew the myths, most of the film will probably seem nonsensical. I admit that the mythological discrepancies still leave me conflicted, if only because they drastically alter the relationships among some of these deities. But I left the theater feeling much better about Thor than I expected; while it may not get any of the surface right, it captures a surprising amount of the substance. Thor gives us the glories and the tragedies of Norse mythology, if we’re willing to abide a little trickery in the delivery. Loki would be proud.”

For more on “Thor” see my roundup of religiously-themed takes on  the film. You may also want to check out all of Eric Scott’s essays at KtB.

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

It happens every year. The irresistible combination of Halloween (aka Samhain to many Pagans) and real-live Witches causes a great flood of articles involving local Pagans. While usually of the light-as-a-feather “meet the Pagans” variety, they can sometimes be insightful, or give attention to Pagans who are doing good work. For instance, the Chicago Tribune’s profile of Circle Sanctuary minister Paul Larson.

He said he spent years searching religions for the proper spiritual fit. “I was born into the Mormon faith, converted to the (Episcopal) faith and then became a Buddhist,” Larson said. “But I had been investigating paganism since 1969.” About eight years ago, after experiencing the loss of several family members and friends, he began to concentrate on paganism. “I still consider myself a hyphenated American, a Mormo-Episco-Buddhi-pagan,” said Larson, who has a Buddhist statue in his office located in the Merchandise Mart. The statue isn’t too far from the certificate that shows he was ordained over the summer as a Wiccan minister. “Eight years ago as I was going through my (reinvention), I stopped believing in religious exclusivity, that there was one path through which the divine speaks,” he said. Larson said that despite the misconceptions, contemporary paganism has become attractive to more people, particularly young people, over the last three decades because of its reverence for the environment and its embrace of feminism. It also allows for a diversity of thought and belief systems that aren’t bound by a singular doctrine.

Meanwhile, the Religion News Service concentrates on how some Christians and Pagans work to co-exist and spread their faith’s message within the hothouse confines of Salem during the Halloween season. Giving special attention to Pastor Phil Wyman of The Gathering, who had come into conflict with his own denomination over his openness to the local Pagans and Witches.

[Phil Wyman] trains counselors not to fear witches and to disavow an “aggressive, warfare” mentality. “That would ruin what we would do,” Wyman said. “A dialogue is the only way that we’re really going to find out what people think, what they really believe and where they stand. We have to be willing to hear what they believe as well as say what we believe. There’s a give and take.”

The RNS also interviews Spiritualists, Witches, and Catholics to paint a picture of how all faiths get swept up in the atmosphere of Salem’s Halloween, participating in festivities and having divinations performed on their behalf.

Perusing the seasonal coverage you can find stories on Witches’ Balls, local metaphysical shops, shamans, and even an in-depth examination of Hoodoo in America courtesy of Erik Davis.

“In his necessary history Occult America, Mitch Horowitz declares hoodoo “America’s first boundary-free faith.” He also shows how hoodoo was transformed by the emerging commercial marketplace of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when mail-order catalogs and chains of urban supply shops standardized some hoodoo practices while providing a cornucopia of new items for imaginative appropriation. Products developed for secular purposes — like Florida water or Hoyt’s cologne—transformed into healing potions. The resulting magical transformations were not limited to the United States — San Pedro shamans in Peru still love to spritz with Florida water.”

Of course you can also find your usual smattering of “Halloween is evil” articles if you look hard enough. Various pastors and ministers trying very hard to inject Christ into this spooky holiday season. But these seem to be shrinking, especially as more and more people turn to this holiday as a means of escape from the mundane problems around them. Between all the Christine O’Donnell coverage, the Druid charity status story, and now the usual spate of Halloween/Samhain pieces, this may be one of the biggest media blitzes in terms of sheer coverage and interviews our communities have seen in years. Whether all this coverage translates into more respect, understanding, or even converts, is still an open question. What we can say is that is certainly keeps modern Paganism, for better or for worse, in the public eye.

Top Story: Newspapers in Washington have been giving a lot of coverage to the death of Sherry Harlan, stabbed to death and then dismembered by her jealous ex-boyfriend Eric James Christensen. While serious crimes often get coverage in local papers, this one is getting special attention for its savagery, and the reason Christensen has given for murdering Harlan.

“Christensen told detectives that he’d found similar messages on Harlan’s phone weeks earlier and that she’d promised to cease contact with the man. To seal the deal, Christensen said he and Harlan had gone through a “blood oath” ceremony. “He said that in ‘ancient times’ people that broke similar vows were sometimes killed,” a sheriff’s detective wrote of the conversation. Christensen said that on Jan. 2, when he confronted Harlan about the messages, the argument became physical and they traded blows. He told detectives that because she’d broken the oath, Harlan “in Scottish … would be what’s known as a warlock, which is evil, a traitor, an enemy,” court papers said.”

The Daily Herald piece quoted above is to be praised, as they avoided the sensationalist and dubious term “Wiccan blood oath” repeated by several papers and news outlets in the initial wake of the story breaking.

“Prosecutors said Christensen told police that Harlan had broken a “Wiccan blood oath” she had made to break off a relationship with another man.”

Only local NBC affiliate King5 actually sought out a member of the Everett Pagan community for comment on the story, Jeri Schaible, who had once dated the abusive Christensen. Schaible confirms that both were studying Wicca, but points out that Christensen should not be considered a Wiccan as he doesn’t adhere to the Wiccan Rede. No paper, television outlet, or site has interviewed any local Pagan leaders or organizers for background, or to comment on the “blood oath”. This, despite the fact that the Seattle area is full of Pagans (and there’s a regular Pagan meetup in Everett), as is the Pacific Northwest in general.

There is little doubt that Christensen will be going to prison for life, as the man who helped him hide the body parts is testifying against him in exchange for immunity. With his capture and conviction ensured, now is the time to gain context for the sensationalist religious statements made by Christensen. Will the press step up here? I can’t imagine a killer invoking a “Christian blood oath” without local Christian clergy being consulted. As for Sherry Harlan, may her spirit find rest, may her killer be punished, and may her friends and family find closure.

In Other News:

Clash of Faiths in Haiti: Religious tensions are mounting in Haiti between Christian aid groups and Vodou practitioners. First, Vodou leader Max Beauvoir claims that evangelical Christians are monopolizing aid, and showing favoritism towards their own instead of fairly distributing food and water.

“Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s “supreme master” of voodoo, alleged his faith’s opponents had deliberately prevented much-needed help from reaching followers of the religion, which blends the traditional beliefs of West African slaves with Roman Catholicism. “The evangelicals are in control and they take everything for themselves,” he claimed. “They have the advantage that they control the airport where everything is stuck. They take everything they get to their own people and that’s a shame.”

He alleges these groups are using food to “buy souls”, taking advantage of the chaos in order to win converts. Meanwhile, the case of 10 Baptists from two different congregations in America, who are accused of trafficking Haitian children for the purposes of adoption, is only fueling accusations that protestant Christian groups have one primary objective, convert, convert, convert.

“Some critics say the race to remove Haiti’s children is culturally insensitive, if not downright illegal. Others are offended by the prospect of children from a Catholic culture being airlifted into evangelical institutions or families — losing their faith along with their families.”

You can be sure that the uneasy situation created by the increasing growth of evangelical and pentecostal denominations in the predominately Catholic-Vodou continuum of Haiti will only increase now that mission-minded groups see the earthquake as an “opportunity” for growth and conversion. It could not only radicalize Vodou practitioners in Haiti, but it could also create massive rifts between protestant and Catholic groups. And the longer that Haiti’s government is hobbled, the worse the problem may become.

Air Force Academy Gets A Circle: Last Thursday I reported on the Air Force Academy installing an outdoor worship area for Pagan and Wiccan cadets, a move that has been generally praised within the Pagan community. Since then the story has been picked up by national media outlets (I’m sure NewsBusters is pleased), and is now being used by some right-wing pundits as a stick to hit President Obama with.

“U.S. President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, wants to make the Air force Academy more inclusive for people practicing occult pagan witchcraft. Hence, he’s willing to increase the federal government’s record-breaking debt to fund a chapel that will add a circle to be utilized as a worship area for so-called “Earth-centered religions, during a dedication ceremony” that is tentatively scheduled for March 10.”

Well, first off, Obama had nothing to do with the Air Force Academy building a stone circle (military bureaucracy just doesn’t move that fast), but even if he had, that’s a pretty weak “Obama the Democrat is spending too much” argument. Thankfully, not all conservative pundits see equal treatment for religions within the military as a bad thing.

“Our Constitution affords us the right to practice any religion we would like, I think that should be especially true for anyone in the military who is willing to serve and sacrifice for us. Do I agree with pagan religions like Wicca? No. But those who have chosen to serve their country, and have joined the Air Force Academy deserve a proper worship area just like any other religious faith.”

You don’t have to like Wicca or Paganism, but to deny we should have equal treatment goes against everything America stands for, no matter what groups like WallBuilders may claim.

The New Age Sweat Lodge Death Controversy: Self-help author Jonathan Ellerby, who seems better educated and more respectful of Native practices than most in his line of work, answers some key questions about sweat lodges that have arisen since three people died in a sweat ceremony led by New Age huckster James Arthur Ray.

“I personally do not think or feel that non-Native people should run Native lodges. Too many Native traditions have been borrowed and stolen from Native Peoples only to be misused, sold or poorly conducted. These are very powerful and culturally sacred practices and it’s a deep act of disrespect just to “copy” the practices of another tradition. You wouldn’t see a group of Native people pretending to be able to read Hebrew or making up fake Hebrew sounding songs in a building they called a synagogue. It’s absurd. Worse, Native people have been the victims of cultural appropriation and attack for 500 years. To take without permission, training or blessing is just an insult. However, yes, I do think that ceremonial steam baths have something to offer all people and if done well, a non-Native “sweat lodge” for non-Native people can be a very important, healing and beautiful thing.”

It is distinctly refreshing to see someone from the self-help/New Age/spirituality community come out in defense of the integrity of Native religion and spirituality. As Ellerby points out, if you want a sweat/steam ceremony, there are ways of designing one without simply aping American Indian traditions and slapping a different label on them. As for James Arthur Ray, he gave his first-ever interview since the incident last week. In it, he claims no responsibility for the deaths, but says that his ego has been adjusted by the experience”. You know what else adjusts the ego? A court trial and punishment for negligent homicide.

Meanwhile, the Angel Valley Retreat Center is doing a little damage-control and CYA of its own, insisting that the sweat-lodge’s construction was not to blame (Ray has been insinuating that’s where the blame lies). We still await word on criminal charges in this case.

Art & the Tarot: In a final note, Erik Davis writes about tarot for HiLobrow, praising and analyzing the work of Rider-Waite artist Pamela Colman Smith.

“Since its appearance, the so-called Rider-Waite deck has sold gazillions of copies, inspiring brooding hermeticists and teenage Goths alike, and stamping its enigmatic images onto such key 20th century artifacts as T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” the classic noir Nightmare Alley, and the inner gatefold of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. The Rider-Waite deck earns a so-called because the name — which has been trade-marked by US Games, the current (and controversial) copyright holder — ignores the artistic contribution of Pamela Colman Smith, an American illustrator and occult initiate whose nickname, Pixie, seems preternaturally on target in light of the most widely-reproduced photograph of the woman.”

I’ve often bemoaned the lack of emphasis and credit to female artists like Smith, or Lady Frieda Harris, without whom the tarot theories of famous (male) occultists like A.E. Waite or Aleister Crowley would have remained in books, and largely unexamined by a popular audience. Today, tarot artists are more widely feted and acknowledged as equal partners in the design and creation of new decks, instead of being treated as silent partners, or hired help, by tarot theorists and designers.

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

Top Story: The BBC leads with a story about ritual child-killings in Uganda, saying that the problem may be more widespread than previously thought. At the center of this investigation is former witch-doctor turned anti-sacrifice campaigner Polino Angela, who claims that he himself sacrificed children, including his own son.

When he returned to Uganda he says he was told by those who had initiated him to kill his own son, aged 10. “I deceived my wife and made sure that everyone else had gone away and I was with my child alone. Once he was placed down on the ground, I used a big knife and brought it down like a guillotine.”

That sounds truly horrific, and the BBC rightly asks him if he’s willing to be prosecuted for the 70 people he claims to have killed in his former witch-doctoring life. The answer may (or may not) surprise you.

Asked if he was afraid he might now be prosecuted as a result of confessing to killing 70 people, he said: “I have been to all the churches… and they know me as a warrior in the drive to end witchcraft that involves human sacrifice, so I think that alone should indemnify me and have me exonerated.”

After that quote, I started questioning the validity of the entire article. It isn’t that I don’t believe children aren’t being abducted, abused, and killed in several African nations. There’s of plenty of evidence for that. I also acknowledge that some witch-doctors are indeed killing and mutilating certain children for various reasons. But the following portrait painted by the BBC, with help from Mr. Angela, raises many of my old “Satanic Panic” red flags. How often did we see former “Satanists” who claimed to have participated in murders and kidnappings, yet never bothered turning themselves into the police for one reason or another. There are other flags, a “nationwide network” of witch-doctors, with a “boss” who takes a cut of all the money, for example. To reiterate, I do think children are being harmed, and I think some of those harming children may in fact be witch doctors, but I’m deeply skeptical of some of the claims being raised here. They sound a little too perfect and well-organized to be fully true.

In Other News: New York city councilman, and practicing Theodsman, Dan Halloran, has been enjoying his recent electoral victory at a series of swearing-ins, functions, and parties. Connor Adams Sheets at YourNabe.com brings us an account of Halloran’s January 3rd swearing-in at the Fort Totten Officer’s Club in Bayside.

“The fete was a joyous end to a bitter campaign during which Halloran’s pagan faith was used against him; accusations of racism were cast by the campaign of his Democratic opponent, Kevin Kim; and both camps’ political rhetoric often degenerated into mudslinging. Beginning with the national anthem sung by Bayside cantor Margaret Abel and a rousing performance by a police bagpipe group, the ceremony was filled with humor, back-slapping and enthusiasm about the work Halloran will do for his native district over the next four years. Halloran pledged to uphold during his term the conservative principles he campaigned on by working to reduce taxes and help small business owners and middle-class families.”

Several local Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), and Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), showed up to the event, perhaps signaling an openness to bipartisan cooperation from both sides. We will, of course, be watching his political career with interest in the coming four years.

Want another perspective on “Avatar”? I hope that answer is “yes”, because here is author and techgnostic Erik Davis weighing in, saying that perhaps the film is more “ayahuasca lite” than “noble savage mysticism”.

“OK, maybe I am the one smoking something. But if there is an aya-Avatar connection, it would explain one crucial way in which the film differs from conventional “noble savage” mysticism. Rather than ground the Na’vi’s grooviness in their folklore or spiritual purity, the film instead presents the vision of a direct and material communications link with the plant mind. Which means that Eyra does not have to be believed—she can be experienced. After the temporary fusion with the Tree of Souls that fails to prevent her death, Weaver’s chain-smoking left-brain doctor happily confirms Ewya’s existence. Like the Vine of Souls now wending its way through the developed world, the Tree of Souls becomes a kind of bio-mystical media, a visionary communications matrix that uplinks the souls of the dead and the network mind of the ecosphere itself.”

So perhaps “Avatar” isn’t so much about pagan pantheism, but instead about communicating with the “plant mind”?  Then again, perhaps the film is whatever people want it to be. Different meanings for different minds. Wouldn’t that mean it’s great art? Perhaps the clunky dialog and trite plot are merely there as a prop for a mystical experience?

For those of you awaiting the “Lords of Chaos” movie adaptation, starring teen heartthrob Jackson Rathbone as Varg Vikernes, it looks like plans have changed. Rathbone is out due to “scheduling conflicts”, the production time-table has been shifted, and the plot of the film may be getting an overhaul. That last tidbit of news coming from Vikernes himself.

“Now, they are apparently basing the story of this movie not on my story, but on the ‘Lords Of Chaos’ story. Unfortunately the ‘Lords Of Chaos’ story is not only nonsense; incoherent and utterly contradictive, but it is also very lacking in information regarding the lives and traits of the individuals to be included as characters in the movie. One could easily think that this would make it impossible for anybody to make a movie based on this book, but of course if you simply fill in the holes yourself…”

With the movie seemingly in chaos, will they proceed? Will they pull a “Velvet Goldmine” and fictionalize the story to avoid more problems with the living-breathing subjects they want to tell a story about? Will the film get stuck in development hell? Your guess is as good as mine at this point.

In a final note, the Indian Express reports on a relatively new development, girls publicly performing Vedic prayer-chants, something that has been considered taboo for many Indians.

“Eight all-girl teams lined up on a foggy Delhi morning, raised their faces towards the sun and chanted Vedic suktas (prayers). In four minutes each, they breached with ease barriers that most Indian women are still not allowed to approach. The Vedic chanting event was part of the three-day Inter-School Value Festival held at the Sri Satya Sai Vidya Vihar Girls’ Public School, Kalkaji. Eight of 11 Sri Satya Sai Schools in North India are taking part in the event that began on Tuesday. “Vedic chanting by women was a social taboo in India, but things have started improving. In many parts of the country, women chanting suktas are still frowned upon,” said one of the judges at the competition, requesting anonymity.”

Let’s hear it for the breaking down of outmoded barriers, and for the freedom of women to publicly praise the goddesses, gods, and elements, of their homeland.

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

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 20, 2009 — 4 Comments
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My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

It seems like a given nowadays that if some dead animals turn up, practitioners of Santeria or Vodou will get blamed by a police officer, animal shelter spokesman, or speculative/lazy/bored journalist, even though most of these cases bear little resemblance to the actual religious practices of African diasporic faiths (and it usually ends up being teenagers). Journalistic coverage of these animal killings, and the assumed religious angle, has gotten so bad that press watch-dog blog Get Religion has started asking for some needed clarification.

“Say what? Let’s read that quote again, the one in which it is claimed that the number of ritual animal sacrifices spike at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.”what in the world are these words supposed to mean? Are we to believe that there is a wave of beheaded animal corpses because of (a) the arrival of Advent/Nativity Lent, (b) approaching observances of Hanukkah, (c) Kwanzaa festivities, (d) some alleged connection to Solstice? Is the goal to link this to voodoo or something? But before you go there, please note that the story says absolutely nothing that would point toward Santeria and, even if it did, there is no discussion of whether these sacrifices in any way fit patterns of worship in that tradition. You see, it’s wrong for journalists to say, “Behold, beheaded animals. Those Santeria people are at it again.” That’s too simplistic. So let me ask the obvious question and ask readers to weigh in: Precisely what “high holidays” are we supposed to assume are being discussed here? I honestly do not have a clue. What does this strange sentence mean? Just asking.”

The quote referenced above, from an AP story, and left unexamined, is from another representative of an animal cruelty center, making me wonder what kind of workshops on ritual killings (or horror movies) these people are attending. I’m very glad to see the issue of the horrible reporting concerning mysterious animal deaths and their alleged connection to Santeria or Vodou is being picked up on by more religion-news watchers. Maybe now we can finally inch away from pure sensationalism whenever a dead animal turns up.

Over at the Times, Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard visits a famous Clootie well near he village of Munlochy and wonders if the practice of tying rags to branches for healing really is an ancient pagan custom.

“The notice nearby, put up by the Scottish Forestry Commission (for like most shrines it’s a tourist attraction too), claims that this tradition goes back to pre-Christian times, and is a reflection of the power of water in pagan Celtic religion. It is, in other words, an amazing survival across the millennia. I found myself thnking that this was really rather hard to believe. If most other customs are invented in the nineteenth century, then why nt this pagan one too. How far back does it really go, in this form. Does anyone have any real hard evidence?”

I’ll leave it to my Celtic reconstructionist readers to look into the matter and let me (and Mary) know. While we’re on the subject of Ms. Beard’s skeptical nature, she also takes aim at the theory that ancient Greek temples were deliberately built to face the rising Sun. I’ll leave it to my Hellenic Pagan readers to weigh in on that one (I’m quite the delegator today).

Author and techgnostic Erik Davis has posted an essay adapted from the introduction to the new photography collection “Tribal Revival” that deals with the West coast neotribal festival culture.

“Every summer, tens of thousands of participants descend upon dozens of festivals and gatherings, great and small, that occur on the West Coast of North America: Shambhala, Oracle, Moontribe, Lightning in a Bottle. The names of these clans and crews are legion: hippies, ravers, pagans, crusties, free spirits, burners, seekers, travelers, eco-warriors. They gather together to dance, to escape, to hold ritual, and to craft a visionary culture based on community, creative self-expression, and a celebratory earth wisdom. Labels are always dangerous, but an honest name for the scene is neotribal. These are the new tribes, recreating and reinventing patterns of organic culture that are inspired by the premodern past but designed for a high-tech planet hurtling through a period of unprecedented global change.”

Something of a neotribal himself, Davis waxes Utopian about the the “festival [as] foundation of world renewal”, and the “earthy communion” these interweaving groups partake in. Whether this subcultural phenomenon will truly equip us for an uncertain future remains to be seen, but I’m certainly open to there being more festival, “feral joy”, and liminality in our lives.

Turning briefly to pop-culture, the io9 blog has a clip from the upcoming Percy Jackson movie “The Lightning Thief” featuring Uma Thurman as Medusa. I’ve written about the pagan-ness of Percy Jackson previously, which follows the adventures of young Greek demigods. “The Lightning Thief” is due out in February. Meanwhile, the highly literate/geeky indie rock band The Decemberists is putting out a full-length animated film of their recent myth-drenched pagan-y concept album “The Hazards of Love”.

“…next month, Colin Meloy and co. will push The Hazards of Love to full-on The Wall status, releasing the album as a full-length video. Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized premiered at a show in Los Angeles on October 19, and on December 1, it’ll be available exclusively via iTunes. Filmmakers Guilherme Marcondes, Julia Pott, Peter Sluszka and Santa Maria created animations to accompany individual sections of music from the album.”

That trailer looks pretty cool/trippy. If you want to acquaint yourself with the music before considering the movie, you can download it at Amazon.com (they also have it in vinyl for those that want to kick-it old-school).

In a final note, no matter how much I deplore the idea of sparkly vampires, if Vatican spokesmen and evangelical anti-occult book-peddlers don’t knock it off soon, I’ll have to see the darn things just to spite them.

“Monsignor Franco Perazzolo, of the Pontifical Council of Culture, said: ‘Men and women are transformed with horrible masks and it is once again that age-old trick or ideal formula of using extremes to make an impact at the box office. This film is nothing more than a moral vacuum with a deviant message and as such should be of concern.’ ”

Man, if sparkly celibate-till-marriage Mormon vampires are a “moral vacuum” I’d hate to hear what he thinks of “True Blood”.

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

The Marin Independent Journal reports that Jo Carson’s documentary film “Dancing With Gaia” has finally been completed and will be shown at the Fairfax Film Festival.

“An exploration of earth-based spirituality shot at sacred sites around the world, including Marin, the film will be shown for the first time at 2 p.m. April 5, a highlight of the 10th annual Fairfax Film Festival. A former Lucasfilm camera operator now working as nurse at Marin General Hospital, Carson traveled throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and the United States, filming the sacred sites of ancient earth-centered religions. She interviewed 15 visionaries along the way.It’s taken 20 years, but Jo Carson’s documentary, “Dancing with Gaia,” is at long last finished and ready for its world premiere.”

The film was inspired by Feraferia co-founder Fred Adams (who is also featured in the film), and features interviews with Pagan luminaries like Monica Sjoo, Cerridwen Fallingstar, and Kathy Jones. For those who can’t make it to a film festival showing, Carson says that there will be a DVD release out soon. Documentaries featuring Pagans are rare enough that I very much look forward to seeing this.

Did any of you catch the 200th episode of “CSI” last night? If so you were treated to an exorcist-haunted take (thanks to direction by William Friedkin) on Santeria (or was it Voodoo, the show is a bit hazy on that front) that manages to imply that the loa/orisha Ogun is some sort of evil demon (complete with subliminal Pazuzu-esque demon-head flashes) and paints adherents to Afro-Caribbean religions as wholly alien and apart from “normal” life.

“There was a piece of white leather in her hand with traces of powdered Datura on it, which was also in Silvia’s system. It’s a powerful hallucinogen that is reportedly used in Santeria voodoo rituals to speak with the dead. Brass and Nick check out local Datura dealers and come across some voodoo chanting with bongos and shrieking and possibly a couple seizures. There is some voodoo priest guy hauled in for questioning, but nothing ever comes of it. Weird  … When brought in, [the killer] still claims his innocence. Until his voice gets low and deep and he blames it on a Voodoo God. Ray twists his arm up, then leaves the room and punches a wall …”

Really awful. Some truly exploitative stuff here. Not a single attempt to paint the killers actions as completely outside the norm for African diasporic faiths, or that “Ogun” is simply a manifestation of his mental illness. In fact, there isn’t really any exposition concerning Santeria at all. It all exists as a prop for Ray Langston (Laurence Fishburne) to get upset and punch things.

I haven’t been keeping track, so I’m not sure when this happened, but Pagan author A.J. Drew has closed down his web sites, started a goat farm, and is selling his most popular Internet addresses for 10,000 dollars.

There have been and still are plans to incorporate PaganNation.com into community software A.J. Drew began several years. However, maintaining this site is beyond our capabilities at this time, the software is not yet ready for release, and the obligations generated when his business was destroyed and the convention failed are pressing. He would very much like to conclude his former life without those obligations. In an effort to meet those obligations: PaganNation.com, WitchesBall.com, and TheRealWitchesBall.com Are for sale as a package: $10,000.00. Should a sale not take place prior to the launch of our software, PaganNation.com will return in a much improved format.

I’m not sure who would be willing to pay that much for 3 domain names (nor do they provide contact information for interested buyers), but who knows? Perhaps there is someone out there with deep pockets who covets “TheRealWitchesBall.com”, I couldn’t say. Aimee Drew (A.J.’s wife) also briefly explains her husband’s 2006 electrocution accident, and the subsequent deterioration of their previous life. It isn’t known if this is a permanent retirement from active participation with the larger Pagan community, or simply a step back to regroup, whatever the situation I wish them peace.

Author and “Techgnostic” Erik Davis shares his introduction to the new book “Mushroom Magick: A Visionary Field Guide” where he ponders the enduring myth of “shrooms” as a precursor to religion.

“…appearances can deceive. Despite the fact that Psilocybe spores carpet-bombed wide swaths of our planet millennia ago, there is little hard evidence for psychedelic mushroom use in traditional societies—even among groups that consume other mind-expanding plants and brews. Along with Mesoamerica, where royal weddings were capped with mushroom-fueled dance parties, the only other bulls-eye is Siberia, where shamans (and ordinary folks) consumed Amanita muscaria, the non-psilocybin-containing fungus whose psychoactive alkaloids were also passed around through the quaffing of urine. In Europe, there is scant suggestion of mushroom use, despite the ubiquity of several species. Solidly documented cases of probable Psilocybe intoxication begin in the eighteenth century, and they suggest that these accidental shroomers discovered nothing particularly cosmic in their trips—although some did get the giggles. Nonetheless, a number of authors insist that a hidden mushroom cult of fungal gnosis, rooted in Neolithic shamanism, has been passed down secretly.”

Like many myths that gained popularity in the 1960s, the European “mushroom cult” has obtained a reality of its own, with thousands using the fungus both recreationally and for sacred purposes.

In a final note, The Sun interviews Colin Meloy of The Decemberists about their new concept album “The Hazards of Love”, and how folk, metal, and prog-rock are linked together through a shared love of myth and mysticism.

“Metal and folk share a similar fascination with mythology, mysticism, pre-Christian stuff, paganism. Led Zeppelin are the most obvious bridge between the folk revival and classic metal. But Black Sabbath had quite a bit of that with Fairies Wear Boots etc.”

Considering The Decemberists’ new album features “a shape-shifting forest dweller” and a “jealous forest queen”, it might just appeal to fans of myth-drenched pagan-friendly music.

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