Archives For Fantasy

If you are a Pagan or occult practitioner of a certain age, the word “Vertigo” brings up certain associations. A speciality line of comic books launched by DC Comics in 1993, Vertigo comics focused heavily on mythic, occult, psychedelic, and magical themes, introducing American audiences to rising talents like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Dave McKean. Inspired by the earlier 1980s work of writers like Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, Vertigo created a new niche of “adult” comics that drew many people, myself included, back to reading comic books. I distinctly remember happening upon a write-up of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” in The Monthly Aspectarian of all places, which led me back to a comic book store for the first time in years. For me, and for many of my peers, Vertigo gave a needed dose of youth, experimentation, and anarchic cool to a Pagan/magical subculture that was still trying to adjust to a sudden boom in popularity. A lot of attention is paid The Craft and Charmed as things that brought young people to Paganism in the 1990s, but for a certain segment of Generation X, Vertigo was the pop-culture doorway of choice (they even released a tarot deck).

vertigo_logo

Now, 20 years later, and after many were questioning if the line’s time was over, DC Comics has announced six new Vertigo titles debuting this Fall, headlined by a new Neil Gaiman-penned Sandman story.

“Superheroes are the lifeblood of the comic book industry and have proved to be a big draw at the box office. But Vertigo, whose slate includes fantasy, horror and speculative fiction outside of the publisher’s mainstream lineup, has had difficulty building an audience and developing new properties. DC is hoping to change Vertigo’s fortune this fall with six new series premiering from October to December. The most anticipated project, “The Sandman: Overture,” a mini-series by Neil Gaiman, will begin on Oct. 30.”

witchinghour_NYTMost importantly for readers here, is that the bulk of the six new titles have mythic, Pagan, and occult themes. Most notably: “Hinterkind,” “Coffin Hill,” and the anthology one-shot “The Witching Hour.”

  • HINTERKIND – Decades after “The Blight” all but wiped out the human race, Mother Nature is taking back what’s hers and she’s not alone … all the creatures of myth and legend have returned and they’re not happy. After her grandfather disappears, Prosper Monday must leave the security and seclusion of her Central Park village to venture into the wilds to find him, unaware of how much the world has changed. An epic fantasy adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world, HINTERKIND is written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Francesco Trifogli, and debuts this October.
  • COFFIN HILL – When she was 15, Eve Coffin summoned a darkness that had been buried since the Salem Witch Trials. Now Eve’s back to harness the evil that destroyed her friends and is slowly taking over the sleepy town of Coffin Hill. This is a series full of magic, madness and murder via a twisted family of New Englanders. Arriving in stores this October, COFFIN HILL combines the talents of artist Inaki Miranda (FAIREST: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM) with writer Caitlin Kittredge, a young, dark fantasy author whose writing includes the Nocturne City, the Black London, and the Iron Codex series of novels – which include the recently published titles Dark Days and The Mirrored Shard.
  • THE WITCHING HOUR – Just in time for Halloween, this anthology-style one-shot collects short stories exploring witchcraft written and drawn by some of the most talented veterans and newcomers in the business – including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Cliff Chiang, Lauren Beukes, Emily Carroll, Matthew Sturges, Shawn McManus, Tula Lotay and many more.
Sandman art by JH Williams III

Sandman art by JH Williams III

However, what will most likely draw most of us back to the shops (or the comiXology app I suppose) will be “The Sandman: Overture,” written by the now very famous Neil Gaiman, and drawn by the hugely talented J.H. Williams III, who created the amazing art for Alan Moore’s “Promethea.”

“The most peculiar thing for me about returning to ‘Sandman’ is how familiar it all feels,” Mr. Gaiman said. What is new, however, is the level of attention. “When I was writing ‘Sandman’ from 1987 to 1996, I never had the feeling at any point that approximately 50 million people were looking over my shoulder scrutinizing ever word.” (Mr. Gaiman has about two million followers on Twitter.)

For the six-issue “The Sandman: Overture,” Mr. Gaiman has been paired with J.H. Williams III, an illustrator known for his moody imagery and innovative page layouts. “They are the most beautiful pages I have ever seen in periodical comics,” Mr. Gaiman said. “I ask him to do the impossible, and he gives me back more than I asked for.”

This big new push for Vertigo comes at a time when comic book super-heroes are seen by many as blockbuster movie (and television) properties, and the innovation, strangeness, darkness, and fantasy tropes of Vertigo has been pushed to the margins. Often finding homes at smaller publishers who specialize in giving creators more control and ownership (Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent “Saga” being one notable example). However, perhaps with the new rise of adult-oriented fantasy breaking big with HBO cable television shows like “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman-created “American Gods” series, DC Comics realizes that developing and nurturing dark, strange, and mythic fantasy might be good for their bottom line after all.

With this return of fantasy, of mythic beings and occult themes, of The Sandman himself, will it also oversee an influx of new fans? Or is this simply DC catering to a maturing fan-base? Whatever the impetus, I look forward to this new wave of Vertigo comics, and hope they can live up to that line’s past great heights.

[While I like to keep something of a firewall between my work at The Wild Hunt, and my job at Mythic Events, the folks who put on Faerieworlds in Eugene, and the FaerieCons in Seattle and Baltimore, I felt that in this case an exception was in order. Faerieworlds, while not explicitly Pagan, is steeped in the same mythic, transformational, energy you'd find at any number of festivals marketed to our community. This year, we are immensely proud to have recent Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Donovan headlining, and Robert Gould, a co-owner and Producer of Faerieworlds, has written an eloquent appreciation exploring why this artist fits so well into the ethos our event inhabits. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and I felt that many of you would as well.]

“Why Donovan?” is a question we have been asked since we announced his landmark appearance at our event in Eugene, OR on July 29th, several months ago.

A master of the poetic evocation of place, character and emotion, Donovan is, first and foremost a storyteller in the bardic tradition. Tales of love, longing loss, rapture, adventure, crisis, mystics, heroes, heroines and above all, devotion fill his songbook. Tactile and sensual, these stories have deep roots in mythic and folkloric tales of the Land and the cultural, often timeless challenges faced by humanity within our global community.

Like any great artist, Donovan sees and uses words and music as symbols for ideas and emotions; rarely are his expressions fixed or overtly literal. He seeks and showcases the inherent poetry within words and the syllabic rhythms they contain as best evidenced in “Wear You Love Like Heaven.” Melodies often flow over a drone of instrument or voice, serving as an inner mantra for the expression of the lyric. He has a respect for and appreciation of the importance of poignant, delicate and fragile musical moments that produce enormous emotional impact: within even in his most dramatic songs there is a heart of suspended stillness. Such moments become fixed in time and memory and produce instantaneous, visceral recall when heard even decades later.

His gentle, often whispered voice with its warm, Northern burr creates a seductive intimacy that quietly commands attention. The master of the sideways glance, Donovan rarely addresses any subject directly; all is liquid, evolving, emerging. His lyrics do not offer obvious observations or insights, they are as if observed in a mirror, tempered by a poetic symbol or provocative metaphor. His music is welcoming and seductive, accounting in part for the exceptional number of artists he has inspired or influenced. His unique finger style method alone has spawned a celebrated lineage of the finest guitar players of our time.

The most common and unifying quality of great art is ambiguity: it’s ability to be experienced and interpreted by people of any gender, age, culture or time. Donovan’s music shares this rare, open quality: it is most often simple in form and melody but at the same time elusive and ephemeral. He hangs his art in the air and subjects it to the harmonizing influence of the elements. Never dogmatic, he addresses social issues as a poet, not as a politician and avoids literal conversations about power within his art.

Since the beginning, Donovan’s spiritual practice has been at the heart of his physical, emotional and spiritual life. He joins George Harrison as a pioneer and champion of introducing and popularizing the philosophies and music of the East to the West during the 60s and 70s and his presence, influence and support lies at the foundation of much of what we call alternative culture today. His work has transcended being solely linked to two world-shifting decades because his music, poetry and the subjects of his art are timeless.

In a rampant consumer and celebrity obsessed culture that is addicted to the empty calories of entraining, metronomic beats and autotuned robo-voices, Donovan’s music reminds us of the transcendent power of a compelling melody and a poetically crafted lyric to touch the human heart and soul and bring Meaning, if only for a moment, to our all too temporal lives, To accomplish this, Donovan sources his art from something greater than himself. It is evident that his lifetime practice of meditation has produced an enormous bounty. For Donovan, life, art and music are a ceremony of innocence and a sacrament of devotion. He lives and creates today in joyful celebration of and in service to Spirit and Beauty, a wise and accomplished artist and poet humbled before the greatness and vastness of the Universe to which he knows he shall return.

Simply put: Donovan is an artist very much of our time and completely embodies the intention, heart and spirit of Faerieworlds. Donovan has always been and remains to this day, an artist for the ages.

[I'd like to thank Robert Gould for sharing this with us. Donovan performs at Faerieworlds, the music and arts festival in Eugene, OR, on July 29, 2012. For more information, visit: www.faerieworlds.com. Stay tuned, because I may soon have an exclusive interview with Donovan to share, one that I think many Pagans will find interesting.]

There’s an old chestnut in our community that goes something like this: If Christians are “people of the book,” then Pagans are people of the library. In short, we love books; reading them, writing them, arguing about them, and listing them (we’re a highly educated and literate bunch). Recently the Huffington Post posted a reader-recommended list of 27 essential Pagan texts which almost instantly set off a chain-reaction within our online communities. I saw several complaints as to what was omitted, links to the piece from authors who were included, and alternate lists from folks like Star Foster and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus.

“And, of course, I’m very willing to say and am totally non-self-deluded about the fact that the list of thirty-one books to follow here is very subjective, and quite biased as well because it has four books that I wrote solely, and at least one other that I contributed to in some fashion. What can you do? The books I’ve written have been books I rather wish existed when I got into this–now they do exist, and they’re meant to help people who want to pursue Antinoan devotion, so I challenge anyone who thinks they should not be included to suggest something that will do the job equally well, if not better, at this point. Plus, some books by friends and/or co-religionists of mine also make the list because they’re just that damn good, in my opinion.”

Anyone who’s known Pagans for any length of time shouldn’t be surprised by this. An integral part of just about every Pagan website in the early days was the recommended reading list. Everyone had additions, or personal tweaks, or newer works, or what they felt was an exhaustive overview of their particular area of expertise. You could say that recommended reading lists are an integral part of how we came to be. In his history of modern Paganism in America, “Her Hidden Children,” Chas Clifton spends quite a bit of time explaining how important reading books has been to our development.

“At the end of the 1970s, in her list of reasons why respondents to her Green Egg questionnaire became Pagans, Margot Adler lists seeking beauty and imagination, personal growth, the freedom of ‘religion without the middleman,’ and environmental and feminist concerns, but also bookishness: “In particular, most of the Midwesterners said flatly that the wide dissemination of strange and fascinating books had been the main factor in creating a Neo-Pagan resurgence … almost all [Neo-Pagans regardless of educational level] are avid readers.” Adler’s research was conducted in the late 1970s, but her conclusion remains appropriate.”

So, in short, books are important to us. Our mutual love of books may be one of the few things that we all mostly agree on, even if we can’t all agree on the various titles. Anyone who wants to understand modern Pagans, and modern Paganism as a religious movement, will need to spend a lot of time reading what we read (and what we write). Having said all that, I now feel almost contractually obligated to provide you with a list of my own. Since I don’t really feel like trying to present a “top ten most important books all Pagans should read” kind of list, I thought I’d provide you with something more personal.

Jason’s Ten Favorite Fiction Titles that Have Pagan Themes and He Found Personally Inspiring.

One current that I don’t think gets addressed enough in our history is how much fiction titles played a role in our development. There are obvious instances like Robert Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” and the Church of All Worlds, or Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” and the inspirational role it played within Reclaiming and Paganism as a whole in the mid-1990s, but it goes far deeper than that. Paganism, at some level, has always relied on story. From Homer’s epics to Lucius Apuleius’ “The Golden Asse” to Margaret St. Clair’s “Sign of the Labrys” (a novel that ended up with her being initiated by Raymond Buckland). So here are ten novels that struck a chord with me, and maybe some of them struck a chord with you as well.

  • John Ford’s “The Dragon Waiting : A Masque of History”:
  • An early alternate history novel, first published in 1983, it supposes a world where Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus (aka “Julian the Apostate”) did not fail in turning the Christian tide, creating a world where paganism is the norm, and Christianity an extremist sect existing on the margins. However, instead of making this shift the focus on the novel, Ford tells the tale of a group of adventurers who get caught up in saving Richard III’s throne in England. The characters don’t self-consciously comment on how different things are, instead they live and breath in a very pagan England, one where the Roman Empire never fell. It’s the little details that stick with you.

  • Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon”: This is probably the one that everyone else has already read, and this novel has been feted (and criticized) so many times that it seems redundant to mention it here. Still, this tale of the Arthurian mythos through the eyes of its women is a blockbuster for a reason. I went through a phase in my earlier years where I read and reread this, to the point where I don’t think I could ever do so again. In today’s light, where historical authenticity is highly prized, it seems flawed (Atlantis?) and dated (Did ancient Britons really practice what amounted to Wicca?) but Bradley was an expert teller of stories and it was hard to not get caught up in the melodrama.
  • Stewart Farrar’s “Omega: A Novel of Eco-Magic”: Yes, it’s that Stewart Farrar, with a 1980 novel from the”Witches save the world genre.” Set in the far future of around seven years ago, it tells a tale of apocalypse brought about by an alternative energy source, a gas that turns people into insane zombies, and a rag-tag group of Witches who fight a Satanic coven, and a corrupt splinter government to win the future. Really, this book has it all, including some inadvertent comedy when guesses at what modern Paganism will look like after the year 2000 are made. I really hope somebody puts this back into print.
  • Katherine Kurtz’s “Lammas Night”: Published in the early 80s (I’m sensing a trend.), and out-of-print for years, this was another “Witches save the world” book. This time it’s up to England’s Witches and occultists to save their land from an invasion by Hitler and his evil magical coven. Pulpy and full of high-adventure, Kurtz knows her way around writing about ritual magic, and weaves in the theories of Margaret Murray and divine kingship in a way that’s compelling. I have no idea why this hasn’t been put back into print, or made into a movie. For a contemporary (and darker) take on this same theme, check out “Bitter Seeds” by Ian Tregillis, where Warlocks fight Nazi mutants.
  • Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles (“The Winter King”“Enemy of God”“Excalibur”): Historical novelist Bernard Cornwell sinks his teeth into King Arthur, placing him into a real, dirty, and brutal 5th century Britain. Told in flashback by a fictionalized Saint Derfel, Cornwell shows both the beauty, and brutality, of pre-Christian religion (and Christianity is almost always found wanting in comparison). He does his best to include everything while still keeping things as historically plausible as possible. His Merlin is a real treat, as is his treatment of Druid magic in general.
  • Margaret Mahy’s “The Changeover”: This may be one of the first YA novels to deal with Witches in a purely positive light, and is interesting for the way it talks about magical initiation as a metaphor for becoming an adult and taking responsibility. A little gem of a novel.
  • Gore Vidal’s “Julian: A Novel”: Speaking of Flavius Claudius Julianus Augustus, Vidal takes on the work of rehabilitating the character of the much-maligned “apostate,” portraying him as, if not a hero, then an intellectually curious man well ahead of his time. This is a rich novel that takes the time to establish what life and religion must have been like for Julian, and how his embrace of paganism shook the world (or at least parts of the world). It also provides Vidal plenty of chances to critique Christianity, which is done with great gusto and at regular intervals. I great way to start your journey learning about this oft-revered figure within modern Paganism.
  • Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Finnovar Tapestry (“The Summer Tree”“The Wandering Fire”“The Darkest Road”): Kay’s tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien is a fantasy epic that is explicitly pagan in its telling. One of the only “regular people get sucked into a fantasy world” series that I truly enjoy, and one that is truly moving. Kay dreams of a truer world, in a tapestry of worlds, one where gods and goddesses still walk the earth, interweaving  them with the Arthurian mythos in a way that feels engaging. It subverts the “ordinary men and women learn what truly matters” trope by upping the stakes, and drastically changing the characters by the third book. If you’re a fan of fantasy, or of Celtic mythology, you’ll love this.
  • Robert Grave’s “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God”: It’s hard to think of these novels today without thinking of the epic British television series, but Grave’s tale of the Julio-Claudian dynasty seen through the eyes of stuttering, limping, drooling Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus is a masterwork. Thought a fool, but canny and smart enough to survive and grow old in an age of executions and upheavals, Claudius narrates an epic tragedy about family, principles, and duty. These books are every bit as entertaining as the show, and if Graves played with history a bit, well, that’s the prerogative of novelists. These are landmark modern novels of the ancient Roman period.
  • Jeanette Winterson’s “Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles”: Let’s end with something published rather recently, shall we? Winterson plays with myth, twisting and turning the tale of Atlas and Heracles, finding new and interesting ways to interact and engage with the story. She finds how these tales fit into our own lives, finding raw, personal, parts of ourselves in the tales of gods, titans, and heroes. Poetic, playful, and moving, she reminds us that the tales pagans told each other in times long past still matter, still live, still breathe.

That’s ten! As a bonus, let me endorse the entire oeuvre of Charles de Lint. If you’ve never read anything by him, start with “The Very Best of Charles de Lint” and work your way out from there. Also, I know I didn’t recommend Gaiman’s “American Gods,” but I’m sure someone else will bring it up in the comments. Feel free to share your favorite Pagan-themed or inspirational novels in the comments.

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

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

It’s a rare and wonderful think to have a major Pagan-friendly event happening in your figurative backyard. Living in Eugene, Oregon (home of the Slug Queen) I’m lucky enough to attend the yearly Faerieworlds festival during the Summer and witness amazing Pagan (and Pagan-friendly) bands like Faun, S.J. Tucker, Woodland, and Stellamara play in a friendly, colorful, and creative atmosphere. This year, in addition to the now-traditional Summer festival, they are holding a Harvest event taking place over this weekend. What’s interesting is that while Faerieworlds is not explicitly Pagan, and draws individuals from all sorts of backgrounds who appreciate a weekend of fantasy, music, art, and skilled artisans, the openness and embrace of Pagan culture can’t be missed by anyone whose eyes are open to it. Take, for example, the community altar built in front of the main stage at every Faerieworlds.

Faerieworlds communal altar.

Faerieworlds communal altar.

Throughout the day people will add offerings to it, while others will offer prayers to their respective gods and goddesses, and it is an integral part of the experience at Faerieworlds. In addition, as I pointed out at the beginning of this post, a variety of Pagan bands and musicians play here, and last night I got to witness the birth of a new one. Treguenda, a group made up from members of Woodland and cellist/composer Adam Hurst, who performed live for the first time last night.

Treguenda

Treguenda

With a sound very close to that of Woodland’s (for obvious reasons) but enhanced with Hurst’s cello and added electronic elements, Treguenda performed a raft of songs about Pagan festivals, the gods, and a special composition dedicated to Aradia. The audience, Pagan and non-Pagan alike, swooped, danced, cavorted, and enjoyed themselves as the night grew darker (some, no doubt, anticipating that evening’s closing act Delhi 2 Dublin). I’m very much looking forward to hearing recorded material from them.

Events like Faerieworlds tap into a deep cultural hunger for romanticism, for a re-enchantment of the world that has long been denied by both secular and religious institutions in the West. I don’t think the recent fantasy boom is happening in a vacuum, nor do I think it is any coincidence that a growing number of people are opting out of traditional forms of religion altogether while still holding onto religious beliefs. While Faerieworlds, or Burning Man for that matter, aren’t explicitly “Pagan” they tap into a primal need for festival, for gathering to honor the numinous, the changing seasons, each other, and our own creativity. I think that these events, especially as we weather hard times, will continue to grow in importance. There is a vital roots-up form of small-p “paganism” emerging here that is very compatible with our more formal adoption of Pagan religion.

Tonight, I’m looking forward to seeing Stellamara and Faun perform this evening on the main stage. I was lucky enough to interview Oliver Pade of Faun yesterday, to talk about their work, performing in the United States, Paganism in Europe, the intersections of Goth and Pagan music, and future plans. You’ll be able to hear that interview in tomorrow’s A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast, so stay tuned, and if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, it’s still not too late to participate!

The other day I was at my local used bookstore and found an out-of-print edition of Rosemary Edghill’s “Book of Moons,” part of a trilogy of mysteries involving a Wiccan protagonist and a number of lightly-fictionalized real-life Pagans. While not fantasy in the slightest, as Wiccan and Pagan spells in the novels “work” much as they do in the real world, I can only imagine that these books, if released today, would benefit greatly from the current boom in fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and genre fiction in general. The old saw states that escapist entertainment thrives during tough economic times, and with some saying that were already in, or about to be in, a new depression, something to take our collective minds off the increasingly grim news is probably one of the few safe investments you can make.

Whether its recent rise is due to growing economic unrest, or if we are simply witnessing a tipping point after years of slow and steady growth, I can’t remember a time when mainstream entertainment was so flooded with fantasy. Some have speculated that this current boom is simply a bubble, but I think there’s a far larger shift at play here, as evidenced by the growing number of literary authors dipping their toe into genre work. This isn’t surprising since fantasy and science fiction, as a genre, now eclipses literary fiction, and has claimed a far bigger stake on the bestseller lists.

“In the face of declining print sales, major publishers are increasingly seeking crossover hits that break genre molds and resonate with a broad swath of readers. Fantasy and science fiction made up 10% of adult fiction sales last year, compared with 7% for literary fiction, according to a survey by book industry analyst Bowker. In 2010, 358 fantasy titles hit the bestseller list, up from 160 in 2006, according to a study by Stuart Johnson & Associates and Simba Information, which track books sales.”

I’ve been a fan of fantasy novels since I was a teenager, and am used to selections being much smaller, and my choices limited. Genre works were always relegated to the back, separated from the “regular” fiction that deserved respect and proper consideration from book reviewers in newspapers. While fantasy authors like Ursula K. Le Guin have long argued that genre fiction be taken seriously, it seemingly took a great recession, the partial collapse of the bookselling market, and the massive success of fantasy-oriented media franchises like Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, and The Southern Vampire Mysteries for it to sink in. In addition, fantasy itself has changed. While there are still many popular “high” (albeit grittier) fantasy works from authors like George R.R. Martin, hybrid genres like urban fantasy, paranormal romance, mythic fiction, steampunk, and gaslamp fantasy, have been ascendant in the last decade. These genres, while fantastical, are often grounded in some form of our “real” world and feature flawed protagonists who seem to take more than few cues from Raymond Chandler. Harry Potter, for all its high fantasy topes, is thoroughly grounded by the fact that the witches and wizards there coexist with humanity in an uneasy balance.

Today, fantasy fans are spoiled for choice. I think I have read more works of fantasy in the last year than I have in the previous five. Most of them are urban fantasies that feature magic colliding with our mundane lives in some manner. Authors like Jim Butcher, Darren Shan, Mark Del Franco, Kate Griffin, Mike Carey, Richard Kadrey, and Patricia Briggs fill a space that was once only occupied by authors like Charles de Lint, Neil Gaiman, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Terri Windling. A growing number of these fantasy novels feature modern Pagans in some capacity, most notably in the works of S.M. Stirling and Charlaine Harris, to name but two popular examples. There’s also a whole lot of Witches popping up in mystery novels nowadays, not to mention the recent crossover sensation that is “A Discovery of Witches” by Deborah Harkness. I can’t but think that the currently widespread popularity of fantasy, the increasing utilization of real-life Pagan religions in fictional works, and the active participation of Pagans in fantasy-oriented subcultures, will have some effect on us.

Now, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t think that fantasy literature converts children (or adults for that matter) to modern Paganism. We should all hearken well to the words of Oberon Zell.

Harry Potter fans aren’t interested in Wizardry, Witchcraft, Magick, an online school, or anything that isn’t specifically and only about the Harry Potter stories and characters. The only successful vendor was the one selling licensed trademark Harry Potter merchandise—such as Hogwarts House patches and regalia, movie replica wands, Harry Potter games and toys—and pointy hats.

So despite the paranoid fears of some, reading about magical beings or fictional Witches (or even fictional Wiccans) won’t necessarily make you or your child want to be one. That said, I do think this could be a wonderful opportunity to start dialogs, engage with people who have negative perceptions of modern Pagan faiths, but like fantasy novels, and use works that mesh the mundane and the magical to provide jumping off points for a better understanding of where fantasy ends and the reality of our religions and practice begin. Because the curious will seek us out, and we should have an educated and positive response to those seekers. Maybe some enterprising group can produce as “so you’ve read [insert novel here] and you’d like to know more” pamphlet that will lead them to good sources.

There’s also the question of if the fantasy boom is a by-product of a decline in traditional religious adherence, and a rise in individualistic spirituality in a time of reenchantment. Perhaps, in addition to looking for some escapist entertainment during tough times, people are also looking for a sense of wonder that has all but fled Western expressions of faith. For those religions that do embrace ideas of magic, a sacred landscape, and an enchanted world, this fantasy boom may also see a new boom in converts to those belief systems. One that could make the “Teen Witch” phenomenon of the 1990s seem quaint by comparison.

Top Story: The Covenant of the Goddess (aka C.O.G.), an international organization of autonomous Wiccan groups and solitaries, has started its first official blog in order to spotlight its extensive interfaith work.

“I am happy to anounce that The Covenant of the Goddess has started a new National Interfaith Representative’s Blog. Four of our Representatives – Don Frew, Rachael Watcher, Rowan Fairgrove, and  youth representative Michelle Mueller will all be attending the Parliament of World Religions next week and reporting back on this blog.  Rachael has already made a perliminary post.”

As stated in the above excerpted press release, COG Interfaith Reports will feature coverage of their participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Its first post, by Rachael Watcher, recounts how C.O.G. sponsored and facilitated the attendance of an Argentinian indigenous practitioner to the Melbourne gathering. In addition, Watcher is also coordinating with the Pagan Newswire Campaign’s Pagans at the Parliament project, and will be web-casting from the Parliament. I urge all of you interested in Pagan interfaith efforts and coverage of the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions to subscribe to their feed, link to the blog, and give them some feedback.

On a personal note, I’m extremely pleased to see C.O.G. take a big step forward in facilitating regular communication with the wider Pagan community. Even though C.O.G. has received attention in several published works over the years, many younger Pagans don’t know the great work this organization does in areas like interfaith, and fighting for equal treatment under the law. I hope this “big step” is just the beginning and that they’ll soon join other Pagan groups and businesses who are utilizing new media opportunities to make contact with our movement’s future.

In Other News: Influential fantasy author Robert Holdstock, best known for his Mythago Wood Cycle novels, passed away yesterday due to complications from an E. Coli infection. Holdstock, along with authors like Ursala Le Guin and Marion Zimmer Bradley helped break fantasy out of Tolkien mimicry, and pushed the genre in new directions.

“His Merlin Codex books are well regarded, but his most significant and lasting work is his Ryhope Wood fantasy series, beginning with the World Fantasy Award-winning Mythago Wood, (1984). This was one of the first post-Tolkien adult fantasy novels to have a contemporary setting. It was, like all Holdstock’s fantasy, deeply rooted in the traditions and botany of his native England, mixing Jungian archetypes with local folklore and a sprinkling of Lovecraft. It’s hard to overstate what a significant book it was—many people in Britain felt as if Mythago Wood was as revolutionary and groundbreaking in fantasy as Neuromancer was in science fiction that same year.”

It almost goes without saying that with the mythic themes Holdstock explored he drew a devoted Pagan audience, and that he also helped shape the “urban fantasy” genre that so readily mixes pagan themes into fictional settings. Our thoughts go out to his partner Sarah, his family, friends, and the many fans who are no doubt shaken by the news.

A story coming out of Uganda proves why laws against “witchcraft” (or any belief) are flawed. While the Pagans in South Africa are concerned that broad applications of such laws may curtail their religious freedoms, traditional indigenous practitioners in Uganda are concerned that malefic magic-workers are using a clause in the 1957 Witchcraft Act to escape prosecution.

“A group of children and traditional healers have petitioned Parliament to amend the Witchcraft Act 1957 to separate witchcraft from genuine traditional medicine. “We request the Government to amend the Witchcraft Act because witchcraft today is being practiced in the name of traditional medicine, which is widely acceptable to some Ugandans,” the petition read. The Act bans all witchcraft-related activities by imposing a life sentence or imprisonment of up to 10 years on anybody who threatens or causes harm, disease or death to others by practicing witchcraft.”

The current Witchcraft Act does not include bona fide spirit worship or the bona fide manufacture, supply or sale of native medicines”, so protesters are asking for a special court to try witchcraft-related cases in order, I infer, to root out the guilty and protect the innocent. However, the minute you set up special “witchcraft courts” to determine who is a “witch” and who is a “traditional practitioner”, you run into all sort of problems. Who will get to decide such things? Won’t such a process be politicized? A emphasis on education and law enforcement (not to mention stabilizing the economy) would seem better bets in addressing this problem, rather than swimming deeper into the murky waters of legislating belief.

In a ceremony on Friday the Collegiate Church, one of the oldest Protestant denominations in America, held a joint ceremony with Lenape tribal representatives to acknowledge and apologize for their part in the massacre and displacement of the tribe.

“We consumed your resources, dehumanized your people and disregarded your culture, along with your dreams, hopes and great love for this land,” the Rev. Robert Chase told descendants from both sides. “With pain, we the Collegiate Church, remember our part in these events.”

While some Natives were a bit skeptical of a reconciliation, both parties ultimately viewed this as a positive step forward in healing a painful joint history. To find out more, there is a web site dedicated to this process called Healing Turtle Island.

In a final note, it seems Heather Graham’s witchy practices, which I mentioned here before, are hitting the news-wires yet again (must be a slow news day). This time the money-quote seems to be her group’s pro-Obama workings.

“We sent Barack Obama positive energies, so that he would become the next president. I always liked magic. Now when I see Obama’s picture in the paper, I feel good.”

I really don’t understand why this is making the celebrity gossip-rounds again. Do people really think Heather Graham’s coven had anything to do with Obama’s victory? Or that Obama personally welcomed Graham’s magical help? Would this story be news-worthy if it was a small Christian prayer group? Maybe there are some folks mad at her pro-public-option television ad?

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.

We start off with two film-related tidbits that might interest my readers. First, Warner Bros. is moving forward with a big-budget production of the Odyssey directed by Jonathan “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning” Liebesman and scripted by Ann “The Chronciles of Narnia” Peacock.

“Warner Bros. has nabbed Ann Peacock’s spec “Odysseus” and set Jonathan Liebesman to direct. Story centers on the Greek lit hero and king of Ithaca who returns to his island after 20 years of fighting the Trojan Wars only to find his kingdom under the brutal occupation of an invading force. Gianni Nunnari (“300”) is producing through his Warners-based Hollywood Gang shingle. Craig Flores exec produces.”

The Warners-backed Hollywood Gang is also producing the Theseus-starring “War of Gods” (and an as-yet untitled sequel to “300″), making ancient Greek legend a hot topic in 2010. Meanwhile, the remake of “Clash of the Titans” (starring Perseus), which is racing “War of Gods” to the theatres, has started filming and you can see some set photos, here. I predicted in the wake of “300″ that we’d see more “sword and sandal” flicks set in a Greco-Roman context, and it looks like the flood has arrived.

Since we’re talking about film and fantasy, you might want to check out a fascinating round of panel discussions by SF Signal that asks about gods and pantheons in fantasy literature.

“In a created fantasy world, gods can proliferate by the hundreds. When building religious systems for fantasies, what are the advantages/disadvantages of inventing pantheons vs. single gods, or having no religious component at all?”

Check out some of the really thoughtful and insightful ruminations on the subject from fantasy luminaries like Marie Brennan, Elizabeth Bear, L.E. Modesitt Jr., and John C. Wright (among others).

Speaking of panelists, Starhawk speaks out against torture at the On Faith site and references the repeated tasering of a Pagan Cluster member and the Burning Times in the process.

“Torture, like a virus, also has a way of spreading. When torture is licensed at the highest levels, it percolates down to every police department and branch of Homeland Security. We may have a black president now, but a black man in this country who is arrested still stands a high chance of being brutalized and beaten. At the protests last summer outside the Republican National Convention, a dear friend of mine was attacked by police at a legal and peaceful rally, thrown to the ground and tasered multiple times. Another young friend was beaten in jail, then marched hooded and shackled through the hospital where he was finally taken for treatment. These are small examples, but they show how a culture of torture, force and bullying takes root and eventually threatens the freedom and safety of us all.”

I’ll ignore the Burning Times references and instead agree that ultimately no good can come from a policy of torture. Most of Starhawk’s fellow panellists seem to agree (except for Chuck Colson). I wonder what they think about the Pew Forum’s recent study linking torture acceptance with increased church attendance.

While I’m on the subject of Pew research, another recent study finds that nearly half of Americans have changed faiths in their lifetime.

“Americans change religious affiliation early and often. In total, about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once during their lives. Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once. These are among the key findings of a new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life. The survey documents the fluidity of religious affiliation in the U.S. and describes in detail the patterns and reasons for change.”

Sadly this data doesn’t go into how many people leave Catholic and Protestant Christianity for “other” religions, but it still gives and interesting snapshot of how fluid religious affiliation in America truly is.

In a final note, the dreaded H1N1 (the virus formerly known as “Swine Flu”) briefly cast its spectre over famed Pagan goth-rock band Inkubus Sukkubus who were in Mexico City for a concert.

“Tony and Candia McKormack went to Mexico City last week to play a gig to promote their band’s new album — which is ironically about the Mexican Day of the Dead. Authorities cancelled the event after the swine flu outbreak and Tony, 48, and Candia, 42, flew back to England on Monday. They began feeling unwell after arriving at Heathrow and have now been ordered to remain inside their home in Kingsholm, Gloucs, along with their two children Leon, 11 and Carmen, four.”

Luckily it turned out to not be H1N1 and everyone is fine. The band’s new album “Viva La Muerte” is shipping now, and all planned gigs are going forward. For more Pagan-related music news, check out the Twitter feed for my A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast.

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

Stardust Trailer

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  March 27, 2007 — 1 Comment

The trailer for the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “Stardust” has been released, and can now be found on YouTube.

With the magical themes and adventures within the land of Faerie, not to mention Gaiman’s already enormous popularity among modern Pagans, I’m sure many of my readers will be looking forward to this one. No doubt you’ll hear more about the film on this blog as news and interviews start to surface.