Archives For metal

[The following is a guest post from Sharon Knight. Sharon Knight is a nationally touring musician in the mythic-Celtic vein, and also front person for gothic-tribal-folk-metal band Pandemonaeon. With her partner Winter and Anaar of Tombo Studio, they produce Hexenfest, a festival dedicated to magick and Paganism in music and the arts. She has a lifelong fascination for the places where magick and the arts intersect. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found at http://www.sharonknight.nethttp://www.pandemonaeon.net.]

San Francisco, DNA Lounge April 17th

There has been an interesting fusion of Paganism and music developing over the last 15+ years, which has recently begun finding its way to American shores. This phenomenon is called Folk Metal and as you can probably guess, it combines folk music styles and instrumentation with hard rock and metal. Folk Metal originated in Europe and in many cases endeavors to revive the ancestral traditions of European Pagan culture. Nature, Paganism, mythology, history, and ancestral homage feature prominently in the lyrical themes of folk metal bands. For my part, I am smitten.

I recently went to see several of these bands perform at the aptly named Paganfest, in San Francisco on Aprl 17th.  Five bands played – Huntress, Hysteria, Alestorm, Arkona, and Turisas. I missed the first two – despite Huntress’s claims that they draw much of their inspiration from witchcraft, I find their take on witchcraft too sensationalistic. However I fully enjoyed the three main acts. Arkona is always outstanding and are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. They describe their music as Slavic Pagan Metal. Founded by a husband and wife team on guitar and vocals, Akona’s power lies in the ferocity of front person Masha Scream, a petite dynamo wrapped in leather and wolf pelts, who brings to mind Joan of Arc and delivers medieval sounding anthems drawn from Russian mythology and folklore. Also, they have a bagpiper.

Alestorm is just plain fun. Not a lot of deep tradition here, but they deliver what they promise – “Bacon Powered Pirate Core”.  What more could you ask for in an evening’s entertainment? Also describing themselves as Scottish Pirate Metal, they sing of the simple things in life – wenching, drinking and questing, with traditional Celtic melodies perfectly suited to the sentiment.

Though I went to Paganfest for Arkona, Turisas stole the show. I jumped up and down for the entirety of their set. Which is saying something, since jumping is not in any way an activity I am compelled to. Looking like something that stepped out of a Mad Max movie, Turisas delivered a sonic assault that was relentless and powerful, yet also melodic, sophisticated, and thoroughly engaging. These lads are here to be bad-ass, make no mistake – they describe their music as Battle Metal. And indeed their songs are tailored to rally the berserker in us all. Their front man (Mathias Nygard) is grandiose and over-the-top, yet somehow doesn’t come across as pretentious, and their lead instrumentalist (Ollie Vanska) is one of the best violinists I’ve heard. Like so many great metal bands, Turisas hails from Finland.

In short, Paganfest was an evening of Viking warriors and battle goddesses, modern day berserkers come to slay us with song instead of swords. It roused the fierce pride of the tribe, and helped to shake off some of the apathy our world is plagued with. This was music fulfilling one of its highest purposes – waking the ancestral songs that sing in our blood, with ancient melodies and tribal rhythms that have lain dormant in our DNA for generations. This music compels us to rise, and fight to preserve what our ancestors died for – a welcome change from the usual trite sentiments in modern music.

Metal isn’t everyone’s thing, and it isn’t the only style of music I like. But I am very excited to see this level of musical discipline applied to Pagan themes, and I wish it happened more often. Our traditions deserve to be represented in the arts, and I hope this is a trend that continues across an ever-increasing range of musical styles and cultures.

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.

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. Before I begin, let me just remind everyone that the Pagan Japan Relief project, an initiative to raise 30,000 dollars for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières is just over 3,000 dollars from its final goal! That the Pagan community has been able to collectively raise nearly 27,000 dollars already is a monumental achievement, but lets do a final push, spread the word, and prove that serious fundraising for worthy causes can happen among our interconnected communities. For more background on this initiative, and why it’s important, check out Peter Dybing’s blog.

Now then, unleash the hounds!

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.

When it comes to politically transgressive art, where does the line get drawn between exploration and endorsement? If you sing about fascists, does it make you a fascist? Does such art empower and fuel extremism? The post-industrial musical genre known as “neofolk” has long dealt with these questions, with many artists having to issue position statements due to past collaborations or friendships with various infamous individuals. The whole issue gets progressively murkier the more individual bands and artists are put under the microscope by music critics and various “antifa” (anti-fascist) activists. Why does this matter to the modern Pagan community? Because there is a significant overlap between neofolk and various Pagan, Heathen, and occult groups, and we should be alert and educated to how these conflicts may affect us.

The reason I’m bringing this up now, is that Rose City Antifascists, the Portland, Oregon chapter of the Anti-Racist Action Network, has put out an alert about the Austrian band Allerseelen (who broadly affiliate themselves with Paganism), who are touring the West Coast and Pacific Northwest this month, and opening for the popular metal band Agalloch on certain dates.

“This December, the Austrian far-Right “post-industrial” and martial music project Allerseelen is set togive a series of performances on the US West Coast. Allerseelen is the project of Gerhard Petak (AKAKadmon and Gerhard Hallstatt) who also incorporates other performers into the act when playing live. Several of the Allerseelen shows are scheduled to take place in larger venues supporting the prominentPortland, Oregon “dark metal” group Agalloch, who will be touring to promote their new album. Thehitching of Allerseelen onto the tour of a larger heavy metal act will provide new outlets for Petak’sextreme-Right messages. Agalloch, the group which Allerseelen will support, is at present crossing overfrom underground cult status to something nearer the mainstream, the group’s latest album even beingpromoted with a write-up and “exclusive first listen” on National Public Radio’s music webpage. It istroubling that the act Agalloch chose to expose to its growing audiences has a long history of far-Rightinvolvement and propaganda, and is attempting to make aspects of fascist discourse acceptable.Agalloch’s decision to further link itself to Petak / Allerseelen by appearing on a new compilation CDreleased by Petak’s label is likewise of concern to anti-fascists and is of similar poor judgment.”

Nathan Carson, owner of the booking agency Nanotear, denies any fascist intentions in putting the tour together, and  claims he’s being harassed by anonymous individuals spurred on by the Rose City Antifascists.

“Anti-fascist bloggers calling me out for booking an Allerseelen tour. I guess they don’t know about my Jewish blood (and big nose). [...] they phoned me from a blocked number at 10:30 this morning to get a statement from me. I refused to be quoted on 6 hours of sleep but told them I was entirely unaware of any fascist connections and that I’d make a personal decision myself after spending a week in the van with Allerseelen (who are also staying at my house.) [...] they’ve posted my private cel # on some sort of site or list. I’m fielding blocked calls from uppity college students that are demanding to know why I’m promoting a fascist band in Portland. When I ask them their names and why they are calling from a blocked #, they invariably hang up. I’m anti-fascist in principle too, of course. But I don’t see a smoking gun or a strong case in this instance.”

So how fascist, or neo-fascist, is Allerseelen and frontman Gerhard “Kadmon” Petak? They cite his admiration of traditionalist philosopher, and Nazi/fascist sympathizer, Julius Evola, his links to European New Right publications, and song lyrics that seem to praise various Nazi figures. All of which seems to make him a politically unsavory individual that I would prefer to avoid, but the report gets murkier when they start digging into his ties with “right wing occultism,” his admiration of Leni Riefenstahl, and connections to figures like musician/publisher Michael Moynihan (who also edits the “radical traditionalist” journal Tyr). As for Petak himself, he claims to have no political motivations (and denies fascist affiliations), something the Rose City Antifascists refute.

“What is the meaning of Petak’s denial of any politics or political motivation? While not referring explicitly to Allerseelen, Anton Shekhovtsov’s article “Apoliteic music: Neo-Folk, Martial Industrial and ‘Metapolitical Fascism’” points to an answer by discussing Evola’s concept of apoliteia as well as European New Right influence in relation to certain sectors of the post-industrial scene. 91 From a stance of apoliteia, Petak is able to claim detachment from worldly politics, yet apoliteia far from the same as pure political apathy. Rather, Petak appears to be active in a metapolitical “invisible order” engaged in anti-Enlightenment culture wars, along the lines of the European New Right and its Right-Gramscian project. While Petak does not dirty his hands in Right-wing Party-building, he nevertheless contributes to a climate favorable to fascist politics, through fighting for the hearts and minds of countercultural audiences. He knows what he is doing.”

So is Petak a stealth neo-fascist softening the underground for traditionalist takeover, or is he more of a dilettante engaging with transgressive politics and figures in order to gain attention? I personally find bands who recklessly/cynically dabble in Nazi/fascist imagery and themes tiresome and wouldn’t support them with my time or money, but I’m not sure enough of a case has been built here to tar Agalloch, or the tour promoter, as neo-fascist supporters/sympathizers by working with this band. I’ll leave it up to the readers to decide whether Allerseelen are a pernicious influence, or just creatively bankrupt.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, politics in neofolk can get murky, especially when you are dealing with terms like “radical traditionalism”, which might mean different things to different groups. Make no mistake, there are racist and neo-fascist bands within genres like neofolk, metal, and punk, and they should be opposed when they try to increase their audience by infiltrating Pagan or Heathen communities, but we should also be careful to thoroughly investigate for ourselves before acting. Whether this is such a case, is up to each individual to decide.

While there are an increasingly large number of Pagan artists and musicians performing and releasing albums today, works that are consistently excellent and engaging, that transcend the preconceived notions of what “Pagan music” is, are still frustratingly rare. When I was just beginning the journey towards what would become A Darker Shade of Pagan, one of the few bands that really stood out for me were Pandemonaeon. They had just released their debut self-titled album in 2001, and I remember being thrilled at the sound of songs like “Black Snake”, which merged a post-Dead Can Dance aesthetic with a slinky goth-rock atmosphere. Better still, at least from my perspective at the time, they were openly Pagan. As to why that particularly thrilled me, you’ll have to remember that there wasn’t a whole lot of sonic diversity in the music marketed to Pagans back then. Folk (and filk) singing Pagan troubadours and trobairitz still dominated the scene, with only an occasional Inkubus Sukkubus to liven things up.

Shortly after their promising debut, Pandemonaeon seemed to disappear. There was a live album in 2003, but after that the band went into a long hibernation, with lead singer Sharon Knight going on to release a second solo album, and collaborate with T. Thorn Coyle on two well-received albums of Pagan chants. In the interim, the music industry, and the boundaries of what is “Pagan” music have changed, sometimes radically. In this climate, Pandemonaeon finally returns this month with their second album “Dangerous Beauty”, sporting a more assured, powerful, and at times metal-tinged sound. It marks not so much a come-back for the band as it does a whole new beginning. Not only is “Dangerous Beauty” a great “Pagan” album, it’s a great album period. I was lucky enough to recently interview Sharon Knight about Pandemonaeon, their new album, being a Pagan musician, and making it as a musician in today’s world.


Winter & Sharon of Pandemonaeon

You were working as a musician, and had released a solo album, “Incantation”, before the first Pandemonaeon album came out in 2001. Up to that point your sound was more rooted in Celtic Folk, what made you decide to explore the somewhat darker sonic territory of this project?

Incantation came about as a direct expression of my introduction to Paganism, and I was very interested in exploring my Celtic roots at that time. By the time Winter and I recorded the first Pandemonaeon album I had been captivated by belly dance and was listening to a lot of Middle Eastern music. We also had fallen in love with Dead Can Dance’s music and found ourselves musing on how powerful it would be to mix that type of dark ethereal sound with hard rock. The Underworld has always been a rich source of inspiration for us, so it was inevitable that our music would find a darker expression.

Could you quickly explain the name? Why “Pan” “Demon” “Aeon”? Also, how did the members for the band come together? Was it an organic process, or was there a certain drive to form a band?

Pandemonaeon is a term coined by Chaos magician Peter Carroll. He describes the Pandemonaeon as a new aeon of magickal thinking, and Chaos magic itself offers up the idea that it isn’t our beliefs that are true, but the act of believing that makes magic work. Although I don’t see this as the whole picture, this was a powerful idea to us at the time of choosing a band name. We were happy to lend our art to a vision of a world wherein magick users devote their practices to consciously shaping their lives rather than falling into dogmatic habits. 10 years later this still rings true enough that the name feels honest.

There was definitely a drive to form a band, and it hasn’t been a particularly organic process. We’ve gone through a lot of band members looking for the right people! I am extremely happy with our current lineup, however.

It’s been no big secret that you’re a Pagan, and you’ve produced ritual chants and songs with T. Thorn Coyle, a good friend of yours. Do you feel like most of your fans are Pagans? How do you feel about the Pagan label when it comes to the music you make and the albums you release?

It does seem that most, if not all, of our fans are Pagans. That is certainly the community in which we are best known. As far as the Pagan label, I have mixed feelings about it. I am all for writing some music that is specifically Pagan, such as the chant CDs with Thorn. I am very proud to be contributing to the building of our Pagan culture via music. It is a movement that I believe in as being quite relevant to the times we are living in. However, since Paganism is known as a religious movement, I sometimes feel concerned that the Pagan label will alienate some listeners who might enjoy the music for what it is but who don’t identify as Pagan themselves. I feel that music transcends religion, and it would be a shame for our music to get pigeon holed as “religious music”. It is music written by Pagans, but it is for anyone who has ever been moved by dark myth and legend.

Let’s talk a bit about Pandemonaeon’s sound. What were the big influences? You cite Dead Can Dance and a “Loreena McKennitt in the underworld” aesthetic, but there’s also obvious hard rock and metal influences in the work. How would you describe it?

As far as influences, definitely Dead Can Dance, since Pandemonaeon arose from imagining how DCD’s music would sound infused with hard rock. I don’t know that I’d say Loreena McKennitt was an influence so much as we recognized her as a kindred spirit when we heard her. Her melodic sense and song structure is familiar, something I imagine comes with the discipline of studying traditional Celtic music. And her tendency to mix other world music influences and rock throughout her songs is a theme that resonates with us as well. We’ve been influenced by Middle Eastern, Scandinavian, and Celtic folk music as well as classic and modern rock and more recently, folk metal and some of the more beautiful epic metal such as Nightwish.

It’s a bit of a cliché, but we are one of those bands who have a hard time describing our music within recognizable genres. You described our sound quite well the other day when you referred to it as “Dark tribal fusion with powerful vocals and metal accents”.

We’ve been describing our music as “Gothic Tribal Folk Metal” or just “Folk Metal”. We don’t sound like any other folk metal band I have heard, but since we combine folk music themes with hard rock/metal guitar and “beauty and the beast” vocals we may be able to get away with it. We use the word Gothic due to the similarities with Dead Can Dance, who were embraced by the Goth community, and also the dark ethereal spirituality of the music invokes what I think of as a Goth aesthetic. I think of myself as a Goth in the dark spiritual sense but not in the 80’s synth-pop sense. So am I a true Goth? I’m sure there’d be those who say no. But, as a band you are expected to describe your music somehow so for now our genre is Gothic Tribal Folk Metal.

The other half of Pandemonaeon would be your partner Winter. How did the two of you meet and come to collaborate?

We met at Harbin Hot Springs at the Ancient Ways Festival, and immediately knew we had a destiny together. That sounds cliché too I suppose, but it’s true. Still feels true almost 20 years later.

It’s been nearly a decade between albums. How did your newly released follow-up “Dangerous Beauty” come about? Also, perhaps you could comment on how you perceive the changes in the music industry between the two releases. Is putting out “Dangerous Beauty” a very difference experience for you than releasing the debut?

We got burned out on Pandemonaeon for a while and felt the need to put some distance between us and some disappointments associated with the project. It’s interesting you mention the changes in the music industry between Dangerous Beauty and our debut, as the radical changes in the music industry are a big part of why we put things on hold. Within a year of forming the band we were offered a recording contract with Warner Brothers, at the time the Holy Grail for any musician. It fizzled out to nothing as the music industry became unstable, and with all the fear about pirating, etc. we just weren’t sure what our next steps should be. There wasn’t yet the infrastructure for releasing indie music online as there is now with Bandcamp, Nimbit, indie access to iTunes, etc.

But now this infrastructure does exist, and indies are doing rather well without record labels, which is very exciting for us. Also the Gothic Tribal Fusion belly dance movement, the Folk Metal movement, and the Pagan movement all made it seem like the climate may be right for Pandemonaeon. Ultimately though, Dangerous Beauty came about because this music is such a core part of our souls that turning it off left us feeling depressed and shut down much of the time. The sonic landscapes we traverse as part of this project give us a sense of destiny, and I think anytime the feeling of destiny presents itself to you, it is worth following. As the saying goes, “If you wonder what you can do to change the world, do what makes you feel alive, for what the world needs most are people who are alive”. Pandemonaeon makes us feel alive.

How would you contrast your sound on your debut with “Dangerous Beauty”? How do you feel Pandemonaeon as an entity has grown or changed?

We are definitely much more influenced by metal now! And I think our sense of identity is stronger. One would hope so after 10 years!

Are you planning to tour with the new album? What’s it like playing live with a band as opposed to a solo artist?

I would love to tour with this project. Unfortunately, to realize this vision requires 7 people, and taking 7 people on the road can be difficult. Still, we plan to play live as far and wide as circumstances will allow. I love solo gigs for their intimacy, but I love playing with a full band for the sheer epicness of sound you can get, for the camaraderie of working with a group to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Finally, what are your plans for the future? Will there be more Pandemonaeon in years to come? What about in your solo career?

There will definitely be more Pandemonaeon. It’s too much a part of who we are. We have a music video in the planning stage; also finding our way onto some tours with the funding to bring the whole band along is a high priority for us. I’ll keep putting out solo albums as well, as I enjoy both, and my solo project is easy and cost effective to tour with.

You can purchase a physical copy of “Dangerous Beauty” via the band’s web site. You can also download it, along with the rest of their catalog, from their Bandcamp.com site. For the latest Pandemonaeon news, check out their Facebook page.

Asatru Fight Misconceptions: Just a few quick notes for you today, starting with a look at depictions of Asatru in the media. The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a spotlight on the racist criminal organization European Kindred, mentions the religious split between Asatru and Christian Identity within its ranks.

One of the law enforcement officers in the audience asked [EK founder David] Kennedy about a rumored split between EK members along religious lines. Kennedy replied that as far as he knew, the rumors were false. “Most of the guys in EK are into Asatrú [a neo-pagan faith that is not fundamentally racist, but is practiced by some racists], but then we also have guys who are into Christian Identity [an anti-Semitic theology based on a bizarre reading of the Bible], so it varies,” Kennedy said. “Overall it’s about brotherhood. It’s about blood, not religion.” The ex-gang leader paused for a moment before correcting himself. “Well, actually, the dope comes first. The meth. Then the brotherhood. That’s the reality.”

See that nice little qualifier there about Asatru not being “fundamentally racist”? It wasn’t always like that. The descriptor initially said “a racist neo-pagan faith”, but was changed after several Asatruar, including David Carron of Ravencast, and a few African American adherents, wrote in to protest the SPLC’s definition. Too bad it most likely wasn’t changed in the print version of The Intelligence Report, a publication that is “offered free to law enforcement, journalists, scholars and community activists”. One wonders what the SPLC will do to enlighten the police officers, journalists, and activists that only read the print version that Asatru isn’t “fundamentally racist”. What should the South Dakota man trying to educate people about his new-found faith in Asatru say when someone tells him the SPLC think he’s a racist?

Funeral for an Irish Thelemite, Metal Musician, and Drug Dealer: The Belfast Telegraph keeps it classy in their report on the funeral for Jason Barriskill, an influential metal musician in Ireland who was also an active Thelemite, and apparently, a drug dealer as well.

“A pagan rocker died at his drug-den farmhouse after a witchcraft ritual went nightmarishly wrong. Junkie Jason Barriskill — who worked in the Tayto Castle food lab — was found slumped at his isolated home in Tandragee, Co Armagh, a fortnight ago.”

After a ritual went “nightmarishly wrong”? Really? All the other press says it was a heart attack. Is the Belfast Telegraph a tabloid? Even if he was a drug-dealer, is it normal to dub a dead man “Junkie Jason”? What is certain is that he was indeed a Thelemite, and an “occult funeral”, as the Belfast Telegraph would put it, was indeed held.

“It was also great that one of the Priestesses from the Ard Macha Grove of EGC (which Jason founded many years ago) helped to officiate at the formal service. The Grove celebrated his ‘Greater Feast’ that night, with many friends and colleagues. It was a beautiful ceremony and was nice to give him a full send off in the traditions of Thelema-of which he was a dedicated magician for many years. One of the most moving aspects of the ceremony was a time for everyone to share their stories of the man. Much like what has happened on here.”

I really wish I had access to the rest of the article so I could see if the paper has any basis for its claim that he was killed by a ritual that went “nightmarishly wrong”. If any of my Irish readers have seen the full article, please clue me in. As it stands, even if he was a criminal, or simply harboring criminals, this is sensationalism at its worst.

The Vodou Blame-Game: It seems the religious blame-game in earthquake-ravaged Haiti is still going strong, with various Christian sects accusing Vodou as incurring God’s wrath.

“Their cult, a form of west African polytheism that came to Haiti with the slave trade, is being blamed by some followers of the rapidly growing Christian denominations – evangelicals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptists – as the cause of God’s anger in smiting their country. “They say we’re the ones who caused the earthquake. But we know ourselves that we didn’t cause the quake, because it was a natural catastrophe,” said Willer Jassaint, one of the priests, or houngans, leading the Voodoo ceremony.”

The piece goes one to reference the Cite Soleil incident, though no other major religious skirmishes have broken out since then, and local Houngans and Mambos are planning more public rituals for the dead, despite these new tensions.

“Back in the Voodoo shed, as the chanting and dancing and rum-fuelled flames faded, the houngans somberly laid out their plans for bigger, more public ceremonies in the days to come. They owe the spirits of the dead that release, they say – and they owe themselves that show of defiance. “We have to maintain our religion now… Because our religion is our soul, it’s part of us,” Jassaint said.”

I suppose we’ll soon find out if Cite Soleil was a truly isolated incident, or if we’ll see more Christian-spurred violence in the near future. Hopefully, as the rebuilding continues, and the government stabilizes, the tensions we see now will subside to pre-earthquake levels.

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

A Few Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 6, 2010 — 3 Comments

Just a few quick items I wanted to share with you today, starting with a post from my favorite Christian blog, Slacktivist, who tackles the sad case of Ali Sibat’s death sentence in Saudi Arabia, and the sensationalist “500 dead animals” Santeria story from Philadelphia in one fell swoop.

“The Supreme Court of the U.S. did not rule that the free exercise of Santeria is “permitted.” It ruled, unambiguously (9-0), that the free exercise of Santeria is protected. This is not a minor distinction. People like Sally Kern — or like Chuck Colson and Robert George and everybody they got to endorse their “Manhattan Declaration” — like to think that their particular religion is protected by the First Amendment while other, less widely held religions are merely “permitted,” merely tolerated out of a benign condescension. But the First Amendment does not make or allow for any such distinction. If it did, then America would require a Saudi-style “religious police” to enforce laws dependent on the content of religious beliefs. A legal category of “heretical, but permitted” could not long exist without realizing the implied additional legal category of “heretical and prohibited,” and neither category is compatible with religious freedom. It is not possible to make legal judgments regarding the content of religious belief without enforcing laws against heresy. And it is not possible to enact and enforce laws against heresy without religious tyranny.”

For those curious about what that “Manhattan Declaration” is that he mentioned, you can find the text of it, here. You can read Slacktivist’s opinion of that declaration, here. While I’m not too surprised to see a Christian blog report on the Sibat case, I’m pleasantly surprised to see one address the Santeria story. Kudos to Fred Clark for addressing the fact that religious freedom means freedom for all religions, not just the ones that are “Judeo-Christian”.

The Smoky Mountain News in North Carolina takes an exhaustive look at the various viewpoints on the matter of public religious invocations before government meetings. Interviewing Christians, atheists, politicians, lawyers, and even Pagans, in the process.

“Lianna Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said prayers that specifically reference Jesus Christ in Haywood, Swain and Macon counties persist simply because the practice has never been challenged. In her opinion, holding any one group above another promotes an atmosphere of intolerance. In Constantino’s view, it will take a long time for major change, somewhat due to the makeup of WNC society. “There hasn’t been a lot of diversity like there has been in other parts of the country,” said Constantino. “As a simple fact, this is a pretty homogenous Christian-entrenched society in the South.” … Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said endorsing Christian prayers before meetings blatantly violates a precious partition between religion and state. “I think it is rude, arrogant and presumptuous to impose any singular religious tradition on a religiously diverse society,” said Constantino.”

The article was prompted by recent successful legal challenges in Forsyth County that ended sectarian prayer before governmental meetings. Now a group of North Carolina counties (Haywood, Macon and Swain) wonder when they’ll be called to court for excluding religious minorities, or making public sectarian invocations. The answer is most likely “eventually”, as religious minorities (and atheists) grow and decide they’ve had enough of a governmental endorsement of Christianity masquerading as “religious freedom”.

In a final note, the Guardian music blog spotlights “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, a film I’ve mentioned here before.

“The result is a new film, Pagan Metal: A Documentary, that features interviews with some of the scene’s big players, including Finnish bands, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, as well as Norway’s Leaves Eyes and Ireland’s Primordial. Their dedication to ancient traditions doesn’t quite go as far as carving guitars out of birch and stringing them with the entrails of wild boar, but alongside your typical metal set-up, traditional instruments, such as violins, flutes and Celtic bagpipes, are rife. Lyrics, meanwhile, are steeped in traditional, pre-Christian themes: Finntroll, for instance, draw inspiration from from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala.”

The post chronicles how film producer Bill Zebub was initially quite skeptical of the genre, but was won over by the “vibe” which called out to “the European” within him. They also tackle how some bands veer into racism and nationalism, though they do add that there is less extremism and sensationalism on the whole than within the more-popular Black Metal genre (a genre that also has a documentary about it coming out).

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

Top Story: Outed Pagan political candidate Alice Richmond has closed down her local-issues blog, Page County Watch, and is seemingly retiring from the public eye.

“Last week the voice of the Page County Watch Blog went silent as Alice Richmond, the resident who started the blog, decided to move on. “I’m moving on to other things,” said Richmond. “I don’t want anyone to Google my name anymore.” The site gained attention most recently in September when on a local radio show, Richmond was questioned about her religion and the author known as “Lady Raya.” Richmond later admitted she was using the name Lady Raya as a pseudonym to write books on Wiccan practices.”

Richmond’s race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors seemed to get hostile from the start, with the staged ambush-outing of her “Lady Raya” pen-name by political opponents on a local talk show shrouding her candidacy with sensationalism. After a losing the election by a wide margin, a palpably disappointed Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, noting that the vote wasn’t close. Considering the emotional wringer she’s been through, I don’t blame her for wanting to withdraw from public, though I do mourn the loss of a Pagan willing to enter into the political fray.  I fear that her campaign, and Dan Halloran’s, proves that out (or outed) Pagan candidates will have to deal with ugly smears from opponents (even if the tactic backfires) unafraid to exploit religious fears.

In Other News: Kathy Nance at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings us a local angle to the “Pagans at the Parliament” story by focusing on the ceremonial rattles created by local artist Julee Higginbotham for the interfaith event.

“On this first full day of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Pagans met to give blessings to four rattles created by St. Louis artist Julee Higginbotham. The rattles, called “Bridge to the Meeting Place,” were created to symbolize the coming together of religions and people from around our planet. Julee has blended Aboriginal and Neo-Pagan symbols into a clay prayer for understanding. They will be given to Pagans from North America and Australia, and to two PWR delegates. She got the idea from Pagan delegate and PWR board member Angie Buchanan.”

You can read more about these rattles at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, where you can see daily updates about the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Are you a Pagan metal-head? If so, this is your lucky day, because two documentaries that touch on Pagan/Heathen religion within different metal subcultures are being released. “Pagan Metal:  A Documentary”, and “Until the Light Takes Us”, which focuses on the controversial Norwegian black metal scene.

“In addition to exploring the origins and ideology of black metal, Aites and Ewell examine black metal as what Norwegian visual artist Bjarne Melgaard calls “Norway’s only culturally relevant phenomenon.” Melgaard, who recontextualizes black metal aesthetics in his art, explores the striking parallel between the emotional extremes of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the album cover of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.” “Until the Light Takes Us” succeeds because it neither idolizes nor patronizes the artists involved.”

Considering the fact that a movie is being made about one of black metal’s most controversial figures, a less sensationalist documentary, academic in tone, certainly seems welcome at this point. As for “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, it’s more informal, and had a reviewer comment that “you will feel like you have made new friends”. Both seem welcome assets for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

The Good Blog gives props to Archdruid (and blogger) John Michael Greer for a piece he wrote on adopting a new model of “energy productivity” instead of the per-worker-hour standard.

“This isn’t the first time our common economic metrics have been challenged. GDP gets criticized all the time (and for good reason). But Greer makes a great point about the need for resource efficiency—especially energy efficiency—to be incorporated into the statistics we use to measure our country’s economic success. After all, we live in a world of limited resources. Acknowledging that in our numbers isn’t just about giving environmentally-friendly countries a pat on the back. It’s a real indication of how well-prepared a country is to deal with costly constraints. Apparently these days it takes a druid and Tarot grandmaster to point that out to all the Ivy League B-school grads on Wall Street. Strange times.”

Indeed it does sometimes take a different view-point to actually think “outside the box”, and who better than a (wise) Druid to address issues of resource efficiency and economics as we approach the end our the industrial age? For more on Greer’s religious activities, check out the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) web site.

In a final note, I think the University of Iowa may have the coolest name ever for their Pagan student organization.

“The mention of the term “pagan” often connotes thoughts of the dark arts, ritual sacrifices, and any number of Goth stereotypes. But for UI senior Kirk Cheyney, it’s not about any such thing. It’s more about nature and a deep personal spirituality that he can share with his family. Cheyney serves as the president of the Society of Pagans Invested in Reviving Ancient Lifestyles, which bills itself as the UI’s pagan student union.”

I think we could use more creative acronyms in modern Paganism, especially for college students! Congrats to S.P.I.R.A.L. for making it happen (all you other campus groups better step up).

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne. We have a new post now up from Selena Fox, and Thorn Coyle has just sent in another dispatch as well. You can also stay on top of things with the Pagans at the Parliament Twitter feed and Facebook page. Have a great day!

If you were going to make a major motion picture that casts the modern Pagan impulse in the worst possible light, you couldn’t do much better than picking Varg Vikernes as the subject. Vikernes, founder of the infamous Norwegian black metal band Burzum, was convicted of the arson of a string of Christian churches (which he described as “revenge” for the desecration of heathen graves), and the murder of guitarist Oystein Aarseth. Vikernes also subscribes to racialist form of Heathenry, and has claimed in the past to be a Nazi. So we’re talking about a figure who personally fulfilled all the hysterical extremist Christian stereotypes about what modern Pagans are. Naturally, this means his story is being made into a movie that will be starring one of the teen heartthrobs from the movie “Twilight”.


Jackson Rathbone and Varg Vikernes

“Jackson Rathbone, the teen heartthrob from “Twilight”, has reportedly agreed to play Varg Vikernes (a.k.a. Count Grishnackh) — the former BURZUM mastermind who is currently serving a Norwegian prison term for the August 1993 murder of MAYHEM guitarist Oystein Aarseth (a.k.a. Euronymous) and setting fire to three churches — in the upcoming movie “Lords Of Chaos”. Based on Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind’s book of the same name, the film depicts true events and revolves around the black metal sub-culture that spawned a wave of murders and church arsons across Norway in the early 1990s. Making his English-language debut with “Lords Of Chaos” will be hot Japanese director Sion Sono.”

The weird confluence of a hot teen-film star, a hugely popular avant-garde Japanese film-maker, and a notoriously influential member of the black metal underground almost guarantee “Lords of Chaos” instant cult status. The open question now is will the film be a critical examinaiton of the black metal scene and Vikernes’ life and mistakes, or will it turn him into a romantic anti-hero? Producer Stuart Pollock of Saltire Entertainment called the yet-to-be-shot film “a fun portrayal of Norway”, which doesn’t exactly reassure me that this will be some sort of arty morality play. As for Varg Vikernes, he’s just been released from prison after 16 years, so he’ll be able to see the film, and if he and the film’s producers are desperate enough for publicicty maybe help promote it as well. “Lords of Chaos” is set for a 2010 release, consider it the anti-“Agora” in terms of depicting paganism in a positive light. Oh, and if you’re looking for some more information on black metal, you might want to check out the book “Lords of Chaos” by Michael Moynihan and Didrik Soderlind. Vikernes calls the book “a pool of mud”, so you can’t get a better endorsement than that.

(Pagan) News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 3, 2009 — 2 Comments

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

Cuba’s babalawos have gotten together once again to make predictions for the coming year. While warning against natural disasters and marital strife, they seem somewhat upbeat (if cautious) about economic matters.

“There is a favorable time for loans, an increase in certain powers from the financial point of view, but one has to be careful about using that increase,” [Victor Betancourt] said. The prediction also warns of the perils of drinking water being contaminated, family quarrels, wars and the threat of natural disasters, and calls for men to respect women in the home. He also recommends being careful when speaking to avoid interpersonal conflicts, not revealing secrets people trust us with, and guarding against marital infidelity.

The Ifa readings for 2009 say the year will be reigned over by Oggun, the loa of war, and by Oya, in charge of storms and gentle breezes. You can read what I think is the text of the 2009 readings, here. You can also look at last year’s readings to see how accurate they were.

Medusa Coils reviews a new book by Jeri Lyn Studebaker (aka Athana of Radical Goddess Thealogy fame) entitled “Switching to Goddess: Humanity’s Ticket to the Future”.

Studebaker (who blogs as Athana on Radical Goddess Thealogy) doesn’t mince words in her bold assessment of where “war-daddy god” worship has gotten us and why we need to return to the female divine, whose cultures have been associated with peace, equality, and risk-taking. She doesn’t tip toe around difficult issues, and isn’t afraid to directly and strongly criticize Christianity and the Bible, for example. Though she often writes in a slangy style, you’d be wise not to be taken in by the flip language: Studebaker is no intellectual lightweight. The offbeat language helps make the book more accessible and enjoyable, but behind it a strong intellect and Goddess interpreter is at work.

Studebaker’s book was released by O Books, who have been gaining a good reputation as a company unafraid to publish thoughtful, challenging, and provoking Pagan-oriented books (most notably recent works by Brendan “Cathbad” Myers and Emma Restall Orr). For those unfamiliar with Studebaker’s work, note that she is an unapologetic Goddess booster on a mission (not that there is anything wrong with that). Even her positive reviews typify her writing as “fierce”, “provoking”, “zealous”, “fiesty”, “hard-hitting”, and (naturally) “radical”. Personally, I’m glad to see more Pagan books unafraid to stir things up now and then.

Attention scholars, music lovers, metal-heads, and others interested in the links between spirituality and music. A massive new collection of (seemingly free) interviews with musicians entitled “The Spiritual Significance of Music” has been released. Of particular interest is the “Metal Edition” which covers the interest in Pagan, Satanic, occult, and esoteric practices by metal bands.

…an exciting exploration of how music powerfully impacts spirituality, and why spirituality influences music. Readers will discover sincere expressions of spiritual beliefs from the world of metal music. This portfolio includes an eclectic mix of musicians playing many forms of metal music; ambient metal, avant-garde death-metal, black metal, brutal metal, death metal, doom metal, experimental metal, funeral-doom, gothic metal, grindcore, heavy metal, industrial metal, melodic metal, power metal, progressive metal, psychedelic metal, Satanic metal, sludge metal, speed metal, symphonic metal, technical metal, thrash metal, and includes musicians from alternative-rock, avant-rock, and hardcore-punk bands. Metal Edition provides readers with an important introduction to metal music’s affinity with demonology, divination, magic, mysticism, Satanism, spiritualism, the occult, and witchcraft.

There are also “Christian”, “World” and “Authors” editions to peruse as well (though the “World” and “Authors” sections seem to be down at the moment, perhaps due to traffic problems). Just the metal section alone looks like a treasure-trove of information, and I can’t wait to start sifting through it all. Kudos to editor Justin St. Vincent for the yeoman’s work performed here.

More signs of the growth of alternative and minority faiths in prison? In a fairly standard profile of prison chaplains for a women’s prison in Idaho, they reveal the religious make-up of the institution.

Mostly, he refers the inmate to one of the numerous groups that routinely visit the prison as part of the ministries program. At initial intake into the prison population, each woman is asked her religious leaning. Forty-five percent of inmates identify their orientation as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 24 percent as non-Roman Catholic Christian, 10 percent as Catholic, 4 percent as Wiccan, Odinist, Rastafarian or other less-mainstream religion, and 1 percent as Jewish.

The high Mormon numbers seem about right for a state  where around 23% of the population are LDS members, but I was surprised to see a prison in Idaho with such a high percentage of minority and Pagan faiths. Are more Pagans going to prison, or are we seeing an increasingly large number of people turing to Pagan faiths while incarcerated? If so, it certainly places extra importance on efforts to obtain equal and fair treatment of Pagan inmates across the country.

In a final note, the Reuters FaithWorld blog highlights the unveiling of Catholic Google (no official relation to actual Google) that removes (as much as possible) offensive sites and gives extra weight to pro-Catholic sites.

So now there’s Catholic Google, a search engine that calls itself  “the best way for good Catholics to surf the web”, It claims that “it produces results from all over the internet with more weighting  given to Catholic websites and eliminates the vast majority of unsavoury content, such as pornography”. When I heard this today, my first question was whether Google was getting into the religion business. Were there Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist or other versions of the search engine out there as well?

I truly hope that this isn’t something that takes hold. I would personally recoil at the thought of a “Pagan Google”. What is wonderful about Google is the lack of fences in search results. When religious faiths start acting like China when it comes to the Internet, the possible damage to ecumenicism, interfaith outreach, and dialogue is inestimatable.

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