Archives For movies

Last night, I went and saw “The Monuments Men,” a dramatization of the very real efforts to save Europe’s art and cultural history from Nazi looting and destruction.  As a fine art lover this is a historical event (an ongoing one) that has me riveted, so I am right in the target market for this film. However, while I love to see Bill Murray and George Clooney mugging for the camera as much as anyone, I left feeling disappointed and manipulated (and I wasn’t alone). It was so propagandistic that it could have been made in the 1950s, and you wouldn’t have had to change much. Meanwhile, the art itself takes a back seat (often literally, there are many scenes of crated art being pushed onto trucks), so the characters have to airily expound about the importance of art without, you know, showing people why it’s so important.

I bring this up because I believe most thinking Christians going to see “Son Of God,” currently in theaters, would feel much as I felt leaving that film. Because when you already believe in something, you become immune from many of the tricks of art used to get people to identify with a character or cause. You recognize it as a tool of evangelization, and you leave disappointed that you weren’t surprised, challenged, or shown some new way of seeing something you know intimately. As one secular critic put it, it’s a film about Jesus that makes you almost long for the over-the-top horror-show that was “Passion of the Christ.”

“Gibson’s barking mad Passion of the Christ at least had vigor, vision, madness — something to say, even if that thing was just “more wounds!” and “Jews!” Son of God is a narrative shambles, more thudding than thunderous, shot with no spirit or distinction, always feeling like a sprawling TV miniseries cut up to fit into theatrical running time. That’s no surprise, considering this is a distillation of The Bible, the basic-cable event from 2013. At the opening we see flashbacks, with voiceover, to the stories of Noah, Moses, and Abraham — surely the first time that the New Testament has kicked off with a ‘previously on . . .'”

Truly good religious films are difficult, because they are usually made by believers. Believers want to be accurate, they want to be true to the text, they want their protagonists (largely) unsullied and the villains clearly evil. That’s great when you’re making films about comic book characters, but it’s terrible when you want to strike for something deeper. Films about religion, by their very nature, promise to strike at something deeper. So when a film like this, quote, “treats the audience like first-timers, all but having a pastor step on screen to explain the meaning of every re-created parable — and the smugness of a parent serving broccoli” you know you’re making a disposable product (albeit one that will no doubt make a lot of money thanks to the millions of Christians in the United States).

All this said, I didn’t come here to pile on about the badness of “Son Of God,” but to serve a warning: A Pagan equivalent will no doubt be just as bad. Such a film, let’s call it “Horns Of Pan,” would no doubt fall into the same trap. Now, Pagans and polytheists have seen a growing number of fantasy films and television series that allude to gods, the occult, or religion in the ancient world, and there are more coming (at least if you believe Neil Gaiman). Eventually, enough points will converge, and a “real” Pagan film will roll into production. Will it be Starhawk’s “The Fifth Sacred Thing”? Or perhaps an adaptation of one of the many Pagan-themed novels that have done moderately well? I can’t say, but I feel fairly confident in my ability to predict its reception outside our interconnected communities (unless something truly remarkable happens).

Two of my favorite films about religion weren’t made for true believers: Wim Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” and Robin Hardy/Anthony Shaffer’s “The Wicker Man” (though I love both for very different reasons). If either of these much-lauded classics had to run a gauntlet of pleasing a religious community, they would have either never been made, or would have turned out so different as to be unrecognizable. They certainly wouldn’t be picked up by new generations of film-lovers and held up for their artistry or ability to move us. So, as much as I love my religious community, I fear the day I have to watch and review a film of “ours” that’s “made it” to wide distribution.

For every good religious film, and I’ll leave you to make your own list, there are countless pious messes. When film stops being an artistic medium guided by visionaries, and instead starts serving a cause, you end up with movie goers attending out of duty, to prove some point instead of holding up excellence (or even entertainment).

“Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church is one of many religious leaders urging churchgoers to become moviegoers. ‘In fact, I told my church, ‘If you have to choose between church and movie, go see the movie this weekend,” he told CBS News’ John Blackstone. ‘Let’s send a message to Hollywood,” he said. ‘Not every movie has to be a Bible movie, but when they do come out, let’s support that, for sure.'”

That isn’t art. That’s activists mobilizing their purchasing power to enshrine a cultural product that doesn’t deserve it, and ten years from now, no one will be singing this work’s praises. No matter how rich the producers of “Son Of God” get off of Christian dollars, it won’t make much of a difference in the world of film, or in the world of Christianity. So I urge Pagans to be careful what they wish for, and what they work for. Let Pagan filmmakers craft their own visions, and if their work rises up to the mainstream on merit, then celebrate it. But let’s not fall into the “Son Of God” trap, because nobody wants to see “Horns Of Pan,” no matter how great the special effects are. I don’t want “Pagan” films, I want good films, great films.

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.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Ronald Hutton (center) with Pagan scholars and Cherry Hill Seminary staff.

  • The Economist reviews Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain,” and finds that it presents “more questions than answers.” Quote: “Mr Hutton leads readers to question not only the ways in which Britain’s ancient past is analysed, but also how all history is presented. He is also a lovely writer with a keen sense of the spiritual potency of Britain’s ancient landscapes. Though he offers many interpretations of each archaeological finding, such variety serves to expand the reader’s imagination rather than constrain it. Towards the end of this engrossing book, Mr Hutton laments the way the open-ended questions of ancient history and archaeology appear unsuited to television, a medium that prefers definitive answers.” The book is out now in the UK, and will be released in the United States in February (though it seems you can purchase the Kindle edition now).
  • Courts in the UK have, for the first time, awarded a Wiccan monetary damages over claims that she was fired for her religious beliefs. Quote: “Karen Holland, 45, was awarded more than  £15,000 by the courts in what is believed to be the first payout of its kind in  Britain. Her Sikh bosses insisted they fired her after  they caught her stealing. But she accused them of turning on her when  they found out she was a Wicca-practising pagan and took them to an employment  tribunal, which ruled in her favour.” As the article states, her employers were Sikh, not Christians, as some might suspect. Her employers say they will appeal the decision. More on this story here.
  • The killing of women accused of witchcraft and sorcery in Papua New Guinea continues to be a hard problem to solve, with tough news laws facing the issue of proper enforcement. Quote: “Nancy Robinson from the United Nations Human Rights Commission says toughening up the laws is no solution if they’re not implemented. ‘Implementation is the big obstacle,’ she said. ‘You may have a law but then if you don’t have the police capacity to enforce it, or if the police themselves view the situation of sorcery related killings with indifference then we still have a big issue of how to address impunity. Those who perpetrate this violence know full well they’ll get off scot free – this has to change.'” You can see all of my coverage of this issue, here.
  • The Quietus revisits Enya’s “Watermark” on its 25th anniversary. Quote: “Essentially, Watermark is a deeply weird album in the context of its bright and garish era, and as well as that a strongly and confidently female album. It also stands out as a record inspired by spiritual music in a mainstream pop world that has in recent years chosen to end the centuries-old musical dialogue between the secular and religious, the sacred and profane.” As the author points out, Enya’s influence has never been stronger, with critically acclaimed artists like Julianna Barwick employing elements of her sound.
  • There’s going to be an epic fantasy movie starring Egyptian gods? Apparently so. Quote: “Up-and-coming Australian actress Courtney Eaton has nabbed the female lead in Summit’s epic fantasy Gods of Egypt. Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites and Geoffrey Rush are the male leads in the story, which is set in motion when a ruling god named Set (Butler) kills another, Osiris. When Osiris’ son Horus (Coster-Waldau) fails in his attempt at revenge and has his eyed plucked out, it’s up to a young human thief (Thwaites) to defeat the mad god Set. Eaton will play a slave girl whom the thief falls for.” Currently scheduled for a 2015 release.
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • This week a new visitor center will open at the world-famous Stonehenge in England. Its goal? To give visitors who may never walk among the (restricted access) stones, and sense of that experience, in addition to giving an overview of the many scholarly theories about Stonehenge’s purpose. Quote: “With tourists and day-trippers barred since the late Seventies from entering the circle in order to protect the stones from damage, there has been a fierce and long-running debate on how the site should best be displayed. But on Wednesday a new £27 million centre will open at Stonehenge with a 360 degree cinema at its heart where visitors can ‘experience’ standing in the ancient circle.” Currently, Pagans are allowed access at the solstices and equinoxes, but many want greater access. Concept art for the center can be found here.
  • The Christian cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California, which some had the audacity to claim was “secular,” has been ordered removed by a federal court. Quote: “A federal court has ordered the removal of the controversial Mt. Soledad cross near San Diego. The towering symbol of Christianity, built in 1954 on the peak of Mt. Soledad, is a 43 foot high Latin cross – and it sits on government-owned land. By ruling that the cross violated the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has tried to put an end to a 24-year-old legal battle over the constitutionality of the display. Critics have long argued that the cross, built in 1954 and dedicated on Easter Sunday as a “gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” clearly violates the First Amendment.” It isn’t known if an appeal will be made.
  • Protestant Christian notions of “religion” are being destabilized. Quote: “Religion is nothing if not practiced, nothing if not communally created by and for people who find meaning, yes, but also find ways to put our bodies into relation with other bodies. Religions are sensually established and engaged through sights and smells and sounds, as human bodies sway and sing, pray and play. Rituals are carried out, ancient stories are told anew, the candles are burned, and the flowers garlanded. Religion is embodied practice, done with others, extending far beyond ‘belief in god.'”
  • Religion Clause points out that the Defense Authorization Bill, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, contains religious freedom language for military personnel. Here’s the language: “Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expressions of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” So talk about polytheism all you want, Pagans!
  • Either you have to include everyone, including Satanists, or you have to remove sectarian expressions of religion from federal property. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
  • Here’s an article discussing the traditional African beliefs and practices employed in the funeral and burial rites for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Quote: “‘We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn’t get angry,’ said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.”
  • Remember that story about Hopi relics being sold in France against their objections? Well, it looks like the Annenberg Foundation purchased the items, and will be donating the items back to the two tribes who were leading the protest. Quote: “Hopi cultural leader Sam Tenakhongva said in the same statement that the tribe hopes the Annenberg decision to intervene “sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility.” “They simply cannot be put up for sale,” he said.”

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.

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

Lance Reddick

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

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

TFST_Guilds_1-300x300The team behind getting Starhawk’s novel “The Fifth Sacred Thing” turned into a feature film have announced that they are seeking volunteers to become a part of their new guild production system (one that takes its inspiration from the book). Quote: “Here at TFST, we’ve been very busy creating legal, financial and creative infrastructure for the development of the film. This includes concept art, original music, perfecting the screenplay, fostering connections with green businesses, pitching the film, and creating our promotional video (watch it here). We’ve designed the foundations of a green, sustainable film project from the ground up, building important alliances and this includes you. The outpouring of support was so profound we decided to create Guilds (yes, like the novel!) to activate participants. Each Guild will operate like a team, with a Leader who will oversee tasks and report to the producers for effective communication.” Those interested are pointed to a contact form on the film project’s website. In 2011, Starhawk raised over $75,000 dollars through Kickstarter to help fund a pitch-reel in order get a feature film based on her post-apocalyptic 1993 book made. You can read all of my coverage of this project, here.

b26b6501f8c7ce428e52cf912ba6aeeeThe historic Pagan periodical Green Egg, which re-launched 2007 as a digital-only publication, has announced that they have signed on with a print-on-demand magazine self-service platform so that their content can be made available in print, and at stores, once again. Quote: “Green Egg, the famous Pagan magazine which was first published in 1968, proudly announces that it is now back in print. The popular Pagan journal was founded by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and has featured articles by such luminaries as Jacques Vallee, Robert Anton Wilson, Starhawk, Joanna Macy and many articles by Oberon himself, as well as articles and poems by his wife, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart [...] The new print version will also be available in i-Pad version for 2.00. The print version is available for purchase for $8.00. Both versions include a digital version.” You can find the new issue in this new venue, here. As announced previously, Green Egg continues to work behind the scenes to digitize their extensive back-catalog, which they now estimate will be done come the Summer. For a best-of retrospective of the magazine, check out “Green Egg Omelete.”

TShirt_black_Coven_Oldenwilde_lo-resThe Asheville, North Carolina-based Witch/Wiccan organization Coven Oldenwilde announced that they have signed a contract with a reality television production company. Quote: “We’ve signed an agreement with a reputable California production company that has previously filmed series for the History channel and the Discovery channel, etc., to be filmed for a TV series showing how we teach magical apprentices, and exploring what attracts Seekers to Wicca, as well as their experiences while aspiring to the Priest/esshood. No contest, sensationalism, or monetary compensation involved; rather, this is an opportunity to present the Craft well to a national and international audience, and to show viewers how folks from all walks of life can master magic. The series will likely be filmed in our Covenstead in West Asheville, NC, and if it gets the go-ahead for production, the filming could commence anywhere from 4 to 6 months or so from now. We would teach apprentice/cast-members material from Coven Oldenwilde’s upcoming online School of Witchcraft courses.” I’ve made my feelings about Paganism and reality television rather clear, so I will simply wish them the best of luck, and hope that the program is as positive as they portray.

In Other Pagan Community News:

http://www.gbgcalendar.com

http://www.gbgcalendar.com

  • The 2014 Gerald B. Gardner “year and a day” calendar is now available for order. Quote: “Since 2010, this unique calendar project has shared photos, news clippings and quotes from Gerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente, Patricia Crowther, Eleanor Bone, Monique Wilson and Lois Bourne, covering five decades of Craft history.” If you’re of the Wiccan persuasion, it makes a neat gift. I’ve embedded a sample image above. For each calendar sold, a donation will be made to the Doreen Valiente Foundation, and England’s Museum of Witchcraft.
  • I recently pointed to photos of Guatemalan Mayan elder Apolinario Chile Pixtun’s visit to California, where he interacted with several local Pagans. Now, COG Interfaith Reports features a write-up from Don Frew and Rachael Watcher about the visit. Quote: “This first ceremony was for Tata to introduce himself to the spirits of this place – my home, the Bay Area, California – and to the spirits of the people who have lived here, especially of the various native tribes.  This was to be polite and make sure that there would be no resistance to the work he would be doing.” 
  • Congratulations to Wiccan author and musician Kenny Klein on starting his own blog at the Huffington Post. Quote: “I plan to do a lot of speaking on this venue about life in New Orleans: our celebrations, our lifestyles, and the hardships we still suffer in the wake of Katrina, eight years later. But as a professional musician, I tour frequently, and speak about the things I see on the road.”
  • Pagan writer Jason Mankey is raising some money on IndieGoGo to fund his expenses for when he goes on the road this Spring. Quote: “Maybe you want to donate some cash because you enjoy Raise the Horns or like my workshops.  Perhaps you want to support one of the hardest working guys in all of the Pagan Blogosphere (that would be me).  I’ve been giving my all to greater Pagandom for the last several years and I want to be able to continue to do that without worrying about bouncing a check.” He’s raised $420 dollars of his $600 dollar goal so far. So if you appreciate his writing/speaking, send a few bucks his way.
  • The annual Reclaiming Spiral Dance was held this past Saturday in San Francisco. Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk noted after the event that it was “another beautiful Spiral Dance! Thanks, everyone, for the hard work, the creativity and the inspiration–dancers, musicians, altar builders, organizers, trance leaders, invocations, and of course, the indispensable cleanup crew!”

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

Unleash the Hounds is one of my longest running, and popular, features at The Wild Hunt. It is, in essence, a link roundup. A place where I find stories in the mainstream media concerning Paganism, occult practices, indigenous religions, and other topics of interest to our interconnected communities. The birth of this series came out of necessity, as more stuff is being written now than I could possible write about in-depth week-to-week. If you enjoy this feature, please take some time to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive, so we can continue to bring you this, and other features, for another year. Thank you to everyone who helped us raise over $4000 dollars in the first few days of our drive, let’s keep the momentum going, and be sure to spread the word! Now, on to the links!

  •  A House Oversight Committee hearing this Wednesday got so intense, that Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) decided to inject a little levity by asking Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram if she was a witch. Quote: “A Democratic Congressman mocked the GOP’s effort to demonize an IRS official during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday by asking her if she was a witch consorting with the devil. The official, Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram, said in response to questioning from Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) that she has never worked with the devil, could not fly, and was not responsible for perverting the youth ‘in Salem or anywhere else.'” One can only imagine what would have happened had the answer been: “yes, I am a Witch, one of the many New England traditional covens.” Whatever the case, satire is a tricky thing these days.
  • Speaking of witches and witchcraft, they are so very, very, hot right now (in pop-culture). Just ask CNN“So, maybe they’re a kind of gendered response to the suave, seductive male vampire figure. Or maybe it’s just cyclical, and all of the childhood fans of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ and ‘Charmed’ are writing for TV now! [...] The featured supernatural characters on those shows are usually men, too (not exclusively, but overwhelmingly). These new witch characters are giving women more power and agency to control their destinies, instead of just being objects of desire in need of saving, which is a nice change.” The article notes that “Hollywood now can’t seem to get enough of witches.”
  • Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the story of Jesus? Probably not. But here’s a documentary claiming exactly that! Quote: “On October 19 Atwill will present some provocative new findings in London. Atwill’s thesis is that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats who fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. Per Atwill: ‘The Caesars committed a crime against consciousness. They reached into the minds of their subjects and planted false concepts to make them easier to control.’ Atwill claims to have iron-clad proof of his claims.” Hey, remember all those religions that disappeared after various individuals debunked them? Yeah, me neither.
  • Fox News reports on the witchcraft tourist trade in Nicaragua. Quote: “Americans get dressed up for Halloween, take kids trick or treating, and tell tales about ghosts and witches. But in Nicaragua, some locals and curious tourists seek out real, live witches—or brujos, who claim to be able to cast spells on people and cure all sorts of ailments, including impotency, male pattern baldness and more.” The reporter spends a lot of time trying to see if the local witches will reveal secrets or do malefic magic for him. They seem, understandably, hesitant to indulge him.
  • Hammer Films has purchased the film rights to Jeanette Winterson’s novella “The Daylight Gate”, about one of England’s most infamous witch-trials. Quote: “I was interested to take the Hammer novella commission to write a good story around the notorious Pendle witch trials of 1612. Now I am intrigued and excited to see what new form these ghosts can inhabit. Stories from the past are always present; it is our imaginations that make it so.” The pop-culture witch trend continues…
A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • A Flavorwire, Michele Dean can’t wait for pop-culture to embrace witchcraft once more. Quote: “In the 1990s, when I was a teenager, witches were everywhere. Today people often reference the Fairuza Balk/Neve Campbell movie The Craft as though it were the driver of that trend in the culture. But it actually came awfully late in my experience of fellow young-nerd-women who retreated into Wicca and Paganism as a way of coping with social ostracization. They weren’t the ordinary-looking witches of Charmed or even Buffy, but people who enjoyed wearing velvet chokers and thanking the Goddess and drawing Celtic runes. It was very often very silly, I agree, and there were certainly paths that even my extremely socially disenfranchised self declined to follow them down. But while their actual powers were a matter of dispute, just the practice and ritual seemed to be enough to give them a measure of much-needed self-respect.” A message to my fellow Witches out there, prepare for a new deluge. Seriously.
  • The Huffington Post interviews Incan Shaman Elena Radford. Quote: “That’s what a shaman does — tune into the energy of the environment: mountains, animals, plants, people in the past, and energies from other worlds. These skills that come through the heart allow a shaman to communicate with these different realities.” 
  • Oh, and did I mention that the New York Times has also chimed in about the pop-culture resurgence of the witch? Quote: “There’s something very beautiful about witch stories — the full moon, the mystery, the chants — but it’s also a way to explore female power [...] To me, witch stories are really female versions of superhero stories. They’re fantasies. And there’s something very potent about those fantasies. On one level, this is a fun yarn about women learning to use these supernatural gifts, but it’s also a metaphor for things that we all need to do in our lives, in our adulthood, to own who we really are and feel comfortable with it. To not be afraid to use our gifts.” Also, Glamour is totally on board with the return of witches.
  • Dangerous Minds (almost) attends a Gnostic Mass. They do not eat the Cakes of Light. Quote: “This is a special, invitational Gnostic Mass, and a couple, like me, are invitees (though presumably bona fide neophytes rather than tremulous hacks). At least one seems a little nervous, while the OTO initiates—mostly middle aged men with either long hair or none, each with unusually pale blue eyes—inspect us with that slightly salacious curiosity with which people on one side of an experience examine those at its verge. In the pub Adrian had referred to magick as ‘psychological transgression.’ I can see what he means! The atmosphere is a distinct mixture of the religious and the illicit—as if we were all here for an afternoon of metaphysical dogging.”
  • There’s a new edition of Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” out, you can read an excerpt at Tor.com. Quote: “This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’ vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explored the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry. This new edition has been prepared by Grevel Lindop, who has written an illuminating introduction. The text of the book incorporates all of Graves’s final revisions, his replies to two of the original reviewers, and a long essay in which he describes the months of inspiration in which The White Goddess was written.”

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. Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

conference-logo-transparent-background1The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has announced that author (and Wild Hunt columnist) Crystal Blanton will be one of the keynote speakers at their 2014 conference this coming February. At her official Facebook page, Blanton asked followers which of three topics they would prefer she address with her keynote; the effect of racism within the Pagan community, the different forms of axiology within ethnic cultures and how that applies to the assessment of value within the Pagan community, or understanding cultural sensitivity and the need for collective healing for healthy racial integration within Paganism. Each of these topics would fit in well with 2014’s theme of “Relationships With The World.” Quote: “What is our relationship as contemporary pagans with the rest of the world at this point in history? What is the nature of our relationship with ourselves? With others? With the Divine? Who do we reach out to? Who do we support? What kind of communities are we building? As we ask for acceptance, who are we accepting? Who do we reject? Who do we love? Who do we make the enemy?” The deadline for paper proposals is September 15th.

booktitleProlific indie esoteric filmmaker Antero Alli has a new movie coming out called The Book of Jane that explores mythic themes and the idea of fate. Quote: “Alice, a Professor of Comparative Religion, is writing a book exalting the ancient values of pre-Hellenic goddess mythologies and Feminine deity worship. One day she meets Jane, an enigmatic older woman who roams the university campus, sleeps under a bridge, and rattles Alice with her disturbing insights. At home, Alice is the muse to her partner Colette, an artist who is painting a series of goddess portraits. When Colette hears about Jane, she encourages a reluctant Alice to invite her over for dinner. “The Book of Jane” is a story of three women bound together by fate to advance the values of an ancient culture into contempory life — at a deep cost no one expected.” Making an appearance as the goddess Morrigan is artist, teacher, and spiritual worker Morpheus Ravenna. You can watch a clip featuring her embedded below, or simply click here.

pcThe Centre for Pagan Studies and the Doreen Valiente Foundation have announced that they will be holding a one-day Witchcraft conference in honor of Patricia Crowther on April 6th, 2014, in Nottingham. Quote: “We are continuing our series of ‘A Day For . . ‘ events and this year we will be honouring the achievements and contribution to the Witchcraft and Pagan community of Patricia Crowther. Patricia is one of the few remaining contemporaries of Gerald Gardner and has to be considered one of the true Elders of the Craft. She was initially reluctant to allow us to hold a day in her honour but we have persuaded her that the Craft and pagan communities deserve their chance to pay her their respects and celebrate her so we are very pleased to announce that all being well she will be our guest of honour on the day. We will also present talks by Vivianne & Chris Crowley, Rufus & Melissa Harrington, Philip Heselton and Patricia’s good friend and astronomy expert, John Harper.” You can purchase advance tickets now. You can also download and share a flyer if you wish. If I were in the UK, I would love to attend this, so don’t miss out!

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Initial guests and bands have been announced for FaerieCon West in Seattle, including German Pagan-folk band Faun, and authors John Matthews (see our recent interview with him), Raven Grimassi, and Stephanie Taylor-Grimassi. The event takes place February 21-23rd (the weekend after PantheaCon), and has moved to the Seattle Doubletree Hilton. For those on the East Coast, FaerieCon East in Baltimore is coming up November 8th – 10th, and also features a lot of wonderful guests. Full disclosure: I work for the company that produces these events, but I think their quality stands up even if you account for my conflict of interest.
  • An IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign has been launched for a new online magazine called Limina. Quote: “Limina is an online magazine of women writing about faith. The word Limina means ‘she who is standing on the threshold.’ We hope to explore matters of faith, culture, politics, and arts from that position. We are diverse and inclusive, representing many religions, spiritualities, and faith traditions, as well as atheists and agnostics. We take our voices seriously, we take our position seriously, and we honor the work of those who came before us and made what we do possible. But we can be irreverent at times. We’re here to engage readers, and to make them think, and occasionally, to prod them into action.” I’ve spoken with one of the organizers, and she says they are planning to include several Pagan voices. I’ve embedded their pitch-video below.

  • Funds are currently being raised to create an Avalon. Quote: “Thanks for taking the time to visit our JustGiving page.  We’re fundraising to create a sacred grove in Avalon, in a small but beautiful privately-owned field right on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor.  It’ll be formed of a circle of twenty-four trees, mostly Apple, with Rowan marking the four entrances and Oak standing as guardians around the space.  Aromatic herbs on the ground and evergreen plants  all around will give atmosphere and privacy.  It’s still a mystery what will go in the centre – perhaps a small pool, perhaps a fire dish: it’ll become clear as the project unfolds.” One of the co-organizers of this project is author Sorita d’Este.
  • Alane Brown, Witch, and composer for the musical group Crow Women, is currently in the midst of a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru. She’s been keeping a wonderful blog of insights and experiences that I think many of you might enjoy. I think her post about celebrating the Winter Solstice is particularly good.
  • Aidan Kelly has written a remembrance of Allan Lowe / Demian Moonbloode, a NROOGD Elder who played a key role in the formation of the Covenant of the Goddess. Quote: “He was very involved in the creation of the Covenant of the Goddess, designing the original masthead for the COG newsletter and serving as a local and national officer during its first years. He went on to found Silver Star [...] one of our more radical and liberal covens, and it became the ancestor of about 90 percent of the NROOGD covens that have existed since then.” What is remembered, lives.

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

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

The old "missing harvest photo" trick, get 'em every time.

The old “missing harvest photo” trick, gets ‘em every time.

  • Director Robin Hardy plans to move forward with the third installment in a thematic trilogy that includes 1973’s “The Wicker Man” and 2012’s “The Wicker Tree.” Quote: “Wicker Man director Robin Hardy has revealed that he is moving ahead with new feature Wrath Of The Gods, which will complete a trilogy of ‘Wicker’ films. [...] ‘I am just at the opening stages of financing it (Wrath Of The Gods) and hope to make it next year,’ said Hardy, who will also produce. The writer-director added: “The first two films are all (about) offers to the Gods. The third film is about the Gods.” Considering how long it took The Wicker Tree to get made, Hardy better hurry, he isn’t getting any younger. Meanwhile, the “final cut” of The Wicker Man is indeed coming to American theaters, though no official word on the blu ray release.
  • A “Satanic” horse sacrifice in the UK turned out to be not that Satanic after all. Quote: “Devon and Cornwall police concluded this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails. ‘Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,’ the police said in a statement. ‘The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.'” Clearly. I’m sure this debunking will get just as much traffic as the headlines that scream “Satan,” right?
  • The trial of Rose Marks began this week, a psychic practitioner accused of fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud, to the tune of millions of dollars. Already amazing claims of money and gold being destroying during 9/11 are being put forward. That said, judges have been critical of the prosecution’s work in this case, calling it “slipshod” and even “shameful.” Quote: “Prosecutors responded by filing additional charges against Marks, accusing her of filing false tax returns and not reporting the income, essentially going after her criminally under two theories — that she defrauded the money or earned it legitimately, but didn’t pay taxes on it either way. The latest version of the 15-count federal indictment charges Marks with mail and wire fraud conspiracy, money-laundering conspiracy, mail and wire fraud, money laundering and the income tax charges. If convicted of all charges, sentencing guidelines could send her to prison for about 18 years, her lawyer said.” I’ve reported on this case before, and we should keep a close on eye on it, to see how the verdict may impact divination services.
  • The Oklahoma Gazette profiles Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, a local chapter of the OTO (Ordo Templi Orientis). Quote: “While one might think an occult organization in the Bible Belt would have difficulty thriving, local OTO members believe that ‘Oasis’ is more than just a title. ‘In this area of the state, the big majority of people are conservative Christian, and people who aren’t into that, they might see this area as a desert,’ David said. ‘But we’re one little oasis right here, so we’re available for those people who would like to commune with others of their kind, or close to their kind. We’re just one of many ways for people to find their true will, but the ultimate goal is to come in contact with the divine and become better human beings.'” You can see the official website for the Sekhet Bast Ra Oasis, here.
  • More news reports are emerging on the case of Pagan prison chaplain Jamyi J. Witch, who recently had criminal charges against her dropped after it was alleged she staged her own rape and hostage-taking by an inmate. The Oshkosh Northwestern, FOX 11, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out that the case fell apart as the inmate changed his story. Quote:  “On July 23, the inmate, John Washington, filed a motion for sentence modification in Milwaukee County based primarily on his cooperation with authorities in the Winnebago County case. In the motion, Washington’s account of the incident were a ‘radical departure’ from previous statements, according to the motion to dismiss that Ceman filed last week.” Witch has stated that she intends to sue the Department of Corrections.
  • NPR spotlights Baba Ifagbemi Faseye, an initiate and practitioner of Ifa and Orisa traditions, and the growing number of African Americans drawn to “ancient African religion.” Quote: “There’s a long table covered with pure white cloth and spread with sliced watermelon, bananas and gin — gifts to the divine. Along with a life of worship, Ifagbemi says part of his job as a full-time priest is to help people adapt this ancient religion to a modern, American reality. ‘We’re not African anymore,’ he says. ‘I need to sort of emphasize to a lot of African-Americans that yes, this is an African tradition, yes, we want to connect with our roots and whatever else. But our roots are here, too.'” I note that the NPR article calls the faith “Yoruba” even though Baba Ifagbemi Faseye quite clearly refers to his spiritual practice as Ifa.
Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

Hell Money, the kind burned at The Ghost Festival. Photo: randomwire (Creative Commons).

  • The Ghost Festival, a Chinese ancestor holiday in which the deceased come to visit the living, was held this month. The Associated Press files a report. Quote: “To appease the hungry spirits, ethnic Chinese step up prayers, aided by giant colorful joss sticks shaped like dragons. They also burn mock currency and miniature paper television sets, mobile phones and furniture as offering to the ancestors for their use in the other world. For 15 days, neighborhoods hold nightly shows of shrill Chinese operas and pop concerts to entertain the dead. The shows are accompanied by lavish feasts of grilled pork, broiled chicken, rice and fruit. People appease the ghosts in the hopes that the spirits will help them with jobs, school exams or even the lottery. On the 15th day of the month – the most auspicious – families offer cooked food to the ghosts.”
  • A coalition of Navajo Medicine People have come out in opposition to horse slaughter by the Navajo Nation. Quote: “We see this mass execution of our relatives, the horses, as the bad seed that was planted in the minds of our children in the earlier days [...] Our children must be taught to value life, otherwise they will treat their own lives recklessly and be drawn toward substance abuse, domestic violence, suicide and other behaviors that are not in accordance with Our Way of Life.”  It should be noted that the issue of horse slaughter on tribal lands is a divisive one inside and outside of tribal nations. More on that, here.
  • South Coast Today columnist Jack Spillane shares his experiences with modern Pagans. Quote: “There’s something about the pagans and the direct connection of their ancient structures meant to concentrate the mind on the natural world — the change of the seasons, the rhythms of day and night, the connections of sky to land to sea — that’s awfully appealing. I was reminded again of this a few months ago when I happened to be at the First Unitarian Church when Karen Andersen, a contemporary Pagan (capital ‘P’ for the religion), gave a terrific talk about the struggles for religious acceptance of Pagans, at least for the ones who define themselves as religious.”
  • Right Wing Watch notes that Pat Robertson’s 700 Club has run another ex-gay segment, this one also happens to be an ex-Witch as well. Quote: “As I got deeper into spiritualism, a gift of discerning spirits was activated in me. At the time I was dating Diana, a practicing witch whom I had met at a New Age conference. Diana introduced me to demon worship and a new level of darkness. One evening as she began to seduce me, my spiritual eyes were opened, and I saw the demon in her sneering back at me. It horrified me! I jumped up, quickly got dressed, and ran out of there.” Wiccans, bringing you new levels of darkness, because apparently darkness has levels.
  • The Daily Beast profiles “Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison” by Joshua Dubler. Quote: “In one passage, we join Dubler and a Native American prisoner named Claw in a traditional smudging ritual, complete with an eagle wing, turtle shell, and sage and sweetgrass to smoke. In the corner of the prison yard next to the E Block section, the author stands next to Claw, Bobby Hawk, Lucas Sparrowhawk, and a few others as they pray for their families, the weather, and their friend Chipmunk, who’s in the hole.” I can’t tell if Dubler tackles modern Paganism behind bars, but it still might make fascinating reading.

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

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

6a00d83454ed4169e201901ee8f344970b-500wiThe Occult Humanities Conference: Contemporary Art and Scholarship on the Esoteric Traditions will be taking place October 18th-20th in New York City, hosted by Hosted by Phantasmaphile, Observatory and the NYU Steinhardt Department of Art and Art Professions. Quote:  “The conference will present a wide array of voices active in the cultural landscape who are specifically addressing the occult tradition through research, scholarship and artistic practice [...] The presenters at the OHC represent a rich and expanding community of international artists and academics from multiple disciplines across the humanities who share an exuberance and excitement for how the occult traditions interface with their fields of study as well as the culture at large. The small scale of this conference (approximately 100 attendees) will give ticket holders an intimate look at the presenters and their views.” Participants include Robert Ansell of Fulgur Esoterica, Pam Grossman of Phantasmaphile fameIthell Colquhoun expert Dr. Amy Hale, and author Gary Lachman, among others. If I had the budget for it, I’d be there in a heartbeat! If you’re in New York, you should check it out!

wp27cover1bIssue of #27 of Witches & Pagans Magazine is scheduled to be released on October 15th, and features an interview with Teo Bishop, conducted by T. Thorn Coyle. Quote: “This issue guest-stars a triplet of fascinating Pagan notables. Paranormal and detective novelist Alex Bledsoe sold his first magickal “Lady Firefly” story to PanGaia in 1998. Catch up with his journey in this conversation with Deborah Blake; then listen in as the inimitable T. Thorn Coyle talks with Pagan blogger, mystic, Druid and musician (aka Matt Morris) Teo Bishop; and visit with Renaissance woman, writer, and community leader Tish Owen.” Meanwhile, the rest of the issue is water-themed. Quote: “What would it be like to experience water viscerally? Susan Harper teaches us to become conscious of the sacral nature of this ubiquitous element in her article ‘Sensing Water.’ Loremaster P. Sufenas Virius Lupus writes about the ability of water ­ and even of drowning ­ to assist in the apotheosis of humans in his fascinating look at classical Greek and Roman paganism ‘Deification by Drowning.’ Leni Hester introduces us to the Lady of Fresh Water, Ochun, in ‘No One is an Enemy to Water.'” You can pre-order the issue, here.

The Warrior's CallLast week I reported on an upcoming Pagan-led public ritual in the UK to protect the land near Glastonbury Tor from the practice of “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing to extract oil an gas from the earth). Since then, more Pagan leaders have stepped forward to weigh in on the topic. Author and activist Starhawk said it was “almost unbelievable” that the UK government “would threaten the purity of Chalice Well in Glastonbury, a site sacred to both Pagans and Christians!” So far, over 1000 people have committed to attending the ritual, with many more promising energetic work in solidarity. In addition, Druid leader John Michael Greer writes at length about the false promise, and dangerous effect of the practice. Quote: “The increasingly frantic cheerleading being devoted to the fracking industry these days is simply one more delay in the process of coming to grips with the real crisis of our time—the need to decouple as much as possible of industrial society from its current dependence on fossil fuels.” Could fracking become a new rallying point for Pagans drawn to environmental activism? We’ll keep you posted as this issue develops.

In Other Pagan Community News: 

  • “Tales of Albion,” an 8-part web-based film series follow-up to the Pagan film “The Spirit of Albion,” has posted several production pictures taken over the Summer. Quote: “We are now scheduling like crazy for the next few shoots which will see us tackle a legendary outlaw and the once and future king. We will travel to an 11th Century monastery, the Bronze Age and even Neolithic caves. We will see two world wars, the 95thRifles and a priest with writer’s block! It’s going to be quite a ride…”
  • The Open Hearth Foundation in Washington DC has a library. Here it is in six seconds.
  • October 11-14th will be Twilight Covening, a yearly event held by the EarthSpirit Community. Quote: “Twilight Covening is a three-day institute of Earth spirituality held within a continual three-day ritual. It is a time for exploring ways to deepen Earth-centered spiritual practice and a time to develop our collective wisdom in a shared sacred space as we move into the dark time of the year.”
  • Friday, September 20th will see the launch party for Abraxas Issue Four, at Treadwells in London. Quote: “A night of partying,  40 minute session of speeches, short presentations and a few words from each of the contributors who can join us.  When you’ve finished looking at the art on the walls we will serenade you wtih three short readings. Think of it as a salon for magic and the imagination. Join us, meet the contributors, and revel in the delight of magic and the imagination.”
  • The Delmarva Pagan Pride Festival in Delaware happened yesterday. They had symphonic gothic metal band Cassandra Syndrome play, which you have to admit is pretty hard-core for a Pagan Pride Day event.

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

Here are some updates on previously reported stories here at The Wild Hunt.

Publicity still from "Britain's Wicca Man".

Publicity still from “Britain’s Wicca Man”.

The hour-long documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man” has had a long, strange, trip to getting aired. A look at the life of Gerald Gardner, hosted by scholar Ronald Hutton, the program was commissioned by Channel 4 in Britain and initially scheduled to be aired sometime in 2012. That didn’t happen, and eventually a truncated 27-minute version popped up on Australian television earlier this Summer. Now, it seems the long journey is over, and the full documentary was finally aired this weekend in the UK under the new title of “A Very British Witchcraft.” Quote: “The extraordinary story of Britain’s fastest-growing religious group – the modern pagan witchcraft of Wicca – and of its creator, an eccentric Englishman called Gerald Gardner. Historian and leading expert in Pagan studies Professor Ronald Hutton explores Gardner’s story and experiences first-hand Wicca’s growing influence throughout Britain today.” Considering how rare it is for these short-form documentaries to get a DVD release in the United States, we will most likely have to wait until someone has taken the law into their own hands and posted it to Youtube, or made it available for download via BitTorrent in order to see it (not that I’m advocating piracy, simply communicating the realities of modern distribution). In any case, I look forward to seeing the whole work.

The-ConjuringBack in July I looked at the problematic thematic underpinnings of horror film “The Conjuring,” and why this “true story” could spark trouble. Since then, the film has gone on to gross more than a 100 million dollars, and the film’s insistence that they were conveying dramatized facts has already sparked some troubling results. Quote: “The author of the books that inspired the new movie “The Conjuring” is asking for help after a local gravestone was damaged in the village of Harrisville [...] Local residents are upset by the vandalism. ‘I mean it’s upsetting that anyone would vandalize a grave, because I think it’s very disrespectful,’ Sara Indish, Burrilliville.” Salem Witch Christian Day, who spoke out previously about the historical revisionism of the film, noted that the “film is having an impact and it isn’t a good one.” Talks of a sequel and possibly even a movie franchise are already underway, also based on the demon-hunting exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, and thus, even more opportunities to muddy the waters between fact and fantasy. I can only imagine that the emergence of “real” (Christian) exorcists as reality show stars will only fuel this trend. In any case, I hope this pop-exorcism fever breaks, and breaks soon.

The Weird Sisters from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' After Henry Fuseli (1741-1825); mezzotint by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

The Weird Sisters by John Raphael Smith (1751-1812)

Earlier this month I posted an item about Witches & Wicked Bodies, an exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, which had just opened (highlights of the show can be found, here). Now, the reviews are pouring in, all considering the portrayal of the witch, and the practice of witchcraft. Laura Cumming at The Guardian wonders if “these male artists ever met a woman who looked anything like such visions in reality? Not one of these figures is the classic old hag of medieval literature, the reclusive village spinster forced to endure the ducking stool or the stake because she was thought too weird in her ways, too sharp in her observations, too active with the herbs, or simply because she muttered to herself.” Meanwhile, Arifa Akbar at The Independent notices the strong sexual element running through the show. Quote: “These images of lewd sexual disinhibition and obscene corporeality (the women are invariably naked, open-legged, farting and with masculine features such as beards or penises) all arise from ancient fears that have surrounded women’s sexual desire, as well as the even graver fear of its ability to emasculate men.” Finally, Rebecca McQuillan at the Herald Scotland notes the recurring fear and animus towards older women in the figure of the witch. Quote: “The bile directed at ageing women in the 21st century contains unpleasant echoes of the sinister misogyny of the witch trial era. And that is deeply disconcerting.” 

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

Yesterday I highlighted a scathing review at Salon.com of new horror-thriller “The Conjuring.” Critic Andrew O’Hehir found the Salem witch-trials subplot to be tasteless revisionism, despite admiring the film’s creepy construction.

The-Conjuring

“Here’s the real ‘true story’ behind “The Conjuring”: Any time people get worked up about a menace they believe in but can’t actually see – demons, Commies, jihadis, hordes of hoodie-wearing thugs — they’re likely to take it out on the weakest and most vulnerable people in society [....] along with the overall tone of hard-right family-values messaging, “The Conjuring” wants to walk back one of America’s earliest historical crimes, the Salem witch trials of 1692, and make it look like there must have been something to it after all. Those terrified colonial women, brainwashed, persecuted and murdered by the religious authorities of their day – see, they actually were witches, who slaughtered children and pledged their love to Satan and everything! That’s not poetic license. It’s reprehensible and inexcusable bulls***.”

It’s just a dumb subplot in a scary film, right? Historically shoddy movies are far from a new invention, so why bother even critiquing it? But the catch, the problem, centers on the hook of this being a “true” story, and the media subtext that is gently emerging concerning “witches” and “dark” powers. For example, The Blaze interviews Andrea Perron, one of the daughters who lived in the house when Ed and Lorraine Warren came to bust some ghosts back in the 1970s, and she says the scariest part was left out of the film.

“I’m really glad that they didn’t include all of the stories, because I think that people would find it unbelievable [...] One of them is the night that my mother laid beside my father in bed and all the spirits gathered as a coven of witches. They had burning torches.” 

A coven of demonic ghost witches? You’re right, it does seem somewhat unbelievable. However, this tidbit was enough to get fringe Christian froth-er Bryan Fischer to share a little story about witches on his radio program.

“Covens, and there are covens, these are clusters of witches that meet, they’ll start meeting at midnight, they’ll break up at 2-o-clock, 3-o-clock in the morning, and they will send demonic spirits out on assignments against their chosen targets. One night, 2-o-clock in the morning, I’m awakened by something grabbing my ankle. It never happened to me before, never happened to me since, but something grabbed my ankle and was trying to pull me out of the bed. I realized immediately what it was, I knew I needed to say the name Jesus, I tried, his name got stuck in my throat! They tried to keep me from saying the name Jesus, when I was finally able to say the name of Jesus it broke, went away, and it was lifted.”

Fischer reinforces this idea as not only true, but something that happens today with living witches. As for the prime sources of this true story, Ed and Lorraine Warren, they have a, shall we say, complex relationship with the notion of witchcraft. Here’s a quote from Lorraine Warren in the book “The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren.”

“Wicca – or witchcraft – is 4,000 years old, often called the ‘Old Religion’ because it predates both Judaism and Christianity. People who practice Wicca are known as white witches, and worship Mother Earth. They manipulate natural forces for positive results – healing, good luck, lasting love, and bountiful harvests. After that, however, you digress into gray witchcraft, black witchcraft, and Satanism. This is where problems develop because witchcraft goes both ways and can be used to bring about positive or negative ends.”

After that brief disclaimer-of-sorts about “white” Witchcraft, the Warrens proceed to expound at length about the dangers of witchcraft, and how it opens you to Satanic possession.

“Nowadays, lone individuals performing rites gleaned form a drugstore paperback may not be prepared for the ghastly reality often bound, by what Ed calls cosmic law, to confront them.”

So we’re back to the idea of witchcraft as doorway to Satanic/demonic powers. That positive “white” Witchcraft is simply the bright side to a two-faced coin. A spectrum from good-to-evil that we’re tied to, no matter our own theologies or beliefs.

The promotional hype for this film has been built around Lorraine Warren’s input, and this story being true. Outreach to Christian media has been ongoing and thorough, with Warren’s demure gloves being taken off somewhat for this niche audience.

If I could only explain to people how not to get involved in certain things where the occult is concerned. I [wish] I could explain that to them [...] the only way to protect yourself is through your faith. … If I could only get over that hill for people to understand that if they had faith and they witness all of these [demonic encounters] that they could call on God and ask for his protection. That’s really my goal.”

As for the filmmakers, Chad and Carey Hayes, they are fine invoking spiritual warfare rhetoric to sell tickets.

“The Hayes brothers describe themselves as “Christians” without wanting to go into further labels or detail, and they’re convinced of the reality of demonic forces and spiritual warfare. ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,’ Chad Hayes said, easily quoting from the New Testament Book of Ephesians. [...]  ‘We’re 100 percent aware of the reality that there is darkness and there is light,’ Carey Hayes said. ‘We’ve seen it. We’ve witnessed it.’ ‘We’ve seen things,’ Chad chimed in, ‘that I wish we never saw.'”

The truth is that the film, in constructing its (by all accounts compelling) ghost story, tapped into source material that has deeply problematic attitudes about the idea of witchcraft. Attitudes that fuel a specific Christian view of spiritual reality, and casts the occult as part of a dualistic sinister world that can only lead to horror if one “dabbles” for too long. Witch-hunting revisionism, mixed with Christian spiritual warfare, leads to nowhere good if left unexamined. I hope that with this new influx of attention, more people take a critical eye at the Warrens’ work, and that the memes of destructive witchcraft, of non-Christian spiritual forces being demonic, are deflated in the process.

A scary film, in isolation, is nothing to worry about. A scary film that taps into deep wells of fear and misinformation to sell tickets? As Christian Day says, “this film has the potential to have a real legacy,” but will it be a legacy we don’t wish to see propagated?