Archives For National Geographic

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.

Top Story: Alejandro Amenábar’s film “Agora”, based on the story of Hypatia of Alexandria, finally saw a limited release in art-house theaters at the beginning of the Summer season. The film, despite doing very well in Europe, and getting generally positive reviews from American critics, has failed to draw a big audience or expand beyond its very limited release schedule. In These Times wonders why a film rife with conflicts that should resonate with American audiences has instead fallen flat.

“[Rachel Weisz's] star turn as Hypatia, a scholar and astronomer of pagan background who preaches tolerance and brotherhood in late fourth-century Alexandria while scientifically probing the secrets of the solar system, is apparently not the stuff that draws Americans to the box office … highly prized internationally and Spain’s highest grossing film in 2009; yet it struggled for distribution in the United States before its release here on May 28. With a female intellectual as its hero and Christian fanatics as its villains, Agora’s limited American appeal is perhaps understandable.

Is it as simple as that? Christian villains and an intellectual hero? If so, Dan Brown’s thrillers (Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons) wouldn’t have drawn hundreds of millions at the box-office. I think the answer is more complex than that. It is partially the fault of a timid distribution market, afraid of courting controversy (or at least the wrong kind of controversy), which allowed the film to wait in limbo for months. I also think the nature of the “Christian villains” is significant. It isn’t a few elites pulling strings and hatching evil plans, “Agora” certainly has those but it also shows Christian mobs killing pagans and Jews. It holds up a piece of history that many would like to forget, when the persecuted minority, now risen to power, started inflicting its own evils on the wider world.

The article ends with a note that “Agora” is “a warning of what happens when a single religious authority seizes total state power”, so it’s little wonder it’s not drawing crowds from the demographics who think we are indeed a “Christian nation”, and yearn for the primacy of Christian morality. So I fear I’ll have to wait for the DVD to see this film with the message a bit too prickly for mass public consumption.

A Biography of Sybil Leek: The Orlando Sentinel’s religion blog reports that a biography of Sybil Leek, one of the world’s most famous Witches, is being published. Leek was the prototype “media” Witch, appearing on Johnny Carson and in hundreds of other television programs and newspaper articles.

“Christine Jones, 73, of Satellite Beach,  says she wrote Sybil Leek: Out of the Shadows as a tribute to the woman she says was a teacher and a warm and gentle friend. “She was like Mother Earth,” Jones said. Leek was one of the most famous practitioners of Wicca, a pagan faith sometimes known as Witchcraft or Craft. She made hundreds of television appearances in the U.S. and the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s and wrote dozens of books, including Diary of a Witch. She even reportedly was an astrologer for former First Lady Nancy Reagan. Leek died in 1982 in Melbourne Beach. Jones said she met Leek in the 1970s, after an out-of-body experience led her to contact Leek for help understanding what had happened to her. After moving to Florida in 1977, Jones, then a nurse, studied one-on-one with Leek — the last such student, Jones said. The biography, which Jones said took her several years to write, is a personal look at a woman who was simultaneously larger than life and “so normal.”

You can pre-order the book at Pendraig Publishing. I suspect you’ll also be able to order it through Amazon soon enough as well. Biographies are a rare thing within our communities, so I’ll always welcome one more.

Equal Reactions to An Atheist Prime Minister? Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars looks at religious reactions to the ascension of a female atheist, Julia Gillard, to Australia’s highest office. In his mind the rantings of Christian fire-breather Danny Nalliah (who I’ve mentioned here before) are equal to a rather more peaceful reaction by local Wiccans.

Pastor Danny Nalliah of the Catch the Fire Ministries. He claims that a godless Gillard is out to ”destroy our Judeo-Christian heritage,” outlaw worship altogether and turn Australia into another ”Communist China” … Melbourne witch and high priestess Lizzy Rose and her coven will invite Ms Gillard’s energy into their magic circle to speak about ”her intentions of where she is taking the country”. Ms Rose says her divinations ”will prove to us whether Julia is going to govern through ego or through her heart space”. If Ms Gillard, an avowed atheist, passes the ”heart-space” test, Ms Rose says she’ll get the endorsement of her Order of Wisdom, Learning and Light. ”We’re not trying to recruit her against her will,” she says. ”We see her as a high priestess anyway, regardless of her atheism.”

Now, I can see that an atheist might think both are equally loony. But Brayton goes on to call the Wiccans “creepy” and “every bit as bad as the egregious stupidity being offered by the fundamentalist Christians”. Really? Every bit as bad? One thinks Gillard is a devil who wants to impose Communist rule, and the other wants to speak to her energy body in a circle and honors her as a priestess, and those reactions are equatable? I mean, I get that he thinks all religion is crazy, but these reactions are not coming from the same place, or have the same intentions. In all honesty I think Lizzy Rose might have chosen to keep that ritual to herself, but she is harming no-one and is certainly not the provocateur that Nalliah is. To equate them is silly at best, and at worst drives wedges between atheists and other religious minorities that might find common cause.

Restoring Native Lands: The latest issue of National Geographic Magazine has a fascinating feature on how several Native American Tribes are reversing years of environmental abuse on their ancestral homes, restoring the lands that were once taken from them.

“In 1979 the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of Montana became the first in the nation to set aside tribal land—92,000 acres of the Flathead Reservation’s mountains and meadows—as wilderness. Since then, the Nez Perce have acquired 16,286 acres of ancestral lands in northeast Oregon that they will manage solely to benefit fish and wildlife. The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes in northeastern Montana are working to bring back bison on the Fort Peck Reservation. In Minnesota the Chippewa, or Ojibwa, have restored a ravaged walleye population at Red Lake. And on the Fort Apache Reservation in Arizona the threatened Apache trout is finding a new home, and the forest is now managed with ecology, not just lumber, in mind.”

There has been much talk lately on how Pagans can be leaders and agents of change regarding our current environmental problems, perhaps the quiet good stewardship of these tribal nations can become a model for our own modest lands. An ethic of responsibility and interconnectedness.

Revival of Folk Religion in China? NPR has been running a series on religion in China, and today’s segment on All Things Considered is supposed to cover the revival of folk religions in that country. Here’s a small bit about that subject in the introductory segment from July 18th.

Across China, religious belief has blossomed and flourished — far outpacing the government’s framework to control it — with a profusion of charismatic movements and a revival in traditional Chinese religions. Two-thirds of those who described themselves as religious in the 2006 survey said they were Buddhists, Taoists or worshippers of folk gods such as the Dragon King or the God of Fortune. Another popular goddess is Mazu, who is believed to protect sailors. Although she is included in the Daoist and Buddhist pantheons, she — and many other indigenous popular gods — falls outside China’s five official religions. However, the worship of Mazu recently has been reclassified as “cultural heritage” rather than religious practice, making it acceptable even for Communist Party members. Academics say that model is being used elsewhere in China for other indigenous folk religions. There are also government attempts to support traditional Chinese practices such as ancestor worship, by changing the public holidays. In 2009, the government declared the Qingming Festival — the traditional day for sweeping graves — a public holiday for the first time, allowing much larger numbers of people to sweep their ancestral graves. “Now the government supports us,” says Shao Longshan, his cheeks still tear-stained after bowing deeply in front of the grave of his late wife, Zhu Jiefen, at a cemetery on the outskirts of Shanghai during the Qingming Festival in early April. “Not only does this let the people who are alive remember those who have gone, but [it allows us to] keep the Chinese traditions and culture.”

So be sure to tune in to your local NPR station and give a listen. The transcript will most likely be up tomorrow, here. What will a revival of indigenous religion in China mean for the future? A simple counter-balance, along with Buddhism and Taoism, to the growing influence of Christianity? Or will their be a new political consciousness among those who adhere to these deities? Will these believers form new ties outside of China with Pagan, Hindu, or indigenous groups?

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

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

Modern Paganism continues to grow in India, DNA India files a report from Mumbai about the “bewitching world of Wicca”.

“Twentysix-year-old Sangeeta Krishnan is a part time editor of a scientific firm by profession but a wiccan by choice. She is as adept at using the computer as she is at using the crystal ball, wand, spells and magical charms for her wicca workshops. “I have been into this as long as I can remember. I used to have a lot of mystical experiences in my school days,” says Krishnan, who has been practicing wicca for the last 10 years.”

The fascinating cross-pollination between modern Paganism and Hinduism continues. One wonders what the American and European Indo-Pagans and the Indian Wiccans will be like a couple generations down the line. Will they intersect? Or will they each evolve into something entirely different?

World-famous Hammer Horror actress Ingrid Pitt reminices about “The Wicker Man” while in Scotland being interviewed by the BBC for a documentary concerning films shot in Scotland (which “The Wicker Man” was).

“The filming for the BBC extravaganza was done in the Ellengowan Hotel in Creetown where Britt Ekland didn’t do her naked dance routine. The actual interview was in the bar where the Barman’s Daughter was sung. And standing in the corner was Ian Cutler, sawing away on his fiddle, just the way he did it 36 years ago. 36 years ago! Makes your head spin. Pauline Law, the director insisted we had something to eat before getting down to it and I was seated next to Alan Cumming, the interviewer. Not sure that was the best thing. By the time I had chewed my way through a plate of beef I had told him my life story and hadn’t held anything back for the interview.”

Since I don’t live in the UK, I’ll most likely have to wait for a DVD release of “Filming in Scotland”. Should be worth it just for the on-location Wicker Man interviews.

I suppose I should be flattered that no matter how busy Beliefnet blogger Rod “Crunchy Con” Dreher becomes, he always has enough time to point and laugh at modern Pagans. It really brings home how much his recent conversion to Orthodox Christianity has matured him. This time he unleashes his snark on a lesbian Pagan sepratist who wrote a letter to The New Yorker to complain about a recent feature they published about Lesbian sepratist communities.

“How come Crunchy Con never gets letters like this one to the New Yorker, from a reader who didn’t like lesbian writer Ariel Levy’s recent piece on the history of radical lesbian separatism? … The joke just kind of writes itself, doesn’t it? Still, if she’s got her own little Benedict Option going, good for her. I bet it’s as humor-free as Pyongyang, tho’…”

Ah, what an incisive wit! Reminds of me of the good old days when he’d make snide comments about how many “hit-points” those Pagans with funny names had. Good times, good times. Watch out though, those conservatives who don’t think he’s conservative enough are pretty sure he’s secretly a Pagan (its those organic groceries and acceptance that global warming is real). If he’s not careful, people might think he’s overcompensating with the anti-Pagan barbs in order to hide something.

Were Julius Caesar and Pliny the Elder actually right about the Druids when they claimed they participated in mass ritual slaughter and cannibalism? That’s the hook of a recent National Geographic News story, but when you actually read the article they aren’t so sure.

“Druids may have killed the victims—who show evidence of skull-splitting blows—in a single event. It may have been the Roman invasion itself that escalated the Druids’ ritualized slaughter, researchers say. Mark Horton, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol, thinks the pile of bodies suggests savage resistance to the Romans, either on the battlefield or through deadly ritual. “Maybe the whole thing is a gigantic sacrifice … an appeasement to the gods in order that they will get ultimate victory against the Romans,” Horton said. The Alveston cave bones hint at something even more sinister—cannibalism. A human thighbone in the cave had been broken open in exactly the same method people use to get at the nutritious bone marrow of nonhuman animals. But if the bone is proof of Celtic cannibalism, the practice was probably extremely rare, Horton said. It may be evidence of increasing hunger and desperation as Roman invaders closed in, he added.”

So it there might have possibly been cannibalism based on one bone being split, and there was some sort of mass-sacrifice, but they aren’t really sure about the circumstances. They could have been willing victims trying to magically stop the Romans, executed enemies, or something else entirely. There’s still no real proof concerning how pervasive or regular human sacrifice was among the Druids, and there certainly is no proof they engaged in cannibalism regularly. Its a shame that National Geographic would veer into senstionalism like this.

In a final note, the second issue of Thorn Magazine is now out.

“Thorn Issue 2 is now available. This issue, in observance of Barack Obama’s historic election, we’re delving into the racial makeup of our Pagan traditions– who we are, which cultures we look to in borrowing (or appropriating?) our traditions and inspirations, and how we can preserve the vitality of our ethnic paths in an increasingly multi-cultural world. Including interviews with: T. Thorn Coyle, Isaac Bonewits, and S.J. “Sooj” Tucker.”

It also features a column from yours truly, a smack-down of the Lebor Feasa Runda from Phillip A. Bernhardt-House, and a review of “Talking About the Elephant” by Christine Hoff Kraemer. One of the smartest Pagan publications out there, and I’m not just saying that because I write for them.

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