Archives For Northumberlandia

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.

XKCD by Randall Munroe

XKCD by Randall Munroe

  • Considering how many times Wicca has been called the “fastest growing religion in America,” by both supporters and detractors, the latest XKCD comic reminds us to not get too wrapped up with the numbers, because they can be deceptive.
  • At Religion Dispatches John Morehead writes about Burning Man, and the fear it generates of an “alternative Pagan social order.” Quote: “For evangelicals like Matthews, Burning Man embodies deep-seated fears which can also be seen playing out in other aspects of American culture. Many conservatives fear that America is undergoing decay, and this is taking place in the spiritual realm as well. A lingering economic malaise, coupled with our continued cultural fascination with apocalyptic scenarios, provides a context in which Burning Man functions as a Rorschach test.” The whole thing is worth a read.
  • The University of Texas at Austin has published a new psychology study in the June issue of Child Development that shows a “reliance on supernatural explanations for major life events, such as death and illness, often increases rather than declines with age.” Study lead author Cristine Legare noted that “the data, which spans diverse cultural contexts across the lifespan, shows supernatural reasoning is not necessarily replaced with scientific explanations following gains in knowledge, education or technology.” 
  • The Americans United Wall of Separation blog critiques efforts by Focus on the Family (FOF) and the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) to carve out exceptions for religious bullying at public schools. Quote: It attempts to carve out an exemption for protected “religious” bullying. In several states, Religious Right groups have attempted to exempt bullying and verbal harassment based on sincere religious beliefs. In other words, a fundamentalist Christian kid can harass a gay student as much as he wants as along as he sincerely believes what he is saying. Some yardstick there!” You can read the FOF-ADF document, here.
  • A married couple’s strife leads to arson, and hospitalization for both. Both admit on the record to having marital issues, yet the headline, and part of the article, is about how the wife believes in Voodoo due to past instances where she called the police with, quote, “bizarre accusations.” There doesn’t seem to be anything Voodoo related with this incident, so why include in the headline? Seems prejudicial to the wife, and distorts what could be a tragic, and sadly common, case of domestic violence escalated to extreme levels.
  • Rev Dr Peter Mullen must live a small, sad, life. How else can you turn watching the opening of the opening ceremony of the Paralympics into a concern-trolling editorial about how we’re descending into Paganism? Quote: “But then I looked further and thought, at least, that I glimpsed a little of what this confusion says about modern society. We are indeed eclectic. And the old word for this, when applied to widely held beliefs and practical behaviour was “paganism” – the worship of many gods: that mountain of confusion classically represented by the panoply of argumentative deities on Olympus. Only an eclectic contemporary paganism could allow the godless Big Bang to walk hand in hand with the sacred flame.” Seriously. Can someone take this guy out to a movie or something?
  • The Republican National Convention is now over, and I know everyone wants to talk about Clint Eastwood’s interview with Invisible Obama, but I wanted to point out this exploration of Tuesday night’s closing invocation by Samuel Rodriguez, a member of the radical spiritual warriors of the New Apostolic Reformation. Quote: “Blessing the convention was National Hispanic Leadership Conference President Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, who has served as an apostle in C. Peter Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles and has extensive ties to Wagner’s movement.” I’ve covered this movement quite a bit over the years, and their ascendancy/integration within the Religious Right is troubling for those hoping for a “big tent” religious conservatism, or a more moderate conservative Christianity.
  • Erynn Rowan Laurie, author of “A Circle of Stones” recently completed a pilgrimage to Ireland, and she has posted the first installment of her write-up. Quote: “Our visit to both of the wells was held in a deluge. I think every well we visited while we were in Ireland, with the exception of Brigid’s Well in Mullingar, was rained on. We certainly connected with the watery side of Brigid’s powers during our pilgrimage! Prayers were offered for Brigid’s blessing on our work, offerings were made, and intentions set in the pouring rain. I remembered all my friends and the folks who had donated to my travel funds for the pilgrimage at her well, offering prayers for them, as well.” I look forward to future installments!
Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

Northumberlandia (Banks Mining/PA)

  • We carved and shaped a giant goddess image into the earth, but please don’t think it’s Pagan, says a spokesperson. ”Northumberlandia is just a lady, she doesn’t represent anything, but I think it’s understandable that people have their own interpretations.” Chas Clifton retorts: “Check back at one of the quarter or cross-quarter days.”
  • For those inspired by Aristophanes classic play Lysistrata, you might wonder, do sex strikes really work? Slate.com says “yes,” but mostly as way to draw attention to an issue. Quote: “The Togolese group cites as its inspiration a strike organized in 2003 by a women’s peace group to encourage the end of the Second Liberian Civil War. (The effort was chronicled in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.) Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace did force an end to the war, but their tactics were more complicated than a simple sex strike: They also staged sit-ins and mass demonstrations, which were arguably far more effective than the sex strike. Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the peace group, wrote in her memoir that the months-long sex strike had little or no practical effect, but it was extremely valuable in getting us media attention. Until today, nearly 10 years later, whenever I talk about the Mass Action, “What about the sex strike?” is the first question everyone asks.”

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: The BBC reports that Athanassios Lerounis, a Greek national who was kidnapped by the Taliban  in Pakistan several months ago, has been freed. Lerounis’ kidnapping was thought to be a consequence of the Taliban increasingly targeting the Kalash in Pakistan, Indo-European pagans believed by some to be descended from a commingling of Alexander the Great’s army and local peoples, who have survived in predominantly Muslim areas thanks to living in remote valleys.

“His captors demanded the release of militants held by Pakistan in exchange for his freedom but officials say no militant exchange was made. “He has been released by the successful efforts of Pakistani security agencies,” Rahmatullah Wazir, the top administrative official in Chitral, told the BBC. The curator was living in the Kalash valley to pursue his interest in an ancient “lost tribe” when he was kidnapped by armed men on 7 September 2009.”

While Chitral officials claim that no ransom was paid, this assertion has been challenged by other media sources. Lerounis is much beloved by the Kalash people, whom he helped build a local heritage museum and medical facilities, while encouraging education opportunities. Inhabitants of the Kalasha valleys undertook rare mass demonstrations to secure his release. This international incident forced the government of Pakistan to pay more attention to the Kalash people, who are normally ignored, their relatively peaceful lifestyle increasing threatened by Taliban-Pakistan clashes in the nearby Swat valley.

The War on Herbs: While Americans are increasingly shifting their opinions concerning marijuana, especially for medical purposes, that hasn’t stopped some lawmakers in the Louisiana House of Representatives from attempting to regulate any plant that might get a kid (briefly) high. House Bill 173 will outlaw a number of herbs from being blended, smoked, or inhaled.

“HB173 would prohibit a number of plants from being blended and smoked or inhaled. The plants in question include mugwort, honeyweed, sacred lotus and dwarf skullcap.  Many of these plants are listed as ingredients in herbal incense products.”

Lawmakers will no doubt seek to prohibit spinning around really, really fast, masturbating, or any other activity that might alter a young person’s consciousness. One wonders if the St. John’s Wort-popping natural health community will rush to oppose the passage of this new law, or if they’ll lay low because it’s targeting head shops instead of Whole Foods. Not to engage in too much slippery-slope prognostication, but if we allow the government to ban the mixing and selling of some herbs, what’s to stop them from expanding further?

Handfasting on (Reality) Television: After the somewhat bizarre media uproar about two Pagan teenagers getting handfasted (with parental consent) in Australia last month, the couple, and the girl’s mother, have agreed to an exclusive deal with a local television station for coverage of the nuptials.

“A teenage couple set to wed this weekend in an ancient pagan ceremony have signed a deal with Channel 9’s A Current Affair program … Under the contract signed by Alex Stewart-Pole, 19, and Jenni Birch, 16, A Current Affair have exclusive rights to cover the handfasting ceremony.  Mum Sue Birch, a pagan high priestess, will perform the ceremony, and said on Tuesday that any media coverage of the wedding would have to be discussed with A Current Affair. She said the family would not receive payment under the contract. However, Mr Stewart-Pole said Nine had promised to give the couple ‘a wedding present’.”

A Current Affair tackles hard-hitting issues like diet pizza, bargain shopping, and kids who stab dogs, so this deal could really go either way for the couple. I’m hoping for sweet and innocuous, but you never know what will happen when mainstream media decides to cover Pagans. It’s part of the reason why I counsel against Pagans appearing on reality television, exploitative talk-shows, and man-bites-dog sensationalist “news magazines”. Always remember to read the fine print on any contract, and study the show you’re going on before hand.

Chuck Colson Continues to Hate on Pagans: I know this isn’t really going to  be”news” to anyone who’s familiar with the Watergate-criminal-turned-Christian crusader Chuck Colson, but he’s bad-mouthing Hinduism and modern Paganism in a recent editorial that making the rounds of various Christian publications. Using the isolated and tragic case of a Hindu priest in India sacrificing his family and himself as proof of a larger deficit in pagan belief systems.

“I want to emphasize that Hindus are among the most peace-loving people in the world. The actions of these people are by no means representative. What is representative, however, is their belief that worship largely consists in appeasing the deity. In order to obtain favor, the worshipper must offer the proper sacrifice. Get it wrong and your prayers aren’t answered. Or worse. This worldview is very similar to that of the ancient world into which Jesus became incarnate. The pagan gods were a fickle and demanding lot who demanded blood and abasement from their worshipers-and even then “answered” prayers only on a whim. This is why so many classical philosophers, like many of their Indian counterparts throughout history, were put off by popular religious practices. So they substituted an “unknown” god and an unknowable god … How ironic that we in the post-Christian West are exchanging belief in the “personal, benevolent God” of Christianity for a sanitized paganism. Whether it’s “new age” mumbo jumbo or Wicca for Dummies, we have forgotten the dread these beliefs caused our ancestors and the awful things it made them do.”

I’ll leave it to my ever-astute readers to bother with dismantling his anti-pagan arguments. Though no longer in favor at The White House now that Bush is out of office, Colson’s been busy in his ongoing hate-a-palooza by supporting anti-same-sex marriage initiatives and signing on to the Manhattan Declaration.

Goddess of the North Construction Starting: In a final note, work is beginning on the massive land sculpture entitled “Northumberlandia”, dubbed “The Goddess of the North” by the media.

“Work is to start on a giant sculpture of a naked woman which is to be carved into the Northumberland landscape. The “Goddess of the North” will be made from 1.5 million tonnes of earth from the Shotton mine, near Cramlington. It will stand 34 metres – 10 metres higher than the Angel of the North – and will be 400 metres long … designed by artist Charles Jencks, who is best known in the North East for his sculpture outside the Centre for Life in Newcastle. Mark Dowdall, environment and communities director of The Banks Group, said it was hoped the sculpture would attract an additional 200,000 visitors a year to Northumberland.”

Though I don’t like to repeat myself, I wonder if this new addition to Britain’s landscape will, in a few hundred years, be considered an “ancient” pre-Christian survival by the locals. It will also be interesting to see if the site will become a pilgrimage place for modern Pagans and Goddess-worshipers.

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