Archives For occult

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

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  • A prison beard ban case currently before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) could have far-reaching implications for religious freedom in our prisons. An anaylsis at SCOTUSblog of Holt v. Hobbs notes that SCOTUS have already ruled that corporations have the ability to avoid complying with some government mandates that they believe infringe on their religious beliefs, but what about prisoners? Quote: “Having ruled that a corporation can rely on the devoutly Christian beliefs of its owners to avoid complying with the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate, will at least five Justices be equally receptive to an inmate’s desire to comply with his Muslim religion by growing a half-inch beard? Throw in yesterday’s announcement that the Justices will review the case of a Muslim teenager who alleges that she was not hired for a job at a popular clothing chain because she wears a headscarf, and it looks like it could be another significant Term for religious freedom at the Court.” The Becket Fund frames the case as whether prison officials can arbitrarily ban a religious practice (in this case beard-growing).
  • Is religion on the wane in the West (say that ten times fast)? There’s some recent evidence that it might be. Ben Clements at British Religion in Numbers analyzes the latest British Election Study (BES), which shows a huge growth in “nones” (those who don’t identify with having any particular faith identity). Quote: “The most common response is that of not belonging to any religion, at 44.7%.” It should also be noted that “other” faiths are also on the rise among younger respondents. Meanwhile, in the United States, a growing majority thinks that religion is losing its influence over American life. This is according to a Pew Research poll. Quote: “Nearly three-quarters of the public (72%) now thinks religion is losing influence in American life, up 5 percentage points from 2010 to the highest level in Pew Research polling over the past decade.” 
  • Religion News Service covers the latest iteration of people over-reacting to Halloween, in this case a school district in New Jersey that banned, then un-banned Halloween parties. Quote: “For years, Christian evangelicals have objected to what they see as Halloween’s pagan origins. Some churches have adopted alternative harvest celebrations, while others have constructed elaborate “Hell Houses” designed to depict the torments of hell and the promise of salvation through belief in Jesus. But a day after canceling the in-school Halloween celebration, parents received a note home from Acting Superintendent James Memoli saying the cancelation has been reversed, and the event would take place as it has in the past.” Of course, Halloween is NOT a Pagan holiday, it’s a Christian holiday that was thoroughly secularized over the last 100 years. Now, Samhain (and other pre-Christian harvest/Winter festivals), that’s a different matter. Anyway, what’s truly ironic is re-labeling Halloween as a “Harvest Festival” just makes is sound MORE Pagan, not less. Stick with the jack-o-lanterns and candy.
  • Catholicism is slowly losing its grip on Brazil, but that hasn’t dimmed the popularity of an annual processional in honor of the Virgin Mary. Quote: “An arduous public display of devotion, Cirio (pronounced see-rio) has persisted and thrived as a centerpiece of Amazonian regional culture — maintaining consistent levels of participation year to year — even as Catholicism loses ground to evangelical faiths in a dramatic transformation of Brazilian society.” Why the enduring popularity? Because the festival goes deep into the cultural history of their society, quote, “in Brazil, where African and indigenous traditions melded with Christianity for centuries and where Catholicism has deep cultural roots, religious identities are not so clear-cut.” Indeed, indeed. Meanwhile, practitioners of Afro-Brazilian faiths feel under attack.
  • Affirming belief in a higher power, or going back to jail? Thanks to a lawsuit in California, that may be a choice that’s on its way to extinction. Quote: “The real victory here is that California will no longer be able to force anyone into a faith-based treatment program. It’s fine to have different rehab programs available to drug offenders – even if they’re faith-based – but religious ones must remain optional.”
  • The Miami Herald reports on how two prominent Santeria organizations (Kola Ifa and Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé) have joined forces to, quote, “establish a central and very visible hierarchy for a faith often associated by outsiders with mysterious rites, colorful deities and animal sacrifices.” Here’s a video report on this new agreement. I’m thinking this move could have significant ripples into the wider Santeria/Lukumi world.

That’s all I have for right now, as always, some of these stories may be expanded on in future Wild Hunt posts. Thanks for reading, have a great day!

Casey Rae

Casey Rae

[The following is a guest book review from Casey Rae. Casey Rae is a musician, public policy wonk and the editor/publisher of The Contrarian Media. An in-demand speaker, he gives frequent talks at conferences and campuses on issues at the intersection of creativity, technology, policy and law, and is a go-to source for major media outlets from NPR to the New York Times. Casey works alongside leaders in the music, arts and performance sectors to bolster understanding of and engagement in key policy and technology issues, and has written dozens of articles on the impact of technology on the creative community. Casey is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and VP for Policy and Education at the Future of Music Coalition. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Media & Democracy Coalition and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.]

I’ve told the story more times than I can count. Five or six years old, hanging out with my high school-age uncles in a town just a couple of clicks from Stephen King‘s place and a few hurried steps through a creepy wooded path to the university where he once taught English (in the same department where my grandmother worked). Actually, “hanging out” with my uncles is probably an overstatement. More like “invading the personal space of.” The adult me is grateful either way.

81FurFykFBL._SL1417_Already a monster movie fanatic on the prowl for anything scary, I would pore through my uncles’ LP collection looking for cool covers. this was the late 1970s; a golden age for outré album sleeves. On this particular afternoon, I recall pulling out a pair of records—Alive II by KISS, and Some Enchanted Evening, a concert from Blue Öyster Cult. My parents had decent taste in music, so this wasn’t so much a rock ‘n’ roll epiphany as it was an opportunity to make choices based on my own interests—in this case, horror stuff. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that curious about the music, but my uncle said we could listen.

First up was KISS. I was definitely impressed with band members’ demonic kabuki gear and sensational makeup. The music, not so much. Even as a rock ‘n’ roll tadpole, I recognized what a shitty band KISS are. Nothing in the intervening years has changed my opinion.

Blue Öyster Cult was next. Frankly, the cover was a little too scary, depicting a black-robed skeleton astride a satanic steed, bony fingers gripping a scythe. Beast and beastie canvassed an angry Martian landscape beneath a cruel midnight sky. I had no idea what any of this was meant to symbolize, but I grokked its heaviness.

From the first needle drop I was in love. “Godzilla” was my favorite, but I was also taken by “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which even in its live embodiment possessed a haunted quality that I couldn’t put my tiny fingers on. Still can’t.

My uncle and I subsequently had a conversation about what a “reaper” is (“he collects vegetables at harvest time”); later I went back to my own burg to ruminate over the connections between these uncanny sounds and images.

And I’ve never stopped.

I’m not alone. I can name several books by legitimate occult scholars that make some attempt to trace these ley-lines; music scribes often hint at the witchier aspects of the rock Renaissance (roughly 1964-1982). But given that each camp has limited sightlines into the other, there is an opportunity for someone to bring focus to a topic that is too often tawdry or incomplete.

9780399167669_medium_Season_of_the_WitchPeter Bebergal‘s Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll [Tarcher/Penguin 2014], is an admirable attempt at uniting the tribes. First, we need a common vernacular. To Bebergal’s definition, “the occult” is less a fixed system and more of a worldview that encompasses many spiritual traditions operating outside of mainstream religious practices. Bebergal’s interest in the subject appears to be fairly similar to my own—we both became enamored of rock music as a form of escapism at a time when other entertainment options were scarce or unbearably straight-laced. Rock, with its otherworldly visual language, coded lyrics, symbolic imagery and strident musicality, provided a perfect vessel for the projections of pre-adolescents and teenagers—largely male, definitely “gifted,” and lacking an outlet for our own creative impulses. We constructed elaborate mythologies around rock, populated by a pantheon of musical heroes and villains, wizards and warriors. Record albums became a kind of palimpsest, an (un)holy writ that only the initiated could hope to discern.

And some of us never grew out of it. Which is why it’s great to encounter a fellow traveler like Bebergal, who brings a scholar’s discipline to this esoteric quest. Bebergal is a lively writer who nonetheless resists hyperbole—quite a feat given the breathlessness this topic tends to elicit. Perhaps more impressive is the book’s comprehensiveness—from Delta blues to beatnik bluster to acid evangelists to metal overlords, Season of the Witch puts the hellfire in highbrow.

Season of the Witch is strongest in its examination of the history of African Americans as they endured the cruelties of slavery only to experience the anguish of segregation. Yet even under these injustices, black Americans preserved elements of their original musical and spiritual traditions, some of which were channeled through Christianity. It is difficult and often ill-advised for those outside a specific cultural group to construct a narrative around the real struggles of a people. Especially when the topic of investigation has been used by the socioeconomic and political elite to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. To his credit, Bebergal avoids many common pitfalls. His comparative analysis of early rock ‘n’ roll and its cultural and spiritual foundries compels examination of the African-American experience. To sidestep these histories is to ignore America’s own troubled past and potential for a better future. Key to the latter is for today’s generations to become more familiar with America’s musical and cultural legacy, including its abuses.

Those who enjoy cultural anthropology and religious studies will find plenty to appreciate in Bebergal’s account of how West African trickster god and “guardian of pathways” Eshu connects to Papa Legba, the guardian of the spirit world in Hatian (and later Louisianan) Voudon. When confronted with the all-pervasive Christian dichotomy of good/evil, these spirits took on a more sinister shape, one that to Bebergal’s reckoning informs the devilish stereotypes found in Delta blues, and later, rock.

But this is hardly a singular ethnomusicology. For his next trick, Bebergal pegs Greco and European mythologies (DionysusPan) to the pagan urges present in 1960s American and European counterculture. This flowering—which ultimately inspired the civil rights agenda along with the LSD-soaked technolibertarians of Silicon Valley—paved the way for a fuller exploration of the occult by progressive rockers of the 1970s, some of whom made a serious study of such metaphysical thinkers as Paramahansa Yogananda and G. I. Gurdjieff, among others. Acting as an accelerant was The Beatles, whose fraternization with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi served as a cosmic permission slip for legions of seekers.

It’s clear that Bebergal has done real investigation; the ideas of such occult luminaries as Madame Blavatsky and Aleister Crowley are given more serious consideration than is common to your average rock tome. For example, Bebergal does not refer to Crowley as a “satanist”— an inaccuracy common to pretty much every book on Led Zeppelin I’ve ever read (and I’ve read them all). And even occult scholars make mistakes; a recent book on Crowley noted that the Zeppelin LP on which “Do What Thou Wilt” was inscribed was IV, not III. This may not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but if I can’t trust you to get a detail like that right, can I trust you to illuminate how Rosicrucianism came to Europe?

While it is clear that Bebergal has done his homework, he hasn’t fully soaked in the hermetic traditions of the West (aka magick and its many offshoots). That’s not necessarily a bad thing. There are other writers, such as Erik Davis, who hit that groove. Bebergal is forthright about how he has less of an interest in the occult as a standalone topic than exploring how the symbols and associations found in rock got there to begin with. To me, this makes his occult research that much more impressive. I’ll take Bebergal’s even-keeled examinations over dilettantism or pedantry any day.

My only real complaint with Season of the Witch—besides jealousy over having not written it—is that its informational organization is a bit awkward. Not much of a gripe, given the difficulties in synthesizing and systemizing such a broad range of concepts and histories. Bebergal’s presentation is like a particularly awesome grad school lecture—it occasionally meanders, it’s not entirely concise, but is rich in context and conviction. (Apparently, we also share a lecture style.)

Some may grouse about what the book leaves out, but let’s give Bebergal a break—it would be fundamentally impossible to catalog every tributary that connects such massive bodies of water. That said, it would be interesting to teach a class in rock and the occult in a manner that could capture even more correspondences. If I were to design such a course, I’d readily assign Season of the Witch as the introductory text.

Kudos to Bebergal for taming the wily spirits of rock long enough to capture their essence in this fascinating book.

Last week, two individuals charged with firearm and drug trafficking charges had their convictions overturned on appeal thanks to authorities using their devotion to the Mexican folk-saint Santa Muerte to “taint” proceedings. In the decision handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court blasted using the expert testimony of U.S. Marshall Robert Almonte, who government prosecutors described as a “cultural iconography hobbyist.”

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

Photo: Time Magazine / EFE / ZUMAPRESS

“Missing from the district court’s discussion of Almonte’s qualifications is any discussion of how his Santa Muerte testimony could legitimately connect Medina’s prayer to drug trafficking. There is no evidence that Santa Muerte iconography is ‘associational,’ nor was there any allegation that the ‘main purpose’ of Santa Muerte veneration ‘was to traffic in’ narcotics. Cf. id. at 1562, 1563. Almonte testified that there may be ‘millions’ of followers of Santa Muerte, but he proffered no manner of distinguishing individuals who pray to Santa Muerte for illicit purposes from everyone else. His data comes from his work as a narcotics detective and his compilation of ‘several cases from law enforcement officers throughout the United States where these items have been involved in drug trafficking and other criminal activity.’ Mere observation that a correlation exists—especially when the observer is a law enforcement officer likely to encounter a biased sample—does not meaningfully assist the jury in  determining guilt or innocence.”

The decision went on to note that describing Santa Muerte as a “tool” of the drug trade was, legally speaking, a bit of a reach on the part of prosecution.

“The government’s inability at every stage of litigation to explain precisely how Santa Muerte can be “used” elucidates the poor fit between our ‘tools of the trade’ jurisprudence and Almonte’s purported area of expertise. It also highlights that further inquiry by the district court would have revealed that Almonte’s testimony would not properly ‘help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue.'”

In short, mere devotion to Santa Muerte is not probable cause, and can’t be used to tie someone to the drug trade. On reading the decision Dr. Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies and author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint,” tweeted that this was a “big blow” to self-appointed hobbyist experts within law enforcement.

Chesnut went on to tell the Associated Press that “Santa Muerte has been used as evidence and used as probable cause in some cases, but she is not just a narco saint, and many of her devotees aren’t involved in criminal behavior.” Chesnut has long advocated against law enforcement trusting the testimony of self-appointed experts on this often misunderstood religious movement, and has written in-depth about Santa Muerte and other folk-saints for Huffington Post.

So what does this ruling mean? It means that the two accused in this case will get a new trial, one that will leave out testimony regarding Santa Muerte, and it is also a huge blow against the liberal use of self-made occult and “cult” experts in criminal trials. This is very good news for anyone who practices a misunderstood minority religion in the United States. It is easy to scare a jury with tales of strange belief systems, when the focus should be on presentation of material evidence in a particular case.

Modern shaman and best-selling author S. Kelley Harrell’s new book, “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism,” out May 30 from Soul Rocks Books, is a light-hearted and informative handbook introducing shamanism to today’s young adults and beginning seekers. Author and journalist Beth Winegarner’s latest book, “The Columbine Effect: How Five Teen Pastimes Got Caught in The Crossfire and Why Teens Are Taking Them Back,” addresses how certain interests — including alternative spiritualities like shamanism, neopaganism and others — have been unfairly blamed for teen violence. Kelley and Beth got together for a chat about alternative faiths, cultural misperceptions and the importance of trusting youth as they find their own paths.

Teen_ShamanismBeth: I know practitioners within Santeria and Palo Mayombe who say that those paths are gaining in popularity among teens. Are you seeing anything similar with shamanism? Do you think more teens are feeling the call? Why does this book make sense at this particular time?

Kelley: I do see this is the case with modern shamanism. It makes sense to put this book out now because so many young people aren’t satisfied with the status quo of religious paths, lifestyles, gender issues, philosophies, and even career concerns, in general. Their processes and options are very different, even from when we were that age. There are so many conflicting messages in media, that having a supportive, yet, disciplined way to examine the unseen and engage with it, connect it back to mundane life, is very grounding.  Young people are looking for ways to bring personal meaning more into everything they do. That’s what rebellion is about. Expressing that need in a compassionately supported context ultimately benefits us all.

A key thing I see that’s different about young people, now, compared to older generations, is a lack of fear, which manifests in a couple of important ways. First, they aren’t afraid of intuitive or even supernatural experiences. They express being a great deal more capable to accept them for what they are. Even when they don’t have an understanding of what those experiences are, they don’t run from them. There’s a greater willingness to just accept that life is bigger without having to define that what means. Likewise, teens, today, aren’t afraid to diverge from their elders’ philosophies and viewpoints. While they may not wave that difference around, they recognize that they approach life differently, and seem more able to express compassion for difference, period. It’s when they are not shown compassion for the difference that shadow becomes a factor.

Side note, but I’m also tired of information on paths such as shamanism coming from outside the shamanic community. The broad resources that flit through media read copied and pasted from some 1970s text book. There is a real need to see the path as alive and evolving, and in seeing it as such, a possibility for personal connection to the unseen.

Beth: I hadn’t thought about the possibility that younger generations might be more open to supernatural experiences without being scared of them. I wonder if that’s a product of growing up in a more agnostic, or even atheist society, rather than being raised in more dedicated religious households and not being so exposed to the idea that anything outside the church is scary. One of the things I noted when I was researching “The Columbine Effect” is that kids — even young kids — have a very clear idea of what they’re comfortable with and what’s too scary or out of bounds. So even if they’re less afraid of things that might make their parents or especially grandparents uncomfortable, they still show a propensity for defining boundaries for their exploration.

Those findings connect with something I noticed in “Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism.” In the beginning of the book, you say that we often don’t think of children as wise. Where do you think that idea comes from, and why is it wrong?

Kelley: I think it comes from old virtues around control and a general need to see children as creatures to be shaped, rather than allowed to unfold. That ideology hasn’t worked for myself or anyone I’ve worked with. I find so many wounds around suppressing the wisdom of childhood. What’s wrong about that is obviously that it denies the intrinsic value of the child, though it also creates a rut in which adults become stuck and don’t grow. The education system in the US is a great example of that. Instead of realizing that forcing all kids down the same curriculum the same way doesn’t work, we keep finding ways to narrow the system. It’s a pattern of, “This is how we’ve always done it, ” rather than allowing individuality and creating ways to meet needs more openly.

TCE-frontcover-med copyBeth: I think that probably leads to something else I found in my research, which is that many kids explore a pagan or other alternative path in part because they become so disillusioned with the church or even with a lack of spirituality in the household, and they crave something that helps them create meaning in their lives and maybe also validates those kinds of supernatural experiences you mentioned earlier. Whether it’s neopaganism, Thelema, or chaos magic, these inquiries can turn into meaningful and sincere spiritual paths for teens. It might start out as rebellion but it turns into something else.

That said, many assume that kids who explore a non Judeo/Christian/Islamic path are only “dabbling” or “rebelling,” that children aren’t capable of seriously following a spiritual path they weren’t raised in. But what’s interesting among shamans, even modern shamans, is that the “call” often comes in childhood, doesn’t it? What makes shamanism different in this respect?

Kelley: It does come in childhood. I think shamanism is different in this respect because we are all born animists, which is realizing that all things are innately alive. Children pretend their stuffed animals talk to them. Plants, rocks, cars — everything is a companion to be interacted with, that contributes to the child’s understanding of life. We come in wired for that experience, then as we age into a social system larger than our immediate family–becoming school-aged–we are taught to shun that perspective. We’re taught that imagining livelihood is bad and displays immaturity, possibly lower intellect, or emotional problems. In that light, the connection between judgement of mental state and the unseen starts very early in life, as well. Our natural way of sensing and engaging life is quickly redacted.

Beth: You also write about the line between shamanic experience and what we might consider schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I’ve written a great deal about youth violence being linked to paganism, Satanism, the occult, etc., when in reality we need to look more at violent kids’ mental health and state of mind. How can parents, and culture at large, get better at telling the difference between a child who is experiencing visions or trance-journeys and one who is experiencing delusions induced by illness?

Kelley: In anyone, of any age, the difference between invoking trance and delusions is control. If a young person can control the unseen experiences s/he is having, that isn’t mental illness. If s/he can change the dialogue between self and spirit guides, that isn’t delusion. Control is the key component of trance work — moving into trance at will, directing what happens within, and leaving trance when desired — these are the intended, willed choices that a shaman makes. Someone who can’t control going into trance, who feels victimized or controlled by the experiences within trance, or can’t make trance stop, is experiencing a state of being that could be considered a mental or biochemical condition.

What do you think is the cultural motivation to assign ‘spiritual’ deviation to a youth’s errant behaviour , rather than explore it as the result of mental illness? How does this emphasis shape our view of young people, and these spiritual paths?

Beth: Well, keep in mind that until a few hundred years ago, we didn’t have much of a concept of mental illness at all; the feelings and behaviors we now recognize as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or even neurological issues like epilepsy and migraines, used to be explained in terms of demons and possession. And I think that when it comes to kids, the same social impulses that lead us to assume children can’t be wise or capable of their own agency have also given us the idea that kids aren’t capable of being very mentally ill, that it’s something only adults suffer from seriously. For example, a lot of people don’t think teenagers are capable of being sociopaths, but in Dave Cullen’s book on the Columbine High School shootings, he makes a very strong case for the argument that Eric Harris was a sociopath.

So, if you don’t believe kids are capable of being so ill that they’re likely to commit violence, it’s easier to look for other causes when they become violent. And if they happened to be exploring an alternative spirituality at the time, it’ll seem like an obvious culprit.

Of course, one of the reasons those explanations can make sense to people is that they don’t actually understand pagans or Satanists or occultists all that well. They’re relying on what they’ve heard on TV news or horror films, which is far from accurate. It’s like what you said about relying on the wrong sources of information about shamanism earlier. Instead, people who have a teenager exploring an alternative faith need to read and talk with legitimate sources. I talk about that a lot in “The Columbine Effect,” along with the ways various minority faiths and paths are misunderstood by society at large. So, what are some of the misconceptions people have about shamans and shamanism? Are those perceptions harmful to the practice?

Kelley: This is a personal button. The overlap of New Age ideology and earth-based paths hasn’t always been a service to shamanism. Out of the New Age movement, a lot fluffy, everything-is-always-good perspectives emerged, regarding shamanism. One of those is the idea that all mentally ill people are shamans, which is erroneously based on some nebulous tenet that tribal cultures revere the mentally ill as wisdomkeepers. This is always contrasted with the derision of the mentally ill in the west, which is virtually incontestable.

Every person contributes valuable intuitive insights, regardless of mental state. Everyone. No one is elite and special in that regard. The thing is, tribal spiritual leaders know the difference between someone who is mentally ill, and someone to whom they can completely turn over the spiritual reins of the tribe.  Someone who can’t control their ecstatic experience isn’t acting in the role of shaman, and that is the difference. Being able to go into trance doesn’t make you a shaman. Having a spirit guide doesn’t make you a shaman. Just having visions or interaction with spirits doesn’t make you a shaman. Being able to bring those experiences back and shape them into some improved, manifest state for the community makes you a shaman. It’s not the technique, but the role. This has been a steep learning curve in the modern path.

How can practitioners of minority faiths bring awareness of their paths to wider society in a way that is non-threatening, yet informative? What I see is compartmentalization of faiths. Practitioners/Leaders of faiths are out there, writing, speaking, engaging in their own community. They don’t step out, often with good reason, based on maltreatment by the larger community. Rarely does wider society venture in to fact check, let alone learn more. How does that education happen?

Beth: That’s an excellent question. As you point out, many don’t want to speak out in the larger community because they could face backlash. It’s already tough to walk an unorthodox path, which means many people don’t want to go the extra mile of being an ambassador for their faith. And in some cases, as with chaos magic and Satanism, I found that there was a vocal faction who decidedly didn’t want to work toward more societal acceptance. They enjoyed being seen as evil and scary by outsiders to their faith and weren’t interested in anyone accepting and tolerating them.

Fortunately, I think there are at least a few out there — writers, journalists and people who are willing to make themselves available to the press as sources — who are helping bridge the gap between spiritual communities who maybe don’t want to be their own ambassadors, and a culture who otherwise wouldn’t make the effort. Sometimes, this can unfortunately come across as one of those “Gosh, isn’t this weird/fascinating/cool” feature stories, but not always. For example, when the so-called “Craigslist killer,” Miranda Barbour, claimed she belonged to a Satanic cult, both the Satanic Church and the Satanic Temple — the ones who are designing the Oklahoma monument — were quick to talk with major news outlets and say, “This woman has nothing to do with us and we don’t kill people.” That’s exactly what we need more of, and it’s great that the Church of Satan Peter Gilmore, who comes across as a calm, diplomatic and sensible representative for a church that still has many of negative stereotypes to dispel. With time, more groups are learning that a spokesperson like Gilmore is a real asset, and I think that will help a lot.

Learn more about Kelley’s work and writing at Soul Intent Arts.

I don’t have cable, and I don’t have a subscription to HBO, so I haven’t seen the runaway phenomenon that has been the first season of “True Detective.” I will just have to wait for it to come out on DVD/Blu-Ray.  That said, I’ve been reading enough pieces about it to know that it mixed elements of Santeria and Vodou, the work of Robert W. Chambers, H.P. Lovecraft, and other literary references in that vein. While opinion has been decidedly mixed on the finale of this first season, that it was a hit has been undeniable. Thus, a second season has been approved, and it will be diving even deeper into occult themes.

True-Detective4

“This is really early, but I’ll tell you (it’s about) hard women, bad men and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.”

If 2013 was the year witchcraft broke big in pop-culture, what with shows like American Horror Story: Coven, Witches of East End, The Originals, and Sleepy Hollow, all giving us powerful witchcraft-using characters (and with more on they way in shows like SalemThe Good Witch, and a possible Charmed reboot), then 2014 might see the return of another (slightly newer) archetype: the occult detective. This genre has most famously included Kolchak: The Night Stalker and The X-Filesand in addition to True Detective’s upcoming occult-themed series, we will be getting a small-screen treatment of one of the most famous occult detectives from comic books: John Constantine.

“Work on NBC’s Constantine pilot is well under way, and according to writer/executive producer David S. Goyer, the television series will have much more in common with its comic-book roots than the Keanu Reeves film did. In an interview with I Am Rogue, Goyer discussed the work on the pilot — which, by this point, will have begun filming — and teased a bit of what fans of the character can expect.”

So far, show-runners seem keen to avoid the mistakes of the flawed (though eminently watchable when divorced from the source material) 2005 film of the same name. If it succeeds, and lately, our culture seems increasingly hungry for this sort of material, could we see more work in this vein? A third series, which just premiered, while not an occult detective drama, is certainly a paranormal procedural: Believe.

“Created by Mark Friedman and Alfonso Cuaron — the latter of whom directed the pilot — Believe begins by introducing us to young Bo (Johnny Sequoyah), a sweet little girl with abilities beyond her control, who’s being pursued by dangerous people – the kind of people who are willing to kill if it means getting their hands on her. Enter Jake McLaughlin’s Tate, a wrongly-convicted death row inmate whose time is up, or so he thinks. A prison break gives Tate a second chance and in exchange he’s tasked with the duty of protecting Bo, which he reluctantly accepts. And so begins what could be a great duo of characters, as this former prisoner accepts his new responsibilities and comes to understand what’s so extraordinary about this little girl.”

From a broader view, this new slate of shows seem like a no-brainer. Ghost-hunting/paranormal reality shows have been popular for years now on reality television, and blockbuster horror film “The Conjuring” focused on a pair of Christian occult experts. Moving these themes into procedural territory is what television likes to do (and what a lot of people like to watch). It will also mean that occult and supernatural themes aren’t going anywhere anytime soon in pop-culture. We can be sure to see increasing references to modern Paganism, paganism in antiquity, African Traditional Religions, occult practices, ritual magic, rootwork, and other related themes as these shows look for material.

As these trends continue to grow and evolve, it behooves us to be mindful of what pop-culture is saying about our practices, and to be savvy in discussing them. Advocates for our traditions and practices need to be well-versed in these shows, as interviews from the mainstream media will no doubt start bringing them up (if they aren’t already). We have to have a complex and informed understanding of what these shows mean, and why they are popular. This doesn’t mean we have to watch everything, but it isn’t hard to sample what’s out there so we can be ready to talk about the distortions (or what shows got right) moving forward.

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.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

  • Esquire Magazine thinks we are living in a “pagan” age, and that Pope Francis is the perfect Catholic Pontiff for these times. Quote: “The paganism of 300 and Pompeii reflects that world in its representation of a paganism of pure might; it shows the savagery of mere materialism. Another brand of entertainment shares this criticism: that oldest practitioner of show business, the Catholic Church. Pope Francis fully deserves the adulation that has been showered on him, because he is one of the rare public figures of our moment who is adequately humble and adequately in touch with reality to know the limits of his own power and the institution he controls.”
  • But wait, the recent Frontline special on the Vatican shows that Catholicism has a lot of beams to take out of their collective eyes before they start picking at the “pagan” specks in ours. Quote: “The list of problems facing the Catholic Church is long. Among the scandals Pope Francis inherited nearly one year ago are the clergy sex abuse crisis, allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank and the fallout from VatiLeaks, to name just a few. Given the challenges, where should reform even begin? Moreover, how much change can truly be expected?” If you want to make your religion’s problems seem small and relatively easy to manage, do check this out.
  • Peter Foster at The Telegraph argues that America is becoming secular far quicker than we might think, and that the seemingly once decline-proof evangelical Christians are starting to buckle (demographically speaking). Quote: “After several decades of doubt over the data, says Chaves, it is now clear beyond reasonable doubt that America is secularizing, but that doesn’t answer a much trickier – and more interesting question: how far, and how fast? America still feels highly religious on the surface, but is it possible that attitudes to religion in the US could undergo a sudden shift – as they have, say, on gay marriage – or is religion so fundamental to the US that any change will continue to be incremental?”
  • Ron Fournier at National Journal asks: Is “religious liberty” the new straw man? Quote: “To be clear, I worry about infringements on personal liberties under Presidents Obama and Bush, and I consider religious freedom a cornerstone of American democracy. I empathize with the views of Perkins and others, but I am suspicious when people use religion to marginalize others. Like Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast, I hear echoes of the segregated South.”
  • At Bustle, Emma Cueto explains why she converted from Catholicism to Wicca. Quote: “Like most things in my life, Wicca first started with books. The first time I came across a Wiccan book in Borders I was a preteen in Catholic school. Where most kids my age were rebelling against their parents, I was more ambitious: I rebelled against God.  I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice was wondering, What would piss off the Catholic Church most? Paganism seemed like a solid idea.”
Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • The Revealer shares notes from New York’s occult revival. Quote: “There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz.”
  • Climate Change science, it’s “almost like witchcraft.” Quote: “Climate change, and January’s record-setting heat, probably had nothing to do with increased CO2 emissions, CNBC’s Joe Kernen said Thursday morning. According to Kernen, the better explanation is that it’s just inexplicable. ‘It’s almost like witchcraft,’ Kernen said. ‘In the middle ages it was witchcraft. You would have attributed adverse weather events to witchcraft. Now we just have CO2 at this point.'” Thank goodness we put these people on television!
  • So, the “Satanic” stories that have cropped up recently? Turns out that Catholic exorcists think it’s a sure sign of increasing demon activity! Quote: “Father Lampert said there are around 50 trained exorcists in the United States. He acknowledged that reports of demonic activity seem to be increasing.” There’s an old adage about hammers, nails, and a surfeit of other tools that I think might be applicable here.
  • The Kalash tribe in remote Pakistan has been threatened with death by the Taliban, though the Pakistan military is trying to downplay fears. You can learn more about these “Lost Children of Alexander,” in a recent Huffington Post article. Quote: “High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistani border lived an ancient people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great’s troops. While the neighboring Pakistanis were dark-skinned Muslims, this isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshiped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most importantly, they produced wine much like the Greeks of antiquity did. This in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.”
  • At HuffPo, Erin Donley isn’t down with all the “goddess” talk. Quote: “When an adult woman calls me Goddess, her intention is to include me and to instantly elevate me to the same status as she. ‘Welcome to the Goddess Club where you’ve already arrived at the highest honor possible. And we all get along because we’re all Goddesses.’ No thanks, sister! That crushes my motivation. It suffocates my individuality and makes me wonder how much greater I could be if I played with the boys.”
  • Is South Africa gripped in a Satanic Panic? There are lots of troubling signs pointing to yes. Quote: “Occult-related crimes are on the increase across Gauteng, and now police are warning parents to be on the lookout for the telltale signs that their children are dabbling in the dark arts.”

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.

The Voynich manuscript.

The Voynich manuscript.

  • A professor from the University of Bedfordshire claims to have made significant progress in translating the mysterious Voynich manuscript. Quote: “An award-winning professor from the University has followed in the footsteps of Indiana Jones by cracking the code of a 600 year old manuscript, deemed as ‘the most mysterious’ document in the world. Stephen Bax, Professor of Applied Linguistics, has just become the first professional linguist to crack the code of the Voynich manuscript using an analytical approach. The world-renowned manuscript is full of illustrations of exotic plants, stars, and mysterious human figures, as well as many pages written in an unknown text. 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.” So what’s it about? Bax says it “is probably a treatise on nature.” More on the manuscript here.
  • The Houston Chronicle profiles its local Santeria community. Quote: “Disciples fill Faizah Perry’s sunny suburban Houston home for a day of worship as chanting emanates from a sheet-curtained side room in which she divines the future and enacts other secret rituals. Perry, a priestess, feels a deep spiritual connection to a saint-like “patron” called Ogun and predicts events channeling other spirits using sacred seashells. Her faith is called Santeria, a religion grounded in African beliefs that were transported to the New World aboard slave ships and melded with Christian beliefs in Cuba. By at least one survey now a decade old, there were about 22,000 Santeria practitioners active in the United States.”
  • Catholic magazine America wrings its hands over secularization in the United States and what that means for religious liberty. Quote: “To be blunt: Religious people who hold traditional values are in the way of what many powerful people want. We are in the way of widespread acceptance of abortion, unrestricted embryonic stem cell research and experimentation with fetal tissue. We are in the way of doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia and the mercy-killing of genetically defective infants. We are in the way of new reproductive technologies, which will become more important as our society makes sex more sterile. We are in the way of gay rights and the redefinition of marriage. We are in the way of the nones and the engaged progressives and their larger goal of deconstructing traditional moral limits so that they can be reconstructed in accord with their vision of the future.” Will someone get me my smelling salts? I think I might swoon with worry.
  • A woman has filed suit against the hotel chain W Hotels, claiming she was dismissed after employee rumors emerged that she practiced Vodou and witchcraft. Quote: “The plaintiff claims shortly before her termination, employees spread rumors about Hall being much older than she looks and that she is a practitioner of evil witchcraft. Hall is of Haitian descent and believes these rumors linked her to discriminatory narratives of Voodoo. Hall accuses the W of denying her equal opportunity based on age and national origin.”
  • The Christian “singer” Carman, who famously penned a song slandering Pagan leader Isaac Bonewits, says that his terminal cancer is cured. Quote: “Less than a year after announcing his diagnosis with myeloma, an incurable form of cancer, Carman Licciardello now says he’s cancer-free. ‘They took tests (and there will be more) P.E.T., MRI, Bone biopsies ect [sic] and could find NO trace of Cancer,’ the former CCM star wrote on his Facebook page.” No doubt Carman will use this extension of life to make amends towards those he has wronged.

  • Philebrity showcases a short clip from a longer forthcoming documentary on Harry’s Occult Shop. Quote: “The clip above, which according to the Vimeo page is part of a longer (though still short) documentary on the legendary South Street shop, might be the first and likely last look inside the shop for many of you. And on this day-off for some and unproductive day for others, it’s just what you’ll need to kick-start your daydreaming at your desk.” The shop itself, sadly, seems to have gone online only (I think this is how it exists now).
  • Here’s another profile of New Age star Marrianne Williamson’s run for Congress, this time in the Weekly Standard. Quote: “In fact, at the moment, there is only one candidate running anything approaching a real campaign. Well, maybe “campaign” is the wrong word. It’s more a vision quest. If you live in Waxman’s district, Marianne Williamson doesn’t just want to represent you. She wants to save your soul.”
  • Meanwhile, Diane Winston at Religion Dispatches defends her congressional run, saying there’s nothing “woo” about her. Quote: “Williamson’s appeal is not based on what she wants to do but on why she is doing it. Since the 1970s, she said, the American left has abandoned the spiritual impulse that fueled movements for abolition, labor reform, women’s rights, civil rights and pacifism. For Williamson the spiritual impulse, the “self-actualization of the individual,” leads to a life of love and a beloved community embodied by a society that seeks the best for its citizens and their planet.”
  • The occult history of the television set. Quote: “The origin of the television set was heavily shrouded in both spiritualism and the occult, writes author Stefan Andriopoulos in his new book Ghostly Apparitions. In fact, as its very name implies, the television was first conceived as a technical device for seeing at a distance: like thetelephone (speaking at a distance) and telescope (viewing at a distance), the television was intended as an almost magical box through which we could watch distant events unfold, a kind of technological crystal ball.”
  • The Phoenix Business Journal looks at the rise and fall of New Age guru James Arthur Ray, who was recently released from prison for negligent homicide in a deadly sweat lodge ceremony gone wrong. Quote: “I lost everything tangible, and ended up millions of dollars in debt,” he wrote. “I never thought I would be in this position. In the blink of an eye I lost my life savings, my business that took 20 years to build, my home, and my reputation. All gone in one fatal swoop. Four banks dropped me like a bad habit; they wouldn’t even allow me to have a checking account with them post the accident. My book publishers wouldn’t return my call.” You can read all of my coverage of Ray, here.

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.

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

Shield_230x140.jpg_1951677811In July of last year, I reported on rumblings in the UK over the possibility that new governmental policies over filtering obscene adult content on the Internet would affect non-obscene sites, including occult-oriented pages. Now, these parental controls are indeed being shown to over-block sites that having nothing to do with porn, including a news site that deals with the world of torrenting and piracy. Quote: “What happened? The broader context is that the UK government’s launched a war on internet porn, with ISPs blocking porn sites unless users specifically opt-in to access them. but TorrentFreak says that lots of other sites are getting caught in the censorship net – ‘hate sites,’ gore, dating sites, and TorrentFreak itself.” TorrentFreak was officially un-blocked by the ISP, though that hasn’t stopped the site from calling these filters a “blunt instrument that is prone to causing collateral damage and known for failing to achieve its stated aims.” So far, from what I can tell, it doesn’t seem like Pagan or occult sites are being filtered (though this should be monitored by folks in the UK who use various ISPs), but these stories do point to the fact that initial concerns were not unfounded. We’ll keep an eye out for further developments.

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Fran and Dan Keller — photo by Debbie Nathan

Back in December I wrote about the release of several incarcerated victims accused of “Satanic” ritual abuse, and the ongoing, ugly, legacy of the Satanic Panics. Now, Slate has published an excellent, in-depth article about Fran and Dan Keller, recently freed after 20 years in prison, and moral panics that ruined hundreds of lives. Quote: “The seeds of the panic were planted with the 1980 publication of Michelle Remembers, the best-selling account of a Canadian psychotherapist’s work with a woman named Michelle Smith, who, under his care, began recalling forgotten memories of horrific childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her mother and others who were part of a devil-worshipping cult. The book, though riddled with fantastical claims (for example, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the Archangel Michael healed Smith’s physical scars), launched a cottage industry in recovering memories of satanic ritual abuse. (The psychotherapist and Smith later married.)” As the article mentions, the problem with panics is that most never realize they were in one until after the fact. Let’s hope that this particular panic has finally run its course in our society. You can read many of my thoughts, and reporting, on this topic, here.

-7e3949c270db2aa2I’ve recently highlighted, on a couple different occasions, that the famous tomb of Vodou/Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau in New Orelans was painted pink by an unknown person (though there are theories). Now, preservationists are unhappy with the restoration work being undertaken by the Archdiocese of New Orleans, alleging that the pressure washing techniques are causing damage. Quote: “Angie Green, executive director of Save Our Cemeteries, a nonprofit group that works to preserve historic cemeteries throughout the city, saw someone blasting Laveau’s tomb with a high-pressure water gun she said she immediately called the Archdiocese. ‘Pressure washing is terrible for any old building,’ Green said. […] Green is also concerned that once the pink paint is removed, the Archdiocese will cover Laveau’s tomb in Portland cement, the most common kind of cement used around the world. The most effect technique used to repair tombs and preserve their historic look is by using lime-based mortar and plaster and then coating the tomb in a lime wash, Green said.” Laveau’s tomb is a tourist icon and place of religious pilgrimage in New Orleans, and that is making this process, no doubt, a more sensitive ordeal than a normal restoration job. As for the press attention, no doubt Marie Laveau’s recent pop-culture resurgence has made press outside of New Orleans take notice.

1979 re-release era poster.

1979 re-release era poster.

I just want to quickly mention that January 7th finally saw the U.S. blu-ray release of the restored “Final Cut” of 1973 cult cinema masterpiece “The Wicker Man.” This new, restored, version was announced back in July of 2013, and a special 3-disc edition was released at the end of 2013 in the U.K. (the lucky beggars). I’ve written about this film so often, that you could spend a good day going through the Wicker Man tag here at The Wild Hunt, so I’ll be brief. The new blu-ray is essentially the “middle” length version that played in art houses during the late 1970s and 1980s in America, it lacks the extended mainland sequence at the beginning, but does have scenes the “extended” version doesn’t have. The picture quality is superb (for a film of this era), and you’ll not get anything better in HD so long as the original masters remain lost to legend and rumor. I’m hoping that we Americans will see a multi-disc set eventually, so we can have a “branching” version that incorporates the lesser quality extended cut sequences, as the UK set includes. For now, however, this is well worth any fan of this film picking up and re-enjoying. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to keep…

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.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

  • Salon.com has run an excerpt from Mitch Horowitz’s new book “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,” focusing on how former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was influenced by Manly P. Hall. Quote: “Ronald Reagan often spoke of America’s divine purpose and of a mysterious plan behind the nation’s founding. ‘You can call it mysticism if you want to,’ he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, ‘but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.’ These were remarks to which Reagan often returned. He repeated them almost verbatim as president before a television audience of millions for the Statue of Liberty centenary on July 4, 1986. When touching on such themes, Reagan echoed the work, and sometimes the phrasing, of occult scholar Manly P. Hall.” Here’s Hall’s Wikipedia page.
  • New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is being accused of, well, of cursing a political opponent through a giant chicken head mural painted as part of a city mural project. Quote: According to the Post, Gwen Goodwin, 52, thinks that Mark-Viverito purposefully targeted her East 100th Street building ‘as the canvas for a five-story image of a bodiless rooster atop wooden poles.’ Mark Viverito was the head of urban-art campaign Los Muros Hablan (“The Walls Speak”) last summer, which sought to paint murals on walls across the city to celebrate Latino culture. But Goodwin writes in the lawsuit, ‘According to neighbors of Puerto Rican and other backgrounds, in the Caribbean culture, this constituted a curse and a death threat, as a swastika or a noose would symbolize typically to many Jews or African-Americans.'” So, there’s that.
  • Some communities in England are preparing for traditional winter wassailing to ensure a bountiful apple harvest. Quote: “Traditionally wassailing takes place on Twelfth Night (January 5) but in apple growing areas such as Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset the 17th marks the date of the orchard ceremony as it coincides with the “Old Twelveth Night” prior to the switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1752 when 11 days were taken out of the year. It will be the first time the pagan ceremony, believed to ward off evil spirits, has been staged at the property owned by the Busk family. A ‘Wassail King’ will walk through the Walled Garden orchard at 6pm offering bread soaked in cider to the apple trees and he will also pour water on the roots of the fruit trees.”
  • Here are some photos from the Arthur Pendragon-led protest against Stonehenge’s new visitor center. Quote: “I don’t want to give all my tactics away but next year’s campaign will be based around the slogan ‘don’t pay, walk away‘, and encouraging people to make 2014 the year they did not come to Stonehenge.” Can any force resist such a pithy slogan?
  • The occult is rising! Quick! Train up some exorcists! Quick! Quote: “The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the church said. The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the church to sideline unauthorised, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.” What could possibly go wrong with training up an elite religious paramilitary opposed to minority religions that engage in magic?
Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

  • Times Higher Education has a review up of Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “This is an expedition into deep time: a meticulous critical review of the known and sometimes shadowy rituals and beliefs in the British Isles from early prehistory to the advent of Christianity. Pagan Britain charts what we know of human spirituality across some 30,000 years. Such a broad sweep might have lapsed into mere description; instead, Ronald Hutton brings the discussion alive with detail and debate, interspersing accounts of key findings and theories with critical vignettes of the moment of discovery or the character of the antiquarian in question.”
  • The New York Times looks at Christianity in Ghana, specifically charismatic churches that emphasize spiritual warfare and battling demons. Quote: “J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana, argues that these churches have spread so rapidly because African traditional religion envisions a world dense with dark spirits from which people must protect themselves, and these new churches take this evil seriously in a way that many earlier missionizing Christianities did not. Indeed, I have been at a Christian service in Accra with thousands of people shouting: ‘The witches will die! They will die! Die! Die!’ With the pastor roaring, ‘This is a war zone!’ […]  The post-1960s charismatic revival in the United States, sometimes called “Third Wave” Christianity (classical Pentecostalism was the first wave and charismatic Catholicism the second), introduced the idea that all Christians interact with supernatural forces daily. That included demons. In fact, I found American books on dealing with demons in all the bookstores of the African charismatic churches I visited.” American Evangelical Christianity has so, so, much to answer for. As T. M. Luhrmann points out: “In West Africa, witches are people, and sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes.”
  • Is traditional religion (ie Christianity and Judaism) over? Quote: “It does seem, though, that 2013 was a year in which traditional religious affiliation underwent significant change. Is this the dawning of a new, liberal age, in which America finally starts to look a little more like the rest of the Western world? Don’t count on it. American religion is nothing if not resilient. It is malleable enough to change with the times, and if anyone ever does declare war on Christmas, they will lose. We remain a weirdly religious country.”
  • Is the United Nations too Christian? Probably. Quote: “Christianity dominates the United Nations and a more inclusive system must be introduced at the world peace-making organisation, according to a new study. The report Religious NGOs and The United Nations found that Christian NGOs are overrepresented at the UN in comparison to other religious groups. Overall, more than 70 per cent of religious NGOs at the UN are Christian, where the Vatican enjoys a special observer status, as a state and religion, according to research undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent’s Department of Religious Studies.”
  • The deep, dark, roots of Britain’s fascination with witchcraft explained by Dominic Selwood. Quote: “The inescapable reality is that these islands battle with elemental weather, giving us a visceral awareness of the drama of the changing seasons. Coupled with the long dark nights of winter and the euphoria of summer light, the British have always had an innate awareness of the proximity of the natural world, and its power to make or break us in any year. The result is an understandable fascination with the behaviour of nature. It is therefore no wonder that we have always been transfixed by figures who command the forces that the rest of us can only watch.”

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.

In the modern art world, the traditional gallery system that many of us feel we know from popular media depictions has slowly given way to an ever-expanding series of international art fairs and biennials where the high-rollers buy, sell, discover new work, and hob-nob. These large-scale events have become the place to gain attention, so it is notable that the upcoming Florence Biennial in Italy will be featuring the work of Mexican artist Cristina Francov.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” by Cristina Francov.

“Cristina Francov is a Mexican artist whose work offers visions and allegories through a series of self-portraits and transfigurations of her own body.

Her early fascination with both esoteric mysteries and the great European masters developed into a form of hybrid digital photography which is humanistic, mysterious and carnal all at once. Cristina is entirely self taught in the art of photography but an academic foundation in the methods of oil painting and drawing mixed with her natural talent led her to become recognised both nationally and internationally for her contribution to the art of digital manipulation (she has exhibited in London, Germany and Italy alongside several solo shows in Mexico).

Cristina’s ‘El Trìgono de las Lesiones’ has been selected for this year’s Florence Biennale (Italy, November 30th Cristina’s work, international audiences will be given the opportunity to better understand an artistic movement which is only now gaining the attention and historical recognition it deserves.”

In her artist’s statement, Francov describes the work as “a soul, lost between two dimensions,” that “uses the remains of birds, minerals and flesh to materialize itself on the Earth plane. Confused and doubtful of its existence and potential humanity, is unable to naturalize and accept itself into one single creature.” 

Francov is part of a larger resurgence of occult, esoteric, and folkloric themed works within the fine art world. Allison Meier at Hyperallergic notes that the “undercurrent of the occult in culture ripples back to the surface of our collective consciousness” and that we are enjoying high point in “a periodic surge in fascination with the unknowable, the rites, rituals, and art that make up its history.” Certainly, Pam Grossman’s excellent blog Phantasmaphile is clear evidence of this renewed interest, as it reports on and reviews a growing number of artists and exhibitions that focus on esoteric subjects. Grossman is also an associate editor of the journal Abraxas, which spotlights many of these artists, including Francov, and whose parent company Fulgur Esoterica represents the artist.

"El Trìgono de las Lesiones" (detail) by Cristina Francov.

“El Trìgono de las Lesiones” (detail) by Cristina Francov.

Cristina Francov’s inclusion in the Florence Biennial follows the well-received I:MAGE exhibition in London which focused on occult and esoteric art, and the high-profile showing of Lady Frieda Harris’ Thoth Deck paintings at the Venice Biennale. When I spoke with Abraxas co-founder Christina Oakley Harrington during the I:MAGE exhibition, she expressed that the time had come for this kind of art to break through to a broader audience.

“The art world is waking up to the inner realities of its artists, and to the fact that for many centuries, right through modernism, many artists have been profoundly influenced by esoteric ideas and have worked intimately through (and with) occult symbolism. Medieval art history includes the study of iconography and symbolic programmes, but artists of more recent centuries have received no such attention, until the past ten years.  Even the surrealists, some of whose work is profoundly occult, have had their imagery largely overlooked or treated in solely personal terms.

The trends of 20th century art-history and art criticism meant there have been 80 years of writing on art which concentrates not on the inner experience of the artist, or of their symbolic language, but rather on form and materials. This is now changing, and it is very exciting indeed.”

Cristina Francov

Cristina Francov

Change within culture begins when we change the way we look at the world, when we shift the lens of our experience. The rise of artists like Cristina Francov shift perceptions, and enrich our encounters with subtle realms. This trend within the world of art is one that we should embrace, and one that should push more of us towards a new level of excellence in our creative output. You can see more of Francov’s work at her official website. A limited number of prints of “El Trìgono de las Lesiones” are available at the Fulgur Esoterica website. The Florence Biennial will run from November 30th through December 8th, 2013.