Archives For occult

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.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

Evo Morales receiving the blessing of the Aymara priests.

  • Is Bolivia imposing an animist/indigenous worldview on Christians? That’s the charge some Christian groups are making in the wake of a new law which oversees the recognition of religious groups in the country. Quote: “They want to control the activities of the evangelical churches,” Agustín Aguilera, president of ANDEB, told the Santa Cruz newspaper El Deber. “Article 15 (of the law) would force all religious organizations to carry out our activities within the parameters of the ‘horizon of good living,’ which is based on the [ethnic] Aymara worldview. This is an imposition of a cultural and spiritual worldview totally foreign to ours.” It should be noted that the ethos of “Living Well,” while originating in indigenous thought, does not force a particular theology. Since Christianity Today is so concerned with people being forced to conform to religious philosophies not of their choosing, I’m sure they’ll speak out against a monarch in Nigeria who converted to Christianity and is now jettisoning traditional practices beloved by the locals. Right? Any day now…
  • Sociologist Robert Bartholomew says there’s a “sudden upsurge” in cases of mass psychogenic illness, better known in the common parlance as “mass hysteria” Worse, Bartholomew says that it can now spread via social media, which is bad news for those trying to prevent another “Satanic Panic,” or plain-old witch-hunt for that matter. Quote: “In a paper titled “Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Social Network: is it changing the pattern of outbreaks?” Bartholomew writes, ‘Local priests, who were inevitably summoned to exorcise the ‘demons’, faced a daunting task given the widespread belief in witchcraft, but they were fortunate in one regard: they did not have to contend with mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook.’ However, the old and the new are more intertwined than one might expect. Two separate strangers messaged Thera through Facebook saying she needed an exorcism.”
  • Greek Jews live in fear of the Golden Dawn, an extremist political party that’s been on the rise in the wake of austerity and fiscal crisis. Their words and actions are getting increasingly reminiscent of another European political party that arose during a time of fiscal crisis.  Quote: “In Athens on July 24, another song was heard — a Greek version of a Horst Wessel song, a Nazi anthem. The Golden Dawn Party blasted it outside its headquarters while handing out free food to “Greeks only.” Golden Dawn says it wants to “clean” Greece of foreigners. Its black-shirted supporters attack poor South Asian and African migrants, claiming they’re all in Greece illegally. The violence scares Orietta Treveza, a Greek-Jewish educator who has three young daughters. ‘It’s very scary because we think that we are next,’ she says. ‘It’s not going to end with the immigrants.’” For those wondering, the party did/does embrace nationalistic pseudo-pagan trappings, but has also realized the populist potential of catering to Greek Orthodoxy. Like most fascists, belief and tradition are simply avenues to power.
  • Satanic Panic bottom-feeder Bob Larson and his troupe of teenage exorcists have hit London, and the results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Quote: “Savannah seriously weighed in on why London is full of dark forces, explaining, ‘I think it’s been centuries in the making, but I believe it all kind of came to a pinnacle, a peak, with the Harry Potter books that have come out, and the Harry Potter rage that swept across England.’ Her sister Tess agreed, commenting, ‘The spells and things that you’re reading in the Harry Potter books? Those aren’t just something that are made up– those are actual spells. Those are things that came from witchcraft books.’” There’s the fruit of reality television for you, anything so long as it draws attention. Oh, and there’s going to be new Harry Potter soon, so I guess Satan wins again?
  • A United Nations housing expert has criticized a new “bedroom tax” in the UK, so naturally the Daily Fail accuses her of being a Marxist Witch. Quote: “Her lengthy CV lists countless qualifications, civic achievements, books and publications – but Raquel Rolnik makes no mention of dabbling in witchcraft. Yet the architect and urban planner appears to be an avid follower of Candomble, an African-Brazilian religion that originated during the slave trade. The academic, brought up a Marxist, actually offered an animal sacrifice to Karl Marx…” This is yet another reason why Pagans should not support or link to this tabloid.
An image from the "Abused Goddesses" campaign against domestic violence.

An image from the “Abused Goddesses” campaign against domestic violence.

  • A lot of attention has been paid recently to the “Abused Goddesses” awareness campaign against domestic violence, which features representations of Hindu goddesses that carry bruises and cuts from beatings. However, reactions from Hindus have been somewhat mixed. Praneta Jha of the Hindustan Times says that “trapping women into images of a supposed ideal is one of the oldest strategies of patriarchy – and if we do not fit the image, it is deemed alright to ‘punish’ and violate us.” Sayantani DasGupta at The Feminist Wire notes that “these images of Hindu goddesses looking sorrowful and downtrodden undermine culturally located sources of female power – however ‘contradictory’.” Lakshmi Chaudhry calls it a “giant step backward for womankind,” and USF professor Vamsee Juluri adds that “there has been such a great deal of misrepresentation, if not outright malicious propaganda, about Hinduism, that the campaign already seems to many Hindus to be a perpetuation of that, rather than a sincere attempt to address the real problem of domestic violence.” Finally, Suhag A. Shukla says that “what will be the ultimate test of the success of this campaign, however, is if it is able to stop the first of many abusers from letting his raised hand meet its intended target.”
  • Does philosophy have a problem with women? Katy Waldman at Slate.com ponders: “Taken one by one, the various explanations for philosophy’s woman problem are like Zeno’s arrow, inching ever closer to a target they can’t quite hit.”
  • In Israel, the tradition of participating in the kaparot ritual using a live chicken has caused debate after MK Rabbi Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid called the practice “deplorable” and “pagan.” Quote: “The ritual involves circling a live chicken over one’s head three times and symbolically transferring one’s sins to the animal. The chicken is then slaughtered and eaten. Many have the practice of donating the chicken’s meat to the poor [...] Lipman urged Jews to perform the kaparot ritual with money or with flowers instead, as many currently do.”
  • Mitch Horowitz writes about how the occult brought cremation to America. Quote: “Cremation was introduced to America in the 1870s by a retired Civil War colonel, Henry Steel Olcott. As a Union Army staff colonel and military investigator, Olcott had amassed a distinguished record, which included routing out fraud among defense contractors and making some of the first arrests in the Lincoln assassination. In his post-military life as a lawyer and journalist, Olcott developed a deep interest in the esoteric and paranormal — which drove his fascination with the then-exotic rite of burning the dead.”
  • Definition of a slow news day: these leaves and overgrowth on power lines look somewhat like a witch! Wow! Really? Let’s get that spread around as quickly as possible.

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.

September 27th through the 29th in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,” a “weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together.” In anticipation of OCCULT’s launch next month, I conducted a short interview with co-producer Aepril Schaile to talk about the event, why this is the right time for it, and supporting the arts within a Pagan context.

Aepril Schaile. Photo by Cheryl Fair.

Aepril Schaile. Photo by Cheryl Fair.

OCCULT is called an “Esoteric Salon,” merging artistic and metaphysical pathways through performance, workshops, and talks. What inspired you to help make this event happen? Why is now the right time?

Sarah Jezebel Wood and I began talking about this vision last year. We are both Witches, and Thelemites, and practicing Artists. Sarah is an accomplished bellydancer and teacher, and she is devoted to nurturing the work of artists in her communities. Sarah worked with Alex and Alison Grey at CoSM for several years, and so this idea of Art and Magick being one unit is not a new one for her. The timing was an intuitive thing—we felt that the fact that the vision was forming for us both with such excitement in that very moment meant that its time had come–synchronicity! We also recognize a movement into a New Aeon, and with it comes new ways of doing things. At the time of the Parisian Salons of the turn of the last century, there was also a renaissance in occult and Magickal consciousness in connection to Art. We have the romantic notion that the time is now for this mixing of art, magick, thought, creativity, personality, passion, vision, and spirit to take place.

You are an artist who has worked in several mediums, most notably dance and music, do you think the Pagan community engages with the arts in a constructive way? Are we paying enough attention to the importance of art within our traditions, are we supporting our artists? If not, is OCCULT a step towards addressing that issue?

I personally feel that my work has been recognized and supported in wonderful ways by the Pagan and Witchcraft communities. In particular my work in dance, which probably most widely known, but music, too; I receive mail by email and even paper letter (fun!) with heartfelt and thoughtful words, and it is incredible to me what power art has to animate and inspire the spirit and imagination. I also tend to bring the Witches and Thelemites out of the woodwork wherever I travel for performance–they make themselves known in my workshops and after shows, as they come out to see me, and this is amazing to me! The Thelemic community has been great in supporting this work; OCCULT has many Thelemic presenters and artists on board for our debut year, and the full support of our local body, Knights Templar Oasis. That said, I am greedy; I’d like more overall engagement. Our Artists are our Shamans; they are our Seers and Healers and Guides. OCCULT is an effort to make this connection more conscious and enlivened. I’d like to see more Pagans, Witches and Occult practitioners support the arts by coming out to shows, explicitly recognizing each other’s work, and continue developing a more sophisticated sense of what art is and why it matters. OCCULT is, to us, a step in that direction.

occultYou live and work in Salem, and that’s where OCCULT is being held. Is there something special about Salem that makes an event like this possible?

We are here doing this work on the shoulders of those who came before us. As all things move in cycles, we feel that the time is correct for the coming together of new ideas and approaches. We feel that Salem is indeed an epicenter, and that is undergoing a renaissance of ideas and vision. Many of the old Witch wars have run their course, and there is a thirst for more visible and inclusive happenings that go beyond Witch-Disney type money making tourist hype. We have perceived that there is a new generation that seeks to engage with the magickal arts in a more sophisticated and integrated way. The greater Salem area is full of artists, and many of the Pagans, Witches, occult practitioners, Thelemites and Ceremonial Magicians we have in our circles are also creative artists. We are building on some of the occult themed art shows and events that have already happened in Salem, and expanding upon those ideas and happenings.

OCCULT’s vision statement seems to call for a return to meaning in art, a process of re-enchantment that rejects mere commercialism as the end-all, be-all of making art. That art needs magick just as much as magick needs art. How should the Pagan community start living this ethos? How should the world of fine art?

I hold a Master’s of Fine Art, so I am acquainted with the art world from both an academic and a practicing artist’s viewpoint. I felt alienated early on by the emphasis that I perceived on materials and form, as opposed to content and meaning. I was also, quite naively, stunned by some of the divorcing of spirit from the artistic process. I had automatically perceived art as being inherently spiritual, and magickal. I found that what I recognized as ancient mythological and archetypal patterns would often be dismissed as “cliché”. Would the ancient Greeks at Eleusis have said, “Let’s not do this ritual theatre thing anymore…its been done to death already…so…cliché?” Of course not! But there is a place for keeping art innovated and contemporary, and to keep it growing while honoring these ancient patterns. Many of the artists that Sarah and I chose for OCCULT create work which has this quality: it is informed by contemporary fine art, but it honors and expresses beyond that. Some of the work is deeply self-exploratory and shamanic, some is talismanic, some is ritualistic, some is qabalistic, some surrealistic, etc.

Assuming OCCULT’s success, what’s next? Will this be the first of many salons? Will you take it outside of Salem? Can OCCULT become a new model for Pagan and esoteric engagement with the arts?

Thank you for assuming our success! Wonderful! Yes, Sarah and I plan is to make this a yearly event. We hope to stay in Salem; one of the great challenges that we have had has been space, as it is as a premium in Salem! We have had great experience with the First Universalist Society, both with their open minded and all inclusive spiritual vision, and they have just been super easy and supportive to work with. It turns out that their event coordinator, Alex Coco, is also a Pagan, and along with his wife Nicke, runs Eastern MA Pagan Pride Day! So we lucked out! We’d like to keep it here in Salem, and continue to attract the caliber of teachers and artists that we have this year. We have been so very blessed thus far in manifesting this dream!

***

You can find out more about OCCULT at the event’s website.

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

Witchesmustdie001jpg-2568309_p9Last week, several Pagans became aware of a Facebook page entitled “Witches Must Die By Fire,” and a group called “Those Witches And Wizards Must Die By Fire By Force.”  While hate speech complaints seemed to initially work, the page is back up, and Facebook is sending back an automated message saying it doesn’t violate hate speech guidelines. A number of Pagan responses have emerged from the controversy as growing numbers of our interconnected community discover the page and group. These responses include a petition, a group on Facebook dedicated to removing hate pages and groups, a call to involve Interpol, and an overview of the issue from South African Pagan Damon Leff, who notes that rhetoric about burning witches shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Quote: Throughout Africa women, men and children frequently become targets for witch-hunters. Incitement to burn Witches anywhere in Africa must be taken deadly seriously and response to such credible threats of violence against Witches on Facebook aught to be immediate and decisive.” As an Atlantic Magazine article published yesterday about Saudi Arabia’s ongoing and deadly hunt for witches and sorcerers illustrates, the global problem of witch-hunts and witch-killings are not merely idle talk, and rhetoric underlying these actions should not be simply dismissed. The Wild Hunt is currently in contact with several Pagan organizations about further responses and constructive paths forward.

The Warrior's CallA call has gone out to Pagans in the United Kingdom to participate in a public ritual at Glastonbury Tor designed to “protect Albion from Fracking.” Quote: “Albion is in peril. Her sacred sites threatened like never before. Chalice Well and the Goddess Sulis (Bath’s geothermal springs) are in danger of becoming toxic. The Great Mother’s flesh is to be cracked open and drained dry, uncaring for consequence to bird and beast, land and life. All those of good intent are summoned hither – regardless of age or gender, color or Creed – to gather at noon on Saturday the 28th of September atop Glastonbury Tor. There, we are to engage in group magickal working for the betterment and protection of this sacred landscape.” One of the co-sponsors of the ritual is Wiccan Marina Pepper, a politician and environmental activist, who has made the issue of fracking a key concern. Pepper’s concern seems well founded, as Heritage Daily has also sounded the alarm over potential damage to the famous wells of Aquae Sulis by hydraulic fracturing. As I mentioned last week, prominent UK Pagans like Damh the Bard and Philip Carr-Gomm have already been protesting fracking operations, and it seems like concern over this issue is only intensifying as Britain’s natural landscape is threatened by this process.

Peter Dybing

Peter Dybing

This past week Pagan activist Peter Dybing, a logistics specialist who works in disaster management, has been in Idaho helping to fight the wildfires raging through Sun Valley, the biggest fire in 25 years. Wildfires are currently spreading throughout the Northwest region of the United States, which has been plagued by drought and dry weather. In a missive posted to his blog, Dybing noted how his Pagan faith, and his work fighting these fires intertwine. Quote: “Today I am back from a fire, in Boise, resting, planning and preparing to respond again. As I reflect on my actions it is clear that the most profound influence my beliefs have had on me are my instinctive actions in crisis. When direct decisions are necessary NOW, they are laced with compassion, internal tears for the destruction Gaia faces in this firestorm and the need to be of service. The most profound expression of my Pagan beliefs and practice shine through most brightly when I have little time for piety.” Our prayers go out to Dybing, and all the brave first responders fighting these fires. May the rains return soon.

In Other Pagan Community News:

  • Modern Witch Magazine is now accepting submission for its fifth volume, entitled “Veils and Visions.” Quote: “The theme is centered on working with the other side, ancestors, energy work, and psychic development.” Deadline is September 25th, you can find guidelines and more information, here.
  • Water, the quarterly newsletter of the Pagan Educational Network, has just released its Lughnasadh edition. The publication is for members only, but you can get a membership subscription on a sliding scale.
  • September 27th through the 29th in Salem, Massachusetts will see the debut of “OCCULT,”“weekend long Esoteric Salon honoring, exploring and celebrating the intertwining vines which feed both Magick and Creative Art.” Co-produced by Aepril Schaile and Sarah “Jezebel” Wood the event promises to “recognize that, especially together, both Magick and Art are greater than the sum of their parts, and each in dwells the other; they are rooted together…To raise consciousness, challenging false perceptions of separation between these so-imagined opposed sorceries. With OCCULT, we seek to challenge old beliefs through the juxtaposition of beauty and magick, of art and ritual, blending the ingredients to make an event of highest harmony, a conjunctio of non-opposites.” You can see a lineup of OCCULT workshops and events, here. Artist line-up, here. Presenter bios, here. There will also be a masque.
  • This Saturday, August 24th, Friends of the Gualala River are starting a public action campaign to convince a winery to spare 154 acres of Gualala River’s redwood forest in California. Pagan author and activist Starhawk will be on hand to do a ritual that will (hopefully) turn “wine back into water.” Quote: “I’ve been working with Friends of the Gualala River and representatives from the Kashaya Pomo to help build a campaign to save an important Kashaya heritage site from being clearcut for vineyards.  Artesa, a Spanish company and the third largest wine corporation in the world, is planning this conversion.  It’s the last redwood-to-vineyard conversion planned in California, after the defeat of the huge Preservation Ranch proposal, which thankfully was defeated.”
  • Medusa Coils reports that the Lammas issue of Seasonal Salon, the online publication of the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess International, has been released.
  • On September 22nd, the Stella Natura festival, held in Sierra Nevada’s Tahoe National Forest Desolation Wilderness will begin, and will include the Norwegian experimental runic band Wardruna in an exclusive American performance. Meanwhile, Circle Ansuz, a Heathen Anarchist collective, has begun a series of posts digging into the beliefs and past of influential Heathen Stephen McNallen, whose Asatru Folk Assembly is acting as co-sponsor for Stella Natura. I will be following this story in the coming weeks, and will update you on any responses or new information.
  • As I noted previously, the Gerald Gardner documentary “Britain’s Wicca Man,” renamed “A Very British Witchcraft,” was finally aired in the UK after being shown in a truncated version in Australia. You can see the 46-minute version of the documentary on Youtube, here (for as long as it lasts). Enjoy!

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

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

The-Conjuring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are a Pagan or occult practitioner of a certain age, the word “Vertigo” brings up certain associations. A speciality line of comic books launched by DC Comics in 1993, Vertigo comics focused heavily on mythic, occult, psychedelic, and magical themes, introducing American audiences to rising talents like Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and Dave McKean. Inspired by the earlier 1980s work of writers like Alan Moore and Jamie Delano, Vertigo created a new niche of “adult” comics that drew many people, myself included, back to reading comic books. I distinctly remember happening upon a write-up of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” in The Monthly Aspectarian of all places, which led me back to a comic book store for the first time in years. For me, and for many of my peers, Vertigo gave a needed dose of youth, experimentation, and anarchic cool to a Pagan/magical subculture that was still trying to adjust to a sudden boom in popularity. A lot of attention is paid The Craft and Charmed as things that brought young people to Paganism in the 1990s, but for a certain segment of Generation X, Vertigo was the pop-culture doorway of choice (they even released a tarot deck).

vertigo_logo

Now, 20 years later, and after many were questioning if the line’s time was over, DC Comics has announced six new Vertigo titles debuting this Fall, headlined by a new Neil Gaiman-penned Sandman story.

“Superheroes are the lifeblood of the comic book industry and have proved to be a big draw at the box office. But Vertigo, whose slate includes fantasy, horror and speculative fiction outside of the publisher’s mainstream lineup, has had difficulty building an audience and developing new properties. DC is hoping to change Vertigo’s fortune this fall with six new series premiering from October to December. The most anticipated project, “The Sandman: Overture,” a mini-series by Neil Gaiman, will begin on Oct. 30.”

witchinghour_NYTMost importantly for readers here, is that the bulk of the six new titles have mythic, Pagan, and occult themes. Most notably: “Hinterkind,” “Coffin Hill,” and the anthology one-shot “The Witching Hour.”

  • HINTERKIND – Decades after “The Blight” all but wiped out the human race, Mother Nature is taking back what’s hers and she’s not alone … all the creatures of myth and legend have returned and they’re not happy. After her grandfather disappears, Prosper Monday must leave the security and seclusion of her Central Park village to venture into the wilds to find him, unaware of how much the world has changed. An epic fantasy adventure set in a post-apocalyptic world, HINTERKIND is written by Ian Edginton and illustrated by Francesco Trifogli, and debuts this October.
  • COFFIN HILL – When she was 15, Eve Coffin summoned a darkness that had been buried since the Salem Witch Trials. Now Eve’s back to harness the evil that destroyed her friends and is slowly taking over the sleepy town of Coffin Hill. This is a series full of magic, madness and murder via a twisted family of New Englanders. Arriving in stores this October, COFFIN HILL combines the talents of artist Inaki Miranda (FAIREST: THE HIDDEN KINGDOM) with writer Caitlin Kittredge, a young, dark fantasy author whose writing includes the Nocturne City, the Black London, and the Iron Codex series of novels – which include the recently published titles Dark Days and The Mirrored Shard.
  • THE WITCHING HOUR – Just in time for Halloween, this anthology-style one-shot collects short stories exploring witchcraft written and drawn by some of the most talented veterans and newcomers in the business – including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Cliff Chiang, Lauren Beukes, Emily Carroll, Matthew Sturges, Shawn McManus, Tula Lotay and many more.
Sandman art by JH Williams III

Sandman art by JH Williams III

However, what will most likely draw most of us back to the shops (or the comiXology app I suppose) will be “The Sandman: Overture,” written by the now very famous Neil Gaiman, and drawn by the hugely talented J.H. Williams III, who created the amazing art for Alan Moore’s “Promethea.”

“The most peculiar thing for me about returning to ‘Sandman’ is how familiar it all feels,” Mr. Gaiman said. What is new, however, is the level of attention. “When I was writing ‘Sandman’ from 1987 to 1996, I never had the feeling at any point that approximately 50 million people were looking over my shoulder scrutinizing ever word.” (Mr. Gaiman has about two million followers on Twitter.)

For the six-issue “The Sandman: Overture,” Mr. Gaiman has been paired with J.H. Williams III, an illustrator known for his moody imagery and innovative page layouts. “They are the most beautiful pages I have ever seen in periodical comics,” Mr. Gaiman said. “I ask him to do the impossible, and he gives me back more than I asked for.”

This big new push for Vertigo comes at a time when comic book super-heroes are seen by many as blockbuster movie (and television) properties, and the innovation, strangeness, darkness, and fantasy tropes of Vertigo has been pushed to the margins. Often finding homes at smaller publishers who specialize in giving creators more control and ownership (Brian K. Vaughan’s excellent “Saga” being one notable example). However, perhaps with the new rise of adult-oriented fantasy breaking big with HBO cable television shows like “Game of Thrones,” “True Blood,” and the forthcoming Neil Gaiman-created “American Gods” series, DC Comics realizes that developing and nurturing dark, strange, and mythic fantasy might be good for their bottom line after all.

With this return of fantasy, of mythic beings and occult themes, of The Sandman himself, will it also oversee an influx of new fans? Or is this simply DC catering to a maturing fan-base? Whatever the impetus, I look forward to this new wave of Vertigo comics, and hope they can live up to that line’s past great heights.

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

Chantal Commons, left, and Star Raven Hawk. Photo by Lael Hines.

Chantal Commons, left, and Star Raven Hawk. Photo by Lael Hines.

  • The Villager profiles two Wiccans on the Lower East Side of New York who are working with their local community to try and open a Pagan community center in the Village. Quote: “This religion allows people to connect with each other,” she said. “In most religions it’s about the man being above the woman or parents being above the kids in a constant struggle for power. In this religion we can have power with each other. A lot of women flock to this religion because women are honored, respected and treated as equals; it’s like a breath of fresh air. We are open to people of all orientations, all races and all ages. I have a lot of gay friends who come to this religion because other religions condemn them; this religion isn’t about that, it’s about your growth.” Their goal will start with funds raised at the 2nd annual WitchFest USA on Sat., June 29, on Astor Place.
  • In England, David Novakovic King, who is a practicing Pagan, has been found guilty of murdering his partner’s father in 2009, after having squandered an inheritance the man had received. Quote: “A practicing pagan murdered his partner’s dad before dumping the remains in woodland he used for regular rituals. David Novakovic King, of Middleborough Crescent, Radford, even hid tools in Wainbody Wood – the patch of land where he buried the remains of Hiralal Chauhan. He faces a life sentence after being found guilty of murder earlier today (Thursday) at Leamington Justice Centre. Police said the 44-year-old, who will be sentenced tomorrow, had thought he carried out the perfect murder before a determined investigation by officers.” It should be noted that there were no religious elements to the “Killer of Keresley’s” actions, despite his victim being buried in a grove, and the motivations were all too mundane (and terrible). His Paganism, simply a detail of questioning during the trial that was seized on by the newspapers. I’m glad he has been brought to justice, and hope he pays fully for his crimes.
  • Archbishop Charles Chaput says that “many self-described Christians” are “in fact pagan.”  This comment was not taken very well by some Christians it seems, so Philadelphia’s NBC affilate got some Catholics to expound on all the wonderful things “pagan” can mean. Quote: “Pagan can mean anyone who isn’t a believer, anyone who doesn’t practice Catholicism or even a term some Catholics who believe in a more ethereal interpretation of the religion use for themselves. ‘The word pagan can mean several things to different Catholics in different contexts,’ said Father James Halstead, associate professor & chair of the Department of Religious Studies at DePaul University. ‘In my university here when people claim to be pagans or neo-pagans they claim to be very spiritual, very religious and very moral.’ ‘It is not always a disparaging term,’ added Priest Michael Driscoll, theology professor and co-director of the sacred music program at Notre Dame University.” I think this may be the first time Catholics have (sorta) praised modern Pagans in order to soften an insult towards other Christians.
  • Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath fame wants you to know that while the band dabbled in the occult back in the day, they weren’t Satanists. Quote: “Asked about whether the band had performed in a way that played up to their Satanic image, the band’s guitarist Tony Iommi told HARDtalk’s Shaun Ley they had ‘dabbled’ in the occult in the early days, but said they had never been Satanists. ‘It was creating music, and that’s all I do. I don’t try to create anything to destroy people or to upset anybody,’ he added.” 
  • Chas Clifton points to an article by Thad Horrell, a Heathen and graduate student, published in the Journal of Religion, Identity and Politics, that explores Heathenry as a postcolonial movement. Quote: “In this paper, I explore the relationship of the contemporary white racial identification of the vast majority of Heathens and the postcolonial stances taken in common Heathen discourses. I will argue that Heathenry is a postcolonial movement both in the sense that it combats and challenges elements of colonial history and the contemporary expectations derived from it (anti-colonial), and in the much more problematic sense that it serves to justify current social and racial inequalities by pushing the structures of colonialism off as a thing of the past (pro-colonial). Rather than promoting a sense of solidarity with colonized populations, Heathen critiques of colonialism and imperialism often serve to justify disregard for claims of oppression by colonized minorities. After all, if we’ve all been colonized, what is there to complain about?”
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • Summer is here again, time for a new, new, theory about what Stonehenge was for. Quote: “Stonehenge wasn’t built in order to do something, in the same way you might build a Greek temple to use it for worship. It seems much more likely that everything was in the act of building—that you’d construct it, then you’d go away. You’d come back 500 years later, you’d rebuild it in a new format, and then you’d go away. I think we have to shake off this idea of various sorts of priests or shamans coming in every year over centuries to do their thing. This is a very different attitude to religious belief. It’s much more about the moment. It’s about what must have been these upwellings of religious—almost millennial—belief, and once the thing is done, then everyone disperses and goes back to their lives.” If you’re interested in hearing more, there’s a book out from the scientists involved.
  • Shanghaiist interviews a Witch in Shanghai who uses tarot cards as her primary medium. Quote: “Mache’s own credentials as a witch include working with a doctor, treating people with terminal illnesses by using different techniques of energy healing and alternative therapies. As much as she would like the tarot cards to reveal a happy ending for all her clients, ‘life is not always happy.’ ‘More important than anything I’ve learnt as a witch, is how to communicate with people. Someone can think square, say triangle and the other person will hear circle. Still I am very far from being a perfect human being, of course. But I’m learning like everybody else.’”
  • You may not believe in magic, by why tempt fate? Quote: “I don’t believe in any of that witchcraft mumbo-jumbo junk, but this morning I woke up with a stiff neck of unholy proportions. I’m talking supernatural stiff. Like, I can’t look to the right because I have a bad case of taco-neck kind of stiff. Any person with a hint of common sense would say it’s from sleeping on it wrong. But I’ll have you know I have a memory-foam mattress, meaning I sleep like a stoic statue surrounded by contoured foam. In all honesty, I have this haunting feeling it’s because I trolled an Internet con man and he turned out to be a goddamned voodoo shaman.”
  • The gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court has repercussions outside the South, Native Americans in Arizona and Alaska are deeply concerned about discrimination at the polls. Quote: “By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that Section 4 was based on an outdated formula that does not reflect current attitudes about racial discrimination. The decision means that several states — including Alaska and Arizona, where American Indians and Alaska Natives have been subject to discrimination at the polls — won’t be subject to extra scrutiny by the Department of Justice until Congress updates the law.” Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has formed the White House Council on Native American Affairs to foster more effective government-to-government relations. 
  • In another piece brought to light by Chas Clifton, it seems that Pagans in Poland held a historic conference to overcome theological differences and find ways to work together towards common interests. Quote: “In the registry of the Ministry of Administration and Digitization there are currently four religious Rodzimowiersto organisations: the Polish Slavic Church, Native Faith, Slavic Faith and the Native Polish Church. They try to find the principles of the faith of their ancestors in historical sources. They believe in the gods, who are identified with the forces of nature. Mother Earth is Mokosh, the Sky — Swiatowid, the Sun — Svarog, and Lightning — Perun. However, there have arisen theological differences between the adherents. ‘Some Rodzimowiercy claim that their religion can be combined with other faiths. I think that is unacceptable. I am counting on the congress helping to dispel theological doubts,’ says Stanislaw Potrzebowski of Native Faith.” 
  • Oh, and before I go, it isn’t just Archbishop Charles Chaput who has a “pagan” problem, Irish Catholic priests are also perturbed by “pagan” urges within their flocks. Quote: “The people, they told us, have bought into the evils of materialism and consumerism, and don’t have time or interest in faith any more. They have, to all intents and purposes, become pagan. And they believe that ‘evangelisation’ is the answer [...] there didn’t seem to us to be any practical ideas, or indeed energy, around how this evangelisation could be progressed.” Things are tough all over it seems. 

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.

Richard Ramirez

Richard Ramirez

The Great Serpent Mound

The Great Serpent Mound

  • Indian Country Today reports on how New Age woo demeans and threatens The Great Serpent Mound in Ohio. Quote: “Kenny Frost a Southern Ute citizen, has worked to protect sacred places for more than 20 years. He is a well-respected authority on Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act issues and law and frequently consults with state, federal and tribal governments. ‘The protection put down by Native people at sacred sites is still there. Non-Native people dig around and see what they can find; they may end up opening a Pandora’s box without knowing how to put spirits back,’ he notes.” 
  • “Sorry Pagans,” that’s what Baylor history professor Philip Jenkins says as he engages in the hoary exercise of telling Pagans about how stuff they thought was pagan was actually, totally, not. Quote: “In reality, it is very hard indeed to excavate through those medieval Christian layers to find Europe’s pagan roots. Never underestimate just how thoroughly and totally the Christian church penetrated the European mind.” So why even bother, am I right? I know this is a popular topic for columnists looking for material, but we aren’t ignorant of the scholarship, and cherry-picking two (popular) examples isn’t going to embarrass us back to church. You’d be surprised at how well-versed some of us are in history. 
  • Religion Clause reports that a judge has allowed a gangster’s  Santa Muerte necklace to remain as evidence during the penalty phase of the trial (for which the defendant was found guilty of murder). Quote: “The court held that appellant had failed to object on any 1st Amendment religious ground to introduction of the evidence.” Further, the judge says they may have allowed it even if the defendant has objected earlier in the case noting the faith’s ties to narco-trafficking. Could this ruling lead to a problematic precedent? I suppose we’ll have to wait and see.
  • Christians opposed to same-sex marriage know that the battle is lost. Quote: “Just 22% of white evangelical Protestants favor same-sex marriage, but about three times that percentage (70%) thinks legal recognition for gay marriage is inevitable. Among other religious groups, there are smaller differences in underlying opinions about gay marriage and views of whether it is inevitable.” I think that means marriage equality has won, don’t you? Now to undo 50 years of legislative hysteria.
  • Speaking of marriage equality, it’s very, very “pagan.” Quote: “As to the future of America – and the collapse of this once-Christian nation – Christians must not only be allowed to have opinions, but politically, Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the “Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseum by the left and liberals to keep Christian America – the moral majority – from imposing moral government on pagan public schools, pagan higher learning and pagan media. Bill Bennett’s insight, “… the two essential questions Plato posed as: Who teaches the children, and what do we teach them?” requires deep thought, soul-searching and a response from Christian America to the secular, politically correct and multicultural false gods imposing their religion on America’s children.” That’s David Lane, one of Rand Paul’s point men in improving his relations with evangelical Christians. I’ll spare you the Dragnet P.A.G.A.N. reference.
  • “Occult,” a new television series in development for A&E, follows the exploits of an “occult crime task force.” Quote: “‘Occult’ revolves around Dolan, an FBI agent who has returned from administrative leave after going off the deep end while investigating his wife’s disappearance. Eager to be back on the job, he is paired with an agent with her own complicated back story who specializes in the occult. Together, they will solve cases for the newly formed occult crimes task force.” Whether the show actually gets on the air is still an open question. If it does, we can start a betting pool for when Wiccans, Druids, and Asatru are mentioned in the series.
  • Frank Lautenberg, the Democratic Senator from New Jersey who passed away recently, took an active role in combatting the revisionist Christian history of David Barton. Quote: “I want those who hear me across America to pay attention: ‘Christian heritage is at risk.’ That means that all the outsiders, all of those who approach God differently but are people who believe in a supreme being; people who behave and live peacefully with their neighbors and their friends. No, this is being put forward as an attempt — a not too subtle attempt — to make sure people understand that America is a Christian country. Therefore, we ought to take the time the majority leader offers us, as Members of the Senate, for a chance to learn more about how invalid the principle of separation between church and state is. I hope the American public sees this plan as the spurious attempt it is.” For why David Barton is infamous among Pagans, check out my previous reporting on his antics. 
  • Finally, here’s some pictures from the Pagan Picnic in St. Louis!

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.

A Few Notes on Palo

Stacey Lawless —  May 24, 2013 — 9 Comments

Nsala malongo! I’ve been learning about Palo cosmology and history over the last couple of months, and slowly unraveling some of the confusion I had about how the religion works. I thought I would offer up some of what I’ve learned, detailing a little of our worldview and the fact that there are different denominations, or ramas, of Palo. (By the way: any mistakes here are entirely mine, while the goodness in this piece must be credited to my teachers.)

And without further ado . . .

The dead

The dead are the basis of everything in Palo.

We call them the bakulu, which means ancestors, but the concept of “ancestors” tends to make Americans think of family trees. “Bakulu” can (and does) refer to lineal ancestors, but the dead are so much more than that. They are the basis of all life. They are the stuff of the material world, and the sea of possibilities that configure and reconfigure the fates of the living.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence.

Kongo cosmogram, showing the cyclical nature of human existence. The horizontal line represents the boundary between the living and dead.

We do think about and work with individual dead people: named ancestors, spirit guides, the beloved dead uncle who always gave you good advice. Sometimes they come to us in dreams and intuitions; sometimes, if we’re fortunate, they come to us in possession and bless us with their healing and wisdom.

But we also think of the dead as an anonymous collective, a force, a field, a sea. The KiKongo word “Kalunga” means simultaneously the collective dead, the saltwater ocean, and the cemetery. To the people of the kingdom of Kongo in central Africa, whose traditions gave birth to what would become Palo, the land of the dead lay below the sea. The surface of the sea was the demarcation between the living and the dead, a site of creative tension and power. Graves, too, were points of contact, and dirt from a grave carried the power of the deceased person within. You can still find seashells left on graves in Black family cemeteries in the United States, a trace of the old philosophy.

The spirals of conch shells symbolize the cyclical nature of existence in Kongo thought: death is hardly an end, merely a transition to a new existence. The dead are being continually reborn, crystallizing into their lineal descendants, or appearing as trees, pools and stones, plants and animals. Everything in the material world is a form of the dead, precipitating out of Kalunga like grains of salt out of seawater, to exist for a while before being dissolved again.

Nzambi

The source of the living and the dead is Nzambi a mpungu. Nzambi is neither male nor female, and is the ever-present majestic force that brought creation into being and permeates it. In Palo we tend to think of Nzambi in these terms, as the creator, because the Kongo traditions in general have been in continuous dialogue with Christianity for centuries. But Nzambi can also be thought of as the first ancestor, emphasizing the continuous cycle of life and death. In that sense, creation just is, with no beginning and no end.

The mpungos

And then there are the mpungos. Mpungu is a KiKongo word that refers to power generated by something, or, as my Tata once put it, “a hot stove can have an mpungu.” So in essence, it’s just a force. However, some lines of Palo have developed certain of the mpungos into major powers, even to the extent of conceiving of them as divinities. The Internet is full of descriptions of the mpungos, who have names such as Chola Wengue, Siete Rayos, and Zarabanda, and the tendency is to syncretize them with the Orishas of Santería. Not all ramas (which are, essentially, Palo denominations) work with the mpungos in this way, however.

The Ramas of Palo

The way a rama regards mpungos and the dead seems to be one of the major distinctions between lines of Palo. (There are many other distinctions, but they have to do with ways of conducting ritual.) There are numerous ramas, but the three main ones are Mayombe, Briyumba, and Kimbisa.

Palo Mayombe is probably the oldest one. It works primarily with the ancestors of blood and spiritual lineage, and in the past, if you were not of Bantu descent, you could not be initiated into Mayombe houses. (“Bantu” refers to a group of related African languages, of which KiKongo is one, and by extension to the ethnic groups that spoke these languages.) Mayomberos tend to see the mpungos as natural forces only, not divinities, and to downplay them in Palo practice.

Palo Briyumba developed out of Palo Mayombe and broke away from Mayombe’s ancestral focus. Briyumberos began to initiate non-Bantus. They also developed pacts with dead spirits who had no blood or lineaged connection to the Paleros, putting them to work and in some cases effectively enslaving them. Briyumba came into its own during Cuba’s wars of independence, and saw justice in conscripting the bones and souls of deceased oppressors to serve those they had formerly abused. In Briyumba, the mpungos are used to give attributes and direction to the dead who serve the Briyumbero.

Kongolese crucifix

A Kongolese crucifix

Palo Kimbisa developed in Oriente, the eastern part of the island of Cuba, and has absorbed influences from several other traditions, including Haitian Vodou. (There is a long history of contact between Oriente and Haiti, which is only about forty miles away from the eastern tip of Cuba.) Some Kimbiseros make extensive use of Christian symbolism, and some work with the Catholic saints. One theory of Kimbisa’s origins is that they lie with Kimpa Vita’s Kongolese Christian reform movement, which blossomed in the kingdom of Kongo for a few years in the eighteenth century, before being brutally repressed. Kimpa Vita had thousands of followers, many of whom were subsequently sold into slavery in the Americas. It is an intriguing theory, but nobody knows for certain if it’s true.

It is Kimbisa that regards the mpungos as divinities, finding parallels between them and the Orishas, and focusing much of their work and veneration upon them, instead of upon the dead. The dead in Kimbisa are the medium that the mpungos use to affect the world.

 * * * * *

Dear readers, I hope you enjoyed this. When I was starting out on this path and trying to read everything I could find on Palo, I was very confused about who or what Paleros worked with, and what was up with all the crucifixes and Orisha comparisons and whatnot. If I can straighten a little of that out for other readers and seekers, that’s great. In fact, let me try this: if you have questions about Palo, bring them up in the comments section and I’ll try to answer them in my next post. (Just bear in mind that I’m new at this and there may be things I can’t answer due to ignorance or oath.) Malongo yaya!

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.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.’” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

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.