Archives For pagan metal

[The following is a guest post from Sharon Knight. Sharon Knight is a nationally touring musician in the mythic-Celtic vein, and also front person for gothic-tribal-folk-metal band Pandemonaeon. With her partner Winter and Anaar of Tombo Studio, they produce Hexenfest, a festival dedicated to magick and Paganism in music and the arts. She has a lifelong fascination for the places where magick and the arts intersect. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and can be found at http://www.sharonknight.net]

San Francisco, DNA Lounge April 17th

There has been an interesting fusion of Paganism and music developing over the last 15+ years, which has recently begun finding its way to American shores. This phenomenon is called Folk Metal and as you can probably guess, it combines folk music styles and instrumentation with hard rock and metal. Folk Metal originated in Europe and in many cases endeavors to revive the ancestral traditions of European Pagan culture. Nature, Paganism, mythology, history, and ancestral homage feature prominently in the lyrical themes of folk metal bands. For my part, I am smitten.

I recently went to see several of these bands perform at the aptly named Paganfest, in San Francisco on Aprl 17th.  Five bands played – Huntress, Hysteria, Alestorm, Arkona, and Turisas. I missed the first two – despite Huntress’s claims that they draw much of their inspiration from witchcraft, I find their take on witchcraft too sensationalistic. However I fully enjoyed the three main acts. Arkona is always outstanding and are quickly becoming one of my favorite bands. They describe their music as Slavic Pagan Metal. Founded by a husband and wife team on guitar and vocals, Akona’s power lies in the ferocity of front person Masha Scream, a petite dynamo wrapped in leather and wolf pelts, who brings to mind Joan of Arc and delivers medieval sounding anthems drawn from Russian mythology and folklore. Also, they have a bagpiper.

Alestorm is just plain fun. Not a lot of deep tradition here, but they deliver what they promise – “Bacon Powered Pirate Core”.  What more could you ask for in an evening’s entertainment? Also describing themselves as Scottish Pirate Metal, they sing of the simple things in life – wenching, drinking and questing, with traditional Celtic melodies perfectly suited to the sentiment.

Though I went to Paganfest for Arkona, Turisas stole the show. I jumped up and down for the entirety of their set. Which is saying something, since jumping is not in any way an activity I am compelled to. Looking like something that stepped out of a Mad Max movie, Turisas delivered a sonic assault that was relentless and powerful, yet also melodic, sophisticated, and thoroughly engaging. These lads are here to be bad-ass, make no mistake – they describe their music as Battle Metal. And indeed their songs are tailored to rally the berserker in us all. Their front man (Mathias Nygard) is grandiose and over-the-top, yet somehow doesn’t come across as pretentious, and their lead instrumentalist (Ollie Vanska) is one of the best violinists I’ve heard. Like so many great metal bands, Turisas hails from Finland.

In short, Paganfest was an evening of Viking warriors and battle goddesses, modern day berserkers come to slay us with song instead of swords. It roused the fierce pride of the tribe, and helped to shake off some of the apathy our world is plagued with. This was music fulfilling one of its highest purposes – waking the ancestral songs that sing in our blood, with ancient melodies and tribal rhythms that have lain dormant in our DNA for generations. This music compels us to rise, and fight to preserve what our ancestors died for – a welcome change from the usual trite sentiments in modern music.

Metal isn’t everyone’s thing, and it isn’t the only style of music I like. But I am very excited to see this level of musical discipline applied to Pagan themes, and I wish it happened more often. Our traditions deserve to be represented in the arts, and I hope this is a trend that continues across an ever-increasing range of musical styles and cultures.

A few quick Pagan news notes for you on this Wednesday.

Congregational Paganism in Arizona: The East Valley Tribune spotlights the Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona, who recently received their 501(c)3 status, and explores why they abandoned the small-group coven model for a congregational model.

Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona - Beltane 2010

Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona - Beltane 2010

High Priestess Rosemary Szymanski disbanded her coven in favor of the Sacred Spiral Pagan Church of Arizona in 2007, having gained 501(c)3 status, which means that the federal government recognizes the group as a tax-exempt church. The whole process of becoming a church took about two years, but the wait was mostly because of paperwork, Szymanski said. In the years since abandoning the title of coven, Szymanski, founder and president, has worked with her fellow witches to organize openly and spread knowledge about Paganism. “Covens are much more secretive,” Szymanski, a witch for 17 years, said. “So in 2007, I banned the coven and created the church.”

Sacred Spiral doesn’t have a physical space at this point, but they do say they are hoping to open a community center. While Sacred Spiral Pagan Church is hardly the only Pagan group to adopt a congregational model (just look at CUUPs), I think this article is interesting in that it showcases, albeit indirectly, a criticism of the small-group “coven” model (they are “much more secretive”). It also seems to reinforce the idea that Pagans are, broadly speaking, dedicated to building “community centers” instead of “churches.” So even a congregational Paganism is going to seem much different than congregational Christianity.

Bend Before the Ways of (Pagan) Heavy Metal: The Loyola University student newspaper, The Greyhound, interviews Jill Janus, lead singer of the band Huntress. In the interview, Janus makes clear that Paganism is a primary motivator for her musical career.



“I draw most my influence from witchcraft, I’m inspired by the beauty of Paganism. I’ve been compared to King Diamond and Rob Halford (Judas Priest) due to my vocal range and theatrics. […] We wanted to write an album that would transport the listener to another realm, we create our own reality and want you to experience that. Spell Eater is drenched in occult imagery. There are many secrets woven into our songs. I want our fans to seek the secrets.”

The debut album by Huntress, “Spell Eater,” is due out on May 8th. You can download or listen to their debut single, “Eight Of Swords,” now. Let it not be said that I don’t throw a bone to fans of Pagan metal now and then!

ADDENDUM: Juggler contributor Trevor Curtis adds:

You forgot to mention that Huntress is the opening act on the Paganfest 2012 tour, along with the amazing Arkona (Russian Pagan Metal) and headlined by Turisas, fine Finnish pagan metal band. I’m seeing the tour here in Charlotte on Easter, think I’ll have to post a review to The Juggler.

You can find the FB page for Paganfest 2012, here.

The Return of Bunky: Way back in 2007 Ellwood “Bunky” Bartlett, a Wiccan, won over 40 million dollars in the Maryland state lottery. Since then he’s kept a pretty low profile.  There was talk of him opening a Pagan seminary, he threw one big party, and helped out a couple who wanted to get married. But for the most part, he’s stayed under the Pagan media radar, even the store he once bailed out and taught at has gone out of business. So I was somewhat surprised to see him emerge again on video-game news site Kotaku, trying to raise one million dollars on Kickstarter to build a fan-funded massive multiplayer gaming environment.

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett

Described as “all of the good things in Second Life, World of Warcraft, Rift, Star Wars: The Old Republic and the like all rolled up into one game,” Bartlett’s Kickstarter project has been the object of much derision on Twitter today, where some have mocked its lofty goals and error-riddled language. There’s no concept art or even much explanation as to how the game will run. It only promises to be “nothing like what is out there.” But if Bartlett is a millionaire, why does he need Kickstarter? I tracked him down to find out. “A smart investor has partners,” Bartlett told me in an e-mail. “I will be investing as well. This also helps me to see if there is actual interest in the type of game I am proposing.”  I asked if he’s ever worked in game development before. “I have not, but I never owned an investment company or a pizza shop before, but I do now,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett has only raised around $300 dollars towards this dream project, with a 50-day window to raise the money. So it seems likely this project won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, at least not with this funding model. It should be noted that successful million+ Kickstarter campaigns are rare, and depend on a huge amount of goodwill and a good reputation. Still, I wish him luck in his endeavors (not that a lottery winner is having a luck problem).

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.

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 Quick Notes

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 6, 2010 — 3 Comments

Just a few quick items I wanted to share with you today, starting with a post from my favorite Christian blog, Slacktivist, who tackles the sad case of Ali Sibat’s death sentence in Saudi Arabia, and the sensationalist “500 dead animals” Santeria story from Philadelphia in one fell swoop.

“The Supreme Court of the U.S. did not rule that the free exercise of Santeria is “permitted.” It ruled, unambiguously (9-0), that the free exercise of Santeria is protected. This is not a minor distinction. People like Sally Kern — or like Chuck Colson and Robert George and everybody they got to endorse their “Manhattan Declaration” — like to think that their particular religion is protected by the First Amendment while other, less widely held religions are merely “permitted,” merely tolerated out of a benign condescension. But the First Amendment does not make or allow for any such distinction. If it did, then America would require a Saudi-style “religious police” to enforce laws dependent on the content of religious beliefs. A legal category of “heretical, but permitted” could not long exist without realizing the implied additional legal category of “heretical and prohibited,” and neither category is compatible with religious freedom. It is not possible to make legal judgments regarding the content of religious belief without enforcing laws against heresy. And it is not possible to enact and enforce laws against heresy without religious tyranny.”

For those curious about what that “Manhattan Declaration” is that he mentioned, you can find the text of it, here. You can read Slacktivist’s opinion of that declaration, here. While I’m not too surprised to see a Christian blog report on the Sibat case, I’m pleasantly surprised to see one address the Santeria story. Kudos to Fred Clark for addressing the fact that religious freedom means freedom for all religions, not just the ones that are “Judeo-Christian”.

The Smoky Mountain News in North Carolina takes an exhaustive look at the various viewpoints on the matter of public religious invocations before government meetings. Interviewing Christians, atheists, politicians, lawyers, and even Pagans, in the process.

“Lianna Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said prayers that specifically reference Jesus Christ in Haywood, Swain and Macon counties persist simply because the practice has never been challenged. In her opinion, holding any one group above another promotes an atmosphere of intolerance. In Constantino’s view, it will take a long time for major change, somewhat due to the makeup of WNC society. “There hasn’t been a lot of diversity like there has been in other parts of the country,” said Constantino. “As a simple fact, this is a pretty homogenous Christian-entrenched society in the South.” … Constantino, high priestess of the Sylva Hearth Pagan Temple, said endorsing Christian prayers before meetings blatantly violates a precious partition between religion and state. “I think it is rude, arrogant and presumptuous to impose any singular religious tradition on a religiously diverse society,” said Constantino.”

The article was prompted by recent successful legal challenges in Forsyth County that ended sectarian prayer before governmental meetings. Now a group of North Carolina counties (Haywood, Macon and Swain) wonder when they’ll be called to court for excluding religious minorities, or making public sectarian invocations. The answer is most likely “eventually”, as religious minorities (and atheists) grow and decide they’ve had enough of a governmental endorsement of Christianity masquerading as “religious freedom”.

In a final note, the Guardian music blog spotlights “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, a film I’ve mentioned here before.

“The result is a new film, Pagan Metal: A Documentary, that features interviews with some of the scene’s big players, including Finnish bands, Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, as well as Norway’s Leaves Eyes and Ireland’s Primordial. Their dedication to ancient traditions doesn’t quite go as far as carving guitars out of birch and stringing them with the entrails of wild boar, but alongside your typical metal set-up, traditional instruments, such as violins, flutes and Celtic bagpipes, are rife. Lyrics, meanwhile, are steeped in traditional, pre-Christian themes: Finntroll, for instance, draw inspiration from from the epic Finnish poem The Kalevala.”

The post chronicles how film producer Bill Zebub was initially quite skeptical of the genre, but was won over by the “vibe” which called out to “the European” within him. They also tackle how some bands veer into racism and nationalism, though they do add that there is less extremism and sensationalism on the whole than within the more-popular Black Metal genre (a genre that also has a documentary about it coming out).

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

Top Story: Outed Pagan political candidate Alice Richmond has closed down her local-issues blog, Page County Watch, and is seemingly retiring from the public eye.

“Last week the voice of the Page County Watch Blog went silent as Alice Richmond, the resident who started the blog, decided to move on. “I’m moving on to other things,” said Richmond. “I don’t want anyone to Google my name anymore.” The site gained attention most recently in September when on a local radio show, Richmond was questioned about her religion and the author known as “Lady Raya.” Richmond later admitted she was using the name Lady Raya as a pseudonym to write books on Wiccan practices.”

Richmond’s race for a seat on Page County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors seemed to get hostile from the start, with the staged ambush-outing of her “Lady Raya” pen-name by political opponents on a local talk show shrouding her candidacy with sensationalism. After a losing the election by a wide margin, a palpably disappointed Richmond inferred that the county was suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, noting that the vote wasn’t close. Considering the emotional wringer she’s been through, I don’t blame her for wanting to withdraw from public, though I do mourn the loss of a Pagan willing to enter into the political fray.  I fear that her campaign, and Dan Halloran’s, proves that out (or outed) Pagan candidates will have to deal with ugly smears from opponents (even if the tactic backfires) unafraid to exploit religious fears.

In Other News: Kathy Nance at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings us a local angle to the “Pagans at the Parliament” story by focusing on the ceremonial rattles created by local artist Julee Higginbotham for the interfaith event.

“On this first full day of the Parliament of World Religions (PWR) in Melbourne, Australia, a group of Pagans met to give blessings to four rattles created by St. Louis artist Julee Higginbotham. The rattles, called “Bridge to the Meeting Place,” were created to symbolize the coming together of religions and people from around our planet. Julee has blended Aboriginal and Neo-Pagan symbols into a clay prayer for understanding. They will be given to Pagans from North America and Australia, and to two PWR delegates. She got the idea from Pagan delegate and PWR board member Angie Buchanan.”

You can read more about these rattles at the Pagans at the Parliament blog, where you can see daily updates about the Pagan presence at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne.

Are you a Pagan metal-head? If so, this is your lucky day, because two documentaries that touch on Pagan/Heathen religion within different metal subcultures are being released. “Pagan Metal:  A Documentary”, and “Until the Light Takes Us”, which focuses on the controversial Norwegian black metal scene.

“In addition to exploring the origins and ideology of black metal, Aites and Ewell examine black metal as what Norwegian visual artist Bjarne Melgaard calls “Norway’s only culturally relevant phenomenon.” Melgaard, who recontextualizes black metal aesthetics in his art, explores the striking parallel between the emotional extremes of Norwegian painter Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the album cover of Darkthrone’s “Transilvanian Hunger.” “Until the Light Takes Us” succeeds because it neither idolizes nor patronizes the artists involved.”

Considering the fact that a movie is being made about one of black metal’s most controversial figures, a less sensationalist documentary, academic in tone, certainly seems welcome at this point. As for “Pagan Metal: A Documentary”, it’s more informal, and had a reviewer comment that “you will feel like you have made new friends”. Both seem welcome assets for those wanting to explore Pagan and Heathen spirituality in underground subcultures.

The Good Blog gives props to Archdruid (and blogger) John Michael Greer for a piece he wrote on adopting a new model of “energy productivity” instead of the per-worker-hour standard.

“This isn’t the first time our common economic metrics have been challenged. GDP gets criticized all the time (and for good reason). But Greer makes a great point about the need for resource efficiency—especially energy efficiency—to be incorporated into the statistics we use to measure our country’s economic success. After all, we live in a world of limited resources. Acknowledging that in our numbers isn’t just about giving environmentally-friendly countries a pat on the back. It’s a real indication of how well-prepared a country is to deal with costly constraints. Apparently these days it takes a druid and Tarot grandmaster to point that out to all the Ivy League B-school grads on Wall Street. Strange times.”

Indeed it does sometimes take a different view-point to actually think “outside the box”, and who better than a (wise) Druid to address issues of resource efficiency and economics as we approach the end our the industrial age? For more on Greer’s religious activities, check out the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) web site.

In a final note, I think the University of Iowa may have the coolest name ever for their Pagan student organization.

“The mention of the term “pagan” often connotes thoughts of the dark arts, ritual sacrifices, and any number of Goth stereotypes. But for UI senior Kirk Cheyney, it’s not about any such thing. It’s more about nature and a deep personal spirituality that he can share with his family. Cheyney serves as the president of the Society of Pagans Invested in Reviving Ancient Lifestyles, which bills itself as the UI’s pagan student union.”

I think we could use more creative acronyms in modern Paganism, especially for college students! Congrats to S.P.I.R.A.L. for making it happen (all you other campus groups better step up).

That’s all I have for now, don’t forget to check the Pagans at the Parliament blog for the latest updates and links from Melbourne. We have a new post now up from Selena Fox, and Thorn Coyle has just sent in another dispatch as well. You can also stay on top of things with the Pagans at the Parliament Twitter feed and Facebook page. Have a great day!