Archives For pop-culture

[The following is a guest post from Michelle Mueller. Michelle Mueller is a doctoral student researching polyamory in Pagan communities. She has integrated women's and gender studies throughout her study of religion, and thinks it's never a bad idea to think about representations of women in the media, as well as messages about queer culture and Pagans.]

As many of us in the Bay Area (and beyond) reintegrate into the “mundane world” after PantheaCon, it feels timely to turn an eye towards images of Witchcraft in pop culture. Some Wiccans were upset about Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” at the Grammys three weeks ago, during which she invoked theatrical imagery to refer to “the Burning Times.” In her grand finale, she attached herself to a broom (basically stripper pole style); the pyrotechnics produced a blazing fire around her, a reference to witch-burning.

I missed the Grammys but my good friend, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel member, Shelly Graves brought the performance to my attention with a Facebook post the next morning, “Did anyone just see that performance by katy perry? Wtf was that? Not cool with the whole witch burning imagery at the end” (Jan. 26, 2014).

I watched the video and caught up on aggravated comments from Wiccans and critics. Intrigued by the strong response, I asked my other Facebook friends what they thought.

Selina Rifkin, Executive Assistant to the Director for Cherry Hill Seminary also enrolled in its masters program, offered:

“I think it depends on how sacred you hold the symbolism she was using. The color black, graveyards, broomsticks, some flames, however we hold these images, they are also part of the broader (yes largely Christian) cultural view of what is dark and dangerous. We aren’t going to change the fact that we are a minority religion, and it’s not reasonable to expect that someone like Katy Perry is going to be interested in anything but addressing the largest audience possible. She has no reason what so ever to accommodate a minority religion, assuming she even knows Wiccans -or any other Pagans – exist.

That being said, Wiccans in particular are working to reclaim some of that “negative” imagery and I don’t think it[’]s a big surprise that a pop star used it to suit herself. After all, if it’s “art,” pretty much anything goes.” (Facebook, Jan. 26, 2014)

Shelly clarified her criticism, “I think that her performance tarnished the message of unity the Grammy’s were trying to present. I was really surpr[i]sed that Katy Perry would do that. I guess people really can be clueless and not understand that The Burning Times were as horrible as any of the genocides that have taken place. People were killed for no good cause.”


For me, Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” in the Grammys was refreshing compared to other things I’ve seen her do, which I will describe shortly. I didn’t mind the references to witch-burning because it seemed she was identifying with the motif of the martyr or the persecuted witch. I am in good company. Abel R. Gómez, graduate student at the University of Missouri and past contributor to the Wild Hunt, commented, “I liked it. I think it’s possible to read into it more, but to me, it’s just a performance.” Of course, others find the performance offensive because Perry may have been making light of atrocities towards women and healers.

I liked Katy Perry when she first debuted. I’m a Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon aficionado. I liked Katy Perry’s girly style, lollipops, and teenage dream.
I became concerned over lyrics of “Last Friday Night,” which glorify blacking out as meaning a terrific night, especially because of the number of girls listening to her music and the impact this message could have on them. I pivotally lost respect for Katy Perry when I saw this video of a live performance (Sydney, Australia, October 2013) in which she jumps rope in platform heels for 17 seconds before the finale of “Roar,” the song whose lyrics unmistakably refer to the women’s liberation movement: I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire/’Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.

I love instances of women affirming their sexuality, but I do not like women being reduced to boobs, which is what I felt this performance did. Her fans loved it. You can hear them singing Roar along wildly in the video. As with the Grammys performance, we will disagree about the intentions of an artist and the quality of their art.

In an interview, Perry herself said, “I hate working out, but I love jumping rope. I think it’s because it’s like dancing; there’s a rhythm….I’m a really good rope jumper. I can double jump, I can cross, I can do all of it. I look like Rocky when I jump rope!’” (Mail Online, Oct. 28, 2013) Somewhere some women may have found her message empowering, an example of choice, free expression, or fitness. I did not.

Two years ago, Katy Perry’s “Ur so gay” made it on the radio, which Elena Rose of Starr King Unitarian Universalist seminary brought my attention to. See link for Katy’s explanation and performance on MTV Unplugged (June 2012). Somehow this song had skipped my radar. Maybe others were offended and the radio stations and DJ’s held back from playing it with the strength of other Katy Perry singles. It’s one thing to be disappointed that your crush likes the opposite gender and not you, but these lyrics are downright hateful to gender non-conforming people:

“I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf
While jacking off listening to Mozart
You bitch and moan about LA
Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway
You don’t eat meat
And drive electrical cars
You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art
You need SPF 45 just to stay alive

“You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like…

“You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…”

In conclusion, many Witches are upset about “Dark Horse” at the Grammys. I find other things by Katy Perry more offensive. I found her Grammys performance creative while others found it triggering of genocidal history. I observe with patience and curiosity what in the next year will emerge from behind Katy Perry’s curtain. I hope to Goddess she develops into a more mature performer because I really would like to see her succeed as an artist. I had high hopes when she emerged (though I always felt “I Kissed a Girl” was a rip-off of Jill Sobule without credit.) I believe Perry can use her power and fame more constructively than with lyrics like “Ur so gay,” and I pray she chooses to.

Many have said Katy was tipping her hat to the wildly popular series American Horror Story: Coven. I hope to hear at a future date from Crystal Blanton about this series, as I know she has been following!

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.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional image from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • At Time Magazine, Megan Gibson praises the re-ascension of the Witch in pop culture. Quote: “Now, witches are getting another crack at dominance. And I think that’s a good thing — particularly for the young girls and women who are the primary audience for these shows. Unlike the female leads in most vampire stories, women in witchcraft stories are typically depicted as strong, capable characters. They might not always be noble, but they’re certainly not weak or passive characters who sit on the sidelines while the men take charge. Fictional witches are well-rounded characters with rich interior lives, while the females in vampire stories are the supernatural equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” Gibson also notes the amoral universe some contemporary fictional witches operate in these days, but thinks that “young girls and women don’t need role models from television, they need options.”
  • Could teaching about nutrition in India help deter accusations of witchcraft? Quote: “The Jharkhand State Women’s Commission is planning to approach the state government to hold nutrition programmes simultaneously with the awareness campaigns against withcraft to combat the superstition effectively. [...] Superstitions were attached to illness caused by malnutrition among children and innocent women were often made responsible for this by branding them as witches. This could be curbed through joint campaigns by health mission and literacy programmes.”
  • Canada’s National Post reports on the World Mission Society Church of God, also known as the Church of God. Specifically, it notes that this Christian denomination worship a goddess. Quote: “Most Christian churches believe in one God, commonly described in male terms as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but the Church of God believes the Bible testifies that two Gods exist: God the Father and God the Mother. [...] The church teaches that since the Bible testifies that men and women were both created in God’s own image, God actually has two images: male and female. In other words, there are two Gods – Heavenly Parents – who together created human beings in Their likeness.” There’s nearly 2 million members of this church, FYI.
  • After the controversy in 2012 over Canada eliminating all paid part-time chaplain services (starting with the Wiccans), effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair, the government has quietly tasked a private company with providing chaplaincy services. Quote: “Kairos Pneuma Chaplaincy Inc., a company started by a handful of current and former federal prison chaplains in direct response to the request for proposals issued in May, won the bid. Since October, about 30 full and part-time chaplains of all denominations, including Wicca and including many who worked in the federal prison system perviously, have been serving prisoners across the country, according to company president John Tonks.” Proponents of the new system says it promotes “equity” among prison chaplains.
  • In a shocking twist, a Christian columnist finds that he thinks Christianity is better than Paganism. Quote: “Absolute truth exists. And truth is not determined by the majority, but by the Truth-Giver. Most important, truth matters and consequences exist. We must be willing to discuss this so we can distinguish between good and bad ideas; or risk the consequence of being held back as individuals and/ora nation; or worse. If we don’t want to accept this, pray the pagans are right so that in the end it doesn’t matter.” He also has some feelings about gay marriage, again, shocking, I know.
Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

Photo of a Vodou practitioner by Anthony Karen.

  • Slate.com profiles photographer Anthony Karen, who has spent time documenting Haitian Vodou. Quote: “The Vodou faith teaches us to bless nature and support cosmic harmony for the purposes of mastering divine magnetism. Vodou accepts the existence of the visible and the invisible, in a sense that it is believed that one does not see all that exists, and Vodou is in full compliance with the laws of nature.” Be warned, some of the photos are of animal sacrifice and quite graphic. Meanwhile, Slate.com has also posted a photographic look at a Vodun fetish market in the nation of Togo.
  • So, it seems Charismatic Christians are using the phrase “religious witchcraft” for people who “shame” or “threaten” Christians into bowing “to their ungodly will.” Quote: “So when you discern religious witchcraft—which often manifests as intimidation, manipulation and maligning—don’t try to defend yourself. Let the Lord vindicate you. Don’t stop doing what God told you to do. Keep pressing into your kingdom assignment with confidence that He has your back—because He does.” I can only imagine the havoc this is going to cause Google-ing Charismatics. Good luck with all those Pagan search results!
  • Infamous Nigerian Christian leader Helen Ukpabio is trying to re-start her anti-witchcraft themed ministry. Quote: “Ukpabio has literally re-launched her witch hunting ministry which is blamed for the menace of child witchcraft allegations and human rights abuses in the region. For some time now her ministry has been criticized locally and international because of its role in fueling witchcraft accusation and related abuses in Nigeria and beyond. But she appears unrepentant, and unfazed by the criticisms. Ukpabio claims to be an ex-witch with a divine mandate and power to exorcize the spirit of witchcraft.” As I’ve pointed out before, Ukpabio has received support and money from American churches, and is a public face of the larger problem of Western missions directly or indirectly funding witch-hunting.
  • A Pagan priest in the UK is calling on goddesses to help find a lottery ticket winner, because, well, why not? I guess? Quote: “David Spofforth, priest of Avalon, has called on the help of ancient Goddesses to reveal the holder of an unclaimed EuroMillions lottery ticket. [...] The self-styled Priest of Avalon priest conducted a 20-minute ceremony at St Ann’s Well in Hove, which is said to be the starting point of ley lines running across the South Downs.”
  • Satanic Panic, it really was a thing folks. Seriously.
  • 6% of libertarians belong to a non-Christian religion, while 27% claim to be religiously unaffiliated. This places them at odds with the rest of modern-day conservative-leaning groups. Quote: “By contrast, more than one-third (35 percent) of Americans who identify with the Tea Party movement are white evangelical Protestants, while roughly equal numbers identify as Catholic (22 percent) or white mainline Protestant (19 percent), and fewer than 1-in-10 (9 percent) are religiously unaffiliated.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

It’s an almost universal truism that coverage of Witches, witchcraft, the occult, and anything else vaguely magical in nature skyrockets during October. It’s a no-brainer content filler in a media landscape that is constantly hungry for more content, no matter how re-hashed, derivative, or lacking in an actual story-hook. This year has almost been too easy, what with (at least) three new television shows that focus on witchcraft in some form or another. If one were to look at a theme, it would be that witchcraft, and the occult more broadly, has become widely normalized within (pop) culture. To underline this, a recent CNN article runs through the many witch-themed tourist travel spots around the world (including Salem).

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“Today, Salem’s witchlore has resulted in a booming tourist trade. Over 100,000 visitors pour into town during the month-long Haunted Happenings festival, which takes place every October. ‘About 85% of visitors we asked say they’re interested in the witch trials, and 80% say they’re interested in modern witches,’ explains Kate Fox, the executive director of Destination Salem. The town also boasts a strong Wiccan community, with many setting up spell shops and psychic stalls where visitors can get their palms read. While witch costumes are encouraged, green face paint is not smiled upon.”

Like it or not, Halloween has established itself as the dark mirror of Christmas in the Western holiday calendar. Anything vaguely related to death, magic, or the otherworld gets pulled into its wake, sometimes in spite of objections from the cultures being pulled in. Vodou/Voodoo is quickly becoming associated with the witchcraft-drenched autumnal season, urged on by popular shows like American Horror Story: Coven, while the pre-Columbian Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos grows in popularity every year.

Decorated skulls for Sale at Chichen Itza.

Decorated skulls for Sale at Chichen Itza.

“The tradition, initially a summer holiday, began hundreds of years ago in Mexico’s Aztec cultures, explains Louis Alvarez, one of Orale’s owners. European settlers moved the pagan ritual to coincide with the Catholic holidays of All Souls’ and All Saints’ days and helped to spread the idea to other countries.  Alvarez, 46, who was born in Ecuador and came to New Jersey at age 13, did not experience the holiday in his native land, but has seen its popularity spread during many years working in Latin restaurants. ‘It just keeps elevating every year,’ he says.”

For those of us who lay claim to the title of “Witch,” this holiday has always been a double-edged gift. On one hand it has allowed Pagan faiths increased access to popular media, on the other, much of that media has been sensationalist in nature, and often warps our message in the service of ratings. However, the bright lining in all of this attention is that the figure of the witch is changing dramatically before our very eyes. It is now deeply embedded in our culture that witchcraft is no longer solely malefic, and for every evil magic-using character, there are a growing number of sympathetic, and at times heroic, individuals who cast spells, and lay claim to the title of Witch. Some even believe this development could bring empowerment to women, changing the way we see their power.

“While not all movies and shows about witches are necessarily good, the concept of a woman being a witch and deriving her power from within presents us with the novel idea that a female-specific concept doesn’t have to be a double-edged sword.”

On a secular level, Halloween is a multi-billion dollar business, which means that the attention, and all that comes with it, will most likely not be ending any time soon. For those dismayed at what Halloween has done to sacred holidays and customs, associating them with free candy, terrible costumes, and bacchanals of excess, there’s little to be done to reverse this commercial juggernaut. However, within the fake cob-webs, horror movies, and capitalist striving, there is an opportunity to slowly change culture by merely existing within it in an uncompromising manner. By weathering the trends, by staying true to our beliefs and traditions, we become still points of reference in a maelstrom of commerce, ultimately bending the season to something more fitting our tastes. We’ve seen this slowly happen over the last 30 years, and it’s a process we can continue as this new occult obsession accelerates.

Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Unleash the Hounds is one of my longest running, and popular, features at The Wild Hunt. It is, in essence, a link roundup. A place where I find stories in the mainstream media concerning Paganism, occult practices, indigenous religions, and other topics of interest to our interconnected communities. The birth of this series came out of necessity, as more stuff is being written now than I could possible write about in-depth week-to-week. If you enjoy this feature, please take some time to make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive, so we can continue to bring you this, and other features, for another year. Thank you to everyone who helped us raise over $4000 dollars in the first few days of our drive, let’s keep the momentum going, and be sure to spread the word! Now, on to the links!

  •  A House Oversight Committee hearing this Wednesday got so intense, that Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) decided to inject a little levity by asking Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram if she was a witch. Quote: “A Democratic Congressman mocked the GOP’s effort to demonize an IRS official during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday by asking her if she was a witch consorting with the devil. The official, Affordable Care Act Office Director Sarah Hall Ingram, said in response to questioning from Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) that she has never worked with the devil, could not fly, and was not responsible for perverting the youth ‘in Salem or anywhere else.’” One can only imagine what would have happened had the answer been: “yes, I am a Witch, one of the many New England traditional covens.“ Whatever the case, satire is a tricky thing these days.
  • Speaking of witches and witchcraft, they are so very, very, hot right now (in pop-culture). Just ask CNN“So, maybe they’re a kind of gendered response to the suave, seductive male vampire figure. Or maybe it’s just cyclical, and all of the childhood fans of ‘Hocus Pocus,’ ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ and ‘Charmed’ are writing for TV now! [...] The featured supernatural characters on those shows are usually men, too (not exclusively, but overwhelmingly). These new witch characters are giving women more power and agency to control their destinies, instead of just being objects of desire in need of saving, which is a nice change.” The article notes that “Hollywood now can’t seem to get enough of witches.”
  • Did Roman aristocrats fabricate the story of Jesus? Probably not. But here’s a documentary claiming exactly that! Quote: “On October 19 Atwill will present some provocative new findings in London. Atwill’s thesis is that the New Testament was written by first-century Roman aristocrats who fabricated the entire story of Jesus Christ. Per Atwill: ‘The Caesars committed a crime against consciousness. They reached into the minds of their subjects and planted false concepts to make them easier to control.’ Atwill claims to have iron-clad proof of his claims.” Hey, remember all those religions that disappeared after various individuals debunked them? Yeah, me neither.
  • Fox News reports on the witchcraft tourist trade in Nicaragua. Quote: “Americans get dressed up for Halloween, take kids trick or treating, and tell tales about ghosts and witches. But in Nicaragua, some locals and curious tourists seek out real, live witches—or brujos, who claim to be able to cast spells on people and cure all sorts of ailments, including impotency, male pattern baldness and more.” The reporter spends a lot of time trying to see if the local witches will reveal secrets or do malefic magic for him. They seem, understandably, hesitant to indulge him.
  • Hammer Films has purchased the film rights to Jeanette Winterson’s novella “The Daylight Gate”, about one of England’s most infamous witch-trials. Quote: “I was interested to take the Hammer novella commission to write a good story around the notorious Pendle witch trials of 1612. Now I am intrigued and excited to see what new form these ghosts can inhabit. Stories from the past are always present; it is our imaginations that make it so.” The pop-culture witch trend continues…
A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

A promotional still from American Horror Story: Coven.

  • A Flavorwire, Michele Dean can’t wait for pop-culture to embrace witchcraft once more. Quote: “In the 1990s, when I was a teenager, witches were everywhere. Today people often reference the Fairuza Balk/Neve Campbell movie The Craft as though it were the driver of that trend in the culture. But it actually came awfully late in my experience of fellow young-nerd-women who retreated into Wicca and Paganism as a way of coping with social ostracization. They weren’t the ordinary-looking witches of Charmed or even Buffy, but people who enjoyed wearing velvet chokers and thanking the Goddess and drawing Celtic runes. It was very often very silly, I agree, and there were certainly paths that even my extremely socially disenfranchised self declined to follow them down. But while their actual powers were a matter of dispute, just the practice and ritual seemed to be enough to give them a measure of much-needed self-respect.” A message to my fellow Witches out there, prepare for a new deluge. Seriously.
  • The Huffington Post interviews Incan Shaman Elena Radford. Quote: “That’s what a shaman does — tune into the energy of the environment: mountains, animals, plants, people in the past, and energies from other worlds. These skills that come through the heart allow a shaman to communicate with these different realities.” 
  • Oh, and did I mention that the New York Times has also chimed in about the pop-culture resurgence of the witch? Quote: “There’s something very beautiful about witch stories — the full moon, the mystery, the chants — but it’s also a way to explore female power [...] To me, witch stories are really female versions of superhero stories. They’re fantasies. And there’s something very potent about those fantasies. On one level, this is a fun yarn about women learning to use these supernatural gifts, but it’s also a metaphor for things that we all need to do in our lives, in our adulthood, to own who we really are and feel comfortable with it. To not be afraid to use our gifts.” Also, Glamour is totally on board with the return of witches.
  • Dangerous Minds (almost) attends a Gnostic Mass. They do not eat the Cakes of Light. Quote: “This is a special, invitational Gnostic Mass, and a couple, like me, are invitees (though presumably bona fide neophytes rather than tremulous hacks). At least one seems a little nervous, while the OTO initiates—mostly middle aged men with either long hair or none, each with unusually pale blue eyes—inspect us with that slightly salacious curiosity with which people on one side of an experience examine those at its verge. In the pub Adrian had referred to magick as ‘psychological transgression.’ I can see what he means! The atmosphere is a distinct mixture of the religious and the illicit—as if we were all here for an afternoon of metaphysical dogging.”
  • There’s a new edition of Robert Graves’ “The White Goddess” out, you can read an excerpt at Tor.com. Quote: “This labyrinthine and extraordinary book, first published more than sixty years ago, was the outcome of Robert Graves’ vast reading and curious research into strange territories of folklore, mythology, religion, and magic. Erudite and impassioned, it is a scholar-poet’s quest for the meaning of European myths, a polemic about the relations between man and woman, and also an intensely personal document in which Graves explored the sources of his own inspiration and, as he believed, all true poetry. This new edition has been prepared by Grevel Lindop, who has written an illuminating introduction. The text of the book incorporates all of Graves’s final revisions, his replies to two of the original reviewers, and a long essay in which he describes the months of inspiration in which The White Goddess was written.”

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. Don’t forget, make a donation to our Fall Funding Drive so The Wild Hunt can run for another year!

Pop-cultural moments come and go, and the witch has had its share. Each time the figure of the “Witch” means something slightly different, though often focused on the power of women. In the 1940s and 1950s, films like I Married a Witch (1942) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958) showed a witch’s power conquered by their love of a “mortal” man; a trope that was subverted in the 1960s and early 1970s by the television series Bewitched, where it’s clear that Samantha is the smarter, more powerful, partner.

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“Samantha was representative of suburban domestic ideals. However, at a time when women were beginning to have their horizons broadened, Samantha’s supernatural abilities conjured up the promise of women’s liberation and the unleashing of female power that was to come.” 

However, this particular theme of housewife witches turned to darker territory in the late 1960s and the 1970s. You had the Satanic coven in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) trying for an Antichrist, and the evil witch coven in Suspiria (1977), perhaps reflecting the darker turn culture took during that era. When you start examining witches in movies, you’ll see the pendulum swinging back and forth, empowerment, and fear of that very empowerment. By the 1990s, the rising religious Witchcraft movement started influencing these films, blurring the lines between the fantasy witch and real Witches, most evident in films like The Craft (1996) and television shows like Charmed (1998) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997). Still, the evil fantasy witch persisted during this time, most famously in The Blair Witch Project (1999).

Today, the figure of the fantasy witch, influenced both by religious Witchcraft, and the pop-cultural ups and downs of previous generations, seems more popular than ever. In an atmosphere where vampires, werewolves, and zombies are big box office, there seems to be an ongoing expectation that witches will join that pantheon of tortured pathos and veiled commentary about modern life. This time television led the way with witches (and sometimes Wiccans) regularly appearing in True Blood, (the now-canceled) Secret Circle, and The Vampire Diaries. This year, 2013, seems to be the biggest yet, with a variety of big-budget films featuring an assortment of good and bad witches heading to the screens, starting with the (by all accounts very bad) movie Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

That clunker of a film will soon give way to something even darker, Rob Zombie’s The Lords of Salem which seems very much an homage to the Rosemary’s Baby/Suspiria Satanic witch-meme.

Before that hits this Fall, we’ll have Oz The Great And Powerful in March, which updates the “good” and “bad” witches of that fantasy world, a prequel to the film version of The Wizard of Oz, perhaps the most famous film featuring witches (a film which has been reevaluated in recent years thanks to the musical Wicked).

Those are only the beginning. We also have The Seventh Son and Beautiful Creatures on the way this year, and another witch-hunting movie, The Last Witch Hunter, slated for next year. Television will also see a new witch-themed series in Witches of East End out this year, joining an already-impressive lineup of fictional witches and spell-casters on cable and network TV.

I’m commenting on this now because I think it’s important that we start discerning what all these witches are telling the viewers. What does the witch do? Is witchcraft evil? Good? A neutral technology? What theology, if any, is included in these works? How will it reflect on those of us who call ourselves Witches in the real world? As much as some of us would like to simply ignore pop-culture, we know first-hand that it does inspire people to seek out the “real” thing. Those of us who lived through the “Teen Witch” boom of the 1990s know how powerful films like The Craft were in making kids curious about Wicca and other forms of religious Witchcraft. 

A still from "The Craft."

A still from “The Craft.”

Organizations and groups that advocate for modern Witchcraft will have to be ready to field questions, to handle journalists that will inevitably want to talk to “real” Witches when these various films come out, and to deal with blatant self-promoters who want to grab this moment by the tail. As “witches” join the paranormal urban fantasy soup in greater and greater numbers, we will have to be savvier than ever, because these works  do shift perceptions, and we can’t ignore their magic.

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.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

David Chaim Smith, Blood of Space 2, 2009. Graphite/ink on digital print. 18x22” NFS.

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.

Throughout the 1990s I was an unabashed Tori Amos fan. The type of fan who went to the midnight release of her 1996 album “Boys for Pele,” collected singles, covers, and b-sides, and considered myself lucky to see her on the “Under the Pink” tour.  However, my passion for all things Tori cooled as the millennium turned, and a string of uneven albums convinced me that I wasn’t missing out on much. I expected that status quo to remain stable, and my interest in Tori Amos’ music to become  primarily an exercise in nostalgia, until I chanced on her newly released album “Night of Hunters.” A conceptual album constructed around famous compositions by classical composers, and featuring a narrative about a relationship couched in mythological terms, “Night of Hunters” is a breathtaking  reminder of just how good Amos can be. It also gives plenty of fuel to the “is she or isn’t she” debate over how overtly Pagan Amos is.

“I was reading “The White Goddess” by Robert Graves, [a book] that really investigates the mythology from ancient Ireland. When I read about the power of the poets in those days, it took me a while to really comprehend that sort of world, because we don’t have a world like that. It’s almost going to an alien world where that exists. It excited me, but to get my head around the prose was tricky. That took quite some time, to deal with “Battle of Trees.” Probably the longest of everything — it was being worked on through this whole process, when I was building all the other works, this was constantly on the drawing board.”

Music critic Ann Powers, who co-wrote a book with Amos that explored her links to archetypal goddess figures, delves into some of the mythic themes utilized in “Night of Hunters.”

“A song cycle based on familiar pieces by composers including Satie, Chopin, Schubert and Bach,Night of Hunters tells a multidimensional tale of a couple torn asunder and a woman’s search to find unity within herself. The story is animated by characters and motifs that any Amos fan will recognize as characteristic: a shapeshifter; ancient poets, battling in a ring of trees; a Star Whisperer; a Fire Muse. [...] Night of Hunters is ambitious, but it’s also personal — not in the confessional sense, but musically. Amos shares vocals in four tracks with her 11-year-old daughter Natashya Lorien Hawley (whose precocious throatiness suggests a more spritely Adele), and her niece Kelsey Dobyns also makes an appearance. Leave it to Amos to find a way to challenge the classical tradition of masculine mentorship by working a little matrilineal magic. It’s just her style to reinvent tradition, even as she honors it.”

The links between myth, archetypes, and Amos’ music run deep, or as Wired says, she’s “centuries-old-school.”

“With help from a Fire Muse (voiced by Amos’ niece) and a character named Annabelle (inspired by the Children of Lir from Irish mythology, and voiced amazingly by Amos’ 10-year-old daughter, Tash), the woman is reborn. By the album’s end, she vows to “Carry” (video above) her lost love with her. “I thought that if Annabelle represented the duality of nature and was able to shape-shift from fox to goose, hunter to hunted, and show this woman a different perspective, I could jump in and out of Irish mythology, because I had a pivot point in her,” Amos said.”

I personally think that labels like “Pagan” probably matter little to Tori Amos, and that anyone who walks so deeply into faerie is “with us” in all the ways that truly matter without having to pin it down. As for her reliance on Robert Grave’s most controversial book (at least among Pagans), I think using his poetic mythic history in a poetic mythic album is exactly the context the work should be explored (and one Graves would no doubt approve of). In any event, “Night of Hunters” is a triumph of an album, one that should interest old fans who’ve drifted away, and attract new fans who see the connections between the mundane and the mythic. You can listen to “Night of Hunters” in its entirety at NPR Music, and you might also want to check out an interesting dialog on her new album between a pop and classical music critic.

Not since the 1990s has witchcraft been such a popular subject matter within pop-culture. Wicca and Brujería mingle with more fantasy-oriented versions of witchcraft on the HBO series “True Blood,” while  the CW is set to launch “The Secret Circle” this Fall, a teen-oriented show based on a series of books that focuses on a coven of genetic witches. To top it all off, there seems to be plans for a new take on the 1960s classic television show “Bewitched”.

“In the latest classic TV title getting considered for a reboot, CBS and Sony are developing a script for remake of the classic sitcom Bewitched. This is still in very early stages, but it’s definitely a project worth keeping an eye on.”

Several media critics are skeptical of such a relaunch, but could this be a great opportunity to have a truly subversive show about witchcraft (or capital-W Witchcraft) on television? With the current craze of shows set in the 1960s (ie “Mad Men,” “The Playboy Club,” “Pan Am”) you could even make it a period piece with little trouble, thus avoiding much of the meta-horribleness that was the 2005 movie.

Witchcraft in television and movies has often worked best when it’s a signifier for something else. In the 1958 movie adaptation of “Bell, Book, and Candle” (of which, I have many strong opinions) witchcraft stands in for 1950s-era bohemia, women’s empowerment, and the gay subtext of Jack Lemmon’s Nicky. Much of this subtext was adopted, though further sanitized, when “Bewitched” launched five years later. By this time, real-live Witches of various stripes were making news in England, though it had yet to penetrate the American consciousness. Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha seemed to be embodying the bubbling tensions over feminism in the early seasons as she struggled to be the good wife while denying her innate power (much to the chagrin of her liberated mother).  While there’s no trace of religion in the show’s depiction of witchcraft, it did feature a eerily prescient episode in the first season where the witches decide to protest their depiction as ugly old Halloween hags.

“The Witches Are Out” from season one is the first episode where witches are presented as a minority group. They are referred to as such in the episode in which one of Darrin’ clients (portrayed by Shelley Berman) wants his Halloween candy represented by a wart-nosed, broom-riding witch. Meanwhile, Samantha and her witch committee are trying to actively combat the negative images associated with witches during Halloween.

A decade later figures like Laurie Cabot would be making the news for staging similar protests. So “Bewitched,” in a way, set the stage for real-live Witches while using the show’s “witchcraft” as a stand-in for other issues.

Today we exist in a world where Pagan religions and Witches are a reality, not a fantasy. The temptation to bring some of that into a fantasy setting can be overwhelming, though it often just produces confusing mish-mashes as seen in shows like “Charmed” or with characters like Willow in “Buffy”. You also see terribly overwrought metaphors in shows like “Camelot,” where magic=drug abuse. As seen with “True Blood,” such portrayals don’t endear you to those depicted. I think there should be a clear firewall between fantasy witchcraft, and modern Pagan religion. Let Samantha be Samantha (or let Willow be Willow), and let us decide what her magic means to us.

The minute you make a character Wiccan, you’re treading into theological waters that are best left alone. If a television show or movie wants to incorporate Pagans and Wiccans into a script, it should strive to portray them accurately instead of merging them with already well-established fantasy tropes. If you want Wiccans in a television drama, why not adapt The Bast Mysteries, or perhaps the work of MR Sellars? I think they’d work great on the PBS series “Mystery!”.

Of all the Hindu goddesses, the image of Kali is perhaps the most well-known by those who know virtually nothing else about Hinduism. She’s been invoked and adopted by countless modern Pagans in America, sometimes with little to no knowledge of the religion or culture she sprung from, a fact occasionally satirized by Pagan humorists. In addition, she has become part of America’s cultural (and subcultural) short-hand in invoking an “exotic” Indian other (along with Ganesha and the dancing Shiva). However, as Hindus in America start to gain more political and economic clout and confidence, there’s been a push-back against appropriation and uses of Hindu imagery that they find offensive and demeaning. Take, for example, the recent case of the “Kali Mints”.

“Hindu leader, Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada, said inappropriate usage of Hindu deities or concepts for commercial or other agenda was not okay as it hurt the devout. Zed, who is president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, stressed that the goddess Kali is revered highly in Hinduism and is meant to be worshipped in temples and not used for selling mints.”

What’s so offensive about these mints? Let’s take a look at the product.

“Kali is a Hindu goddess that represents death, destruction, time and change. And what food comes to mind when you think of death, destruction, time and change? Curry! These exotic spice mints are great on their own or as an accompaniment to basmati rice and garlic naan.”

Not a lot of reverence or respect there. One could see how a Hindu group might take this product the wrong way (though I don’t think it’s nearly as offensive as that episode of Supernatural). Now, I’m not calling for my readers to boycott Accoutrements, or even write them a letter; but I do think this should raise some interesting questions about how our culture uses Hindu images and entities in our entertainment and marketing. Where should Pagans, and especially Indo-Pagans or those who profess to follow an Indian/Hindu god or goddess, stand on this issue? How do we balance our freedom of expression with respect for the culture and history that produced the gods, ritual, and rites many of us honor?

Meanwhile, a story out of India shows just how different attitudes are concerning the goddess Kali.

“The houses of this village have no doors, yet its residents don’t feel the lack of protection as they believe goddess Kali watches over them. What’s more, no thefts have been reported here for many years.  ”It may be surprising for an outsider, but for us it has become a tradition. We have been living without doors from time immemorial,” Sajeevan Pal, 75, a farmer and resident, told IANS.  Singipur is on the outskirts of Allahabad district, some 200 km from the state capital Lucknow. Thatched, mud and cemented houses all exist in the village, but they share a common feature – not having the provisions of doors for its 140-odd houses.  Locals have a strong belief that goddess Kali protects their homes and would even punish those who attempt robbery or theft.”

One wonders what the villagers of Singipur, where Kali protects their door-less homes, would think of curry-flavored “Kali Mints”. Would they be flattered? Amused? Or would they find it sacrilegious and offensive? What do you think? Should we care about Kali Mints?

The Pagan Newswire Collective, an open collective of Pagan journalists and writers who are interested in sharing and promoting primary-source reporting from within our interconnected communities, is proud to announce the launch of two new group blog projects. These new blog projects will join the already launched Pagan+Politics site, and provide more topic-focused coverage and opinion on subjects of special interest to modern Pagan readers.

Warriors & Kin: A Blog of Military Pagan Voices

The first new group blog project, Warriors & Kin, will give a voice to Pagan men and women who are serving, or who have served, in the United States military. Military Pagans have often been at the front lines of many Pagan rights issues, and their honorable service has endured prejudice and misunderstanding from politicians, government agencies, and even the Pagan communities they call home. We are hoping that this project will not only shine a light into the struggles of both Pagan veterans and active duty personnel, but serve as a tool to build bridges within our faiths between those who have served and those who have not.

In addition, the blog will also see contributions from military spouses, family, and supporters, including a Pagan mother whose son is entering the armed forces, a military spouse who wrote an award-winning book concerning Pagans in the military, and a volunteer with Soldier’s Angels, a nonprofit personal support group for deployed troops overseas.

Participants of note include Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, a teacher at the Air Force Academy who helped create a Pagan worship area for cadets, gaining national attention in the process, Lorie “Sunfell” Johnson, an Air Force veteran who was one of the first active-duty Pagans to be open about her faith back in the 1980s, and author Erynn Rowan Laurie, a Cold War era disabled Navy veteran who is a speaker on Military Sexual Trauma and women’s issues in the military. They join active duty personnel in the Marines and National Guard for this project.

http://military.pagannewswirecollective.com
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The Juggler: Arts, Culture, and Pop-Culture from a Pagan Perspective

The second new group blog project, The Juggler, will explore the arts from a Pagan perspective. While modern Paganism has waged high-profile campaigns for equal treatment in the military, in our schools, in the public square, and even in our prisons, it is often within the arts and popular culture that we have gained the most attention. Not all of these depiction have been fair or balanced, but few can deny that television, movies, novels, theater, the visual arts, and even fashion have been inundated with pagan themes, both ancient and modern, in recent years. In a world where “The Wicker Man” and “The Craft” get name-checked on a regular basis by those commenting on modern Pagan religions, where sexy vampire dramas invoke Maenads, and a critically acclaimed science fiction series portrays conflicts between polytheists and monotheists, a sustained critical engagement with the arts is increasingly vital.

This site will provide reviews, editorials, analysis, and coverage, both local and abroad, of the wide and varied world of the arts. No medium or format will be off-limits, everything from reality television to gallery exhibitions will be within the scope and reach of this project, providing a steady stream of up-to-date and gloves-off Pagan perspectives.

Participants of note include Peg Aloi, Media Coordinator for The Witches’ Voice website, and long-time film critic who has written for The Boston Phoenix, Art New England, and Cinefantastique online, Sara Adrian, a fine artist and illustrator who holds bardic grade in OBOD, Lauren Bernauer, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, Australia, who specializes in the portrayal of pre-Christian and minority religions in Popular Culture, and New York Shakespearean actor Zan Fraser, author of “A Briefe Historie of Wytches”, a review of the Elizabethan/Jacobean Witch-Plays. They join several other talented writers and journalists with a background in arts coverage.

http://culture.pagannewswirecollective.com
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I hope you’ll support both of these projects by subscribing to their feeds, commenting on their posts, and spreading the word to your friends, family, and co-religionists. These topic-focused group blogs are a vital first step in the PNC’s larger goal of building a primary-source journalism collective for the modern Pagan movement. Please warmly welcome all the participants as they start this exciting new endeavor.