Archives For Rome

Today is the festival of Lupercalia, the ancient Roman observance of fertility and the coming spring. Not to be confused with a certain commercialized martyr’s celebration held yesterday, Lupercalia is a holiday sacred to the god Faunus, and the mythical she-wolf who reared Romulus and Remus the semi-mythical founders of Rome. It was considered an important holiday of religious observance and purification.

“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi

“Lupercalia ” by Domenico Beccafumi

There are many lurid accounts of what goes on during Lupercalia, some make it seem like an excuse for copulation and frivolity. One of the best descriptions I have found on the web comes from W. J. Kowalski’s excellent Roman Calendar page.

“The rites of this day included the sacrifice of a goat or a dog at the cave-grotto known as the Lupercal. With the sacrificial blood wiped across their foreheads, the youth partaking in this ceremony would then run the circumference of the Palatine hill, perhaps about 5K, tracing the traditional route of the city boundary traced by Romulus the day he founded Rome. In the process, girls who approached the runners would be brushed or splattered with the februa, thongs of sacrificial goatskin, presumably bloody, symbolically blessing them with fertility. Red is the color of the day as it is with Valentine’s Day, the day invented to replace the Lupercalia. Fertility and sexuality were likewise replaced with the puritanical pipedream of sexless Love.”

Most (non-Pagan) people wouldn’t even know about Lupercalia if it were not for the constant stream of Valentine’s Day articles in the press. The favorite trend amongst news-writers and editorial columnists seems to be talking about the ancient pagan influences of a particular holiday. While this has increased awareness of Lupercalia, P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, a modern expert on the festival and its celebration, is quick to point out the two holidays actually have little in common.

“The fertility here involved is not necessarily sexual fertility in women, though it was often thought to be such when the origins of the festival were eventually forgotten.  It was fertility represented by the goat skin itself, a fertility of an agricultural and livestock sort.  The young men running the race were symbolically committing themselves to the protection of their communities, thus their race around its boundaries which indicated their area of influence and the “home territory” they were protecting.  The young men who were Luperci underwent a part of the ritual earlier in which the blood from the sacrificed goat and dog were mixed together, dabbed on their foreheads with a knife, and then wiped off subsequently with wool dipped in milk, signifying their transition from a lawless, wild state into a settled and civilized mode of life.  The founders of Rome, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, were raised by the Lupa (“she-wolf”) in the cave where this ritual took place, and in their lives after this, they were lawless hunter/raider warriors until their eventual foundation of the city.  This ritual commemorates this entire situation.  The success by speed and martial prowess that used to come to Romulus and Remus when they were hunter-warriors in taking anyone and everyone’s livestock–including goats!–while in that phase of their existence becomes the success of those same skills and abilities being put toward the protection of their community in their settled state.  The fertility of the community’s resources, through this protection, is what is being celebrated, not necessarily (nor exclusively) the fertility of humans in reproduction.”

The distinctions between Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia are also touched on by scholar Leonhard Schmitz.

“Modern attempts to relate the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day because of the mere (approximate) date are at best very suspect. That the two occasionally get equated seems rather to be an indication of late 20c mentality, according to which a lovers’ festival must necessarily derive from the titillations of ancient fertility and flagellation by goats. More to the point, there is not the slightest shred of historical evidence for the connection.”

As for modern celebrations, Ekklesia Antinoou will be holding a public Lupercalia celebration today at PantheaCon in San Jose. A very blessed and fertile Lupercalia to you all!

While the mainstream media continues to figure out this whole “dabble-gate” thing with Christine O’Donnell I think I’ll take a quick moment to focus on what’s going on with some actual Pagans. After all, September is Pagan Pride season, so why don’t we check in with how coverage is going of these events.

The Salem News covers the Eastern Mass Pagan Pride, and produces a rather charming video piece to accompany the main article called “Faces of Pagan Pride Day”.

“This (festival) is a place for folks to get together and express themselves without the fear of persecution,” said Carol Fairbank, the local coordinator of EMPP. “(Paganism) is just starting to be something that is acceptable to practice out in the open. We’re hoping people will come to this festival, look around and think, ‘Wow. Look how many of us there are.'”

They also interview Salem Witch Lori Bruno, who co-hosts the show “Hex Education” with promoter and shop-owner Christian Day. It is, on the whole, a very positive piece.

Also fairly decent, though not quite as good, is the write-up of the 10th Annual Central North Carolina Pagan Pride Day Festival by the News & Observer who begins their piece with “it’s no longer scandalous to be a pagan”.

“At the entrance to the festival, there were barrels filled with donated cans and boxes for the N.C. Food Bank. On Saturday, a Rex blood mobile unit was stationed nearby. Sure, there were the occasional women wearing pointy black witch hats and a few girls walking around with butterfly wings attached to their backs, but overall it was hard to tell this crowd apart from fairgoers. Asked whether pagans still suffer from discrimination, Michelle Basnett of Cary, the event’s coordinator, said, “It’s gotten amazingly better.” Back in 1999, the YMCA of Greater Durham backed out of an agreement to lease its Wake Forest campground to a pagan group. But these days pagans are no longer considered devil worshippers or Satanists with blood-dripping rituals.”

Pagans! Not the blood-drenched Satanic worshipers you once thought we were! The paper also has a photo gallery from the event, but the photographer seemed more interested in capturing a sword-fighting demo than getting shots of the attendees. Still, this is most likely a massive improvement in coverage for Pagans in North Carolina, so kudos to the organizers for putting together such a popular event.

America isn’t the only place that’s holding pride events. A paper in Italy covers a Pagan Pride celebration in Rome (Pagan Pride Italia) and uncovers some tensions between Pagan factions in that country.

Only peace, singing, dancing and joy? At Villa Pamphili, [it] should be so. But [that] some plot in the shadows of the ritual seems to be something well known, even among neo-pagans [there] are jealousies. “There are religious organizations that [work] to rebuild the original Roman worship of the pagans,” explains the neo-pagans. Just two weeks ago in Bologna, the European Council of Ethnic Religions [took place], representing the traditionalists. “But we who have nothing to do with the conservatives of pagan worship, we always showed openness and willingness to face [the public?]: after all, our inner search is similar to [their's],” recalls Vanth Spirit Walker. Who knows if the spirits will agree, Saturday 18 at Villa Pamphili, could also make their head, the guardians of tradition, Mithras, allowing the peaceful god, but gave the rain from the world began, unwelcome gift in the middle of a ceremony in the park.

So yes, even in Italy there are splits between traditionalists and eclectics. The Pagan experience truly is universal.

Finally, while not under the umbrella of the Pagan Pride campaign, in the UK the Pagan Federation North East is holding a conference this week, and even the Lord Mayor of Leeds is dropping by.

“The Pagans have persuaded Leeds’s Lord Mayor, Coun Jim McKenna and his wife Andrea to drop into the conference and Mr Speight hopes his visit will encourage others to attend. “We are delighted the Lord Mayor is coming along, and we hope it will help dispel many people’s misconceptions about us,” he said. The Lord Mayor – who is keen to point out he is not a pagan and has never been to a pagan event before – will have a quick tour of the day-long event. Activities for visitors include talks by witch and high priestess of Sheffield Patricia Crowther, and author Philip Heselton, who has published books about witchcraft and paganism.”

I know the Lord Mayor dropping by is big news, but as Pagan I’m more excited about the fact that Patricia Crowther will be there. Still this must be major PR coup for the Pagan Federation NE, so good for them.

There are quite a few more Pagan Pride write-ups floating about up there, including some written by Pagans. Did your Pagan Pride day get written up? Was it good? Bad? Share with us in the comments.

Top Story: A high school industrial arts teacher in Iowa has been put on temporary leave in the wake of a controversy concerning a student who was told to stop building a Wiccan altar in shop class. Dale Halferty of Guthrie Center High School claims he was simply enforcing the separation of Church and State, and that he had prevented a Christian from building a cross previously, but school officials claim that neither of those actions actually line up with guidelines regarding religious expression at school.

“His viewpoint: “We as Christians don’t get to have our say during school time, so why should he?” School officials say Christians actually do get to express themselves in the same way. More than one school policy, as well as state and federal law, prohibit discrimination against students who express religious beliefs through school assignments. Superintendent Steve Smith and Principal Garold Thomas said they placed Halferty on leave while they conferred with the school’s attorney to decide what to do.”

In other words, Halferty was imposing his distorted idea of what the guidelines were on his students, and he makes his feelings about Wicca quite plain, calling it “terrible for our kids” because it will lead to a “dark and violent life”.  He also has the bizarre belief that school tax dollars are meant to “save” kids from Pagan religion. Meanwhile, thanks to this incident, a backlash against the Wiccan student has materialized, with 70 of the 185 students signing a petition saying they don’t want witchcraft practiced at their school.

“Both [Superintendent Steve] Smith and [Principal Garold] Thomas said the incident has become emotional for the high school’s 185 students: Almost 70 signed a petition late last week saying they didn’t want witchcraft practiced at the school.”I think it’s fear based on some of the old ideas people had about witchcraft,” Smith said. “It’s fear and a lack of knowledge about the unknown.” Neither Smith nor school officials identified the student at the center of the controversy, and the boy’s father declined a request made through Thomas to be interviewed. Smith acknowledged that some people have expressed fears about satanism or sacrifices.”

Locals are now engaged in hand-wringing over the school’s excessive tolerance, and the bare-bones story, without the context of Halferty’s unique views on religion at school, has hit the Associated Press wires. So expect a lot more commentary and furor over this situation in the near future. As for the high school senior, what chance does he now have for finishing out his school year without harassment and intimidation? When the student body has become a mob against him, can things truly return to normal?

Checking in With the Third Wave: AlterNet takes a broad look at the New Apostolic Reformation, aka the Third Wave of the Holy Spirit, a protestant Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian hybrid led by “Convening Apostle” C. Peter Wagner. The movement became (in)famous in recent years thanks to politician/pundit Sarah Palin’s long membership and association with the group, which places a heavy emphasis on spiritual warfare, and brags about killing and maiming Catholics and Pagans with their prayer. Now reporter Bill Berkowitz probes NAR’s deep influence with ultra-conservative politicians like Michele Bachmann (involved in anti-Pagan groups), Sam Brownback, and Jim DeMint, and their role in initiatives like California’s Proposition 8.

“In the days leading up to the historic vote on health-care reform in the Senate, Apostle Lou Engle led the Family Research Council’s “Prayercast” against health-care reform, a Webcast featuring Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Sam Brownback (Kans.), and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.). Earlier in the year, Engle, who leads the group TheCall, prayed over Newt Gingrich at a Virginia event called Rediscovering God in America. In 2008, Engle, at an event he staged at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, advocated acts of Christian martyrdom to end abortion and same-sex marriage. This “apostle” claims LGBT people are possessed by demons.”

You may remember that I covered that “Rediscovering God in America” event, it’s the one where Newt Gingrich claimed America was “surrounded by paganism”. Berkowitz goes on to interview Rachel Tabachnick, who writes for Talk2Action, and who has done a remarkable amount of research into the NAR/Third Wave movement. Here’s her follow-up commentary on Berkowitz’s article/interview, and a resource directory of the NAR/Third Wave movement. As I’ve intimated here before, this movement is rabidly anti-Pagan, and would have no compunctions about using their political and fiscal muscle against us. Their rise to power is deeply troubling, because unlike the “Moral Majority” or “Religious Right” of ages past their agenda isn’t limited to enacting conservative social policy, but instead calls for the aggressive spiritual destruction of all who they see as enemies (and anyone who worships the “Queen of Heaven” is considered their enemy). So let’s keep our eyes open, and be aware  of who your elected representatives are associating themselves with.

War of Words in South Africa: The South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) has lodged a complaint with the South African Human Rights Commission against allegedly libelous statements made by Traditional Healers Organization national coordinator Phephisile Maseko.

“Maseko’s repeated allegation that muthi murderers are “witches” practicing “witchcraft” remains untrue and defamatory. This Alliance demands that the South African Human Rights Commission (1.) properly investigates repeated libelous allegations made by Phephisile Maseko against South African Witches, (2.) makes a ruling regarding the innocence of self-identified Witches with regard to allegations made by Maseko that we are responsible for the commission of muthi murders, and (3.) instructs the Traditional Healers Organization national coordinator to cease making libelous statements against South African Witches.”

However, Maseko is unmoved by SAPRA’s position concerning the use of the word “witch”, saying their complaint amounts to little more than white privilege.

“Let’s be honest here — a witch is a witch and everybody in the country knows that. Publicly calling yourself a witch in South Africa smacks of white privilege. In a village or township, you’d be dead even before completing your proclamation. Sapra must accept that we speak different languages and live in different areas”

This latest development seems to be driving a wedge between South Africa’s traditional healers and South Africa’s Pagan community. Despite my sympathies towards the Pagans in South Africa, it is rather plain that Maseko and SAPRA are using the term “witch” in very different contexts, and that the two sides are talking past each other. While I don’t agree with South African Parliament member, and out Pagan, Adrian Williams that they should abandon the term “witch” in order to foster better relations with traditional healers, there must be some sort of understanding that can be reached between the two communities regarding terminology. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail.

How to Become the Last Great Pagan: Cristiana Sogno, Ph.D., assistant professor of classics at Fordham University explains how 4th century Roman statesman Quintus Aurelius Symmachus became known as the “last great pagan”.

“As it turns out, that dubious moniker was foisted on Symmachus by allies of his most prominent rival, St. Ambrose, the bishop of Milan, according to Cristiana Sogno, Ph.D., assistant professor of classics at Fordham. In her presentation on Jan. 27, “How Did Symmachus Become the Last Great Pagan?” Sogno explained that Symmachus was the victim of a classic political tactic—victors extolling the strength of their opponents to make their own accomplishments seem even greater. The seeds of the nickname were sown in a report, or relatio, issued in 384 A.D. to the 12-year-old Western emperor, Valentinian II, in which Symmachus mounted a defense of the traditional religion of Rome. “There can be little doubt that the relatio is a beautifully constructed speech, and by far the most appealing piece of writing produced by Symmachus. Its compelling plea for religious toleration—in contrast with the almost fanatical intolerance that transpires from St. Ambrose—makes the text closer to the sensibilities of 21st century readers,” she said. The problem, Sogno said, is that Symmachus never published it.”

So there you are, posthumous praise from Christians looking to make their own victories more impressive hoisted a humble statesman and man of letters into lasting prominence. Luckily we are now living in an age where the term “last great pagan” is increasingly outdated. We can argue as to who among our growing numbers are truly “great”, but we most likely won’t have to worry about there being a “last” great pagan thinker any time soon.

The Horror of Pagan Felt: Behold! The Muppet Wicker Man Comic.

Funny yet deeply disturbing at the same time.

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

SF Weekly interviews Sister Edith Myflesh from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and discusses the group’s popularity, charity work, religious diversity, and what real-live nuns think of them.

“…the sisters have no affiliation to any one creed. Some are pagan, some Jewish, even some practicing Catholics. Despite the church’s stance that the order “mocks” women who’ve taken traditional religious vows, Sister Edith swears the nuns she’s met have been nothing but supportive. “They get what we do,” she says, explaining that the tasks of the female clergy – caring for the sick, raising money for charity – have a lot in common with the sisters’. And like parishioners going to confession, Sister Edith has found that people blurt out the most personal things to a member of the order in full makeup. “When we look like that, we’re not human anymore. We become mirrors for people to project onto,” she says, recalling the times she’s given relationship advice to strangers.”

More subtle hints that as religion becomes ever-more female dominated boundary maintenance and the castigation of blasphemers will slowly lose its importance, replaced instead with a more pragmatic stance regarding the usefulness of holy fools?

Over at his Beliefnet blog, Gus diZerega gives a three-part argument (part one, part two, part three) against a “Pagan clergy”. In his final installment, diZerega argues that completely severing matters of faith and religion from government control (marriage, military, prison chaplaincy) will serve us far better than trying to construct an institutionalized clergy model.

“To sum it up, as our numbers increase we will need a larger professionally trained group of Pagans who can do some of the kinds of counseling work that Christians do through their clergy.  But we do not need that kind of institutionalized status to do it, and our traditions and the core of who we are will be safer if we do not seek it  We are on much safer ground to invoke the issue of religious freedom, now that we are widely recognized in the courts and among many religious leaders as a legitimate spiritual practice.”

DiZerega seems to assert that Pagan religious leaders should stick to ritual, rites of passage, and teaching, while other Pagans should pursue academic experience in counseling and medicine (and I’m assuming, legal arbitration), avoiding the  (corrupting?) confluence of power and influence usually associated with the monotheist clergy/laity model. Indeed, according to diZerega, the entire modern concept of “clergy” can contaminate us in our search for mainstream respectability.

The lesbian-focused site Lez Get Real features a short e-mail conversation with Pagan author Deborah Blake concerning Wiccan and Pagan attitudes towards homosexuality.

“First of all, in answer to your question about homosexuality–in general, Pagans accept all paths, very definitely including homosexuality. My step-daughter is gay and a Pagan. In fact, many gays, lesbians and transgenders are attracted to Wicca and Paganism in part because it is such an accepting religion. There is absolutely nothing in our beliefs that says that alternative sexuality is bad, forbidden or in any way “lesser” than more conventionally accepted sexuality.”

Always nice to see more communication between the LGBT community with the modern Pagan community. While there are a variety of attitudes within different modern Pagan religions concerning LGBT-folk, I would say that the vast majority are fully accepting and welcoming to gays. Indeed, as I’ve pointed out before, gay marriage is very much a Pagan issue too.

Over at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek, Chas Clifton passes along the news that HBO’s “Rome” may rise again as a feature-length film.

“A feature version may be in the works to wrap up the unresolved plot strands of the award-winning HBO/BBC TV series Rome, which dramatised the dirty-politics underside of Rome’s transitional period from republic to virtual monarchy amidst civil war.”

As much as I enjoyed the series, I thought it went (historically speaking) off the rails towards the end of its second season. I mean, they couldn’t even give poor Cicero his famous last words! Still, the sets were fantastic, and the religious elements engaging, so I suppose I’d fork over the cash to see a big-screen version should it actually come about.

In a final note, if you want to know how hard it really is to uncover Pagan news on a daily basis, check out the Pew Forum’s examination of religious news coverage in 2008.

“Throughout much of 2008, the media generally seemed to follow two patterns in its coverage of religion. First, religion reporting was often episodic, clustering intensely around big events such as the pope’s visit and religion stories related to the 2008 holiday season. Religion stories also faded quickly from the headlines. Second, the angle of religion coverage frequently gravitated toward controversies, such as Barack Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright and stories about the clergy sex-abuse scandal that surfaced during the pope’s visit. This was particularly problematic for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, who were inundated with questions concerning their faith.”

All in all, only 1% of mainsteam media coverage focused on religious news (on par with education, immigration, and race), and nearly 40% of that centered on the Pope’s visit to America. Considering the huge impact faith and religion have on the world, you would think it’d be a bit higher. If it weren’t for the Internet, blogs, and Google scouring every online news source, I doubt we’d hear much at all concerning minority faiths.

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

My semi-regular round-up of articles, essays, and opinions of note for discerning Pagans and Heathens.

To start off, happy birthday to Rome, which was founded by the mythical twins Romulus and Remus on April 21, 753 BC. On that day a pagan festival ensues that some call the “Christmas of Rome”, and hundreds dress in traditional Roman military garb.

The ‘Natale di Roma’ includes parades, fireworks, banquets, and gladiator shows. For more information check out this Italian web site devoted to the holiday.

The Wall Street Journal shows that gods and goddesses can indeed change over time. Representatives and mediums of anticommunist ancestor deities residing in Taiwan are softening their stance towards China as political relations thaw between the two nations.

“…after being anti-China for decades, some of the gods around here are having a change of heart. At least that’s what their representatives say. The keeper of the temple of Lee Kuang-chi’en, a colonel in the Nationalist army who died fighting the Chinese in the 1940s, says Mr. Lee now wants to return to his homeland in peace. Su Ai-chih, a 67-year-old retiree and spiritual medium, says a woman who was drowned by Chinese soldiers and turned into a goddess has even asked believers for help in reconnecting with her family on the mainland. ‘The goddess possessed me and told me that she wanted to go home,’ she adds.”

This is a perfect illustration of polytheistic theology in action. Gods can change, practice can change, and those who do not change risk losing worship. There is no singular text or law holding these faiths in a static position.

“Fortunately, Chinese folk religion — a widely practiced mix of indigenous beliefs and elements of other religions — is remarkably forgiving. Not only does it often co-exist alongside other beliefs, its worshippers can create, discard or modify gods. That’s particularly true of gods who aren’t considered to be ling — effective or powerful. As ties between China and Taiwan improved, Kinmen’s anticommunist gods started to lose their ling. ‘Chinese folk religion doesn’t have a scripture, so everyone has his way of interpreting a god,’ says Chi Chang-hui, an anthropologist on Kinmen who has studied anticommunist cults. ‘And nowadays, that is less hostile to the mainland.'”

The gods and worshipers remain, but to survive in different eras, they adapt and adjust (or they fade away). A common event throughout the history of polytheism, one that can seem alien to those growing up in a culture dominated by a “religion of the book”.

If you think the myth of “The Burning Times” is overblown and harmful, wait till you start to explore the Christian persecution complex. A “discursive entity”, according to Professor Elizabeth A. Castelli, “impervious to critique, self-generating and self-sustaining.”

“This trend mobilizes the language of religious persecution to shut down political debate and critique by characterizing any position not in alignment with this politicized version of Christianity as an example of antireligious bigotry and persecution. Moreover, it routinely deploys the archetypal figure of the martyr as a source of unquestioned religious and political authority.”

The article is wide-ranging and covers a growing spiritual militarism within Christianity that is fueled by a deep-seated (though often illusory) sense of persecution. The Reveler web site offers only an excerpt, for the entire article head over to the Differences journal page, where you can download the entire piece, along with several related works.

Speaking of “The Burning Times”, Christian blogger John Morehead interviews Christopher S. Mackay about his brand new translation of the infamous “Malleus Maleficarum” (“The Hammer of Witches”). A tome that is blamed for enabling the execution of thousands of innocent men and women for the crime of “witchcraft”.

“I’d say that the Malleus was responsible for the acceptance of a new “paradigm” (in the sense advocated by Thomas Kuhn) about witchcraft. That is, the dissemination and widespread acceptance of the point of view (or world view) that underlay and instigated the so-called “craze” of witch hunting in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries can be attributed (ultimately) to the Malleus.”

The new version, which is apparently far more coherent and readable than previous translations, gives us a means of understanding how this establishment of “diabolism” (Satanic witchcraft) still lingers in our world today, and helped inform such tragedies as the “Satanic panics” of the 80s and early 90s. An important text to have, though I think I’ll wait for the soft-cover edition, since the two-volume hardcover runs for several hundred dollars.

Over at “Blog o’ Gnosis”, Anne Hill criticizes efforts by Reclaiming to reach out to racial minorities in order to make the group more “diverse”. Hill questions why the organization should be on a diversity recruitment drive when they don’t even have their own “house” in order.

“…the obsession with proselytizing, I mean bringing in new blood – no, I mean reaching out to others who could be helped by people like us. As several people at my table mentioned, other religions are not diverse, and they seem to have no problem with it. Wasn’t the point of a spiritual community to give aid to its members? Why were we even discussing strategies for bringing different kinds of people in, when we were gathered for a rare opportunity to meet each other face to face? It was at this point that I had to point out the essential backwardness of our discussion topic. Reclaiming is insular. Painfully so, embarrassingly so. We really needed to be asking the opposite question: why don’t we get out more? Why aren’t more of us involved in interfaith activities? There’s plenty of diversity there, but that would involve going to meet others rather than reeling them in to us. Why don’t more folks even make the trek to San Jose for Pantheacon each year? Isn’t there anything we can learn from other Pagans?”

The issue of expanding racial diversity (and similar issues) is, according to Hill, a “red herring” that prevents Reclaiming from working through deep divisions that already exist within the community. A state of affairs that has distanced several Reclaiming veterans from the tradition they helped create.

In a quick final note, a Llewellyn Journal article tells you what you really need to do.

“The only thing that we as new magi
ckians really need to do is rely on a made-by-reputation company like Llewellyn Publications, because nothing is as easy as it seems.”

Indeed, nothing is as easy as it seems.

That is all I have for now, have a great day!

The Oregonian reviews a brand new book by Ursula K. Le Guin that explores the perspective of Lavinia (daughter of Latinus, wife of Aeneas) from Virgil’s “Aeneid”. Giving a feminine perspective to the male-centric Roman epic.

“Lavinia, an 18-year-old princess in “The Aeneid,” Vergil’s 2,000-year-old epic poem about the origins of Rome, gets little attention from Vergil as a background figure. He gives her not a single speech in his shimmeringly melodious, 10,000-line poem, despite that she is daughter to King Latinus, who rules the region; that multitudes of men die over who should marry her; and that her eventual marriage is crucial to the founding of Rome. The book “Lavinia” (Le Guin’s 56th!) repairs Vergil’s lapse and is also a loving tribute to the poet. It’s an earthy retelling of the last six books of the 12-book poem, told from the point of view of Lavinia herself.”

According to the review, Le Guin explores her “rich, pagan life”, and brings a feminine “balance” to Virgil’s work while avoiding outright revisionism. A work on par with Robert Graves’s “I, Claudius”, according to Publishers Weekly.

In an interview with Le Guin about the work, the author explains that she isn’t trying to improve on Virgil, merely telling tales he didn’t have time to get to.

“Virgil didn’t have time for little Lavinia,” Ms. Le Guin says. Virgil died in 19 B.C. and many scholars believe he still planned to do some work on the Aeneid. “I didn’t feel I was correcting Virgil, but here was something he didn’t have the time to do, and I did.”

“Lavinia” promises to be an interesting exploration of the early mythic history of Rome. You can read an excerpt of the book, here.

While America is distracted by the Pope’s visit, the Christian Broadcasting Network (home of Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club”) spotlights the growing popularity of exorcisms in Italy (a topic I’ve touched on before).

“In this predominantly Catholic nation the devil is gaining a foothold. “There is a greater openness towards the devil,” Rev. Gabriele Amorth, the Vatican’s chief exorcist, said. In fact, Rome has been called the most ‘satanized’ city in Italy. “Satanism and the occult are in fashion,” said Father Pedro Barrajon, a professor of theology.”

None of this rhetoric is new or unusual (indeed, the good Rev. Amorth seems willing to talk to any news outlet that will give him the time of day), but what did draw my eye was an un-sourced statistic thrown out by the CBN reporter.

“There are an estimated 800 satanic cults operating in the country, with more than 600,000 followers. And their numbers are growing.”

Over half a million Satanists? Really? That seems like an awfully big number. To get some perspective, I checked in with theistic Satanist Diane Vera’s web site, where a whole section has been devoted to Satanic panic in Italy. According to Vera, these high numbers may be including Satanists, occultists of all stripes, Pagans, psychics, and other “heretical” individuals (teenage metal heads, for example).

“Among Christians, including Catholics, an increased emphasis on demons and exorcism leads inevitably to an increased fear of all non-Christian spiritual practices … All the “We’re not Satanists” disclaimers in the world will not stop conservative Christians from associating non-Christian spiritualities – especially the more “magical” spiritualities – with demons and/or with Satanism. Even in the eyes of those relatively few conservative Christians who are well-informed about the beliefs of Pagans, occultists, etc.”

This view is backed up by the blog Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, who dug into census data and found that there were only 240 or so “organized” Satanists (as of 2003).

“Therefore, despite the many more relevant numbers often supplied by mass media – those who propose such numbers should, of course, be capable of supporting their statements with evidence as far as we can see from the numbers right now – the groups of organized satanists only represent an insignificant percentage of the Italian population even if, of course, the experience lived can be extremely hard for the people involved. The organized satanism is therefore a phenomenon that is often overrated, as a matter of fact, it concerns only a few thousands of people all over the world.”

Taking all this into account, it becomes clear that exorcisms aren’t simply a tool against “demonic possession”. No heroic Father Merrin casting out the demon in little Regan. Instead, we have a struggle against all forms of non-Catholic thought. If you embrace a theology outside the bounds of the dominant monotheisms, or simply want to divorce your Catholic husband, you are demon-haunted and ripe for spiritual torture-tactics.

“Typical cases, he said, include people who turn away from the church and embrace New Age therapies, alternative religions or the occult. Internet addicts and yoga devotees are also at risk, he said.”

The rhetorical slight-of-hand that turns all non-Catholic thinking into demon-possession hasn’t escaped the notice of Pagan groups around the world, who condemn this new commitment to “curing” people who may simply be happier as Pagans.

So while Benedict XVI makes nice at an inter-religious gathering in America, those under his purview continue to ignore his wish to “discuss our differences with calmness and clarity”, and instead label anyone in Rome rejecting Christianity as “Satanists”. But then, perhaps Benedict’s call for “sincere dialogue and cooperation” was only extended to the religions big enough to be invited to the party. Pagans, Heathens, and assorted polytheists, on the outs since the time of Theodosius, need not apply.

Professor, poet, and academic Robert Fagles passed on Wednesday, March 29th, from prostate cancer. Fagles is best known for his masterful translations of Homer’s epics the Iliad and the Odyssey.


Robert Fagles

“He was a quiet man, diligent and decorous, yet one who was unexpectedly equal to the swagger and savagery of Homer’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’ in a way no one had managed before him,”Princeton humanities professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon

Robert Fagles’ contribution to translations of Greek and Roman classic literature and poetry can’t be understated. His translations of Homer sold over 4 million copies worldwide, and helped re-introduce the greatness of pre-Christian epic poetry to a new generation.

“Homer gave me new modes of expression, but I wanted to capture as much of him as I could, making him available and, with luck, compelling to a modern audience. I set the same task for myself when I translated Aeschylus and Sophocles.”

His most recent translation was Virgil’s Aeneid, released in 2006, a project he wasn’t sure he would be able to finish due to his cancer. When released, Fagles called it “unexpectedly timely and relevant”.

“It says that if you depart from the civilized, then you become a murderer … The price of empire is very steep, but Virgil shows how it is to be earned, if it’s to be earned at all. The poem can be read as an exhortation for us to behave ourselves, which is a horse of relevance that ought to be ridden.”

For any Pagan who has taken inspiration from the classics, Fagles performed a great service. May his virtuous soul find rest and joy on the Elysian fields.

The Sun Chronicle highlights Joel Relihan, a Wheaton College classics professor, who recently finished the first new American English translation of The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius (aka The Golden Ass) by Apuleius in forty years.

“Spending more than a year reading a book word by word tested the patience of Joel Relihan, a Wheaton College classics professor. The end result was the first American English translation of a certain Latin classic in about 40 years … Set in the second century A.D., the story follows a young man whose fascination with witchcraft results in his transformation into a donkey, Relihan explains. The donkey spends a year trying to get the antidote to the spell. Although unfamiliar to most readers, the story is considered one of the “big name Latin classics,” Relihan says.”

“The Golden Ass” is famous for being the only intact full-length Latin novel to survive from ancient Rome to the present day, and equally famous within modern Pagan circles for the speech the goddess Isis gives to Lucius (trapped in the form of a donkey due to meddling in Thessalian magic).

“All the perfumes of Arabia floated into my nostrils as the Goddess deigned to address me: ‘You see me here, Lucius, in answer to your prayer. I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are.”

Isis’ speech (here translated by Robert Graves, and included in the essential “The Paganism Reader”) is thought by some modern Pagans and Pagan scholars to be a direct influence on the revival of religious Witchcraft in England, and prefigures many concepts found within today’s Goddess worship communities. A new, easily obtainable, English translation is certainly welcome so that a new generation of students and curious seekers can follow the exploits of Lucius, and hear the words of the Goddess.

You can find the new translation on Amazon.com, here, and audio excerpts of Joel C. Relihan reading from his translation, here.

Pope Benedict XVI has released his newest encyclical on the theme of Christian hope. Entitled “Spe Salvi” (saved by hope), the work muses on Christian salvation, redemption, and the role of prayer in Christian life, but it wouldn’t be Benedict (the artist formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger) without inflating the triumphal claims of Catholicism at the expense of polytheist forms of religion!

“Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were “without God” and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future … Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future… Myth had lost its credibility; the Roman State religion had become fossilized into simple ceremony which was scrupulously carried out, but by then it was merely “political religion”. Philosophical rationalism had confined the gods within the realm of unreality. The Divine was seen in various ways in cosmic forces, but a God to whom one could pray did not exist.”

There are quite a few problems with Benedict’s argument, a primary one is the confusion of mythological stories with the living and breathing religion being practiced at the time. The assumption that Roman polytheists had no hope for a pleasant afterlife, when in fact they had a systematic afterlife that included judgment, rewards, and punishments, and the characterization of Roman religious ritual as a clockwork obligation that had no belief or passion. The bugbear here for Benedict is the specter of “philosophical rationalism”, which along with relativism leads (in his view) to all manner of horrors, including the destruction of Christianity (and which, in his view, drained the life out of Roman polytheism).

Not that we should expect a fair hearing from the Pontiff, after all, this is the same Pope who claims that the Nazis were a “Neo-Pagan” invention, and not a product spawned from centuries of Christian antisemitism. Having said that, there were some other interesting things said in the Pope’s latest missive to the world, including some words on prayer that won’t make certain evangelical Christians very happy.

“He emphasized that prayer should not be isolating and should not focus on superficial objectives. Nor can people pray against others, he said. “To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness,” he said.”

It seems very likely that he is pointing his finger at prosperity gospel folks and certain stripes of “prayer warriors”, who “target” people of influence with prayer. It should be interesting if any reporters pick up on this jab at non-Catholic forms of Christianity. As for the Pope and Paganism, you would think that a man as learned as Benedict would hesitate to create religious straw-men to bat down. There are plenty of valid criticism of polytheistic systems, but portraying Roman polytheists as without hope and “lost” to nihilistic darkness is petty and untrue.