Archives For Serpentine

Top Story: The company Serpentine Music & Media, founded by author and dream expert Anne Hill back in 1992, has officially ceased its role as distributor of Pagan-created and Pagan-themed music. Originally created as a way to help Starhawk and Reclaiming distribute a collection of songs and chants that Hill had helped produce, it grew into an essential resource boasting a catalog of 350 items at its peak, while establishing the ever-nebulous “pagan music” genre tag. In a letter to customers, Hill describes recent changes in the music industry as a prime motivator for her decision.

“It is no secret that the music industry has been suffering for several years now. During that time, I have changed the business model for Serpentine Music to adjust for reduced sales due to MP3 downloads, pirated music, and other factors. This year, however, sales have dropped yet again, while I have had new and exciting opportunities opening up in different areas.”

Serpentine Music & Media will continue to distribute albums the company had a direct hand in producing, most notably “Circle Round and Sing,” “The Best of Pagan Song,” and “The Music of Gwydion.” The company will also continue on a venue for Hill’s self-published books like “What To Do When Dreams Go Bad: A Practical Guide to Nightmares”. Serpentine is now in the process of liquidating its remaining stock.

As someone with a deep interest in Pagan music, I think it’s safe to say that this shift represents the end of an era. Serpentine was one of the last active (explicitly) Pagan music distributors surviving from the 1990s, and its contributions towards building a modern audience for, and general awareness of, music made by and for modern Pagans can’t be understated. Serpentine was also one of the few distributors that were adventurous enough to dip its toes into goth and non-folk/circle-chant genres at a time when the generational gulf of musical taste within our community seemed pretty vast. Today there are dozens, if not hundreds of Pagan and Pagan-friendly musical artists operating around the globe, many of whom use the Internet to market directly to their fans. While this situation has created a wealth of riches for the adventurous music fan, it hasn’t created a atmosphere where such a specialized niche distribution company could thrive as it once did. I salute Anne Hill for her contributions to Pagan music, and wish her the best on her future endeavors.

Some Scandinavians Not Overly Fond of Wicca: Helsingin Sanomat reports that plans to republish the young-adult “Sweep” series of books by Cate Tiernan in Finland, Sweden, and Norway have been derailed after it was discovered that Wicca plays a central role in the novels.

“Christian Democratic Party MP Leena Rauhala submitted a written question to the government on Friday, stating the view that the books should not be published in Finland. Rauhala mentioned content of the book, including drug use, nudity, smoking, alcohol, and strong language.  The publisher had removed references to tobacco and alcohol, as well as the strongest language from the translation. As for drug use, the publisher said that the books portrayed illegal drugs in a negative light. The Wicca religion proved to be the deciding factor in the matter. “We do not want to promote any individual religion or political ideology in the books that we target toward children”, says the publisher’s CEO Jens Otto Hansen. He said that the publisher was not familiar with Wicca. “I only learned on Monday morning that such a thing as Wicca exists.”  Hansen sees the case as an “industrial accident” for the publisher.”

Interestingly the publisher has no problem promoting Twilight-related events in Sweden, so Mormon vampires are OK, but witches are beyond the pale. Guess a little unwelcome political controversy can make all the difference. Whether tweens and teens in Finland, Sweden, and Norway will someday get to join America, the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy and France in following the adventures of “blood witch” Morgan Rowlands remains to be seen.

The (Legal) Poly Marriage Debate Begins In Earnest: Way back in 2006, and then again in 2007, I said that our community would have to seriously confront the reality of Pagan polyamorous families (30% of poly families identify as Pagan according to one survey) coming into the spotlight and eventually seeking legal recognition. Now a case in Canada might be the one to break this issue wide open, and yes, Pagan religion is mentioned.

“Maridas explained all of this [her poly lifestyle] in an affidavit filed Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court. It was one of six filed by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which is intervening in the case to determine whether the anti-polygamy law is valid. While others — such as Surreybased Wiccan priest Sam Wagar, who also filed an affidavit Tuesday — contend that they have a religious right to practise polygamy, the polyamorists say that for them it’s a matter of freedom of expression. And what they have to say in their affidavits about how they live offers a glimpse of just how far some Canadian families diverge from the tradition of Mom-Dad-kids or the more recent “traditional” families of two Moms or two Dads and kids. And this peek behind normally closed bedroom doors is a hint of what’s to come in November, when Chief Justice Robert Bauman begins hearing the case.”

If polygamy becomes legal in Canada, will we see a repeat of the early steps of the Gay Marriage movement, with groups crossing the border to find some semblance of legal recognition? How will Pagan groups established or operating in Canada react to such a legal reality? Even if this challenge to polygamy laws fails, Pagan groups in Canada and America need to be ready for the culture-war blow-back  and to decide where they stand on the issue. The time where we could just not mention it for the sake of political expediency is quickly fading.

Prison Ministry in Michigan: Crossroads Tabernacle Church, an affiliate of the ATC located in Southeast Michigan, has announced that Founding High Priest Robert Keefer has been appointed to serve on the Michigan Department of Corrections Chaplain’s Advisory Council.  The first time that Wiccan clergy has been appointed to this position in the state.

“For his two-year term,  Robert will meet with clergy from other faiths and lend his expertise in Wiccan spirituality to advise the Department of Corrections on requests made by inmates and staff, work to ensure equal access to materials and worship space as appropriate for all Pagan and other Earth-Based religions, as well as make it possible for other Pagans to volunteer as faith group leaders in Michigan’s correctional facilities.”

This is an important positive breakthrough, and I congratulate Robert Keefer on his appointment. May it lead to similar advances throughout our country, and cast a light on how needed such clergy are in our prisons.

Witch-Child Protectors Launch Their Own Propaganda Campaign: I’ve mentioned before about how Nigerian witch-hunters like Helen Ukpabio have created a media industry with propagandistic “expository”  horror films featuring witchcraft possessed children, while selling non-fiction religious titles like “Unveiling The Mysteries of Witchcraft” that make assertions about the reality of child witches. Now Stepping Stones Nigeria, one of the few groups working to protect children accused of witchcraft, is fighting back. They’ve partnered with acclaimed Nollywood director Teco Benson to create their own film entitled “The Fake Prophet”.

Stepping Stones hopes the film will be a corrective to the spate of Nollywood films that peddle in the myth of child witches, and create a public debate over the prevailing belief that such “witches” exist. The premiere of the film is taking place at the Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre in London on July 24th. For more information about the event and the film, you can contact Justine Atkinson with Stepping Stones Nigeria. Will fighting propaganda with propaganda work? I suppose we’ll have to see.

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

“In the presence of a moment divine, As the shadows gather at the shrine, We retreat and advance, In the spell of the dance, Familiars all, Tonight”“Sovereign” by Faith and the Muse

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of attending a concert featuring Faith and the Muse, a seminal darkwave band who’ve long enjoyed an ardent Pagan following for their songs that explore mythology, nature, and the sacred experience. I wasn’t planning on doing a formal write-up of the show, but what I experienced was so liminal, so ritualistic, and in the sense that I understand it, “pagan”, that I felt I would be remiss in not sharing my impressions so that others might not miss the opportunity to experience it for themselves as the tour stretches across America.

Let me begin by saying that I came in expecting a great show. I’ve heard some amazing things about Faith and the Muse live, and the pre-show DJing by Chicago/German promoter Scary Lady Sarah (who’s touring with the band), as well as the short set by recently formed opening local band Splendor and the Resistance, who show a lot of potential, had made me optimistic about the main event. But what I ended up experiencing wasn’t so much a great “rock show”, but a 3-hour musical ritual that invoked the powers of nature. This became clear as the second opening act, Soriah, who’s opening for all of Faith and the Muse’s Pacific Northwest dates, came onto the stage.

It wasn’t so much a concert set, but a full-blown shamanistic ritual art experience. Melding Tuvan throat-singing, smoke, incense, incantations, and ornate costume with guitar/keyboard soundscapes crafted by Trance to the Sun veteran Ashkelon Sain. It not only affirmed that I made the right decision in making Soriah and Sain’s album “Atlan” one of my top picks for 2009, but also put the audience on notice that this was now a holy venture, and that we were standing on holy ground.

That theme, the ritual if you will, was carried to the next stage by a short butoh performance introduction by the fusion bellydance duet of Serpentine, who describe themselves as “temple dancers of the serpent mythos”, and who are an integrated part of Faith and the Muse’s live experience for their “Ankoku Butoh” tour. Then the band came on stage and converted all doubters and hangers-on to the unique power of William Faith and Monica Richard’s musical and artistic vision.

In addition to Serpentine, who performed alongside, and in once instance, walked the perimeters of the venue with smoking cauldrons of incense, the band featured a taiko drummer, a string section, and two guitar players. Effortlessly moving between old and new songs, between Eastern and Western conceptions of the sacred, of songs that sang of ruin and hopeful rebirth, of solidarity and being true to who you are. By the end of the show, the entire crowd, whether they had come to see Faith and the Muse or not, were pounding their feet clamoring for an encore. It was an event, that like any true otherworld experience, no Youtube video or photo can properly capture.

From time to time there is talk as to what a modern “Pagan music” would sound like, and we are often ready to throw laurels at the feet of any singer-songwriter or band willing to cater to our tastes and attend our festivals. However, I have long felt that the vibrant sacred music of today, the creative force that speaks to the Pagan soul, isn’t necessarily seeking our attention, or longing to  attend our conventions. They are instead sending their message, and sharing their sacred works, with those who go to the trouble of seeking them out. They are in the underground, playing at clubs, rented halls, or even massive multi-band European festivals, but ignored by most critics and media outlets. They are singing and performing for those willing to step outside of the boundaries and labels so craved by those hoping to capitalize on a “scene” or “subculture”.

The modern Pagan music, the music of sacred nature, old gods, myth, reverence, and rebirth is out there, and some of us lucky searchers have found it. Though the artists I describe would most likely never label it “Pagan” for our easy consumption, nor fit into our own narrow ideas of what form the sacred musics should take, they are indeed speaking to us if we will listen. I hope you will listen too.

For more of my own explorations of underground music that speaks to the Pagan soul, please check out my radio show/podcast A Darker Shade of Pagan. You may also want to check out my top 10 albums for 2009.