Archives For Stonehenge

King Arthur Uther Pendragon has been fighting for the rights of British Pagans since the 1980s, and his main battleground has been Stonehenge. His main foe? English Heritage, the charity that manages the ancient monument in the county of Wiltshire.

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

Stonehenge [Photo Credit: garethwiscombe/Flickr]

Arthur shot to prominence when he led a campaign to remove an exclusion zone around the inner circle of the monument, so that the solstices and equinoxes could be celebrated properly there.

His fight took him all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, and English Heritage finally dropped the exclusion zone for the quarter days in 2000.

Arthur was born John Timothy Rothwell and was head of a biker gang called the Gravediggers before finding the Druidic path and, as he explained, coming to a realisation that he was King Arthur reincarnated.

He decided to change his name accordingly, but had to wait for updates to English and Welsh Law that allowed it. As a hangover from centuries of being a Christian nation, people could not change their “Christian name” until 1986.

In an interview with The Wild Hunt, Arthur said, “I’ve been on this quest as King Arthur for 30 years. It was the Queen’s birthday on June 11th, 1986 that I officially changed my name. I couldn’t have done it before that.”

Arthur is backed by his Loyal Arthurian Warband, a Druidic order that describes itself as the warrior/political arm of the modern Druidic movement. According to Professor Ronald Hutton of Bristol University, a world authority on Paganism, Arthur has “the biggest Druidic order in the world.”

[Courtesy Photo]

King Arthur Urther Pendragon [Courtesy Photo]

The latest battle in his ongoing quest is against English Heritage’s introduction of a car park charge of £15 (roughly 21 USD) at the summer solstice. The site is open all year except for Christmas Day, and then the quarter days – when only Pagan communities are given access.

Arthur has been holding pop-up protests against the levy, blocking access routes to the site for tourists.

“This is a pay to pray charge,” he said. “English Heritage make money off Stonehenge for 360 days a year. They receive 1.3 million visitors per year and charge them approximately £20 each per entry. They have a car park capacity of 600 vehicles per hour, soon to be extended to 900.”

To Arthur, this ruling is partly about a clash of cultures and a lack of understanding about the importance of Stonehenge as a pilgrimage site to modern Pagans worldwide. Access, after all these years, is still a key issue.

Arthur said, “An order has been put in for around the site to restrict parking on the roads in and out of Stonehenge, so they would have a monopoly on the car parking.

“Stonehenge has always been a gathering place for like-minded spirits. It’s a Sun temple and is a sacred clock that comes alive at the solstices and equinoxes. It helped us to transition from hunter-gatherer to agriculture, as through it we knew which time was the right time to plant (crops), otherwise their whole community would have been wiped out. So it was very important to study the stars and know our place in the heavens.”

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge [Courtesy English Heritage]

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge [Courtesy English Heritage]

When we contacted English Heritage it did not address Arthur’s campaign directly but stressed its role as steward of the site and insisted that the charges were a response to booming visitor numbers.

In a statement, the body said, “In recent years there has been huge growth in people and cars coming to the World Heritage Site for summer solstice. To protect Stonehenge and to keep solstice special, English Heritage has introduced two new changes this year, intended to make the occasion cleaner, greener and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Kate Davies, general manager of Stonehenge at English Heritage, added, “As guardians of Stonehenge, it is our job to look after the monument. We ask all attending summer solstice to respect the stones and the people around you.”

As usual, Arthur will be at Stonehenge this year. But he has decided to use his usual time of celebration to protest the charge.

He said, “I’m not going to pay their charges. I’m going to be stood in the car park encouraging everybody not to pay.”

Another bone of contention is the alcohol ban on the site. English Heritage states that “by making solstice alcohol-free and encouraging more people to travel by public transport, we believe people will be able to enjoy Stonehenge and the solstice here”.

But Arthur points out: “Paganism is not a sombre, po-faced religion. We are there to celebrate the rising of the Sun. How we choose to celebrate in our belief structure is no concern to English Heritage.”

Some have raised concerns about the celebrations held at Stonehenge to mark summer solstice not being spiritual enough and Arthur concedes: “It is akin to a secular event for some, something you’d have on your bucket list, like Trafalgar Square on New Year’s Eve.”

However, he went on to say, “To all the Druids and Pagans who complain it’s not spiritual enough, I say it’s because you’re not going that it’s not spiritual enough. Put your robe on, get there, and start teaching people about the spirituality of it. Then it will be spiritual enough for you.”

Arthur makes a point. Summer solstice is an opportunity for Pagans of all stripes to engage the public, yet many shy away from this. Arthur uses the annual gathering to inform people about the occasion. He said, “I’m there, robed up, talking to people all night about the spirituality.’

[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

Summer solstice at Stonehenge is such a big event compared with the other quarter days because the warmer weather and lighter evenings attract a huge crowd. Last year, some 40,000 people turned up.

Another campaign running in tandem with the one on car parking fees concerns the ancient bodies, which had been found buried around Stonehenge. Arthur would like them to be returned to their original resting places at the site.

In his podcast The King’s Speech, Arthur begins outlining what this campaign is about by saying: “As Druids, we believe in honouring the ancestors. We believe that those who were buried around Stonehenge were instrumental in developing the culture there that went before us.”

This re-interment campaign is of its time, as it has paralleled a similar one spearheaded by British Druid Emma Restall Orr called Honouring the Ancient Dead. But Arthur’s campaign is primarily focused on Stonehenge.

He said, “For too long, us Pagans and Druids have been silent on this matter. We cannot see the wishes of our forefathers swept aside in the name of science and technology. We believe our ancient dead have a much right to be left in peace as our recent dead and that their cultural belief structure is as valid as any belief structure to this day.

“They’ve got a skeleton on display in the gift shop. With modern science and technology, they don’t need to do this. Those people were buried there as guardians of Stonehenge and I want them put back. It is disrespectful to take our ancient dead out of the ground and put them on display in such a fashion.”

For this solstice though, Arthur’s focus will be on the car park charges at Stonehenge.

He stresses: “For us it’s a spiritual pilgrimage, we should not be charged to pray, we should not be told how we can and can’t celebrate. We go with a wild Pagan heart and that’s how it’s going to stay.”

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Queen Nefertiti [Photo Credit: Philip Pikart / Wikimedia]

Is Nefertiti in Tut’s Tomb?
Or more accurately, was Tutankhamun buried in Nefertiti’s tomb? That’s the theory put forth by archaeologist Nicholas Reeves. He believes that when Tutankhamun died unexpectedly, the front part of his step-mother Nefertiti’s tomb was partitioned and Tut was laid to rest in the front half. In November, infrared and radar technology confirmed that there is at least one hidden space behind Tut’s burial chamber, and it is still sealed 3,300 years after Nefertiti’s rule ended.

Nefertiti is known as one of the most beautiful women in the world, thanks to discovery of a famous bust in 1922. She may also have been one of the most powerful. Married to Egypt’s “Heretic King,” Akhenaten, who is famous for changing the official religion of Egypt from a polytheistic one to a monotheistic one, Nefertiti may have been co-regent with her husband. She may also have succeeded him as Pharaoh Smenkhkare, a feat only three women accomplished in Egyptian history.

Tut’s tomb and his grave goods have long puzzled archaeologists. The tomb is much smaller than those used for other rulers and is laid out like a queen’s, not a Pharaoh’s, tomb. The golden mask covering his face had its lobes pierced in the manner of a female, not a male. Questions about the tomb came to head when the Spanish group Factum Arte, which specializes in replicating artistic works, posted high resolution photos of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Reeves saw fissures in its north and west walls that he thought could be two doors leading to two as yet unopened chambers.

He then brought in infrared and radar imaging technology, which confirmed his theory of hidden chambers. One is most likely a storeroom, but the other one is larger and could be the final resting place of Nefertiti. The next step is to drill a small hole in the wall of the tomb and insert a camera to see if there is, in fact, another burial chamber concealed. If there is, it may take years to open the chamber and catalogue the contents.

Does a newly discovered tunnel in an Aztec pyramid lead to the tomb of Tenochtitlán’s rulers?
Archaeologists in Mexico are also hot on the trail of undisturbed tombs of ancient rulers. They have found a tunnel that they say leads to two sealed chambers, which could contain the remains of the Aztec rulers of Tenochtitlán.

So far, cremated remains, cremains, of Aztec rulers have never been found.

In 2013, archaeologist Leonardo López Luján discovered the 27-foot-long tunnel leading into the center of a ceremonial platform, known as the Cuauhxicalco. The mouth of the tunnel was sealed and, when they opened it, they found gold ornaments and the bones of infants and eagles. Now they believe the tunnel goes even further back, leading to two entrances and possibly burial chambers. After dating the tunnel, archaeologists speculate that, if there are remains in the chambers, they may be of Moctezuma I and his successors. Moctezuma I was the second Aztec emperor and ruled from about 1440 to 1469.

The blocked-up entrances will be excavated in 2016.

Intact Etruscan Tomb Found
Some tombs are found after decades of careful searching; others are found by sheer chance. A farmer working his fields in Italy plowed right into an intact Etruscan tomb dating from the 4th century BCE. A team of archaeologists were called in and were confronted by a rare find: the doors to the tomb were still sealed.

Once inside the space, archaeologists found a burial chamber containing two sarcophagi, four alabaster marble urns containing cremains, and assorted grave goods.

The Etruscans ruled over large parts of what is now Tuscany starting in 900 BCE and lasting until Rome finally swallowed them in 300 BCE. The Etruscans were known for their fine art, written language, road building abilities, and extensive trading networks.

Italian officials say the tomb will be opened to the public for viewing after it is restored and studied.

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

From Etruscan displayed in Milan [Photo Credit: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / Wikimedia

6000 Year Old Lead Wand Found
As sometimes happens, archaeologists find something historically important, but don’t always know what the item is. The lead and wood object may be a wand used for ceremonial purposes or it could be a drop spindle for making yarn.

This unusual object was found in a cave in Israel’s northern Negev desert and is the the oldest evidence of smelted lead in the entire Levant. The cave has been excavated since the 1970’s but new areas of the cave complex were mapped out in 2012. This year, archaeologists found a small chamber used for burials and the tiny lead wand was just laying on the floor of the chamber.  

The artifact has a lead base only 1.4 inches long with an 8.8 inch long stick attached. The object could be a wand or mace-like like object used for ceremonial purposes, similar to other club-like objects found in the southern Levant. Since it’s smaller than other ceremonial clubs, it may be something else.

It also may be a spindle. The wood shaft could be the spindle rod with the lead base serving as a whorl. Yet there’s a challenge to the spindle theory. The whorl, if it is a whorl, would be so heavy it could have only produced a very coarse yarn.

Whatever this object once was, it was important enough to be placed as a grave good and pushes back the earliest date for known smelting of lead in the Levant by almost 1000 years.

3D Printing Shows Spear is Really a Horn
For almost 200 years it was thought that this Bronze Age artifact was a spear butt. However, a PhD student in Australia used 3D printing to discover what the object really was.

Billy Ó Foghlú, an archaeology student at Australian National University, took measurements of the “spear butt” to make a 3D replica. When he had the copy, he found it looked (and sounded) like the mouthpiece of an Irish horn.

New Bronze age settlement found in Scotland
You never know what archaeologists can find when they go for a walk. Several archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands, the University of Manchester, and the University of Central Lancashire were strolling along the beach on the Orkney Islands, on their way to an established dig, when they stumbled on a Bronze Age settlement. Not only was it an as of yet undiscovered settlement, it was also one of the largest ones on the Scottish isles and one of the best preserved. They estimate there are 14 houses spanning a half mile along the beach.

Stone Tools in Renew a Controversial Debate about Monte Verde
The dig site at Monte Verde and the archaeologist at the center of it are no strangers to controversy. Tom Dillehay and Monte Verde first became archaeological lightening rods decades ago when Dillehay discovered humans had occupied South America thousands of years earlier than thought. While controversial then, it is now an accepted fact that humans were living in the Monte Verde area 14,500 years ago.

However, new discoveries are once again pushing that date back another 4000 years.

Dillehay has found stone tools and evidence of cooked meat and plants dating back 18,500 years ago. Since DNA evidence shows humans left Siberia no earlier than 23,000 years ago, the migration to Monte Verde in the southern tip of South America would have been exceptionally fast. Casting doubt on the new date  is the absence of any human occupation in North America before 14,300 years ago.

Dillehay said his team has found 39 stone artifacts, as well as plants and animal bones, that appear to be remains from cook fires. Other archaeologists question if the stone artifacts were made by humans and if the plant and animal remains were burned in naturally occurring fires.

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Monte Verde [Photo Credit: Jardín Botánico Nacional / Flickr]

Once again, Monte Verde and Dillehay will need to prove themselves to a skeptical archaeological community.

Stonehenge might be a hand-me-down Monument
The more we learn about Stonehenge; the more it becomes a mystery. Archaeologists now believe that the large stones making up the monument were originally part of a different monument. Around 5000 years ago, the stones were extracted from a quarry in Pembroke, Wales, and then set up as a monument at a nearby site. The 80 stones, each weighing between one to two tons, stood at this unknown site for around 400 years.

Then neolithic peoples transported the stones 180 miles to their present location in Wiltshire using only  ropes, levers, and sheer manpower. Now archaeologists are searching for the site where the stones originally stood. What did that interim monument look like and why was it taken apart and moved after 400 years?

Chimps entered the Stone Age
Humans are not the only primates to have entered a Stone Age. Now chimpanzees of west Africa, capuchin monkeys in Brazil, and long-tailed macaque monkeys in Thailand have all been confirmed to have entered their own Stone Ages.

While many other animals have been known to use plants and sticks as tools, it was thought that only humans have used and fashioned stone tools. Yet at least 4300 years ago, chimps routinely began doing the same thing and passing that knowledge down through generations. This has given rise to a new speciality in science: primate archaeology.

The primates generally use the rocks as a pounding tool to open tough nuts, and they opted for larger and heavier stones than the neolithic humans would have chosen.

Will the chimpanzees, monkeys, and macaques advance further and master the art of fire and cooking their food? They may have the capacity, but it appears unlikely to happen as their populations shrink through habitat destruction and hunting. Smaller populations often can’t sustain and spread new technologies. This creates another layer to an ethical dilemma of how humans impact other species.

As some Pagans attempt to revive ancient or indigenous religions they often rely on the work of historians, primary texts and archaeologists. For this reason, when something new pops up that challenges long held academic ideas on cultural or religious practice, we pay attention. Here are some of the new(er) finds making waves in archaeological circles.

Economic analysis proves another theory of Delphi’s power:

The Oracle of Delphi was located between the powerful Greek city-states of Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and Thebes and was extremely influential starting in the 8th century BCE. Once a month petitioners would gather at the site to ask the Oracle of Apollon, called the Pythia, questions about what they should do in any given situation. The answers were thought to come directly from Apollon to the Pythia but were often riddles that the petitioner must puzzle out for himself. The rich and powerful were no exception and they often gathered in advance and mingled and traded information.

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix,  440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Aegeus receiving the oracle of Delphi painted on a kylix, 440 BCE. [Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin]

Prof. Colleen Haight, an associate professor of economics at San Jose State University, uses economic analysis as an analytic lens to help explain what she calls “seemingly irrational behavior such as relying upon the supernatural judgment of an oracle to make life-and-death decisions.”

The economic theory of how religion affects cultures have largely been split between monopolistic state religions and laissez faire religious competition. Religious monoplies mean that the secular ruler is also in control of the relious institutions. This allows them greater control over their population, but can breed distrust in the legiticmacy of both the religion and ruler. Laissez faire religious competition is a benefit to religious groups, which are often numerous in an area, but doesn’t grant any more power to secular rulers.

Prof. Haight posits a third theory that fits Delphi – the neutral nexus.

In this situation, secular leaders maintain control over their own cults within their own territory, but also rely upon an outside, third-party source of religious legitimation for their rule. This is the role that the Oracle of Delphi played. With several ancient Greek city-states essentially locked in a balance of power, the city of Delphi could assert its neutrality amidst the larger political players of the region (i.e, Sparta, Athens, Corinth, and Thebes). More importantly, the rulers of each of these city-states could use the Delphic Oracle as a source of information regarding future military campaigns or other major decisions.  It was in the interest of each of secular rulers both to provide the oracle with valid information and to rely upon its pronouncements as valid. In many ways, this helped to mitigate conflict between the different regional powers. It was only when one ruler (Philip II of Macedon) was able to consolidate territorial power over the bulk of ancient Greece that the Delphic Oracle lost its neutrality and, hence, its authoritative power.

You can listen to the podcast interview with Prof. Haight here.

Tomb of Alexander the Great’s mother found?

Greece is abuzz on the discovery of a tomb of a royal queen that dates back to the period immediately following the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE. The tomb, located beneath the great mound at Amphipolis in Macedonia, is considered such a significant find it was unveiled in August, during a visit by Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras. Greek Reporter writer Andrew Chugg believe the tomb is that of Alexander’s mother, Olympias.

This tomb, if it is that of Olympias, would be of particular interest to those Pagans who worship Alexander as a deified Hero. In mythos, Olympias was impregnated by Zeus’ thunderbolt and Alexander was the result of that union. Olympias helped Alexander to become King after her husband, Philip II of Macedon, was assassinated. Alexander went on to become on of the greatest military generals of all time, building one of the largest empires of the ancient world through conquest. It stretched from Greece, into Egypt, and into present-day Pakistan. When he died at age 30, his empire was divided up between his generals. After a brief revolt by his mother and his wife, Roxane, against the general who took control of Macedonia, both women were put to death along with Alexander’s son, Alexander IV.

The tomb is thought to be Olympias because of the size, the decorations that closely resemble the tombs of Alexander’s father and his son, the unusual presence of sphinxes, and its location.

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) - [Greek Reporter]

Painted decoration in the tomb at Amphipolis (left) and the tomb of Alexander IV (right) – [Greek Reporter]

On this evidence I consider Olympias to be the leading contender at the time of writing (6/9/2014) for the occupant of the magnificent tomb at Amphipolis currently being excavated with Roxane also a strong possibility. It should be recalled that the tomb mound has a diameter of 155m, larger even than the Great Tumulus at Aegae and posing the question of whom the Macedonians would conceivably have spent this much money and effort upon commemorating, Olympias is by far the most convincing answer at present. Although it is true that the ancient accounts say that she was unpopular at the time of her death, it is nevertheless clear that she was only really unpopular with Cassander’s faction, whereas Cassander himself was sufficiently worried about her popularity as to arrange her immediate death in order to prevent her addressing the Macedonian Assembly (Diodorus 19.51). Furthermore, her army under Aristonous stayed loyal to her cause long after she herself had surrendered. Ultimately, her cause was seen at the time as identical with the cause of Alexander himself, so it was in a sense Alexander whom they honoured by building his mother a spectacular tomb.

You can read more about the tomb here.

With Viking burials, a sword does not a man make:

A new study of Viking burial remains in England is challenging the previously widely held theory that Viking women stayed home. It’s also firming up a changing view of Vikings from violent thieves to marriage-minded colonists.

The Vikings invaded England in waves starting around 900 AD and founded a medieval kingdom called theDanelaw. Originally, archaeologists thought the Viking settlers consisted almost exclusively of men because of written Christian accounts and because most of the Vikings buried in England from that time were buried with swords and knives.

A new study of 14 Viking burials published in the Early Medieval Europe Journal by Shane McLeod of the Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Western Australia puts those assumptions in doubt.

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

10th century Viking grave in England. [British Department of Culture, Media and Sport.]

McLeod reports that 6 of the 14 bodies are women, seven were men, and one was indeterminable. This was determined by examining isotopes found in their bones and looking at the osteological signs of which gender they belonged to, rather than assuming that burial with a sword or knife denoted a male.

For example, at one mass burial, three swords were found and yet all three bodies whose sex could be determined were female. This new study suggests that women made up roughly ½ to 1/3 of Viking settlers in England.

A nice look at the new evidence and what it means for the idea of Viking female warriors can be found in a comment on an article here.

Solomon’s mines worked by Magicians, not slaves:

In another theory that turns out to not be true, the Edomite’s who worked King Solomon’s copper mines in Timna were highly paid “quazi-magicians,” not slaves. Of course, they may not have been working for Solomon, either, but Egypt. Or themselves.

Archaeologists originally thought the workers were slaves because of the harsh desert conditions, how uncomfortable it would be to work the hot furnaces, and a massive stone wall that was thought to prevent escape. The Timna valley is located in present day Southern Israel.

Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef and Dr. Lidar Sapir-Hen, of TAU’s Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures, say the workers were highly skilled, and highly pampered, artisans. They analyzed the remnants of food from 3,000 years ago, which were perfectly preserved by the arid conditions of the site. The workers who manned the highly sophisticated kilns were fed imported and expensive meats, fruits, and grains. The wall, once thought to keep slaves in, is now thought to be a protective barrier to keep workers safe. They also claim the advanced skills needed to work copper would place these artisans in a social class similar to that of “quasi-magicians” because the complex process, in which 30-40 different variables were managed by the smelter, would seem like magic to ordinary persons of that time. The mines themselves, however, may have used slaves or criminals for labor.

[Wikipedia Commons]

The Timna Valley mines are located in the southern edge of the Kingdom of Edom [Wikipedia Commons]

The kingdom of Edom was located in the Southern Levant south of Judea on the shores of the Dead Sea. Its people were Semetic and followed a Canaanite religion, although not much is known about their specific practices. Canaanite religions were typically polytheistic, with a strong focus on ancestral household deities. According to Jewish tradition, the Edomites were conquered by Israel in the late 11th century BCE, although archaeologists argue that the scale of 10th century BCE mining on Edom lands and signs of sporadic wars with neighbors over many centuries, are evidence of a strong and independent Edomite kingdom well into the 4th century BCE.

Stonehenge has a sibling (and then some):

Archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, magnetometry and other techniques, have found 50 massive stones buried just 2 miles away from Stonehenge. The sibling henge, along with 17 other Neolitihic and Bronze age religious monuments, were found during a four year investigation into Stonehenge’s sacred landscape. The finds indicate the monuments formed a processional walkway to the main sacred site and formed a cohesive religious complex.

xxx

[Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project]

The sibling henge, dubbed Superhenge, helped form a c-shaped enclosure and it faced the river Avon. Later it was fully enclosed to make a circle.

The monument was later converted from a c-shaped to a roughly circular enclosure, now known as Durrington Walls – Britain’s largest pre-historic henge, roughly 12 times the size of Stonehenge itself. As a religious complex, it would almost certainly have had a deeply spiritual and ritual connection with the river. But precisely why is a complete mystery, although it is possible that that particular stretch of water was regarded as a deity.

The sibling henge stones are roughly 10 ft long and 5 feet wide and are laying down horizontally, although they could have originally stood vertically in the ground. It’s estimated they were placed on site around 2500BC.

“This radically changes our view of Stonehenge,” said Vince Gaffney, head of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project at Birmingham University. “In the past we had this idea that Stonehenge was standing in splendid isolation, but it wasn’t … it’s absolutely huge.”

You can see images and links to more information of the new discoveries at the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project.

A two-part special BBC Two documentary (Operation Stonehenge: What Lies Beneath), being shown tonight and next Thursday, is set to reveal the details of many of the investigation’s new discoveries.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than our team can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

Carhenge. Photo: Wikimedia.

  • So, hey, the Summer Solstice happened! Unless you’re in Australia, then the Winter Solstice happened (it’s complicated, but I think it has something to do with the world being round). That means it is time for everyone’s favorite question: What the heck is Stonehenge actually for? Quote: It has been called a Neolithic temple; a ritual gathering place; a royal burial ground; an eclipse predictor; even a kind of ancient computer capable of mapping celestial patterns. Yet, despite the efforts of generations of scholars, we are still no closer to knowing, definitively, why Stonehenge was built. Neolithic people gathered there, certainly, but, despite modern assumptions, they weren’t Druids – since those ancient British priests, with their white robes, sickles and mistletoe, were a phenomenon of the Iron Age, and only emerged centuries after Stonehenge was abandoned.” So the answer is: it depends on when you’re talking about. Also, ten demerits to any journalist out there who posted a link to Spinal Tap when talking about Stonehenge. 
  • I’d also like to note that Stonehenge is so cool, we will happily dance around replicas of it built outside Britain. Quote: “The monument nearly lines up with sunrise on the solstice, just like Stonehenge – though stories about Bronze Age human sacrifices there were almost certainly false. The original structure was probably one of the earliest calendars. And much like Stonehenge, the replica draws a coterie of neo-Druids, pagans and wiccans each year on the summer solstice. About 30 turned out in small groups from Oregon and southern Washington state.” I love the Pacific Northwest so much. Also: Carhenge, it’s a thing. It’s made of cars. It’s in the Midwest (and people really like it).
  • Is Hillary Clinton an advocate for “sexual paganism?” Quote: “Among the nonsense spread about Clinton’s age, looks and alleged affairs, several right-wing nuts claimed she advocated ‘sexual paganism’ during a speech condemning LGBT violence she delivered in 2011. Peter Sprigg, of the Family Research Council, Richard Land, Southern Evangelical Seminary president, and right-wing author Richard Brown, were particularly vocal in their attack on Clinton. ‘There is no question in my mind, God is already judging America and will judge her more harshly as we continue to move down this path towards sexual paganisation,’ Land commented.” I’d comment, but I don’t want to give the appearance of partisan feeling, though I think there are plenty of our readers who would be pro a “Paganization” campaign.
  • An article on the Celtic Druid Temple in Ireland notes that modern Druids do, in fact, use the Internet (and they are appropriately wary of journalists). Quote: “A notice on the school’s website (yes, Druids use the internet) stipulates that any media coverage must be approved before publication, something The Irish Times has a policy against. Con Connor, who runs the school with his partner, Niamh, explains that this is due to the long history of misrepresentation surrounding Druidism, dating from Roman times to recent Irish schoolbooks on religion. They do not wish to be misunderstood or portrayed as eccentric cranks.” There may also be ancient wisdom involved.
  • There are approximately seven things Paganism can teach “modern man” (But what about post-modern man?). One of them, apparently, is that 1973’s “The Wicker Man” is a really good film. Quote: Seriously, if you ignore all the advice above at least see this classic British ‘horror’ film from 1973. Apart from the fact that it has Christopher Lee, nudity, people dressed up in weird animal masks and Britt Ekland having sex with a man through a wall (hey, Pagans Do It Better!), it also has a cracking Brit folk soundtrack. Don’t bother with the 2006 version starring Nicolas Cage though: that’s absolute pants.” I would make fun, but this is 100% accurate, and if he wants to credit modern Pagans as champions of this cinematic masterpiece, I’ll take it. In fact, here’s the trailer from the recently released “final cut” Blu Ray edition

  • Anna Goeldi, who was killed on accusations of witchcraft in Switzerland in 1782, was honored in a memorial unveiled as an “expression of atonement.” Quote: “Goeldi, who was 48 at the time of her death, was exonerated by the Glarus parliament in 2008. The memorial, comprising two permanently lit lamps on the side of the Glarus court house, is intended to draw attention to violations of human rights that occur in the world today, as well as Goeldi’s story.” Considering the fact that “witches” and “sorcerers” are being murdered in the here and now, perhaps this memorial can serve a purpose beyond righting an old wrong.
  • So, this film exists. Quote: “Witching & Bitching, a simple yet utterly bonkers battle of the sexes that chuckles at male chauvinism before castrating it completely.” This film looks bananas, so I can’t really tell you how well it balances its satire and the use of the horror-movie-witch-trope.
  • There are hundreds of Pagans in the modern UK military. That’s it. That’s the story. They’re just… there. Being Pagan. Quote: “Hundreds of witches, pagans and Druids have signed up to join the UK armed forces, according to the latest official figures. All three services have taken on people whose religious beliefs involve pagan rituals and casting spells. MPs fear that military top brass have been forced to hire members of alternative faiths and beliefs to halt the recruitment crisis. Recent attempts to boost regular and reserve units have had disappointing results, according to a report in the Mirror.” Note, again, that there is no story here other than that Pagans have joined military service in the UK.
  • “Monomyth” is not a term to be thrown around lightly in the Pagan community (I dare say it might even be a ‘fighting word’ in some places). But since Star Wars is revving back up, it’s time to get your Joseph Campbell groove on. Quote: “Campbell’s influence, however, extends far beyond Darth Vader and the gang. From Harry Potter to The Matrix to Happy Gilmore, amateurs and experts alike have drawn connections between multiple modern narratives and Campbell’s theory of the Monomyth, which asserts that various myths, legends, and fairy tales throughout human history share a common story structure involving a hero who departs from known reality in order to confront a series of trials and tribulations before returning home as an initiated master of both realms. The theory, of course, involves more intricacies and complexions—e.g. the call to adventure, the crossing of a threshold, the guidance of a mentor—but that’s the gist.” To be fair, they do point out that the monomyth theory actually has critics.

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

Taking Place

Sam Webster —  May 23, 2014 — 11 Comments

Ours is a religion of living rooms and backyards. How this will change as we Pagans become more prominent in society remains to be seen, but the conversation is underway. Recently Rynn Fox focused her Perspectives column here on The Wild Hunt on the “Gods of Place” and elicited a somewhat surprisingly uniform set of views on the topic, centering on the spiritual beings associated with places.

Moving here from my other blogspaces, I am more mindful today of the place than its spirit, the tension we have with place and what the future will require of us as we take our place in the wider world.

Humans have been making places special far back into the depths of time. After visiting the cave on the Gower peninsula of Wales where the Red Lady of Paviland was buried some thirty-three thousand years ago and which was used for (likely) ritual purposes for some eleven thousand years, I found a timescale in my mind that I could scarcely comprehend. My civilization is not as old as this place had been used.

Below Paviland Cave on the Gower [© Copyright Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons]

Below Paviland Cave on the Gower [© Copyright Jeremy Bolwell and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons]

Living in America, a third generation child of immigrants, I wonder where my sacred spaces are? When I was a young Catholic, the churches were sanctuaries (my parents helped build three), and some of the buildings were magnificent. Once I realized we weren’t worshiping the same God, I no longer found those places quite as congenial. Many Pagans find the locus of the sacred in Nature. I’ve crossed this continent by ground seven times and seen majestic natural spaces. In each case I was struck by the feeling of sanctity. Here in Northern California, we have Redwood groves whose hushed and dappled columns move so many to declare them cathedrals.

The First Peoples, of course, have many holy sites on this continent. We know of some, but they are not always sanguine about us using them, or think us foolish for visiting places abandoned by all but ghosts, like Chaco Canyon.

In Europe Pagans are confronted by a different situation. First off there are many ruins, some very prehistoric, cairns, long barrows, dolmens, standing stones and stone circles. Once they were thought to be Druidic, now we know them to be much older, although maybe the Druids used them too. Who wouldn’t? Nowadays they are claimed by contemporary Pagans as belonging to our Ancestors, but since the genetic relationship between us and these immensely old sites is dubious to non-existent, whose are they? What should they be used for? The classic example is Stonehenge at Solstice. What a crowd! And Druids presiding!

It is a serious issue in Europe. The tensions between the archeologists, the responsibility of the state to preserve an important heritage, the desire to offer worship at ancient sacred sites, and the resistance of certain parties, theist and non, to such worship makes for a complex power dynamic. I am personally quite sure that with good communications and affirmed shared values to preserve the space, the right kinds of offerings and material prayers could certainly be arranged. (Water libations are not going to hurt any outdoor ancient site.) As Pagans become more socially, economically, and thus politically powerful, we will have the opportunity to participate effectively in the right use and preservation of these sacred places. We have a duty to preserve the past which is even greater than our present desire to worship, for we, better than most people before us, know that civilizations are evanescent.

Pantheon [Photo Credit: Richjheath Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Pantheon [Photo Credit: Richjheath Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

But then there are the cathedrals of Europe. So many of them were built on places considered holy by the pre-Christian peoples, which is mostly why the churches were built there. Folks continued to worship in the same place, only differently. Today many of these splendid buildings stand mostly empty as Christian populations decline. I can’t help but think, Can we have them back now? You can keep (most of) your art. We’ll keep them open and preserve them for posterity. Fortunately for Pagans, most cathedrals don’t have pews, so we can just clear the chairs out for dancing and circles. (If they have pews, we can save some for the sidelines, but the rest will make a lovely bonfire.) My eye is on the Pantheon of Rome. While it may not actually have been used for worship by the Romans (the debate is not settled), it was the first building taken over by the Church and used for worship in the city of Rome. They have plenty of their own buildings now. Can we have it back? Alas, I am not Italian and have no standing to ask…

In the States, we build new places where we can buy them. In the country or in the cities, Pagan sanctuaries, stone circles, even monastic sites are being founded. Yet the “Pagan Retreat Center” is something of an epitome of failure. How many of us have fled the city to build a facility, only no one came, the bills piled up and we had to abandon our dreams? At the Pantheon Foundation, we have already received several requests for help with new Pagan land. The challenges of capital development and cash flow dog our community. Yet twenty families can put together a church without much fuss. Here in San Francisco Bay, we have dozens of these little churches. A question we cannot afford to ignore is why we can’t do this for ourselves?

In the ancient world, there were a number of ways of selecting sites for worship. One was social, establishing altars, shrines and temples for the benefit of a city and so were located in high or central places determined by the polis. The other, far more prominent, was to establish a place because of a theophany. The Deity showed Itself to someone at some place which thereafter became a locus of worship. Or perhaps the Deity told someone to set up an altar or shrine at some suitable location, like when Odysseus was told to carry an oar inland until someone asked where he was carrying that threshing pole (they did not recognize the oar), and there he was to set up the shrine to Poseidon, make sacrifice, and expiate the crime of blinding one of His sons. On so many ancient altars it is written that it was set up in thanksgiving for the gift of the Deity, some act of power saving a life, or liberation from suffering, or granting a benefit, or in expiation as with Odysseus for a wrongdoing. Then others could come, remember the Greatness of the Deity, and there offer sacrifice.

But this is a world where most of the land was unclaimed and where a shrine would be respected. Recently I set up a small herm at a crossroads near my home, and within twenty-four hours, the engraved stone was gone. We live in a very different world.

How are we to establish enduring places of worship in Nature, which we so love? How do we respond to theophanies? How can we, when we meet the numinous in some location create enduring space for worship to take place? As Pagans grow in power in our society, this will become easier, but it will require forethought to do well. Let us begin thinking about how we will take place as holy…

[Photo Credit: Jose M. Vazquez/Flickr]

[Photo Credit: Jose M. Vazquez/Flickr]

There is another side of this issue of place that needs be addressed before ending. The Christian interregnum scattered us, but like seeds we grow again spreading our way into new lands. While for many of us in the States that scattering separates us from the ancient sanctuaries of our Gods (please take care of them!), it has forced us to learn how to make wherever we are sacred (to ourselves, it always was sacred).

As our spiritual and scientific understanding grew, we also learned that the center of the world is where we stand at any moment. With sufficient depth of practice any place can be experienced as supremely holy. It can be said that we are no longer dependent on the ancient places. No longer can our religion be suppressed by tearing down our places of worship or stripping our temples of our sacred icons, relics, writings, and so on. We are mobile. We are on the internet. With a candle and a prayer we can make any living room into the Temple of the Gods, the Hall of Initiation, the Center of the Cosmos.

But I still want the Pantheon back…

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. I know it’s April 1st, and thus, April Fools day in the land of journalism, but I promise we’ll keep the fooling to an absolute minimum.

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

Rev. Kevin Kisler prays prior to the start of a Greece, N.Y., Town Board meeting in 2008. Photo: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

  • Let’s start with the religious origins of April Fool’s Day traditions, which the Religion News Service explores. Quote: “Some argue that April Fools’ Day is a remnant of early ‘renewal festivals,’ which typically marked the end of winter and the start of spring. These festivals, according to the Museum of Hoaxes, typically involved ‘ritualized forms of mayhem and misrule.’ Participants donned disguises, played tricks on friends as well as strangers, and inverted the social order.” 
  • The Associated Press checks in with the town of Greece in New York, as the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s decision regarding prayer at government meetings. Quote: “After the complaints, the town, in 2008, had a Wiccan priestess, the chairman of the local Baha’i congregation and a lay Jewish man deliver four of the prayers. But from January 2009 through June 2010, the prayer-givers were again invited Christian clergy, according to court documents.” I’ve written extensively on this case, and the outcome could have far-reaching affects on religion in our public square. When the decision comes down, you can be sure we’ll cover it.
  • An LAPD police officer who identifies as Buddhist and Wiccan has filed suit claiming sexual and religious harassment in her workplace. Quote: “DeBellis told Tenney that she no longer practices Catholicism and was now a Buddhist-Wiccan and a priestess, the suit states. ‘Tenney was visibly upset and appeared disgusted by plaintiff’s comment and told (her), ‘Women cannot be priests,”  according to the complaint. Tenney later told DeBellis she ‘cannot switch religions’ and that she ‘will burn in hell,’ the suit states.”
  • The New York Times Magazine interviews Barbara Ehrenreich about her new book “Living With A Wild God” which documents her exploration of an intense mystical experience she had when young. Quote: “I didn’t see any creatures or hear any voices, but the whole world came to life, and the difference between myself and everything else dissolved — but not in a sweet, loving, New Agey way. That was a world flamed into life, is how I would put it.”
  • Metro has a story on Pagans and Witches serving in the British military. Quote: “Prof Ronald Hutton said pagan worship is ‘pretty well’ suited to being in the military. ‘There is no pacifism necessarily embedded in modern pagan or Wiccan religious attitudes, and ancient pagans could make formidable soldiers,’ he said.”

  • The Miami Herald has an interesting piece on Santeria, and the challenges it faces as it grows and changes in an increasingly interconnected world. Quote: “The growth of the back-to-roots movement has kindled infighting, widening rifts between the Yoruba faiths’ spreading branches. It’s a friction particularly felt in Miami, where Lukumi has become more mainstream since the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the religion in a landmark 1993 case. Highly visible Miami priest Ernesto Pichardo considers many so-called traditionalists nothing more than ‘religious tourists,’ being fleeced by Nigerians, who return with strident views that their faith is somehow more authentic.”
  • The Wiccan Family Temple in New York won’t be able to hold a Summer Solstice festival at Astor Place because the group couldn’t prove they were “indigenous” to the neighborhood. Quote: “But the chairman of Community Board 2′s Sidewalks and Street Activity Committee Maury Schott told DNAinfo that the organization had to prove that the proposed street fair was ‘indigenous’ to the street between Broadway and Lafayette, although he could not explain what that meant.” There’s still a chance they could get approved though, so I guess we’ll see how “indigenous” to that part of Manhattan they really are.
  • Sorry Reiki healers, but Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales is not on your side. Quote: “Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals—that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of ‘true scientific discourse.’ It isn’t.”
  • At HuffPo, Tom Carpenter endorses a military chaplaincy for “all the troops.” Quote: “Emergent faith communities in the military are properly seeking recognition. Many of these communities not only include but celebrate gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service members. Humanists and Wiccans seek to join Buddhists, Hindus and other minority groups seeking recognition and representation in our military […] The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy strongly supports the recruitment and retention of highly qualified, clinically trained chaplains who are representative of and committed to a chaplaincy reflecting a broad and inclusive range of interfaith, multicultural and diverse life experiences.”
  • There’s worry over proposed military housing that could potentially block the solstice sunrise at world-famous Stonehenge. Quote: “A plan to build thousands of new homes for soldiers returning from Germany could have to be changed – because they will be built on the horizon where the sun rises on summer solstice at Stonehenge. The Ministry of Defence said they were ‘aware of the issues’ and were organising a meeting with experts on the stones.” In other news, the nearly-as-famous Nine Ladies Stone Circle was recently vandalized. This is why we can’t have nice things, folks.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

Bela and Hope Lugosi being married by Manly P. Hall.

  • Salon.com has run an excerpt from Mitch Horowitz’s new book “One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life,” focusing on how former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was influenced by Manly P. Hall. Quote: “Ronald Reagan often spoke of America’s divine purpose and of a mysterious plan behind the nation’s founding. ‘You can call it mysticism if you want to,’ he told the Conservative Political Action Conference in 1974, ‘but I have always believed that there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom and a special kind of courage.’ These were remarks to which Reagan often returned. He repeated them almost verbatim as president before a television audience of millions for the Statue of Liberty centenary on July 4, 1986. When touching on such themes, Reagan echoed the work, and sometimes the phrasing, of occult scholar Manly P. Hall.” Here’s Hall’s Wikipedia page.
  • New York City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, is being accused of, well, of cursing a political opponent through a giant chicken head mural painted as part of a city mural project. Quote: According to the Post, Gwen Goodwin, 52, thinks that Mark-Viverito purposefully targeted her East 100th Street building ‘as the canvas for a five-story image of a bodiless rooster atop wooden poles.’ Mark Viverito was the head of urban-art campaign Los Muros Hablan (“The Walls Speak”) last summer, which sought to paint murals on walls across the city to celebrate Latino culture. But Goodwin writes in the lawsuit, ‘According to neighbors of Puerto Rican and other backgrounds, in the Caribbean culture, this constituted a curse and a death threat, as a swastika or a noose would symbolize typically to many Jews or African-Americans.'” So, there’s that.
  • Some communities in England are preparing for traditional winter wassailing to ensure a bountiful apple harvest. Quote: “Traditionally wassailing takes place on Twelfth Night (January 5) but in apple growing areas such as Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset the 17th marks the date of the orchard ceremony as it coincides with the “Old Twelveth Night” prior to the switch from the Julian to Gregorian calendar in 1752 when 11 days were taken out of the year. It will be the first time the pagan ceremony, believed to ward off evil spirits, has been staged at the property owned by the Busk family. A ‘Wassail King’ will walk through the Walled Garden orchard at 6pm offering bread soaked in cider to the apple trees and he will also pour water on the roots of the fruit trees.”
  • Here are some photos from the Arthur Pendragon-led protest against Stonehenge’s new visitor center. Quote: “I don’t want to give all my tactics away but next year’s campaign will be based around the slogan ‘don’t pay, walk away‘, and encouraging people to make 2014 the year they did not come to Stonehenge.” Can any force resist such a pithy slogan?
  • The occult is rising! Quick! Train up some exorcists! Quick! Quote: “The rise in demonic cases is a result of more people dabbling in practices such as black magic, paganism, Satanic rites and Ouija boards, often exploring the dark arts with the help of information readily found on the internet, the church said. The increase in the number of priests being trained to tackle the phenomenon is also an effort by the church to sideline unauthorised, self-proclaimed exorcists, and its tacit recognition that belief in Satan, once regarded by Catholic progressives as an embarrassment, is still very much alive.” What could possibly go wrong with training up an elite religious paramilitary opposed to minority religions that engage in magic?
Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

  • Times Higher Education has a review up of Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain.” Quote: “This is an expedition into deep time: a meticulous critical review of the known and sometimes shadowy rituals and beliefs in the British Isles from early prehistory to the advent of Christianity. Pagan Britain charts what we know of human spirituality across some 30,000 years. Such a broad sweep might have lapsed into mere description; instead, Ronald Hutton brings the discussion alive with detail and debate, interspersing accounts of key findings and theories with critical vignettes of the moment of discovery or the character of the antiquarian in question.”
  • The New York Times looks at Christianity in Ghana, specifically charismatic churches that emphasize spiritual warfare and battling demons. Quote: “J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor at Trinity Theological Seminary in Legon, Ghana, argues that these churches have spread so rapidly because African traditional religion envisions a world dense with dark spirits from which people must protect themselves, and these new churches take this evil seriously in a way that many earlier missionizing Christianities did not. Indeed, I have been at a Christian service in Accra with thousands of people shouting: ‘The witches will die! They will die! Die! Die!’ With the pastor roaring, ‘This is a war zone!’ […]  The post-1960s charismatic revival in the United States, sometimes called “Third Wave” Christianity (classical Pentecostalism was the first wave and charismatic Catholicism the second), introduced the idea that all Christians interact with supernatural forces daily. That included demons. In fact, I found American books on dealing with demons in all the bookstores of the African charismatic churches I visited.” American Evangelical Christianity has so, so, much to answer for. As T. M. Luhrmann points out: “In West Africa, witches are people, and sometimes, other people kill them or drive them from their homes.”
  • Is traditional religion (ie Christianity and Judaism) over? Quote: “It does seem, though, that 2013 was a year in which traditional religious affiliation underwent significant change. Is this the dawning of a new, liberal age, in which America finally starts to look a little more like the rest of the Western world? Don’t count on it. American religion is nothing if not resilient. It is malleable enough to change with the times, and if anyone ever does declare war on Christmas, they will lose. We remain a weirdly religious country.”
  • Is the United Nations too Christian? Probably. Quote: “Christianity dominates the United Nations and a more inclusive system must be introduced at the world peace-making organisation, according to a new study. The report Religious NGOs and The United Nations found that Christian NGOs are overrepresented at the UN in comparison to other religious groups. Overall, more than 70 per cent of religious NGOs at the UN are Christian, where the Vatican enjoys a special observer status, as a state and religion, according to research undertaken by Professor Jeremy Carrette from the University of Kent’s Department of Religious Studies.”
  • The deep, dark, roots of Britain’s fascination with witchcraft explained by Dominic Selwood. Quote: “The inescapable reality is that these islands battle with elemental weather, giving us a visceral awareness of the drama of the changing seasons. Coupled with the long dark nights of winter and the euphoria of summer light, the British have always had an innate awareness of the proximity of the natural world, and its power to make or break us in any year. The result is an understandable fascination with the behaviour of nature. It is therefore no wonder that we have always been transfixed by figures who command the forces that the rest of us can only watch.”

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Akhenaten's daughter (Tutankhamun's sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

Akhenaten’s daughter (Tutankhamun’s sister). from Mallawi Museum in Mallawi town.

  • One ongoing issue relating to the political tumult within Egypt (which is ongoing) has been the fate of art and antiquities looted during these times of crisis. So, it’s a small ray of light that French officials are returning five pieces that were spotted by Egyptian officials at auction. Quote: “Five antiquities looted and removed from Egypt after the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 have been returned by the French government to the Egyptian authorities. “Egyptian officials in charge of monitoring antiquities sales abroad spotted five Ptolemaic dynasty objects [323BC-30BC] for sale online, including two that were posted by a Toulouse-based auction house,” Ali Ahmed, an official at the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry, told the French newspaper Le Figaro. A head, torso and arm, which were part of a glass sculpture of a man, were among the stolen items.” Egypt’s vast and rich archeological heritage has been an engine of it’s once-booming tourism industry (currently hobbled by the chaos), and the preservation of this legacy a key component of recovery. For now, it’s a hunt to restore priceless treasures of one of the ancient world’s greatest civilizations.
  • If you wanted to know more about the painting of famous Voodoo/Vodou Queen Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans being painting pink, The Art of Conjure has a very good round-up of the story. Quote: “Whether it is vandalism or devotion is not the issue here, however. Rather, according to Morrison, it is the fact that it was apparently done without Mam’zelle’s consent. At least, that’s what Morrison expressed after being there in person and informing Mam’zelle that her tomb had been painted pink. Traditionally in New Orleans Voudou, Marie Laveaux is associated with the color blue, perhaps because of her association with water.” On Thursday I featured Lilith Dorsey’s views on this incident.
  • NPR has a deeper look at the recent controversy over the auction of Hopi sacred artifacts, and the struggles in general of preserving Native/indigenous sacred lands, places, and objects. Quote: “‘Indians in Arizona and elsewhere continue to be guided by religious traditions that have been handed down by the Creator,’ said James Riding In, a member of the Pawnee Nation and Indian Studies professor at Arizona State University. He adds it’s difficult for those who are not Indian to understand the spiritual connection many tribes have with their land and with items such as the Hopi sacred objects.” A nice summary of several stories that I’ve touch on over the years here at The Wild Hunt.
  • The New York Times profiles Kumar Natarajanaidu, a Hindu priest who set up a temple in the back of a retail space in Queens. Quote: “To pay the rent, Mr. Natarajanaidu uses the front portion of his temple to frame pictures and sell videos, flowers and religious apparel. But beyond the DVD counter, the temple begins, pieced together by his untrained hand. It is a hodgepodge of cleverly rigged curtains and shrines made from stray planks, tape, string and ornate wall coverings. The carpet segments are duct-taped together, and overhead is a water-stained drop ceiling. But as if by divine intervention, it all comes together as a glowing, opulent holy place, with a seductive mélange of colors and a flood of fragrant incense.”
  • Here’s BBC coverage of the Druid leader Arthur Pendragon-led protest against the display of human remains at the new Stonehenge visitor center. Quote: “Mr Pendragon said that until the bones were taken off display and reburied, he would continue a campaign that will cost English Heritage money and turn the public against them. He has claimed the bones discovered in 2008 are the remains of members of the royal line and wants them reinterred. ‘Today was just a shot across the bows – it was just a taster,’ he said.” For another perspective, I spotlighted a review of the new center, here. Here’s an excerpt from his announcement to protest.
The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

The reality television family at the center of the Utah polygamy decision.

  • The (much-reported) decision in Brown v. Buhman may not have legalized polygamy, but it is a victory for polyamory (and privacy). Quote: “The problems with this statutory language under the right to privacy most recently re-established in Lawrence v. Texas should be obvious. On its face, the law would prohibit not only informal consensual polyamorous relationships—problematic in itself—but any kind of intimate cohabitation between unmarried partners. Based onLawrence’s recognition of the fundamental right consenting adults have to engage in same-sex relations, it is very hard to argue that this section of the Utah statute doesn’t violate the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.” Is this the beginning of the end of morality laws?
  • Would you like to know what author Dan “The Da Vinci Code” Brown’s superpowers are? Quote: “Given the powers of ‘Inferno’, showing a glimpse of hell with every three line poem he writes, that reflects the future in 33 minutes.”
  • You know you’ve arrived as a minority religion when conservative Christians call you out. Yes, it’s from the Duck Dynasty dude. Quote: “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero,” Robertson explained. “That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.” Charming, isn’t he? He should get his own TV show! Oh… wait…
  • Here’s the backstory on how the Annenberg Foundation saved those Hopi and Apache sacred items at a French auction.
  • Here’s the complete “American Gods” soundtrack, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and “The Dark Knight” screenwriter David S. Goyer are producing an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “The Sandman” at Warner Bros. What could possibly go wrong? For the record, Gordon-Levitt was brilliant in “Brick.”

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.

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

AncestorsCoverThe Temple of Witchcraft and Copper Cauldron Publishing have announced the publication of a new anthology title: Ancestors of the Craft: The Lives and Lessons of Our Magickal Elders. First copies of the book were made available at the Temple’s annual Yule ritual, and will soon be made available at Amazon.com. Retailers can order copies through Copper Cauldron Publishing. Quote: “Modern pagans are heirs to a rich confluence of traditions from numerous pioneers in the realms of Spirit who have passed beyond the Veil. Ancestors of the Craft honors these ancestors, some widely known, others obscure, but no less deserving. A wide range of authors have contributed looks at important figures and elders in the history of the modern Witchcraft and Neo-pagan movements, some four dozen in all […] Authors include Jimahl di Fiosa (Talk to Me), Storm Faerywolf (The Stars Within the Earth), Elizabeth Guerra (Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick), Raven Grimassi (The Cauldron of Memory, Old World Witchcraft), Galina Krasskova (Exploring the Northern Tradition), Deborah Lipp (The Elements of Ritual), Shani Oates (Tubelo’s Green Fire), Gede Parma (Spirited), Christopher Penczak (The Temple of Witchcraft, The Mighty Dead), Matthew Sawicki (Witch and Famous), Kala Trobe (The Witch’s Guide to Life), and many more.” Should be an interesting read!

Grey_School_of_Wizardry_-_crestThe Grey School of Wizardry has opened a virtual world campus incorporating the Second Life platform as a part of its online magickal education program. “The implementation of a virtual campus was driven by student feedback and demonstrates our commitment to provide an engaging, inspiring learning environment for the magickally-minded. It provides us with new ways to share our knowledge, and offers a more personal, interactive, and magical setting for our students,” said Stacey Aaran Sherwood, Campus Director at the Grey School of Wizardry. “This new program is supplementary and purely voluntary, and does not in any way alter the web-based system of instruction that our faculty and students are accustomed to using.” Students who elect to enroll in the optional program benefit from real-time interaction with participating teachers and fellow students.  The Grey School of Wizardry is a tax exempt organization, and was founded in 2004 by Oberon Zell, a founder of the Church of All Worlds. You can read the entire press release, here.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

I’ve mentioned Stonehenge’s new visitors center a couple times now, looking at what it wants to transmit to visitors of the famous stone circle, and the pushback from some UK Pagans over their decision to display human remains. Now, Pagan musician Corwen Broch has visited the new center, and shares some reflections at his blog. Quote: “I personally am not opposed to the display and retention of human remains providing they are displayed sensitively. In fact I’d go so far as to say I am in favour of the display of human remains as I feel they can be a tangible link to the lives of our ancestors in a way nothing else can. All that said however the remains at Stonehenge are not displayed sensitively. They are in the same cases as antler picks and reconstructed arrows which seems to symbolically reduce them to the status of inanimate objects rather than what was once the remains of a thinking feeling human being. One person’s bones in particular are wired together and displayed upright fixed to a board in a way that made me viscerally uncomfortable. It is extremely saddening to me that English Heritage did not take a middle way with these remains and at least abide by HAD’s best practice guidelines. The current lack of sensitivity seems almost calculated to prolong the controversy and the protestations and plays into the hands of those most opposed to the display of human remains whilst making it difficult for those of us in favour of display to defend English Heritage.” Despite these concerns, Broch says the structure has “vastly improved” from its previous iteration, and has no concerns apart from the manner in which human remains are presented.

In Other Pagan Community News:

The Circle Sanctuary Winter Solstice Pageant

The Circle Sanctuary Winter Solstice Pageant

  • Solstice songs! T. Thorn Coyle has uploaded a new (free) song for the season, called “Invictus (Solstice)” to her Bandcamp page. Quote: “This is once again my Solstice gift to you. It started out a poem, but wanted to simplify into a song. Just me and GarageBand, baby. Pay what you will. All money supports Solar Cross temple and our justice work.” In other Solstice song news, Damh the Bard has a song up for you too!
  • Performer Lyra Hill, daughter of Anne Hill (you may know her through her work with Reclaiming), has been featured in the People 2013 issue of the Chicago Reader. Anne Hill says of her daughter that “Lyra’s exploration of dreams through art challenges me to keep looking for new ways to bring the power of dreams into waking life. I hope she inspires you, too.” 
  • Cherry Hill Seminary is seeking an artist in residence. Quote: “Cherry Hill Seminary, provider of distance education for Pagan ministry, seeks candidates for an Artist in Residence. Candidates working in any medium and who wish to be directly engaged for a period of two years in support of the CHS mission of distance education for leadership, ministry and personal growth in Pagan and other Nature-Based spiritualities may obtain full details or apply at this link.” Compensation? “Visibility,” promotion from CHS, and a quarterly feature in the official newsletter.

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Ronald Hutton (center) with symposium presenters and CHS staff.

Ronald Hutton (center) with Pagan scholars and Cherry Hill Seminary staff.

  • The Economist reviews Ronald Hutton’s new book “Pagan Britain,” and finds that it presents “more questions than answers.” Quote: “Mr Hutton leads readers to question not only the ways in which Britain’s ancient past is analysed, but also how all history is presented. He is also a lovely writer with a keen sense of the spiritual potency of Britain’s ancient landscapes. Though he offers many interpretations of each archaeological finding, such variety serves to expand the reader’s imagination rather than constrain it. Towards the end of this engrossing book, Mr Hutton laments the way the open-ended questions of ancient history and archaeology appear unsuited to television, a medium that prefers definitive answers.” The book is out now in the UK, and will be released in the United States in February (though it seems you can purchase the Kindle edition now).
  • Courts in the UK have, for the first time, awarded a Wiccan monetary damages over claims that she was fired for her religious beliefs. Quote: “Karen Holland, 45, was awarded more than  £15,000 by the courts in what is believed to be the first payout of its kind in  Britain. Her Sikh bosses insisted they fired her after  they caught her stealing. But she accused them of turning on her when  they found out she was a Wicca-practising pagan and took them to an employment  tribunal, which ruled in her favour.” As the article states, her employers were Sikh, not Christians, as some might suspect. Her employers say they will appeal the decision. More on this story here.
  • The killing of women accused of witchcraft and sorcery in Papua New Guinea continues to be a hard problem to solve, with tough news laws facing the issue of proper enforcement. Quote: “Nancy Robinson from the United Nations Human Rights Commission says toughening up the laws is no solution if they’re not implemented. ‘Implementation is the big obstacle,’ she said. ‘You may have a law but then if you don’t have the police capacity to enforce it, or if the police themselves view the situation of sorcery related killings with indifference then we still have a big issue of how to address impunity. Those who perpetrate this violence know full well they’ll get off scot free – this has to change.'” You can see all of my coverage of this issue, here.
  • The Quietus revisits Enya’s “Watermark” on its 25th anniversary. Quote: “Essentially, Watermark is a deeply weird album in the context of its bright and garish era, and as well as that a strongly and confidently female album. It also stands out as a record inspired by spiritual music in a mainstream pop world that has in recent years chosen to end the centuries-old musical dialogue between the secular and religious, the sacred and profane.” As the author points out, Enya’s influence has never been stronger, with critically acclaimed artists like Julianna Barwick employing elements of her sound.
  • There’s going to be an epic fantasy movie starring Egyptian gods? Apparently so. Quote: “Up-and-coming Australian actress Courtney Eaton has nabbed the female lead in Summit’s epic fantasy Gods of Egypt. Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites and Geoffrey Rush are the male leads in the story, which is set in motion when a ruling god named Set (Butler) kills another, Osiris. When Osiris’ son Horus (Coster-Waldau) fails in his attempt at revenge and has his eyed plucked out, it’s up to a young human thief (Thwaites) to defeat the mad god Set. Eaton will play a slave girl whom the thief falls for.” Currently scheduled for a 2015 release.
Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

Solstice Stonehenge revelers in 2009.

  • This week a new visitor center will open at the world-famous Stonehenge in England. Its goal? To give visitors who may never walk among the (restricted access) stones, and sense of that experience, in addition to giving an overview of the many scholarly theories about Stonehenge’s purpose. Quote: “With tourists and day-trippers barred since the late Seventies from entering the circle in order to protect the stones from damage, there has been a fierce and long-running debate on how the site should best be displayed. But on Wednesday a new £27 million centre will open at Stonehenge with a 360 degree cinema at its heart where visitors can ‘experience’ standing in the ancient circle.” Currently, Pagans are allowed access at the solstices and equinoxes, but many want greater access. Concept art for the center can be found here.
  • The Christian cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California, which some had the audacity to claim was “secular,” has been ordered removed by a federal court. Quote: “A federal court has ordered the removal of the controversial Mt. Soledad cross near San Diego. The towering symbol of Christianity, built in 1954 on the peak of Mt. Soledad, is a 43 foot high Latin cross – and it sits on government-owned land. By ruling that the cross violated the First Amendment, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns has tried to put an end to a 24-year-old legal battle over the constitutionality of the display. Critics have long argued that the cross, built in 1954 and dedicated on Easter Sunday as a “gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” clearly violates the First Amendment.” It isn’t known if an appeal will be made.
  • Protestant Christian notions of “religion” are being destabilized. Quote: “Religion is nothing if not practiced, nothing if not communally created by and for people who find meaning, yes, but also find ways to put our bodies into relation with other bodies. Religions are sensually established and engaged through sights and smells and sounds, as human bodies sway and sing, pray and play. Rituals are carried out, ancient stories are told anew, the candles are burned, and the flowers garlanded. Religion is embodied practice, done with others, extending far beyond ‘belief in god.'”
  • Religion Clause points out that the Defense Authorization Bill, recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, contains religious freedom language for military personnel. Here’s the language: “Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Forces shall accommodate individual expressions of belief of a member of the armed forces reflecting the sincerely held conscience, moral principles, or religious beliefs of the member and, in so far as practicable, may not use such expressions of belief as the basis of any adverse personnel action, discrimination, or denial of promotion, schooling, training, or assignment.” So talk about polytheism all you want, Pagans!
  • Either you have to include everyone, including Satanists, or you have to remove sectarian expressions of religion from federal property. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?
  • Here’s an article discussing the traditional African beliefs and practices employed in the funeral and burial rites for South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Quote: “‘We as Africans have rites of passage, whether it is a birth, marriage or funeral. Mandela will be sent off into the spiritual world so that he is welcomed in the world of ancestors. And also so that he doesn’t get angry,’ said Nokuzola Mndende, a scholar of African religion.”
  • Remember that story about Hopi relics being sold in France against their objections? Well, it looks like the Annenberg Foundation purchased the items, and will be donating the items back to the two tribes who were leading the protest. Quote: “Hopi cultural leader Sam Tenakhongva said in the same statement that the tribe hopes the Annenberg decision to intervene “sets an example for others that items of significant cultural and religious value can only be properly cared for by those vested with the proper knowledge and responsibility.” “They simply cannot be put up for sale,” he said.”

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.